'Three Musketeers' promises to be a tasty confection
The ending of Andre Prokovsky's ballet version of "The Three Musketeers" differs slightly from the famous Alexandre Dumas novel that inspired it: While the ballet is as jam-packed with intrigue, swordplay, comedy and romance as the book, its conclusion is jubilant, and all the major characters live to fight another day.
A similarly effervescent spirit permeates the halls of Ballet West's Capitol Theatre studios and offices. The regional premiere of Prokovsky's 1980 ballet, which opens at the Capitol Theatre this weekend, signifies that Ballet West has a new lease on life, too.
The tradition of producing a story ballet in the fall - abandoned for two seasons because of budgetary constraints - is back in a big way. The company is marking the return of black ink to its ledgers with a rollicking, swashbuckling ballet likely to attract a broad audience.
"It has young love, intrigue and mystery, action and adventure," said Adam Sklute, Ballet West's new artistic director. "Imagine experiencing the drama of the movies, the athleticism of a sporting event and the amazing music of a live concert all rolled into one - that's what you've got."
The ballet was selected before Sklute was hired, but he applauds the choice.
"This is a fantastic addition to the company's repertoire, with good challenging work for the men," he said. "It's very funny and has lively street scenes with all the swashbuckling you would expect. It's just as rollicking as the story should be. . . . There is beautiful dancing, and wonderful storytelling all the way around."
The familiar story is easy to follow, and its wealth of fight scenes, adventure and intrigue could make it especially appealing to males, Sklute said.
Prokovsky, who visited Salt Lake to set the ballet on the company, said he chose "The Three Musketeers" in 1980 as a subject for an Australian Ballet production because he found the adventures of dashing musketeers melodramatic to the point of hilarity.
"I wanted to make an amusing, funny, comic ballet," he said. "It seemed to me that this 19th-century melodrama filled the bill."
"The characters are so black-and-white - either good guys or bad guys. It deals with love at first sight. It cannot really be taken seriously - so the only way to deal with that is to take it as a comedy."
Comedy is only one aspect of the story, though. Love blooms during the tale, explored through pas de deux rife with old-fashioned romanticism, but using an updated ballet vocabulary filled with breathtaking lifts and catches.
And what would a telling of "The Three Musketeers" be without sword fighting?
Gilles Maidon, the former Ballet West principal dancer who assisted Prokovsky in staging the ballet, said the swordplay will be fast and furious. The process of preparing the fight scenes was just the opposite.
Choreography for large street fights was learned in slow motion without swords - one fighting pair or group at a time.
"Slowly, you put the groups together, until the whole fight is there," said Maidon. "Then you add swords and start doing it slowly with the music - then you start bringing it to speed."
With a stage full of muscular men swinging swords about, getting the fight scenes absolutely right is a matter of life and limb.
"We take a lot of precautions to make sure no one gets hurt," Maidon said. "It's a slow process, but very efficient in the end."
The live orchestral music for "The Three Musketeers" was drawn from the works of Giuseppe Verdi, carefully selected by Prokovsky, then arranged for the ballet by British musician Guy Woolfenden.
"The music is very exciting for the action that takes place, and has wonderful romantic moments," Prokovsky said. "Verdi wrote a great deal of ballet music that is not used much these days when his operas are produced. That music remains, and we've used it, as well as overture music from his operas that are not so well-known."
The combination of Dumas' well-loved story, Verdi's music and Prokovsky's choreography is meant to add up to a memorable evening.
"What a great romp this is - using the athleticism of the dancers and their skills in battles, love duets and intrigue," Prokovsky said. "It's wonderful material for an evening of fun."
Swordplay at Capitol Theatre
* BALLET WEST offers the regional premiere of Andre Prokovsky's "The Three Musketeers," performed to the music of Giuseppe Verdi, as played by the Utah Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Terence Kern. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Nov. 7 and 10 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Nov. 10 at Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.
* TICKETS ARE $18 to $66 at 801-355-ARTS or http://www.arttix.org. Discounts are available to groups and college students. Also, various discounted season subscription packages are available, ranging from $44 to $284. Call 801-323-6900.
* THE KING'S ENGLISH BOOKSHOP in Salt Lake City is selling several versions of the Alexandre Dumas novel The Three Musketeers at a 20 percent discount to those who mention the production, and offering support for book clubs; discounts to the show are available to book clubs. Call 801-323-6966 for information.