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Ann Arbor performance and symposium

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Will any BalletTalker's be attending the Oct. 31 performance and the following days Balanchine Symposium?

The Creating With Balanchine, moderated by Francis Mason, with Suzanne Farrell, Violette Verdy and Edward Villella (what a trio!) sounds particularly facinating.

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I'm going to go to Santa Fe the weekend before Thanksgiving to see the Company perform and for the Symposium. Of course, wanting to know more, I asked the box office about the symposium and it sounds like they show a rough documentary made up of various clips and then the documentary person (who is famous but her name is escaping me right now) talks about it. So it doesn't sound like your typical symposium format...

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Piccolo, please post your observations and thoughts about the performance and syposium. I'd love to read it! Thanks :thumbsup:

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Will any BalletTalker's be attending the Oct. 31 performance and the following days Balanchine Symposium?

      The Creating With Balanchine, moderated by Francis Mason, with Suzanne Farrell, Violette Verdy and Edward Villella (what a trio!) sounds particularly facinating.

Hi! I'm new here, but I thought I'd share my thoughts from this weekend. I'm not sure where this post is appropriate, but I will talk about the Farrell performance at the bottom.

I attended the entire Symposium and the Farrell performance -- Violette Verdy and Elizabeth Souritz were sitting very close to me. Verdy is such a gem --- so complimentary, fun, and passionate about what she does. (She sat in the second row during the entire Symposium, taking notes.)

The Symposium was fascinating. The description given below fits Nancy Reynolds' talk perfectly, but doesn't do the whole thing justice. Ms Reynolds, who is the research director for the Balanchine trust, is going around to all the 'big' principals and filming them teaching their roles. The documentary splices she showed were from another project, recreating B's Renard with the only dancer still alive from the original cast.

Other presenters included Beth Genne who talked about Josephine Baker, Frances Mason interviewing Maria Tallcheif, Tim Scholl's interesting discussion of a Georgian source for some of the movements in Serenade, a really interesting talk about La Baiser de la Fee and how Balanchine treated the music --- he actually cut sections out, something he doesn't do with Stravinski. Elizabeth Souritz talked about Russia, John Wiley talked about Petipa, Lynn Garafola talked about Raymonda, let me see, what else :thumbsup: Angela Kane talked about Episodes and Martha Graham.

Oh, Christian Matijas and Tina Curran presented their project of compiling and preserving rehearsal scores that accurately reflect the full orchestration and also compiling video, notes, and descriptions of three Balanchine ballets with notes on how each dancer performed (e.g. if a certain section was changed for a particular dancer, how and why) to perserve accuracy for the future.

George Shirley SANG three of Balanchine's songs he wrote in a popular style. Then, the fun began, with Farrell, Verdy, and Villella. They talked about creating roles with Mr. B and reminisced about some funny times. Verdy, of course, is a gem and full of personality. Farrell is insightful and well-spoken and Villella is hilarious.

Villella spoke of dancing Tchaikovski Pas des Deux with five dancers in five nights, and how there's a moment where the woman takes his hand and walks backwards upstage and that's when he knows "what kind of Tchai Pas it will be." He also recounted how Verdy used to thank him during the ballets for putting her back on her center. He defined Balanchine's abstraction as "as larger idea, stripped to it's essence" and that Agon was "a series of simplicities."

Farrell explained her casting decisions; she doesn't cast for height, she casts for which dancer has the spirit of the dance. (Chan Hon Goh, in Mozartiana, was quite short.) She also talked about wearing a tutu in Jewels, something she wasn't used to, and described each ballet as a different world. She also said she would love for the entire audience to dance in a Balanchine ballet.

Verdy talked about how dancing for Mr. B "was a complete discovery of yourself. Looking at yourself a different way through his eyes." She said that when she first came to NYCB, any good step Balanchine would give her, she would "hold on to for dear life," even if he wanted to change it. Of course, he always won and the step would get changed to something even better. She said this was an old habit from dancing in French, where one good step from a choreographer was something to hold tightly to, because you never know when a good one would come next. She also described B's choreography as "The perfect solution at any given moment."

