MCB 3rd Program: Dances at a Gathering,and Ballet Imperial
Posted 13 February 2006 - 11:00 AM
Any comments from those who saw the Miami Beach peformances?
Here's a revew from the Miami Herald:
Reading it, I was projected back to haunting NYCB performances of "Dances" long ago. What a moving and beautiful ballet. I'm intrigued by the programming juxtaposition with Ballet Imperial. I was also glad to note the reviewer statement that Mary Carmen Catoya (Ballet Imperial) "has become an exquisite classicist, her dancing shaped down to the last finger and arch of her shoulder, her tiny five-foot figure looking six feet tall." Jack Reed will be delighted.
What do you think?
Posted 20 February 2006 - 10:20 AM
Edward Villella, in his curtain-raiser talk on Saturday evening, mentioned that both ballets -- the Robbins and Ballet Imperial -- were challenges that he felt the company should take on as it continues to grow. He mentioned discussing Ballet Imperial with someone "very high up in ballet in New York City" (another Balanchine protege AD???) who warned against attempting Ballet Imperial, but Villella felt that he had to challenge his dancers so didn't follow the advice.
The program also offered a preview of the 2006-07 season.
-- all programs will have an orchestra , after several years without
-- premiere of a full-length Don Quijote (Petipa - Gorsky) to add to Giselle, Coppelia, Nutcracker, and Neighborhood Ballroom. (Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado performed one of the Don Q's pas de deux at the Gala fund-raiser performance this weekend.)
-- A Twyla Tharp premiere-- In the Upper Room (music: Philip Glass), following the success of Push Comes to Shove this year
-- A Christopher Wheeldon premiere -- Lliturgy
-- the company premiere of Lilac Garden. (After seeing them in Dances at a Gathering, I can't wait for this. )
Dances at a Gathering (which the company started working on last summer) was performed as close to perfection as I can imagine. I emember it from it's first season at NYCB, and found this group right up there in quality. Every movement, gesture, facial expression, interaction, etc., was appeared spontaneous -- as though the dancers were living the dance rather than working their way through choreography. I looked very closely, from a not far from the stage, and I could see no lapses of flow, focus and commitment to each role. It's a ballet in which each of the 10 dancers have his/her own individuality -- but it also demands great ensemble technique and feeling. That came out beautifully, too.
And what a ballet this is! After a few weeks of watching indifferent choreography from a couple of other companies, including Boccatango (limited vocabulary, lots of repetition, movements responding to the music rather than living with it), I was astonished at how richly and lavishly movement seems to have flowed out of Robbins. The ballet lasts an hour, and every moment is inventive, rich, beautiful, full of feeling, and intimately linked to the music.
And surely the last section is right up there with the greatest ballet finales: all 10 dancers on the stage (all together for the first time) standing separately, looking up at the sky in we, as a Chopin Nocturne moves from peacefulness to a kind of storm-rumbling back to peacefulness. The Boy in Brown touches the ground (the stage) with a his hand, a gesture of great, almost religious respect. The dancers begin to form couples - moving into a circle and doing reverence to their fellow dancers -- then slowly walking away, each with a partner. Both times it brought tears to my eyes and made me want the feeling never to end. Robbins was indeed a masterful manipulator of audience feeling -- on the highest possible level.
I saw two casts, with Jeannette Delgado performing both the girl in pink (the Patricia McBride role) and -- at the next performance -- the girl in apricot. Her range is expanding and she was excellent in both of these very different roles. Katia Carranze was also a charming girl in pink, and Patricia Albertson a fast, spectacular girl in apricot. Of the others, I loved Michelle Merrill as the girl in green (the Verdy role), Carlos Guerra (purple), Kenta Shimizu (geeen).
Francisco Renno played the 18 Chopin pieces wonderfully. There was perfect contact between him and the dancers. At the end he got the biggest ovation.
As for Ballet Imperial : it's a rich, complicated, and obviously very difficult ballet. Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado made the techincal challenges seem easy. Just as important, they had the stage presence that made them really seem "imperial". In the other cast, Patricia Albertson, who danced very well, lacked Catoya's natural regality -- you felt it most noticably in the section where she walks in a circle around the stage while the other dancers all bow to her. Catoya was someone who was accustomed by birth to being bowed to -- it was a formal and impressive occasion. Real noblesse oblige. Albertson --a wonderful dancer in lighter, quirkier, and more contemporary-American roles -- walked the same route, but the other dancers' reverence to her seemed out of place. Since the characater wears a white dress almost identical to all the other women on stage, it was sometimes difficult to locate Albertson among the others. This was never the case with Catoya, one of those dancers who demands that they eye follow them.
Penteado, who had all the technique required for the steps, is developing the qualities of a danseur noble. Mikhail Ilyin, a softer, lighter dancer, though maybe even more gifted in classical technique, has not yet developed that kind of stage presence.
