Frankenstein: Performed by the San Francisco Ballet

So this year I bought C.J. two tickets to the ballet for Christmas.  C.J. is a fan. I’ve never really understood why you would have all that dancing without any singing.

But it’s a gift so I’ll keep an open mind.

Which is how I ended up at the North American Premiere of Frankenstein, a new ballet by choreographer Liam Scarlett and composer Lowell Liebermann this past Tuesday night.  Frankenstein is the real deal, a full show. three acts over nearly three hours with a full orchestra and a full ballet corps.

I was skeptical but very intrigued by Frankenstein.  Just how would one convert what is a fairly heady novel into a ballet? I was expecting something very modern, probably with unusual dancing.

Instead, Frankenstein is a very traditional ballet, as far as I can tell. By the end of the first act it was clear to me that the show would stay within the established vocabulary of ballet. Certain moves appear and then appear again as do certain forms.  I didn’t see anything new in the dancing, nor unexpected. Even the creature struck me as traditional.

But I did see why fans of ballet are fans of ballet. At points in the evening when just two people are on stage, or when just two people are featured as dancers, the man picks up the woman and moves her through the air, sometimes across the floor while she continues to dance–moving and being moved at the same time which was eye-opening– gliding across the stage making this viewer think the two were skating across a field of ice so smoothly and so fluidly. Even from the cheap seats back in the balcony, I was impressed.

As for the story, well, I don’t think people go to the ballet for the story. 

The first act is too long. Why do so many dramatist think we need all the back story.  How Victor Frankenstein’s childhood affected him, leading him to attempt reanimation, blah, blah, blah.  We all know this, don’t we? It’s what I hate about the first half hour of every Batman movie every made.  Childhood trauma, overcome the loss of a parent, No one cares. Get to the good stuff already.  I would have cut everything in the first act but the creation scene that ends it. Everyone knows the story never really gets good until the monster shows up, so why not just start at that point.

But Frankenstein does take off in Act II. With the characters established and events in motion, the story finally moves into action allowing the audience to enjoy the dancing without worry too much about who is who and what is going on.

And it does go on.  It’s Frankenstein so it should come as no surprise that the stage is littered with bodies by the end of the show. Six, by my count.

So we really got our money’s worth.

And we already have tickets for another performance later this year.

If you happen to be in the Bay Area, Frankenstein runs through the weekend.

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