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A CurtainUp Review

Romola & Nijinki (Deux Marriages) by Elyse Sommer

I Could never be interested in any girl who wasn't a beautiful dancer
--- Nijinky, who before getting involved with the woman who's to become his wife declare "I want to see her arch" -- a request to which she accedes.
David Barlow as Nijinsky,Kelly Hutchinson as Romola
David Barlow as Nijinsky,Kelly Hutchinson as Romola (Photo: James Leynse)
Vasilav Nijinsky is doubly famous -- as a fabled dancer with the Ballet Russe during the early part of the last century and as a madman who spent much of his life institutionalized. With the publication of his diary, the facts about his life have become more accessible and playwrights have seized on his story as a means for combining elements of dance and drama.

The year 1998 saw three Nijinsky plays. David Pownall's Death of a Faun used the death of impresario Sergei Diaghilev to rouse Nijinsky, who was his former protege and lover, from his living death in a Swiss sanatorium in order to pay tribute to the man who both made and destroyed him. A Royal Ballet dancer, NicholasJohnson, interspersed the portrait of the crazed Nijinsky with occasional dancing which was more satisfying than the play. Another dancer, Leonard Crofot, wrote Nijinsky Speaks as a vehicle for himself. It was a monologue that spanned the dancer's career and was again, interspersed with dancing. Norman Allen's Nijinsky's Last Dance was yet another solo effort, but its director, Joe Calarcoe, relied on a non-dancing, athletic actor named Jeremy Davidson to inhabit the dancer's personality. Davidson did so quite impressively and has apparently been refining this role even further with a reprise planned for the forthcoming Berkshire Theatre Festival season.

In the meantime Lynne Alvarez has entered the ranks of Nijinsky smitten playwrights with Romola & Nijinsky, which has just opened for a limited run at Primary Stages. The title's two names reflect its focus on Nijinsky's marriage the the Hungarian aristocrat and dancer Romola de Pulsky. Besides David Barlow and Kelly Hutchinson in the title roles, there are seven other performers -- three are ballet dancers, the rest actors.

Romola & Nijinsky is certainly the most ambitiously staged of all these takes on the legendary dancer, though it's hardly the one that finally gets it just right. Alvarez and director David Levine have created a pirouetting and very occasionally speaking Greek chorus ( Prima Ballerinas Michelle Lookadoo and Laura Martin and Premier Danseur Matt Rivera ) that provides the chief rewards. However, even with an intriguing opening aboard a ship carrying the Ballet Russes troupe to South America, this adds up to a turgid and pretentious two hours.

David Barlow who's not a dancer does well with a final mad dance but his portrayal of the increasingly deluded dancer otherwise tends to veer towards self-indulgence. Kelly Hutchinson is more controlled as the Hungarian woman who remained married to him for thirty years even though it was clear from the start that this would be a marriage more in sickness than health and joy. The actors playing the secondary parts -- especially Allen Fitzpatrick as Baron Dimitri de Gunsbourg come off best.

The choreography by Robert La Fosse, who's been a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet as well as the star of Bob Fosse's Dancin' and Jerome Robbins' Broadway consists mostly of having the dancers execute ballet exercises and hold toe pointing poses for long stretches -- it's probably about all he could do given the confines of a stage that compared to the space that's a baby's playpen compared to the stages to which he's been accustomed. Michael Byrnes has also dealt ably with the limitations of scale with a colorful and flexible set consisting mostly of red back panel that does double duty as a door. Claudia Stephens' costumes add color. to the too often colorless proceedings

The major problem with Romola & Nijinsky is the script with its self-consciously poetic similes and other linguistic excesses. At the press performance I attended, neither the play or the players could prevent the audience from shrinking at each of the two intermissions. I stayed the course but would suggest at least a five-year moratorium on any more plays in which Nijinsky either speaks or dances.

Nijinsky's Last Dance
Death of a Faun

Written by Lynne Alvarez
Directed by David Levine
Choreography by Robert La Fosse
Cast: David Barlow as Nijinsky,Kelly Hutchinson as Romola; also Allen Fitzpatrick, Michelle Lookadoo, Laura Martin, John McAdams, Daniel Oreskes, Matt Rivera, and Janet Zarish
Set Design: Michael Byrnes
Costume Design: Claudia Stephens
Lighting Design: Lap-Chi Chu
Sound Design: Jane Shaw
Original Composition: Brendan Connelly
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including two 10-minute intermissions
Primary Stages, 354 W. 45th St. ( 8th/9th Ave)
4/30/03-6/01/03; opening 5/15/03
Mon 7pm; Wed-Fri 8pm; Sat 2 and 8pm -- $48
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 5/10 press performance

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