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MCB's 2nd Program: La Source, Push Comes to Shoveand Western Symphony -- your comments?


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#16 Helene

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 11:42 PM

Is there something about keeping up with the Joneses or "I'll show you" or "There's a good idea" among ballet ADs?  Or is it just coincidence that the same ballets turn up at nearly the same time?  With a repertory as large as Balanchine's to draw on?  I'm not exactly complaining, but I certainly am curious.

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I was talking about this with a friend today. We saw Nine Sinatra Songs at PNB this afternoon, which MCB has performed -- including two selections for the Guggenheim series for the Balanchine Centennial -- which Pennsylvania Ballet performed last February, and which will appear on Colorado Ballet's March/April 2006 program.

I know that the Balanchine and Robbins Foundations control who gets to do what ballets, and there seems to be a pattern of being allowed to do some of them after achieving a certain level, and then only some of them when a company has the financial resources to recreate elaborate and expensive original sets and costumes (ex: Liebeslieder Walzer). Since many companies want to perform these works, a number of them are close in the progression allowed by the Foundations. Francia Russell staged La Valse in 1996 and 2000; Peter Boal has scheduled it for the March 16-26 program, along with a revival of Val Caniparoli's The Bridge and a new work by Dominique Dumais. For PNB this could have been logistical: I believe they own the sets and costumes, and Russell stages ballets she learned from Balanchine; while not an insubstantial number, I don't know if she stages anything later than the late 60's or early 70's. While it's hard to imagine that La Valse is an over-the-top box office draw, I could see Artistic Directors and marketing departments looking at a successful production of Nine Sinatra Songs and thinking that the work would be a big draw and possibly attract new audiences. La Valse has the advantage of glamour, recognizable music, three dramatic lead roles, and a number of soloist and demi-soloist roles in the "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales" section.

The same thing seems to happen with opera, even after co-productions and the Handel revival are eliminated from the mix. For some reason, among lesser-performed Verdi, MacBeth seems to be having a number of revivals clustered together, following last year's Un Ballo in Maschera, and I've seen a number of regional companies producing Cosi Fan Tutte.

#17 Jack Reed

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Posted 05 February 2006 - 08:35 AM

(from Fort Lauderdale, Florida) Thanks for that, Helene. So it's not exactly just coincidence at work here.

Now here's my latest installment, and then I'm on the run to today's matinee:

Saturday, 4th February 2006, Matinee and Evening

The event of the afternoon for me was Push Comes to Shove with Jeremy Cox, Andrea Spiridonakos in the tall-girl role originated, I think by Martine van Hamel, and Haiyan Wu, not short, but in the short-girl role. In contrat to Luis Serrrano's fine etching of detail, Cox, losing nothing of detail - actually, making it more visible through execution less clipped, extended the role by strong chracterisation from first to last; Serrano had given a superb but subdued performance of the role, while Cox, in the Baryshnikov role gave us, not Baryshnikov being Baryshnikov, hardly that, only Baryshnikov is Baryshnikov, but Cox being Cox in Push: He was just there, without reference to anything else, sometimes, just for example, turning his head to register surprise at something someone else did, while Serrano had shown the look, but Cox was surprised.

And Andrea Spiridonakos was the perfect match, lovely and utterly at ease in her part and, at some moments, out of her part, and then back in it again; Push is like that. Jennifer Kronenberg had made more of these "shifts," more like I remember van Hamel (from the video, which I saw more often than on stage), and I think Spiridonakos's way was a little more effective for letting us discover what was going on, although for me, these "discoveries" were the more vivid for having seen Kronenberg in the previous performance. In other words, she had contributed to my getting more from Spiridonakos's version. Wu was also superb, especially when working with Cox, as for example when he wraps his arms around her from behind and shakes her up. Yes, indeed, Push Comes to Shove is like that - it shakes us all up and puts us down somewhere else! What fun it was!

In the evening, Push had the special benefit of Mary Carmen Catoya's unfailingly crystal-clear dancing in the "short" part, and Michelle Merrell came into the "tall" part, not articulating the changes in it so clearly as Spiridonakos and Kronenberg had, along with Serrano.

