Choreography: Todd Bolender
Music: Maurice Ravel
Costume Design: Russ Vogler
Todd Bolender’s first ballet, the 1943 Mother Goose Suite was born in circumstances marked by modesty. Created to fill a program given at the New York’s YMHA by the short-lived American Concert Ballet of which Bolender and William Dollar were artistic directors, the work later enlivened a summer season at a barn-cum-theatre in Southbury, Connecticut. In 1948 at the request of George Balanchine, it was added to the repertoire of the New York City Ballet. After many a season in that company, Mr. Bolender has set it anew for the Kansas City Ballet’s spring season. That the work has endured decades, that it’s appeal transcends changed audiences, changed expectations, seems testimony to the remarkable fusion of movement and music, of shared sensibilities of the composer and the choreographer.
Maurice Ravel’s “Ma mere love” was also a work of unpretentious beginnings. Based on the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, Mme. D’Aulnoy and Leprince de Beaumont, the piano duet was written for Mimi and Jean Godebski, children of Ravel’s friend Cyprien Godebski, and was first performed in concert at the Société Musicale Indépendante in Paris, on April 20, 1910. Though written for children to play and to delight in, it spoke as well to adults, “opening a door for us, too, to glimpse the marvels of an imaginative world most of us have long since forgotten” according to Edward Downes. The tales are five: of “The Pavanne the Sleeping Beauty,” which tells of the princess who slept for a hundred years in an enchanted castle ’til she was awakened a handsome prince. “Hop o’ My Thumb” traces the winding path of the abandoned child whose life-saving trail of crumbs is consumed by a bird. In “The Ugly Little Girl, Empress of the Pagodas” the child is transformed into a beautiful princess. In “The Conversation of the Beauty and the Beast” Beauty confides to the Beast that he seems less ugly when she thinks how kind-hearted he is. He asks her hand in marriage, and when she accepts, the Beast is transformed into a Prince,” as beautiful as the God of Love.” “The Fairy Garden” is the scene of the awakening of Sleeping Beauty as Prince Charming arrives with the dawn.
The ballet departs from Ravel’s orchestral suite only in the order of presentation. “The Fairy Garden,” traditionally the fifth movement, here follows the “Pavanne,” a shift which makes the ending one of floating delicacy. Threaded through the magic of Ravel’s layered fantasy of fairies, beasts, and ogres, is the figure of a Young Girl. She and The Woman are Bolender’s creation, central to the dance drama, as they glide through the opening “Pavanne,” connected only by faintly-felt brush of recognition. They are one, at once young and old, reflection ad reality, past and present. The Woman reaches at touch her past only to bestow the ring, the gift which marks The Girl’s passage beyond self, and which frees to her, in turn, free The Prince from beastly imprisonment. Set between the opening “Pavanne” and “Beauty and the Beast” are sweeping classicism of the sarabande in “The Fairy Garden,” the wistful supplication of “Hop o’ My Thumb,” and the brilliant and sharply punctuated, “Empress of the Pagodas.” Throughout, the choreographer has designed the dance to illuminate the fairy tale qualities of the music, to visually support Ravel’s vivid coloration with broad horizontals, the sweep of an impressionist’s vision. Responding to the music’s long and lyrical phrases, the ballet shares that yearning length, the generosity of lines.
The set, and the costumes designed by Russ Vogler, evoke a work of magic. The Beast’s mask, Mr. Vogler has said, is a frank allusion, and tribute to the extraordinary Beast of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film “La Bella et la Bete.” As Fairy Tales exist on an imagined and distant plane, are fixed neither in locale or period, so this music, these costumes and the dance are intended to fix our sights on infinity and magic possibilities.