Ballet Fantastique’s Cirque de La Lune 10.11

Ballet Fantastique presented its season opener, Cirque de la Lune, in the Hult’s Soreng theater October 9-11. The closing show performed to a full, mostly rapt house.

Tracing the experience of an innocent young gal, who joins a travelling depression-era circus, Cirque de la Lune played with color and light, weaving its narrative with stellar live accompaniment by Mood Area 52, Betty and the Boy and Troupe Carnivale.

BFan’s collaborative spirit, and their insistence on live music always enriches the experience. The live music for Cirque was evocative and moody, carrying the shifts in emotional dynamic.

Costumes and headpieces, too, by Jonna Hayden, Etain Wilday, Donna Marisa Bontrager and Mitra Chester were first rate. Clown-like in their vibrancy, they added a pop of brightness, perhaps suggesting the exotic allure of a circus to small-town America.

The male dancers are consistent: Martino Sauter, Anthony Rosario stand out for their technique. Rosario is especially strong, dancing with his whole body, every moment he’s onstage. Jim Ballard may not have their ballet training, but he’s a terrific actor, bringing warmth and character to his role. And International Circus Artist Raymond Silos stole many moments with his gravity-defying trapeze, hoop and silks work.

Among the women, technique is more variable. The dancers have a lot of heart, but for some, energy seems to drain out of their hands and feet, especially during any challenging petite allegro footwork. Timing is also an issue, as so much of the work demands precision in its unison, and a couple of the dancers are often at least one beat behind the others.

Of the women, Hannah Bontrager has the strongest technique and the greatest stage presence. She is lovely onstage, emoting gracefully and delivering work that’s refined and passionate. But casting herself in a work she’s co-choreographing with Donna Marisa Bontrager may keep her from seeing the places where the corps work just needs more polish.

Choreographically, Bfan feels comfortable. It’s easy to watch. But the accumulative effect, over the course of the full work, may be that we haven’t journeyed that far together.

Multiple duets feel similar to one another, often at the same tempo, exploring relationships that seem almost like the partnering one would see in ballroom dance, rather than classical ballet. There aren’t a lot of ballet ‘tricks’ here –the pirouettes, the tour en l’airs, and the intricate movement across the floor or into the vertical space – that we love about ballet. It’s lovely. But it feels somehow safe.

Unlike many BFan shows, this one did not have a narrator.

Ballet is often meant to tell a story – it doesn’t have to, of course, in fact many dance-makers choose thoughtfully crafted exploration of line, shape and tempo over a plot – But relying on a narrator to thrust the plot forward seems incongruous somehow with the art form, that, in its elevation is ideally supposed to communicate volumes through movement and gesture only.

That said, without the program synopsis, this ballet would be challenging to follow. Easy on the eyes and enjoyable, but in terms of story perhaps a little thin.

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