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DANCE REVIEW : 'Concerto for Elvis' Lacks the Presley Style

February 15, 1988|LEWIS SEGAL | Times Dance Writer

Ballets about pop idols destroyed by fame are always good for a few cheap thrills, whether they feature stellar classical dancers working at being funky (Alvin Ailey's lurid dance dramas on Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison) or are created as terminally solemn full-company vehicles (Christopher Bruce's lugubrious tribute to John Lennon for Ballet Rambert).

Introduced Saturday at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, Ann Marie de Angelo's one-act "Concerto for Elvis" has all the hallmarks of this familiar subgenre.

There are the usual scenic panels and pantomime vignettes that grotesquely parody pop culture (reference point: Ailey's "For Bird, with Love" about Charlie Parker). The central character is, once more, split into several roles representing facets of his personality (reference point: Maurice Bejart's "Nijinsky, Clown of God"). His downfall comes from a conflict between public image and personal need (reference point: all the Joplin, Morrison, Lennon and Parker ballets previously mentioned).

But if Elvis Presley was killed by his image, as a program note insists, at least he created one--which is more than can be said for De Angelo and her Long Beach Ballet cast.

Working against Ben Weisman's "Concerto" (a symphonic inflation of themes he composed for Presley movies), De Angelo has produced a desperately manic, defiantly unmusical ballet, one that hasn't enough stature to be called a disaster; it is merely a botch.

Not only does the depiction of Presley style extend no further than pouty stances and fingers-through-the-hair cliches a la "Bye, Bye Birdie," but even the predictable story line of the work becomes wildly incoherent.

Except in the showcase passages for guest Alexander Wood (a sensational break-dancer cast none too convincingly as Elvis' "Outer Image"), the action is swamped in garish lighting effects--including smoke, strobes, a mirror-globe, black light and flare. Only a vague impression of dancing ever reaches the audience.

Every so often, Laurence Blake (Elvis' "Inner Identity") can be glimpsed on some dimly lit platform, dancing some dreadful nightclub-style adagio or passage of impassioned pleading with his customary sensitivity and control. But he makes no effect. He, Elvis and the Long Beach Ballet are all obliterated by the off-the-rack Expressionism of De Angelo's staging.

Both here and in "Stay With Me," her ludicrous lust-and-rage-and-gymnastics duet with Blake on the same program, De Angelo avoids the deadly opera-house bloat of such pop-based projects as Kenneth MacMillan's "Requiem" for American Ballet Theatre. She obviously understands the heat, spontaneity and rebellion of rock 'n' roll. But she can't reflect that understanding with any integrity; she can only pile up excesses.

Besides De Angelo's two contributions, the program included traditional fare. Andre Prokovsky's "Faust Divertimento" began as a suite of graceful classical dances, full of surprising deployments of personnel, but the choreography soon clashed with the demonic elements in Gounod's score.

Lisa Street, Jonette Swider, Eric Rochin, Jeff Williams, Ake Pakarinen, the corps and, particularly, Helena Ross all embodied a new level of suavity and security for Long Beach Ballet. The company is definitely improving.

Also danced with spirit and ease, Helen Coope's inventive, unassuming Peruvian folk ballet "Aymara" completed the program.

Zelman Bokser conducted a decent orchestra in the Gounod and Weisman scores. The accompaniments for "Stay with Me" and "Aymara" were on tape.

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