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Jack Reed

Les Noces, Parade, and Le Sacre du Printemps, Feb. 26 - Mar. 2, 2003

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"Noces is noble, it is fierce, it is simple, it is fresh, it is thrilling," says Edwin Denby, "It is full of interest." I agree wholeheartedly, having just seen the Joffrey Ballet's revival of their version, after twelve years. (Sid Smith, in the Chicago Tribune, says it is funereal and gloomy; I disagree, although there is certainly some lament. At least, it is the most pell-mell funeral I've never attended, but as Denby saw, it is much, much more.) As in the best music of Haydn or Berlioz, everything in it follows naturally and unexpectedly from what precedes it - naturally and unexpectedly, both. Denby puts it differently: "The movements, odd as they are and oddly as they come, often in counteraccent, are always in what theoreticians call 'motor logic': that is, they are in a sequence you get the hang of, to your own surprise, and that has a quality of directness when performed." Written in 1936, his review of the de Basil Ballet Russe staging, by Nijinska herself, pretty much still applies to this revival, to the credit of Irina Nijinska and Howard Sayette who staged it for the Joffrey originally, and again to Sayette, who did the curent staging. But he omits to say anything specifically about the aware and considerate partnership between the dance and the music, although he calls them equally fine - you can't always tell, just by looking and listening, which evokes the other; this is a consequence of the directness he does speak of. At the end, of course, this intimate relationship becomes more literal - some of the corps repeatedly reach up their flattened hands and pull them down in fists, and each time, we hear a chime, as though they had pulled bell-ropes.

"Les Noces" is followed on the program by Massine's "Parade", to Satie's music with sirens and gunshots in it, and there's too litle dancing in it for me, and what there is isn't satisfying. Part of the problem is that some of the dancers have to carry around some Picasso constructions, so that only their legs are free, but even the others who are freer are too tightly constrained by the needs of characterisation. (Some of the audience has a good time with the antics of a horse-character called "The Manager on Horseback".) I suppose to some extent it evokes its time and place. What "Noces" does is to transcend those.

Closing the program is the Hodgson reconstruction of Nijinsky's "The Rite of Spring", using a movement vocabulary much like Nijinska's to much less effect, IMO. In places it even seems to go blank.

Cyril Beaumont says the color scheme in "Noces" was entirely black and white, while Robert Greskovic says in "Ballet 101" that the POB production was chocolate brown and cream costumes, with brown pointe shoes (or slippers, one supposes), and a set in earthen gold, blue gray, and black. In the Joffrey production, the cream has become white, and the set for the First and Third Tableaux, both in the Bride's home, is blue-gray; in the Second and Fourth Tableaux, it's earthen gold. (I suppose this is what Greskovic meant.) And there is a representation of the conjugal bed on the backdrop, visible for a time when the doors in front of it are open.

Beaumont reports that the British press reaction was generally hostile when "Noces" was shown in London in 1926, but that H. G. Wells championed it, saying, "I do not know of any other ballet so interesting, so amusing, so fresh or nearly so exciting as 'Les Noces.' I want to see it again and again." Exactly. I saw it four times myself.

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WONDERFUL report!!

Thank you so much..... I hadn't re-read the Denby, but he's hte non-pareil, motor-logic. yep, that's it.....

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Joffrey Ballet will be performing this in my city in two weeks! Your review has helped me understand the program better. I am now looking forward to "Les Noces," at least... I shall enjoy and report back. :D

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Good, Angel2Be, please do -- and thank you, Jack. I'm sorry, I missed this when you first posted it. Lovely review. I think "Les Noces" is my favorite 20th century ballet -- and the one that looks the most contemporary to me. I think it's the finest thing I ever saw Joffrey do -- several years ago, at any rate. They were so committed, and they had the weight for it. (I love the Paris Opera production on tape as well -- two of the most beautiful people in the world, Platel and Belarbi).

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Thanks, Treefrog! I read over those yesterday before I went and I think it helped me really enjoy the entire performance more. :D Especially because the program provided little information!

I am so glad I went. The Diaghilev Dynasty was definitely interesting like nothing I have seen before. Here are my thoughts: (I am quite a novice, so remember that these are only the opinions of one, and please do correct me where needed.)

I found "Les Noces" to be wonderfully haunting and the music something fierce, even though the ballet was danced to recording. I don't think the dancers did so well when it came to timing and percision (the corps' "tuck jumps" - I don't know if there is a proper term for them - were out of sync.) But I suppose it was danced pretty well considering the difficulty of Stravinsky's music. The gesture of pulling an imaginary bell as well as resting their heads on top of one another really had an effect on me. And overall what struck me the most was the raw emotion contained within it -- very powerful and very disturbing.

It turns out that the program I saw included "Afternoon of a Faun" instead of "Parade" as the second ballet. I must say that I enjoyed "Afternoon of a Faun" the least of the three. Conceptually, I liked it. (It seemed almost sexual to me, but this is probably way out of the loop. :o ) What bothered me was that the ballet contained so little dancing. Visually, the most interesting part for me was the pretty backdrop and lighting.

I liked "The Rite of Spring" about as much as "Les Noces," and found similarity between them. This was the only ballet in which a single dancer stuck out to me; I thought The Chosen One did an excellent job. I also thought some of the formations were ingenius! It achieved such an errie effect... I probably didn't breathe out once the entire time!

As a whole, I would call it a night of compelling choreography, where ballet seemed to play a minimal part. With the exception of certain parts of "Les Noces," I am wondering what distinguishes these ballets from modern dance?

The most dissapointing thing about the night was that the audience was so small. We were receptive and appreciative, but even the orchestra seemed little more than half full. :(

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That was wonderful reporting Angel2be. Thank you.

You should trust your instincts on Afternoon of a Faun. Sexuality is definitely the subtext. I think it says something good about the performance though that you didn't feel hammered over the head with it.

Ah and how to distinguish them from modern dance? Excellent question! I'm going to say the real distinction is parentage. Nijinsky and Nijinska were both trained at the Maryinsky theater, and their native vocabulary was ballet. What they did with all three dances was a reaction to ballet from the point of view of someone trained in ballet. They turned in their feet to contrast, and for an expressive purpose, and Nijinsky in Rite consulted with Marie Rambert, who until that point had been trained primarily in Dalcrozean Eurythmy.

But in the way that ballet companies can't claim a dance like Night Journey as part of our heritage, modern dance companies can't claim Faun, Rite or Les Noces. They may not look like ballets, but you have to know ballet to be able to do them, just like you need Graham training to give full value to Night Journey.

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Lovely review, Angel2Be. It was evocative enough to bring the performance back for me.

Do you remember who danced The Chosen One?

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