Although sponsored by major Italian and Italian-American agencies and danced by a company based in Northern Italy, the ballet “Radici” is perhaps most significant for its insightsabout the feelings of former Romanians at a time of crisis in their native land.
Largely created by Romanian expatriates, the three-act, 1990 work received its United States premiere Sunday in Royce Hall, UCLA, with a repeat performance scheduled for tonight at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
It is a strange, relentlessly turbulent collage, something like a cross between the grandiose, neo-Expressionist symphonic ballets that Leonide Massine choreographed in the 1930s and the intensely personal vehicles Maurice Bejart has shaped for the aging Jorge Donn..
Its choreographer and male lead, Marinel Stefanescu, is best known as a star of the Bucharest Opera Ballet in the 1970s (he won a gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in 1969). Most of the designs and part of the score also came from Romanians.
In 1977, Stefanescu and his wife joined Italian ballerina Liliana Cosi to co-found the Classical Ballet Assn. and, a year later, a ballet school--both based in Reggio Emilia. The company that has grown from these beginnings not only bears the name of Cosi and Stefanescu but exists primarily as a showcase for their talents.
Thus the two dominate “Radici,” returning over and over to dance what seems like the same pas de deux. Neither benefits from the exposure. Although well past her prime, Cosi still commands a serviceable technique and a strong sense of style, but at his current weight, Stefanescu proves a liability even in a work with obvious autobiographical content.
Translated in the program booklet as “Origins,” the title “Radici” more properly should be “Roots"--especially since rootlike tendrils serve as a motif on both sets and costumes.
The program also supplies an impenetrable synopsis of the ballet and piquant descriptions of its characters. For example, a male in white who spurts upward from a cluster of green-clad colleagues is named “The Seed of the Earth,” while Stefanescu is “The Artist” (later “Body”) and Cosi “Art” (later “Soul”).
Although Stefanescu wants to show us the forces molding an artist (beginning with ethnicity), what you see onstage is a kind of serial divertissement: fast, hard,supertechnical classical display by the company as a whole intercut with easier passages for Stefanescu and Cosi.
Occasionally his frenzied emoting supplies a link to the printed synopsis, but the work’s expressive and philosophical content cannot usually be detected in the choreography or performances.
The intriguing exception comes at the beginning of the last act, when Stefanescu isn’t working with the taped chestnuts by Liszt and Scriabin that occupy him elsewhere, but with a commissioned score by his countryman Adrian Enescu.
Here, for a time, the movement grows exploratory, the mood deeply contemplative and the expressive context expands beyond a formula depiction of artist and Muse to suggest a society in turmoil, a world coming apart.
Were Stefanescu and Enescu thinking about the news from Bucharest--the fall of the Romanian government in late 1989?Even if they weren’t, it must have had its effect, for the ballet as a whole is a testament to how an artist’s milieu influences his identity and mission.
With Enescu’s music, “Radici” grows genuinely communicative in a way that no other section matches. The only question is why.
Beyond its problematic senior duo, the Cosi-Stefanescu Classical Ballet boasts dancers of freshness and precision--although Stefanescu’s feverishly hectic choreography puts a strain on corps unanimity.
On Sunday, Paola Masi gave the best female performance as “Hungary,” the spirited and accomplished centerpiece of the Magyar-flavored “Nostalgia.” Marco Ferrini proved equally impressive as “The Young Artist,” with Cristina Soressi and Luca Bassi also notable among the soloists.
Scenic paintings by Hristofenia Cazacu, Basilio Chalkidiotis and Mikhail Gyorgy proved properly overwhelming in a work aiming for an epic perspective.
* The Cosi-Stefanescu Classical Ballet Company will perform tonight at 8 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $15 to $25. (714) 854-4646.