For a story that’s been told on the screen countless times, I was in disbelief to hear that it had never been told as a ballet. Victoria Morgan has changed that. Sometimes when a person is in the moment (especially when she is the creator of said moment), it is hard to take a step back and soak up the accomplishment. Victoria, give yourself a pat on the back. Cincinnati is wrapping you in a giant bear hug right now for leading us with your heart and passion.
Now even though Arthur’s story is one that’s seen its fair share of screen time, I didn’t go into Wednesday's dress rehearsal too familiar with the tale. Sure, I’d heard the names Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table, but how those characters interacted to make the epic story known as King Arthur’s Camelot, I was not aware.
If you are pleading ignorance as well, here is the backstory: As a young boy Arthur is the only one who can pull the sword from the stone. Thus, he ends up King of Camelot, and Merlin helps mentor the lad. One day he meets Guinevere and is immediately smitten. So naturally they fall in love and get married. Later, Lancelot enters upon the scene and proves to be a great fighter winning Arthur’s trust and friendship at the table. Unfortunately, he also falls for Guinevere, and she reciprocates. Mordred, the power hungry illegitimate goth son of Arthur, stirs up trouble when he tells Arthur of the affair and all hell breaks loose. The End. Not quite. I’ll save the real end for later.
CINCY BALLET CELEBRATES 50
This year Cincinnati Ballet celebrates 50 years as a company, and while I cannot attest to its entire history, in the past four years that I’ve covered the ballet, I could not be more proud of what this arts organization executes year in and year out. When it was mentioned at the end of last season that the company would undertake a world premiere, I kind of glossed it over. NBD. But it is a big deal.
A production of this sort costs money--$1.25 MM, in fact. It takes time. The idea was first conceived in 2005 during a conversation between Morgan and ballet board member Rhonda Sheakley. Over the past year, Morgan has been working on the choreography.
New set. New music. New choreography.
There is a lot of “newness” here. Camelot isn’t just retelling the story by the fireside to your children; it’s putting on a full length, full scale Hollywood like production. The score is penned by John Estacio, a JUNO-nominated Canadian composer. The costumes were born out of the artistic vision of Sandra Woodall, a renowned dance-world costume designer. And let’s just say it’s no wonder every girl wants her knight in shining armor to ride in on a white horse. Yes, the Cincy Ballet production is replete with horses, too. The horses are played by four of the male ballet dancers, who nay, kick, and gallop on cue.
Senior soloist Zack Grubbs and the Cincinnati Ballet dancers
What can I say about the cast other than emoticons of hearts, smiley faces and clapping hands. While Janessa Touchet is marvelous as Guinevere, this ballet showcases the men. Morgan loves powerful athletic movements and it just so happens those are usually danced by those with a Y chromosome. Cervilio Amador is brilliant as Arthur, and if Guinevere would rather be with Lancelot, I’ll happily sit next to his royal highness on the throne. Having watched Amador in rehearsal perform his tortured solo, it was even more heart wrenching and beautiful to see it in full costume and within the complete ballet. No wonder he is tortured--his best friend is having an affair with his wife, whom he deeply loves, but as King he knows she must be put to death. (*Spoiler alert - Arthur saves Guinevere from the burning flames of the stake.) I know, what a guy.
Patric Palkens is perfectly cast as Lancelot--the brash, young and dashing knight of the round table. I’d love him more if I weren’t so upset that he kinda ruined everything by stealing Guinevere. But that’s not on senior soloist Palkens, who shines more with each new Cincy Ballet production where he's given a key role. What Morgan asks of her dancers to do in terms of choreography and pushing the limits, and - in return - what they deliver, is nothing short of spectacular.
Janessa Touchet as Guinevere burning at the stake in the background and Rodrigo Almarales as Mordred fighting a knight
Camelot has romance. Camelot has epic duels. And it has what every great story needs, an evil dude to stir up trouble. Mordred must have arrived on the scene straight from Slytherin graduation at Hogwarts. He is slick, slimy, and elusive. When Rodrigo Almarales bursts into laughter on stage—something you never hear in a ballet—it’s more spot on than if I paid for a stock audio clip of “evil cackle.” You'll be happy to know his attempts at overtaking the throne are short-lived. Thank goodness. (As an aside, I really wanted to pop his billowy cloak of negativity. Props to the design team for making that cape a killer extension of his character.)
Although the story ends in bloodshed, Arthur is able to pass on his profound leadership skills to the next generation, for a young boy comes upon the scene of death and destruction. It’s a poignant bookend to where this story began and a moral we should take with us each day. Lead with your heart. Lead with conviction. Or else, this is what happens. Of course “this,” as in Cincinnati Ballet’s world premiere of King Arthur’s Camelot, is pretty awesome. So, in that case, lead however you want because we are loving every minute of the action from our seats.
Cincinnati Ballet will perform King Arthur's Camelot Feb. 13-16 at the Aronoff Center. For more information, visit the website: www.cballet.org.
*Photo credits: Peter Mueller