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AUDIENCE REVIEW: Ballet des Amériques at Tropiques Atrium Scène Nationale
Ballet des Amériques
February 5 and 7, 2020
When we turned the corner in Fort-de-France, Martinique, last Wednesday evening, we were startled by the number of people rushing along to the Tropiques Atrium for a February performance of a Christmas staple. So often the season dictates, but here, on this damp night, these island families came out in force to join a native daughter in a celebration of the art of dance that was like a second Christmas.
The Salle Aimé Césaire's nearly one thousand seats were still being filled by a buzzing crowd as the hour of seven struck and once the lights dimmed, and the strains of Tchaikovsky's familiar Nutcracker broke through, the suppressed excitement of the audience was like another instrument, impatient to join in.
This theater is a splendid amalgam of tradition and timeliness. It is a wide, high, spacious, warm wooden interior with excellent sight lines. The lighting and sound are superb. Every seat number is clearly visible.
As the ballet unfolded, its charms took hold and the audience - all having become children by now - followed the story with rapt gazes and oohs and aahs, punctuated by laughter and spontaneous cheers and applause.
The dancing was excellent. The company, with a few new members blending in effortlessly, brought the timeless story of Marie's night to life and presented her dream with the energy of youth in the joy of Christmas.
The costumes were bright and beautiful and the staging was delightful.
The return of Carole Alexis, director of Ballet des Amériques, to Martinique, in this first night's performance, was welcomed with waves of love and appreciation.
The second night was no less a triumph and, in some ways, even more satisfying.
On Friday evening, four pieces of Carole's original choreography were on display. This time the lure of the comfortable and traditional was not a factor, but the theater was packed, nevertheless, with an audibly curious crowd.
And many recognized the music that greeted them in the first work, “Of Flowers and Tears” since it was composed by the renowned pianist and fellow Martinican, Mario Canonge, who was also in attendance that evening. The bright primary colors of the costumes and the exuberant, engaging dances in this ballet, sing an anthem to Madame Alexis's homeland that exudes joy and pride. The audience, as they did throughout the night, tried to fill every breath with appreciative positive feedback. They became partners in the dance.
“Bolero' was the second piece. Ravel's sinuous strains competed with the crowd buzz after a pause but Isodale Alexis's slow rise from the floor of the stage soon hypnotized all into silent attention. This ballet has become a touchstone for Ballet des Amériques and its debut in Fort de France was more than noteworthy. The individual dancers become a writhing organism in thrall to the pounding rhythm. As it builds to its thundering conclusion the audience can no longer contain themselves and the ovation was a burst of shouts and howls and cheers.
“Nos ici et d'ailleurs” provided some ice for the evening's cocktail. After the intermission, it held up the mirror to modern, urban life: the hustle, the stress. the dehumanization, the depression. The frenetic company in their shades of black and gray reminded us why we need art to reflect reality and offer us beauty and catharsis as well.
Finally, “Lentil Soup” brought us back to the island, the homeland, the journey of return. Its humor, its themes of discovery, play, adventure and progress together, its mix of all the disparate and tasty ingredients, was the ideal farewell.
To say the night was a triumph diminishes its significance. It was a return home, filled with joy and love and pain and work and long hard commitment. It was an embrace that one wants never to end. It was the dedication of dancers and artists and composers and helpers behind the leadership and creativity of director/choreographer, daughter of Martinique, Carole Alexis.
Frank De Ligio 2/9/20
Frank De Ligio