Sunday, April 27, 2014

Acis and Galatea at Cal Performances

Chelsea Lynn Acree, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson, Maile Okamura
(Photo: Ken Friedman )
Friday night I saw the world premiere of the Mark Morris's hybrid staging of Acis & Galatea. 16 dancers & 4 singers share the stage, with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorus in the pit. The dancers & singers interact to tell the story, though I found the effect a bit odd. Even though the singers are dressed similarly to the dancers, their diverse physiques set them apart, & I kept expecting the dancers to start singing.

The choreography illustrated the music & the bucolic scenario very closely. The dancing was very symmetrical & involved a lot of gracefully extended arms, frolicking, & running on & off stage. There were many humorous moments, such as when the dancers depicted meadow animals or the "ample strides" of Polyphemus. They also enacted the rolling boulder that kills Acis. It was often like watching a segment of Fantasia.

Soprano Sherezade Panthaki has a pretty, warbling voice & was a reassuringly solid Galatea. The strong, clear sound of tenor Thomas Cooley as Acis reached out into the hall easily. Tenor Zach Finkelstein's singing, in the role of a shepherd, was even & secure. Bass-baritone Douglas Williams got to ham it up a bit as a comical Polyphemus, & his voice was clean & focused. The orchestra & chorus sounded lively & springy under conductor Nicholas McGegan. They played Mozart's arrangement of Handel's music, & I enjoyed hearing clarinets & a fortepiano in the orchestra. There were several nice flute solos.

The bright green & yellow of the costumes & thorny, expressionistic backgrounds strained my eyes after a while. Dramatically the piece is tepid except for one purely theatrical moment when Ms. Panthaki was left alone on a bare stage to sing her lament for Acis.

Zellerbach Hall looked full, & the audience laughed at the amusing parts of the choreography. As soon as the music started, the woman next to me began pointing & whispered to a woman behind her, "I'm looking for Tanya." During the intermission I overheard audience members joking that they heard the lyric "Happy we!" as "Happy weed!"

§ Acis and Galatea (World Premiere)
George Frederic Handel
arr. by Wolfgang Amadeus Moart

Mark Morris Dance Group
Mark Morris, Direction & Choreography

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, Conductor

Sets by Adrianne Lobel
Costumes by Isaac Mizrahi
Lighting by Michael Chybowski

Thomas Cooley, Acis
Sherezade Panthaki, Galatea
Douglas Williams, Polyphemus
Zach Finkelstein, Damon
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director

Cal Performances
Fri, April 25, 8 pm
Zellerbach Hall

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