BONAPARTE, BEETHOVEN & ROTH
By: Hal de Becker
Kelly Roth, Director of Dance at College of Southern Nevada, created another dance biography to add to others he’s choreographed including Princess Diana, Gustav Mahler and St. Joan of Arc. They’ve all been outstanding and the latest, “Bonaparte”, may be the best yet.
Roth used composer Ludwig Van Beethoven’s early admiration for and ultimate disillusionment with Napoleon as the historical episode through which to portray the legendary French leader’s career from military hero to administrative genius and finally and fatally to Emperor.
Roth’s “Bonaparte” was set to Beethoven’s Third Symphony the Eroica (heroic) and might be described as a ‘symphonic ballet’. The term was coined in the 1930’s to describe choreographies by Leonide Massine set to symphonies by Brahms, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky.
Beethoven originally dedicated the Eroica to Napoleon whom he believed would always support freedom and the rights of man. But when Napoleon became Emperor Beethoven withdrew the dedication, correctly predicting he would rule as a tyrant, which he did —until Waterloo.
At the ballet’s beginning the People are seen joyously dancing, confident that the young Napoleon will soon establish order and freedom after the excesses of the monarchy; the upheavals of the Revolution; and the guillotine’s Reign of Terror. Present, throughout their rejoicing, is Beethoven’s approving spirit.
The populous, after fighting Napoleon’s wars, becomes disenchanted with imperial rule and the dynastic system it revives. As they kneel down in a row, bent by the burdens of blood and treasure they’ve carried for his glory, he strides arrogantly across their backs. Finally, his empire crumbles and it is the music of the Eroica that remains.
In the ballet’s concluding moments Beethoven is seen conducting the final passages of the (recorded) score and he continues doing so even after the last note fades away. It was a touching conclusion: Beethoven was deaf.
The audience’s visible appreciation of the story and its lessons attests to the clarity of Roth’s choreography which communicated events and characterizations admirably. He maneuvered the large groups of dancers adroitly and with no apparent conflict between the symphonic score and the narrative movement.
Ms, yes “Ms” Cynthia DuFault portrayed Napoleon. (Why not? Madame Sarah (Bernhardt) acted Hamlet in the Shakespeare play.)
Her portrayal was convincing without being over-played and gender never became an issue. Her dancing was particularly outstanding in three challenging well-crafted solos.
She also designed and executed all the ballet’s colorful, period-perfect costumes.
In the role of Beethoven, Roth captured the fierce and tender sides of the master’s persona as he despairs over Napoleon’s imperial ambitions and later tears the dedication to shreds.
Jennifer Roberts made an alluring Empress Josephine with just the right touch of Imperial hauteur.
Many of the dancers were students but because the choreography was so attuned to their talents as well as limitations their performance had a professional sheen and never looked labored.
The ballet’s success owed much to the fabulous non-stop video-backdrop projections of paintings from the Napoleonic era by Gerard, Gros, David and others, as well as photographs of Versailles and grotesqueries atop the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.
These projections could have stood alone as a show in themselves. The display was the creation of Jeremiah ‘JJ’ Johnson and Mr. Roth.
Three brief works opened the program the most interesting being “Impromptu” in which viola virtuoso Tobias Kremer Roth and dancer Christopher Leggett improvised a blend of music and movement that provided a delightful experience in experimental theater.
“Joining Forces”, choreographed and costumed by Leslie Kremer Roth, was entertaining and inventive with angular robotic moves reflecting the accented syncopated music. “Creep” by DuFault was limited in appeal and originality. Both pieces utilized good lighting effects.