The beloved tale of the Zorro is filled with mystery, romance, and sword fights. It’s one thing to tell the story through cinema with the help of special effects and lighting, but the real trick is to watch Charleston Ballet Theatre perform an equally-as-sensational performance so many fewer resources. For the opening performance on Friday night, the Memminger was transformed into a scene from old-world Spain (or in this case, southern Cali in the late 1800s).
The concept and choreography credit go to Jill Eathorne Bahr. The musical choices, such as Rodrigo y Gabriela and Lalo Schifrin, painted a picture before the dancers even took the stage. As promised, the man who would not be revealed prior to opening night took off his mask in the first act of the ballet. We won’t be the ones to ruin CBT’s suspense for you, but we will say that he lived up to his myth. His opening performance energy will hopefully continue through the rest of the weekend.
Besides the obvious breathtaking moment when Zorro single-handedly wards off all of the bad guys, both Don Diego and Zorro (for anyone that doesn’t know yet … he’s really the same guy) show assurance and grace on stage. If you’re looking for some comic relief in the show, Zorro’s servant, Bernardo — played by James Peronto — is excellent. We would’ve loved to see Peronto dance more throughout the ballet: he also was strong, entertaining, and could hold the stage and the audience on his own.
The villains were led by the always capable Stephen Gabriel, or Captain Ramon. Although Ramon’s three masked sidekicks performed their acrobatics and stunting with ease at the beginning of both the first and second act, it would’ve been nice to see their dancing a little cleaner. As the show openers, more strength and cohesiveness would have carried well into the rest of the ballet.
Gabriel and our still mysterious Zorro had several sword fighting scenes, most of which were as realistic as they get on a ballet stage and performed quite well by both sides, but there were just a couple moments of rolling on the floor that didn’t quite fit with the masculinity of the characters. The woman constantly caught between Ramon and Zorro’s fights, Luisa, was Stephanie Bussell. In her first full length show after a year of injury and rehab, she showed no weakness, either in character or as a dancer. Our favorite moment in the ballet, was Luisa and Zorro’s pas de deux after Captain Ramon was killed (by Zorro, of course). The emotion, chemistry, and passion between the two dancers invigorated the audience.
This ballet is not for the traditionalist. You won’t find any pointe shoes on these dancers — it occasionally looked like the women lost that extra ounce of grace with the bulky shoes at the end of an arabesque or in a lift. The shoes definitely fit the time period and atmosphere of the ballet, and they were appropriate for this not-so-classical ballet story.