|Choreography by Villella|
As his life unfolds, a man strives to master the complexities of the human Dance of Life. When we first encounter him, he is a gifted, 17 year old aspiring Poet. We follow the Poet through the stages of his life, with its ever-changing rhythms, until he reaches his sixties – a time when he must look back and reflect upon the life he has made for himself.
At each stage of his life, while confronting some very human temptations, the Poet must choose: between love and sexual desire, intoxication and lucidity, and his art and material success. Following in the long, romanticized tradition of artists and their self-destructive attraction to alcohol and drugs, the Poet, seduced by both throughout his life, loses the muse of his art and the possibility of genuine love. The Poet’s destiny and own Dance of Life are set in motion in the Prologue, when we hear the French poet Charles Baudelaire’s exhortation about life: “One must be intoxicated always … With wine, poetry, or with virtue, your choice. But intoxicate yourself.” In the end, it is the Poet’s character, as manifested by a lifetime’s accumulation of choices, that determines his destiny.
Set in a neighborhood ballroom in New York, the ballet begins in the late Belle Epoque with the Boston Waltz and continues through the Jazz Age with the Quick Step, Charleston, Castle Walk and Maxixe, the 1940s war years with their Fox Trot and Lindy Hop and the 1950s with its Mambo.
ACT I: “THE WALTZ: Our Lady of Oblivion”
Original music composed and performed by: Francisco Rennó
Act I takes place circa 1912-1914, at the end of the Belle Epoque and just prior to
An intense, young bohemian of 17, the Poet enters the ballroom in his neighborhood for the very first time. Lily, an alluring widow and former actress, has come slumming to this bohemian outpost. She dances drunkenly with a group of four men, who are also out slumming.
When Lily finally notices the young Poet, she dispatches her Chauffeur to invite him over to the bar for a drink. The Poet, however, has just glimpsed a beautiful, but elusive, young woman in white and is overwhelmed by unfamiliar emotions.
The arrival of Lily’s Chauffeur startles the Poet out of his reverie. To bolster his courage, the Poet downs the glass of absinthe Lily hands him. She leads him out to the dance floor, and they begin to dance. By now they are both intoxicated, and Lily, a sexual adventuress, decides that as part of the evening’s amusement, she will seduce the shy, inexperienced and much younger Poet. Again, the mysterious woman in white appears briefly before him. When Lily has finished with the Poet, she departs abruptly with her Chauffeur, leaving the Poet abandoned and in an absinthe-induced stupor.
The title, “Our Lady of Oblivion,” refers to absinthe, a potent drink that was the diversion of the day, favored by artists and writers of the period. It was also known as “the green haze,” because of the stupor-like state it induced in those who drank it.
ACT II: “THE QUICK-STEP: Unspeakable Jazz Must Go!”
Music by: E.K. Ellington, C. Mack, G. Kahn, W. Donaldson, J. Yellen, and M. Agar
Act II takes place in the same neighborhood ballroom, circa 1925-1927. It is the Jazz Age and with Prohibition in effect, the ballroom has been converted into a “private club,” a speakeasy.
The Poet, now in his twenties, has achieved a level of artistic and financial success with the publication of his first volume of poetry. Even so, it is a period of personal turmoil for him.
This night the Poet meets Kiki, an artist and artist’s model, a free spirit well-known in the bohemian enclave. As she makes her rounds, Kiki comes upon the Poet and offers him a drink, which he downs. This makes The Two Young Women at the bar jealous, and they drag the Poet out to dance with them. Meanwhile, Kiki goes off to dance with the man she arrived with, while the Poet keeps drinking, trying to fortify his courage. Thus fortified, he is now ready to dance with her.
He is completely enamored of the irresistibly adorable, clever and unconventional young woman, but the Jazz Age is a decant time, with its tantalizing combination of booze, free love and wild nights. As part of the ethos of free love, there is also gender experimentation, men who dress as women and women who dress as men.
Wanting to make love with the Poet, Kiki leads him to a back room in the speakeasy. Following closely behind are the Two Young Women and The Young Man with a Moustache, all of whom want to join in. When, during this orgy, the Poet discovers the true sexual identities of the three intruders, he is shocked and confused. He races back into the speakeasy in a drunken haze.
In the finale, Black Bottom, the speakeasy habitués, who knew about the sexual deception played on the unsuspecting Poet, make fun of his naiveté.
