ORLANDO – Decades after Hollywood established the practice of taking hit Broadway musicals and turning them into Academy Award-winning movies, the opposite trend has proven to be equally durable, most notably through the efforts of Disney.
The theme park giant, which launched the first feature-length animated movie in 1937 with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” also decided to conquer Broadway by adapting its big screen hits like “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins” to the stage. As the recent run of “Mary Poppins” here in Orlando at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre beautifully demonstrated, Disney’s creative stage directors aptly proved that it can be a surprisingly smooth transition if you know how to recreate some movie magic on stage.
But it isn’t just Disney that’s been looking to the large screen for theatrical inspiration these days. “Hollywood En Pointe” aimed to tap into our nostalgic fondness for classic movies, and it came to the Bob Carr this past weekend courtesy of a unique presenter: the Orlando Ballet.
Under the direction of the theater’s artistic director, Robert Hill, the gifted young dancers in the Orlando Ballet have already found past inspiration for their stage performances in classical music revived for the holidays (“The Nutcracker”), legends of horror (“Vampire’s Ball”) and even gender wars (“Battle of the Sexes.”) Now Hill and his troupe of multi-talented performers have apparently gone back to the DVD stores and found inspiration in the brilliant works of cinema’s past to create “Hollywood En Pointe,” a kind-of Hollywood’s greatest hits meets ballet. And while it’s probably not a ballet purists’ ideal concept of what the Orlando Ballet should be about, for anyone else it was an electrifying performance.
As usual, Hill’s creative and energetic choreography seemed brilliantly matched to some familiar Hollywood musicals – perhaps most strikingly in the show’s recreation of scenes from “Cabaret” and “Singing In The Rain,” where the renowned dance moves of Joel Grey in the former and Gene Kelly in the latter film blend seamlessly in with Hill’s own original choreography. Think of it as taking the original as inspiration, and then creating from it something even more …. well, original.
Even more impressive about the show, however, is that Hill keeps the audience guessing what may be next by not relying strictly on the simple recreation of musical numbers to carry the entire show. “Hollywood En Pointe” actually relies very sparingly on musicals, and goes off into some unique directions, from recreating the silent screen antics of Charlie Chaplin in several good scenes to a ballet restaging of the famous “Stella! Stella!” moment that made Marlon Brando a star in the 1951 film “A Streetcar Named Desire.” If a sexually-charged Tennessee Williams play doesn’t exactly sound like ideal inspiration for ballet, you would have been amazed at how impressive the results were.
Equally stunning was the energy, speed and dexterity that went into employing dance moves and ballet to recreate the action scenes of the “Mission Impossible” and James Bond series, where the need to disable hearty villain or fend off a potentially dangerous femme fatale works quite beautifully with Hill’s savvy choreography. He also does quite an eye-catching job of recreating the feel and movement of silent movies, yet once again through dance.
With a cast of 22 extremely skilled dancers, the show’s individual scenes ranged from just two people on stage, to a single performer, to a large number in some stunningly well-done show-stoppers. And if it was mainly done on a bare stage with no set designs, that didn’t much matter. The dancers provided the visual stimulation hands down.
“Hollywood En Pointe” was sponsored by Harriet Lake, a strong and committed supporter of the local arts community, and the Orange County government. In these days of very tight budgets during a still weak economy, this was nevertheless a smart investment. Supporting first rate performances like this one by the Orlando Ballet will only help the city.
And on an artistic level, as Disney proved, the wonders of the big screen can be smartly moved to the stage with the right amount of imagination, and as Hill also demonstrated, finding inspiration from Hollywood makes for some highly engaging live theater as well.
And if ballet sound a bit stuffy to you, you would have been surprised last weekend at the Bob Carr to learn just how misguided that perception is.
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