Summer festivals are nice, especially when within reasonable travel distance, and when some thought goes into their schedule. Bard College’s SummerScape offers both. This year, the festival celebrates “Giacomo Puccini and His World,” void of sentimentality, and “Three Tenors,” a dumbing down. The opening weekend’s Fantasque was a silly and engaging redefinition of a lost ballet, and an indication of what’s to come over the summer.
. . .a silly and engaging redefinition of a lost ballet.
Leonid Massine’s 1919 toys-gone-wild La Boutique Fantasque (The Magic Toyshop) isn’t completely “lost.” It is one of the ballets highlighting Victoria Page’s post-Red Shoes triumphs. Though cinematographer Jack Cardiff captured the choreographer and Moria Shearer in his signature gorgeous technicolor, it is only a few minutes long. Therefore, as Alexi Ratmansky did with The Golden Cockerel at American Ballet Theatre, choreographer John Heginbotham and puppeteer Amy Trompetter devised a scenario based on the original idea from a lost Ballets Russes work to fuse a new stage picture and experience. Theirs is a creation, destruction, and, yes, reconstruction of the pleasures and perils of human and puppet coexistence. The new version retains the infectious, danceable music of both Puccini’s contemporary Ottorino Respighi and the influential mid-nineteenth-century composer Gioachino Rossini.
For Fantasque, Heginbotham’s dances were modern ballet; the same steps with bigger risks (falling, athletic partnering) and barefoot. They offered excellent support to Trompetter’s puppets, who came in all sizes. During the extended opening sequence, the dancers brought out different body parts, piecing together a large Di Cherico-esque nude female. She gave birth to a Devil, a body-sized puppet attached to his operator. The Devil, a vulgar, scenery chewer just like Goethe’s, wanted the soul of a soft-sculptured Baby Boy with button eyes, who was also attached to his operator. In a twist on The Nutcracker, The Baby and the dancers were rescued by Rats, with the tiny, whistle-blowing hand-held one as the bravest.
The hour-long work contained many magical moments. Fish served as dinner attacked each other while the puppets were about to eat them. Was their attack provoked because one of them resembled Donald Trump? A sun on stilts joined dancers celebrating the daytime, and after turning the headpiece to reveal the moon, the nighttime. The Devil’s indoctrinating the dancers into Hell began with his ugly-faced (exaggerations of traditional commedia dell’arte stock characters) assistants handing them masks and adding red cloth to their costumes, and ended with the Devil throwing a red net over them.
However, the most fantastic surprise was provided by pianist George Shevtsov. The Baby was sitting alone center stage. A ball rolling from the wings temporarily entertained him. Shevtsov then got up from the piano, removed his jacket, walked over to the Baby, and performed a flamenco number. In the program notes, Shevtsov mentioned practicing flamenco. Not only did he get the Baby’s attention, he stopped the show.
Running time: one hour
Fantasque was performed July 1-3 at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College’s Sosnoff Theater. For more information on the Bard SummerScape Festival, click here.