Photograph by John Gerbetz
Ballet San Jose rode the waves in style with 'Pirates of Penzance!'
By Jessica Fromm
IN THE SPIRIT of puffy shirts, moonlit melodrama, mirthful buccaneers and bathing beauties, Pirates of Penzance! was a rollicking good evening of swashbuckling entertainment that amused the whole family. Though the overall dancing of the company wasn't at the level of mastery shown in past Ballet San Jose performances, the production included more acrobatics and contemporary movement then usually seen from this company, provided by guest-choreographer Daryl Gray.
Principal dancer Meng Lu, in his second show of the season since joining Ballet San Jose from China, was as faultless in his movement as ever. His each gesture and jeté was masterfully executed in this romp based on the classic Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta. Pirates of Penzance! gave him more of a chance to show off his comedic and acting skills then the company's opening show, Coppélia, and Meng did not disappoint as the eye-patched Pirate King. His warmhearted marauder had a distinct Jack Sparrowesque edge. One minute, he was sashaying with a rum-tinged step and stabbing himself in the foot with his rapier, the next he was vaulting into the air with the undeniable skill of a star danseur.
His illustrious crew of pirates did the wave, executed leaping chest bumps, cartwheels and flips, and even tossed the comedic relief, Ramon Moreno's Major-General Stanley, high into the air. Of special note was Willie Anderson as the breakdancing, moon-walking, popping and locking Sergeant of Police, a crowd favorite. The pas de deux between the lovely Alexsandra Meijer, as Mabel, and the muscular Maximo Califano, as wishy-washy pirate apprentice Frederic, highlighted the best strict ballet of the production. Meijer has such control and poise during her lifts that she can position her legs and feet so elegantly and steadily that she practically becomes a sculpture sailing through the air.
The production featured three opera singers on the side of the stage in painted "box seats," clothed as theatergoers. They "narrated" the production as Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados, sloppily sipping champagne and swaying along to the music between bursting into song. Soprano Alison Collins, a San Jose State University alum, was particularly impressive in her vocal acrobatics, while alto Krista Wigle brought energetic humor to her delivery. On top of that, this is also the first Ballet San Jose production ever in which this reviewer has heard the corps actually sing, though briefly.
Kudos to scenery and lighting designer Kenneth Keith for the expert illumination of the second act. Set in a ruined chapel by midnight, the lighting wonderfully reflected the spirit of the production, a mix of classic ballet backdrop with the Technicolor scenery of a Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland ride. Like any Gilbert and Sullivan production, the show ended in a matrimonial flurry of petals. Overall, the proceedings were so enjoyable that theatergoers did not feel like they had been sitting for three hours, the sign of a job well done.
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