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Puppet love triangle

Fort Wayne Ballet, Too, transforms the Arts United Plaza into a Russian street fair for Petrouchka

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Classical ballet is fairly packed with tales featuring supernatural creatures, magicians, and dolls come to life.

But even among its peers, the Russian ballet Petrouchka is a little unusual. To put it simply, it’s a love triangle between… well, puppets.

But dancer David Ingram, who choreographs the Fort Wayne Ballet’s performance of Petrouchka on Friday, June 10 as part of their annual Fort Wayne Ballet, Too program, saw the basic story of Petrouchka as rich with possibilities. “I'm trying to see how the story is still relevant in our day and age, and how the subjects have adapted but are really still the same,” Ingram says. “How men and women are socially and culturally required to act or represent themselves.”

Fort Wayne Ballet, Too, is the Fort Wayne Ballet’s showcase for new and original work. The mission of the series is twofold: to offer emerging choreographers the opportunity to stage new work; and to give the dancers at Fort Wayne Ballet a chance to explore what else they can do in their field.

Ingram, a former student of the Fort Wayne Ballet and now with the North Carolina Dance Theater in Charlotte, re-staged Swan Lake outdoors in Friemann Square in 2007, and has returned to choreograph all the Fort Wayne Ballet, Too performances since then, usually with colleagues and collaborators he has worked with in other companies. In past summers the performances have been set in non-traditional spaces — like the parking garage of the city-county building — and often integrated with original music and even multi-media installations.

With Petrouchka, Fort Wayne Ballet, Too is revisiting a classic, and also returning to the plaza in front of the Arts United Center — appropriately enough, since the story itself is set amid the hustle and bustle of St. Petersburgh’s Admiralty Square during the festival of Maslenitsa, the big blow out celebration before Lent, analogous to Mardi Gras.

One of the festival attractions is a puppet show featuring three performers, the “moor,” the “ballerina,” and Petrouchka, a sort of stock everyman character in Russia. The puppet master (The Charlatan) engages in some trickery, and the puppets spring to life and dance among the crowd.

Backstage, however, there isn’t much to dance about. Petrouchka has human feelings and hates the Charlatan, whom we find out is more like a jailer. He also loves the “ballerina,” who doesn’t want anything to do with him. She’s more into the bad boy, the “moor,” who is often portrayed as a sort of exotic, sword-wielding thug.

Traditionally, that’s the story — earnest, kind Petrouchka finds himself put upon by the manipulative Charlatan; scorned by the beautiful but callow ballerina; and smacked around by the aggressive moor.

But choreographer David Ingram’s approach for the Fort Wayne Ballet, Too performance seems to turn the basics of the story upside down. He describes the four characters as parts of a puzzle, all parts of Petrouchka. “Everyone has been one of those characters in some way,” says Ingram. “I wanted to show how all four characters exist within us, to show what we’re capable of, and try to ‘internalize’ them for Petrouchka.”

“In this version, Petrouchka and the moor will be kind of the same thing,” he continues. “It’s the monster in his head, the monster who lurks inside, and how Petrouchka deals with it. The scariness of the moor only exists in Petrouchka's head and he'll exaggerate it to avoid the fear of any advancement in his life.”

In fact, Ingram doesn’t envision the “moor” as human at all. For the performance, Ingram and visual artist Jon Pritchard hope to suggest something big and mechanical — and maybe just a little bit insectoid. “We’re just calling it ‘the monster’ now,” he laughs, adding that he’s not quite sure how it’s going to look exactly.

As always, Ingram is bringing a number of collaborators along for the performance — Sam Shapiro (who played the role of Franz in the Fort Wayne Ballet’s production of Coppelia last March) from the North Carolina Dance Theater, as well as Rebekah Downing, Jon Pritchard, Mia Cunningham, and Ben Needhamwood from Louisville Ballet. Joining them from Fort Wayne Ballet will be the professional corps and professionally tracked students.

Fort Wayne Ballet, Too’s Petrouchka happens on Friday, June 10 on the plaza of Arts United Center, 303 East Main Street, and begins at 8 PM. The performance is FREE.

You can find more information about Fort Wayne Ballet, Too, on Facebook, Twitter or at the Fort Wayne Ballet, Too blog (fortwayneballettoo.wordpress.com).

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.