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Signature Theatre Presents "Cheri" at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre Presents "Cheri" at The Pershing Square Signature Center

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Signature Theatre Presents:

Conceived, Choreographed, Directed
by Martha Clarke

Based on the novel by Colette, text by Tina Howe

Signature Theatre
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Herman Cornejo, Alessandra Ferri, Amy Irving

Pianist: Sarah Rothenberg

Scenic and Costume Design: David Zinn
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: Arthur Solari and Samuel Crawford
Production Stage Manager: Terri K. Kohler
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Adam Bernstein
Director of Marketing: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 21, 2013 Matinee

For this balletomane, a longtime fan of American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and its dancers, Signature Theatre Company’s Chéri, by choreographer-director Martha Clarke, starring Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo, was a dream. Ms. Ferri was not a ballet partner of Mr. Cornejo when they were both in the Company (Ms. Ferri, a Principal, retired; Mr. Cornejo is a current Principal), but they are two of the most impassioned performers who have ever graced the Met Opera stage, home to ABT’s spring season. Amy Irving was the only vocal performer in this production, based on Colette’s 1920 novel and 1926 sequel, as she took the role of Chéri’s (Mr. Cornejo) mother, Charlotte. Her acidic and acrid monologues served to drive the story forward, amidst twists and turns. Ms. Ferri, as Lea, had been Charlotte’s best friend, until she took Charlotte’s son as her lover, right under Charlotte’s roof.

Speaking of roofs, David Zinn’s set design is extraordinarily 1912 Parisian, with faded, angular wallpaper, a fully absorbing mirror, French doors, and a plump, disheveled bed. Tina Howe has written Charlotte’s text, and Sarah Rothenberg performs the background score in the play, sumptuous piano music by Debussy, Ravel, Mompou, Feldman, Poulenc, and Wagner. Ms. Rothenberg never overpowers the luscious choreography. Rather she expands its lyricism and eloquence. The action unfolds from bedroom to living-dining room, and back and forth, with Christopher Akerlind’s very effective lighting, shifting through warm glow, stark coldness, and dim dread. Charlotte is jealous, vengeful, and manipulative, as she feels she’s lost both son and friend to an ill-conceived affair. She forces Cheri to marry a proper woman of his own age, before she bids goodbye, as he leaves for World War I. Meanwhile, Lea dwells in emotional turbulence, on hearing of her lover’s engagement and later takes on a new offstage lover of her own.

But, it’s not the plot, but the dance that propels this magnificent production. Ms. Clarke has choreographed solo spins along the wooden floor, wild leaps of lovers into each other’s arms, Ms. Ferri’s fast spins en air against Mr. Cornejo’s torso, Ms. Ferri’s echoing solo spins along the floor, propulsive thrusts of the pelvis and torso, images of angst, loss, desolation. The motion was ethereal, surreal, as light as feathers. Costumes ranged from pajamas for Chéri, nightgown for Lea, to classical suit for Chéri, dress and bag for Lea, suit for Charlotte. The formality of the costume set the tone of togetherness or separation of lovers, as their closeness would soon dispense of outer attire. When they turned away from each other, through rejection or an attempt toward change, Mr. Zinn’s costumes would become layered, like the emotions. The sound design, by Solari and Crawford, kept the music swirling throughout the theater. I look forward to re-reading Colette’s works and hope Ms. Clarke can re-stage this memorable ballet-theatre – perhaps at one of the ballet galas.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at