Recalling the classical style of popular story ballets of the late 1800s, like Coppelia and Don Quixote, choreographer Andre Prokovsky's swashbuckling The Three Musketeers has charmed and delighted audiences since its premiere by the Australian Ballet, in 1980.
Now, in its first production ever of a Three Musketeers ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brings Prokovsky's comedic favorite to the Benedum Center for four shows Oct. 22-24. The performances will feature live music by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Orchestra.
The ballet, with music by Giuseppe Verdi arranged and orchestrated by Guy Woolfenden, is inspired by Alexandre Dumas' 1844 novel of the same name. It's the swashbuckling tale of Athos, Aramis and Porthos -- King Louis XIII's royal guards. Joined by the soon-to-be fourth musketeer, D'Artagnan, they're challenged to save the reputation of the Queen Consort of France, Anne of Austria, from an evil plot by Cardinal Richelieu and Milady de Winter.
The 90-minute family-friendly ballet is infused with lots of swordplay, slapstick humor and bravura male dancing. Prokovsky, a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, emphasized the male roles, says Gilles Maidon, a former Ballet de Santiago principal dancer who is setting the work on PBT. (Prokovsky died in 2009.)
"The story lends itself to strong male roles," says Maidon. "Technically it is difficult with lots of jumps and turns."
The guys have to execute much of that technical dancing while dressed in elaborate period costumes by designer Peter Farmer ... and while carrying swords. Not an easy feat, says PBT soloist Alexandre Silva, who dances the role of Porthos.
The male dancers have had plenty of practice, however, learning to wield a sword properly. PBT artistic director Terrence Orr, a veteran of stage swordplay from his days as a dancer at American Ballet Theatre, has been leading special classes in the craft.
"I think we like Terry's fencing classes more than the ballet rehearsals," says Silva.
Silva says a few of the guys have even suffered minor cuts from the horseplay they have engaged in while learning to integrate fencing moves into their steps.
"It has been a gradual process," says dancer Stephen Hadala, now in his 13th season with PBT. "We have built up to a combination of dancing and sword-fighting."
Hadala will dance the role of Comte de Rochefort, the leader of Richelieu's guards, in all shows except the Oct. 24 matinee. Of the Comte, Hadala says: "He tries to be the quintessential bad guy but it doesn't always work out, and that is where the comedic relief comes in."
In the ballet, Rochefort and his guards are bumbling while the musketeers are suave and supremely confident. They are treated like celebrities, attracting the attention of every woman in town -- Porthos in particular, says Silva. "He is a lady's man who believes it is better to have five women than one."
The lighthearted production will also give audiences a look at PBT's four new company members. Joining the corps de ballet this season is Kaori Yanagida, who comes from South Carolina's Columbia Classical Ballet. Joining the company as apprentices are Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School grads Ted Henderson, Yoshiaki Nakano and Molly Wright, who will all dance corps de ballet roles in this production.
The Three Musketeers promises to be a refreshing change of pace from the handful of story-ballet staples the company tends to perform.
"It is a happy ballet with a happy ending," says Maidon. "Andre [Prokovsky] meant it to be pleasing and fun for all ages to watch."
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performs The Three Musketeers Fri., Oct. 22-Sun., Oct. 24. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $20.75-90.75. 412-456-6666 or www.pbt.org.
- Photo courtesy of Duane Rieder.
- All for one: The PBT does The Three Musketeers.