Theater archives

The Ways of Desire


Jean-Philippe Rameau called his Platée a “ballet bouffon.” It was surely the most deliberately ludicrous of the four musical entertainments he composed in 1745 to entertain Louis XV’s court at Versailles. Appropriately, since it was part of the wedding celebration of a royal prince, the only serious thing about it—besides the ravishing arias Rameau tossed off in a month—may have been its message about marital fidelity and the folly of jealousy.

The plot is slim, and there’s almost more dance music than is manageable. Jealous Juno is ruining harvests. Cithéron, a local king, and Mercury concoct a ruse. Jupiter will pretend to wed a nymph so ugly that Juno will somehow believe that tales of his randiness are exaggerated and fall into his arms. Turn Mark Morris, Isaac Mizrahi, and Adrianne Lobel loose on this, and you have an enthralling show that’s faithful to the spirit of the music but rife with contemporary wit.

They’ve set the prologue in a bar, where a sodden Thespis (Matthew Chellis), Momus (Bernard Deletré), Thalia (Christine Brandes), and Eros (Amy Burton in a pink bathrobe with an arrow through her do) discuss creating a new kind of show, to the delight of the increasingly intoxicated patrons. Morris’s direction brings out subtle relationships between the characters. Watch the reactions to “painter” John Heginbotham’s sketches, the long friendship between Bacchus the bartender (Guillermo Resto) and the Baroness (Ruth Davidson). Note how slyly Julie Worden (the “Dyke”) comes on to the shy secretary (Michelle Yard) and, later, how thrilled Yard is to be called a maenad.

As the music, elegantly conducted by Daniel Beckwith, leads us from the bar to Platée’s domain, James F. Ingalls’s lighting picks out the terrarium behind Lobel’s bar. Seconds later that terrarium, with its red plastic pool, fills the stage. Its ruler, and the principal triumph of the opera, is the Platée of tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt. With her webbed green feet and fingers, her crown of evidently slimy projections, her sagging breasts and belly visible through her translucent gown, Platée is undeniably homely—absurd in her preenings and flat-footed waddles. Yet this splendid singer—as physically astute as any dancer—makes Platée’s absurd vanity adorable; her radiant smile as she entertains thoughts of love, and her gauche approximations of courtly seductiveness, mate movingly with Rameau’s lyricism. And in Platée’s vengeful last aria, Fouchécourt abandons manners and gown to become a swamp creature.

Morris peoples the “marsh” with enchanting animals: a slithering snake (Mireille Radwan-Dana), a buoyant little toad (Lauren Grant), a variety of birds, and so on. Platée’s lady-in-waiting (the excellent Brandes) is a lizard. The comic effects are many. One of three Graces (played by a man, Charlton Boyd) falls down a lot. Jupiter’s four bounding, all-gray Aquilons (personifying the wind) bump into his very hard cloud machine. One of the disguises Jupiter assumes to tease Platée is a sweetly staid little owl (June Omura) who makes shy appearances between the parting feathered fans of showgirl birds. Marjorie Folkman is irresistible as a diapered baby (symbolizing innocence) at the fake nuptials.

Mizrahi’s costumes are as witty as the choreography: Jupiter sporting an ermine-trimmed red velvet smoking jacket, the superb soprano Amy Burton (La Folie) dressed as Jean Harlow with wings, satyrs in black leather jockstraps and hoofish shoes. . . . Hey-ho, Rameau!

Lucia Dlugoszewski was more than Erick Hawkins’s wife, musical director, and principal composer. The two were artistic soulmates.He was her hero, and often she put her owncareer—as a distinctive voice in Americanmusic—on hold to provide spare yet sensuous scores for his dances. She was found dead the day the Hawkins company, which she directed, began its season at Playhouse 91. She had been struggling to finish the music for Motherwell Amor, a two-part dance she’d also choreographed.

Into that work, heroically performed in her honor, she poured all her passion for Erick, and her unassuaged grief over his death six years ago. Building duet after startlingly beautiful duet, she created an anthology of love. Women bore men in complex ways; men cradled women. Partners became mountains for each other to climb. Enlaced like a yin-yang symbol, gentle and strange, they grazed on one another, exploring the tender claw, the kiss on the back of the knee, the tracing finger. As with all her work, this score for piano, percussion, and small ensemble didn’t support the dancing but conversed with it—uttering the turbulence beneath calm, the wondering hush that surrounds fierce endeavor. (Those who loved Lucia could envision her—fervent, disheveled—attacking her “timbre piano.”) In what we lament as her final statement, she summed up a rare artistic partnership in a hymn to love fulfilled.