On March 29, 2023, Susan Jaffe, the new Artistic Director for American Ballet Theatre feasted the audience on LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. A new ballet by Christopher Wheeldon, one of the brilliant eclectic classic choreographers of our time exceeded himself in this passionate Mexican folk tale of magical realism. In the tradition of Petipa and MacMillan’s full length works, Wheeldon, succeeded in presenting an expansive cultural tale for our 21st century audiences. This story in three acts was inspired by the book and screenplay written by award winning Mexican author, Laura Esquivel who created an other-worldliness in this stunning and erotic tale of love.
The stylized view of Latin tradition and magic, is layered with mystical color, part heat and part Lorca-esque, overflowing with human passions and repressions, which at points hits the mark with stunning clarity.
Sets and Costumes designed by Bob Crowley clearly created an old- world beauty with his graceful lace curtain used to give a sense of the traditional Mexican Mantilla. It allowed rear projections of the jagged Mexican mountainous peaks. Intermittent Lace trimmed sheets of hanging laundry rose and lowered to reveal and hide the secret actions of the story. While the diaphanous see-through curtains peeked at the forbidden action.
Crowley distinguishes the lower and upper class by stylizing the guileless Mexican folkloric costumes in muted colors of mauve, creams and mint, with swirling skirts, overblouses, bloused shirts and gaucho-pants of the camp following revolutionaries against the elegant men in white and cream suits and Fedoras, and their women in high necked lace collars, cinched waists, and skirts to the floor.
The familial triangle of the unloved Rosaura (Hee Seo), eldest of three daughters, becomes the eventual wife of the protagonist Tita’s lover Pedro. Gertrudis, played by the fierce Catherine Hurlin is the fiery middle daughter who escapes her oppressed life with Juan Alejandrez, Lead Revolutionary, played by the spirited Carlos Gonzalez. And the youngest daughter, Tita, danced by Cassandra Trenary, is physically exquisite and a dancer of perfection, yet vapid, never quite giving herself over to her character either as a lover nor as the wrested surrogate mother for the ailing Rosaura. Perhaps she is pacing herself through the exhaustive evening.
Tita’s lover, Pedro, is played by the steamy Herman Cornejo, who exudes powerful sexual vitality along with his effortless dance prowess. He assists in making the most of the erotic Pas de deux, including the spectacular final moment of the ballet.
Tita’s character heartbroken and seemingly destined, against her will, to never marry, according to the matriarch’s edict, has the onerous duty to care for her widowed mother, Elena de la Garza. Christine Schevchenko plays Mama Elena and is subtle and powerful as the maleficent lone head of household who later reveals her backstory. She unfolds her own tarnished youth being loved, and in love. After her death she rises to haunt the lovers Pedro and Tita as an untamed spirit of death and is finally vanquished by the lovers passion for each other.
The music composed by Joby Talbot, orchestrated by Ben Foskett with the full Pacific Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David LaMarche had the feel of Huapango and folklorico, with the lush expressive classic strains supporting the story. ABT comes alive with this new view; the frenetic staging around the campfires of traveling revolutionaries; the lush erotic rose petal sauce over quail leads to Gertrudis escape; the use of the twisting and lengthening of long thick colored ribbon as a tool to symbolize relationships between characters and groups, and so much more magic makes one want to see Like Water for Chocolate repeatedly, since it is an undertaking of tremendous proportion. And since this is a nascent production, it will settle and tighten. Yet, how often do we see a world class company, with monetary support, and exciting artistic endeavors presented with such love and commitment to take on a new view. This is a treat for Southern California that clarifies itself and allows the magic to come through. Congratulations for the courage to take on such work.
Like Water for Chocolate continues through Sunday April 2, 2023 for more information and tickets, click HERE.
For more information about America Ballet Theatre, please visit their website.
To learn more about the season line up of performances at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: American Ballet Theatre – Cassandra Trenary (Tita) and Herman Cornejo (Pedro) in Christopher Wheeldon’s Like Water for Chocolate – Photo: Marty Sohl.