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SFB To Perform Don Quixote at Edinburgh FestivalSuzanne Farrell Ballet...August 2006


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#16 Jack Reed

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Posted 01 August 2006 - 01:17 PM

Many thanks, Lynette H! Just what I need to know, that confirms and adds to some of the bits I've been finding on the Web, and explains why most of the front of the Circle is so well sold.

#17 Watermill

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 07:51 AM

I have unexpectedly had to cancel my trip to Edinburgh. I am selling two single tickets for Don Q. They are both very good as I purchased them months ago. Mon Aug 28 front row Balcony a little to the side.
Tues Aug 29 Orch center row N. PM me if interested.

#18 Farrell Fan

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Posted 17 August 2006 - 09:26 AM

Sorry you won't be going, Watermill. I was looking forward to your reports.

#19 Jack Reed

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Posted 27 August 2006 - 02:29 AM

(from Edinburgh, Scotland) The run got off to a slightly bumpy start last night, except of course for when the dancers themselves were in action, but before I get into that, let me tell you who the main ones were:

Don Quixote Momchil Mladenov
Dulcinea, Marcela Heather Ogden
Sancho Panza Eric Ragan

Juggler Jared Redick

Rigaudon Flamenco Erin Mahoney-Du and Runqiao Du
Danza alla Caccia Shannon Parsley, Benjamin Lester, Andrew Kaminski
Pas de Deux Mauresque Chan Hon Goh and Jared Redick
Courante Sicilienne Gina Artese, Melissa Barak, Elisabeth Holowchuk,
Alexei Agoudine, Radoslav Kokoszka, Neil Marshall
Ritournel Bonnie Pickard with Lauren Herfindahl

Knight of the Silver Moon Runqiao Du
Solo Maidens Shannon Parsley, Bonnie Pickard
Cavaliers Matthew Prescott, Jared Redick
Variation I Bonnie Pickard
Variation II Shannon Parsley
Variation III Jared Redick
VariationIV Heather Ogden
Merlin Benjamin Lester
Night Spirit Erin Mahoney-Du

The production was slightly reduced compared to Washington, owing to the smaller stage in the Edinburgh Playhouse, with fewer books in the Don's study; thus Marcela's Pieta (?) poses are done on the stairway, and Sancho Panza enters from the back instead of tottering charmingly down the stairway, and the red-eyed monster was absent entirely from III ii.

But the dancing! The dancing was present in every sense: When the villagers get into it in I ii, I start to think, "opera ballet", but it's better than that, it's better made and better danced than any opera ballet I ever saw. Easy, high extensions, large, clear, flowing, strong. And this part was another harbinger of the high level of the whole evening, the first being Mladenov's Don. In the first performances in Washington, I thought he grew into and filled out this huge role as the week rolled on, but here his first moves were a full realization of this energetic - driven, even - dignified yet naive old man; and Ogden as Marcela moved about his study fully in character from the start, too. (Robert Gottlieb, in his review of the premier, criticises Mladenov as sometimes "busy," but Nabokov's music is pretty busy too; what's Mladenov got to work from?)

Besides Ogden, whose phone number one gentleman I spoke to at the first interval already wanted, Mahoney-Du and Goh were the great standouts in this fine company, at least from my distance half-way back in the Circle (or First Balcony); Parsley and Pickard were excellent, too. (The generally attentive audience included a young woman behind me who said, just after the Mauresque "I liked that!") I was glad to see both again, especially after Mahoney-Du's (minor) injury at Jacob's Pillow and Goh's long absence, but even if I'd never seen them before I would have enjoyed their dancing hugely. That's the right word, I think, because the effect of their dancing was large across the distance, it seemed to eliminate distance, and yet it was contained and beautiful, especially Goh's. (I want to say more about Ogden's dancing of her large role, and I hope some language adequate to the job will occur to me soon.)

As to the (minor) problems, the start of the long evening was delayed a quarter of an hour while "a minor medical problem" was dealt with; the sight lines in this former cinema being a little marginal for the stage action, I couldn't tell what that was, and for the same reason I missed completely the period of several minutes when the very fine "Orchestra of Scottish Opera" played on just fine with one section in the dark (but I heard about it later).

