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Boston Ballet: American Trilogy


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#1 bbfan

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Posted 18 March 2002 - 12:57 PM

Recently we’ve seen both a dress rehearsal and a performance of Boston Ballet’s current offering, American Trilogy. This includes two vintage pieces, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and Rodeo, sandwiching Corybantic Ecstasies, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon for Boston Ballet in 1999. Most of my comments relate to the performance.

In Slaughter we saw April Ball as the Strip Tease Girl and Michael Johnson (a member of the corps) as the Hoofer. As noted by the reviewers in Boston papers, the introductory dialog setting the scene was unintelligible so many in the audience were mystified by the plot. Nevertheless the dancers were having such fun and the music is so good (and familiar) that the performance was enjoyable. Ball did a find job but the most impressive performance was by Johnson. We already knew we liked him in ballet, but he showed great talent as a jazz dancer and tapper!

Corybantic was quite a change of pace. If I didn’t know better I would have pegged that as the Balanchine piece of the evening. The music is cerebral and the dancing well matched to it. Simon Ball was Eros; his dancing beautiful and seeming effortless. (We sit near the front of the orchestra and are often impressed by the sweat flying off the dancers.) Christopher Budzynski, one of my favorites, shadowed by Joel Prouty, was Narcissus and Tara Hench Echo. Theirs was a poignant section. Pollyana Ribeiro and Jose Martin performed the Hermes section; they are both strong and quick and well matched for this, flying around the stage. Larissa Ponomarenko was paired with Ball for the Eros and Psyque section. This was also a beautiful partnership. The last section is Dionysia, where Sarah Lamb and Gael Lambiotte had the leads. I assume this section gives the ballet its name, with a frenzied look reminiscent of the drunk scene in Prodigal Son or maybe parts of Carmina Burana. It seemed jarring after the beauty of the previous movements. While Lamb was credible in her role I felt that she was no match for Adriana Suarez, who we had seen in rehearsal. Suarez is so strong and agile and sinuous. Lamb is a young and beautiful dancer, but not yet the perfect choice for this role. (During the intermission several of my friends remarked that they enjoyed Corybantic but felt it was a bit too long; the contrast of the Dionysia with the rest of the ballet didn’t work for them.)

The final piece was Rodeo. During the rehearsal I’d felt disappointed; I remembered enjoying this ballet in the past but now it seemed dated. The performance was quite different, it was interesting to me how much the energy and enjoyment of the audience fed into my enjoyment of the ballet. We saw Frances Perez-Ball as the Cowgirl, Simon Ball as Head Wrangler, and Reagen Messer as the Champion Roper. Messer came through the strongest with his dancing and acting, marvelous jumps and impressive tap dancing. (It was interesting to realize how much tap dancing contributed to this evening.)

We are fortunate to have an excellent orchestra. Jonathan McPhee is very sensitive to the needs of the dancers.

We are going again next weekend, and hoping for a different cast. But if we were to see the same cast we’d still enjoy the evening.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 18 March 2002 - 02:16 PM

Thank you very much for posting that, bbfan. I hope other Bostonians will chime in as well.

It does sound like an unusual mix of ballets, yet it seemed to work well on stage.

#3 Ari

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Posted 18 March 2002 - 02:24 PM

Thanks for this report, bbfan. Corybantic Ecstasies sounds like an odd choice for this "American" program--Wheeldon is of course English (though he's been working in America for several years) and the ballet as you describe it is stylistically from another planet than the other two. Although I guess you can say that the juxtuposition was bracing.

Did anyone else see this program? Comments?

#4 bbfan

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Posted 18 March 2002 - 03:07 PM

As Mikko Nissenen said in his program notes, Balanchine was originally from Russia, Wheeldon is from Britain, and deMille was American. But the music to Corybantic is Leonard Bernstein's Serenade, so that is the American connection. Also it was commissioned by Boston in '99 so it was done for an American company. Guess that counts too.

