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A Nureyev Tribute


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#1 Treefrog

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Posted 24 October 2004 - 07:35 PM

The Joffrey's fall season program, A Nureyev Tribute, closed today. We caught the final performance of these pieces that Nureyev once staged on or danced with the company: the Pas d'Action from Laurencia, Apollo, and Petrouchka. It was a stunning collection of different styles.

The energetic Laurencia pas showed off the Joffrey's attention to detail and line. It's impressive when you see three identical penchée arabesques, each dancer at exactly the same angle. Newcomer Ikolo Griffin danced the lead male role. His solo was electifying! "Where'd this guy come from?" we whispered back and forth, as he whipped off multiple sets of tours, alternating one set to the right and one to the left. (A little research here has informed me that he came from Dance Theater of Harlem; presumably the Joffrey snapped him up when DTH went "on hiatus".) Alas, his abundant charisma and charm evaporated before he next partnered the also-charming Julianne Kepley (who had turned in her own stunning solo). Giving her barely a glance, he continued to dance as though he were the center of attention. Very disappointing partnering, especially in the role of a groom who by all rights ought to be worshipping his bride (unless there is some background to the story I don't know).

I appreciated Apollo SO much more this go-around! First, the juxtaposition of Balanchine's choreography against the more classical Laurencia enhanced the contrast of styles, and enabled me to understand better what was different about Balanchine. I saw the shapes, the way the dancers' bodies interact. Second, the lighting that could be achieved in a dark theater made much more sense. When I saw this piece performed on the outdoor stage at Ravinia, Apollo was fully visible throughout the birth scene. How much more dramatic to have the spotlight die on Leto and suddenly reveal the fully-grown Apollo! Third, the cast had changed. Instead of the tall and admittedly godlike Fabrice Calmels, we had the diminutive and more experienced Calvin Kitten, who I thought conveyed a more complete vision of the young god maturing. His interaction with Terpsichore made sense.

Petrouchka ... well, this is another perverse advertisement for non-story ballets. I mean, really: a love triangle among dolls? We're supposed to relate to this? I guess I'd have to say I enjoyed it as spectacle, although the stage was not large enough to accomodate the fair scenes and the divertissements (I guess that's the right word?) literally got lost in the crowd. Extensive program notes explain Petrouchka's "superstitious terror of his creator and master, the showman. He beats the walls of his cell in revolt." Good thing I had this explanation, or the reason for his terror would have been lost on me. Anyway... I suspect that this is one of those ballets that is enhanced by an understanding of its place in ballet history. No doubt the choreography was innovative, and I'm guessing the tale would have been commonly known to the audience. What probably was a novel interpretation originally, comes across now as merely mystifying. Is there a message in this desperate beating of the cell walls? Is it a metaphor for the doll's entrapment in his inanimate body? Or, is it nothing more than his frustration at being imprisoned and kept apart from Columbine? What are we to make of the appearance of Petroushka's ghost?

#2 Helene

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Posted 24 October 2004 - 11:28 PM

Ikolo Griffin danced with San Francisco Ballet before Dance Theater of Harlem. IIRC, he trained at least partly at the SFB school.

#3 Jack Reed

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Posted 26 October 2004 - 01:21 PM

The best thing about Laurencia pas d'action for me was that the dancers were much less bothered by the pointlessly tricky choreography than I was. Like Treefrog, I really enjoyed how well it was danced. That was the point, I guess.

From Treefrog's comments, I would like to have seen Kitten's Apollo, not that Calmels was terrible (I saw the evening performance on the 23rd, Saturday), far from it; his grandly confident way, not to mention his physical stature, suits him to the role, but the whole performance still left a sense of wanting more to happen, as some of us said when talking about the Ravinia run. Victoria Jaiani's Terpsichore was again the closest to a full realization of the role, the others being more careful and held back, especially in contrast to the fullness of Laurencia.

I have some quibbles about the lighting, which certainly covered the Auditorium's stage, at least, but went greenish for the Muses' variations, and then lit the four figures on the steps to Mount Olympus at the end. The usual silhouetting better conveys the infinitude of the finale, IMO.

Speaking of finales, which is your favorite Apollo, the original, or the modified version? A friend and I decided, I think, the original ending is better but the birth scene is expendible, so we would like to have the stair but skip the brief first scene.

As for Petrouchka, I think it's supposed to overflow the stage! Anyway, I thought it was distinguished by Willy Shives's vivid realization of the title role. Maia Wilkins and Brian McSween gave good doll-dance portrayals of the Ballerina and the Blackamoor, but Shives gave his part more of a rag-doll quality; they were all as though "danced" by other forces, rather than, like the classical dancers of Laurencia, showing us their dance, but Shives's "Petrouchka" was all the more hopelessly, desperately pathetic for what he infused it with. For me, then, quite an achievement, and quite an experience, even a haunting one, in keeping with Benois's forecurtain and overall concept.

No, we don't identify with any of this! But, if we're susceptible, we may be given pause by it, as the fair crowd is when the "love triangle" erupts from the tent in the fourth tableau. How can these puppets act like this? Or are they just puppets? Hmm... How mysterious... And finally, we can be frightened by it, as the cynical Old Showman is by Petrouchka's ghost at the end. He's already shown the credulous crowd that what they saw struck down is just a puppet! But up there, over the theatre, berating him! How? What? In the theatre, we suspend disbelief sometimes, and we are taken in, in the good sense. Willingly, in my case.

