CLEOPATRA (3-8-08) 

By Lawrence Budmen

Ballet Florida’ s founder and artistic director Marie Hale has a knack for introducing repertoire that straddles the line between high art and family entertainment. She has struck gold again with Cleopatra, a dance spectacle created in 2000 for the Houston Ballet by British choreographer Ben Stevenson.

This production delivers a super dose of historical drama, exotic atmosphere and spectacular ensemble scenes. With the visual splendor of Thomas Boyd’s sets, Judanna Lynn’s opulent costumes (reminiscent of Hollywood exotica) and the powerful visual imagery of Tim Hunter’s lighting, this production displays an epic canvass of ancient Egypt and Rome. 

None of the theatrical elements would matter if Stevenson were not such a gifted choreographer. Without ever resorting to clichés, he has the ability to assimilate dance history and make it his own. The Egyptian scenes recall the path breaking Oriental ballets of Mikhail Fokine – Sheherazade, The Firebird, and Polovtsian Dances. 

When the action turns to Rome, Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus comes to mind. Muscular, boldly athletic dances serve as both divertissement and prelude to tragedy The Roman street dances have the sheen and high kicking spirit of Broadway in the manner of Michael Kidd. 

In pas de deux for Cleopatra with Caesar and Marc Antony, Stevenson turns experimental with angular movements both confrontational and sensual. Cleopatra’s solos are fast, nimble exercises that constantly surprise with unexpected turns and leaps. 

Yet Stevenson never succumbs to choreographic self indulgence. In two acts of around forty minutes each, the ballet is tautly paced, moving seamlessly from the ceremonial to the intimate. 

At Saturday evening’s Kravis Center performance, Lorena Jimenez stole every scene as the Queen of the Nile. Her stunning double extensions were magnetic. In duos with the agile Marc Antony of Fernando Moraga and the imperious Caesar of Tracy Mozingo, this Cleopatra was a balletic marvel. Dancing in joy and sorrow, Jimenez shone brightly.

Moraga’s high powered Antony was as fiery as he was passionate. As Caesar’ s wife Calpurnia, Marife Gimenez projected dignity turned to jealousy and despair. Dancing Stevenson’s rapid, modernist patterns, her nightmare scene (in which Calpurnia foresees Caesar’s murder) was a tour de force. Tina Martin and Stephanie Rapp brought star quality to two of Cleopatra’s handmaidens, exuding grace and classical beauty.

The late John Lanchbery’s pastiche of Rimsky-Korsakov themes was ingenuous, the perfect underpinning for Stevenson’ s choreographic invention. Under the robust, authoritative direction of John Buchannan, the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra played with sweeping finesse and color. 

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