ACT III: “THE FOX-TROT: Dancing in the Dark”
In Act III, the Poet, now in his forties, has just returned to his old neighborhood for the first time in fifteen years, having spent that time in Hollywood working as an artistically and commercially successful screenwriter. It is circa 1941-1945, and the world is at war. He hopes that by returning to the neighborhood ballroom, the most familiar and cherished of his personal places, he will be inspired to write poetry again, to pick up where he had left off so many years ago.
The act begins with couples swirling romantically around the ballroom to a big band playing Stardust. Ava, one of the leading Hollywood screen stars and great femme fatales of the era, tries to slip unobtrusively into the ballroom. She is, nevertheless, recognized by some men, but her Chauffeur deflects their advances.
In contrast to Ava’s discreet entrance, the Poet makes his presence known immediately and unabashedly, arriving in the company of four gorgeous showgirls. While dancing with his four lovely companions, the Poet notices Ava, who has also noticed him. When Duke Ellington’s rendition of Dancing in the Dark begins to play, Ava lifts a cigarette to her lips and calls the Poet over for a light. He soon discovers that she is smoking marijuana, a popular intoxicant in certain circles during the war. Handing the Poet a marijuana cigarette, Ava lights it for him. They begin to dance a sweepingly romantic pas de deux that, for the Poet, is a passionate expression of his love and aching longings.
When the next song begins, a handsome, young Pilot arrives in the ballroom and is joined by four of his buddies. Together they begin a rousing dance around the ballroom, all the while, the Pilot is scanning the ballroom in search of Ava. They had planned a lovers’ rendezvous at the ballroom that evening. Eventually he spots her with the Poet, who is not aware of the Pilot’s presence. At that moment, Ava sees the Pilot over the Poet’s shoulder. She pushes the Poet down into a chair and hands the already heavily intoxicated man another marijuana cigarette. He passes out for awhile, giving Ava a chance to slip away and join the Pilot.
After a boisterous dance by the Three Smokers, Ava and the Pilot begin an overtly sexual pas de deux that is in striking contrast to the tenderly romantic pas de deux she danced with the Poet. At its end, Ava and the Pilot slip quietly out of the ballroom and into the night.
When the Poet wakes up in a daze and realizes that Ava has deserted him, he is desolate. An exuberant lindy hop begins to play and the four showgirls try to cajole him out of his despondency and onto the dance floor. After several attempts, the Poet belts down a few swigs and rises to dance with them. Now that he has lost Ava, he believes there is nothing further for him to lose, so he might as well damn-it-all-to-hell and continue his old debauched ways.
Act IV: “THE MAMBO: Mambo No. 2am”
Music by: P.Prado, A. Valdez, C. Almaran , E. Lecuona, T. Puente, and R. Santos
The “mambo” of “Mambo No. 2a.m.” takes place in the neighborhood ballroom during the 1950s. Its patrons go there to dance and watch a sizzling Latin nightclub show, which stars Rosalita, a stunning young dancer, and her partner. It is there that the Poet, now a successful television producer in his sixties, goes seeking Rosalita as a means to forget his lost dreams and melancholy memories.
At this stage of his life, the Poet is the seducer, but he can no longer rely on his physical beauty and charm alone to attract beautiful women – he must offer additional incentives, such as expensive jewelry, to win their attentions. His last chance for genuine love was lost when Ava, in Act III, chose the Pilot, instead of him.
He presents Rosalita with a diamond necklace and bracelets, hoping to ensure that following her nightclub show, she will leave with him and he will spend the night in her arms.
When the show ends, Rosalita joins the nightclub’s patrons on the dance floor, but she is obviously more interested in her dance partner than in the Poet. Pursuing her on the dance floor, the Poet tries to embrace Rosalita and claim his right of possession, but she eludes him and eventually slips away with her dance partner. Once again, the Poet has been abandoned and left alone in the old ballroom.Consulting Edward Villella on “Mambo No. 2a.m.” was Pedro “Cuban Pete” Aguilar, a worldwide dance star in the 1950s and an icon of the mambo genre, referred to in LIFE magazine as one of “the greatest mambo dancers ever.” Adding to the authenticity of the experience, Barbara Craddock, instructor and partner to Pete, taught the Company’s dancers about the female’s role in mambo.
|Yann Trividic and Mary Carmen Catoya in "THE QUICK-STEP: Unspeakable Jazz Must Go!" from The Neighborhood Ballroom. Photo © Mark Elias.|