Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Weekend Dance Review

Children's Ballet Makes a Larger Pointe

October 19, 1998|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

The epic story of immigration and cultural displacement in America is a subject you might not expect to find dominating a kiddie ballet. But it stays front and center in Michael Uthoff's "Dias de Muertos" for Ballet Arizona, along with more predictable children's diversions such as dancing animals and Halloween trick-or-treat games.

Skillfully performed Saturday at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, this lavish two-act creation features a story by Mexican children's author Berta Hiriart that follows the Arteaga family from peaceful, impoverished, rural Xochiltepec to hectic, frightening, urban Avongate, north of the border. This north-south dichotomy amounts to transparent propaganda: plenty of deadly winter storms, traffic, police and supernatural evil up here, but none in Mexico.

No toe shoes, either. The Arteagas do dance ballet steps, but only the female snowflakes and other embodiments of northern danger wear pointe slippers. Too bad, for Uthoff remains a fluent, experienced classical choreographer, but much of this work focuses on the Arteaga ancestors, portrayed as jolly skeleton-figures in costumes by Judanna Lynn drawn from the traditions of Mexico's annual Day of the Dead. Uthoff's character dances for those ancestors--and for the Xochiltepec animals, the Avongate townspeople and trick-or-treaters--offer generalized vitality and color but not much else. Nor do they always match the expressive priorities or scale of a varied, intriguing score (on tape) by Eugenio Toussaint.

Happily, the sets by Rafael Cauduro and Monica Raya provide a show in themselves, with the huge winged figures overpainted on the Xochiltepec buildings evoking the sense of a culture always in touch with its mythic past. In contrast, the Avongate vistas represent pure icebox solidity: mass but no color or warmth. The wall of immense skulls at the back may contradict the work's cozy view of death, but it provides something strong to look at when-ever the pileup of choreographic effects grows excessive.

Like "The Nutcracker," this ballet depicts a young girl's odyssey, with Bonnie Rich accomplished as a dancing actress in this demanding role. Other standout solists include Mariusz Ostrowski as her elegant brother, Daniel Ramirez as her hot-to-bop cousin and the team of Qisheng Zhang and Kendra Mitchell as classical forces of darkness.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|