And I want to add that I found Leslie Dunner's conducting of the two Stravinsky scores to be effective, especiall by contrast with the screechy recording of Apollo we had at Ravinia.

#4 Treefrog

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Posted 26 October 2004 - 04:00 PM

Jack, thank you for remembering to mention Dunning and the orchestra. The sound quality was of course much (MUCH) better than at Ravinia, but I also appreciated the interaction of dancers, orchestra, and audience.

At your performance, did Exec. Dir. Jon Teuwissen issue public, onstage thanks not only to funders but to Gerald Arpino? And did Arpino take a bow after Petroushka? Neither of these things have happened in past performances. We had many discussions about whether this means the board is supporting Arpino and trying to dispel rumors that his days are numbered (rumor published in the Chicago Tribune, page now unavailable), or whether this was a graceful way of saying his days ARE numbered, or some other interpretation entirely.

Let me also add how much I love having another Joffrey-goer here -- especially one with a more practiced eye and informed interpretation.

#5 Jack Reed

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Posted 28 October 2004 - 11:38 AM

Now that you mention it, I do vaguely remember a speech from the apron by a man in a suit holding a microphone, but I'm sure Arpino did not appear at any time. Speeches like the one you mention I tend to let go by me at the time, as they have more or less the opposite effect to, say, an overture, which whets our appetite; Arpino I would more likely have remembered, as he is the person whose judgement, presumably, primarily determines what we see.

But I think your being a little uninvolved with the performance points to some weakness in it; ideally, it should grip us by its effects, on its own, without our "help", and I seem to remember such performances by the Joffrey at City Center in New York in the 70's. Imagine, for example, if, at the end, Petrouchka's ghost doesn't just berate the old Charlatan, as he is sometimes called, but, on the last sequence of complaining trumpet notes, turns toward us, and, as the Charlatan steals off in fear, the ghost berates us directly, for thinking he is just a puppet. I don't recall this happening Saturday evening, and I don't recall seeing a policeman being called in earlier, when the crowd is concerned, and being satisfied that it was only a doll after all; the appearance of a cop underlines the seriousness of something that happens. But my memory is not perfect!

These are just examples, for me, of a performance of a big, psychologically sprawling work, that had some weak spots.

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 31 October 2004 - 06:41 PM

Imagine, for example, if, at the end, Petrouchka's ghost doesn't just berate the old Charlatan, as he is sometimes called, but, on the last sequence of complaining trumpet notes, turns toward us, and, as the Charlatan steals off in fear, the ghost berates us directly, for thinking he is just a puppet.  I don't recall this happening Saturday evening, and I don't recall seeing a policeman being called in earlier, when the crowd is concerned, and being satisfied that it was only a doll after all; the appearance of a cop underlines the seriousness of something that happens.  But my memory is not perfect! 

These are just examples, for me, of a performance of a big, psychologically sprawling work, that had some weak spots.

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A little rhythm on the Joffrey staging of Petrouchka. The initial staging of the work was by Leonide Massine, but the Fokine Estate raised so much hell that Massine had to be set aside in favor of Yurek Lasowsky, a distinguished interpreter of the role approved of by the Fokine family. Massine and Fokine had, in life, been at considerable loggerheads, even though the Denham Ballet Russe, which owned the rights to the ballet, cast Massine in the title role, and his performance was the one that Robert Joffrey had first seen as a child in Seattle. The ballet master, who kept the Joffrey's version true once it was set, was Basil Thompson, who had learned the work in the Royal Ballet's setting of it, by Serge Grigoriev, who had been in a position to know. Mr. Thompson fulfilled the validation of this current production, as well. But occasionally, Mr. Joffrey would insist on little details that were true to Massine, but perhaps nobody else as a gesture of respect for him, as Joffrey had been a "crowd child" among the supers in Ballet Russe. And there were costume variations over the years. Sometimes the cop was just a night watchman, with his Napoleonic bell shako and a lantern slung over his halberd. He was played as a VERY old man, probably a Napoleonic veteran! Other times, the policeman was in blue with a crested helmet, and a much younger man, but still magnificently mustachioed.
Petrouchka always cursed the Charlatan, but sometimes he then faced straight out to the audience, sometimes he raged to heaven.

#7 sandik

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Posted 02 November 2004 - 09:12 AM

A little rhythm on the Joffrey staging of Petrouchka.  ... But occasionally, Mr. Joffrey would insist on little details that were true to Massine, but perhaps nobody else as a gesture of respect for him, as Joffrey had been a "crowd child" among the supers in Ballet Russe.  And there were costume variations over the years.  Sometimes the cop was just a night watchman, with his Napoleonic bell shako and a lantern slung over his halberd.  He was played as a VERY old man, probably a Napoleonic veteran!  Other times, the policeman was in blue with a crested helmet, and a much younger man, but still magnificently mustachioed.
Petrouchka always cursed the Charlatan, but sometimes he then faced straight out to the audience, sometimes he raged to heaven.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I know that these are the elements that are the hardest to maintain over time, since they were themselves so maliable in the original productions, but I am a sucker for detail, and wish we saw these ballets more often, if only for these little moments.


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