Charleston Ballet Theatre’s ambitious new story ballet, Camelot, is anything but business as usual. With the kaleidoscope of costumes, flying enchantresses, and the dramatic love triangle at the legend’s heart, it has much to offer even passing dance fans. Under the capable hands of resident choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr, the company has achieved a new personal best.
The talent at the Sottile last weekend ranged from the youthful dancing of Harrison Ball as young Arthur (this high school student is sure to be a shining star in a major dance company some day soon) to the mystical performance of veteran Jerry Burr, dancing the character role of Merlin the wizard, who shapes the story of Camelot and its legendary king. Burr’s intensity is an attribute for the role which keeps him on stage for most of the show.
Set and costume designer Campbell Baird creates a feast for the eyes. The colors and line of the period are consistent, carrying on to the simple but effective set. The evening’s most striking scene occurrs in Act I, as the Lady of the Lake emerges from the depths and soars into the air with folds of material that cover the stage, creating an ingenious image as the majestic sword Excalibur is presented to young Arthur. Her Lake Maidens spin and weave the magic spell of the moonlit forest illuminated by the cinematic-quality lighting design of Ruth Hutson. Lighting adds a further dimension as the dancers use the front of the stage while a black scrim allows for scene changes.
In Act II the complexities of the story borders on falling flat with the use of pantomime and processionals as the large cast fills the stage and you don’t think any one else can fit. Bahr is a master at moving large groups, however, and the choreography redeems itself, especially with a passion-filled pas de deux which continues to change partners between the fickle Queen Guinevere (Jessica Roan) and her paramour Lancelot (Matthew McKinney), and the betrayed King Arthur (Stephen Gabriel). The dance clarifies the intricacies and emotionally charged relationships of the timeless story. Roan and McKinney dance well together, with easy partnering and plenty of theatrical expression. The collage of music assembled by Bahr includes an excerpt from John Williams’ Star Wars, Jean Seibelius, Philip Glass, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and several others, making for an appropriate sound landscape for the story while never overwhelming the dancing and sequence of events.
Another strong scene portrays the Knights of the Round Table — reminiscent of Kurt Jooss’ “The Green Table,” as they examine their power plays with gestured accumulation. The other main characters are the witch Morgan La Fey (Jennifer Balcerak Muller) and Arthur’s bastard son Mordred (Jonathan Tabbert), who personify the dark forces of betrayal and deceit. Muller does an intriguing job with the aerial work, which is particularly effective in a duet where the two villains plot to bring down the house of Arthur.
The plot of Camelot is timeless, the challenges — apart from the magic — are comprehensible even to us today. The dance requires a suspension of disbelief, but the audience can sympathize with these characters. The action unfolds seamlessly and at a comfortable pace for today’s sound byte attention spans. Bahr and her company of dancers have made this new offering from Charleston Ballet Theatre a great success, and a strong addition to their repertoire going forward.