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Balanchine Program -- reviews, thoughts?4 Ts - Sonatine - Midsummer


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 23 January 2004 - 11:32 AM

I went last night and would recommend the program -- I think they did a very good job with it. I especially liked Jason Hartley's Melancholic in 4 Temperaments and Michelle Jimenez in Midsummer -- but it's a very strong program. I wish I could see the final performance when they're really settled into it.

It's a great chance to see three Great Ballets and some fine dancing!

Did anyone else go? Whether you liked it or not, please post!

#2 corrival

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Posted 24 January 2004 - 06:19 AM

I am hoping to go to Sunday's matinee performance. PLEASE don't let there be blizzard.:sweating:
It will be the alternate cast. Sounds like it will be a great show.

#3 BW

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Posted 24 January 2004 - 05:29 PM

I attended my first performance by The Washington Ballet today and really, really enjoyed it very much.

Unlike many here, I am not a huge fan of The Four Temperaments, however I really did think TWB did it very well... I found Erin Mahoney and the ensemble in the Fourth Variation to be my favorites.

Sonatine at today's matinee was danced by Brianne Bland, who was anything but bland - and Jared Nelson. It was one that I'd never seen nor do I believe many have seen it in a long time from what Septime Webre said at the outset of the performance. Bland and Nelson seemed to fit with each other perfectly and just as they did Ravel's music.

However, my favorite was A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although I know many are upset about TWB only performing Act I, they did it superbly. These dancers are not only really good technically but they can act! There was so much excitement...the dancers became their roles. To me it wasn't Elizabeth Gaither playing Titania - she was Titania! Gaither and Nelson were perfect as the Fairy Queen and King - absolutely looked and danced their parts. I really believed that Ms. Gaither's Titania, in particular, was truly a magical being. What a beautiful Titania she made...and Nelson's Oberon was just as convincing in his own way - he wore his regal tunic with self assurance and looked as though he'd been born to it.

And of course the athletic and very funny Aaron Jackson was almost a scene stealer as the headstrong Puck!

The four young lovers were also really well cast - each one showed a sense of humor - and my favorite was, again, Erin Mahoney - I think because she had the more complex part out of the foursome and she performed it so beautifully.

As for the Lead Butterfly - Laura Urgelles and Titania's Cavalier - Runqiao Du - what more could anyone ask for?

There were just too many dancers for me to possibly mention by name - but Titania's retinue, the butterflies and fairies, Hippolyta's hounds...all fulfilled their parts very believably and with enthusiasm. And contrary to what I think I read in review, I thought the scenery worked well. The only thing I'd wish for is a different vehicle for Titania's "throne" and perhaps a slightly more delicate flower to be pierced by a less slapstick Cupid's arrow.

I'm not able to delve into technical comments, but I can say with complete assurance that this is an excellent ballet company and one that should be seen by all of you. Their energy is real and their ability to take on roles and become them is something very different from my experience with a number of other well known companies - and they are well worth seeing again and again. It's a company that's alive.

Get thee to The Kennedy Center ASAP!

#4 Guest_dani_*

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Posted 25 January 2004 - 12:47 PM

BW - wonderful review. And I would agree, TWB is a company to be seen. I myself attended last night's performance which had a different cast.

My favorite work was The Four Temperaments. In particular, First Variation: Melancholic. I admit I have a soft spot for Jason Hartley. I've not yet seen another male dancer who has such an earthy style. I can't quite find the words to express exactly what I mean by that but I keep thinking back to his Nocturne Monologue (performed last year). He has a sort of raw, elemental way of expressing himself, his emotions, and movement and all with an understated machismo. 'Nocturne' seemed to exploit all of that to the nth degree. I would love to see it again. In First Variation, again there is this intensity coming from him that you feel all the way out in the audience. It's hard to keep yours eyes off of him. I also very much loved the high-kicking part of that piece with Faure, Griffin, Polito and Turshen looking like Amazon Women come to lay claim. I love that bit of choreography. Really, I find The Four Temperaments an immensely pleasurable, satisfying and yet edgy experience. I love the simple, minimalist feel to it, the structure and the discipline.

Sonatine was danced by Michele Jimenez and Luis Torres at this performance. It was lovely and romantic and if Fred and Ginger ever did a more balletic piece - this might have been their number. I really do love Michele. She looks so delicate but she is very strong and oh so beautiful in face and form. And Torres did indeed have a leading man look in both this and 'Midsummer'. I thought they paired nicely.

