Well, thanks to djshelf’s super timely comment, we found out about the Charlotte Ballet staging the American debut of “The Most Incredible Thing;” the 2011 ballet that Pet Shop Boys wrote the score for in its first staging outside of its Sadler’s Wells origin point. We planned to attend the matinee on Sunday, March 18th in order to just have it be a day trip, since Charlotte was just a two and a quarter hour drive away. The trip was easy and the parking lot was directly across from the Knight Center, where it was being held at.
As we filed into the lobby there were a lot of children attending the 2:00 PM showing partaking of various activities, like make your own crown. Children’s tickets were only $15 and that probably accounted for the audience being at least a third comprised of youngsters. After meeting our pals Elisa + Tom in the lobby, I escorted them back to our seats. Kudos to my wife for snagging seating right in the middle of the orchestra section that was excellent. Minutes later the show began and we immediately got the impression that this was going to be something spectacular as the overture began and the scrim masking the stage had video of hands cutting paper into shapes. Then the scrim rose and the curtain parted as the tenor of the kingdom, where it looked like Russian society almost 100 years ago, was revealed. But there weren’t video screens at the dawn of Soviet Russia.
The storyline posited a drab society where The King announces a contest to share “The Most Incredible Thing” with society and the declared winner received his daughter’s hand in marriage and half of the kingdom. Worker Leo was inspired by a visitation of muses to create a wondrous clock while Karl, the worker’s overseer, skulked around with his cadre of fascist bullyboys, looking like members of Laibach gone very bad as he plotted ways to accrue more power.
Act two consists of the competition itself, which lasts on television for over a week as the three judges see act after act and pass verdict on them. These acts were presented in shadow choreography courtesy of Pilobolus, who designed the shadow choreography used here. The original production had shadow puppetry used as an homage to Pilobolus, but for this production, Pilobolus were able to be part of the creative team! Astounding, as we have seen both Piloblous and Momix [the company formed by former Piloblous dancer Moses Pendelton] on earlier occasions.
Leo finally appeared onstage with his clock as it unleashed a dozen spellbinding visions. Twelve elaborate dance routines and tableaux unfurled before our eyes like dazzling flags. Needless to say, Leo and his clock were declared winner of the competition. Which motivated Karl to simply destroy the clock. The judges then declared that this was in fact, the most incredible thing. And the whole scenario went topsy turvy as the forces of creativity and destruction clashed onstage in Act three.
The dance was heavily weighted towards modern styles, with hints of balletic classicism manifesting throughout from time to time. The set design was immediately stamped with the twin design motifs of Russian Constructionism with a hint of German Expressionism. Costumes were naturalistic as opposed to tights and tutus. Staging was taken to a level that I had never experienced before. The sets were wide tableaux to contain all of the choreography with platforms and dividers that were wheeled around the stage by the dancers. One side would depict one scene and the other side might be a black mirrored surface.
At certain points in the narrative, video screens would descend to provide more exposition. Exposition via the screen adjacent to the competition stage and the occasional dialogue [pre-recorded] on the speakers from the competition host served to advance the plot. The choreography of the host was fascinating as it evoked the emotional state of the character [it is, after all, a ballet] while the character’s pre-recorded dialog would air on the speakers.
The huge clock itself was a major character as it would descend from above and abstract motion graphics or video would accompany the unfolding tableau of The Clock during Act two at the competition. Its round screen was 10-12 ft. in diameter and this can be seen n the video highlights at the top of this review as shot by Arthur Cauty at the first staging of the ballet.
The entire production was a top level tour de force that anyone with an interest in ballet, modern dance, theatrical staging, multimedia, and indeed, Pet Shop Boys would have much to appreciate. As someone who could tick all of those boxes, we found it undeniably beautiful and spellbinding. The themes of love and respect versus ownership, and the resilience of creativity against brutish destruction could resonate with any viewers of any age, but I had to admit that I envied the children in attendance for being exposed to this level of achievement at such a young age. When I was 7-8 years old, the TV set was the entirety of my culture. Let us be thankful that work of this caliber is still being done and that this production has [finally] crossed the big pond to play… just two hours away from where we live. Hopefully, this will not be the last time it gets staged in America.
– 30 –