Ballet's 'Mozart's Requiem' dazzles

Ballet's 'Mozart's Requiem' dazzles

By David Lyman - Enquirer contributor - March 27, 2010

The Cincinnati Ballet has been waiting for something like "Mozart's Requiem" for many seasons.

Choreographer Adam Hougland and set/costume designer Marion Williams have created a hyper-theatrical work - the sort of dazzling, modernistic work that you're far more likely to see in a European opera house than on an American stage.

That's not to criticize what we tend to do here. But if ballet - and opera and theater, for that matter - have any hope of being around 50 years from now, they'll have to live and create in the modern world. It's not enough to do "The Nutcracker" and "Swan Lake." They're wonderful and possibly even necessary pieces of the ballet repertory. But there was a time - 130 years or so ago - that they were new, too.

Watching new work isn't always easy. It's not necessarily literal. But as audience members, we're expected to bring some brains to the theater, not just eyes and ears. And if we're willing to participate a bit, the payoff can be astonishing.

Hougland is a smart choreographer. And a literate one, too. He's filled this ballet with fleeting references - intended or not - to all sorts of brilliant works; Martha Graham's "Primitive Mysteries," Bronislava Nijinska's "Les Noces," and even a few snippets of choreographer's Jiri Kylian's modern masterworks.

But Hougland is his own man. And the Cincinnati Ballet is all the richer for it. As the company's new resident choreographer, he will presumably choreograph many major works in the years to come. They've already announced that he'll create a new version of Stravinsky's "The Firebird" next season.

"Mozart's Requiem," given an opulent accompaniment by maestro Carmon DeLeone's Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra and the Xavier University Concert Choir, is not a ballet about pretty forms and patterns. In fact, the first act is filled with an often overwhelming sense of hopelessness. But then, this is a requiem. It is music for those who have departed and a reminder to those who will one day visit death themselves. Requiems, inevitably, are for all of us.

I won't spoil the surprises of the second act. But just know that "Mozart's Requiem" isn't all bleakness. There is hope in the mix, as well, and redemption and rebirth and jubilation. Hougland, like Mozart, understands the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

At the heart of this work's success, though, are the marvelously theatrical performances that Hougland elicits from the company's dancers.

Sarah Hairston gives a heartbreaking performance as a despondent woman teetering on the edge of suicide. Cervilio Miguel Amador - always a standout performer - is especially memorable as a tortured soul frantically trying to outrun the inevitability of death.

Jill Marlow, dancing with Anthony Krutzkamp, is grief-stricken as a woman who is inconsolable at the loss of a baby. Kristi Capps' character is terrorized by enemies who may be real. Or maybe not. Janessa Touchet and Oðulcan Borova bring a sense of majesty to a finale that is as grand as it is outlandish.

Hougland's work isn't flawless. A handful of the 10 sections could probably use refining. But "Mozart's Requiem" is audacious and challenging and thought-provoking. Most important, it is a rich and important addition to the Cincinnati Ballet repertory. Good for artistic director Victoria Morgan for having the courage to program it. And good for Adam Hougland for creating it.

"Mozart's Requiem" will be performed at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Aronoff Center.

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