I reviewed last weekend?s Diablo Ballet show for today?s San Francisco Chronicle. I genuinely like this company and admire the quality dancing they?re able to accomplish in the East Bay, so I was sorry to have found myself undeniably bored by Nikolai Kabaniaev?s peculiar new ?Petrushka?:
?Diablo Ballet Co-Artistic Director Nikolai Kabaniaev is a Russian- trained choreographer with a flair for theatricality and a helpless attraction to big ideas. In recent years, he’s made an audience-pleasing version of Massine’s “La Boutique Fantasque” and taken an allegorical twist to “Carmen.” But his “Petrushka,” which premiered Friday at Walnut Creek’s Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, surely ranks among his odder creations for this East Bay troupe.
The original “Petrushka” is a Ballets Russes classic, with a powerful score by Stravinsky and a libretto the composer devised with famed scenic designer Alexandre Benois. Michel Fokine handled the choreography, bringing to life the story of a tortured, soulful puppet that has his last laugh in death. The title role provided a haunting vehicle for such greats as Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev and Jerome Robbins.
The Stravinsky-Benois scenario can be read as a subtle rebuke of philosophical materialism, but Kabaniaev is not interested in subtlety. In his reworking, human souls — including our hero Petrushka, played by Edward Stegge — wait in heaven to be born into bodies. The imprisonment of the flesh is represented by white shirts, which the newly incarnated souls are forced to wear by the ringmaster Charlatan (David Fonnegra). In the work’s most entertaining section, the Charlatan lectures on the Sisyphean banalities of life: wake, shower, coffee and work. But the souls find joyous escape in death. ?