Ballethnic’s production of their signature ballet, “The Leopard Tale,” is a charming, family-oriented show that will appeal to both children and parents. The ballet returned to the stage after a 5-year absence on March 21, for a long weekend of performances at Georgia State University’s Rialto Center for the Arts.
The choreography originally contained only the material that now makes up Act I. The collaboration between choreographer Waverly T. Lucas II and composer L. Gerard Reid is a dynamic one. This first act is the part of the ballet that spoke best to the children in the audience, with imaginatively conceived animal characters, created through ballet and modern dance movement. What child isn’t drawn to acrobatic monkeys or barking wild dogs? Adding to this appeal, many of the dancers portraying the animals were, themselves, children from the Ballethnic Youth Ensemble. The most imaginatively-choreographed of the animals were the zebras–contemporary, powerful, and showing just a touch of Picasso-abstraction–and the snakes, which slid and slithered out of the fog and into the dim light of the African jungle. But the other rainforest animals were eclipsed by the performance of Calvin Gentry as the leopard himself. Tautly intense, the leopard prowled the stage, moving from rock to rock with expansive leaps, long stretches, and subtle gestures. Gentry’s transformation from capable dancer into big cat was complete, except when he burst into well-executed pirouettes, returning to his dancer persona for a moment.
Act II appeals more to the adults attending the performance than to the children. A later addition to the ballet, the second act is based on African dance. In contrast to the verdant rain forest setting of Act I, the action moves to a sunny African village, where the Leopard finds himself confronting humans. The action began when musicians moved through the audience and onto the stage; later in the evening the dancers mingled with the audience again as they hunted the solitary leopard. Forceful warriors and strong village women and children faced off with the big cat. Modern dance movement blended interestingly with African dance, although pointe work used in the villagers’ dances was less effective. However, it was the large groups performing the African style of movement which established the sense of community among the villagers. The music was percussive and vivid, and it drew the audience into the story unfolding onstage. A collective sigh of relief was palpable in the audience when the Leopard escaped back to his forest home.