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ABT at Kennedy Center - Mixed Bill, 2/3-5/2004


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#1 Natalia

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 08:34 AM

I was there for the opening, last night (Raymonda Grand Pas - Without Words - Within You Without You). Anybody else?

A review is forthcoming. Generally, a satisfying evening because of the dancers; choreography on view is another story. 'Til later...

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 09:17 AM

I'll look forward to reading your review, Jeannie.

I did go, but I found it a very disappointing evening. Not the usual opening night problem -- it looked well-rehearsed. But I have to say I think that Raymonda is the worst thing I've ever seen the company do. There was no frame. It's just a selection of dances one after the other without a ballerina to pull it together. (The production may go over better with other dancers.)

I thought Corella was going to set the stage in the entree -- his walk to the ballerina and the way he presented her was beautiful, every movement musical. That was the high point; nothing after lived up to that. I kept thinking, as I often have in the past few years, that the solos have been rehearsed in separate studios (perhaps in different cities) and the cast only meets afterwards. I also feel, as I often do, that I was watching a skating competition: "And now, for his free skate, Mr. Corella will deliver six double tours en l'lair" The individual steps were danced as well as anyone could dance them, but they weren't part of anything. It was just a module plugged into the rest of the modules.

For the record, Veronika Part danced in the grand pas classique, with Michele Wiles, in a double solo (presumably they're Henriette and Clemence). Part's arms were lovely, the legs not very strong. Wiles danced beautifully -- but again, it came off as an excerpt. In the men's double variation, David Hallberg (tall and blond) was paired with a short dark-haired boy who had a very hard time with the steps. Hallberg was magnificent; give him a chance and he could hold the stage all by himself and create a world.

As Raymonda, Murphy looked overcoached -- every finger was set, as the Danes would say, but again, nothing was integrated into a whole and the dancing was static. She doesn't yet have a ballerina's authority -- and in a company where La Van Hamel was the Raymonda queen for years (not forgetting Cynthia Gregory and Natalia Makarova) she looked so small. Sticking out your chin doesn't make you look authoritative, just snotty.

As for the male corps and soloists (with the exception of Hallberg) -- do they take a classical class these days? They looked to me like San Francisco Ballet did before Tomasson took over and turned the SFB corps into classical dancers. The male dancing in Raymonda was below this company's own standard--both compared to when they were just building up to full-evening ballet status in the 1970s, and they tried as hard as was humanly possible to be classical, or even five years ago. I had noticed a change in the men last year in Romeo and Juliet, but in this, it was much more obvious -- no tautness in the dancing or the line, can't land in fifth. The variance among body types makes it look as though they're being selected for the Duato rather than Petipa repertory. The wrist flicks are still there, but now they're done in a studied, "refined" way, which makes it worse. Especially coming after the Kirov, the lack of polish was hard to watch. It's as though the dancers are using bad grammar but speaking with the best Oxford accent that can be managed if you were born in Mississippi.

The audience loved the Duato; I loathed it. The dancers did everything that was asked of them and looked like amoebas in body stockings. They look terrific in it, the way they used to look terrific in Tetley.

I have two objections to the Duato works I've seen (aside from his extensive "quoting" of other works). One is that they make the dancers look anonymous. I often am surprised, during the curtain calls, to realize that I've been watching a particular dancer. And second, watching it is like watching marshmallows melt to muzak. The music for "Without Words" (like dance usually has words?), by Schubert, is far from muzak, but it might as well BE muzak the way it's used.

I actually thought of you during it, Jeannie, because of something you wrote a couple of years ago here, of what opera house ballet meant, and to me, this was an example of something that doesn't belong in an opera house at opera house prices. I'll hold off on the Beatles until tomorow.

I'm sorry to be so negative about a company with so many wonderful dancers and whose performances I've enjoyed so many times in the past. I have high hopes for this weekend's Bayadere, where the women's corps gets a chance to shine.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 11:35 AM

I'd like to encourage others to post their views -- especially if you enjoyed the performance :)

#4 Thalictum

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 09:45 PM

Part is recovering from an injury, by the way.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 10:31 PM

Part danced in Raymonda and is scheduled to do a Shade.

#6 art076

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 10:59 PM

Ouch...the postings and now the review in the Washington Post today don't make it look like things went very well on Tuesday night. (I guess ABT hasn't been very lucky with its press coverage this week, with this review and the piece in the New York Times about the company's financials).

For those of you who have seen the Washington performances of the "Raymonda" snippet: did it look like the flaws are fixable? I mean, does this spell a possible disaster come Spring Season with the full production? (I certainly hope not...it seems like the kind of production that ABT should excel at considering what they are known for doing at the MET and otherwise). From the reviews and postings I can't tell if it was under-rehearsed or just plain bad...

Hopefully "La Bayadere" will go better over the weekend. Looks like some excellent casts are lined up for that, if nothing else.

Edited by art076, 04 February 2004 - 11:00 PM.