#20 Farrell Fan

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Posted 27 August 2006 - 07:37 AM

Thanks, Jack! I'd been looking forward eagerly to this first report, and you did not disappoint! It's great to have the complete list of dancers of this wonderful company -- including the newly returned Chan Hon Goh and the apparently just arrived Melissa Barak. I don't want to get carried away, but the phrase "All-Star Company" did cross my mind. A toast to you (single malt, of course), Edinburgh, Ballet Talk, the SFB, and Suzanne!

#21 Jack Reed

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 06:51 AM

(from Edinburgh, Scotland) Sunday's matinee (27 August) brought Natalia Magnicaballi into the Dulcinea/ Marcela role, Matthew Prescott into the Juggler role, and Bonnie Pickard and Erin Mahoney-Du exchanged Rigaudon Flamenco and Ritournel, with Andre Vytoptov partnering Pickard and Gillian Crighton accompanying Mahoney-Du. (The Ritournel role is a solo; a small child, behind the dancer, moves around to keep a half-umbrella of pink ostrich feathers over her head. Crighton, even smaller than Lauren Herfindahl in the first cast, was warmly received onstage by the matinee audience, which then promptly fell to attending the dance itself.)

I was delighted with Magnicaballi's dancing: Wonderfully clearly articulated in continuous flow to cumulative effect, her movement was deliciously phrased, in place and through space. "Breathtaking," I wrote in my program, and I remembered what my professional friend said at Jacob's Pillow after seeing Magnicaballi's Tzigane: "Magnicaballi was a beautiful dancer when I saw her a couple of years ago, and now she's better." In both roles, she makes characterization grow out of the moment in a competely natural-looking way.

I'm sorry to say that Matthew Prescott was not always in control of the sitation this time, in a short quick-moving role which requires a bit of catch with Sancho Panza, some juggling with three pieces of fruit, and some jumps; Prescott kept impressive line in turning leaps, but back on the ground the fruit tended to get away from him. Redick makes this little character bit exude flavor continuously, but Prescott needs to cook it some more.

Mahoney-Du is a taller, longer-limbed dancer than Pickard and makes the Ritournel more expansive rather than nuanced, within an envelope. There are some little jetes which seem to hang in the air in slow motion while she holds the hand of her partner, who stands at one side, and details like that which just blaze out to us repeatedly. We'd sure see a false move if she made one, but she doesn't.

In the evening, the first cast returned, although the printer had Magnicaballi in some middle scenes; somebody needs to remember to "search and replace." I warmed more to Ogden's dancing, or she warmed to the role; she brings a kind of cool, clear, young naivety to it while Magnicaballi feels it a little differently, gives it to us differently, not that I would ask for it either way, I'm happy again to have both, and Ogden's dancing later in the evening seemed to me better to connect phrases and so, to have more effect. With her, you see clear technique more; with Magnicaballi, it's there all right, but it's a little more subsumed; she's perhaps gone a little farther beyond it. (I'm still not satisfied with my description of Ogden's dancing, FWIW.)

Farrell Fan, that's far from a complete list! I'm such a poor typist, I just skimmed the huge cast, but as there is so much beautiful dancing before us, I keep feeling I must work at it some more, and let people know who deserves credit. At least, I can count up the sections and mention that next time. (I had imagined it would be pouring here, so I'd be online more; Rudolph Bing is said to have started the Festival to pump up the end of summer season business as the rain returns, but except for a light shower while I was on the upper deck of a tour bus, it's been pretty dry.)

#22 Farrell Fan

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 08:45 AM

It seems fitting that, as a mainstay of the company, Magnicaballi got to do the lead role in this loving restoration. Thanks for the wonderful report, Jack. I was pleased that the audience turned its attention to the dance after applauding the little girl with the half-umbrella. I've always found that hard to do, being too concerned with whether the child would be able to keep up with the adult dancer. And as someone who can't describe dance except in cliches, I am closely following your quest to capture in words the movement of Heather Ogden. I know you can do it.