Midsummer Night's Dream - what's not to love? The company performed it with great humor, a true sense of fun and much high spirit, which is the way this work is meant to be, whether in one act or in its entirety. Again, my hat tipped to Jimenez and Torres as Tatania and her Cavalier. I actually loved their pdds here more than in Sonatine. Jason Hartley as Puck was an absolute delight but as I've already gone on about him, I'll mention my other standout and that is Jonathan Jordan as Oberon. He was fabulous, incredible dancing, commanding everytime on stage and the guy has muscles on top of muscles on those legs. (Am I allowed to say that?)

The Washington School of Ballet has been noted for its wonderful program and the proof is in all the fairies and butterflies who were terrific and really added zest and magic to the production.

There was a Ballet Talk after the performance and Septime, along with Brianne, Michele, and Erin came out to answer questions. I asked Septime how, out of all the works of Balanchine, he came to choose those three. He said The Four Temperaments is one of his absolute favorite ballets ever and in fact if he were only allowed to do five ballets for the rest of his career, this would be one of them. 'Midsummer' is a ballet he has wanted to do since coming to Washington and he would have loved to have done the entire ballet but apparently the second act requires far more dancers than are currently in the company. He hopes they grow and grow and can someday do it in its entirety. Sonatine he chose because it is a nice fit between the two other more bombastic pieces. A soft, sweet, romantic work.

It was a very enjoyable evening and I am looking forward to Coppelia. :P

#5 corrival

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 07:35 AM

Balanchine Celebration
Eisenhower Theatre, Kennedy Center
Sunday, January 25th 2002

I, too, am more and more impressed by what Septime Webre is doing with The Washington Ballet, and his Ballet Talks after the show are such a super idea.
I attended the Sunday matinee, Septime came out before the start of the program and because there seemed to be a lot of smaller children in the audience he gave a short lesson on etiquette: not to talk, and how to applaud and shout bravo. But he did it with such humor and made the audience laugh and join in that the effect was wonderful instead of stuffy and preachy. And the result was, the children in the audience were very respectful and enthusiastically shouted bravo, or brava, in all the right places.
I saw a different cast than Dani and they too performed beautifully.
I must admit the Four T's is not my favorite ballet, I think it's really because I am not fond of the music by Paul Hindemith. That said, I thought the dancers did a marvelous job. In the Themes the standouts were Morgann Rose and Aaron Jackson in the 2nd Theme. A beautiful pair whose danced seamlessly together. Their movement was the sharpest and cleanest of the three themes.
In the First Variation: Melancholic, Jonathan Jordan danced well, but perhaps not with enough conviction, but Allison Walsh and Maki Onuki (2 members of the Washington Ballet Studio company) were so light and lovely. The Second Variation: Sanguinic, had Michele Jimenez paired with Runquiao Du. Michele, as usual, was wonderful. But there was no real feeling of chemistry between the two. The Third Variation: Phlegmatic Luis Torres was the standout for the entire dance, he has feline movement and his subtle change of mood midway through the variation was so beautifully done, from the hard, sharp hip and leg movements to a softer, more fluid movement. The ensemble danced very well, very synchronized in the Fourth Variation: Choleric.

After a short pause the company premiered Sonatine, a dance originally made for Violette Verdy, at the Kennedy Center. It is a love duet, and Brianne Bland danced as if she were deeply in love with Jared Nelson. Everything about her, her moves, the way she looked at her partner, the way she leaned in towards him, was of a young lover. Unfortunately Jared Nelson did not quite convey the same feeling. He danced well, just not with the same passion for his partner. He did convey more passion in his solos.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I was also a company premiere and it was magical. The opening scene was lovely, the lighting, the scenery, the costumes of the fairies and butterflies were delightful. Titania was danced by Elizabeth Gaither and she was perfect as the queen of the fairies, so light yet regal. Jared Nelson was Oberon and here he did a wonderful job. A golden king, he wowed the audience with his solos. Puck was danced with mischievous abandon by Aaron Jackson, his acting was 'over the top', yet perfect for the part. Other notables were Charles Pregger as Lysander and Nikkia Parrish as Hippolyta. Nikkia's solo was dazzling, lots of "brava"s for her. What an absolutely lovely way to spend a cold, snowy winter afternoon.

