Posted 19 March 2006 - 10:16 PM
I attended both performances of "Points of View" yesterday. The program opened with Val Caniparoli's The Bridge, which he choreographed for the Company in the winter of 1998. I confused this piece with another, thinking I had missed it, but as soon as the curtain rose, I recognized it immediately. The ballet is Caniparoli's response to the real-life and internationally publicized fate of Admira Ismic and Bosko Brckic, who in 1993 tried to escape Sarajevo over the bridge of the title, only to be shot dead in their war-time attempt. Instead of a single couple, he divided the charcters into five couples, each with a different tone and emphasis, culminating in the their death. The music, an orchestration for string orchestra of Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet, is one of my all-time favorite pieces, and the theme and choreography suited the music, dedicated "to the memory of the victims of fascism and war" admirably.
Many contemporary ballets with four-six couples are structured so that groups dance the same choreographer simultaneously or in canon. The Bridge is one of the few ballets I've seen in which this technique was entirely appropriate to the theme and not a lack of imagination, and it was used sparingly at that. One of the more unique features of the choreography were movements in which the man lifted the woman barely off the floor, and she skimmed the floor as if she was skating. In one breathtaking sequence, the woman in the second couple went from being turned in the equivalent of a front inside spread eagle which turned into the equivalent of a sideways Ina Bauer. Elsewhere, the woman's feet were in parallel, one in front of another, with bent knees in an Egyptian-like pose as the man lifted her enough to skim the floor.
Although the music includes the Jewish folk music theme that also appears in the second string trio and one of the symphonies, which is about as ecstatic as the piece gets, there is always tragedy underlying it and in the tender moments in the ballet. As a story of two young people defying their societies and amidst a war-torn city, that sense of stolen time and impending doom was reflected in the music. But like in any treatment of the story of Romeo and Juliet, with whom the international press equated this couple, there are various ways to interpret the characters. What was remarkable was how the five couples in each performance managed to convey a similar sense of character, while the overall character in each performance was different.
In the afternoon cast the Admira/Juliet character was a quieter one, with a great sense of the ability to grasp a fleeting moment of tenderness, a growing realization of doom. This may have had to do with the relative youth of the cast. It was not that the emphasis was on the men, but the boldness of the energy came from them. Mara Vinson and Josh Spell were the first incarnation. They do not stay too long, but it was enough time to establish Vinson's passionate response to him, and for Spell to establish a virile presence. Spell is often cast "happy," and he seized this great opportunity to show that he has far greater range than he's been allowed in the past. They were followed by Körbes and Herd in the first part in which the skating movements were dominant. Korbes floated over the stage in them with a sense of physical lightness that was like a physiological transformation into a cloud that could make both of them disappear. Herd extended the dramatic focus he showed in Kiss in the (last) "Valentine" program, showing once again that the fact that he's tall is just a plus; he'd be a formidable dancer at any height. For fleeting moments, they were with each other alone, without the immediate threate of bullets flying.
Lesley Rausch and Nicholas Ade danced the third couple, to the famous folksong theme. Rausch alternated between openness and protectiveness, while Ade was explosive, hitting shapes in air and hanging suspended. Watching that confidence and Rausch's exuberance made this section the top of the dramatic arc, which could only mean bad things ahead. One of the most fascinating things in the performance was watching Jodie Thomas convey the realization of what the future held. Jonathan Porretta, her partner, has been cast over the past few years to show his dramatic and dance range. For Thomas this role was an equal opportunity to extend her range, and she did something quite remarkable: rather than over-project outward, she brought me inward to a quiet realization of tragedy. Noelani Pantastic and Jeffrey Stanton's section, which followed, was like a farewell. Vinson and Spell returned, propelling the story to its inevitable ending. In a beautiful stroke of theater, they were each shot and each fell, only to stand, Vinson behind Spell, to die vertically.
In the evening performance, the women took control and were relentless, which in itself was remarkable, since the men included Christophe Maraval and Olivier Wevers, two of the most dramatic presences in the Company. After relatively short opening appearance of Chalnessa Eames and Lucien Postlewaite, Ariana Lallone, with Maraval, dove into the role. When she did the skating motions, it was as if a force were pulling her from him, and she was not going to let go. Carrie Imler burst onstage for the folksong movement with Karel Cruz; it was as if they were the temperamental opposites of Rausch and Ade. Imler set the bar high to increase the intensity, and Kaori Nakamura, partnered by Jordan Pacitti, met it and raised it higher, and Louise Nadeau, with Olivier Wevers, entered as a force. Although there were are tender moments in this section, including a repeated social slow dance, they almost looked like exhaustion more than resignation. The entire trajectory of the story in this cast was an upward vector toward the shooting, compared to the arc of the first cast.
Time and Other Matter, a new work by former National Ballet of Canada dancer-turned-choreographer Dominique Dumais, received its World Premiere Thursday night. It is set to music by David Lang, who writes in a minimalist style ala Glass and Reich, but mixed with industrial sounds. I don't have the music itself, but the short clips of Child that I found on the web, and a short review of the piece I've read, do not have or mention spoken words; as a result, I'm assuming these, and the laughs and shouts toward the end of the piece, were added by Dumais.
