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[whitespace] 'Pirates of Penzance'
Photograph by Robert Schomler

Sail Away: Alexandra Koltun and Maximo Califano enjoy some pirate hijinks at Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley.

A Glorious Thing

Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley strike gold in Daryl Gray's 'Pirates of Penzance'

By Marianne Messina

AT A RECENT matinee performance of Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley's Pirates of Penzance, no sooner had dashing pirate king Alex Lapshin taken the stage than a group of noisy patrons entered the performance hall. Their chatter drowned out the orchestra as they stumbled down the aisle. One of them could be heard asking the usher, "Can I go to the bathroom first?" At that point, the audience started shushing them in a serious way. The real audience, that is. These four rude "Silicon Valley theatergoers" were actually choreographer Daryl Gray's playful idea of an entrance for the quartet who would sing the popular Gilbert and Sullivan songs. As the usher leads them to their onstage theater box, one of their cell phones goes off: "I'm down here," alto Ann Noriel calls out waving into the crowd, "I'll talk after the show."

Gray's Pirates kept the same humor coming and kept the performers crossing the fourth wall. Police pursued pirates across front-row seating. The Pirate King enjoyed chasing ushers from the stage and singers from their stage boxes. Once the rude four were settled, the pirates danced to "It is a glorious thing to be a pirate king." Lapshin, his red tights lined in gold braid and buttons, makes his omnipresent sword an extension of his body with some magical handling. He dubs Frederic "Sir Pirate Knight' with it, makes the other pirates shimmy under it dancing the limbo, skewers his pirate crew with it and flourishes it through a series of pirouettes and a melee of dancing pirates all without mishap.

The reluctant young pirate Frederic (Maximo Califano) drives the story line with his obsession to duty. When he's released from his indentured piracy, he believes that it is his duty to turn the pirates in to the constabulary (though along the way he finds time to fall in love with Mabel (Alexandra Koltun). Then Frederic learns that through an "ingenious paradox" he is duty-bound to leave his new love and fight as a pirate against the police.

It is a show full of ensemble dances, color and verve. The Stanley girls in pristine bathing suits, bonnets and bloomers; the pirates in their bandanas, boots and breeches--bright greens, oranges, browns, purples, yellows and Her Majesty's royal blues. The policemen in their gold-trimmed waistcoats were an audience favorite, wobbling on rubbery legs, going knock-kneed like a hybrid of Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson. Their antics included sideways leap-frogging, moon walking and backward marching (with spring-loaded bobbing heads) and featured Willie Anderson as Sergeant of Police. Anderson's unlikely movements and utter fluidity flexed its wow-power over the audience, and when he added a rigorous floor sequence based on splits he drew groans of sympathetic pain.

The expressive dance moves are easy to read--fluttery hands over the heart and trembly bourreés for girls smitten by infatuation, frantic airborne entrechats for palpable disorientation when the pirates throw Stanley in the air. As Maj. Gen. Stanley, company régisseur Raymond Rodriguez manages to appear doddering while nimble in a patter-rapid series of pantomime of his accomplishments--cheating at push-ups, crawling through trenches with a folded parasol rifle, dancing the can-can.

Gray's detailed ensemble work is such a busy weave that you would have to have it on DVD to catch it all. But the love duet, under Kenneth L. Keith's languid, hazy moon (it pays to have a lighting person do set design) offers a serene and lovely change of mood. In picturesque embraces and demanding lifts (one nicely timed to an orchestral high note) by Califano and Koltun, Frederic tells Mabel that he has to leave her. But he promises to return for her when his contract of service is up "in 1940" (updated, that'd be around 2064). Ah, love.


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From the November 24-30, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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