In the afternoon, La Source was distinguished by Kristen Kramer's excellent realiztion of the demi role, after which she did a double-take as Edward Villella brought her a bouquet. Sad to report, this turned out to be Kramer's retirement preformance with MCB, after only five years! Patricia Delgado was very good in the lead, although hardly Catoya's equal, and presenting what I now take to be the family smile, with Kenta Shimizu, whose superbly crisp dancing did not quite match Penteado's easy but clear flow. In the evening, this ballet got a really lovely performance of the lead from Haiyan Wu, again, not matching Catoya, but can anybody? And Mikhail Ilyin gave a performance of the sole male part with, for my money, the best "flavor" so far.

Western Symphony got a really excellent perfomance of the Allegro first movement from Katia Caranza, modest, unassuming, clear, nailing everything; all you hadto do was take it in as she showed it to you. And Penteado was her perfect match. In the evening, she took on the Adagio, and was even better. (Well, it is, and so all she has to do is do it well, and she did.) And finally, in the evening, Deanna Seay! I thought I wsn't going to see her, although I hadn't heard any bad news. And then there she was, inhabiting her character in the first movemnt Allegro, giving it life we don't always see. (We had seen some characterisation with Kronenberg on Friday, actually.) And the concluding Rondo had Luis Serrano getting the details right and so, giving the jokes point.

Edited by Jack Reed, 11 February 2006 - 06:32 AM.


#18 bart

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Posted 05 February 2006 - 11:37 AM

Thanks, Jack. Your account impresses me even more with Villella's willingness to cast these ballets in great depth, giving opportunities to so many younger dancers, when the company could probably rest quite comfortaby on the performances of its principals

I also liked Spiridonakos very much in this program -- as in the last one. Several years ago, when I first came to the area, she was given the opportunity to dance Myrtha, a daunting role even for a senior ballerina. It was a creditable job --but this was a young dancer not yet able to combine a unififed, consisistent characterization (as opposed to the presentation of certain gestures, facial expressions, etc.) with the difficult choreography. These qualities have come together over the past few years. I got to see her Siren last program -- and she constantly caught the eye this time around in Push Comes to Shove and Western Symphony.

With Spiridonakos, as with so many others in the company, Villella's work of fostering young artistic talent is paying off. It's one of the delight of seeing these programs multiple times to be able to see so many talented dancers -- at different stages of their development -- do so many great roles.

I wonder whether those who attend other companies with a similar program-based kind of scheduling -- PNB, Houston, San F, etc. -- find a similar approach to casting in their locales. (???)

#19 bart

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Posted 05 February 2006 - 11:47 AM

Another thought. I agree wholeheartedly with your great appreciation of Mary Carmen Catoya -- whom I didn't get to see in La Source. What a pure, clean, fast, elegent, and very musical dancer.

I have not had the chance to see her in parts demanding more expression of dramatic feeling and characterization. I can see her in Coppelia, but wonder how she would do in Giselle. Or even as the Siren or Sleepwalker.

Are there other roles she's done where she's impressed you with in roles like those?

#20 Jack Reed

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Posted 06 February 2006 - 08:52 PM

Here's my last "diary" entry on the weekend. I've written these independently, without as much opportunity as I'd like to have had to make them comments on yours, bart, because of problems with my ISP while I was in south Florida, and now that I'm back home and things are working better (same ISP; passage of time? different server? argh, it's the digital age, ya love and ya hate it!) and I can read through what you've written, I've found it interesting, as I often do, that we say much the same things, sometimes in slightly different language, as different people will:

Sunday, 5th February 2006:

The first surprise on this program made me happy and sad, because Deanna Seay and Kenta Shimizu led La Source, which made me happy, but because Jennifer Kronenberg, originally cast, was ill, I was saddened, of course, but at least she's not injured, I'm told, and very probably will be back soon. (Not soon enough for this fan, but, nevertheless... back.)

As I've said, I have problems with the slow tempos this ballet is being performed in, and it looked to me as though Catoya wouldn't mind faster tempos, but Seay had no problems! I think she could hold anything together, even in slower tempos than these, although neither Delibes nor Balanchine deserve that. Seay's way with whatever she dances suited this pretty well; she made this luminously luxurious, creamy, flowing along without effort. Kenta Shimizu was her fine partner, and Charlene Cohen was the very nice demi. (Does "nice" seem faint praise? I consider this pink ballet a "nice" ballet, delicate, perfumed and restrained in virtuosity, to choose to repeat some of Villella's apt words for it in his pre-performance remarks, and Cohen's "nice" dancing was just right for it.)

