Originally created 02/23/01

Bluegrass-ballet mix paid off in 'Hatfields'



This is not a review.

Instead, consider it an open letter of admiration, addressed in big red script to the Augusta Ballet, choreographer Peter Powlus and musician Sam Bush.

What the Augusta Ballet has accomplished is remarkable. With its recent production of The Legend of the Hatfields and McCoys, the company has effectively raised the already high bar for local arts organizations and stated, with firm conviction, that Augusta can produce fine-arts presentations every bit as original, engaging and polished as those of companies in Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles.

So much could have gone wrong with Mr. Powlus' bold experiment. Faced with the unfamiliar time signatures of bluegrass, his dancers could have faltered. Instead they soared. By using mountain folk as the characters in his Romeo and Juliet story, Mr. Powlus might have produced a recycled Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Instead, he deftly combined traditional ballet with American folk dance and, in the process, reinvented both forms. An audience, weaned on standard ballet or bluegrass performances, could have found the unlikely wedding of the two worlds jarring and uncomfortable. Instead, it sat transfixed as the experiment paid off.

It seemed evident as well that the audience, so moved by the experience that they found themselves clapping in time to the music, were not the only ones enjoying The Hatfields and McCoys. From my vantage point, I could see the dancers backstage succumbing to the powerful urge to move in time to the hot mandolin and fiddle licks Mr. Bush laid down. They fed off him as he, playing what certainly must have been his first ballet, fed off them. The symbiotic relationship produced an energy and joy in both the dancing and playing that comes not from hours of rehearsal or carefully scored music, but from an instinctive desire to perform.

My only suggestion, clearer delineation between the Hatfields and McCoys. There were times when I found it difficult to determine whether it was a Hatfield slugging a McCoy or vice versa. Perhaps cast members could wear a scarlett H or M respectively. Nah, probably not. Of course, as transfixed as the audience was with the dervish dancing and nimble musicianship, it seems, in retrospect, a small complaint.

It is my hope that The Legend of the Hatfields and McCoys will not die with the three performances at the Imperial Theatre. This is a production that deserves to be taken on the road. Certainly, fitting dates into the Augusta Ballet and Mr. Bush's busy performance schedules might be difficult - but it seems well worth the effort.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.