Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Alexandra

Washington Ballet's season opener

17 posts in this topic

There's a preview in the Washington Times today (by Jean Battey Lewis). The program is Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated;" Robert Weiss's "The Firebird"; a new solo by Jason Hartley, a new pas de deux by Septime Webre; and (the only repertory work) Choo-San Goh's Momentum.

New works, demands for ballet

In Lewis's preview piece, there's a quote from the Frankfurt Ballett's balletmaster that's a good description of Forsythe -- or at least of this piece, which was made for the Paris Opera Ballet and is one of his more classical works:

There is much focus on Mr. Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," a work originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet. The American-born choreographer may not be a household name in his native land, but he has a huge reputation in Europe, where he has worked for the past 30 years, the past 19 as director of the Frankfurt Ballet in Germany.

.....

Mr. Tuggle says after rehearsal, "and we've spent the rest of the time polishing — working on musicality, head, arms, width of movement. It's very classically based, but Billy Forsythe takes the classical positions and stretches them almost to the point that you don't recognize them anymore.

    "Take the classical positions," he continues. "Second position is much wider than the dancers are used to. I have to be careful with the ladies, to build the strength in the ankles and inner thighs."

There's a preview tonight, and the show runs through the weekend.

Share this post


Link to post

Did anyone go? Well? Well? We've got a LOT of Washingtonians (and Marylanders and Northern Virginians) here -- speak up! I did go, but I'm writing a review (DanceViewTimes will have two on Monday -- I'll post a link) and so don't want to comment. What did you all think?

Share this post


Link to post

I went Friday night and thoroughly enjoyed the mixed -- very mixed! -- program. What struck me was this is a company searching for its style, and beginning to find it -- which was fascinating to watch as the program unfolded.

To get them out of the way, I wasn't much taken by two small pieces that came in the middle of the program. "The Poet Acts," a pas de deux by artistic director Septim Webre, seemed slight -- inoffensive, sort of atmospheric, but going nowhere in particular. There was also a solo, "Nocturne Monologue," that was quite impressive in a gymnastic sense -- I wonder if the dancer/choreographer Jason Hartley has thought of developing it into something more, ie part of a larger piece.

The program opened with "Momentum," which I watched with great fondness -- to me, this is part of the company's institutional memory, and it was great to see a new generation of dancers performing something by the late Choo-San Goh. It's one of those neoclassical, unitard ballets, but surprisingly it's held up quite well over the years and the company looked quite sleek and elegant.

The highlight for me, though, was the last piece, "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" (which, come to think of it, describes my seat as well!), by William Forsythe. Many on this board seem familiar with this piece, but to describe it just briefly: In a big, harshly lit space, to equally harsh, banging music, a group of dancers in leotards and tights dance dance in various groupings or simply saunter about. I love how the dancers suddenly would break into a very taut, tensile bit of dancing, then just as suddenly stop and walk away. It was also amazing to watch how most of the movements were classical in origin, yet re-imagined into something totally inventive and unexpected. The pacing was just breathtaking -- there was something -- or rather many somethings -- going on constantly on various parts of the stage that it was hard to choose who to watch. The dancers were totally on -- even though I knew better, I would have sworn Forsythe had choreographed the piece specifically to each one of them -- it fit them that perfectly.

Gotta run, but maybe I'll have thought of something to say about "Firebird" later. Over all, I must say I was stunned at how much improved the company is from even the last time I saw them, less than a year ago. It's an exciting time to watch them -- the house was packed, by the way, so I hope others will chime in....

Share this post


Link to post

I saw Wed. night and this afternoon's performances. Two different casts. Interesting. I was not totally happy with the program Wed. night, but liked it much better today. A major part of that was seating. I was too close and on the side Wed. night, and further back but center today. Very different, especially for In The Middle Somewhat Elevated. I also preferred today's cast, especially in In The Middle. Elizabeth Gaither is a new company member to watch, and there are several others. I agree with Scoop that the company is stronger than it ever has been, at least in the last ten years since I have been watching them. I was underwhelmed with Firebird, but to be totally honest, I have never seen a production of that ballet that I liked. Everything was well danced in both performances, but it seemed to be a lot more cohesive today, which is also to be expected since the first night's show, even with different principals in most, but not all, parts.

Share this post


Link to post
A major part of that was seating. I was too close and on the side Wed. night, and further back but center today. Very different, especially for In The Middle Somewhat Elevated.

Ah! So the ballet's title tells you where it's best seen from? :wink:

Sorry. :thumbsup:

Share this post


Link to post

I can't resist. The late Anita Finkel nicknamed this one "Under the Table, Somewhat Inebriated."

Share this post


Link to post

I'm seeing it on Sunday afternoon -- can't wait. Saw Mr. Forsythe working with the company a few weeks ago at the WB open house for subscribers. It was exciting to watch him work with the dancers.

I'll try to chime in after I see it ... but I'm afraid I'm about as close to being a dance critic as my dog. I'm just a Ballet Nutter. I'll probably love the whole thing -- sorry! I adore the WB under Septime's direction.

Share this post


Link to post

Loving the whole thing is just fine :thumbsup: You don't have to find flaws. If you don't like something, say it. If you do, that's good too. It's always interesting to read everyone's opinions -- for us, and probably for the company too.

Share this post


Link to post

Ballet Nutter, I believe you saw Glen Tuggle working with the dancers at the Open House. He has been here several weeks staging Mr. Forsythe's work :thumbsup:

Edited to correct Mr. Tuggle's name :wink: Thanks, Leigh!

