This past weekend the University Ballet staged La Esmeralda, a ballet inspired by The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The performance took place in the Performance Hall of the Logan Center and was packed both Friday and Saturday.
There were 50 dancers in the show, who were mostly students, but also included dancers from the Hyde Park community. UBallet is 100 percent student-lead, and the individuals who managed the staging process were executive director fourth-year Martha Fahlgren and two artistic directors: second-year Emily Ehrmantraut and fourth-year Candice Schwartzenburg. The choreography for the performance was entirely adapted from that of Marius Petipa and Victor Gsovsky, and the original music written by Cesare Pugni was used. Although some adjustments were made to the original choreography, such as the shortening of the pas de deux, the performance was generally very similar to the original La Esmeralda.
The storyline of the ballet, which takes place in 15th-century Paris, centers around the beautiful Roma Esmeralda. The ballet starts off in the Roma camp where poor poet Gringoire, played by first-year Chris Chen, is about to be hung for wandering into the camp. However, he has a way out: marry a Roma girl. This is where Esmerelda appears, performed by Ehrmantraut. She first tries to convince her friends to marry the poet, but she fails and instead marries him herself. The scene ends with a bishop, performed by second-year Sean Gasiorowski, seeing Esmeralda and seeming lovestruck.
The story develops into a complicated love dilemma in which Gringoire, the evil bishop, and Captain Phoebus are all in love with Esmeralda. The first act ends after the bishop confronts Esmeralda, but she refuses him due to her newfound love with Phoebus, performed by first-year Teddy Watler.
The action in the play is, to a great extent, set in motion by the character of Captain Phoebus, the male protagonist and Esmeralda’s love. The focus of the second act is largely on him; the first scene is his engagement with Fleur de Lys, performed by fourth-year Sarah Lundgren. The act then proceeds with his apparent murder and his eventual return. Watler had an amazing stage presence, and his sauts de chat particularly stood out to all the audience members, who clapped enthusiastically following Watler’s performance. Ehrmantraut was also an excellent dancer; her attitude balancés were especially memorable.
Lighting in the performance set the mood successfully—every time the bishop and Quasimodo, played by second-year Joshua Bustetter, would come on stage the lights would turn red, and the audience was thereby notified of their negative personalities.
The show was generally very well done. The only evident flaw was in the sound editing, which had very abrupt transitions. However, the dancers had no problem with this minor challenge, and their dancing was always well-timed and smooth. Even the scenes when a lot of dancers were on stage looked effortless, although they were obviously very hard to coordinate due to the number of people on stage.
This was the first time that Esmeralda was performed fully at the University of Chicago. Watler commented, “Esmeralda is not performed as frequently [as other ballets]. So it was a great opportunity to stage it.”
And the University community was very glad, since it was an excellent show.