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Boston Ballet

Michael Pink's "Hunchback of Notre Dame"

Wang Center, Boston, MA

April 3, 2001
By S. E. Arnold


As if to establish some hellish key, a scene of horrific punishment concludes each of the three acts of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, choreographed by Michael Pink. In fact, the whipping of Quasimodo that ends act one, the nightmare of torture envisioned by Esmeralda that ends act two, and the lurid hanging of Esmeralda that ends act three celebrate the shape and cadence of malevolent enterprise.

Moreover, the oppressive moral fog of Hunchback embodied, for example, in the ever-present threat and delivery of punishment finds support in the muted but dramatic lighting and the faded pastel costumes of the Town people. Additionally, the mobile architectural shapes moved by dancers, i.e. as Gingoire follows Esmeralda to her home, connects the tangle of streets with the tangled morality of late Medieval Paris. In fact, the welcome Captain Phoebus enjoys (as his name implies he shines on the wicked as well as the righteous with fatuous abandon) whether in Lady Fleur de Lys's parlor or the brigand's den suggests their moral equality. Additionally, the topography of the action further twists the social strata together in moral collusion. For example, assaults happen upon Esmeralda on the street, in Lady Fleur's parlor, and in the Notre Dame belfry. Moreover, neither the literal nor the implied elevation of sanctuary in the cathedral belfry shields Esmeralda from Frollo's attempted rape or the misguided 'rescue' by the Town people. In fact, that final 'assault' on the sanctuary of Esmeralda by the common folk delivers her into rather than liberates her from the executioner's hand. In the end, all are complicit in the fateful and sadistic exercise of Frollo's power.

Although linked by common subject i.e. a cleric's lust for a female dancer destroys her; the special lexicon of movement invented to characterize common people, sordid activity, and emotional states puts Hunchback closer to Petrouchka than La Bayadère. In contrast, ballet (appropriate, one thinks, to her stainless-steal chastity) rules Esmeralda, her relationship with Captain Phoebus, as well as the bravura turning jumps worn by the male dancers, and the dance for the Ladies in Act II. Nevertheless, neither the antiseptic sounds of Philip Feeney's score (better for a movie than a dance) nor the principled formality of ballet refuses Esmeralda her gruesome fate. In fact, emblazoned on a scrim across the pale outline of Notre Dame, the word fate reveals the 'infernal machine' that selects the structure and drives the plot in Hunchback of Notre Dame. Additionally, the word also tells us to reject the idea of moral agency and to see the action instead through the prism of moral passivity and fatalism. Within this context, therefore, the public view of Esmeralda's hanging becomes mere spectacle – a sport. More importantly, if The Hunchback of Notre Dame as choreographed by Pink has any redemptive purpose, this display mocks and denies it. Appeals to accuracy (faithfulness to the source), to Aristotle (catharsis of pity and fear), to ideology (social criticism of any description), or to Romanticism to legitimize this on stage hanging are, in the mind of this reviewer, specious.

"That was the best ballet we've seen so far," a daddy chortled to his young children as they left the theatre. However, the grim logic reasoned by Pink in his Hunchback of Notre Dame and skillfully danced by the Boston Ballet, nonetheless, trips and falls, at least for this reviewer, over the body of a dead woman.

 

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Marie.

 


 

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