#7 Alexandra

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 11:41 PM

It didn't look under-rehearsed. I'd go for "just plain bad." And I think Kaufman hit it -- they look more at home in the Duato-Harrison parts of the program. In Raymonda -- and last year in "Romeo and Juliet" -- they looked like contemporary dancers dancing ballet steps. They're using ballet the same way some modern dancers are using ballet -- as a means to an end. Bigger, faster, stronger. More turns, higher leaps. The casting didn't help -- the men in the "character" segment had cleaner lines than those in the "classical" ones.

Wednesday night (with Paloma Herrera and Marcelo Gomes) was a bit better -- Herrera wasn't as polished as Murphy but she looked as though she were enjoying the role and had internalized it. There were some arm positions that were, shall we say, nonstandard -- but that's throughout. They do Paul Taylor scoop arms every now and again, just throw their hands in the air. Gomes is such a warm performer, and so ardent a partner, that he set the stage. His dancing is big and clear and so musical that even when he and the orchestra lost each other during the coda it didn't matter. He still LOOKED musical. The flow of movement from the back, up the arm and out the fingers is glorious. But even Gomes could use some polish.

The production is a cut and paste Raymonda, a bit from here, a bit from there. I was told by a friend who'd seen the production at City Center that there had been changes. There's now a double variation for two women and another for two men that, he said, had not been in the New York production. To me, these dancers, in their original form, are one of the glories of the classical repertory, and their structure, as well as the steps, are integral parts of that glory. Why not set it has come down to us? (That's a rhetorical question.)

The George Harrison ballet is, to me, an embarrassment. It looks like an end of school show, recital stuff -- maybe at a cheerleading school. The dancers are wonderful They run and roll on the floor and jump up and down and wiggle their shoulders with all the energy one could want. It's nice to see the women with their hair down -- they look more individualized than when they're in contemporary bunhead mode.

#8 Natalia

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 10:17 AM

Sorry that I'm just getting around to posting my thoughts on the opening night. It's been a hectic week.

My sojourn in DC has yielded many balletic surprises in companies that I have not seen in a while. Some surprises are good -- the huge improvements at Washington Ballet -- and some are, uh, not-so-good. ABT falls into the second category.

An ABT opening night at the Kennedy Center used to be a first-class event. We could always count on a mixed bill program that included three or more high-quality works, e.g., Sylphides/Firebird/an Agnes de Mille premiere a few years ago. Boy, has ABT sunk down to a new low here...almost (not quite) as bad as the days when Washington Ballet offered "Evening of Dutch Contemporary Works."

As always, ABT presents a cadre of magnificent soloists. Let's not blame them. They have to wade through the crap that they are given.

RAYMONDA DIVERTISSEMENTS (Holmes, after Petipa; Glazounov)

Get me back to Russia, buistro-buistro!!!! ABT's ragged and (mostly) dispirited corps make me long to return to the land where I can see a decent 'Raymonda' csardas and Gnd Pas Classique adagio. Good grief, these kids were all over the place, stylistically.

Anna-Marie Holmes is a very knowledgeable and respected guardian of the Konstantin Sergueyev/Petipa oeuvre, so I was shocked to see what she cobbled together here. Why on earth 'double' the Act III female solo 'bridesmaid' variation by having it 'mirror-danced' by two girls, when this ballet is replete with gems of Petipa female variations that are rarely seen in the west, e.g., the three 'dream girl' variations from Act I/sc ii? Was the intention to give two solo-level girls a chance to shine...then why not give each girl her own solo? What's worse, why on earth cast a 'mirror-effect' dance with two girls who could not be more different in body type -- the trim & energetic Michele Wiles, dancing next to an out-of-shape & lethargic dancer...so out-of-shape that it broke my heart to see her stuffed like a sausage into a too-small tutu. [That casting, IMO, bordered on cruelty against the larger lady.]

I would strongly recommend that the full-length 'Raymonda' that is being staged for ABT adhere exactly to the Kirov Sergeyev version, which is absolutely perfect & magical...especially the Act I/sc ii Dream Scene, with its retinue of 'side boys & girls' in long medieval costumes framing classical-tutu girls in the middle. No mirroring of solos, please! But DO keep the Raymonda-walks-into-the-tapestry stuff with Jean de Brienne, which would be the grandest tribute to Dudinskaya/Sergueyev.

Back to the dancing...

The Csardas was led by two Vaganova-style-trained dancers Maria Bystrova & Gennadi Saveliev, who should know better...at least they had the facial expressions & tilts of the head right! The Csardas corps: horrendous...even though their ranks include a pleiade of truly talented young dancers & multiple competition laureates, such as Zhong-Jing Fang (Shaghai IBC '02), Renata Pavam (Jackson '98), & Sarawanee Tanatanit (Lausanne). I prefer to remember them in happier times, thank you.

The grand adagio for the lead pair plus eight couples featured a couple of the guys grimacing in pain as they attemped to heave-ho their hefty ballerinas onto shoulders (one poor lad gave up in midstream and plopped down his princess). I do not mean to imply that all of the couples were this bad...but, in this adagio for nine synchronized couples, if ONE pair is off, it wrecks the entire mood & majesty of the piece.