After the show Septime came out with Nikkia Parrish and Elizabeth Gaither to answer questions from the audience. Septime took questions from several of the children in the audience, who mostly wanted to know about the characters of Midsummer, although one young lady did ask the two ballerinas how long it took to learn the all the steps. That brought on a discussion about how the Washington Ballet stages Balanchine works. Septime and the dancers discussed how a member of the Balanchine Trust, Sandra Jennings, comes and works with the dancers in rehearsal. She brought loads of notes and videos. A question asked if the Washington Ballet added choreography to the dances. Septime said no, this is a Balanchine celebration and the purpose is to respect George Balanchine's genius. But Septime's role as AD is twofold. One, to help demonstrate the respect for Balanchine, but Two to ensure that the Washington Ballet style accented the works.
There was a question about the influence of the modernist movement on Balanchine when he made the 4T's. Septime explained how he felt that although Balanchine was influenced by the modernist movement, the efforts to distill to essentials, Balanchine retained the classical form.
Septime explained the reason why he only did Act I of Midsummer. Not enough dancers! He would love to stage the whole ballet but until the Washington Ballet grows some more he doesn't have enough dancers.


Overall a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening performance.

#6 Natalia

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 08:48 AM

I went to the Wednesday 'preview.' I have been away from Washington for a while & had not seen this company in two or three years. What a dramatic improvement since my last viewing! This appears to be a ballet company transformed. I was so very impressed by the high quality of the corps, in particular.

FOUR T's

The first program of the night was the evening's highlight, for me. It was an absolutely first-rate rendition of this, my favorite black-and-white Balanchine ballet. With the exception of a few moments of disunison among the four corps girls in 'Phlegmatic,' all of the corps portions were spot-on in their uniformity and crisp delivery. The 'Second Theme' couple, Nikkia Parish and Chip Coleman, were particularly impressive among the three excellent 'Theme Couples.' Jason Hartley was fine, if a tad laboring, as the Melancholic Variation soloist. Brianne Bland and Runqiao Du were a bit rushed, but otherwise wonderful, in Sanguinic. Tall, blonde Jared Nelson was absolutely fabulous in Phlegmatic. Erin Mahoney was a commanding leader of the final Choleric Variation, although I missed the lightning-fast chaine turns into the wings, that I recall seeing from Colleen Neary ages ago.

SONATINE

It was a treat to see this Balanchine rarity from the Ravel Festival of the mid-1970s. This is a pas de deux with a solo-piano on the stage, very similar to Robbins' 'Other Dances.' The soloists tonight were Michele Jimenez and Luis Torres, a truly well-matched & beautiful couple. Jimenez easily shows the delicious aura of a Violette Verdy, for whom the ballet was created. [In the post-performance 'Ballet Talks,' the company's co-director and stager of this work, Jeff Edwards, explained that Verdy indeed came to DC during the early parts of the staging process.] Torres is a long and elegant danseur; Jimenez has textbook-perfect 'ballet legs'...reminding me of Nadezhda Pavlova of the Bolshoi ca 1980.

MIDSUMMER ACT I

The corps & children were wonderful in this. The solo highlight, for me, was the ealy pas de deux adagio for Titania & her cavalier -- once again, Jimenez & Torres. I don't believe that I've ever seen a more adoring cavalier, even at my multiple NYCB viewings of this work. As much as I enjoyed the magnificently-danced Oberon of Jonathan Jordan, it is quite obvious that the man who truly loves Titania, in this rendition of the ballet, is that cavalier. hmmm... Brianne Bland and the four butterflies were every bit as spectacular as other 'butterfly quintets' that I have seen at NYCB or Pa Ballet or Pacific NW Ballet. On the other hand, Erin Mahoney could not muster the truly brilliant jetes that I so long to see in a Hippolyta....but her fouettes were quite spiffy. My biggest disagreement with the audience seems to be with the Puck -- Jason Hartley -- who, to me, seems too earth-bound, big-boned (torso) and 'unpuck-ish', compared to the Gen Horiuchis & Wayne Sleeps (in the Ashton version) of my memories. On the other hand, Hartley has a wonderful sense of comic acting and I can forgive his less-than-spritely dancing for the overall bright characterization.

All in all, I was very impressed and bowled over by the current look of the Washington Ballet. Great show!!