The set consisted of very tall, red, textured wall that was about 1/4 the width of the stage, placed upstage right at an angle. It was raised occasionally to let dancers appear and disappear from behind. Structurally, the piece is "about" Ariana Lallone's character; the voice-overs, in one woman's voice, occur when she is featured. In the first movement, she jumps into the ensemble of nine's arms several times, is partnered briefly by Christopher Maraval, but mostly she is a solitary figure, whether alone onstage in extended solos or with the others. At one early point, red leaves fall from the flies, leaving distracting debris on stage. The second movement begins with a solo for Lallone, followed by a pas de trois and a pas deux. In the third movement, Lallone's characters seems to meld with the group.
I can't say I hated this piece, because the emotion I felt most vividly was annoyance at the pretentious voice-overs. "Touch me, and I remember. Touch me, and I forget," is probably the highlight of the Very Bad Prose-Poetry. I was reminded, and not in a good way, of the scene in Sex and The City, where Jerrod Smith is in a production of A Very Pretentious Play, which is saved only when he drops his overalls. In the post-performance Q&A, Peter Boal said that Dumais had a story in mind but wouldn't tell the dancers what it was, because she wanted everyone to come to their own conclusion. I have to wonder why, then, she added a narrative to mar David Lang's score and why the dance wasn't able to tell the story on its own.
Because I don't think the dance was able to do this. I found the vocabulary for most of the piece to be extremely limited and dull. In her Seattle Times review, Moira MacDonald described Lallone as "stranded." Lallone's second section solo was followed by the strongest choreography of the piece: a pas de trois for Stacy Lowenberg, Kiyon Gaines, and Jordan Pacitti, which was a good indication that PNB has another good Novice in its ranks for The Cage, and a pas de deux for Noelani Pantastico and Christopher Maraval that had a lot of nice moments in it, and even some connection. (Happily, there were no voiceovers during these sections. I hadn't yet realized I was safe because Lallone wasn't dancing in them.) Pantastico has said in a Q&A after Valentine that she has been cast in story ballets, and she wanted to stretch her range. This role, and her role in The Bridge have done a lot to fulfill her wish, and it's great for the audience to see her in this new light. In the first and third movement with the ensemble, there were several good breakout solos, including one for the woman in beigy/grey. (Between the drape of the costumes and lots of loose hair, I wasn't sure if this was Eames or Foster.) If Dumais' point was that Lallone could be portrayed as a leaf at loose ends, she succeeded doing that. Otherwise, I think that "stranded" was too kind. Which is why it was a tremendous relief to see her in The Bridge in all of her glory.
The irony is that I really liked Dumais' Scripted in the Body, which had dialogue spoken by the male lead, with music by Bach and Pärt, and was looking forward to seeing this piece.
I'm divided about La Valse: The first half, set to Valse Nobles et Sentimentales is one of my favorite Balanchine ballets, and the second half I'm lukewarm about. The soloists in the first half and corps in the La Valse section in the PNB production are generally happier than the NYCB version. And the costumes are brighter: as Boal noted in the Q&A, in the NYCB version, the bodices are black, while in the PNB version, they are in the dusty rose to apricot range. While I think this difference in temperament works well in the first section -- they are less jaded than in New York -- in the second it makes it appear as if the corps is oblivious to the tragedy, not feeding off of it. PNB often uses students in the corps here, and it's hard to keep the kids, who are thrilled to be onstage, from smiling.
Every once in a while, there are several dancers who dance beautifully together, but one is so strikingly right, that I cannot keep my eyes from him or her. In the second Waltz, with the three Fates, I think I identified Laura Gilbreath as the dancer in the matinee performance who was the embryonic version of the heroine. In the evening cast, Rebecca Johnston's arms in particular were lovely and expressive.
In the matinee performance, the three soloist couples were strikingly different: Kara Zimmerman, with Benjamin Griffiths in what I think is his first major demi role, gave a dusky quality to the skimming Waltz 3. Stacy Lowenburg and Kiyon Gaines in Waltz 4 were glimmering quickness. Maria Chapman, with Anton Pankevitch was softly romantic in Waltz 5 and in her solo to Waltz 6, in which she lightly lofted the sissone jumps. In the evening performance, both Jodie Thomas, partnered by Josh Spell, and Leslie Rausch, partnered by Nicholas Ade, danced beautifully in Waltes 3 and 4, but there wasn't a great contrast between them. They were sisters, in contrast to Maria Chapman, who with Pankevitch, repeated Waltzes 5 & 6 in the evening.
Another contrast was the different interpretations of the main roles by Barker and Stanton, Nadeau and Wevers. Barker was all bloom and danced Waltz 8 with remarkable sensuality. Both she and Stanton appeared to be searching for something and not quite finding it. Dramatically, Barker was receptive, to Stanton and to experience. Taking a different approach, Nadeau wasn't quite naive or innocent, but she was playing with fire: the man she was attracted to could very well have been the Death figure, and Wevers was as charismatic as Maraval. In each case, surrender to the wiles of Death was dramatically convincing.
In upcoming performances this week, Lindsi Dec and Kiyon Gaines debut as the second couple in The Bridge that was danced by Rausch/Ade and Imler/Cruz yesterday, and Körbes, Postlewaite, and Cruz make their debuts in La Valse, both on Friday, 24 March. The cast for Time and Other Matter is the same for all performances; Boal noted in the Q&A that Dumais did not have time to work with a second cast.