Anyway, I could talk more about the Symposium if people are interested in what was said during a specific section.

We went to thte Suzanne Farrell ballet on Friday evening, and it was lovely. They did Mozartiana, Tchaikovsky Pas des Deux, Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker, and Serenade.

I'm new at describing how I feel about ballets, but here's a shot:

I thought Peter Boal was great in Mozartiana; he seemed a little tired and off during some of it, but he still seemed to float across the stage. His movements seem bigger and smoother, and after hearing Villella talk about how dance is 'moving from one place to the next, seamlessly,' I think Boal really demonstrates that well. Of course, Chan Hon Goh was lovely as well.

Jennifer Fournier and Peter Boal were great in Tchai Pas. She's an incredibly quick and articulate dancer. Unfortunately, she missed the fouette sequence at the end (not sure what she was attempting to do) but everything up until then was flawless. Verdy, of course, applauded quite loudly for her. It worked well on her because she's so tiny and precise.

Serenade was so powerful. I, being a little new to really getting into ballet, had never seen it performed live. It was such an experience.

Hopefully someone else who was there can add more!

Farrell said that they're doing to do Don Quiote in Summer '05.

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peppermint, thank you so much for this. When Souritz gave her talk, was it mostly pre-1924 stuff?

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What a great first post! Thanks, Peppermint. I know George Shirley was originally from Detroit (just looked it up). What were the Balanchine songs like? I'm curious about the Georgian elements in "Serenade," too, and Francis Mason's interview of Maria Tallchief...as a matter of fact, I'd love to read more about anything you'd care to expand on. :thumbsup:

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Welcome, Peppermint! I'd like to echo the thanks -- this was an important symposium and it's wonderful to have such a complete report on it. We're very happy you've found us, and hope you'll join our discussions.

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Thank you so much Peppermint for your post. I only live 2 hours from Ann Arbor and wanted to attend but was unable to get out of a previously scheduled event. Reading your wonderful post eases my heartbreak a little. :nopity:

By the way, I want to be first in line for that audience that gets to dance in a Balanchine ballet. :thumbsup:

Thanks again!

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Me, too Peppermint -- would love ot hear more, so glad, SO glad you went, and so glad it was so GOOD -- it sounds really GREAT, got to tell you.

I'd specially like to know about Serenade//// actually any of it, so interesting. What did Farrell say about wearing a tutu? What did Mason ASK Tallchief? What did she answer? What was their conversation like?

I went to symposium once that Villella was at -- I got stuck in an elevator with him and a couple of other people, and he just started telling stories.... amazing experience. you're absolutely right, he is hilarious.

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I was there as well (on assignment, so unfortunately I can't go on at length). This represents my own bias, but I was more interested on the sections on reconstruction than the other parts of the symposium. We got to see a film of Balanchine's Renard as reconstructed by Todd Bolender and Kansas City Ballet. I felt this was important.

Souritz talked directly about the Petrograd milieu ca. '21-24. She tried to give a sense of what was available for Balanchine to see at that time; who was working and what was being performed on stage (not just dance but theater). It was very valuable.

The panel discussions with former dancers were delightful, and if you wanted reminiscing, they were great. If you were looking to expand the body of knowledge about Balanchine's choreography - well, that's different. Verdy is particularly articulate; she has a great deal to contribute (and has already)

Paul - Tallchief dodged every question she was asked, even the innocuous ones. It was rather odd. Farrell mentioned the tutu in the context of Diamonds, that she had not worn them often often before that point.

Farrell Fan - the songs were about 4 minutes long and wistful; quite romantic. Just me, but I wished they had not been sung by such an operatic voice. I think their intention was distorted; they're show tunes.

The paper on Serenade posited Georgian folk dance as a source for the movement. The source material offered to back this up was a performance tape from only a few years ago that represented a highly altered and theatricalized version of the dance itself.

