Johnette Rodriguez previews Soledad and Scheherazade

Freelance writer and dance critic Johnette Rodriguez went back through her archives and notes to give us a preview of Scheherazade and Soledad, part of Up Close on Hope, Program 2, running Feb. 6-14.

Mihailo Djuric’s Soledad (1996) is set to the expressive tango music of Astor Piazzola, and it tells the story of a widow trying to come to terms with her grief as the world goes on around her (four other couples). The principal ballerina – Vilia Putrius – partners admirably with a straight-backed chair (the four other couples also utilize chairs) until a mysterious man in black (the memory of her dead partner), danced by Mindaugas Bauzys, appears. Their pas de deux is brilliant, as she swerves to the ground in a half-dozen variations and each time is drawn back up by him. The couple’s dancing has always been packed with emotional fervor but never more so than in this piece.

(Note: Ms. Rodriguez’s interpretation of Soledad is a common one, no more and no less valid than the perceptions of others who may believe Mr. Bauzys’ character is not necessarily dead, though he has no doubt departed Ms. Putrius in at least some sense.)

The second ballet is even more intense, though it is also somber — in this case a stolen love — but in Scheherazade (2005), choreographer Gianni di Marco drenches every movement in sensuality. The story involves a sultan and his harem and the sultan’s brother (Zeman), who informs him of an affair between his favorite wife Zobeida (danced by Jennifer Ricci) and one of the slaves (danced by Alan Alberto). A trap is set, the lovers are caught and the consequences are not pretty.

But the ballet itself is beautiful, in the sinuous arcs of the harem girls’ arms, in the high leaps by Zeman, in the dramatic gestures of the Eunuch and in the lovely and tender 10-minute pas de deux between Zobeida and her “Golden Slave.”

Former Boston Ballet soloist Gianni Di Marco spoke during a rehearsal break about his interpretation of what had been a standard piece in the repertory of the Ballet Russes. He mentioned clarifying the characters’ motivations, for example, making Zeman a bit in love with Zobeida and making the Eunuch more of a storyteller and jester. Di Marco also wanted to bring his own vocabulary of steps, so different from the original production, into this new Scheherazade.

“I made the duet with Zobeida and the Golden Slave more intimate, a little sexually avant-garde,” he noted, “because we live in a different age now. People see reality shows and want to be part of it. I wanted this to be as if the audience saw themselves involved in this relationship, for them to relate to it more.”

Thus, when that enchanting in-the-garden motif begins in Rimsky-Korsakov’s music, Zobeida walks toward the Golden Slave and he lifts her onto his thighs, holding her as she faces front, running his hands along the side of her face and down her shoulders. He bends her back across one knee and she touches her hair, then her heart and moves away. He undulates toward her, caresses her, lifts her, and twirls her when the music flutters. She revels in her own sexuality as she swipes the front of her foot across the back of his knee. And finally, the two of them are on the floor as she rolls over him and then he over her.

Jennifer Ricci and Alexander Akoulov in Scheherazade. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion
Jennifer Ricci and Alexander Akoulov in Scheherazade. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion

“In trying to bring emotional feeling into movement, you have to make the dancers understand what it is about,” Di Marco emphasized. “A rainbow has to have different colors. This time you have to feel sad; this time you have to feel happy. I want to create dancers who are well-rounded and true to the art form.”

And if everything is not tied up in neat bows at the end of a ballet such as Scheherazade, that’s part of Di Marco’s intent: “It’s important to go home thinking about it. We live in a society where everything has to be instant coffee. It’s nice to live with a question, because we don’t usually want to try to figure it out.”

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