By Keith Waits For Arts-Louisville.com
August 1, 2019
As the twilight enveloped the stage in Central Park, I was aware of how a gentle breeze caught the gauzy fabric that adorned some of the dancers. It was a simple accent to the graceful movements, a small thing really, but we never get that effect onstage in the Whitney Auditorium and it lent an extra dash of magic to the proceedings.
It also made me wonder how much the natural environment influences the choreographer’s approach when creating a new work to premiere in the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre. The Pastoral motif is common in ballet, usually created through artifice, but here the dance takes place in front of a living tree of some scale, with crickets an inescapable part of the sound design.
Roger Creel is no stranger to choreographing for this environment, and for this production, he has Erica De La O for a collaborator in her debut as a choreographer. A pre-show discussion opening night revealed the depth of understanding of the historical background the pair employed. For example, that Cleopatra was not Egyptian-born but Greek, a member of the Ptolemy family that ruled Egypt for hundreds of years. Their Cleopatra is a story filled with power struggles, sexual passion, and violence. It follows history by communicating these shifting dynamics in elemental terms. The program provides a tidy summation of the events so that we can connect the dots, but our common knowledge of Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and Cleopatra would inform our reading of the action without it, I think.
Scott Moore’s kinetic score is absolutely crucial in fleshing out the narrative beyond the sometimes abstract communication from the movement of the human form. The cinematic rhythms echo the tumultuous emotional and physical conflict in the story, and the visceral impact of the percussion is fashioned to work in sync with the corps of young step dancers that represent the Egyptian people onstage. Moore’s score also survives the intrusion of jet planes more easily than actors speaking dialogue.
Alexandra Ludwig’s costumes for the principals are barely there in the beginning, light and ethereal, but the bodies gain more covering as time progresses. I found it interesting that very little was done about designating Caesar or Cleopatra through their appearance: no crowns or trains of fabric follow them.