I must have been fifteen: A little old, already, for the content, and yet the spectacle held my attention more than MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which my mother had brought me to a few seasons before, driving us four hours from our Section 8 neighborhood in flat, brown Fresno, through the skyscrapers of San Francisco to the gilt War Memorial Opera House. The ballet this time was Michael Smuin’s “Peter and the Wolf.” The company was American Ballet Theatre. There were dancers dressed like animals. Costumes of bright orange and green, copious plumage. An easy-to-follow story, made all the more digestible with Bobby McFerrin providing the narration. A few years before, all through “Romeo and Juliet,” the harlot flailing around had overshadowed the love story and confounded me. But “Peter and the Wolf” was pure enjoyment. By matinee’s end, we’d had an ideal family day at the ballet, and the image of the dancer in pointe shoes as an antidote to life devoid of beauty took hold in my heart.
Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Christopher Wheeldon's “Cinderella.” Photograph by Erik Tomasson
When a choreographer takes on volcanic and iconic works from American musical giants like Leonard Bernstein and John Adams one move they could take is to cool them down with a couple of more soothing European works in between.Continue Reading