#5 Patricia

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Posted 18 March 2002 - 07:23 PM

I spent a few days in Boston to see both the Boston Ballet and Mark Morris Dance Group. Boston Ballet's March 14th performance wasn't sold out... shocking. This ballet company is wonderful! The three works on the TRILOGY program complimented each other. I was very happy to see SLAUGHTER and RODEO danced again and performed so vibrantly; all the dancers had a good time.

However my main reason for going was CORYBANTIC ECSTASIES. Christopher Wheeldon certainly belonged on this program. His career as a dance-maker is anchored in America, particularly in Boston and NYC. I was not disappointed. Each ballet of his that I've seen are certainly neoclassical - but all look different. He is certainly not afraid to try out new ideas. The choice of Bernstein's SERENADE for CORYBANTIC's score complimented the ballet to perfection. Its best moments were Eros (Paul Thrussell) pulling the male corps dancers into a whirling circle, his sensuous duet with Psyche (the stunningly lyrical Larissa Ponomarkeno), and the Dinoysia finale (led by Adriana Suarez and Yury Yanowsky, whose masks only made the dancing more thrilling).

Perhaps when Maestro Levine officially takes over the BSO I'll have another opportunity to see Boston Ballet again...unless they visit NYC first.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 18 March 2002 - 07:30 PM

Thank you very much for posting this, Patricia. Wheeldon is one of the very few people choreographing now who's really neoclassical, so it's good to see his work being performed outside of New York (I know he has an association with Boston Ballet).

I couldn't find a review of this program in the Globe. If someone else does it, please post a link.

We now have TWO reviews -- any more out there? smile.gif

#7 bbfan

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Posted 20 March 2002 - 03:22 PM

Unfortunately I have only found the Boston Globe's review online in its archives, you'll have to buy the article (published on 3/17, written by Christine Temin). Unusual for them not to have it available for at least a day.... You can get to it using www.boston.com/globe/search and searching for ballet or American Trilogy.

Am hoping the Phoenix comes through for us tomorrow with their usual thorough articles.

[ March 20, 2002, 03:23 PM: Message edited by: bbfan ]

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 20 March 2002 - 03:30 PM

Thank you, bbfan. (I don't think I'll buy the review, though smile.gif ) We'll remember to check the Phoenix tomorrow -- that's for that, too.

Anyone else out there? 4Ts? Any of our out-of-town Boston fans go up to see it?

#9 Alina

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Posted 20 March 2002 - 07:00 PM

I saw the "American Trilogy" Program opening night.It was particularly fun to see a few corps dancers have a featured moment. Frances Perez-Ball did a very credible job with "Rodeo" but the performance by Michael Johnson in "Slaughter" was particularly wonderful.He really rose to the challenge and was as equally powerful as April Ball, a principal with great stage presence and artistry. Seeing Christopher Wheeldon's "Corybantic Ecstasies" again and on the Wang Stage rather than the Shubert where it premiered was a treat. It is one of those ballets that has more depth and musical nuance every time you see it. Larissa Ponomarenko and Paul Thrussell were wonderfully sensitive and romantic in the pas de deux with seamless execution. Too bad they are really only seen by us Bostonians!

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 20 March 2002 - 07:14 PM

Thank you for that, Alina.

#11 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 20 March 2002 - 09:44 PM

Just curious about the title of Wheeldon's ballet. "Corybantic Ecstasies" is a most unusual title and I wonder if there are any program notes that explain this? Or is this something I should know and recognize and do not? Does it come from the music?

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 21 March 2002 - 01:44 AM

I hope someone can answer that, Victoria. I was curious as well.

Here's a link to Marcia B. Siegel's review in the Boston Phoenix:

American Grafitti

quote:


Given the sophistication and diverse origins of all ballet, the title for Boston Ballet’s current " American Trilogy " seems simplistic. The pieces have almost nothing in common, but the rubric does invite us to reflect on George Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo, and Christopher Wheeldon’s Corybantic Ecstasies as artifacts of, for, or about American culture.



#13 bbfan

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Posted 21 March 2002 - 11:50 AM

Ballet can be educational as well as entertaining: Corybantic sent me to the dictionary. It refers to the Corybants, in Greek mythology the attendants who followed the Phrygian goddess Cybele with dancing and revelry, or the priests in the worship of Cybele, or revelers.