Push Comes to Shove was performed by Cox, Wu, and Spiridonakos again, and I found it more fascinating than before. Among other things, Cox seems to be host or m.c. at times. With this and her other roles just this weekend, Wu is showing a wide range, giving strong, effective performances of roles as diverse as this one and La Source. And Carlos Guerra, Spiridonakos's partner in the third movemement, has his customary nobility coming and going in accordance with the zany changes in this choreography. So I was very glad to see this again, and I regret it'll probably be some time before I get another chance at it.

I continue to think that the Sherzo of Western Symphony is weak and needs a little help, and this afternoon it got that and more from Catoya and Mikhail Ilyin. Wow! The way she tosses this off! (She even makes the point: Dancing in an easy-looking sequence downstage, she then does something more with an inflection and a look back over her shoulder at her watching partner as though to say, "Huh? That was nothin'!" This is not heavy acting, but I think she has it in her, bart, and I seem to recall a Giselle in which she was differently effective, more bouyant, than, say, Seay, who felt more deeply, IIRC.) Does she have as much fun doing it as I had watching it? I hope so. I think so! And Ilyin was excellent. So this was an exceptional Western right there, and Katia Carranza and Luis Serrano contributed a fine, clear Adagio, besides.

Kristen Kramer's appearance in the corps of the Scherzo reminds me to correct what I said about her above. I meant that that was her final solo appearance; she did a few more corps roles after that.

#21 flipsy

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Posted 07 February 2006 - 12:41 PM

For a New Yorker who sometimes feels frustrated with NYCB, a weekend with Miami City Ballet in Ft. Lauderdale was the perfect cure. Western Symphony in particular was a smash. I was amazed to feel tears springing to my eyes as the curtain rang down on that townful of madly twirling cowboys and dance-hall girls. In New York the ballet has gotten tired over the years; the dancers seem to be mocking the western cliches rather than re-energizing them. Not so in MCB! Villella has the whole cast running at a gallop, and loving it. The climax came right where it needed to be, with outrageously leggy turns and twists by the Diamond Lil figure of the fourth movement. Principal Michele Merrell set the standard for sophisticated raunchiness on Saturday, and corps dancer Allyne Noelle matched it on Sunday. Backing them up was a terrific corps, with long-legged Kristin D'Addario sticking out as a future queen of the saloon. As for the men, these are real cowboys -- gauchos, actually, but cowboy culture is as indigenous to Latin as to North America. Guys like Luis Serrano, Renato Penteado and Carlos Guerra look completely at home where the buffalo roam, and their swaggering style even rubs off on colleagues like Mikhail Ilyin and Kenta Shimizu. I had begun to think of Western Symphony as a dated piece, but the immigrant blood of this company renews America's frontier spirit, with a bang.

As for La Source, I agree that Haiyan Wu has captured the subtlety and grace of the Violette Verdy part, but she does it in her own way and makes it new. She is an artist of the upper body, using the arms, wrists, hands and fingers to stretch out the musical phrases, giving them her own extremely free but still totally musical interpretations. She also projects an air of calm, the same feeling but in a different mode from Verdy's Gallic sophistication. Wu seems more enraptured in the moment, less conscious of the details and more into the flowering of the whole lovely sequence. I also agree that La Source makes an odd, incomplete impression, but I think that impression fades the more times you see it. And it fades completely when you look at the old videotape of Verdy and Villella. They make it look like a masterpiece.

Push Comes to Shove is a clever piece of programming in between these two ballets at opposite ends of the Balanchine spectrum, but I think this work of deconstruction fails in its mission to undermine the logic of classical music and dance. For one thing, the jokes are all right on the beat, just on the surface of the music. Still, the company gave it their all -- Jeremy Cox and Luis Serrano worked some laughs out of the male lead, though no one gives it quite the cross-wired bursts of combustion that were invented on and for Baryshnikov. Wu and Andrea Spiridonakis had their own takes on the nuttiness, Spiridonakis bursting into enormous extensions literally at the drop of a hat, and Wu inventing an upper-body wobble and bobble that served as a perfect non-sequitur to her ballet movements. But Push seems like a thankless task for such dancers, who are not at all cynical about their art.

