By Lawrence Budmen

The Stone Flower was Sergei Prokofiev’s last ballet. Although never performed in the composer’ s lifetime, there were posthumous productions in the mid 1950’s at the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets. The Kirov version established the career of choreographer Yuri Grigorivich, who remains a potent force in Russian ballet. 

Ballet Florida’s production of this rare work, revived last weekend at the Eissey Theater in Palm Beach Gardens, is the creation of French modern dance choreographer Thierry Malandain. While Grigorivich’s interpretation was based on Russian folk dance, Malandain’ s four act version, first presented in 2002 in collaboration with Ballet Biarritz, adopts a cutting edge, contemporary aesthetic. 

Malandain illuminates the tale of an idealistic sculptor who journeys to the cave of the Queen of the Mountain with hyper kinetic extensions and extreme speed 

A pas de deux for the hero and the Queen, a sorceress who turns humans into stones, is sensual with an element of danger. Even when Malandain creates a traditional divertissement on pointe with tutus, he turns it into a demonstration of sheer athleticism and unconvent ional movement. 

Prokofiev’s swan song combines the lustrous ardor of Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella with the avant garde primitivism of The Prodigal Son (the composer’ s only collaboration with Balanchine) and his early instrumental works. 

Set to a recorded soundtrack, Ballet Florida’s production is graced by the atmospheric sets and vibrantly colorful costumes of Jorge Gallardo. Jean-Claude Asquite’s often haunting lighting sets the eerie atmosphere of the Queen’s cave. 

The company’s remarkable corps danced Malandain’s difficult choreography with visceral energy and flashy pizzazz. 

As the sculptor Danilo, Gary Lenington, a virile protagonist, generated electricity. Tina Martin was a force of nature in the pivotal role of the Queen of the Mountain. At once sleek and fiery, Martin turned every wild leap and off kilter move into a scintillating display of high precision brilliance. 

Lorena Jimenez, a memorable Marguerite in Ballet Florida’s Lady of the Camellias, was poignant as Katerina, Danilo’s village sweetheart. A superb dance actress, Jimenez found grace in the most angular steps. 

Tracey Mozingo was an ominous presence as the villainous Severin, the village foreman. Yumelia Garcia was fleet and vivacious as Severin’s Woman. In the rather campy role of The Spirit, Markus Schaffer suggested the balletic equivalent of a high stepping Broadway gypsy. 

Ballet Florida has created an entrancing combination of innovative choreography, stunning dancing, and artful theatricality to bring new life to a neglected score by one of the 20th century’ s most significant composers.

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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