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Balanchine Centennial ProgramSeptember 8, 9 & 10, 2004 at Ravinia


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#1 Jack Reed

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Posted 15 September 2004 - 02:47 PM

The Joffrey Ballet presented an all-Balanchine program at Ravinia Park, the summer location of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, consisting of Apollo, a company premiere staged by Paul Boos with coaching of Polyhymnia and Terpsichore by Maria Tallchief, as we learned; Tchaikovsky pas de deux, staged, along with the rest of the program, by Victoria Simon; Tarantella; and their hybrid Square Dance, including the new movement, added by Balanchine in the 70s, among the original ones performed with the original onstage orchestra and square-dance caller. I picked the September 9th performance to attend because Maria Tallchief was scheduled to appear on a panel before the performance that evening.

She came in on the arm of Gerald Arpino, the Joffrey's Artistic Director; Adam Sklute, one of the Company's two Assistant Artistic Directors, and Welz Kaufman, described in the performance program as a pianist who is in his spare time the Ravinia Festival's Chief Executive Officer, and who "moderated" the panel by asking questions when the others ran out of things to say, were the others.

Tallchief said she first danced Apollo in 1947. She knew in high school that she wanted to be a ballet dancer, and so she learned French, but Michel Renault, who didn't understand English, couldn't understand the counts or anything else she said.

Arpino said that he went into dance against his family's wishes. Maria was the greatest, one of his greatest favorites. He works topically from the news of the day, he said, and did a work about the wrongful execution of a man.

Tallchief: It was beautifully done.

Arpino: Bob [Robert Joffrey] and I were students at the School of American Ballet. Maria said not to tell this story tonight [Tallchief made a fist and frowned at him, then smiled at us] but one day she came in with an armful of toe shoes and said, Take these back! There's not one I can wear!

Tallchief: I started with Nijinska who told me when I finished, don't go to the back, come to the front and see what your friends do, and it was beautiful! ... George never talked about ballet. If you talked about it, he would talk about cooking... He was first a musician, and a poet. [recalled her variation in Orpheus, singing some of it]

Balanchine commissioned Firebird Suite so Stravinsky could make some money. George said, Never choreograph in class, but when he started giving me steps for Firebird, I thought, these steps are familiar; he'd been giving them in class... We started rehearsing Firebird at 6AM, but poor Frank Moncion was not a morning person. Balanchine underlit the Chagall backdrop "because otherwise we won't see you".

Sklute: Maria coached our dancers in Apollo; afterward, they said, When is she coming back? They were like sponges, they soaked it up and wanted more.

This program is purposely eclectic, as Mr. Arpino has preferred, and it shows Balanchine's range, especially Apollo, which is very different from the others.

Tallchief: Agnes deMille gave me my name. I was Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief. She came backstage and suggested the change. Colonel Denham wanted me to be Tallchieva. [audience laughter] Cyd Charisse still knows me as Betty Marie.

Arpino: Mr. B. was very generous. He gave us two struggling guys trying to make a company some ballets, including costumes, free of charge.

Tallchief: He was a marvelous cook.

Whether because she had warmed to her subject or had been energized by our applause or for some other reason, Maria Tallchief needed the help of no one's arm leaving the stage.

Edited by Jack Reed, 30 December 2004 - 02:21 PM.


#2 Treefrog

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Posted 18 September 2004 - 06:34 PM

Nice summary of the panel, Jack. It captures the flavor beautifully.

What did you think of the dancing?

#3 Jack Reed

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 01:00 PM

Thanks for the compliment, Treefrog. Since you were there, too, evidently, would you like to add any details I missed? And what did you think of the dancing?

Briefly, I thought it creditable but a little lackluster, not particularly concealing the strengths of the ballets as I have sometimes seen but not realizing them to anything like the degree I have sometimes seen, either. But then, I saw maybe 40 performances a year of Balanchine's company from 1973-1986! (Do those improve in memory as time goes by? No, the video evidence, which I rarely get to treat myself to, always serves as a confirmation.) Quite frankly, I enjoyed Tchaikovsky pas de deux more with Ballet Chicago's dancers, who happened to have better tempos on their recording, among other things. More when I have a chance.

#4 kfw

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 06:57 PM

More when I have a chance.

