MCB First Program, Donizetti Variations,Prodigal Son, Quick-Step"
Posted 13 November 2005 - 12:59 PM
Posted 14 November 2005 - 07:53 PM
Ordinarily I try to be a little more analytical, but when someone asked me whether I liked Friday evening's performance of Donizetti Variations, what came to mind was, Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow! This performance of this ballet was such a high! Like a souffle'. Except for the girl's "impromptu" solo beginning the trumpt-solo part, and, seeing the Villellas unengaged at intermission, I went over to find out who had had the role: Charlene Cohen. "It's the hardest part to get right," Villella said. "When you tell a joke, you have to set it up." Marjorie Spohn (in the seventies or eighties) had first gone around the stage waving her hand in front of several of the frozen dancers with their faces in their elbows to verify that none of them could see anything, before she came downstage and showed off, "hurting" her foot at the the end before taking her place in the group again. "I tell them, but they rush into it." They're all go, I offered.
"This ballet can be such a mess," Linda Villella said. A souffle' can be a hot pudding, I ventured. She smiled, and Villella slumped, pantomiming a falling souffle'. She turned to her husband. "I never liked it until I saw you guys do it last weekend [in Miami Beach]." Now what can I add to that?
Well, I can add that this sensational performance - in good, quick tempos, too - was led by Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado, as light, clear and quick and as joy-inducing as one could wish. The whole cast was like that, really, that's what kept this souffle' up, but these two... What exhiliration! What a high!
Then, something not a high at all: Prodigal Son, with Luis Serrano in the title role and Jennifer Kronenberg realizing the role of the Siren with such consistentely cool command, carried right through the applause afterward, that some of us thought the ballet could have been called The Siren. Of course, with her beautiful long legs clad in white, Kronenberg would command attention as soon as she appeared, but it was her cool efficiency in her role, not to mention her largeness of gesture which must have reached the back of the house, that held our attention, and also helped us to empathize with the Prodigal's fascination with her, poor guy: Not until too late did he begin to grasp what had hit him, and after performing earlier in a way that seemed to me a little "lite" compared to Villella himself and certainly to Baryshnikov on the video, while nevertheless faithfully showing the myriad details in this huge role which not only carry the story but make the Prodigal's internal conflicts and energies external so we can see them and be involved, Serrano produced a sequence of movement at the end of his despoliation which made his character genuinely pitiable, so that the subdued applause after he crawls off stage could be taken as an expression of our pity: Again the word wow came to me, but just once, slowly, and much lower on the pitch scale: This innocent guy has really been brought low, and witnesses to that can hardly celebrate it.
The Drinking Companions were very effective too, in their really repulsive way, earning the characterizations of them in Balanchine's remarks in his Complete Stories as eels and insects. A really creepy crew, although for the record I will report that their last apearance in back-to-back pairs, skittering across the stage with legs nearly straight, was less effective than I have seen with legs bent to bring thighs horizontal. Harder, I guess, but underlining the strangeness of these icky creatures. Otherwise, superbly realized.
Then, to provide the evening with an upbeat ending (much needed by some sitting near me), Villella's own "The Quick-Step: Unspeakable Jazz Must Go!" To a score based on popular dance tunes of the twenties, Villella has made what seems like mostly an ensemble ballet, layering the stage with action while keeping it all clearly visible and never once making his dancers look bad, which is more than I can say for some better-known contemporary choreographers. But the duets and so on which take place downstage against this swarming backdrop alternate brilliant sequences with uninspired ones, as far as I can see.
But what dancing! When you recognise the dances of the twenties, you see them performed by these dancers with an enlarging clarity and sharpness social dancers of that era might have dreamed of, and then you see things they probably never even dreamed of, and then you see things you don't believe and think maybe you're dreaming - or halucinating - right now!
Most of the large cast is already on stage, in a speakeasy, when the curtain rises, and "Kiki, a Jazz Age Flapper" is downstage center. Is that Mary Carmen Catoya? In a black wig with bangs? When she starts to move, she eliminates all uncertainty. Her "Suitor" is Luis Serrano, magically recovered from his tragedy. Their best number for me was "Ain't She Sweet?" "Two Young Women" were Marc Spielberger and Jeremy Cox. Aha! (Speaking of maintaining roles through the applause, one of these "gals" delightedly accepts two bouquets to the foot-stamping frustration of the other: "That one's mine! You...") The piece ends with a rousing rendition of Black Bottom by the entire ensemble; with both Catoya and Kronenberg onstage at the same time, I had trouble deciding where to look.