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks for the catch, Victoria, and thanks for your words of encouragement, Alexandra. I'll try to provide some feedback after the performance.

Share this post


Link to post

OK -- I'm going to provide my two cents on today's program. Hmmmmm ... interesting mix but overall not my cup of tea, quite frankly.

Thumbs up:

* Momentum pas de deux by Jared Nelson and Brianne Bland ... breathtaking actually.

* Jonathan Jordan in Firebird

* Michelle Jiminez, Elizabeth Gaither and the new Luiz Torres (is that his name?) in In the Middle

Thumbs not so up:

* Septime's pas de deux. What the heck was that? He mentioned in Ballet Talks that originally it was supposed to be Gabriel coming down from heaven telling the Virgin Mary that she would have Baby Jesus. Huh??? I guess something changed in the translation. Elizabeth Gaither is a lovely dancer, however.

* With all due respect to all involved in this piece, I'm sorry but I felt that Jason Hartley's piece was totally out of place in this program. He is an outstanding dancer and athlete, however I'm not sure I understood the connection to ballet in this piece. Did anyone else?

* Firebird choreography was somewhat flat ... I wish Septime had tackled it as he had originally planned.

* In the Middle ... !!!

In sum, I felt that the program was too far over the top for this company and a Washington audience. Many of us like to go to see more of the classical ballet and for me, classical ballet a la Septime. While I have been Septime's biggest fan because he has taken this company so far in terms of dancers and choreography, this program seemed to overstep this wonderful progression to the point of being too "out there." For the first time in several years, I was disappointed by the program. However, I remain optimistic that the rest of the 2003-04 season will be wonderful.

By the way, can anyone tell me about the turnover in the company? There were quite a few dancers missing (moved on?). I am especially disappointed that Richard Crocil is gone -- the dancer from the Czech Republic -- he was fantastic!! Also, Kathleen Breen Combes -- she was terrific too. Seems there are lots of new faces. What happened?

Share this post


Link to post

Kathleen Breen Combs has moved to Boston Ballet. Not sure about Richard, but I think there were problems with his visa and staying in this country. I could be wrong about that. Some of the new people are Trainees, and one apprentice. Luis Torres is a new company member, originally from Puerto Rico, but danced with Ballet Arizona for several years prior to coming here.

Share this post


Link to post

Hi all,

It's great to read so many posters to the WB! I saw the Sat. matinee but didn't post right away (was distracted by a dear friend from out of town who came to visit shortly after - too bad she just missed the performance, as I'm sure she would have enjoyed it too.) It seems there are a variety of opinions/reactions to the individual works on this quite diverse program, but everybody found something to like:

Momentum - compared to my earlier memories of this piece, the ensemble seemed to hesitate in one or two spots, although nothing fatal. It was great to see it again. In the mid-80's the WB was *the* Choo San Goh company, and while they have grown and diversified greatly since then, it is such a great heritage that I want them with all my heart to keep that magnificent flame alive.

Poet - I really liked this, so I hope you don't mind if I go on about it. It was very evocative for me, and Bland/Nelson danced beautifully (are they a couple? They sure dance like one!) Choreography, staging, and music worked together seamlessly. The basic movements are actually allegro, but put together with a long-line adagio feel - a very winning development in Septime's choreography! I can't wait to see what he puts around it in the longer work. It was originally conceived as an Annunciation, but (perhaps cued by the title) I felt it during performance as a "poet and muse." Bland and Nelson generously danced this again last night (Friday, Oct. 24) at the Studio Company performance, and in close up it holds beautifully, even in a bare-bones studio setting. I'll go out on a limb and predict that this artistic and psychologically deep pas de deux is going straight into the permanent repertoire.

Nocturne - a Jason Hartley production from start to finish, this piece - half yoga, half gymkata, all Jason - left me slack-jawed in admiration. The barely controlled, push-all-boundaries athleticism of its central section is bracketed by a short, but compelling, "monkey dance" sequence (derived from Indonesian Kechak?) that opens and closes the piece. The inexorable transition from stillness to explosive energy, and back again to stillness, is mesmerizing and highly effective. When Hartley danced this at the Studio performance, you could hear groans from the audience as he hit the floor, repeatedly but in perfect control. Amazingly - I swear this is true - in both performances, he didn't even break a sweat. I credit his prana (abdominal breathing, which was prominently featured in the dance.) I'ts an astonishing physical intelligence, and - it almost goes without saying - another one for the permanent repertoire, assuming, that is, that anyone other than Hartley could ever prove capable of dancing it. Hartley and Elizabeth Mertz (another fine yoga-dancer and former WB member) should marry, and produce numerous dance offspring.

Middle - I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of Industrial Chic (the basic milieu of this dance), but let's give Forsythe his due. 90% of dance is illusion, but Forsythe's goal in this piece was to show the physicality behind the illusion: the bare and unadorned stage, the dancers' bodies as they are (tights + fishnet tops), the isolated movements, the sheer effort, the work-in-itself. It's a great challenge, and the company rose to it magnificently.

Firebird - in any other context, the company's fine performance of this neoclassical icon would garner favorable reviews. However, when presented side-by-side with the modernist choreography and gut-physical excitement of the previous dances, this Firebird seems to have flown in from a different program altogether, an incongruous (when compared to the afternoon's other works) reminder of a different time and culture. Putting together a coherent program is a great, and too-little appreciated, art; this firebird would have been happier in some other, more neoclassical, assembly.

Share this post


Link to post
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0