An Italian Straw Hat choreography by James Kudelka. Presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). Runs to May 15, various days. $36-$126. 416-345-9595. Rating: NN Rating: NN
James Kudelka's comic ballet an Italian Straw Hat was supposed to be unveiled during the 2003-04 season but got postponed. Judging from its opening performance Sunday, it's still not ready to be worn.
It's based on Eugene Labiche and Marc Michel's frothy farce about Anaís, a society woman who loses her stylish new hat during a tryst. A horse belonging to bridegroom-to-be Ferdinand ends up eating it, and Anaís and her lover Emil demand that he find her a replacement so her jealous husband won't know she's been straying.
Yes, this is the sort of silly, bourgeois narrative that gives the performing arts a bad name. But given the right choreography and production, anything can work, right?
Maybe. But Kudelka's taken on too much here. Besides having to create movement for three very different couples, he's also got to keep the story moving swiftly to its farcical door-slamming climax.
A couple of pas de deux establish character. Anaís's and Emil's nervous gropings and grapplings find expression in movement, and they're nicely executed by Greta Hodgkinson and Ryan Boorne .
Rebekah Rimsay and Piotr Stanczyk also stand out as a maid and valet who spend every secret moment humping to the rhythm of Michael Torke's pulsing, infectious score, which cribs from Rossini (for the big ensemble climaxes), Mozart and Beethoven.
But Kudelka and librettist Timothy Luginbuhl are stumped by the characters of Ferdinand (Guillaume Côté) and his bride-to-be, Hélene (Chan Hon Goh), who besides lacking motivation have zero chemistry together.
Comedy isn't easy, and Kudelka's choreography elicits the occasional grin but no big laughs, unless seeing a man in drag or a cuckolded husband being fooled is your idea of funny.
Santo Loquasto's designs - etchings evoking Belle Epoque Paris and stunning black-and-white costumes - are the strongest element, but even they disappoint. The ensemble scenes become a black-and-white blur of headache-inducing patterns so you don't know where to look.