Dance by turns intoxicating and flat in romantic outing

February 18, 2011
REVIEW by Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith


Like some sort of unimaginable champagne, the Joffrey Ballet's "The Merry Widow" is bubbly one minute, flat the next, only to return to effervescence and then leave you in the end feeling a bit over served.

Ronald Hynd's 1975 version is nothing if not inconsistent, and, in fair measure, it was inconsistently performed by the Joffrey during Wednesday's opening at the Auditorium Theatre. There are lovely things about it, Hynd's determined zeal to be fresh and muscular in his choreography among them. There are waltz motifs, naturally, but there are others too, such as intricate midlift footwork bestowed on two leading women. Hynd also provides ballroom elegance while slyly injecting other dance modes as well, such as a folk-rich corps sequence for Act II and a rollicking revelers' chorale and can-can for Act III at Maxim's.

It's not exactly the sweep of ethnic dance in "The Nutcracker," but Hynd's tight little catalog helps the ballet break loose from the tinkling flutes and chandelier sparkle of the story.

But this ballet about a mythical kingdom and its leaders' efforts to keep a widow's fortune within their borders is only intermittently funny — cute here and there, but often just stoically plodding along to make room for the dance. There's a great deal of dance, true. Still, the comedy and characterization don't boast the nuance of John Cranko's "The Taming of the Shrew," which this ballet replaced on the Joffrey schedule, or Frederick Ashton's "Cinderella." You smile more than you chuckle.

Hynd provides several invigorating pas de deux for the leads, the widow, Hanna, and Danilo, her suitor. But he also admirably gives a fine one to the secondary couple, danced with great verve and authority Wednesday by Yumelia Garcia (maybe the best at capturing the comedy's mix of sincerity and self-satire) and Graham Maverick, an up-and-comer showing off fine form until he struggled noticeably during a late, combative acrobatic duet.

There were other off moments, notably during Hynd's lively Act II folk dance, whose challenging sections sometimes soared and sometimes didn't — even the typically terrific Derrick Agnoletti proved off his game here.

In contrast, Miguel Angel Blanco, as Danilo, has never been so enjoyable, and that's saying something. He cops a guise blending full-of-himself comic lead and genuinely debonair lover, one who manages, when he dances, to dazzle with command, style, agility and buoyancy. And though Victoria Jaiani's widow is more gilded and graceful than funny, her pas de deux with Blanco are pure joy — their partnership to composer Franz Lehar's flawless "Vilia" is lovely pastoral romance, while he whirls her in seemingly endless circles for an intoxicating, picture-perfect finish to Act II.

Roberta Guidi di Bagno's costumes are fine, but her sets are so-so, and the Act I embassy ballroom is pale in color and short on detail, except for a staircase whose gargantuan statues holding chandeliers disastrously wobble whenever dancers race up or down the steps.

'The Merry Widow'

When: Through Feb. 27

Where: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway

Tickets: $24 - $145 at 800-982-2787 or