#23 Jack Reed

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 07:02 AM

(from Edinburgh, Scotland) Thanks for the encouragement, Farrell Fan; maybe while I'm seeing Ogden tonight - at least it's my assumption that she'll be cast - from a center stalls (orchestra) seat, more apt language will come. Meanwhile, speaking of language, I see I've given the wrong idea about the umbrella-bearer's reception - these audiences, like the residents of Edinburgh seem to be generally, are far too sophisticated about good, proper, modest, polite, civilized behavior to applaud something like that entrance: just a little subdued but warm vocalization ran round the theatre for a moment.

In the meantime, there were some more cast rotations and changes Monday night: Magnicaballi came back to her role and Redick to that of the Juggler, Lisa Reneau danced Rigaudon Flamenco with Du, and Pickard took over Danza della Caccia from Parsley, who nevertheless appeared as usual in Act III.

I was quite taken all over again with Magnicaballi, partly because I was watching from a closer seat in the stalls instead of in the circle, because she gives so much without seeming to, if that language makes sense; it's just there, so nicely modulated, too. At the end, just as the curtain comes down, she shows her real grief and love of the Don, not quite throwing herself on his body for a last embrace, and then sinking to the floor; not sobbing (too much!) but crushed. (I think this bit may be a change; I remember at some point, Marcela/Dulcinea, kneeling on the floor by the Don's bed, leaning her forearms against the side of it, clasps her hands and raises her gaze to the starry heavens in prayer.* (My often frustrating memory tends to collect images and words without their contexts sometimes.) But I don't mean to emphasise this detail: Her whole performance ebbed and flowed with life. No, several lives (read on).

Lisa Reneau was, if possible, even more effective in Flamenco than Mahoney-Du. This company goes from strength to strength, that is, when nothing is actually going wrong, as when Mahoney-Du herself, as it happened, couldn't continue at Jacob's Pillow several weeks ago, and a substitute had to be found, but part of me continues to believe this is all humanly impossible anyway. That's where, for me, some of the wonder comes from.


The Festival has been laying on some lectures apropos the performances, and while I missed Farrell's on Sunday afternoon, which began before the performance ended, some of what she said turned up second-hand on Monday in the animated and intelligent remarks of Dr. Giannandrea Poesio, a performer turned critic and dance historian. Certainly the revival of Balanchine's Don Quixote might bring up some questions additional to the usual ones about performance, and I gathered from Poesi that Farrell had said that once you notate a dance you leave no interpretive room. "I couldn't agree more," he said, but went on to add, so "my dance-notator friends won't kill me" that notation is okay, valuable, if it's not missused in the way Farrell warned about: No one should ever say, Poesi said, we don't have a record of that [move], so don't do it.

He gave his understanding of her claim that there's no pantomime in Don Quixote: The role is all pantomime, he said, but not [literal] pantomime, and he illustrated what that was by giving us some hilarious examples of literal pantomime, reciting the words as he indicated them. This way he made the point that this kind of thing can be ridiculous; but Balanchine's ballet is a tragedy.

Today, Poesio said, new choreographers take all sorts of odd bits, maybe even putting a curtain between the dancing and the audience, put them together, "and shake." The result is a pastiche. From an historian's point of view, Balanchine had already done it, in a less agressive way, in 1965 when Don Quixote premiered; it didn't look right at the time. Nutcracker was booed in 1893, likewise the first Swan Lake; Rite of Spring.

Don Quixote is a celebration of Balanchine's artistic passion for his new ballerina, he said; "[Marcela/Dulcinea], with its multiplicities of characters, is the hardest in the repertory." [Take some more bows, Heather and Natalia.]

* 30 th August 2006: Since I wrote this, I have become satisfied this prayerful version was never done! My memory and imagination were working overtime.

#24 Farrell Fan

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 08:37 AM

I'm all in favor of polite, civilized behavior, Jack, but have the audiences there given any indication of whether they appreciate Balanchine's "Don Quixote?" The reviews I've read on Ballet Talk links have been uniformly dismal. Of course this ballet is not a crowd-pleaser, but to just dismiss it as old-fashioned and boring because the dancers aren't in leotards shows a narrow, stereotypical view of Balanchine. Thank goodness for your reports!

