With Chaplin, State Street Ballet has distilled the direction they have been tending in recent seasons to its essence, which is full-throttle modern choreography in the service of narrative art. While the dancers give everything they’ve got, abandoning themselves to these extravagant steps and movements, the story line reins the meaning in, rendering even the most abstract ensemble sections comprehensible in terms of character and emotion.
Ahna Lipchik was extraordinary as Chaplin, turning the little tramp’s repertoire of shrugs and waddles into a broadly expressive movement alphabet capable of communicating delicate shades of meaning. James Folsom, also portraying Chaplin, tipped his bowler the other way, making the most out of his athleticism to create a slightly more stable and familiar version of the great movie star.
Lloyd Sobel’s excellent lighting design lent added drama to scenes in which the ensemble took the lead. Anna Carnes was in particularly fine form, showing great consistency and precision throughout the evening. The show was not without an edge. In one sequence, the dancers appeared to be naked (they were not), and in another they formed a pile of corpses to signify the onset of the world wars. The finale, which reenacted Chaplin’s acceptance of a special Academy Award, led to a well-deserved standing ovation, echoing the one that Chaplin received at the Oscars in 1972.