Great stuff, Jack. Thanks a lot.

#5 aspirant

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Posted 24 September 2004 - 04:34 PM

The young Apollo of the Friday evening performance made me revisit the dark/fair question again. There is no question that Fabrice Camels is appolonian in stature (approaching 6'5" I think, but I was way in the back) but he casts the opposite shadow that Martins did with his Danish locks. He was, nonetheless, quite confident and appropriately quiet at the right moments.

I really enjoy square dance with the caller. I think that we often forget it is okay to laugh at the ballet, and adding bits about President Bush amdist the rants were fine by me! I also think that Square Dance should be reserved for summer season, outdoor performances. There is something to be said for mirth mixed with the flying creatures and a warm, breezy evening that makes this ballet more than simply a gorgeous demonstration of technique.

Tarentella was pretty spunky, each of them trying to outdo the other (as is appropriate in this case). I think that Wilkins is a gem in character roles. I wonder how much Simon was influenced by her time in Copenhagen last semester or if it was just the Napoli-esque costumes that had my mind thinking Bournonville.

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 25 September 2004 - 04:25 AM

We should always remember that Balanchine worked in Denmark in the early 30s. :FIREdevil:

#7 Jack Reed

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 12:42 PM

Indeed, Mel, and that Simon has been staging his works for decades.

I think part of my problem with the performances, to the extent I had one, was that although I was in the center section, I had to sit 30 rows from the stage, and this distance reduces the effect. On the other hand, I was a few rows farther in 1990, when I saw MCB dance Apollo(along with Tarantella and Square Dance!), and I found those more satisfying, even though they were closer in time to my heavy attendance at NYCB, and should have suffered by that comparison.

But the Joffrey dancers avoided the static sort of performance ABT gave of Apollo in the late 80s; that was like, here we do this and then we go over here and then we do that. The Joffrey dancers' performace flowed well, for much better effect than ABT's cast had achieved; and some of Victoria Jaiani's sequences were especially "large" and effective in her variation as Terpsichore.

In regard to Tchaikovsky pas de deux I might add that I had a perfect seat for Ballet Chicago's performances this June, but Alicia Fabry's clearly shaped and outlined and strongly phrased dancing with everything beautifully finished, ornamented without mannerism or obscuration, was the main reason I found their performances such a rich experience.

When the Ravinia Festival Special train the ticket seller had said would arrive soon after the performance failed to arrive - yes, Ravinia is the place conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos is supposed to have described as the only train station with its own concert hall - I shared a taxi part way home. One of my companions thought Tarantella was the best danced item on the program, and I think it was in terms of clarity and wit - Heather Aagard getting some laughs making Mr. B's droll sequences very clear - if not in passion: It was an anticlimax at the end to see her wait by the wing for John Gluckman to kiss her on the neck like a timid boy instead of taking her by surprise and rushing her off as though to have his way with her as Edward Villella had done with Patricia McBride.

(Is it unfair to make this kind of comparison? I only know one standard, and if a performance doesn't hit the top mark, it's still as good as it is, and I think fans deserve this kind of detail. Sometimes comparison reveals more in both parts of it than we would otherwise get, by considering them only in isolation.)

Square Dance is harder for me to get to with the Caller's interference, and Brian McSween's delivery was less rhythmic and inflected than I would have liked, too, though I also enjoyed some of the gags. (Dancers don't speak as a rule, so McSween may have been out of his element.) I'm one of those who prefers the purity and clarity of the revised version, but there was a lot of clearly executed dancing to enjoy here. It was led by Jennifer Goodman and Calvin Kitten; Kitten's jumps came with quiet landings, as had Shives's and Gluckman's, FWIW. The live onstage string orchestra brought me relief from the shrill amplification earlier in the evening, but Kevin Dreyer's lighting was inadequate at the sides of the stage all evening. (Does Ravinia lack enough electricity?)

Edited by Jack Reed, 30 September 2004 - 11:08 AM.


#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 04:51 PM

Indeed, Mel, and that Simon has been staging his works for decades.

