American Repertory Ballet was on pointe with Douglas Martin’s Pride and Prejudice

By Debra Danese for the Dance Journal

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.’ Using the first line one of the most popular novels in American history to begin their performance, American Repertory Ballet’s interpretation of Jane Austen’s literary masterpiece premiered at The Annenberg Center this past weekend. As American Repertory Ballet’s Artistic Director, Douglas Martin’s production of Pride and Prejudice marks the first time any Jane Austen work has been adapted into a full-length ballet. A complicated love story; it was an ambitious undertaking for Martin.

Published in 1813, Jane Austen’s tale revolves around the importance of marrying for love, not just money, in spite of the social pressures to make a good financial match. It also depicts the importance of first impressions and the outcomes of hasty character judgments. Set in England, we meet Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five unmarried daughters. The exasperated Mrs. Bennet, played with great effect by Mary Barton, is eager to make suitable matches for her daughters. However, it is the free-spirited daughter, Elizabeth, and wealthy Mr. Darcy whose story we most closely follow. The plot can become overwhelming with the various daughters and their suitors. Martin did an admirable job in presenting the different characters and costumed them each in their own color for easier identification.

Act I introduced the principle cast and had two main ballroom scenes. It was here that Martin took advantage of the period to intersperse the classical movement with jigs and reels. Erikka Reenstierna-Cates, as the meddling Caroline Bingley, was engaging throughout the performance and danced with clean lines and technical mastery.  Although other strong lead and ensemble work were showcased, it was Act II where the story allowed for the strongest performances. Mr. Collins was danced with an endearing comedic flair by Stephen Campanella. His pas de deux with the stunning Shaye Firer, in the role of Charlotte Lucas, was touching and portrayed a quiet tenderness. This was in contrast to the heartbreaking rejection Elizabeth (Lily Saito) first extended to Mr. Darcy’s (Mattia Pallozzi) marriage proposal. Their later pas de deux was filled was intertwining lifts to show the change in their relationship.

The overall production was authentic and true to the time. Martins did obvious extensive research to bring the English Regency period to life. The music featured composers who were relevant in Austen’s time such as Austrian-born composer Ignaz Pleyel, Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn. Internationally recognized A. Christina Gianinni also did a stunning job with the costume and set design. The female cast were dressed primarily in flowing, pastel colored dresses which evoked a feeling of romanticism. The sets were depicted by video projections which changed seamlessly with the multitude of scenes.

American Repertory Ballet has a Philadelphia connection. It’s Executive Director, Julie Diana Hench, is a former principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet.

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