On Friday evening, May 9, we went to the Milwaukee Ballet. I got some last-minute tickets because I was intrigued by the press coverage of "Scheherezade," a new ballet. The seats were in the last row of the balcony, but sight lines were good and we had binoculars, so we were happy.
Besides the premier, the program opened with "Rubies", a part of the famous "Jewels," ballet by Georges Balanchine. This was the second Balanchine piece the Ballet has performed this season and it was done very well. Georgie recalls seeing the New York City Ballet during the latter part of Balanchine's reign, and felt the Milwaukee performance stood up nicely. The dance is a lighter, more sprightly piece than a lot of Balanchine's work and was a lot of fun, enhanced by the gorgeous red satin costumes that are de rigeur.
Lovely as they were, the monochromatic "Rubies" costumes were overwhelmed by the sheer gorgeousness of the costumes for "Scheherezade," which were truly outstanding. Costume designer Judanna Lynn produced a really spectacular set of costumes for Scheherezade, The Sheik, Aladdin, Sindbad, and the other characters.
The choreographer, Kathryn Posin, created a totally new dance to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov that varied widely from an earlier ballet created for the Ballet Russes de Diaghiev in 1910.
The ballet begins with the familiar frame of "The Arabian Nights"--The Sheik discovers his wife embracing a male slave, kills both of them in a fury, and vows to take new wife every day and kill her gthe next morning. The ballet is slightly different, in that Scheherezade is already one of the Sheik's wives, but avoids death by dazzling the Sheik with her story telling. Sequences continue without act breaks, as the dancers portray very condensed versions of Sindbad and the Ruhk, Alladin and the Lamp, and the Flying Horse. Interplay between Scheherezade and the Sheik punctuates the stories, and they gradually become participants, moving the Prince and Princess of the Flying Horse story like puppets. Scheherezade is well on the way to redeeming the Sheik when the wicked Vizier accuses her of unfaithfulness as well, which sets the Sheik and his men off on a murderous rampage. "Reality" and "fantasy" bleed together as the story characters come to the defense of the harem women. At last, only the Sheik and Scheherezade are left standing. Seeing what he has done, he wishes he had not. Scheherezade retrieves the Magic Lamp from the carnage, and he uses it to wish everyone back to life.
In the performance we saw, Amy Fote danced the very demanding role of Scheherezade, which combines both classical "Arabian" movements with modern ballet. Fote was up to the performance in every way, dancing so as to make the best of both sensuality and athleticism. (I must say, she has one of the most remarkable physiques I have seen in a woman in some time. It's very unusual to see a female with such exceptional muscular definition who is not an obvious body builder. She made very good use of it in this role.) Pavel Gurevich as the Sheik danced with power and ferocity as well as precision. There were many witty and charming performances in the Sindbad and Alladin portions, and the Flying Horse sequence was particularly beautiful. We found the Ocean Spirits in Sindbad to be particularly effective in their manipulation of a large sheet of silk that represented the ocean, and by turns covered Sindbad, tangled him in undertows, and dumped him on beaches.
The live orchestra delivered Rimsky-Korsakov's lush score ably and well. All in all it was a remarkably beautiful evening of dance and music that we will long remember.