Gilbert & Sullivan, The Ballet! Dicapo Opera Theatre, New York

The production that hopped, skipped, chirped, kicked, traipsed, mugged, tippy-toed and spun – fast and virtually non-stop – at the Dicapo Opera Theatre last Thursday bore a provocative title: Gilbert & Sullivan, The Ballet!. Note the desperate exclamation mark.

The show was concocted by Francis Patrelle, director-choreographer-trainer of a modest company immodestly called Dances Patrelle. Founded in 1988, it musters two brief seasons annually, something billed as The Yorkville Nutcracker at sugarplum time and something in the spring dedicated, it says here, to “world premieres and classic favourites”. Patrelle’s “body of work”, not incidentally, “addresses all elements of the human condition”.

Some of those elements were shortchanged, we fear, in the new G&S revue. Simple ideas emerged almost simple-minded, and the movement vocabulary turned out to be severely limited. The sprawling exercise did cheer a partisan audience, even before it was served free champagne at the interval. Still, neither Gilbert nor Sullivan were well served.

Onstage a bunch of dancers mimed and hippity-hopped their frantic though competent way through a quasi-narrative that pretended to survey the creation of The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and HMS Pinafore. In the pit, a few young vocalists, accompanied by a tinny piano, did what little they could to project if not protect musical values. They also took some jolting liberties regarding harmony and vocal typecasting.

The relationship between sight and sound often turned out to be tenuous in any case. Patrelle’s busy-busy choreography – athletic, repetitive and cliché-ridden – often distorted the plots at hand and ignored character definitions. A fussy step illustrated every beat. Group exercises distorted every solo. The same leaps and turns served doddering old men and romantic youths, plump and pleasing persons as well as ingénues. Grand jetés and fouettés lose their impact when attempted by everyone, all the time.

If the evening had a hero it was Warren Helms, who held the wayward elements together at the keyboard and even dared invoke Schubert’s Erlkönig when Little Buttercup recalled her past as a baby-farmer. Sly fellow.

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