Did you ever watch American Idol or Dancing with the Stars during the big finale when the winner is finally announced and a whole ocean of confetti falls down on everyone? I hope so, because that’s kind of what Pittsburgh Ballet’s Moulin Rouge is like. Color. Color! COLOR! It’s everywhere and at all times. If it’s not the ever-changing lights on the gorgeous, floor to ceiling stage design (the windmill, the top floor boudoir, the stone bridge! Good job designer Andrew Beck!) then it’s on the can-can dancer’s skirts, the vests of the waiters, the off the shoulder shirts of the gypsies. It’s everywhere! (Great job costume designers Anne Armit and Shannon Lovelac! I craved cupcakes the entire show! Wow, is that weird???) And it works! Visually stunning and passionately acted and danced, Moulin Rouge delivers on all levels.
Choreographed by Jorden Morris, he puts a stellar cast through the paces of incredible lifts and high-high kicks. (See what I did there? Can-can…high-high…anyway…) The Corps were perfection as they did triple, sometimes quadruple, sometimes quintuple (!!) duty performing as laundrettes, rehearsal can-can girls, can-can Ladies, Gypsies and Tango Couples. They seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, what with all the skirt twirling, bum-flashing, grande battement fun. It easily translated to the audience, who laughed aloud many times during the course of the brisk, fast-paced two hour and some odd minutes show. (And that included the 20 minute intermission.)
Leads Alexandra Kochis as Nathalie, the young laundrette turned star of the Moulin Rouge turned unfortunate victim of villain Zidler’s obsessive attentions (we’ll get to him in a second), and Christopher Budzynski as Matthew, the starving, penniless painter, are once again perfect together. They were last seen in Giselle and their chemistry was a death-defying, maddening thing in that show…it’s dangerous and fatal in this one. They move well, they look fabulous, they complement each other completely. And don’t think I didn’t see the kiss Mr. Budzynski sweetly planted on Ms. Kochis’ cheek just as the curtain came down at the end of the show, as they took their theater-packed standing ovation. It was the perfect coda, the perfect way for a show that began with a look should end with a kiss.
Now, as for that dastardly Zidler, played with gusto and verve by Nurlan Abougaliev. He was theatrical to the utmost, dark and sinister and oh so mean! His dancing was aggressive, his pantomimes clear in their I’m the leader of this pack! message. He may as well have sky-written Don’t mess with me or my things! One of those things being Nathalie of course. And of course, she does get messed with. That penniless painter up and done stole that woman’s heart!
It’s that conflict that gives the narrative it’s lift. For how wonderfully visual the whole ballet was, it couldn’t sustain itself on just colors and dancing alone. I wasn’t a huge fan of the music; I felt at times that the score didn’t really jive with the emotions. But that central love triangle – well, maybe not love triangle, considering Nathalie never loved Zidler. Maybe it was more of an acute triangle…two long parallel lines held apart by some short little bugger??? Anyway, it’s the conflict that gave Moulin Rouge it’s pace and raised the stakes high enough to really get invested in the characters. Mr. Budzynski had the most impressive character arc, going from naïve, Paris-loving painter to a man madly in love and then deeply in grief. His physical prowess wasn’t totally on display here (that honor goes to Giselle) but his acting was phenomenal. When, in the throws of great despair after Nathalie rejects him (to save his life) he drinks absinthe and is visited by not one, but three Green Fairies and dances a sublime, eerie pas de quatre with them, I got shivers. For real shivers. It was one of the best moments of the show.
And let’s not forget some of the funniest! Like when Toulouse-Lautrec, danced by a fabulous Joseph Parr, squared off against Budzkynski’s Matthew in a dueling paint off? It was worthy of an old school Jerry Lewis or SNL skit. Very clever and very funny! Or how about when our poor painter has to switch out his old ragamuffin clothes for something far more sleek and stylish? Oh the tailors! The tailors!!! Thank you Yoshiaki Nakano, Stephen Hadala, Corey Bourbonniere and Cooper Verona for making me laugh in a day when I sorely needed some laughter. You guys were phenomenal!
All in all, I had a grand time at the Moulin Rouge. But one word of warning: this is not the Baz Luhrmann movie. There’s no Satine, no pop songs, no Ewan McGregor. Leave those pre-concieved notions at the door and instead, take your seat and prepare yourself for a glorious adventure into the underworld, where Diamond Dogs slink instead of bark, where girls kick as well as kiss, and where love and jealously collide, creating a tale you’ll remember long after it’s done.
The show runs now until Sunday. For tickets, go here.