Posted 14 November 2005 - 08:20 PM
All of the performances of the Donizetti Variations delighted me. Mary Carmen Catoya was enchanting. Renato Penteado performed in Miami and on Friday in Broward. His technical skills are superb. At the Saturday evening peformance Katia Carranza and Mikhail Ilyin danced the principal roles. Mikhail was excellent. Katia was very good but I had been spoiled by Mary Camen. Jeanette Delgado (Miami and Friday night in Broward) danced with an enthusiasm and energy which seemed to raise the efforts of the other ladies. (The Saturday evening performance in Broward didn't have quite the same energy or precision without her.) The performances of Marc Spielberger, Didier Bramaz and Jeremy Cox were wonderfully crisp, strong and precise.
I should add that I love the choreography of Bournonville. (The program notes predominantly refer to the Italian influence but I feel they fail to sufficiently acknowedge the strong Bournonville style which permeates the work.) The equality of the male and female roles, the costumes, and the more grounded style of the dancing (Bournonville's influence) were a sheer delight to watch.
Prodigal Son (I only saw the two Broward perfomances) was extremely well done. Sadly I never saw Edward dance this role so cannot make the comparison. I did hear others who had seen him say he was incomparable. However, both Luis Serrano (Friday) and Renato Penteado (Saturday) performed with passion, sincerity, and skill and tears came to my eyes at the end of both performances. Jennifer Kronenberg as the Siren was simply without equal. There simply aren't words to describe her incredible skill and grace. I leave it to you to attempt the description after you've seen her. Andrea Spiridonakos danced the Siren on Saturday evening and was quite up to the role but, like Mary Carmen before Katia, she had a tough act to follow.
Quick Step - Unspeakable Jazz Must Go is simply a romp! Again Mary Carmen (Kiki) steals the show for me. Carlos Guerra (the Poet), Luis Serrano (the Suitor) were excellent. Marc Spielberger and Jeremy Cox (the Two Young Women) were uproariously funny and the audience gave them the acknowledgement they deserved. The entire cast performs this work with such energy and enjoyment that you can't resist smiling, laughing, tapping your feet and thrilling to every moment.
I could easily continue but, by the time I finish, you will have missed next week's shows.
Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Posted 15 November 2005 - 04:32 PM
When I think of the ballets in this program, I tend to "see" (and feel the effect of) the very charismatic and individual dancers I saw in these roles long ago. Hayden -- and Mazzo? -- in Donizetti. Villella in both Donizetti and Prodigal Son, with Adams and later with Farrell as his Sirens in the latter. (I wish I could warm up to the video of Baryshnikov and von Aroldingen.)
Now I'm hoping Catoya and Kronenberg will be in one of the performances we have tickets for. Hayden is really etched in my visual memory in Donizetti. Catoya is smaller, lighter, and probably faster. I love her dancing, but her petite figure is sometimes overpowered by the the largeness of corps formations behind her. Kronenburg is has a mesmerising stage presence even in repose -- and without any apparent attempt to act a part. The profound lack of affect of the Siren, who moves without seeming to think or care why, is similar to the Sleepwalker in Sonnambula, which Kronenberg did so well last season.
I wish Villella could encourage his men to express more feeling on stage. Of the males I've seen with MCB over the past 4 seasons, Isanusi Garcia-Rodrigues would seem to have the best personality for the Son. I'd love to see what Villella would have done with him. But Garcia-Rodriguez left to join the "new" Gamonet/Maximum Dance company. Oddly, Jeremy Cox, who usually appears in lighter and carefree kinds of roles, is the only dancer since the Garcia-Rodrdiguez's deparature who seems able to throw himself into a character and inhabit it completly. But a Prodigal Son he is not.
