some baseball history this fall, even if the Pirates didn't make it to the
World Series. The Mighty Casey, the first baseball-inspired ballet, had its
world premiere at the Steel City's Benedum Centre on Oct. 6, and it went into
the record books as a hit.
Ballet and sports
have mixed before, but The Mighty Casey is the first choreographic attempt to
combine the moves of the game with the steps of the art for an entire ballet,
and it does so with enough style, wit and accuracy to satisfy fans of both
ballpark and theater. Choreographed by Lisa de Rib�re, who danced with both the
New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre, The Mighty Casey draws on
the 1888 poem Casey at the Bat, by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, and on another poem,
The Volunteer, written by C.P. McDonald in 1908. The base-ballet was
commissioned by Pittsburgh's Performing Arts for Children and is danced by
members of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
Casey begins with
the entire audience rising to sing the national anthem. Then composer-conductor
Michael Moricz dons a billed cap and shouts "Play ball!"
Dancers-as-vendors hawk popcorn and peanuts up and down the aisles, and a
barbershop quartet appears, singing parts of both poems to the strains of Oh!
Susanna. The curtain rises to reveal an old-fashioned ballpark, complete with
diamond, grandstand, fans and an ad for Hood's sarsaparilla. The year is 1908,
two decades after Casey's disgrace in Mudville, and this team is from Bugville.
The Bugvillites are in the field, down 6-4. Top of the ninth, two outs. Then
the catcher is injured, and because Bugville has no more players, the coach is
forced to ask for a volunteer from the stands. Casey steps from the crowd. Once
on the field, he freezes, engulfed by memories. The lighting changes. Mist
rises, and out of it appear his old Mudville teammates, resplendent in red
pinstripes. We are transported back to 1888 for two games pitting Mudville
against The Other Nine.
The first game
establishes Casey as heroic, when he hits a triumphant home run that takes
off" with a roar from the crowd. The second game is the one that takes the
joy from Mudville, when Casey whiffs.
ballet is filled with moves from baseball: Bunts and hits and stolen bases are
all mingled with jet�s, chass�s, and tours en l'air. Casey's homer is
celebrated by a high-kneed trot around the bases that is a parody of every
prideful player's victory lap.
ballerinas in Casey as well, playing the sweethearts of the players. De Rib�re
has created a nostalgic pas de deux for Our Hero and His Girl to the tune of
Beautiful Dreamer, as Casey tries to show her how to swing his oversized
four sold-out performances in October and will become part of the PBT's
permanent repertory next April, just as baseball fever is heating up. There are
plans to take the ballet on the road—the grandstand was designed to fold up for
easy transport—perhaps even to Japan. Next spring former Pirate reliever Kent
Tekulve hopes to take the nondancing role of the Mudville coach, which is now
played by the PBT director of development, Steven Libman.
The PBT dancers
look forward to having Tekulve join them. Many of the dancers are serious
baseball fans, though fear of injury has kept them from playing. When de Rib�re
requested a working session with Pirate first base coach Tommy Sandt in August,
the dancers were eager to participate.
gave us a much better understanding of what ballplayers do," says Brian
Bloomquist, who plays Casey. "Baseball players and dancers have to have the
same basic approach. We both have to be focused and concentrated, and then we
have to take very precise movements and make them flow, make them progress
naturally. We both also strive for perfection, even though we know it's
impossible to achieve. When you think you're perfect, that's when you get in
big trouble, whether you're a dancer or an athlete. That's Casey's problem.
He's a classic example of what not to be."
Casey's exaggerated sense of self-satisfaction in dance terms, de Rib�re has
given Bloomquist what she calls his "Absurd Variation." Says de Rib�re,
"In every classical ballet there is a big, show-offy, somewhat absurd
variation for the lead male. Well, Casey has one too." Indeed, Casey struts
and leaps all about the stage, dances with the crestfallen pitcher and gives
the umpire a whack that endears him not at all. Later, when Casey strikes out,
his teammates snub him, and a little boy actually hits him on the arm. In fact,
only Betsy, His Girl, stands by the fallen hero. They dance a bittersweet duet
that de Rib�re calls the "Consolation Pas de Deux."