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MCB in Fairfax, VA


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#1 Ari

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Posted 25 April 2004 - 05:32 PM

MCB gave two programs at George Mason University this weekend – Villella’s The Neighborhood Ballroom on Saturday night and an all-Balanchine program on Sunday afternoon.

I enjoyed The Neighborhood Ballroom more than I’d expected. I’d been wary, because social dancing is meant to be danced, not watched, and today’s ballet dancers usually have no background in the social dancing of previous times (the ballet spans the eras of the Belle Epoque through the 1950s). I thought they did very nicely, though, and Villella’s choreography adeptly balleticized the waltz, quick step, fox trot, and mambo and maintained my interest. For a company whose repertory is dominated by a single choreographer, MCB adapts to other styles quite well. They did a very respectable Patineurs several years ago at the Kennedy Center, one that looked more Ashtonian than a 1998 performance I saw the Royal Ballet do. The four acts of Ballroom could have used a bit more story, though. The company’s men looked particularly good here.

This afternoon’s program was Ballo della Regina, Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Rubies (yes, “Rubies,” not “Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra,” as it’s usually billed when presented without Emeralds and Diamonds). Mary Carmen Catoya sparkled in the ballerina role of the first ballet, and her dancing had the clarity, if not quite the speed, of Merrill Ashley’s. Mikhail Ilyin was superb in the male lead. He made his beautifully precise dancing look so effortless -- unusual for a Russian dancer -- that the audience did not at first realize the difficulty of what he was doing. He has an appealingly modest demeanor, too. The demis were disappointing, except for the third (Tricia Albertson?), but the corps looked splendid.

Stravinsky Violin Concerto, on the other hand, had some serious problems. The recorded music (uncredited in the program) was too slow, and this dragged down the dancing. But as the ballet went on it became clear that the rather heavy, earthbound performance couldn’t be blamed entirely on the music. The staging, by Bart Cook and Maria Calegari, didn’t lift and sing. It plodded, and this is a ballet that has to take off. It’s unusual to see MCB dance like this, because one of its hallmarks is the zest and spirit the dancers bring to each work, especially Balanchine’s. Some of the choreographic details were sloppily rendered or left out – for instance, in the first pas de deux, the ballerina is supposed to let her head fall sharply to the side when she hits a pose entwined in her partner’s arms, and this didn’t happen. The casting was problematic, too. The second pas de deux contrasts the fragility of the woman with the massive calm of the man, but Jennifer Kronenberg is a powerful dancer who looked like she could dominate Carlos Guerra. Guerra is also not as pure a classicist as Peter Martins, and this robbed a solo passage, in which the dancer is made to twist and turn in and generally look as unclassical as possible, of tension and therefore interest. Similarly, the contortions of the first pas de deux were made on a dancer (Karin von Aroldingen) who had a solid, ungiving body, but Deanna Seay is quite supple and bent and twisted easily, even gracefully – which made nonsense of the choreography. I’d like to see Seay and Kronenberg switch roles. As for Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, I hardly noticed him, and this is odd because this is the role that Cook used to dance.

Rubies is one of MCB’s signature works, and it was a pleasure to see it again. But seeing it so soon after New York City Ballet’s production, I noticed certain differences between the two that I hadn’t before. MCB’s style is full throttle, and that is exhilarating. But this headlong, high intensity approach allows for no light and shade in the quality of the movement; moments of delicacy or tenderness that add piquancy to the predominantly sassy, emphatic dancing are lost. I think NYCB’s production offers a richer experience, but MCB’s has its own pleasures, too.

#2 Mike Gunther

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Posted 25 April 2004 - 07:40 PM

Thanks for posting this! I saw both programs - well actually just the first half of Ballroom. It was sort of boring to me, so I skipped out early. Villella said he made the dance for Florida residents who attended Broadway musicals... yep. Plus he lifted the plot right out of Tales of Hoffman. That's so 19th century!

I loved the Balanchine program, and would have posted a rave notice but after reading your post, Ari, I'm no longer so sure of my ground (except I'm still sure I liked it!) Some things I liked were Kronenberg's decisiveness in the Violin Concerto 2d pas de deux, and the sparkling clarity of Rubies... if it was stylistically incorrect, though (sigh).

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 25 April 2004 - 08:41 PM

Thanks, Ari and Mike. I couldn't go, so I'm doubly happy for the reports.

Mike, please don't feel constrained -- go ahead and post your rave, if you'd like :wub: The more opinions the better.

