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Helma Klooss
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Scapino Ballet Rotterdam's 'Casablanca' lacking compared to the film it was based on

by Helma Klooss
November 8, 2021
Rotterdam Schouwburg,
Schouwburgplein 25, Rotterdam
Helma Klooss is a Netherlands-based dance writer and festival organizer. More about her dance festivals can be found at www.danskaravaan.nl, www.danskaravaan-educatief.nl and www.stranddans.nl
Scapino Ballet is the Netherlands' oldest dance company and celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Scapino’s choreographer Ed Wubbe created for this occasion the ballet Casablanca, inspired by the World War II-era film classic from 1942. The movie focused on an American expatriate Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart), the owner of a nightclub and casino who must choose between his love for Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and helping her and her Czech Resistance leader husband Victor escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca.

Wubbe sees coincidences between the movie's plot and today’s refugee crisis throughout the world.

For his ballet version of Casablanca, Wubbe created a stunning white circular rotating stage with a round back wall opening from which the dancers could enter.

For Scapino Ballet's performance on October 21, the company's dancers in white costumes stood around a roulette table and reacted to the happenings around it. Winning numbers were announced in French. On one side of the table stood Ilsa, a mysterious woman with a white headscarf and dark sunglasses. Then suddenly the sound of gunshots rang out and everyone onstage looked at Ilsa and in a panic, fled.

Next, we heard voiceover narration in English of the beginning lyrics to As time goes by, the well-known song from the film. To that, the ensemble elegantly danced on the moving stage until only two couples remained and the voiceover told of Ilsa’s story of needing visas for her and her husband to flee from Lisbon or Marseille.

An intermezzo followed with fine Moroccan music in which the men carried the women on their shoulders at a slow pace as if the women were riding camels. That was alternated by showy, charleston-style duets with Ilsa and a group of male dancers to the song "It had to be you."

In another emotional scene taken from the movie, Ilsa asks Sam, the club pianist to "play the old song". Rick enters, sees her, and collapses. She then dances a desperate dance onstage, spinning and falling, until he gets up and walks away.

The perilous feel of life during World War II for the characters was best conveyed in scenes performed to a German song that featured a militaristic group dance, and an Arabic row dance in which the dancers', arm in arm, jerked their upper bodies up and down, swayed their hips with heads turned sideways. While the dancing was well executed, the choreography for these scenes could have been more sexy or exciting.

The voiceover narration then continued Rick saying to Sam, "I’m waiting for her…to go to New York." With Sam answering, "Don't." This was accompanied by a duet of the two men, where Ilsa joined in to hold Rick in a tight embrace in the staccato-like dance. We then hear the narration that Laszlo will be killed if Rick doesn't give them the visas. The two then move apart and Ilsa dances a solo filled with despair. It is followed by more dancers coming onstage for a fast-flowing and sensual dance set to Moroccan music.

Tensions rose when a group of dancers arrived displaying uniforms with eagle emblems. To marching music, they held fans of black ostrich feathers in a manner that mimicked an eagle. It was an impressive scene.

The ballet closed on a scene of Rick and Ilsa still desperate with imploring looks on their faces. There was no resolution to the ballet, unlike the film.

I didn’t see a clear connection with today's refugee crisis as Wubbe did. Muddling matters even more in the ballet, especially for audience members unfamiliar with the film, Wubbe had six different dancers portray the protagonists in the story. Dancing the role of Ilsa were Ellen Landa, Daphne van Dooren, and Dalma Doman, and performing as Rick were Filip Wagrodzki, Lennart Huijsentruyt, and Lorenzo Cimarelli. Perhaps lacking most in the ballet, compared to the film it was based on, was the level of emotion the film conveyed that made it such a memorable classic.

Photo © & courtesy of Bas Czerwinsky

Photo © & courtesy of Bas Czerwinsky

Photo © & courtesy of Bas Czerwinsky

Photo © & courtesy of Bas Czerwinsky

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