#22 Jack Reed

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Posted 07 February 2006 - 01:04 PM

flipsy! Thank you, thank you for that wonderful and concise report! What evocative language! You brought so much of the weekend back! For one example, "cross-wired bursts of combustion"! Ever seen amateur auto mechanics try to straighten out mixed-up spark-plug wiring? If the motor runs at all, it's like having a nervous breakdown! What potent metaphors!

But the best remark on Tharp came from the master of what to leave out: "Twyla makes everyone look like her; I make everyone look like themselves." Dancing his choreography is not a thankless task. You become yourself.

#23 Jack Reed

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Posted 07 February 2006 - 01:17 PM

By the way, flipsy, please tell us more about that video of La Source. Where can it be seen? Only at some place like the Dance Collection? Or maybe it's in something that has or had commercial circulation?

#24 bart

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Posted 07 February 2006 - 01:19 PM

Thanks, flipsy. Among other things, your comments on Wu -- "an artist of the upper body" -- helped me very much to re-see and understand better what I could not quite grasp about her beautiful performance in La Source. How great to have the opportunity to see Verdy and Villella in video !!!

I was fascinated by your comment on the jokes in "Push ..." coming right on the beat and riding the surface of the music. I didn't notice it at the time, but you're right! I can see several examples from these performances in my visual memory bank. I guess it helps make the ballet even more accessible, though I can now imagine other ways of handling it. Which makes me want to see it again, soon, since missed opportunities can be as fascinating in ballet as what is actually done.

I hope that others will make their travel plans to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm with the MCB schedule in front of them. Bring your sun glasses. :)

Anyone else have thoughts about this program? Even just a few words? There's a group of MCB fans and Ballet Talk readers down here -- or visiting here regularly -- who haven't posted much but would love to hear from you.

#25 flipsy

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Posted 08 February 2006 - 08:22 AM

I saw the video of Verdy and Villella in La Source in the Dance Collection of the NY Public Library, at Lincoln Center. It's black and white, silent and incomplete, but it was a thrill to see. Verdy's details are exquisite, and Villella does a series of leaps, opening out from an etrechat into a 90 degree plus extension a la seconde, that no gazelle could match for grace. See for yourself!

#26 Jack Reed

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 06:27 PM

"See for yourself!" *sigh* If I ever have occasion to visit New York again, yeah.

bart, some of us talked about MCB's Giselle a few years ago in this forum. Maybe that was before your time in south Florida. Anyway, here's the link (posts #4 and 5 talk about Catoya in the title role, which you asked about, and the rest adds context to that discussion, and more):

http://ballettalk.in...showtopic=16348

#27 Helene

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 08:19 PM

The version that PNB showed during the Balanchine Celebration year had accompaniment by Diane Chilgren. There was also a film in which Chilgren and Verdy discuss the music for the excerpts.

#28 Jack Reed

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Posted 19 March 2006 - 11:59 AM

I just wanted to confirm, if that were needed, something carbro said in Post #14 about digital tempo changes without pitch changes: When I was in Fort Lauderdale for Program IV, I had a chance to ask MCB's sound engineer about that, and he grinned and said, "I've been doing that for fifteen years!" I was too shocked to ask him about La Source specifically, although I may remember to in the future. So, now I'm curious, whose tempos were those in La Source? Verdy's, I suppose, but from the beginning or when she saw how it looked on this dancer or that?

#29 TOOTOO

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 12:05 PM

Review of the Naples performance that was interesting.

http://www.naplesnew...allet_dances_h/

#30 bart

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 12:13 PM

Thanks, tootoo. I hope that Jeannette Delgado --who had to pull out of Donizetti Variations mid-performance, to be replaced by her sister -- and Luis Serrano have a quick recovery from their injuries. It was no surprise to hear that Delgado continued dancing and smiling until Patricia could step in.

On the other hand, the reviewer's impatience and boredom with Donizetti Variations WAS rather surprising, to me at least.


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