#25 Dale

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 10:41 AM

I think it's interesting how Don Q seems to upset people because it doesn't conform with what people think of as Balanchine, but also because it touches upon some uncomfortable subjects (Ismene Brown did a good job going through them, although I disagree that Balanchine is not good at narrative). I think that people need to widen their perception of Balanchine's work. Yes, he's known for his neo-classical works such as Agon and Concerto Barocco AND takes on Petipa like Theme and Variations, but he's done so much more. What about Prodigal Son, with the long crawl home? Or the emotionalism of Meditation? I don't know, but DQ touched me. When I first saw it, as a young kid, it was the varations that amazed me. But in DC, as somebody with more experience, I recognized so many life moments in the ballet. And life is often uncomfortable and painful. It was obviously an important ballet for Mr. B, not just in his declaration of love for Farrell but as a way to express his feelings about God, love, sacrifice, growing old, disappointment, embarrassment, dreams...

I wish it could be danced at the same caliber it was when stage at NYCB, but Farrell has learned her lessons from Balanchine well. These are the dancers she has NOW and they are dancing for the NOW. And I liked many of the dancers in DC, in fact almost all but not the Dulcinea. She just didn't move in the Balanchine way.

#26 carbro

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 11:08 AM

I recognized so many life moments in the ballet. And life is often uncomfortable and painful. It was obviously an important ballet for Mr. B, not just in his declaration of love for Farrell but as a way to express his feelings about God, love, sacrifice, growing old, disappointment, embarrassment, dreams...

. . . and ostracism and misunderstanding, which seems to be the fate of this ballet, in the eyes of some viewers.

#27 bart

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 12:24 PM

Debra Craine's review in The Times (London) -- posted by dirac in today's Links -- includes a statement which may explain the great ambivalence with which so many people look at the Balanchine Don Q:

The music greatly disappoints, Nicolas Nabokovís banal and chilly score dragging the ballet like a chain around the ankle.

I haven't seen this since the original performances back in the 60s, but the music was a major barrier to enjoying and appreciating the piece then. It did not sing and seemed very not well suited dance. This was commented on frequently in the reviews at the time. Remember, this was a company accustomed to dancing to Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Mozart, etc., etc.

But almost no one mentions it now, either in reviews or here on Ballet Talk. Craine's comment is more the exception than the rule. Does the music somehow seem "better" in 2005-6 than it did then?

Jack and others who've seen the Farrell version, what do you think about the contribution made by the music?

#28 Dale

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 12:58 PM

I think our ears are different now. We've heard Adams and Torke and whole mash of stuff much more astringent than the Nabokov score. Personally, the music isn't the greatest but it didn't grate on me. It's sort of Eastern flavored - it sort of reminds me of Heinz's score for Ondine (not sure why, but it does).

#29 Juliet

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 01:05 PM

Although Ms. Farrell has said, "Balanchine liked it," I don't think it is memorable in any way except a snooze. Pleasant enough in the divertissements, and lovely in the third act in scattered bits, but on the whole very leaden.
I would have liked to see it again in Edinburgh as I imagine they have refined and tightened it up even more since last year in Washington....and Magnicaballi must be simply beautiful in it. I saw both casts last year and thought Heather Ogden very lovely and expressive. Magnicaballi is a dramatic ballerina with great depth as well as subtlety and intelligence and I imagine she was perfect in this....

I am sure that many in the audience were surprised by the ballet, but I applaud Ms. Farrell and the dancers for their extremely hard work and belief in the cause.....

#30 Farrell Fan

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 02:10 PM

In his review of last year's performances at the Kennedy Center, John Rockwell called parts of the music "gorgeous," and some of it at the start of Act 3, is just that. But on the whole the music is no more than serviceable. The problem with the ballet is that it's not "Man of La Mancha." The mood is neither comic nor inspirational, but sad and gloomy. It must say something about me that I've always liked the ballet and still cry at its end.


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