Jeannette Nabatova a.k.a. Jeannie
in DC...soon back to Moscow, alas...

#7 corrival

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 09:05 AM

Jeannie, Dani, thank you for your views. It is very interesting to read about the other cast. I wish I could have seen both. In the cast I saw Oberon is the true lover of Titania, and the Cavalier is just a dalliance for Titania.

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 10:37 AM

Jeannie, did Horiuchi do Puck? I seem to recall he was cast as Oberon in the Balanchine version.

The Act II divert is a very large scale ballet. It takes (from memory, the numbers may be slightly wrong) 16 female and eight male courtiers, six men and six women for the divertissement and four lead couples (one divert, the 4 lovers and Theseus and Hippolyta), along with the children, puck and the butterflies from Act I. I'm not sure Washington Ballet would ever be large enough to do it unless they used the school as courtiers. I'm assuming Webre acquired it with that realization.

It sounds like they did a fine job with the evening. I hope that seeing Act I has whetted your appetite to see the whole ballet. You may have an expanded impression of what it's about from seeing it in its entirety.

#9 Natalia

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 11:28 AM

Leigh, I've seen Horiuchi in both roles.

Actually, this is the first and only time that I've seen ONLY one act of 'Dream.' [I last saw NYCB do it this past summer, in the final performance of the regular season...with fabulous 'Tess' as Hippolyta!] The only reason why I did not complain about not seeing the wedding act (Act II) in DC is because there would have been no time left in the programme, this Act I coming after Four Ts and Sonatine. Think about it - Act I is a verrrry lonnnng act. The entire show ended at about 10:20 pm, to be followed by Webre's chit-chat with the audience.

During the 'Ballet Talks' following the programme, Septime Webre answered someone's question about 'Why no Act II?' with the answer 'We simply do not have the number of dancers required.' So you are right - the ability to field 16 wedding march couples PLUS a score of divertissement dancers PLUS soloists is currently beyond the reach of WB.

#10 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 11:45 AM

Gotta apologize, Jeannie - I meant the "you" generally about seeing the full ballet to all those who wrote - and wasn't at all clear.

Re: the cavalier and Titania; I'm one who reads Midsummer in a very "stately" fashion. To me, he dances with her, but he also comes on holding a leaf parasol to shade her from the sun. He may adore her or not, but he's her manservant.

#11 Natalia

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 12:04 PM

Don't worry about apologies, Leigh.

I'm with you on the cavalier role...believe me, it seemed ODD to see the DC cavalier making googly eyes at Titania & seeing her delighted reactions. That's why I made note of this...the first freakin' time that the Cavalier-and-Titania pdd has such an effect on me. LOL! Jimenez & Torres are almost TOO dynamic a partnership to dance this pdd correctly, as Mr B intended it to be. They were awesome, though....maybe TOO awesome? Poor Oberon is almost an odd-man-out.

Other subject - the audience: Maybe I've been in Russia too long but...despite the fact that we had a full house on Wednesday AND that most of the folks sitting around me in center-Orchestra were happy & appreciative (judging by intermission comments)...they seemed to be sitting on their hands all night long!!! Yeah, they hee-hee'd a lot for every little movement of Puck, yet not once did they applaud for the dazzling enchainements of the Oberon, Jon Jordan. Then, when the ballet was over, there were no curtain calls. Lots of great applause...then curtain down and --- boom! -- off they ran to their cars, with the exception of a couple-dozen people who stayed on for 'Ballet Talks'.

Dorothy, you're not in Moscow anymore...

#12 corrival

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 01:06 PM

Jeannie:
Too bad you didn't attend the Sunday matinee. I believe the Cavalier danced more as you would have liked. And the audience was very appreciative. Lots of curtain calls and cheers.

#13 BW

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 07:06 PM

On Saturday's matinee the audience did plenty of clapping and there were a number excited and clearly audible exclamations, but there were no curtain calls, which surprised me. Glad to hear it wasn't that way for each performance.

By the way, in Saturday's I never felt that Runqiao Du's Cavalier was ever in love with Titania. He was definitely her manservant, albeit a very handsome one who certainly knew how to dance with her.

And Jared Nelson's Oberon was along the lines that you are familiar with in your "stately" reading of Midsummer, Leigh... I'm used to Peter Boal in this role, and a similar command is what I got from Nelson's portrayal.


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