DanceView Times, New York edition
In 1999 Susan Stroman, currently the toast of Broadway, choreographed a minor bauble for the New York City Ballet called “Blossom Got Kissed”. It was an inconsequentially charming piece about a ballet dancer who learns to jive and finds romance, clearly told and enjoyable. As an homage to Balanchine, Stroman was asked to choreograph a full-length work, which might as well have been called “Blossom Got Mugged.”
The purported reason for inviting Ms. Broadway was to honor Balanchine’s show business work, but the piece (two separate, unrelated works) are intended to be two silent movies. Balanchine worked in films, of course, but neither a D. W. Griffith weepy (Stroman’s The Blue Necklace) or Buster Keaton (Makin’ Whoopee) have any known relation to Balanchine, or ballet either, for that matter. I expect it was more a case of $usan $troman.
As theatrical works, these were both unimaginative and clichéd, and as ballets, there were even more limited. It appears that Stroman was given a dictionary of ballet terms, but didn’t make it much past bourrée.
The Blue Necklace is the Cinderella story, updated to the turn of the century. A music hall dancer (Maria Kowroski) can’t support her baby, and leaves her on the church steps to the tune of My Blue Heaven, which is replayed like a cartoon whenever she thinks of her lost daughter—every few seconds, it seems. The baby is rescued by a man who happens to be leaving his daughter, but he takes both of them back to mean old Kyra Nichols, who is somewhat taken aback to find she has to raise them both.
The baby grows up to be Ashley Bouder, and her mean step-sister is the adorably awkward Megan Fairchild. Somehow, the poor widowed Nichols is invited to Maria Kowroski’s grand party (she is now a famous movie star) and Bouder finds her mother, along with a famous movie star, Damian Woetzel. (The poor man was wearing the longest, floppiest tail coat I have ever seen, and whenever he did turns, which was basically whenever he was on stage, he looked like he had four legs.)
This is all explained by projected subtitles (like a real silent movie, get it?), which explain the action while the dancers twiddle away on point. A choreographer who cannot convey the story of Cinderella with movement alone is truly inept. Even the theatrical effects are old hat—Bouder dreaming of her Prince, while stars were projected on the backdrop and the dry ice machine worked overtime was probably the all time low.
Bouder danced wonderfully, but she does lack the vulnerability that a true Cinderella needs. And since there was a screen in place, it would have been more effective to show Lillian Gish locked in the closet from Broken Blossom than the anemic take-off Stroman provided.
This hackneyed mess was apparently intended to be serious—Stroman has called it a tragedy, and she ended it, a la Griffith, with a Biblical quotation, to the effect of “like mother, like daughter”, as Nichols and Fairchild are seen staggering up the stairs swilling champagne.
A travesty of a silent melodrama is just inept, but a travesty of Buster Keaton is vandalism. Makin’ Whoopee is a literal and dogged (and I mean dogged—there is a French bulldog upstaging everyone) attempt to reenact Keaton’s Seven Chances (in which a man must get married before 7 o’clock on his 23rd birthday so he can inherit 7 million dollars), with Tom Gold in a pork pie hat. No one can or should copy that great and complex artist, and the piece is truly painful. “The bees are buzzing and the flowers are getting nervous” explains the subtitle as the scene shifts to Central Park; this is as funny as it gets, though apparently Stroman felt that men dressed in wedding dresses chasing Tom Gold was worth seeing several times.
Pointing out the gruesome details is almost too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel (how could anyone have a game Ansanelli try to do fouettés while the stage is littered with dollar bills?); but these are dangerous little fish, who are eating up time and money that could and should be spent on ballet.
Photo: Tom Gold in Makin' Whoopee. Photo by Paul Kolnik.