There might be enough material in Ronald Hynd's three-act "Rosalinda" to make amusing one-act ballet. But in its present form, this danced version of "Die Fledermaus" given by Houston Ballet last night at the Kennedy Center overstays its welcome by at least an hour.
Hynd choreographed "Rosalinda" for South Africa's PACT Ballet in 1979 as a sort of consolation prize because he wasn't free to give the company what it really wanted, his other Strauss ballet, "The Merry Widow," whose rights, at the time, were exclusively owned by the Australian Ballet. And a consolation prize is just what "Rosalinda" looks like.
"The Merry Widow" was more of a "dansical" than a ballet, an amusing piece of fluff that could, with the right cast, almost fill an evening. For "Rosalinda," Hynd trotted out many of the same jokes (the heroes of both ballets spent most of the time either drunk or hung over) and most of the same steps, but the work is a second-rate version of something that wasn't first-rate to begin with. And the overacting by the Houston dancers (one can't blame them too much; dancers often overact when they don't have anything to dance) turns "Rosalinda" from a Viennese pastry into a Texas Twinkie.
Janie Parker showed a lovely lyrical quality in the duets, but pouted and primped so in the title role it was hard to care about her. Her husband (a witless, tipsy fool in Hynd's imagination) was Li Cunxin, whose dancing was scrabbled and frantic, as though his energy had imploded through lack of anything interesting to do. The role of Dr. Falke (whose bat costume starts the whole thing off) was deftly underplayed by Dorio Perez -- almost too much so, in contrast to the stamping and eye-rolling surrounding him.
Although the complicated plot is not made clear through dancing, ultimately "Rosalinda" fails because it's boring, and there's probably not a cast on Earth who could bring it to life. To pad the work to its three-act length, Hynd has stuffed it with silly jokes. Besides the drunken stuff there are cleavage jokes, dumb cop jokes, short boy/tall girl jokes and dirty old men jokes. When he runs out of jokes, Hynd reworks ballet standbys and cliche's (the Summer Storm and that nice visiting Hungarian folk dance company that turns up at parties, to name two), some of which never worked very well in the first place. And the choreography? It's simple and pretty and makes everyone look fine, but it doesn't illuminate character, or advance plot, or enrich the spirit -- or even make one laugh.