The weak link in this Ballet Imperial was found in the corps: 8 men, 16 women. They danced the steps, often beautifully. Given the fast pace and difficulty of both steps and formations, and a very occasional tendency to look rush-hour crowd trying to keep up, they did a spectacular job, especially in those thrilling last few minutes.
More work was needed on thsoe times when the corps was at rest -- and in those split seconds that all the dancers had to rush into a new resting position. I was ssitting fairly close to the stage and using opera glasses occasionally, so I saw a distracting amount of nervous or wandering eyes, lip-biting, a couple of smirks, etc., as well as noticeable differences in positioning of heads and arms, and facial expressions. Not a big deal. But distracting. Someone ought to work on that in the studio.
One reason for this might be the extreme youth and relative lack of experience (especially in the "grand" style) of most of the corps members. Of 24 corps people on stage, 7 women and 3 men were in their FIRST YEAR in the corps, and very new to professional dancing. Despite the support of several experienced soloists added to the corps fo this ballet (Callie Manning being one), their relative lack of stage experience showed.
Posted 20 February 2006 - 12:13 PM
It sounds like the challenge for Ballet Imperial was for the corps. I'm glad Villella programmed it, because bringing the corps to another level in tutu roles is not very high on enough Artistic Directors' agendas, in my opinion.
Posted 20 February 2006 - 12:53 PM
About the tutus, however -- Someone in the audience complained to me that the women were not wearing those short stiff tutu usually associated with classical ballet. It seems to me that I do remember those short tutus from long-ago performances I saw at NYCB.
The women were wearing (I'm not sure of the terminology here) a traditional looking stiff bodice -- but a more modern looking skirt , a single layer of opaque (not gauze) material, that came down to below the knee and floated and billowed as the dancers moved. It looked odd to me, but that may just be unfamiliarity.
I am beginning to suspect that the sheer visual mass of these skirts on 20 women, along with the constant motion, contributed to the look of clutter and crowdedness that sometimes got in the way of the choreography.
Posted 20 February 2006 - 01:48 PM
Posted 22 April 2006 - 05:47 PM
Still, there were bits I didn't like which I remembered from the old days. Early on, for example, a boy lifts a girl horizontally, and in a vertical "split," she extends one leg straight up and the other down, pauses in this unusual pose, and then bends her knees to bring her toes together. Much of the detail in Dances still doesn't answer very well to the music for me, but this moment looks like the choreographer didn't know what to do with her once she was up there like that and made something that pokes us in the eye: Looka that, will ya! And a recurring "pinup" pose for the boys (one hand behind his head, the other on his hip) seems arbitrary too, rather than music-derived, although I never noticed anywhere that Robbins's sense of rhythm ever deserted him. And in the Apricot - Brick duet, the boy steps away from the girl and does a cartwheel. These things, and things like them, seemed to me gratuitous, and they still do.
So I used to wonder why Balanchine wanted Robbins working for his company, considering their different styles, especially their different responses to music. This time I managed to look up some material in "Repertory in Review" and "Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets" in preparation for seeing the program, and I found the same anecdote about Dances in both places: Robbins had been working on this for some time, and had made a lot of what went into the final ballet, and invited Balanchine to look. Afterward, he turned to Balanchine and ventured, "It's a little long, isn't it?" "More!" said Balanchine, "Make more!" So, why? Why was the great lover of the ephemeral so excited by what he saw?
I think it has to do with a related quality of Dances, which is made clearer by its contrast on this program with what some call, with justification, the greatest classical ballet ever made, here called Ballet Imperial, although (as Dale describes in the preceding post in connection with other companies) it's really the later version , which Balanchine called Tchaikovsly Piano Conerto No. 2, without the pantomime, or the Nevsky Prospect on the backdrop, which omissions maybe make it just that much more classical, and with chiffon dresses instead of tutus: Dances is a somewhat private ballet, it's about the feelings of these people, who (Acocella again, and brilliantly, I think) may even seem of a certain age; in Balanchine's ballets (she says) we see gods, who have no age. (Don't think Apollo.) I think the classic, enduring and universal, available anytime, anywhere, to anyone (if they will pay attention), is therefore out in the open, very public.
For example, there's a dance where three women come in across the back, one clearly being consoled by the other two. We might wonder what her problem is. Soon, this one dances across the stage with a boy who enters from the right but abandons her at the left wing. A flashback? Another unsatisfying episode of the kind she's prone to? Then she is consoled again by her two sisters, and they move on. In another example, the Girl in Green comes on dancing happily by herself, has three encounters with boys who pay her some attention but (or and) disappear, when she continues happily by herself. "Like a fish without a bicycle"? What's it all about?
