Friday, May 11, 2012

FROM THE HOUSE OF MIRTH "no one will ever know the cost of beauty"


Society is a revolving body which is apt to be judged according to its place in each man’s heaven; and at present it was turning its illuminated face to Lily.

                                                  The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

In his multi-disciplinary dance adaptation of Wharton’s classic novel, James Kudelka has perfectly captured the sense of Lily Bart’s revolving body as she is put through a series of intricate class-conscious movements with three other women culled from the depths of high society. Set to a beautiful and evocative score by Rodney Sharman - with selections from Franz Liszt and Franz Grothe - Claudia Moore, Christianne Ullmark, and Victoria Bertram mingle with Laurence Lemieux’s stunningly performed Lily, providing a demure grace and cunning charm that brings the quartet of desperate socialites together in graceful and elegant movements. 

Gradually dissipating, and then ruthlessly separating through the repetition of a gorgeous symmetry, these revolutions into the tragic denouement of Wharton’s class-based tragic love narrative render the overall experience a kind of courtly collision of music and movement - a veritable mash-up of theatre, opera, and lightly gathered, choreographic romance machinations.

Performed beneath and around a posh, gilded cage like structure by David Gaucher - resplendent through the inert presence of a sumptuous chandelier - the dance sequences run seamlessly throughout the ongoing score. Kudelka could open up these interconnected segments a little earlier, bringing a somewhat more explosive nuance to the drama at hand, and yet this is a small sacrifice for the final, brilliant punctuation of Lily’s demise.

Lemieux is in fine form as she leads her social competitors through Kudelka’s ensemble of courtly'esque formations, with hints of balletic gestures and sharply modern limb extensions that infuse small movements of the arms with a kind of tightly knit upper class grace-cum-refined/repressed energy.

A commingling of polite society and ruthless ‘courtly’ love is made all the more layered and deceptive by the rich, varied operatic voices of Alexander Dobson, Geoffrey Sirett, Graham Thomson, and Scott Belluz.


Belluz’ piercingly beautiful coloratura rises from the ensemble throughout, providing an intense contrast to the lower tones of his steamy, sensually inclined cohorts. Ultimately, this distinct collection of voices contributes to a gorgeous, heavily gendered collaboration of music and form that provides a dominant narrative motif appropriate to Wharton’s original critique of men and women bargaining for a lucrative clutch. The upper classes and their mangled route through amorous transactions - and eventual marriage - come out on top of a virtual heap of mismanaged lives. When Lily falls it is all the more poignant due to Belluz’ final piercing repetitive cry that punctuates the text with Wharton’s double-edged play with fated, mirthful aspirations.

Alex Poch-Goldin’s direct and simply stated libretto begins with  a clear, Whitmanesque ring of wealthy America at the turn of the century as the four men join in a near anthem-like verse espousing the grandeur of “America, American, Americana/Land of mountains, field and streams/And dreams.” Goldin proceeds to tell the story with a firm grasp of condensed narrative structure, taking us in a pleasingly tumultuous way toward a terribly distressful end.

Running at the Citadel in Regent Park until May 14th, From The House of Mirth is a beautifully conceived piece of dance theatre, rich in narrative and drowning in lush, impassioned voice and intricate gestural flow. Costumes by Hoax Couture present a restrained regal air - until Lily appears late in the day, barefoot and devilishly glamorous in a fated, muted, plum’ish chiffon piece lending her a timeless, faintly Shakespearean tone.

The overall program is a brilliant, restrained, integrated feast of singing men and dancing women caught within the stylish confines of cut-throat cultural affairs soaked in love and money.


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