The program notes are very interesting but too long to repeat here. They don't explicitly discuss how the ballet got its name, but do say the Leonard Bernstein was inspired by Plato's Symposium when writing the music (Serenade). Wheeldon was working on a ballet with Grecian images and theme when he asked Jonathan McPhee his opinion of using Bernstein's Serenade as the music for this new ballet.

McPhee wrote that years earlier he had talked to Bernstein about Martha Graham creating a ballet to Serenade but even though they'd discussed it (Bernstein, Graham,McPhee) the project never came together. So McPhee was pleased and surprised when Wheeldon suggested using Bernstein's Serenade. And interested in how some of Wheeldon's ballet "resonated strongly" with Graham's images in Medea, even though Wheeldon had not prior knowledge of a potential Graham connection to Serenade.

#14 jbtlse

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Posted 21 March 2002 - 01:11 PM

Saw it Tuesday night--which included an informance by Citydance( an outreach dance program between Boston Public Schools and the Boston Ballet)--it was sure inspiring to see those kids (ranging in age roughly from 9-18) dance!

Daughter commented that Corybantic Ecstasies didn't fit with "American" theme as it was Greek mythology. But it was certainly different in flavour from the other two. I must agree that I thought "Dionysia" part was quite different from the rest of the piece--really I thought I was watching an entirely different ballet! Really enjoyed the other bits of that ballet though--interesting choreography with a beautiful classical line.

Also have to agree that I didn't quite understand the plot of "Slaughter..."--was enjoyable but didn't think it really worked as a separate piece. Saw Tara Hench as "girl"--didn't think she was quite voluptous enough (would've liked to have seen April Ball) and Zach Grubbs as "hoofer" who was likeable and I generally like but, well ballet dancers aren't all necessarily trained in "broadway" dancing--would be curious to know who was and wasn't previously trained to tap dance/soft shoe for both this and "Rodeo" (I vaguely remember reading Reagan Messer is--however I didn't get to see him in either)

In "Rodeo" Jennifer Gelfand was perfectly cast as the "cowgirl" and Viktor Plonikov was larger than life as the "Head Wrangler" Thought Christopher Budzynski did a great job as "Champion Roper" but would've like to have seen Reagan--particularly because I think he's one of the dancers whose contracts wasn't renewed and I'll miss him.
Daughter liked "Rodeo" best--certainly it's a happy little piece of old fashioned fun.

All in all wished they'd chosen a more Balanchine like piece of Balanchine choreography--particularly to compilment/contrast Wheeldon.

Did I mention those Citydance kids were great?

[ March 21, 2002, 01:15 PM: Message edited by: jbtlse ]

#15 bijoux

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Posted 21 March 2002 - 03:39 PM

Hello.I'm sorry I've been out of touch for a bit,But I wanted to add to the comments on Boston Ballets'"American Trilogy"I saw the program a couple of times because I wanted to see different dancers.I agree with bbfan about Michael Johnson.He was great as the Hoofer in "Slaughter",but I also saw Reagan Messer and Zach Grubbs who were equally enjoyable.Reagen danced the second show it think,and his tapping skills were fantastic.Zack gave a sort of Gene Kelly like performance when I saw the show last weekend.Another corps dancer who needs to be mentioned is Alexandra Kochis who was an adorable and feisty cow girl in Rodeo.As for Corybantic ,there were parts of the ballet that I really enjoyed,but I think some parts of it were a bit long.It is however the best piece of Christopher Wheeldons that Boston Ballet has danced. I can't say whether I enjoyed Rodeo or not.Unfortunately,it seems a bit dated.On the one hand,it is a piece of American ballet history and it is important for people to know the ballet exists,but I think it should have been on another program .The dancers did a fine job with what they were given,but somehow it just didn't quite fit.I think the company is looking good however.It will be a shame not to see some faces next season(namely Zack Grubbs and Reagen Messer),but I hope everyone is going onto something rewarding.I can't wait to see Madamme Butterfly in May....


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