“Lady of the Camellias” is a beautiful, heartbreaking work of art

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Photos by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

By Natalie Kfoury and Allison Nekola – Co-Editors-in-Chief

Boston Ballet’s current portrayal of Val Caniparoli’s “Lady of the Camellias,” running through March 8, is a beautiful, familiar story that fills the audience with emotion. The performance is extremely well executed on all fronts, making this a stunning visual experience that is easily remembered.

The story is familiar to many because the ballet is based off Alexander Dumas’ famous 19th century French novel. This story has been immortalized in popular works such as “Moulin Rouge!” “Lady of the Camellias” tells the heartbreaking, evocative, and moving tale of Marguerite (Kathleen Breen Combes), a highly sought after courtesan from Paris who is stricken with consumption and has fallen in love with Armand (Yury Yanowsky), a man she cannot have. Armand competes with Marguerite’s rich lover, the Baron de Varville (Bo Busby) for her heart.

The story was told through fluid and beautiful dancing. From the moment the curtains are lifted, ballerinas fill the stage promenading in their pointe shoes and the entire crowd can feel their energy. The orchestra’s melody begins to crescendo, while the ballerinas follow suit by gliding across the stage, doing pirouettes, pliés, and penchées, all while sur les pointes; on pointe or in normal terms on their tippy toes. As the dancers gracefully lift their legs close to their heads, it looks as if they are light as a feather. The astonishment builds in the audience as their bodies hit the floor after a leap and don’t make a sound.

Combes and Yanowsky, who is retiring from dancing after the final performance of “Lady of the Camellias” on March 8 to focus on choreography, have incredible chemistry while dancing. The two dancers are married and this carries through in their work on stage. Their bodies become one, molding into one another after every move. The point of dance is to evoke emotion. The passion between Combes and Yanowsky captivated the audience, making each movement of their body an expression of the story being told while capturing the emotion of every moment.

The visual elements of the show were stunning. The set design was remarkably simple at times, yet beautifully executed. For example, the second act of the ballet takes place in an outdoor garden. Swings hung down to the stage from far up in the rafters, tree branches were seen in the upper left corner, and the dancers lounged on large, decorative pillows when they weren’t dancing and playing with each other.

The pallet of the show was beautiful and carried the story throughout. From the light and pastel outdoor accents to the dark and powerful indoor scenes to the bleak coloring of the scenes that portrayed Marguerite’s sickness, abandonment, and desperation, the color and design accented perfectly with the dancing and the moving story. When the entire cast was on stage, there were many colors and accessories but then a contrast happened when a single character was on stage, for example Combes dances a solo in a white flowing gown with nothing around her but a small bed frame and a dim light behind her.

The performance is emotional throughout. It was not usual to see audience members with looks of awe upon their faces when the curtain was opened for each act or when the dancers pulled off amazing feats. It was hard not to be affected because each step the dancers made was a symbol of a specific emotion and it is their job to make the audience feel that emotion and understand the characters a little better. Likewise, during the tragic moments, especially during the final act of Marguerite’s desperation and abandonment, many viewers wiped away tears and held their breath in sad anticipation.

Combes’s strength in dancing and character portrayal attributed to this. The audience is drawn to her from the start of “Lady of the Camellias.” They root for her, they feel her love and sickness, and they cry for her. Combes’s strength and ability is consistent and shines throughout the performance, especially in the tragic final act. But it is the entire cast and the chemistry that makes this one of the best performances done by the Boston Ballet this year.

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