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Flash Review, 5-19: Parsons's 'Piper' Packs a Peck of Pirouettes
....But Even the Rats Can Only Watch So Much Spinning

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

ABT premiered David Parsons' "The Pied Piper" to a buzzing audience Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera House. In a sense, it was a no win game because of the massive advance publicity, each subsequent feature ratcheting up the public's expectations. It may have taken nothing less than a masterpiece to live up to the hype. And, perhaps inevitably because of this, a masterpiece was not delivered. What we did receive was a high-energy showcase: for a bravura male spinner, in this case Angel Corella, and for a glimpse of what theater design in the future will look like.

The work was set to John Corigliano's anxious orchestration, written in 1981 and lengthened here. It was guided by strings and an impetuous flute, which would be the voice of the Pied Piper. The piece began enticingly enough, with the string section nervously awaiting the passage of the moon, the arrival of the stars, and the introduction of the Pied Piper (Angel Corella) who was hidden beneath the cloak of his mentor (Victor Barbee), whose quick passing demanded that the Piper step into his shoes. The new town bewitcher dazzles the folk with his whirlwind antics. He fights mighty battles with giant rats (cleverly designed shrouds, by costumer Ann Hould-Ward, borne lengthwise by outstretched arms), beating them on their rubber heads with his flute, and banishing a herd of mice on wands transforming them into waving wheat. Corella was at times accompanied by the third incarnation of the Piper, performed by Chase Finlay.

Regardless of how game he was to rumble, the main weapon in his arsenal was clearly the pirouette. In passe, in second, in attitude, in the air, you name it. For certain, Corella is a phenomenal dancer, veritably launching from a standstill into a tour, and with superhuman energy, but after a couple of five rotation turns, the next dozen are merely expected. After a while, even the rats seem indifferent to his spinning. After he finally gained control of his maniacal energy, and thus his powers, he performed one subdued solo which allowed some nuances of his talents to mercifully emerge.

Parsons balanced traditional ballet vocabulary with his lyrical, athletic modern style favoring leaps in fourth position and attitude turns, but with a reliance on busywork.

Dance-wise, not much was given to the rest of the cast, of which the adults were trapped inside layers and layers of accreted materials in costumes that could've been seen from the space shuttle. They were certainly dramatic enough, but seemed more suitable to strictly character roles instead of featured dancing roles (I refer to Brian Reeder as the Mayor, Jennifer Alexander as the Mayor's Wife, and Clinton Luckett as the Councilman, plus 15 additional dancers) -- more Met Opera than ABT, and not at all appropriate for these trained athlete/artists. The children fared better, in prisoner garb, but were assigned just skipping and chassees, and of course shadowing the Piper around and around the stage.

The digitally produced backdrop, by Michaela Zabranska and Misha Films, was perhaps "The Pied Piper"'s most significant contribution. At first glance, it looked like a traditional painted opera house backdrop. Only after the imagery began to move, then swiftly faded into a totally different image, did I fully understand the potential, which is limited perhaps only by imagination. We saw a fireworks show, a Chagall-esque village being built, and children flying off to a better place (well, to literally become stars, anyway). Traditional painted flats supplemented the digital effects.

Also on the program was Act II of "La Bayadere." The simple corps entrance, an enchainment repeating an arabesque phrase, never fails to hypnotize, and the dancers showed their strong, clean technique throughout the corps work. Ethan Stiefel matched his pyrotechnical leaps and turns with a knack for continuing a move past its allotted music, drawing ever more from the phrase, and giving it to the audience. Ashley Tuttle seemed listless and somewhat ponderous in a circle of tours jetes, but was partnered elegantly by Stiefel.

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