The Joffrey Ballet’s grand and glorious
production of “The Merry Widow,” the full-length ballet by British
choreographer Ronald Hynd now in a lavish company premiere at the
Auditorium Theatre, might just inspire a little yearning for the rebirth
of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that sprawling, cosmopolitan,
trans-European society that thrived from 1867 to 1918.
After all, with so much romance and opulent
fashion, so many waltz-driven ballroom frolics and champagne toasts, and
such seductive folkloric heritage existing alongside the most
deliciously playful French cancan girls, who could worry about
out-of-touch aristocrats, feckless bureaucrats or the bankruptcy
threatening to undermine Pontevedra, a far-flung duchy whose Paris
Embassy is a monument to overspending?
Inspired by Franz Lehar’s 1907 operetta, Hynd’s
ballet is the very essence of grand, dance-driven storytelling, with the
choreographer finding the most modern-minded shorthand of gestures and
movement (as opposed to outdated mime) to delineate character and plot.
Created for the Australian Ballet in 1975, “The Merry Widow” also
ideally captures a bygone era. And John Lanchbery’s glossy “adaptation”
of Lehar’s score (played beautifully by the Chicago Sinfonietta, under
the direction of Scott Speck) only enhances the pleasure.
Two romantic entanglements anchor the story. The
first concerns Count Danilo (Miguel Angel Blanco, whose fine dancing was
matched by comic panache), a Pontevedrian diplomat who must marry
wealthily to keep his country afloat, and Hanna (the exquisite Victoria
Jaiani, equally adept at capturing an aching heart and sophisticated
flirtation), the rich and beautiful widow with peasant roots he seduced
and abandoned years earlier. The other story line concerns Baron Zeta
(splendid comic work by Matthew Adamczyk), the elderly ambassador from
Pontevedra whose spicy young wife, Valencienne (Yumelia Garcia, whose
superb dancing is paired with delicious coquettishness), is having an
affair with a young, handsome Frenchman (the dashing Graham Maverick).
Hanna, wary of being hurt again by Danilo, plays
hard to get despite her enduring passion, and Hynd gives us a winning
memory scene in which that youthful liaison is recalled. He also gives
us a spectacular folk dance sequence, with an outstanding male ensemble
led by the bravura Derrick Agnoletti.
The whole company is dancing superbly, with
notable turns by Willy Shives, Jaime Hickey, Christine Rocas, Aaron
Rogers, Lucas Segovia and the cancan girls.
Roberta Guidi Di Bagno’s sets are beyond
gorgeous. So are her ravishing costumes, particularly a white egret
feather shawl for Hanna.
Hynd, tall and dapper as he approaches 80, was on
hand for opening-night bows, along with John Meehan, who has staged the
ballet to perfection.
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