Chaplin moves are celebrated in Petit ballet

March 09, 1995|By J.L Conklin | J.L Conklin,Special to The Sun

You don't have to be a fan of Charlie Chaplin to enjoy French choreographer Roland Petit's balletic homage to the late film star, "Chaplin Dances," which opened its week-long engagement at the Kennedy Center Tuesday night.

Mr. Petit and seven dancers from his Ballet National de Marseille bring the comedy, pathos and artistry of the beloved Little Tramp to life in a 90-minute program of 20 short dances. The dances, drawn from various films of Chaplin's are set to music by Fiorenzo Carpi, Chaplin and J.S. Bach.

Film buffs will recognize snippets or thematic images from "The Kid," "The Gold Rush" or "Modern Times." Even if you've never seen a Charlie Chaplin film, the wonderful timing of Luigi Bonino and the experienced dancing of Dominique Khalfouni is delightful.

Besides the fine performances, "Chaplin Dances" displays Mr. Petit's clever and often symmetrical choreography. He is able to convey the essence of Chaplin without becoming literal. There are plenty of Chaplinesque walks and his signature leans, but there is also the sense that Mr. Petit goes beneath the costume to find the artist. The dances are rich with wonderful subtleties.

The piece de resistance for many was Mr. Bonino's brilliant duet with a chair in "Seeking Titine." He sat on the chair, crossed his legs, shifted his weight and somersaulted through its back all in time to the music. The well-timed actions of Mr. Bonino, a consummate performer, brought cheers from the audience.

Ms. Khalfouni also has a chance to demonstrate her humorous side, as well as her well-practiced technique. In "Aerial Variation" she was partnered by an man who hides under her filmy dress as she rises and floats across the stage.

The most touching work was "The Blind Violet Seller" in which Ms. Khalfouni and Mr. Bonino dance a romantic pas de deux. The couple literally break out of character as they leave their costumes behind to dance like two spirits in love.

'Chaplin Dances'

What: Ballet National de Marseille Roland Petit

Where: Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through March 12

Cost: $27 to $42

Call: (202) 467-4600

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