Farrell's company did their Balanchine/Tchaikovsky program. Bonnie Pickard's Waltz Girl in Serenade was indeed notable.

It was a fascinating and wonderful congruence. It was also wonderful to see Balanchine's reputation strengthened and established in academia. I have reservations on some of what was presented. It's important to realize there are differing opinions and conclusions out there on much of the work presented.

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Ah, Leigh--what a tease your comments are :thumbsup: Is your 'assignment' an article in Ballet Review? Then I shall have to wait MONTHS to read it . What questions could have made Tallchief evasive in her interview with Mr. Mason?

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ATM - yes, for BR (and apologies, I didn't mean to be teasing!)

I'm going to take back at least a portion of what I said on Tallchief as my own mistake. I asked her about Paris in '47 and the setting of Palais de Cristal. She talked about Baiser, Apollo (dancing with Michel Renault) and how much she enjoyed it; everything but Palais. But looking at Catalogue of Works, she didn't dance Palais, but Symphony in C in NYC the following year, even though she did go to Paris with Balanchine. So that could simply be a misunderstanding.

Two telling comments during that conversation: Francis Mason reminiscing about Massine and calling it "pretentious nonsense" in passing - he used Massine as an example of going to see ballet and disliking it before Balanchine. I promised him I would corner him at some point and make him defend that statement. I've now heard that from more than one person of that time; Kurvenal said something very similar here in a great thread from a while back, but I want details. Something in me has a question about the bad rap Massine is getting.

In a similar vein, Tallchief said that Balanchine was a "bad pianist. A wonderful musician but a bad pianist." Now, Tallchief was trained as a concert pianist, so I have to take her seriously, but Balanchine also had three years of conservatory education and before this gets perpetuated into the canon of legend about Balanchine, I'd like corroboration.

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Thanks Leigh, now I can sleep tonight :blushing: "Pretentious nonsense" --wow. I am one of the last people on earth who would put Balanchine down--but, there was Ballet in NY before Balanchine---Ballet Theatre in the mid 40's is the best example. They had very little Balanchine and did quite well with Tudor, deMille and Robbins---and yes, Massine, especially 'Aleko', a ballet I always enjoyed. It is true, his popularity as a choreographer was on the wane, but it's too bad Mr. Mason did not see him as a performer.

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Yes, Peppermint, do, please, post more about the symposium! I would have been there, but (contrary to the sentiment in my signature line), I went to Florida to watch MCB premiere "Ballo" and "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" instead. (About which, more soon, I hope, but anyone else, go ahead and post about that!) Do you know about transcripts or, in this day and age, DVD's of the proceedings for those of us who weren't there?

It's ironic, in this Age of Silver for programs of great interest to some of us Balanchinians, to have a conflict like that! (I mean, the Age of Gold was when he was running his own company and you could just pick some programs by their repertory and go and be delighted and amazed...)

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My wife and I attended the recent Balanchine Symposium at the University of Michigan hoping that it would broaden our knowledge of ballet, a relatively new interest for us. The whole experience, including the Suzanne Farrell Ballet performance on Friday and the Kirov in Detroit on Saturday night, proved to be valuable beyond our expectations. Perhaps the most important factor was to be able to actually listen to and converse with others who have lived a life of ballet. Our past exposure has been largely limited to watching performances, reading books and following the Ballet Talk. We found that being a part of the small audience gave us a sense of participation that we did not expect.

The serious academic tone of the papers presented Friday morning came as a bit of a surprise but of course it shouldn’t have. This was a very academic place and on closer look the presenters had the highest of credentials. Only on the second day did I learn, for example, that “R. John Wiley, professor of music” was the author of Tchaikovsky’s Ballets and A Century of Russian Ballet.

The afternoon presentations lightened up with Beth Genne making the argument that perhaps Josephine Baker was Balanchine’s first muse and the model for all his long legged dancers that followed. Tim Scholl’s effort to connect the choreography of Serenade to a Georgian folk dance provided insight into both and included reasonable logic to suggest a connection even if he lacked solid proof. Angela Kane’s version of the lack of collaboration of Balanchine, Martha Graham and Paul Taylor in creating Episodes added grit to the story.

