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DANCE DIARY : A Well-Armed Balletto di Toscana

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By Jennie Schulman

Balletto di Toscana, which recently made its New York debut at The Joyce Theater, is quite obviously a company possessing numerous attributes. Here is a handsome group, flawlessly trained in classical ballet with a contemporary outlook.

A full-length ballet titled Mediterranea, choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, was the only work presented during the March 17-22 run. This took about 85 minutes without an intermission. Music came from traditional as well as original sources, with influences of ancient Greece, Spain, France, Turkey, Tunis, and, only incidentally, the music of Italy.

While the program lists all of the music accompanying the dancers, there are no program notes advising which of the dancers appeared in any of the sections. Performers are merely listed alphabetically on the title page. Certainly the dancers were more than worthy of credits as to "who did what."

Mauro Bigonzetti utilizes ballet from the waist down. The upper torso displays free movement with arms flaying as if defying the dancers to throw themselves off balance. His movements can be both liquid and tense, angular as well as rounded. A great deal of the choreography is concentrated on original, at times oblique, arms. The variety of arm movements achieved can be dizzying yet profoundly effective.

While the choreographer may have intended his ballet as a tribute "to the sea itself, the lands and the people it touches, and the music it creates," there is little of Italianate flavor.

Now don't get me wrong. I didn't go to see Balletto di Toscana anticipating a round a tarentellas or other Italian folk elements. Neither did I expect to see what seemed to be ancient Roman gladiators battling each other. Nor did I foresee that this would turn into a modern-day arena in which men and women are constantly set against each other, with the women bearing the brunt of the battle. A few tender moments were quickly obliterated.

One pas de deux performed to a Flamenco song saw the woman tossed about like a rag doll. The man practically wiped the floor with her. This "pas" turned out to be similar to a French apache dance rather than a Flamenco form.

About the most fascinating of the episodes was an original head dance, with the heads snapping around as if the dancers were marionettes, manipulated by invisible strings or a demoniacal force.

What we found constantly stunning throughout Bigonzetti's choreography was the original patterning of arms. These formed a veritable bridge to the landscape of Mediterranea.

Sixteen dancers were involved, and all of them performed admirably. Again, our only regret is that they were not properly credited for their individual contributions, which were considerable. For the record, they were: Sveva Berti, Katiuscia Bozza, Eugenio Buratti, Alessia Gelmetti, Simonetta Giannasi, Corrado Giordani, Daniela Giuliano, Alessia Lera, Olivier Lucea, Lisa Martini, Giovanni Mongelli, Stefano Palmigiano, Armando Santin, Roberto Sartori, Eugenio Scigliano, and Jana Lynn Soon.

Costumes designed by Roberto Tirelli were simple but displayed favorable lines flattering to the performers. Tirelli also designed a compact, cone-shaped set that was taken apart near the conclusion of the ballet to display a spreading of the land.

A "Charlatan" Returns

Distinguished actor-writer Tony Tanner has returned to New York for a repeat of "Charlatan: A Memoir of Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes." His portrayal of the legendary ballet impresario was first presented here last summer as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, meeting with acclaim. Previews began March 26-28; the show opened March 29, and continues Thursdays through Sundays, through April 19.

Tanner's play is a memoir of the historic period 1909-1929, when the great impresario introduced the greatest names in dancers, choreographers, composers, and graphic artists to the western world. One of the most extraordinary images of the presentation is that of Nijinsky. Tanner chronicles Diaghilev's love for the gifted, tragic dancer-choreographer, whose career ended at age 29.

Tanner has based his writing of "Charlatan" on years of reading--since the age of 12--about Diaghilev and his era. Sir Anton Dolin, who had danced with the Diaghilev company in the early 1920s, endorsed the authenticity of Tanner's work.

Mr. Tanner was a stage and TV star in his native England when he came to America to assume the leading role in "Half a Sixpence" on Broadway. Other Broadway appearances were in "No Sex Please, We're British" and "Sherlock Holmes." His direction and choreography of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" received two Tony nominations, and his revival of "A Taste of Honey" was nominated for two more. He has also appeared in many films. Tanner makes his home on the West Coast, where his recent performances include Ko-Ko in "The Mikado."

Having seen Tanner's performance last summer, I urge you to see "Charlatan." His performance should not be missed--particularly by you young ones whose knowledge of Diaghilev is minimal, at best.

Performances: Thursdays through Sundays, through April 19, at 8 pm. Venue: Jan Hus Playhouse, 351 E. 74th St., NYC. Tickets: $12; $5 for students and seniors; TDF accepted with $5 surcharge. Reservations: (212) 362-3544.

Free Performance at Whitney Museum

Performance on 42nd presents the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, April 15, at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris. Admission is free; no reservations are required.

Known for ingenious choreography combining contemporary and ancient Chinese dance traditions with global influences, the company will perform several site-adapted works. These are especially selected to accompany Ming Fay's art exhibition, "Garden of Qian," on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art, through April 17. Like much of Ming Fay's art, the evening's program features dances that draw on the natural world for inspiration.

Nai-Ni Chen is a graduate of Chinese Cultural College, where she received professional training in Chinese and western dance. After moving to New York in 1982, she studied with Mary Anthony, Bertram Ross, and Doris Rudko, and received her Master's degree from New York University.

Performance on 42nd is a program of the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris offering free music, dance, and theatre performances to the public.

Performance: Wed., April 15, at 7:30 pm. Site: the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, 120 Park Ave., at 42nd St., NYC. Admission: free.

Dance Gala at the Kaye Playhouse

The Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse celebrates its 1,000th performance, on April 6, with a gala devoted to dance. The program will include new choreography by Pearl Lang, Jacqulyn Buglisi-Donlin Foreman, Billy Siegenfeld, Thomas Baird, Gillian Whittingham, and Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau, artistic directors of The American Ballroom Theatre.

Performance, Mon., April 6, at 8:30 pm. Venue: East 68th Street, between Park and Lexington avenues. Tickets: $500, $250, $125, $50, and $25. Reservations for performance tickets only: (212) 772-4448. Gala information: (212) 650-3860.

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