Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in American Ballet Theatre’s, “Lady of the Camillias”
American Ballet Theater is currently celebrating its 70th year anniversary with the company’s premiere of John Neumeier’s ambitious “Lady of the Camellias,” first performed in Stuttgart, Germany in 1978, danced by Marcia Haydee and Richard Cragun.    This is the familiar tale of the opera, “La Traviata”; the classic movie with Greta Garbo; and a romantic chamber dance piece, “Marguerite and Armand,” by Frederick Ashton for Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. All based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, tell of the passionate love story between Marguerite Gautier, a famous Parisian courtesan, and Armand Duval, her wealthy pursuer. In this offering, Neumeier faithfully follows the original narrative by Dumas, and presents the story of love, jealousy, sacrifice, and death.
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The dance begins as flashback:  Marguerite’s worldly possessions are being sold at auction.  The mood is dark, morose, and silent. People are milling about as someone  breaks the silence by plinking on a grand piano, testing it for sound. Marguerite has died.  Armand rushes in late, as all the lots have been sold, and manages to snatch a dress from someone’s hand.  Nanina, Marguerite’s maid, hands Armand Marguerite’s diary.  Armand’s father is present, and Armand quietly begins to recount his tragic story.
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All comes to life as we see an audience of Parisian society taking their seats to view a ballet–we are watching a ballet within a ballet. The piece is “Manon Lescaut,”  danced by Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg; the story of a courtesan who flirts unashamedly, and her lover Des Grieux, and their eventual, harried and tragic end.  As a plot device, the dance serves as a signal, or ironic foreshadowing, for the ensuing events.
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Afterwards, Marguerite invites admirers to her room, Armand among them. She is annoyed at one of her rude guests, has a coughing attack, for she is ill, and retires to her room.  Armand follows, and at her daybed they tenderly caress; he falls at her feet, and declares his love. Both Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle are well cast in their respective roles–Bolle, as Armand, a classic figure, tall, dark, courtly with noble lines, and Kent, as Marguerite, airy, limpid, and ethereal. When they dance, he gives of himself totally in burning love and adoration.  In beautiful, spiraling lifts, effortless carries, and melts to the floor, the dancers become one. The music by Chopin, Sonata in B minor, is lyrical, meditative, and filled with longing as it builds to their dance of love, measure to measure.  When Armand finally departs, Marguerite pins a rose to his lapel.
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But all is not well.  Marguerite is pressured on all sides by suitors, and ill, absconds to the countryside, to an estate owned by an admiring Duke. Armand follows, confronts the Duke, and Marguerite finally, publicly declares her love for Armand. Here, Neumeier has created a beautiful dance piece for the ensemble.  Aptly, and charmingly outfitted in period costumes, the dancers joyfully celebrate in wonderful, circular waltzes while the stage is bathed in warm afternoon light.
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The pivotal point of the story develops when Monsieur Duval arrives at the country estate to have a private talk with Marguerite. He demands that she quit her scandalous affair with his son.  In a poignant moment she resists, but then eventually promises to comply.  She then rushes back to Paris; Armand follows, but finds her in the arms of the Duke.  Infuriated, he seduces Marguerite’s friend, Olympia, in a bodice ripping scene of frustration and anger. Marguerite, stunned enters and begs Armand to stop.  They reconcile, and again pledge their love.
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With the stage empty, except for golden circles of light, they dance a pas de duex of ecstasy and joy.  Armand lifts her in adoration, carries her high above, offers her as a prayer.  Manon again appears as Marguerite’s alter-ego, as a warning once more, and together they dance as a trio– all is open-hearted,  with wild abandonment. But finally, in the end, she leaves him remembering her promise to his father.
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John Neumeier, no doubt invested his artistic soul choreographing this piece, and rigorously followed the story line. But for the dances of passion he created, all becomes too much of a good thing.  The heightened emotions, the repetitive mood and tone of Chopin’s music, becomes overwhelming.  One must turn away and take a breath even though, no doubt, for lovers, time does stands still. That he investigates all aspects of new found love in a rich variety cannot be disputed. Finally though, in the end, it all becomes a bit cloying and overwrought.
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Later, at a ball, the women dressed in sumptuous gowns cut in a variety of styles in purples, dusty blues, sea greens, and pinks, and the men in dignified, black mourning suits dance. The costumes by Jurgen Rose are a delight. Armand then approaches Marguerite and humiliates her by throwing money at her feet for past services. Marguerite collapses, is taken to her room weak and ill.  She manages to write her last entry into her diary, hands it to Nanina, and dies.
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At the dramatic final scene, Marguerite, as a diaphanous vision from her daybed beckons Armand to her side in a final gesture of love. Standing before her, frozen, looking forward, he clutches her diary.
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