When you see the ballet several times, you can be pretty sure there are no unambiguous signs which answer that question definitely, just as there often are none in Balanchine's ballets, only suggestions of situations or elements of a story but no more, and I think this had a lot to do with why Mr. B. liked it; it certainly has a lot to do with why I like Dances more now, but it's taken time for me to develop this taste for, and delight in, the ephemeral, the story that's not there, or, rather, the not-story that is there.
Another way I suppose I've changed is that I've become more interested in dancers dancing, somewhat as Robbins was, which is not to say less interested in their dance - I think I get more of both now, my dance-watching is... larger. These dancers in particular, MCB's dancers. What grew on me over the weekend as I watched the four performances was these dancers doing these dances, right here, right now, and that's the "story" - all the story there is - of Dances at a Gathering, which it's taken me a long time to get, but with the help of this superb company, I got it, and so I am grateful to them. I didn't always love Dances, but I nearly always loved these dancers in it. And some were particularly outstanding:
On Friday and Saturday evenings, Jennifer Kronenberg (In Mauve), as she so often does, just knew what this role is. I don't mean there was any attitude about her, like over-confidence; she was merely at her ease at home in it. Kenta Shimizu (In Green) was her able partner. On the afternoons, though, these roles were taken over by Haiyan Wu and Mikhail Ilyin, who were a large, classically clear, dancing unit, and watching them, the idea came to me of a single role for two bodies. I'm not sure which pair I liked better, and it was another occasion when I was glad to have both. (MCB is like that.)
Michelle Merrell as the Girl in Green showed us her lively dances appeallingly, flowing and open, and she made me happy, but when Deanna Seay took over the role at the matinee performances they were so uttterly organic. Each and every slightest detail sprang from a center within her (like a plant springs from a seed), a place which heard her music, so that it all was coordinated and infused with the same energy, making it all of a piece, yet everything seemed made freshly for us right now, like improvisation (except without any of the hesitancy of improvisation) and with both the inevitability and unpredictability of natural growth; "as fresh and glistening as creation itself." (Carol Pardo, writing about a different role in the Winter 2006 Dance View, says Seay occupies a phrase; I'd say she inhabits it.) Isn't the chance of having this kind of experience why we go to the ballet?
In her second solo - the one where three boys pass by in succession, but none get much involved - Seay's dancing added, for me, a whiff of high tragedy, that such a wonderful dancer can't get herself a partner! But, more than merely in control of the situation, Seay is true to the part, and, far from becoming a tragic figure, she adapts to her lot, and goes out happily enough, as she came in.
Renato Penteado (In Brown) enlarged the ground-touching business that happens a couple of times in this ballet - Robbins went on record after the premiere that this was about his return to NYCB territory, and one evening Villella, who had the first variation made on him, quoted Robbins as saying it's "about how this is a place you've been before, a place you have memories of" - with his superb classic clarity and neatness; and in their duet, Carlos Guerra (In Purple) looked a bit of a "heavy" next to him, as most anyone would (a little like Gene Kelly next to Fred Astaire), and I enjoyed the contrast; it made this dance even more flavorful. And also in the evening performances, Jeremy Cox (In Brick) didn't add character touches to the last mazurka, he brought them forth from within the part.
Giving me such mixed feelings beforehand, Dances at a Gathering wasn't what drew me back to Florida this time; I wanted - I needed - to see Ballet Imperial again, after seeing it last season. (In a better world, there would be videos of many of MCB's performances available, unsatisfactory as videos of ballet are.) I thought I might even get one more performance from Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado. Well, I got three! Wow! Even after last season, it was wow all over again! And on Saturday evening the fourth performance was led by Tricia Albertson, superbly partnered by Mikhail Ilyin; they gave a distinguished performance of Imperial which did nothing to obscure or diminish its greatness, but IMO Albertson's performance suffered some by contrast with the brilliant ones by Catoya.
Which reminds me: Around the time I saw Program II there, a friend told me a comment made by a professional critic he had invited to watch some performances of MCB. The critic said, "I don't understand why it isn't more widely known that this is the best ballet company in America."
Posted 22 April 2006 - 06:49 PM
I was surprised, especially, how much visual memory I've retained of Dances at a Gathering. Your comments brought a lot back, quite vividly. And I appreciate -- and agree with -- your praise of the MCB dancers, whom I've gotten to know over the past 5 seasons. It's not only the individuals -- it's also the ensemble. And the setting that Villella has provided for them.
Another point: when I read dance writing, I always look for turns of phrase that capture an idea I'd never had before, or never viewed in that particular manner. Words that I know will change the way I see ballet in the future. Here are two of them from your review:
" ... it's taken time for me to develop this taste for, and delight in, the ephemeral, the story that's not there, or, rather, the not-story that is there."
"Another way I suppose I've changed is that I've become more interested in dancers dancing, somewhat as Robbins was, which is not to say less interested in their dance - I think I get more of both now, my dance-watching is... larger."
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