Review by MARGARET PUTNAM / Special Contributor, Dallas Morning News
If charm could be bottled, the elixir of Pygmalion would be worth its weight in gold. But alas, Jean Philippe Rameau’s 1748 opera ballet was performed only Tuesday night at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center by the Dallas Bach Society and the New York Baroque Dance Company. (The program will be repeated tonight in Houston.)
To whet our interest, Dallas Bach Society artistic director James Richman gave a breezy introduction to three other musical pieces from the baroque era. In Marin Marais’ Chaconne From Sémélé you could almost see the court dance of Louis XIV come to life with its buoyant little jumps and curlicue patterns. In contrast, Michel-Richard de Lalande’s Grand Motet: Jubilate Deo seemed set in a cathedral, with its grave tones, while Jean-Féry Rebel’s Le Cahos (Ouverture to Les Éléments) had a wild intensity more suitable to the modern era. The delicacy of the harpsichord, however, kept it from going too far astray.
Called an Acte de Ballet (the French court did not use the word opera ), Pygmalion was a delight on all fronts. True, the sets consisted of nothing more than two platforms, and there were no curtains to separate each act. But once Pygmalion (Mathias Vidal), Amour (Ava Pine) and La Statue (Rebecca Choate-Beasley) appeared onstage, the mood of playful unreality set in.
While Mr. Vidal had the lion’s share of singing, performed with rich emotional nuance, your eyes immediately fastened on Ms. Choate-Beasley, the perfect image of youthful beauty and innocence. That is not to ignore the beauty of Dianne Grabowski as Pygmalion’s scorned and annoyed lover, or that of Ms. Pine, outfitted in glamorous silver-and-diamond frock coat and enormous feathered headdress.
Music and dance existed in perfect harmony from the moment the work began, a credit to Catherine Turocy, artistic director of the New York Baroque Dance Company. La Statue takes the balletic posture of counterpoint from arm to waist, waist to knees, knees to ankle. Even Pygmalion, despairing the futility of loving an immobile object, expresses his pain with decorously curved arm gestures and a sorrowful tilt of the head.
The comic side came into play with the characters Games and Laughter, performed with exuberant confusion, but the appearance of the Three Graces (Ms. Turocy, Glenda Norcross and Valerie Shelton Tabor) lifted the ballet to a new realm. La Statue steps down from her platform confused and excited, moving like a newborn colt. Soon she matches every small jump, quick swirl and expressive arm of the Graces. In the world of Rameau, it is dance that brings La Statue fully to life.