By Lawrence Budmen 

With the exception of a few Russian and British works from the last century, the evening length dramatic ballet is largely a 19th century phenomenon. Yet, in the hands of a gifted choreographer, the genre still has remarkable vitality. 

In 1995 Val Caniparoli created Lady of the Camellias for Ballet Florida and Salt Lake City’s Ballet West. Working from a concept by the late choreographer Norbert Vesak, Caniparoli set Alexander Dumas’ novel (also the basis for Verdi’s opera La Traviata) to music by Frederic Chopin. 

A more successful synthesis of music and dance could hardly be imagined. Chopin was the king of the 19th century Paris salon. The Polish composer’ s glittering, poetic keyboard works form the perfect soundtrack to the tragic love story of the courtesan Marguerite and the youthful Armand Duval 

Caniparoli has crafted a vibrantly romantic ballet for our time. Rather than emulate the flashy showpieces of Marius Petipa or the dreamy Chopiniana of Mikhail Fokine’s Les Sylphides, the choreographer has absorbed the impassioned psychological dance dramas of Anthony Tudor (i.e. Lilac Garden, recently produced by Miami City Ballet) and Jerome Robbins’ modernist twist on Chopinesque figuration in Dances at a Gathering and Other Dances. Lady of the Camellias is a work of genius. 

Ballet Florida has done Caniparoli’s artistic vision proud. Robert Glay de La Rose’s brightly hued costumes vividly evoked the Parisian milieu. The rich blues of David Gano’s set for the opening drawing room scene contrasted with the ornate ballroom of the third act and spare, almost abstract design for Marguerite’ s boudoir death scene. 

At Saturday’s performance at the Kravis Center, Lorena Jimenez was a deeply moving Marguerite, suggesting fragility and abandon with the subtlest motion. Her wide extensions were nothing short of remarkable, particularly in a series of pas de deux with the dashing Armand of Darian Aguila. 

The lithe elegance of Jimenez’s dancing in the opening acts was capped by a dramatic, volatile enactment of Marguerite’s dementia. Here was the type of balletic magic of which legends are made.

Aguila brought charisma, incredible speed, and airborne lightness to the reckless lover. 
An insinuating trio with Jimenez, Aguila and Douglas Gawriljuk as Baron de Varville reeked of dramatic tension and repressed passion. 

The Ballet Florida corps brought “pin-pointe” accuracy to Caniparoli’ s characterful but intensely complex ensemble scenes. Every balletic phrase and emotional undercurrent came alive in this gripping dance drama.

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