Thorns of the Crown
Choreographed and staged by Ramon Oller
September 9, 2016
Black Box Theater, Sheen Center
The phrase “less is more,” attributed to many sources, is very appropriate for Thorns of the Crown. The dance is vaguely about royal power—wanting it, getting it, losing it. This is a strong theme but the piece is a potpourri of steps, sounds, ideas, music and musical styles and would be stronger had it focused on fewer. Sounds include clashing swords and whinnying horses with snatches of spoken Shakespeare including Macbeth and Hamlet, with “To Be or Not to Be” voiced by Kenneth Branagh. Music runs the gamut from quasi- (or perhaps genuine) ecclesiastical to medieval selections to pipes and flutes to a blend of original compositions by composers Thomas Lentakis and Bruno Axel with too-abrupt shifts that are jolting. There is also a plethora of costume: Alessandra Corona, a Ballet Hispanico veteran, starts out in a severe black shift; switches to a flowing black and purple gown and winds up in pink and silver with a train—I may have missed one outfit. Mariacarmen Garcia, partner of Ramon Oller, the choreographer, also changes several times, most notably to a red dress for her Flamenco moments that include a section where she strikes her sword against the floor. I have no idea why.
The four male dancers, Michael Bishop, Nicholas Montero, Nick Burrage, and Alexandre Barranco, open in spangled trunks and loose tops; later two of them peel down to bare chests and black trunks for a pas de deux combining agile lifts with awkward poses that don’t quite come off. Alexandre Barranco was the most effective dancer in the work making good use of his small, expressive body and mobile face. He has a sense of attack although it’s not always sufficiently powerful.
Despite some interesting floor twists, windmill arms and moves across the floor performed in deep plié, the dancing isn’t gripping so there’s no strong sense of emotion. In addition to Flamenco, we’re given the Irish jig, courtly dancing, riffs on classic ballet and other disparate styles—too many moves and ideas as to follow.
The work was presented by Alessandra Corona. Choreographer Ramon Oller made the piece inspired by his early studies of the works of Shakespeare which he studied when a young student in his native Barcelona. When program notes tell us Thorns of the Crowns is “a never-ending struggle between power, sacrifice and fatalities with an innovative approach,” the only phrase I identified with is “innovative.” Yes, but at a cost.