Diablo Ballet

'The Magic Toy Store (La Boutique Fantasque)

Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, California.

December 1, 2002
Mary Ellen Hunt

Thanksgiving audiences of all ages warmed to Diablo Ballet's performances of "The Magic Toy Store (La Boutique Fantasque)" at the Dean Lesher Center in Walnut Creek over the weekend. Even without the scene-stealing high-spirits of Kelly Teo, who retired this year, Diablo Ballet danced a solid show that was buoyed by lively performances from company stalwarts Viktor Kabaniev and Tina Kay Bohnstedt.

Over the last year, the intrepid nine-member company has persevered through some nerve-wracking ordeals -- not the least of which was the threat of permanent closure -- and it seems safe to say that their fans have never been happier to see them back on the stage.

One of the highlights of their last season was the premiere of a shorter, more concise version of "The Magic Toy Store." The ballet was so successful that this year, choreographer Nikolai Kabaniev has expanded the work to a full evening-length program with moderated results.

The original "La Boutique Fantasque" was conceived by the legendary dancemaker Leonide Massine for Diaghilev's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1919. Diablo's production offers several canny revisions and updates to the charming fable, including handsomely designed sets and costumes by French artist Guy Buffet, although Kabaniev retains the quirky music by Giacomo Rossini, which Ottorino Resphighi arranged for the original 1919 production.

In a nod to Hans Christian Andersen's "Steadfast Tin Soldier," Kabaniev's version of the story centers around a pair of dolls who are in love: the Toy Soldier and the Ballerina Doll, both of whom live in the magical toy shop of the title. When the Shop Owner (jovially portrayed by Viktor Kabaniev) and his customers aren't looking, the dolls have a secret life of their own, emerging from their boxes, dancing with each other, and tiptoeing back to their places before they can be spotted.

Tragedy strikes when it looks like the Toy Soldier, danced gallantly by Diablo's newest member, Miroslav Pejic, will be sold to a young boy, and the Ballerina Doll, played by the exquisitely elegant Bohnstedt, will be sold to a little girl, separating the lovers forever.

One of the appealing aspects of this production is the importance given to each of the supporting roles, and this small chamber-sized company is stocked with talented dancers up to the task of bringing tiny moments to life. Viktor Kabaniev dominated nearly every scene he was in, while Karyn Lee Connell, as the impetuous little girl, was hilariously satisfying. Guest dancers Artur Sultanov (on loan from LINES Contemporary Ballet) and Charles Torres did yeoman duty as the Toy Waiter and the Father/Mother, respectively; and Anthony Huxley displayed a promising assurance as the little boy.

"The Magic Toy Store" will undoubtedly become a signature production for Diablo Ballet. However, while a full-length, family-friendly ballet that shows off the company can be an asset, longer is not always better. Some of the intimacy and sweetness of the characterizations were lost when the piece was expanded. The long finale pas de deux for the soldier and the ballerina seemed unnecessary and even hastily tacked on. Then too, there was faint dilution of the vivacity and less of the sparkle that usually marks Diablo's performances -- although this might have been attributable to the grueling three-performance-a-day schedule the company maintained.

Still, to judge by the younger audience members in attendance, "The Magic Toy Store" is, deservedly, well on its way to becoming a favorite in Diablo's repertoire. Everyone loves a good story.

This article was first published on December 1, 2003 in the Contra Costa Times

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Edited by Jeff


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