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June 2013

Scene4 Magazine | Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises | reviewed by Karran LaLonde Alenier | June 2013 !

Karren LaLonde Alenier

Created for the Washington Ballet, Septime Weber's new ballet Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises was such a rich experience of exuberant, athletic dance, engaging live music—some of it original scoring from jazz clarinetist Billy Novick, innovative presentation of text, eye-striking costumes, and energizing guest appearances by vocalists E. Faye Butler and Ari Shapiro and by the passionate flamenco dancer Edwin Aparicio and his entourage—vocalist Hector Márquez, classical guitarist Ricardo Marlow, and palmerist Anna Menendez that this reviewer would drop everything and run to see a second production. On May 12, 2013, this reviewer saw Brooklyn Mack dance the part of Jake Barnes and thought his leaps were like those of Mikhail Baryshnikov. In fact, Mack's credentials puts him in the company of this breath-taking Russian dancer since Mack's 2012 gold medal win of the International Ballet Competition, an award achieved by few American dancers, an award singling out such dancers as Natalia Makarova, Vladimir Malakhov, and Martine van Hamel.


Memorable was Mack's seemingly effortless entrechats, that interweaving of the legs and feet while momentarily suspended in space. His ability to gracefully propel himself upward while working his legs and feet defied the laws of gravity. Jared Nelson had the lead assignment as Jake in five out of the seven performances. Mack performed Jake for the two weekend matinees. When Mack was not dancing the role of Jake, he performed as the bullfighter Pedro Romero. Seeing Mack as Romero would have been desirable since the performance of Romero by Jonathan Jordan made this reviewer think that Romero's solo could have been cut by half.


Mack was also impressive for his strength and control in lifting Emily Ellis in the role of Lady Brett Ashley. Brett's role was often air born and while Ellis was good and acrobatically agile, her weight was noticeable when Jordan lifted her to his shoulder in what seemed to be a thud. Even seated, Mack picked up a dancing mate Maki Onuki (as the French prostitute Georgette) without visible strain.

Given that Hemingway's novel is set in the Jazz Age of the 1920's, the music and the choreography stylistically mirror that sound and movement. While some dance moves were recognizably swing styling (e.g. window shade, around the world, pecking), the moves often stopped short of completion and pleasingly transformed into gestures characteristic of ballet.

The ballet in two acts with intermission runs two hours and ten minutes. The libretto by Karen Zacarias and Septime Weber interweaves direct quotes from Hemingway's text, improvised lines from Jake's typewriter, and newspaper headlines. The show opens by quoting—as Hemingway does in opening his novel—Gertrude Stein: You are all a lost generation written in flowing cursive. Given the title, which puts emphasis on the novel and its author, some might be concerned about how well Zacarias and Weber adapted Hemingway's seminal novel, published when the novelist was only 27 years old. Because the novel puts heavy emphasis on dialogue and has no plot, this reviewer thinks that enough of the details populate the ballet to make a credible adaptation. Lots of nuances like the possible anti-Semitic treatment of the character Robert Cohn, a man who falls hard for Lady Bret, are left out. This reviewer prefers to judge the ballet adaptation on the overall effectiveness of the elements chosen and executed.

The Hemingway ballet abounds with musical variety. Composer/performer Billy Novick said in the Washington Ballet Blog that the score includes ten different musical genres including a klezmer song. A romantic but sad waltz between Bret and Jake speaks to Jake's World War I injury that rendered him impotent. Bret is a woman with a huge sexual appetite and won't commit to a sexless exclusive relationship. E. Faye Butler belted out a blues number made famous by Bessie Smith in "You Gotta Give Me Some." Ari Shapiro, a singer also known in real life as an NPR White House correspondent, crooned a Maurice Chevalier style chanson.


A cancan number brought up the temperature where the dancers wear costume designer Helen Huang's sophisticatedly colored dresses of black and grey that turn kaleidoscopic with colorful ruffles sewn into the wide skirt on its underside. The haunting clap cadence of Flamencan music accompanied the male Flamenco dancer who could balance momentarily on his toes.

Projections of archival footage (Paris in the twenties, WWI battlefields) extended the simple sets and made the transitions between scenes seamless. Also adding to the spectacle of a large cast that included children running through a crowd were gigantic puppets. The puppets, designed by Eric Van Wyk in the style of those shown in the Festival of San Fermin, were operated skillfully by Washington Ballet dancers.

Cover Photo - Brianne Bland


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©2013 Karren LaLonde Alenier
©2013 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Scene4 Magazine — Karren Alenier
Karren LaLonde Alenier is the author of five collections of poetry and, recently, The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas and she is a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
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