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 Magazine.