#4 Mike Gunther

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Posted 26 April 2004 - 12:53 PM

I think we saw the same thing in terms of what the dancers were doing. I was swept away - it was a clear, confident performance - but I learned a lot from Ari's review also.

Oddly, Villella emphasized in pre-preformance how careful Balanchine was to cast specific roles for particular dancers, which makes it a bit surprising that he'd cast the Stravinsky VC on different types than B. did.

By the way, I noticed the program didn't have any of those "Balanchine Trust" representations in it. Is Villella not a part of that? (Feel free to just point to a FAQ if this is a FAQ)

#5 kfw

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Posted 26 April 2004 - 06:57 PM

I've always found MCB a very likeable troupe, but while I enjoyed yesterday afternoon's performance, especially of Stravinsky Violin Concerto, I wasn't swept away by it. Consequently, my memories are already fading. That may be less attributable to the fine dancing than to the lack of live music. Still, I do remember some thrilling performances of Rubies from this company -- and they kick up a storm on my tape of Villella's Kennedy Center Honors ceremony -- but they seemed a little tired this time, so the ballet lacked its usual exuberance.

I agree with Ari that Ilyin was superb, and Cartoya was lovely and exciting, but in my opinion she wasn't in Ashley's league yesterday in her ability to show the steps within the flow. But then I wasn't expecting the 2nd coming of Merrill Ashley.

#6 Ari

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Posted 27 April 2004 - 04:34 AM

Oddly, Villella emphasized in pre-preformance how careful Balanchine was to cast specific roles for particular dancers, which makes it a bit surprising that he'd cast the Stravinsky VC on different types than B. did.

When outsiders are brought in to stage a new work, aren't they usually allowed to choose the dancers? Or does it vary from situation to situation? I'm speaking of the general practice in companies everywhere -- I don't know MCB's policy.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 27 April 2004 - 08:04 AM

I think they do, but with advice. If they know the company, they'll have an idea of who they want. If they don't, they'll watch class, and sometimes, understandably, can pick someone whom the director knows isn't suited to the role -- doesn't have the stage presence, or the stamina, or will have a technical difficulty with one part of the ballet.

I can't answer whether Villella is part of the trust, or why there was no trademark blurb. That could be something cosmic, or a printer's error.

#8 Justdoit

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Posted 27 April 2004 - 08:31 PM

kfw, I think you got it right, the company did seem tired at Sunday's performance. We saw both Saturday's and Sunday's performances and were aware that Sunday's was the last performance of a 10 day, four stop tour as well as their last performance for the 2003-2004 season.

That said, we enjoyed both performances. Like Ari we were surprised to like Neighborhood Ballroom, even though we felt it should and could have been shortened for better effect. The familiarity of the music helped, but we also found the company's obvious ability to really be able to dance, regardless of the style, very entertaining.

We've also had the privilege of seeing Catoya do Ballo earlier in the season and felt Sunday's performance did not match her previous overall performance. Maybe it was a simple case of last performance tiredness?

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 28 April 2004 - 04:48 PM

(Copied over from Links; I just put this review up):

Review of Miami City Ballet in Vienna, Va. (Balanchine program and "The Neighborhood Ballroom" by George Jackson up on DanceView Times:

From Miami, Spunky Balanchine and Villella's The Neighborhood Ballroom

Saturday evening's Neighborhood Ballroom was a hit with the audience. It has 4 acts plus an epilogue and comes with three intermissions. At 2 hours and 40 minutes, it seemed long to me and not fully realized. At heart, Ballroom is a collection of social dances from different eras, "numbers" that are based on the late 19th Century waltz and three 20th Century models—the jazzy quick step, the smooth fox trot and the pulsing mambo. To tie all those samples together, there is a "backstory" (by Pamela Gardiner) reminiscent of The Tales of Hoffmann, except that the poet who seeks true love seems more like F. Scott Fitzgerald than E.T.A. Hoffmann. We meet him first at age 17 in a Belle Epoque cafe, again in a jazz age joint when he is in his 20s, then in chic Hollywood when he and the 20th Century are in their 40s, and finally as an old rue in a Latin nightclub not so long ago. He is eternally attracted to femmes fatales that come in different flavors. Predictably, they reject him, each in turn, so he remains perpetually alone—except for the slightly sinister chauffeur he has hired away from one of them. The poet also has a muse, but she is elusive.




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