Eric Nipp in The Royal Winnipeg Ballet\'s \"Moulin Rouge: The Ballet\" 

Review: Royal Winnipeg Ballet | Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts

No Cancan Do

At the Eisemann Center, the choreography in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Moulin Rouge: The Ballet has no connection to a messy story.

published Saturday, February 4, 2012

How bad is bad? Moderately bad? Seriously bad? Jumbo bad? How about tear-your-hair-out-and-scream-bad?

Yes, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Moulin Rouge: The Ballet performed Friday night at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts, was one interminable disaster. 

It had only two things in its favor: handsome period costumes and exceptionally well-trained dancers who moved with a fluid grace. Pity they had nothing worthwhile to work with.

Choreographer Jorden Morris strung together every little ballet step in the repertory — jeté, pas de bourrée, fouettés, piqué, tour en l'air — and so on, with no purpose or connection to the story. Fouettés in the middle of a cancan? You have to be kidding.

Here's the story in a nutshell, not that it matters: Nathalie catches the attention of the owner of the Moulin Rouge, Zidler. The painter Matthew pursues her with some help from his rival, Toulouse-Lautrec. She keeps running away with Matthew. Zidler keeps capturing her. It ends badly.

To fatten up the action, we have gypsies robbing Matthew; Nathalie making her cancan rivals jealous; Matthew and Toulouse-Lautrec dueling it out with paint brushes (which, by the way, they don't hold properly); Nathalie dealing with another jealous rival, the red-headed, hot-headed La Goulue, who also executes a mean set of fouettés. Bakers, laundresses, flower sellers, gypsies, models, cancan dancers, waiters, and slumming rich folk are thrown into the mix. And that's only Act 1.

Act 2 involves a tango café, too much absinthe, green fairies, a slugfest, more back and forth between Nathalie and Zidler and the fateful gunshot. It takes Nathalie a l-o-o-o-n-g time to die.

If it weren't for the costumes, it would be hard to know who was who. There was no variation in dance between Matthew, Toulouse-Lautrec and Zidler, for example. They all do the same big leaps, the same speedy turns, and in the same style.

Perhaps to compensate for the actual absence of drama, lighting that would never be seen in a late 19th century Paris cabaret throws off garish beams, akin to the strobes of rock concerts.

And that brings us to the music. Some of it good ("Claire de Lune," "Adios Nonino," "Finale from Hérodiade"), most of it ordinary. Fortunately for "Claire de Lune," the one saving grace of the ballet was the pas de deux between Nathalie and Matthew. It had the lyrical, dreamy quality of Romeo and Juliet's pas de deux outside Juliet's balcony. A staircase served as balcony, the moonlight and music offered magic.

The audience lapped up everything. I winced.

◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance MagazineThanks For Reading


Jim Davey writes:
Saturday, February 4 at 6:45PM

I just love it when a critic puts herself above the audience. "I know everything - the audience knows nothing!!" Wince all you like, Margaret - the only people the Royal Winnipeg Ballet plays to is the audience - the people they depend on to make sure they will be back again - not some out-of-step critic who know nothing about making a product that sells. Criticize all you wish - you are not listened to by the audience that loved it!! Shame on you for not knowing more about the entertainment business - the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has been around for a lot longer than you have and will be here, producing successful productions, long after you are gone - gone to that undetermined place where inconsequential critics go - after they realize that no one listens to them!!!

Lucia writes:
Sunday, February 5 at 10:01AM

Just want to say that a Moulin Rouge ballet is amazing! It brings together the artisitc talents of The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and at the same time you get to see the beautiful costumes of the Moulin Rouge era! Congratulations for continuing to bring cultural awareness -it's SPECTACULAR!!

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No Cancan Do
At the Eisemann Center, the choreography in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Moulin Rouge: The Ballet has no connection to a messy story.
by Margaret Putnam

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