James Kudelka, artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, is the first choreographer to attempt a full-length adaptation of Eugène Labiche and Marc Michel‘s wildly successful 1851 French farce, “Un chapeau de paille d‘Italie.” Whether Kudelka was wise in the attempt remains an open question.
Comedy at the best of times is not easy to accomplish in ballet. Farce is a comedic genre with a specialized internal logic. Although its physical antics lend themselves to dance, the word play and plot convolutions of farce are harder to crack.
Kudelka and his dramaturg, Timothy Luginbuhl, obviously understood this in devising a scenario that tries to simplify and focus the action. They also advance the period to 1890, allowing designer Santo Loquasto to evoke the flamboyant dress of the mid-Belle Epoque and cleverly incorporate the Eiffel Tower. However, trying to sort out who is doing what-and why they are doing it-remains a challenge for the audience, even after reading the synopsis in the program.
“An Italian Straw Hat” concerns the predicament of a wealthy Parisian, Ferdinand. On the morning of his wedding to the virtuous Hélène, Ferdinand‘s horse eats the elegant straw hat of ...