Posted 15 November 2005 - 08:57 PM
Posted 16 November 2005 - 11:38 AM
Saturday afternoon's high point for me was the appearance of Deanna Seay and Kenta Shimizu in Donizetti Variations. I found Seay's dancing delicious all the way through, showing us in her usual luxurious way - I mean her glowing combination of softness and clarity, not slowing anything, which she couldn't do anyway, dancing to the same recording as everyone else - for example, held by her partner in the adagio, the series of turns alternating passe' with little plie' hops, or near the end of her variation she comes down a diagonal from the center alternating pas de chat with little beats. I'm not completely sure I have the terms right here, but seeing her do the steps again in memory, I feel I can use with certainty words like delicate, subtle, and - well - tasty! So, Bart, I hope you get this confection served by these two - Shimizu was very, very fine, and evidently everything Seay needed; as usual with MCB, the partnering always looked perfect to me - and the first cast. I wouldn't choose between them. The joke beginning the trumpet-solo part was done this time by Allyne Noelle but still lacked the set-up it needed. I don't mean to make a big thing of this, because it isn't a big thing, but in a performance on such a high level as this one - this looks like the same company that gave the sensational performances of Ballet Imperial there last Spring - any flaw will stick out more than in a performance with major or continual problems.
Prodigal needed some seasoning. Mikhail Ilyin began larger, higher, and wowed the matinee audience, but there were many times he seemed to go a little blank, as though wondering how to do the next thing. Maybe this was a debut, or an early performance. His Siren was Emilie Fouilloux, a little wobbly most of the way through I'm sorry to say, though otherwise looking under control, but I learned later this was a debut, and considering the size of the role, not a terrible one at all. And I want to mention this time Mikhail Nikitine, who performed The Father on all four programs with quietly powerful dignity, and gravity, not to mention looking the part exactly. And I think this production returns some dances for The Servants which Balanchine omitted for the 1978 or 1979 "Dance in America" video.
In The Quick Step, Katia Carranza took over the role of Kiki and Haiyan Wu took over half the Speakeasy couple, to lesser effect than Catoya and Kronenberg, respectively, but still very effective; in particular, this was the warmest dancing I have seen by Wu, who usually impresses me as a cool, accomplished perfectionist. Actually, everybody lets the energy flow in this one.
Saturday evening brought Carranza's lovely, fully achieved perfomance in Donizetti with Ilyin, who was appropriately contained most of the time, giving his partner elevation this time, but I think this still needs some seasoning. The trumpet joke got a setup which seemed to me so wrong-headed - she acted annoyed and impatient - that I didn't bother to determine who did it. Never mind, this was a superb performance of a wonderful little ballet, and even if it was just discernably less effective than the two preceding ones, it was still a joy to watch.
Renato Penteado took over the title role in Prodigal with cumulative flow and effect; Andrea Spiridonakos gave her second performance as The Siren, an assured one, but not so much so as Kronenberg's had been: When we watch theatre, we're sometimes aware of our suspension of disbelief - we can see both the performer and the role, especially if the performer is struggling or not comfortable in the role, and we go for the role, a kind of magical presence invoked by an effective performer, but watching Kronenberg's Siren, we just sense how she - the Siren - takes over the place - there's not two parts to it any more. It's like tired hype to say it, but when Kronenberg dances it, she is the Siren, like it's not a performance of something any more. (Like you say, bart.)
I got my favorite cast in The Quick-Step, Catoya and Kronenberg, although there was that problem of which one do you watch when they're both on view (I wish all life's problems were so nice!), but in what became my favorite number, "Ain't She Sweet?" I realized how well some of the missing words (the arrangements are instrumental) could be applied to Catoya's dancing there: Just cast an eye/ in her direc-tion/ oh me, oh my/ ain't she perfec-tion? Am I getting really to like this slight, busy ballet? Nah! Couldn't be! But I do have fun watching the dancers have fun with it.
Posted 16 November 2005 - 12:53 PM
I am delighted that Villella saw something that led him to cast Cox in this part. AND that I have the chance to eat my own words.
Callie Manning as the Siren is an unexpected choice, too. Manning always catches my eye, and especially held her own dramatically as the Coquette in Sonnambula last season. And she was lovely in Elegie a couple of seasons ago. I wish that the MCB schedule allowed more performances to all its soloists, so that they had the time to develop in these roles. I am also impressed by Villella's willingness to give younger dancers a chance by casting major roles from the corps.
