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BalletX’s “The Little Prince” Wanders Off Course

by Bonnie Rosenstock
October 15, 2019
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
Before I went to see Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa’s adaptation of “The Little Prince” at The Joyce on Oct 5 (October 1-6 run), which she choreographed for BalletX, Philadelphia’s contemporary dance company, I re-read my well-worn copy of the wondrous and somewhat cryptic work by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, illustrated with his captivating drawings. Maybe I shouldn’t have. While you know the “movie” version is never going to be as good as the “book,” one can always hope that some spark of originality will ignite. Unfortunately, the choreography was uneven, repetitive and never rose above the mundane.

A Pilot (Zachary Kapeluck) is downed in the desert and rescued by a Prince (Roderick Phifer), who asks him to draw a sheep. Accompanying the Pilot’s numerous attempts is an ensemble of dancers who deftly contort their bodies into shapes that depict his poor efforts. Finally, the Pilot produces a box with holes in it and says the sheep is inside to the Prince’s delight.

On his home asteroid, where only one person fits, the solitary Prince’s only companion is a prickly, vain and flighty Rose. She is ably portrayed by Francesca Forcella, who wiggles her white gloves with red tips to symbolize her thorns and coughs for attention. The Rose (based on Saint-Ex’s stormy relationship with his real-life wife) has made him so miserable that he takes advantage of a flock of birds (dancers flitting around stage holding long sticks with purple birds on top) and wanders the universe. On his travels the Prince meets eccentric characters who have been reduced to their professions or conditions, roles which could have been more farcical: the King, who issues decrees but has no subjects; the Businessman, who counts the stars as his personal wealth; the Lamplighter, who lights and extinguishes a lamppost every 30 seconds because his planet is so miniscule that day and night revolve rapidly; the Geographer, who has never been anywhere; the Drunkard, who drinks to forget he’s an alcoholic; and the Narcissist, who craves constant attention. The tamed Fox (Richard Villaverde) teaches the Prince about trust and friendship, while the Snake (Stanley Glover) portends his impending death.

The Prince is neither child nor adult (or both), but as danced by Phifer, he is ordinary and devoid of whimsy and wonder. The Snake, which only appears towards the end of the novella, has an omnipresent role. In his shiny smooth skin-tight unitard, bowler hat and cane, the rail-thin Glover is a force unto himself, as he gyrates, undulates, works those long limbs and intimidates the other characters. In a misguided effort to engage the audience, he stared directly at them, put his two-fingers to his eyes and pointed them back to them, which got a laugh but was tacky.

As designed by Matt Saunders, the scenery is a serviceable set of stacked white boxes which represent the sere landscape and also create a cave for the characters to hide in. Peter Salem skillfully played his pleasant composition on several instruments, including a synthesizer, a banjo and a harmonica. The Pilot’s airplane is a wreck of strewn yellow pieces, but all the parts fit cleverly together as he and the ensemble whirl around the stage at the finale. The ensemble also dances carrying long sticks that hold the sun, a crown and a moon as called for. The stars on sticks at the end are meant to indicate that if you look to the heavens, you can see the Prince.

“The Little Prince” can be understood and enjoyed on many levels, depending on the age of the audience. Saint-Ex escaped France in 1940 after Germany invaded. He wrote the book in New York and Long Island in 1942, his despair shaping the Prince’s loss of homeland and death of identity. The ballet has all the right elements but just doesn’t reach for the stars in its execution.



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