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Lady of the Camellias

Artists of the Colorado Ballet
Artists of the Colorado Ballet
Photo: Amanda Tipton
 
Given all the worthy choices competing for the public's entertainment budget, no stronger statement can be made about a company's success and the loyalty of its patrons than when it stages an unfamiliar work and fills the house with enthusiastic audiences, such as we see with the Colorado Ballet's current production, the Denver debut of Val Caniparoli's Lady of the Camillias, based on the 1848 novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, and set to the music of Frédéric Chopin.

Ardent aficionados of the performing arts will recognize the plot line, which has inspired 16 films, 20 stage plays, four ballets, and one of the great operatic jewels, Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata, composed and produced in 1853, a year after the premiere of Dumas fils' stage adaptation of his book.

Dumas' inspiration was his own brief love affair with a courtesan, Marie Duplessis, who wore a white or red camillia on her dress to signify her availability for that evening. The tragedy of the story is engendered by class distinctions as they pertain to marriage, a common theme in European theatre going back at least to the time of "Shake-speare."

Yosvani Ramos APP as Armand and Dana Benson APP as Marguerite
Yosvani Ramos APP as Armand
and Dana Benson APP as Marguerite
Photo: Mike Watson
 
Caniparoli's choreography deftly infuses elements of modern dance as well as period styles into the classical vocabulary, gracefully interpreting Chopin's melodies, which were popular at the time Dumas fils' story was published.

Following an evening at the theatre, Marguerite (Dana Benton) is entertaining friends and acquaintences in her drawing room. Champagne flows and dance ensues, peppering the fête with comedic flirtations and drinking games. A smitten Armand Duval (Yosvani Ramos) showers Marguerite with attention, much to the consternation of her escort, Baron de Varville (Christopher Moulton). In-between dances, Marguerite falls into coughing spells, revealing her battle with consumption. Benton and Ramos, both of whom will be retiring from the company after this season, enfuse a sweet pas de deux with their wonderful chemistry, ending with a kiss. After the soirée, Marguerite invites Armand to her boudoir.

Dana Benson APP as Marguerite and Yosvani Ramos APP as Armand
Dana Benson APP as Marguerite
and Yosvani Ramos APP as Armand
Photo: Mike Watson
 
Later, in the countryside, away from Paris' summer heat, Marguerite and Armand enjoy all the pleasures that come with love and its daily blossoms, despite Marguerite's declining health, as Chopin's romances fill the air and their hearts as they dance. Then, the couple's idyll is interrupted twice, first by the Baron, seeking to win back Marguerite's affections, from which she disengages. The big blow, though, is a secret visit from Armand's father, who convinces Marguerite, for the sake of his family's reputation relative to hers, to end the relationship with Armand. The dances reflect the power and heartbreak of the moment.

This is the only confusing part of the story line as it is performed, even if one has read the summary, and without the Ellie's seatback titling system to help us distinguish between the Baron and Armand's father, unless one is sitting close enough to see the dancers' faces. Even the offer of cash could have come from either one of them, for different purposes of course. Despite this wrinkle, the situation becomes clear when Marguerite writes a "Dear Armand" letter and we see him crushed by the message.

Domenico Luciano as Duval Senior, Armandís Father and Yosvani Ramos APP as Armand
Domenico Luciano APP
as Duval Senior, Armandís Father
and Yosvani Ramos APP as Armand
Photo: Mike Watson
 
Later, Armand's hurt and anger boils over at a grand ball (the chandeliers and dresses are exquisite), where he repeatedly insults Marguerite, and the Baron challenges him to a duel.

Despite the tragedy precipitated by Armand's father, the final scene on Marguerite's death bed brings a strong measure of redemption for her and Armand, as the delerium from her fever brings fond memories of their love affair as she passes. (In Dumas fils' book, Armand's visit occurs in real time, and later he regularly honors her grave with camillias.) The choreography throughout this scene, to another exquisite Chopin melody, is heart rendering.

Maestro Adam Flatt and the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, with solo pianist David Korevaar, provide lovely renditions of Chopin's work, along with stirring vocals by mezzo soprano Abigail Nims and baritone Andrew Garland. Kudos to the design team: evocative lighting by Trad A. Burns; elegant and economic scenic design by David Gano, Act II designed by Robert Glay de La Rose; and, magnificent costumes by de la Rose.

The Colorado Ballet's presentation of Val Caniparoli's Lady of the Camillias, produced in cooperation with Ballet West and Ballet Florida with sets and costumes courtesy of the Boston Ballet, runs through February 12th. For tickets: coloradoballet.org/events.

Bob Bows



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