Gillian Murphy was as uncharming a Raymonda as I've ever seen - technically precise but total ice, made all the more obvious when paired with one of the warmest, cuddliest male dancers on earth, Angel Corella. He showed what a good actor he is by not running off stage whenever Murphy looked at him.

The costumes for the classical & csardas corps are hideous, particularly unflattering to the larger women (red velour over-dresses in csardas).

ugh...well that was the high point of the night...there followed:

WITHOUT WORDS (Duato/Schubert)

Imagine a 'Liebeslieder Walzer' danced in flesh-toned unitards for the women & beige loincloths for the men. Remove all makeup. The girls all wear dark hair in buns. Couples dance together to some of the most romantic, waltzy music that's ever been written...except that instead of waltzing, they are contorting themselves, quickly changing pointed feet into flexed feet. That sort of thing. Once one COULD discern the dancers -- and I was sitting in the front row of the orchestra -- one saw trememdous talent & gymnastic ability (like the gumby-doll Xiomara Reyes...or the surprisingly sexy pairing of Paloma Herrera & the amazing Danny Tidwell). Frustrating. I really wanted to feel the romantic perfume of music - see it in the dance. All I got was smoke.

Just when we though that we had reached rock bottom, here comes...

WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU ('gang of four'/Harrison)

As the always-charismatic Angel Corella jerked & wiggled his way through the initial solo of this work, I could not help but ask myself the question: "Is this the Modern Choreography Round of the Varna International Ballet Competition?" I don't think I've ever experienced a more pathetic batch of choreography on a professional stage for a 30-minute stretch of time. The dancers are all magnificent creatures -- among the best in the business -- yet they have to present themselves in the most embarrassingly banal choreography. Sure, I 'woo-hooed' and 'yippee-yeahed' along with the audience during the final front-of-the-scrim promenade of leaps by all dancers, each showing off his or her best move from competition days! We had to cheer for the dancers who are professional enough to try their best, even with this silliness. It makes me long to see Abrera, Wiles & Stiefel in quality work, soon.

p.s. We did get to see Veronika Part bee-bopping in designer jeans. So the Lilac Fairy has come to this?

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 10:37 AM

Thanks, Jeannie. I'd second a vote for the Sergeyev Raymonda! Not that I've seen it, but a good friend of mine came back from St. Petersburg years ago saying "it was a cascade of beautiful classical dancing. He's kept enough of the story to make sense, and yet kept it in the background."

I wondered why they chose this program too -- it wasn't a crowd pleaser. (Although the house was much better last night; the side backs were nearly full.)

Anyone else go? Please don't be reluctant to disagree.

#10 Juliet

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 10:53 AM

Sorry, even personal loyalty to some of the company couldn't get me to drive or train in for this mess.

Let's hope they pull Raymonda into some semblance of shape before the spring season or they will be a laughingstock and the funding will go even lower.....

Juliet

#11 rkoretzky

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 12:37 PM

Truly sorry to hear about the Raymonda disaster, as that was one program I had circled in my brochure as a 'wanna see'.

Just a thought about the Harrison piece. I've seen it twice--first at the Met and then (reluctantly) at City Center. I swear to you that it didn't even look like the same work the second time, and yet the casting was similar, the costumes and music identical. The difference was the theater.

I left the Met after the first time very disappointed. After the second viewing, about 5 months later, if I wasn't in love with the work, I will say that I enjoyed it and found myself emotionally moved by it.

I believe the difference lies with the setting. It is just lost in the Met Opera House, and my guess is that is also the case at the Kennedy Center Opera House. On the smaller City Center stage, in a smaller theater where those of us who are cheapskates aren't miles from the stage and breathing through oxygen masks, there is a sense of intimacy--even, dare I say it? charm, and a definite feeling of engagement that was just not present at the Met.

I'm glad I saw it the second time, and did so at my daughter's urging. She had seen it at City Center when it premiered in fall 02. I now have a positive memory of it. I am baffled as to why it has now shown up in every ABT season, and do not plan to see it at the Met this spring. Do I think it is a Work of High Art? Nah. Was it an enjoyable experience in the smaller theater? Yup.

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 12:42 PM

Glad you liked it. I agree that setting can make a difference, and maybe if this had been Lisner Auditorium it would have looked more at home. But I think the Kennedy Center, compared to the Met, is much smaller and more intimate. And I think wherever it was the choreography would still be bottom of the barrel. But if people like it, that's fine! The dancers certainly gave it everything they had.

#13 carbro

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 12:52 PM

"Bottom of the barrel?" I agree Within You, Without You ain't no Sleeping Beauty, but I have seen much, much worse choreography than this. Examples? Anything at all by Peter Martins. At least there was no vein of sadomasochism running through this.

#14 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 12:56 PM

Just a little voice here, to mention that the costumes in which the company is dancing this Raymonda are not the ones for/from the coming new full-length.

#15 Alexandra

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 01:02 PM

I know -- that was discussed at the City Center season too. But the audience can't know that, and that's what we saw, and the costumes are extremely unflattering. The women look fat and the men look as though they have no necks.


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