Texas Ballet Theater’s Peer Gynt caught between drama and dance
Ben Stevenson’s Peer Gynt, the story of a charismatic womanizer whose ah-ha moment unfolds neatly at the end, offered a slightly anti-climatic opening in Dallas as it flip flopped between dramatic theater and ballet.
The Texas Ballet Theater performance was held at Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas. Stevenson’s Gynt, which first opened Norway’s Bergen Festival Gala in 1983, follows the tales of an overly playful young man accustomed to getting his way. Stevenson is Texas Ballet Theater’s artistic director, who is widely credited with building Houston Ballet into the stellar company and ballet school that it is today.
In Gynt, Peer’s relationship with his mother is also one of exception, as she bends to his charm and over looks his blatant lack of responsibility. Following the story, he seduces the young and innocent Solvieg, steals away an engaged Ingrid, and enters into a sordid affair with the Woman in Green. If this wasn’t enough, he travels through Egypt with a benefactress, then falls into a tryst with the Egyptian Chieftain’s wanton daughter. Unfolding like a reality TV show, each affair is a reminder of Gynt’s lack of character which leaves viewers questioning how someone can be so audacious and detached from the destruction left behind. This effect is testament to the superb acting and storytelling of Texas Ballet Theater dancers, especially Principal Lucas Priolo in the lead role as Gynt.
Texas Ballet Theater’s Carolyn Judson and Lucas Priolo in Peer Gynt. Photo by Ellen Appel.
It was slightly distressing, however, to feel like the dancing played a supporting role to the drama, rather than being the main attraction.
The expert lighting designed by guest artist Tony Tucci and the fabulous sets and costumes of Peter Farmer were admirable and helped transport viewers to a 1820’s Norwegian farm town, and the gloomy dim of an asylum where the story is set.
One of the highlights included the densely covered leafy forest punctuated by Stevenson’s exceptional choreographic choices. Mythical forest creatures came to life in acrobatic-inspired lifts and complicated interwoven paths, which mesmerized viewers into believing Gynt’s adventure deep in the forest was truly unfolding. Unfortunately, other scenes didn’t have the same impact. For instance, the shipwreck could have been omitted because it is brief, involved no dancing and did little to develop the plot.
Gynt’s true love, Solvieg, played by Principal Dancer Carolyn Judson on Oct. 26 was undoubtedly the most delicate female role of the story. Solveig’s appearances were memorable as she danced ethereally with downturned lashes, convincing the audience of her chaste desirability. She was light on her feet and moved with stunning grace. This effect overflowed into effortless partnering scenes with Priolo. Texas Ballet Theater student Jordan Carter danced the role of Solveig’s younger sister. Carter was delightful, dancing without pointe shoes to mark her youth, her wide-eyed facial expressions and springy steps endearing. Priolo’s depiction of Gynt was successful. Although much of his onstage time was spent in pantomime or acting, his dancing was marked by well executed double pas de basques and leap combinations performed with ease. By the end, the story comes full circle. Gynt and Solveig find each other again. Their reunion doesn’t unfold into another beautifully danced duet, just a dramatic embrace.
(Top photo: TBT’s Betsy McBride and Lucas Priolo in Peer Gynt. Photo by Ellen Appel.)