Following a day of words about Balanchine and his work we were beginning to come to a better understanding why he is such an important part of Ballet history. While we had seen some Balanchine works in the past, that evening’s performance of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, coming on the heels of our “class”, was all the more exciting because we could now understand and truly see and hear the music/dance connection that others talk about. The program included Mozartiana, Tempo di Valse from The Nutcracker, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux and ended with Serenade.

Saturday’s program began with Nancy Reynolds providing an interesting example of the video documentation being undertaken by the Balanchine Trust. This story of the reconstruction of Renard is just one of many that will be available for future reference. The audience began to swell late in the morning in anticipation of Maria Tallchief’s scheduled conversation with Francis Mason. Their long friendship showed in the easy conversation that continued for nearly an hour. While there may have been no new information to come from this exchange most everyone in the audience was appropriately charmed and only disappointed that the time for questions was so limited.

A long midday break (timed to coincide with the University’s away football contest with Michigan State?) preceded the final panel discussion with Violette Verdy, Suzanne Farrell, and Edward Villella. Beth Genne prodded the participants with early questions while Francis Mason came into his own near the end. Villella was quick to point out that while his gender resulted in a less connected relationship with Balanchine than Verdy or Farrell, his reverence for “Mr. B” was similarly strong. Suzanne Farrell’s comments were concise but perhaps more to the point than the others. Violette Verdy, who attended all the sessions, has a wonderful sparkle in her eye and warm smile that make you want to listen to her life experiences for hours on end.

We capped our two days of “all Balanchine” by going to the Kirov’s Detroit Opera House performance of Petipa’s La Bayadere with Sofia Gumerova dancing Nikiya, Irina Golub as Gamazatti and Igor Kolb as Solor. The pageantry, pantomime, parrots and pachyderms of the first two acts are about as far from Balanchine as can be. But the third act, the Kingdom of the Shades, is more abstract and with our newly educated eyes we felt comfortable in discussing how “Balanchine” it might be.

We have now returned to New England fulfilled by what we have learned and comfortable that we have taken another step in our knowledge and understanding of ballet. Thanks are due to those responsible for the great effort in organizing and producing the informative symposium. We were only disappointed in the fact that more ballet lovers were unable to attend.

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Thank you for that, BHammatt -- I'm glad it was a good experience. Scholarly conferences can sometimes be off-putting -- they're not intended as introductions, of course, but as a place to share papers on a very small aspect of an artist's career, or a theory -- perhaps an unusual theory. So I'm glad you found it interesting and that it sparked some ideas.

You might want to check out this site -- http://www.balanchine.org/ If you go to the link Foundation Projects, there will be a link to the libraries that have copies of the Balanchine Archive Project videos. Anyone can look at them, and the opportunity to see dancers coached (especially by the roster assembled for his project) is so rare, and so enlightening, I'm sure you would enjoy them.

I have to say it was wonderful reading your post -- I'm sorry I missed it the day you put it up; I'm catching up today -- and to see how dedicated you and your wife are to finding out more about ballet in such depth. The Balanchine web site also has a list of Balanchine events around the country, so you might find that useful. It might be a bit hard to find that link, so here it is, direct:

http://www.balanchine.org/05/archive/2003cent3.html

And citrus, thanks very much for the news that this symposium was filmed, and for the link to it. It's not up yet, but we can keep checking.

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Thanks very much for posting at such length, bhammatt. A very enjoyable read, and it's great that you got so much out of the experience.

I'm sorry the chat with Tallchief did not yield much, but it may be that she's said pretty much all she wants to say. I'll have to look at her book again and see if she says anything about Balanchine's piano technique there. Hard to believe she turns seventy-eight this year!

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Thanks for the wonderful photos, citrus -- an unexpected holiday gift!

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I may be mistaken, but I believe there's a Ballet Talker front and center in one of them!

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