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"Moulin Rouge – The Ballet"

Royal Winnipeg Ballet At Touhill Performing Arts Center Jan. 25-26

Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet in “Moulin Rouge – The Ballet.” photo by Bruce Monk (click for larger version)
January 16, 2013
A dancing stranger is on the way to St. Louis. However, ballet audiences surely will warm to Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet in its first visit here, bearing the gift of a spectacular "Moulin Rouge – The Ballet."

This full-evening visual feast creates a new tragic love story set in fin de siecle Paris with its bohemian Montmartre setting of the famed, windmill-topped cabaret that catered to wealthy and poor denizens alike.

The three concerts, sponsored by Dance St. Louis, are Friday, Jan. 25, at 8 p.m. and on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. and again at 8 p.m., at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Under the artistic direction of Andre Lewis, the company celebrated its 70th birthday in 2009 with the commissioning of this work. The company is the oldest continuously operating ballet company in North America.

Serena Sandford in “Moulin Rouge – The Ballet” photo: Nardella Photography Inc. (click for larger version)
The triangle love story features the innocent launderette Nathalie, the club owner Zidler and the struggling artist Matthew. The role of Nathalie will be danced at the evening performances by Jo-Ann Sundermeier and at the matinee by Amanda Green. Matthew will be danced evenings by Dmitri Dovgoselets and at the matinee by Tristan Dobrowney.

Also in a lead role is the head Cancan dancer La Goulue (meaning "the Glutton," named after a real dancer known for her bold onstage moves, lifting mens' hats with a kick and downing their drinks as she passed). But rest assured: the balance of classical and contemporary ballet on pointe here will not take any X-rated paths.

Also in lead roles are the up-and-coming dancer Mome Fromage (also a real dancer's name) and the artist Toulouse, directly based on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, famed for his posters of cancan dancers and club images of the era.

The dramatic tale, quite different from the hugely popular movie version, unfolds with poverty-to-riches make-overs, passionate duets, sinister searches, green "absinthe" fairy apparitions, jealous cancan dance-offs, narrow-escapes and much more. The tale is based partly on the 1950 novel, "Moulin Rouge," which took the perspective of the artist Toulouse-Lautrec.

Nathalie's dance talent is discovered as local dancers compete impromptu for Zidler in the Paris streets. At the cabaret, she must again compete with a jealous La Goulue. The artist Matthew is discovered by Toulouse, who sneaks him into the Moulin Rouge in gallant attire.

The flames of passion rise amid the colorful contradictions of the era: where beauty and pleasure are celebrated, where the industrial age brings clientele from all walks of life to a village-like atmosphere of small streets and cafes, and where poor and celebrated artists struggle or thrive.

Jorden Morris, the choreographer and a former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, oversaw the monumental production that premiered in 2009. Striking sets recreate the street scenes, the famed windmill and the infamous cabaret, at times against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower (constructed in 1889). Costumes capture the humble and the flamboyant, including the rainbow colored skirts of the Cancan dancers, known at the time as the Diamond Dogs.

"The dancers are so used to using their bodies as technical tools that they were challenged by the acting that had to be communicated also with their bodies," said Ballet Master Tara Birtwhistle.

However, the dancers have blossomed in their roles and "now easily translate the move from innocence to passionate and powerful personalities on stage," she said.

In spite of the cancan being done on pointe, said Birtwhistle, "audiences will definitely recognize the lively cancan!"

The music celebrates the period with selections from Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Offenbach and Massenet, along with other famous melodies, such as from "La Vie en Rose," which was made popular by French singer Edith Piaf.

A free pre-show program will be conducted by Dance St. Louis' artistic and executive Director Michael Uthoff in the Touhill's Terrace Lobby at 7:15 p.m. each night and at 1:15 prior to the Saturday 2 p.m. performance.

Tickets range from $35 to $55 for evening tickets and $35 for all matinee tickets. Tickets are available at the Dance St. Louis box office at 3547 Olive St. in the Centene Center for Arts and Education in Grand Center, by calling 534-6622, or by visiting dancestlouis.org.

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