When Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was released in 1979, it set a lasting standard for concept albums. Since then the 1982 film, arena concerts, scholarly studies and laser shows have kept alive the dark story of a rock star’s spiral into madness. Now Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota has added a “rock ballet” version to the canon with its premiere Thursday night at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis.
Artistic directors Denise Vogt and Rick Vogt took on a big challenge. They had to satisfy those of us who remember the rebellious thrill of chanting, “Teachers leave them kids alone!” in class as well as new generations who view Pink Floyd as music history.
The result is mixed, sometimes succeeding in capturing the classic’s dystopian mood, other times feeling too safe. They were wise to involve an accomplished Pink Floyd tribute band, Run Like Hell, who played live to fully realize the operatic drama, with singers Todd Berntson, Matt Mayfield and Sharisse Germain all in fine voice.
Luke Xavier, who portrays the central character Pink, realistically evolves in his role from lost boy to rock god and then fascist dictator. He builds a metaphorical “wall” to keep the world at bay so he doesn’t have to feel, so he can become “comfortably numb.” Throughout, Xavier’s movement changes, too — from fearfulness to egomaniacal, wild-eyed confidence. A poignant duet with rock-solid Benjamin Stewart (the doctor) is a particularly effective charting of his personal transformation.
Interestingly, for a work about isolation, it really is about relationships — from Pink’s mother (Marissa DeBenedictis) to his lost father (Demetrius McClendon) and wife (Vashti Goracke), it’s possible to chart a journey from youthful hope to a very adult demise and possible redemption. All of the lead dancers, including groupie Natalie Rossi, perform ably, giving Xavier’s Pink the emotional ties to either accept or reject.
And yet overall the work feels too pat and certain — the choreography doesn’t always meet the howling abandon of the music. Additionally, our current sociopolitical context includes the concept of literal border walls to keep people out, not to mention young people marching in the streets to demand change from the adults in charge. There was a missed opportunity here to dig into the grit and reinforce the timely connections that keep “The Wall” relevant nearly 40 years after its release.
Caroline Palmer is a Twin Cities dance critic.