Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thoughts on Cheri

When I purchased my subscription to this year's Signature Theatre season, I didn't include the Martha Clarke piece in my subscription.  Mainly because I didn't know anything about it and because the other shows sounded so compelling to me.  However, if Signature had told me up front that Cheri would feature two ABT dancers and text from Tina Howe, I might've decided to ONLY see Cheri all season!  Once I heard about the cast and rest of the creative team, I grabbed a ticket.  Thankfully, I found a gorgeous single seat, fifth row center, for the day after Thanksgiving.  As always, $25 well spent...

Cheri is an adaptation of the Colette novella about the arc of a relationship between an older woman and a younger man.  Actually, it's not so much an adaptation but maybe an 'inspired by' experience.  I certainly found watching Cheri to be an experience - since the production doesn't open for another week, I'll just offer some thoughts.

The physical production is glorious - with just some walls, a bed, paint, gilt and gorgeous lighting, Belle Epoque Paris is beautifully depicted.  Oh, and mirrors.  Two stunning mirrors anchor the set.  I really can't say enough about how beautiful the set, costumes and lighting are.  In fact, the production as a whole was stunning, like a painting I could stare at for hours.

The characters of Cheri and Lea, the young man and older woman, tell their stories completely through dance.  The third character of Cheri's mother, played lovingly by Amy Irving, narrates much of the scenic segues with dialogue that sounds like Colette yet sounds like Tina Howe.  It's a delicious combination.  Amy Irving also looks spectacular in her period costume.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
The heart of the story, though, are the central performances by Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri, two amazing ballet dancers.  I've been lucky enough to see Cornejo several times at ABT, and I also saw Ferri dance there several times before her retirement in 2007.  Besides being technically wonderful dancers, they're both terrificly expressive actors, with deep connections to their characters and emotions.  Cornejo, in particular, is quite moving in his character arc.  He's so young and carefree in the beginning, with more and more sadness and pathos creeping into his movements.  By the last scene, he is barely recognizable as the sunny young fellow from the opening moments of the piece.  I found myself holding my breath towards the end, knowing how the piece had to end, yet still shocked by it.  Lovely.  His final solo was just breathtaking.  But Ferri also beautifully portrays a woman deeply in love, but knowing she has to give up that love for his happiness.  She's quite stunning.

There is an on-stage pianist, Sarah Rothenberg, who beautifully plays the live music that Ferri and Cornejo dance to.  There isn't a list in the playbill of all the pieces, but I'm pretty sure I heard some Poulenc and Debussy.  A sign in the lobby also mentioned Ravel.  One quibble I do have with the evening was that so much of the music sounded the same, that it did become a bit monotonous in the middle section.  Plus, on a stage that's more long than deep (does that make sense?), there's only so much differentiating Clarke could do with the choreography.  Everything I was looking at was lovely, but the show did become a bit static at points.  Minor quibbles, in my opinion. 

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but, then, I am predisposed to enjoy a piece that uses ballet dancers (especially Herman Cornejo), an on-stage piano, Tina Howe text and is French.  Many of the rest of the audience, unfortunately, did not share my predisposition.  The gent next to me was snoring within ten minutes (really, you can't stay awake for ten minutes??), the woman behind me was yawning quite loudly (which, of course, set off other people to yawn quite loudly), and there were a number of, uh, seasoned theatergoers who started to talk in their outdoor voices once they got restless.  Whatever.  I really liked it, even with my quibbles and a bit of wandering attention in the middle.

I ran into a friend in the lobby after the show (I didn't know we were seeing the show on the same night), and we both seemed to have the same starry-eyed expression on our faces.  "Wasn't that BEAUTIFUL," we rather sighed to each other.  Of course, later I discovered she didn't really enjoy it.  So, god love her for obeying the five-block rule and for not yucking my yum.  That's what friends are for... : )

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