I hope also to see the Seay/Shimizu Donizetti. For some reason I've missed out on Seay perfomrances in West Palm. I did see her at rehearsal during a studio tour and was impressed. I first noticed this slight and very still young woman observing the coach from the back. The coach was then working with other dancers, the first cast I presume. Then, as soon as Seay began to move, her stillness was replaced by an intensity of spirit and total commitment to her dancing. The transformation was complete, instantaneous -- and extraordinary.
Posted 16 November 2005 - 04:51 PM
Posted 16 November 2005 - 08:57 PM
And yes, Deanna Seay's performances are something to watch out for, if you can.
Posted 18 November 2005 - 02:20 PM
When I looked at my cast sheet and saw Jeremy Cox as The Prodigal Son I wondered. With his fresh face and short, light hair, which looks like a crew cut from where I sit, he has only to step onstage to look the young innocent. As it happened, the energy - in the famous jumps and turns and other fast movement - with which he attacked his first scene seemed to me carried to the point of making it a little clipped or snapped and may have slightly obscured his portrayal of the Prodigal's conflicted character at first, although it was physically pretty impressive in itself, but at the moment he confronts his entering father, and draws back slowly, Cox's movement conveys well the Prodigal's embarrassment. As it turned out, this moment was a harbinger of a powerfully effective performance to come, really well acted and danced large: When he first walked in in scene two, every moment conveyed clearly, without being overdone, the Prodigal's changing feelings about his experiences there, culminating with the long, slow last sequence. This was, if I may say so, something like Kronenberg's becoming The Siren in Friday's performance (Manning's strong performance didn't seem to me to quite reach Kronenberg's standard in that role).
And when he crawled back in in the last scene, I noticed that his considerable dramatic intelligence extended to the most effective body makeup of the four dancers who took the role, in that Cox had "bloodied" his knees and elbows, as we might see on some one who had to crawl around. And then that final sequence across the stage, with his joy at having returned home, his fear of his father's rejection, his expression of self-denial as he crawls on his knees toward his father all made quite vivid and moving; made real before us.
And all Cox needed apparently was the intermission to catch his breath and change costumes - into a pink dress! Now there's a transition - and show us again his talent for light farce as one of the Two Young Women in The Quick Step. Fresh-faced kid? A real comer, I think!
So I'm glad to agree, bart, that there is great depth in this company, and while I find joy and excitement in remembering the actual on-stage evidence of that fact, it's a little tinged with regret that more people don't know about and appreciate this company. I think there are some reasons for that, but imagining what might be done about it, I wonder how feasible it would be for MCB to make and sell DVD's of their programs, advertised by video clips on their website. On other forums here on BT I've read of individual dancers (elsewhere) posting such material, although I haven't actually checked it out, so I'm curious about what's involved. Let us know what you see!
Posted 21 November 2005 - 05:27 AM
I'm talked out, but I'll resort to pantomime to describe my overall reaction to the well-balanced, program and the wonderful dancing:
I posted some disorganized impressions on Anything Goes ("Ballet Marathons").
Any thoughts or impressions -- criticism or praise -- from other members of the auddience?
Posted 28 November 2005 - 07:30 PM
Edited by Jack Reed, 30 November 2005 - 02:14 PM.
Posted 29 November 2005 - 10:06 PM
( for a West Coast visit from MCB)
Posted 01 December 2005 - 08:56 PM
Helene, on Nov 30 2005, 01:06 AM, said:
( for a West Coast visit from MCB)
MCB does have a West Coast visit planned for the end of June '07 in LA!!!!
I'm not sure of the programs but I think they include 9 Sinatra Songs,
Stravinski Violin Concerto, and possibly Dances at a Gathering!
Posted 02 December 2005 - 12:23 PM
Program A (6/30 and 7/1): Fancy Free (Robbins), 9 Sinatra Songs (Tharp), Stravinsky Violin Concerto (Balanchine)
Program B (7/2) Dances at a Gathering (Robbins), Slaughter on 10th Avenue (Balanchine).
I wonder how they will cast it. There's great depth of talent in just about every role, so no one should be disappointed.
Dances at a Gathering gets its first company performances during the regular Program II in January-February.
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