'Lady of the Camellias' lead a dream for ballerinas who love dramatic roles
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2013
1/27/13 at 3:31 AM
The final few minutes of Val Caniparoli's evening-length ballet "Lady of the Camellias" contains not a single ballet step.
No pirouettes. No walking en pointe No grand leaps. It's just a woman, alone in a room, thinking back over her life - the choices she's made, the things she has lost.
And for ballerinas who have a self-professed love of the dramatic, that final scene is one of the reasons why they love to embody a character like Marguerite, the title role in "Lady of the Camellias."
"I always love the dramatic roles," said Tulsa Ballet principal dancer Sofia Menteguiaga. "They can be so cathartic."
"Of course it's fun to do something like 'The Merry Widow,' which is funny and light," said Daniela Buson, one of the company's two ballet mistresses. "But when you can play a character who is a real person, someone with real emotions, who is dealing with life, it is so rewarding.
"Whenever you do a full-length story ballet," Buson said, "and when you are playing a character who is a real person, with real emotions, it is like you have opened your soul. It's almost like being naked on stage. You cannot be afraid or ashamed to show your true self when you dance."
Buson danced the role of Marguerite when Tulsa Ballet first performed this ballet in 2000, and again in 2002, when the company presented it as part of its two-week residency at the Sintra Festival in Sintra, Portugal, and as part of the company's regular season a short time later.
She is now teaching the role to Menteguiaga and Son You-Hee, the newest addition to the Tulsa Ballet roster.
It has been something of a concentrated process. Son and her husband, Rhee Hyon-jun, joined the company from South Korea's Universal Ballet in January, and Menteguiaga suffered an injury earlier in the season that sidelined her for several weeks.
"But I knew," Menteguiaga said, "even though the time was going to be very tight for me to learn this ballet, I was going to do it. It's a role I knew I could not miss."
Caniparoli choreographed "Lady of the Camellias" in 1992. It was his first time to create a full-length ballet - though the project was one he inherited when the choreographer originally commissioned to do the ballet died unexpectedly.
"The music had been chosen, the sets and costumes were built, all I had to do was add the steps," Caniparoli recalled. "And that made me think twice about doing it, but I love a challenge."
Caniparoli rearranged some of the music and reworked the scenario, based on the Alexandre Dumas novel that also inspired the opera "La Traviata" and the classic Greta Garbo film "Camille."
"That's one of my favorite films of all time," Caniparoli said. "And I've played Armand in the stage play as an actor. So all that went into how I approached the ballet."
In the years since, Caniparoli has continued to rework portions of the ballet, trimming some excess scenes, adding different music - though always music of Chopin, which was part of the ballet's original concept.
What dancers such as Buson and Menteguiaga appreciate is that the ballet - as physically demanding as it is - is all about telling this story.
"Oh, yes, most of it is very hard," Buson said, with the laugh of someone happy only to teach the role, not perform it. "But every step is like a word used to tell the story."
"Everything you do has to say something, communicate something," Menteguiaga said. "And a character like Marguerite, who goes through so much - she goes through a whole lifetime, really, in the course of the ballet - has so much to say."
"All the technical things fade into the background," Buson added. "And you are not 'performing' anymore - you are living that life."
Learning the ballet from Buson, said Menteguiaga, has been especially rewarding.
"I have worked with some teachers and coaches who always seem to hold something back," she said. "Like they don't want to share all their tricks with another dancer. But Daniela is not that way, and I so appreciate that about her. She is so willing to give everything to me, and I've learned so much from her."
"It's an exchange, really," Buson said about teaching. "Whether you are working with young dancers, or dancers who are more mature, you should never impose on them. You show them the path, and they make their own way.
"If there's a sense of jealousy or competition between the teacher and student, that never leads you to a good place," she said. "It should be only about seeing a beautiful dancer do well on the stage."
‘LADY OF THE CAMELLIAS’
presented by Tulsa Ballet
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m.
Where: Chapman Music Hall, Tulsa
PAC, 101 E. Third St.
Tickets: $20-$95. 918-596-7111,
Original Print Headline: Drama of dance
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Tulsa Ballet's Alexandra Bergman (left), Daniela Buson and Sofia Menteguiaga prepare for "Lady of the Camellias." STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Tulsa Ballet's Sofia Menteguiaga dances with Ovidiu Iancu in "Lady of the Camellias." STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World