Monday, February 28, 2011

Joffrey Premiere's- The Merry Widow- 2/2011


Victoria Jaiani & Miguel Angel Blanco (photo-herb migdoll/Joffrey Ballet)
SHE'S BEAUTIFUL! SHE'S RICH! AND IF SHE CAN JUST GET THAT PLAYBOY DANILO TO PROPOSE, SHE'LL BE DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY, TOO!
And so will the Ambassador of Pontevedro. Why? Because Hanna, the Merry Widow, is his nation's wealthiest citizen. And if she's lured away by some Frenchman, she'll take all her lovely money with her, causing a financial meltdown of epic proportion.
Time to institute a romantic stimulus plan! Flirtations and assignations fly.....
(quoted from Lyric Opera of Chicago,2009)

[Click here to for a synopsis of the ballet and here for a short clip.]

There have been many changes over the past 2 yrs within the Joffrey Ballet d/t the changing of the guard in leadership, and while change is inevitable, sometimes it can affect one's ability to be nonjudgmental or unbiased. For whatever reason, I wasn't expecting to like this newest production of The Merry Widow, mainly b/c I had never heard of it before, was reluctant to do any research before seeing it, and didn't think the Joffrey should be doing it so soon after Cinderella & their annual The Nutcracker. Fortunately, my short-lived negativity did not preclude me from truly enjoying this great production. To start with, the scenery design and costumes by Roberta Guidi di Bango were quite lovely. I can be easily seduced by bright, shiny and dazzling sights as highlighted by Randall
G. Chiarelli. Next, I love live [neo]classical music so hearing the Chicago Sinfonietta, lead by conductor & music director Scott Speck, was no hardship by any means; the many waltzes were performed beautifully as scored by Franz Lehar and adapted by John Lanchbery. I completely enjoyed the wonderful choreography of Ronald Hynd as staged by John Meehan. But lastly, I could not have enjoyed this cor. without it being brought to life by the talented artists/dancers of the Joffrey Ballet.

Of the three shows that I saw (opening night, 1st Saturday matinee and Thursday night), the Thursday performance was my favorite but each was enjoyable. When it comes to the performing arts, I am inevitably drawn to 4 things: showmanship, chemistry, authenticity and individuality. There are 2 main couples, and on opening night, I fell in love with Yumelia Garcia as Valencienne, the cheating French wife of the Pontevedrian Ambassador. Her port de bras and leg extensions were fabulous and incredible, and she was so passionate. As she danced, I kept wanting to actually be her on stage (I felt the same way about ABT's Gillian Murphy as Juliet Capulet); she gave a mesmerizing performance! My only wish for Ms Garcia was that her partner, Graham Maverick (French lover, Rousillon), had had the strength to press her up into the air with fully extended arms and to provide better support throughout the ballet; it took away from the cor. and beauty of Yumelia's performance.
graham maverick & yumelia garcia- JB's Merry Widow
On the other hand, I have to give credit to Miguel A Blanco as Danilo for fully supporting his partner, Victoria Jaiani, as Hanna; probably the best surprise with this pairing came in the last act, when Miguel showed his strength and sparkle as the dashing count to reclaim and win the heart of his merry widow. An excellent way to end the performance! My praises to Wily Shives as his personal aide, Aaron Rogers and Lucas Segovia as embassy officials and Brian Gephart as the waiter. I really liked the Can Can Ladies, esp., Elizabeth Hansen Anastacia Holden, Caitlin Meighan, Amber Neumann, Abigail Simon and Allison Walsh. All of the company members pulled off the required stick to make this ballet a very good comedy.

On the Sat. 2/19 @2p, I enjoyed the pairing of cutie-patooty, Mauro Villaneuva (Fr attache) and April Daley (Valencienne); together they were adorable and romantic, and Mauro was such a charmer on stage. No problems with any of his required lifts; they were effortless and truly showed off the beautiful cor. on this night. I also enjoyed the comedic charm of Fabrice Calmels as Danilo and Valerie Robin as Hanna. I have not seen these two look so happy coupled together since a Sugar Plum Fairy Pdd back in 2006 versus their typical pairing in more dramatic roles. It was nice role play, but I wanted to see some sexual tension between the two for a change. Big kudos to John M. Giragosian as the lead Pontevedrian dancer, Erica L. Edwards as the enraged client and Derrick Agnoletti as the maitre d'.

Okay, the Thursday night performance was amazing and magical! I could not believe how funny and animated both Miguel A. Blanco (ambassador) and Brian Gephart (his aide) were in these roles; they were so lively and believable! For whatever reason, I prefer to see Mr Blanco cast in comedic roles versus the leading man. D. Agnoletti was brilliant here as the lead Pontevedrian dancer. Everyone was more comfortable with their dancing and characterizations but most improvement was seen in the synchronicity and timing during 3 large dance sequences: the ballroom waltz of act 1, the Pontevedrian dance of act 2, and the male clientele in tailcoats of Act 3.

Abigail Simon and M. Villanueva were so adorable as the French lovers, and I was so happy to see them dance together! The biggest surprise of the entire ballet for me was the fantastic performance by Matthew Adamczyk as Danilo & Christine Rocas as Hanna. Who would have thought? He was this handsome, funny, vulnerable yet intriguing hottie while she played this sweet and adorable widow that was somehow both innocent and seductive at the same. The chemistry should not have worked, but they were just so fantabulous as a couple and in character that I couldn't stop smiling. Then at the end when they were finally together, I was like.....awwww! It could not have been more romantic or believable. I love it when I'm moved by a performance!

dylan gutierrez, michael smith and shane urton(? ) w/can can ladies

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