Love in the Times of the Day


Through Sunday, Feb. 17

Fletcher Opera Theater, Raleigh

If you’re looking at the panneaux décoratif (decorative panels) that make up Alphonse Mucha’s The Time of the Day as Google Images thumbnails, then it’s easy to write them off as merely ornamental Art Nouveau. Standing at more than nine feet tall, though, the originals of the 1899 quartet are larger than life. They constitute four oversize windows into a different time and aesthetic, in which the idealized European female forms ubiquitous in that period are placed in (and occasionally upstaged by) natural settings.

Small wonder, then, that Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss and composer J. Mark Scearce attempt to pull audiences through those portals in their latest collaboration, Love in the Times of the Day. There is more than an element of fantasy in the suite’s four movements, which sometimes seems to edge it away from the source material. Instead of the wistful, reflective mood conveyed in Mucha’s third panel, “Rêverie du Soir,” we encounter a lively octet of revelers in crimson and purple in Weiss’s “Dusk.” After that, lead dancers Lily Wills and Miles Sollars-White plateau during their early pas de deux, before they trip the light fantastic when pianist William Wolfram tears into Scearce’s tribute to stride piano and early metropolitan jazz. When the composer punctuates this ragtime-influenced passage with sudden, syncopated pauses, Weiss’s daring, momentary freeze-frame choreography follows suit.

More to the original point is the bedtime tale in the final movement, “Night.” In it, Jan Burkhard’s character sleeps on her side, among the stars—that is, in the uplifted arms of four men wearing designer Kerri Martinsen’s tasteful, glitter-and-sequin-dusted black costumes. As Burkhard balletically sleepwalks, Kiefer Curtis, portraying the moon, enters in trim silver and gray. Weiss’s delicate choreography parallels Scearce’s dreamlike reverie, as Curtis gently observes and supports Burkhard, before more exuberant moves in his solo. The majesty in Burkhard’s following solitary sequence gives way to rest, as the moon and stars pay homage to the slumbering woman.

During Saturday’s matinee, these movements outshone Christian Gutierrez’s technically adept but occasionally odd interactions with Alyssa Pilger, in the vivid company of a quintet of dancing sunflowers during “Noon.” But Taylor Ayotte’s initial pointe precision with Scearce’s eighth-note passages in “Dawn” gave way to a stiffness suggesting Love isn’t always a morning person. (Then again, who is?) Though Jeff A.R. Jones’s digital backdrops convey Mucha’s sumptuous landscapes, the relatively low resolution of the images detracts from their effect, over the course of a Day much like most, with highs and occasional lows intermixed.