The National Ballet of Marseilles unveiled its second featured ballerina in Roland Petit's "Chaplin Dances" on Saturday afternoon at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Tall and self-possessed, Maria Gimenez made the "only girl in Charlie's world" as charming as had her predecessor, Altynai Asylmuratova--no mean feat, because Asylmuratova is probably the most luminous ballerina on the planet.
But Gimenez made the various "cameo" ballerina roles in "Chaplin Dances" her own with broad strokes of mime and flirtatious eyes that made her slight resemblance to Scarlett O'Hara more profound. In the "coat" scene, she was icily untouchable, a smug smack in the face for Chaplin's tramp, who watches her exit on the arm of a swell. And as the "floating" ballerina, whose partner unceremoniously dives under her skirt for the lifts, she affected a coyly blithe expression--"There is a man under my skirt but I aspire not to notice"--that worked well for the laughs.
Gimenez's eyes flashed overtime, to her advantage, in the saloon scene, where she bumped and ground as lustily as if she were at a hoedown--even though she wore salmon-pink sequins and pointe shoes. The only time she wasn't casting knowing glances, in fact, was when she played the blind violet seller in a moving vignette.
Even without much technical ballet to do in "Chaplin Dances," Gimenez was able to display clear balances and controlled extensions. And, of course, well-arched feet in the cruel but magical shiny pink satin pointe shoes.
Petit's choreography features them prominently, and because the ballerina gets saddled with representing the unattainable ideal for Chaplin's winsome characters, what better iconic telegraphing could there be?