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A Matter of Crime

A mash-up of Broadway with a "West Side Story" flair and a dab of "Moulin Rouge," the Mafia-themed "Vendetta" is different in many ways from other Tulsa ballet productions — but that’s the point.

Gina Conroy
February 28, 2020

Picture it: Chicago in the 1950s. Rosalia Carbone, the only daughter of the Carbone crime boss, is getting married — white dress, no less. The only problem is she’s marrying into a rival family. And you never take sides against “the family,” or break the Godfather’s heart, especially when he’s your father.

When her wedding day is soiled by murder, it reignites a multi-family feud, and vendettas break loose. Rosalia is left seeing red because her brothers have no heart to do anything about it. What’s a mob daughter to do in Chicago, where women can be more dangerous than shotguns?

What ensues in the aftermath is a dazzling, red-hot, passionate modern ballet that will have you on the edge of your seat, laughing, smiling, and wishing you were part of the family.

“This is one of those pieces that can be enjoyed by everybody,” says artistic director Marcello Angelini, who, if you couldn’t tell from the name, is a native-born Italian. Before he came to the United States in 1987, he grew up in Napoli, where they have the Camorra. “Camorra is way more violent than Mafia,” says Angelini.

But you don’t have to know anything about the Mafia or have even seen a Godfather movie to enjoy the performance and be able to follow the story.

Vendetta is not meant to be a show that requires preparation, special research, or understanding,” says Angelini. “It’s a bit like Hamilton; just follow the story as it’s told from the stage, and you’ll have a good time.”

Inspired by Chicago’s infamous crime families, extensive research from documentaries went into bringing this lyrical mob story to life. This two-act ballet, with an impressive 28 scenes including an Italian wedding, picnic, and seedy Las Vegas casino, accurately captures the love, passion, anger, and revenge of the American Mafia culture.

With such a vast undertaking, an expansive set is imperative. This is accomplished by an elevated walkway across the back of the stage, which highlights the urban, gang-infested mob world. Audiences get a front-row seat to the “split-screen style action” where gangsters conduct “business” in the violent and seedy underworld.

But despite its dark subject matter, Vendetta is “fun, funny, and hardly ever dark,” says Angelini. It’s a mix between ballet and vaudeville.

“There is also a love story that bonds all the pieces together, so you go from a Godfather being shot by a rival family to a Romeo and Juliet duet, says Angelini.”

It’s the character development of Rosalia from a loving, naïve daughter to a hardened member of “the family” that adds to the depth of the story and thrill of the performance.

While Angelini wouldn’t want to kill the ending for you, he says it has a twist that is very much in tune with our times.

Described as a mash-up between Broadway and film noir with a West Side Story flair and a dab of Moulin Rouge, Vendetta is different in many ways from other productions the Tulsa ballet has done in the past; but that’s the point. It fits Angelini’s vision to expose more people to this art form who might not attend a more traditional ballet. His vision also includes bringing the best choreographers in the world to Tulsa and creating new works and exporting them all over the world.

When Angelini first came to Tulsa, he had big dreams. “People laughed in my face and said, do you realize this is not possible in Tulsa?” says Angelini in an interview on RSU public television. He was told he was never going to get the works of the great masters and export the ballets and tour internationally.

“Twenty–five years later and every one of those items has been accomplished,” says Angelini. “The reviews have called us one of the five most influential companies in the United States and one of the top 10 ballet companies.”

For those who love classical ballet, Vendetta brings something fresh and new to Tulsa.

“It’s the most innovative full evening work I have seen in a long time,” says Angelini, who saw the premier with his wife in Montreal. “We loved it, and I knew I had to bring Vendetta to Tulsa.”

Angelini is especially thrilled to have Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, “named the most in-demand female choreographer in the world by Dance Magazine,” as choreographer of the production. “She is a power to reckon with,” says Angelini.

A few years back, Ochoa came to the Tulsa ballet to work on Shibuya Blues. It was so successful that Angelini toured it in Europe last spring.

After the premiere of Vendetta in Montreal, when Ochoa told Angelini she was doing new work for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens based on the Mafia, Angelini jumped from his chair. “Les Grands is a company where Daniela [Angelini’s wife] and I were principal dancers for many years, so it’s close to my heart, and it produces great work.”

Even though Vendetta is not your typical ballet, the language and the steps, are deeply rooted in ballet. “Annabelle is a classically trained ballet dancer who uses her knowledge of ballet as a tool to craft her movements,” says Angelini. “She twists and bends classical technique, and then blends it with contemporary dance and her movements and sense of aesthetics, but it’s still in the realm of ballet/contemporary dance.”

When it comes to the ballet, proper expression of the movement is critical in storytelling. Audiences will recognize signature Mafia moves, like a toss of the head and a thrust of a chin and shoulder. Those moves, coupled with the powerful poetic movement of the dances, bring this tale to life with mystique and charm.

“As dancers, we have no words,” says Angelini. “Our movement and body language have to be so strong and clear that we can let you see the words coming out of our hands or our feet or our body.”

As if the dancing wasn’t dazzling enough, the look of the show has a classic Broadway feel, adding to the ambiance of the production. That’s because projections create the background images of the story.

“The projections take you from one place to the other in the blink of an eye,” says Angelini. “We go to a street in Chicago to the strip in Las Vegas and to interior settings.”

The visuals are not the only elements that are innovative in this ballet. Instead of a full orchestra accompaniment, audiences are absorbed in the music of the times through famous songs of the era sung by the original recording arts.

“Annabelle wanted to take us to different times and decades through the very famous songs of that particular time,” says Angelini. “I am sure it was a painstaking affair to find the recordings and piece the score together.”

But the effort was worth it, adding a dimension to the show that not only sets the stage but helps transport the audience back in time through music.

“[Vendetta] is a great representation of how ballet has evolved from Giselle [1834] to 2018 when it premiered,” says Angelini. “The building blocks of storytelling are the same; the format follows the same guidelines. However, today’s ballet isn’t your grandma’s ballet anymore.”

Angelini says everyone “will enjoy the humor, visuals, choreography, duets, and plot of this truly groundbreaking work.”

“Ballet lovers will enjoy great storytelling told in a somewhat familiar medium with captivating looks and a contemporary feel to it,” says Angelini. “Newcomers to ballet will be exposed to a story they can understand and follow, told in a language without words that is as eloquent as the spoken word.”

Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St. | Tulsa
March 26: 7 p.m.
March 27-28: 7:30 p.m.
March 29: 2:30 p.m.