Atlanta Ballet: Moulin Rouge® The Ballet

I did not expect to find Moulin Rouge® The Ballet to be of particularly high quality and my expectations were not betrayed. Unfortunately, neither of the narrative ballets programmed for this season appealed to me but, still, I wanted to go to at least one. I didn’t bother with this one the first time that they staged it, so it was new to me, and, unless you have a kid performing in it or you have a crush on Alessa Rogers, I can’t think of a single reason for a person to go to see the Princess and the Goblin. I’m sorry, I mean Twyla Tharpe’s™ the Princess and the Goblin© (patent pending).

A common complaint that I have with Atlanta Ballet’s narrative works is that the costuming doesn’t distinguish the characters well enough. This held for this piece at times, but it went a little beyond that. I have a hard time recognizing people, admittedly, but I’ve talked to others who have been to AB’s shows and felt that they lost track of the story because they couldn’t figure out who was whom. What made this time different, though was an interesting choice that they made to often have the two lead characters look more drab than the rest of the people on stage. Although it made it easy to distinguish them during those scenes, it was hard to find them, even when we were supposed to be paying attention to them. Admittedly, a lot of these shows come packaged with costume designs, but that doesn’t make it any better.

The lighting was pretty awful. Very dim, mood lighting was accentuated by light sources from the back of the stage itself, which meant that to see the dancers do their thing they often were under a spotlight. This caused a ton of reflections and glare off of the marley and quite a few more of the set pieces than you’d expect from a professionally produced show. Sometimes it was more distracting than others, but even when it wasn’t distracting it cheapened the whole production.

The choreography was pretty banal, looking for the most part like it was choreographed to be easy to sell to even the lower-tier ballet companies. The performances weren’t really worth mentioning, either: dancers whose performances I generally like didn’t really bring their best to it. Except for newcomer Coco Mathieson’s solid performance as La Goulue, I don’t think that there were any named characters who I didn’t catch dropping a limb or having another body part out of place at some point during the show. That said, nobody was actually bad, it’s just that nobody was particularly good. Part of that, though, may just be the nature of the piece: there really aren’t any parts in which to shine. There were a lot of substitutions, too, so part of it may be that everyone is sick or recovering.

Speaking of the cast, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was 5’1″. He should have been among the shortest people on stage. This would have been an excellent chance for Atlanta Ballet to let some of its shorter male dancers show their stuff — and some of them definitely do have some impressive stuff to show — but, instead, they put Heath Gill in the role. I’ve complained about him a lot, but he was reasonably decent in this: his attention to blocking seemed solid and I never noticed him being off-rhythm. He still looks like he uses every muscle in his body for each individual movement, leaving nothing behind for expressiveness, but at least he seems to be improving. Maybe I’ll even enjoy seeing him grow as a dancer. Also, the costuming and hair styling for this part really suited him: he should seriously consider dressing like that all the time.

All of the short men were relegated to comedic support roles, as they always are, though that was better than the tall women dancers who were all stuck in the background. My two favorite dresses, which were both purple (as anyone who knows me would have guessed), were on the two tallest women dancers. I really like watching tall, long-limbed women dancing ballet: their lines are longer and their movements are more dramatically articulated. I find it to be such a wonderful treat to watch them dance en pointe. I’d feel the same about men if companies besides Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo would put them in pointe shoes: choreographers could do wonderful things with men en pointe if it weren’t for the whole regressive sexism thing that’s so pervasive in mainstream concert dance and particularly in ballet.

Back to the choreography, even the competitive dance-offs were bland. The choreographer used pirouettes to signify being awesome, which only goes so when watching from the audience. There was also this extended scene in a tango club where the choreographer blended tango with ballet to create something that was not nearly as interesting as its constituent parts. Pick a random milonga around town and you’ll probably find a more interesting tango. There were so many great opportunities for flair or comedy that never really realized their potential. A paint-off between Lautrec and Matthew was mildly clever but could have been so much more. A scene with all of the shorter male dancers dressing Matthew was some of the best comedy that they managed, but even that could have been a whole lot more than it was.

One thing that I found hilarious was the fact that there was almost no French popular music from the time period. They used a lot of German waltzes and Argentine tangos but the only French popular music that they used was an orchestration of La Vie en Rose for accordion, violin, cello, and oboe, which was played live during the opening. They also played of Piazzolla’s tangos during the tango scene, but most of that music was canned. This made me happy, though, because I’m not a big fan of French popular music from this period. There was some good use of French impressionist music, though, and the only notable scene in the entire show was a duet between the leads, Christian Clark and Tara Lee set to Debussy’s Claire de Lune that closed the first act. Sadly, that really was the only notable part of the entire show. I really hope that this production will retire with John McFall at the conclusion of this season.

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