Theatre Review: Pure Americana

review

Tom Sawyer, directed and choreographed by William Witener, composed by Maury Yeston; produced by Kansas City Ballet: seen October 14, 2011

The story of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is so much a part of the American landscape, especially the Midwest, that even though I know the story, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve actually ever read the book. I know I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school, and I love the 1973 movie of Tom Sawyer (partly because part of it was filmed near my home town), but I don’t think I’ve read the book.

It is this knowledge – the fact that so many people know the various escapades of Tom, from the whitewashing of the fence to appearing at his own funeral – that makes this an excellent choice for a ballet. The story is very easy to follow: the dancers play the various roles as if right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and the music by composer Maury Yeston is Americana to the point where you almost expect George Gershwin to be nodding along in approval.

Photo courtesy of KC Ballet
Photo courtesy of KC Ballet

Act I starts off with the whitewashing scene, and actually starts off a little slow. But the story moves along to school where we get Amy and eventually Becky Thatcher, as well as Huck and ending on the infamous funeral scene. The production played up the romance between Becky and Tom more than I expected, portraying it less like young kids playing at love and more like actual first love, which threw me at first, but the more I thought of it realized it made sense for a ballet.

Act II begins a bit more humorous, with Muff Potter (danced hilariously by Logan Pachciarz), and goes outright silly with “Dance of the Fireflies” and the following three segments, with my favorite being the dancing gravestones. The segment in the graveyard ends with “The Stone Angel”, with a dance by Aisling Hill-Connor that was too good to applaud for. And then the rest of the act deals with the murder of Doc, with a dance fight between Michael Eaton as Injun Joe and Luke Luzicka as Doc that is true fight choreography.

Act III, however, seemed a bit of a let down with the story’s conclusion, and I’m still trying to figure out why. Becky (Laura Wolfe) was played more feminine than I recalled (I always pictured her more of a tomboy), and Tom (Alexander Peters) was played more innocent and less of a rapscallion, but again I can understand how they’d play that up in a ballet version. While it was a good piece, in the end I wasn’t fully drawn into the story.

The tech, as always, was outstanding – especially the raft and treasure chest (still trying to figure out how the raft worked as well as it did). The sets were minimalistic, but effective, with an outstanding use of the excellent fly space in the Kauffman Center. And for those who think ballet is all tutus and tights, the costumes were outstanding – clothes you actually might see on people of the time period, yet still fluid enough for the dancing required.

Tom Sawyer: A Ballet in 3 Acts is pure Americana, and is a good choice for the Ballet’s premiere performance in the Kauffman Center. Technically good, it’s a piece that tells a familiar story in an original way.

This world premiere ballet performs Oct 20 – 23, and more information can be found at kcballet.org.

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