But not as far back as the original cast, of which, If I remember correctly, she was a part. Nor as far back as when she danced as a guest artist with my old civic company. Further, "Tarantella" and "Square Dance" are part of the same "Americana" genre that Balanchine adopted with "Stars and Stripes" and "Western Symphony" among others. Louis Gottschalk was America's first virtuoso pianist/composer - his hands must have been huge, some of his chords span a twelfth. He is also featured by Bournonville in the ballet Far from Denmark, with the playing of "Le Bananier" for the "American West Indians". However, to mistake "Tarantella" for hommage to Napoli would, I think be an error. It may have entered into Balanchine's thinking, but I don't think that was very uppermost in his mind.

Part of the show was to star Edward Villella's great physicality as an American dancer, and nobody I have seen since has quite come up to the kinds of performances he gave (I saw the third performance of the work, given at City Center). Even Mikhail Baryshnikov didn't do it the Villella way, but that didn't make the performances any less valuable to have seen. Do I also recall Gen Horiuchi dancing it? I seem to remember seeing him do it, and enjoying the performance very much, and the same to be said of the times Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux did Villella's role(s).

In the same sort of way as you, however, I find that I cannot enjoy "Square Dance" in its reconfigured form without the rail fence and the caller. I saw it with Wilde and Magallanes and Elisha Keeler, Jr. providing the necessary calls. The Sarabande, a variation for a danseur noble, sticks out like a sore thumb alongside the rest of the choreography. But it did give the male dancer something more to do, as people had been urging Mr. B. for years. The problem was his perversity, and in giving the male dancer the wrong sort of thing to do.

"Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" is problematical when one speaks of "standards" and tempi. I have seen I don't know how many couples do it, from d'Amboise and Hayden, through Villella and McBride, and Prokovsky and Verdy (in a memorable 3-night succession in 1968) down through the ranks of soloists and the corps and to senior students from the School of American Ballet. They have all been different, even after the ballet was somewhat "frozen" by the Trust, and all enjoyable on their own terms. Incidentally, the Joffrey uses the recording of tempi mandated by the Trust; I do not know what Danny Duell's relationship to the musical part of the "authorized staging" is, but he is a most musical dancer, as he first impressed me in Bess Saylor's "Seaborne" as a thirteen-year-old in Dayton.

Not having seen the performances in question, I cannot comment knowledgably about their quality, but I certainly can and do take exception to the criteria by which they are judged.

#9 Treefrog

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 08:18 PM

Jack, sadly no, I was not at the lecture. I'm sorry if I gave that impression.

We attended the previous evening. Believe it or not, this is the first time I saw any Balanchine choreography! So of course, I cannot compare this performance to any other, and I lack your knowledgeable eye.

Despite the critics' raves for Apollo, I found it rather tepid. Is Apollo supposed to project such a disinterested, detached mien? I thought he was supposed to be captivated by Terpsichore?

I thought Square Dance was really cool. I loved the juxtaposition of classical music and choreography with the square dance figures. I did not mind the caller; in fact, since it was the contrast that so captivated me, I thought it really enhanced the effect. I wonder if one's opinion on this is affect by one's own experience? I have done some square- and contra-dancing in my day, so it created a kind of visceral response.

Tarantella was stupendous. When I saw the casting, I was amused at the pairing of Maia Wilkins with Calvin Kitten. But why not? Both are charismatic, explosive -- but nuanced -- dancers, and they played off each other brilliantly. Great fun.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 03:48 AM

Part of the aesthetic of "Apollo" is 1920s Parisian chic; Apollo as lounge lizard. There are all sorts of ways of interpreting the part and the entire ballet, but the spareness and ethereality of the participants is in direct contrast to the first staging of the work, with choreography by Adolph Bolm and a world view of the 17th-century ballet de cour. Stravinsky was unhappy with it, and was grumbling to anybody who'd listen, "No more ballets!" Balanchine was trying to woo him back into the fold, rather than lose him to heaven-knows-what if he hadn't continued to compose for dance.

#11 Helene

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 09:21 AM

Do I also recall Gen Horiuchi dancing it? 

Horiuchi was cast in the ballet consistently from 1983 to 1992. He danced ten of the twelve performances I saw during that time, six with Katrina Killian (83-92), one with Susan Gluck (83), one with Stacy Caddell (87), one with Margaret Tracey (89), and one with Kelly Cass. Peter Boal was the only other man I saw perform the role at NYCB (88 and 90) during that time, both with Nichol Hlinka.


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