The In Series travels to France for a weekend of performances of the very special La Vie En Rose, a program of French chansons, or secular, lyrical songs, sung by a cadre of talented, local opera stars, accompanied by members of The Washington National Ballet Studio Company.
Artistic Director Carla Hübner along with Washington National Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre and her associate David Palmer selected the program. Hübner also plays piano while Webre and Palmer choreographed and directed. Their full control of this artistic vision has led to an entertaining and varied program of pieces – famous, familiar, and new – spanning a century.
They begin with Debussy’s Claire De Lune, played by co-pianist Frank Conlon and danced with ethereal grace by the ensemble from The Washington Ballet Studio Company, which is made up of young dancers who normally take chorus rolls in their main stage productions. It is a treat to see these talented young artists featured throughout the night. The dancers for this production are Ariel Breitman, Laura Chachich, Esmiana Jani, Josue Justiz, Olivia Lipnick, Carolyn Lippert, Fernanda Oliveira, Sukyung Park, Daniel Savetta, Carly Wheaton, and Marshall Whiteley.
The singers take the stage for the rest of the evening, covering more Claude Debussy, and then moving into modern pieces by Hector Berlioz and Jacques Brel, and more. All songs are in French, with super titles that I doubt anyone read. They aren’t necessary with the moving performances to watch. Many songs were made famous by iconic singer Edith Piaf, including the titular La Vie En Rose that brought the house down, sung by DC institution Fleta Hylton, who also shines on the finale “Je Ne Regrette Rien” (I Regret Nothing) and the tricky and fun “Padam Padam Padam.”
The two males singers, bass-baritone Andrew Adelsberger and tenor Byron Jones, sing many duets together and they are definitely another highlight. Jones is an expert in French repertoire, but Adelsberger can keep up with him on the tricky “La Valse a Mille Temps” (Waltz in a Thousand Beats), “La Vie Anterieure” (The Previous Life), and the touching “Au Suivant” (Next in Line).
Mezzo Soprano Adrienne Starr and Soprano CarrieAnne Winter has the funniest piece with “Paysage Sentimentale” (Sentimental Landscape), which has them singing the very challenging vocal parts as dancers pelt them with snow. Winter shows her comic chops again for “Fantouches” (Puppets) with clever staging as dancers attached by strings to others bounce around the stage.
The music spans a century, but Costume Designer Donna Breslin sticks to the 1920s for a jazzy and fun look full of flapper dresses, feathers, and sparkles, all in a black and white and silver palette. After intermission, they spruce up into tuxedos and gowns that look gorgeous as the dancers spin through each number. The stage is bare but for some evocative screens with a few street lamps and newspapers en Francais to conjure a Paris night. Lighting designer Joseph R. Walls shifts the mood with color and unique gobos.
Webre and Palmer are generous choreographers, featuring different dancers in each piece for solos, pas de deux and trois. Their choreography has a classical feel with little details that make it fun and evoke a French sentimentality or the emotion of a song. There are playful touches as well, like the puppet scenes or a final moment of a serious piece where one dancer’s foot is moved and the whole company tumbles as a result. It’s especially fun in the intimate space at the GALA Hispanic Theatre – to see these dancers like you cannot in a larger venue.
Fernanda Oliveira, a cheerful, athletic dancer, is featured on “Sympathique” where she spends more time in the air than on the ground. Ariel Breitman soloed often, but his pas de trois with Marshall Whiteley and Josue Justiz was a particular triumph if athleticism and grace. Josue Justiz also shines with pas de deux partner Calry Wheaton on “Au Suivant” (Next in Line). Wheaton also dances with Laura Chachich in a lyrical piece “Mon Dieu,” where they mirror one another across the stage. Esmiana Jani has real style on her solo “Milord.” All of the women dance on “Mandoline” with breathtaking synchronicity, but the best part of the evening is when the entire company takes the stage – as good with their acrobatic leaps and back flips as they are with the intricate pas de deux and the quiet, emotional, details that bring real life to their performances.
Opera and ballet are a natural combination; both require a pinnacle of skill from their respective practitioners and the In Series has always excelled at these multi-disciplinary, innovative works. This one is so rich – with the history of French music, the depth of the operatic talent onstage, and the dancers at the cusp of their careers adding layers to the production. Félicitations to the entire cast for a playful, moving, and entertaining show.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
La Vie En Rose has one more performance on Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 3 PM at GALA Hispanic Theatre – 3333 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 204-7763 or purchase them online.