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BalletNut

Lincoln Center: Reviews & Impressions

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It seems to me that SFB is in fact trying to set itself up as a major contemporary/postmodern force rather than a "high classical" one . . .

I think this is absolutely correct, but I haven't seen it stated so clearly. I think many SFB dancers want it and are in a postion to carry it out, and many of us in the audience would support it. SFB will never be the Kirov or NYCB, but it could be a great contemporary/post-modern ballet company. The economics work against it (a mixture of classical full-lengths and contemporary ballets is what Helgi has opted for, and that has kept the company in the black). But SFB's real strength is actually in the contemporary/post-modern idiom, even if it hasn't explicitly said so. Thanks for pointing out something crucial about the company's real strength (even if it is not everyone's idea of what makes for a great ballet company; it does explain why Mark Morris woud see SFB as the "best" ballet company--the one most open to and able to carry out his own post-modern visions. We could do a lot worse).

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SFB will never be the Kirov or NYCB, but it could be a great contemporary/post-modern ballet company.
Maybe not the Kirov, but SFB has always had it's share of full-lengths, even before Peter Martins started presenting his full-length Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, and I think there is little difference between today's NYCB and SFB repertoire in terms of type of work performed. (SFB performs fewer works each year.) Helgi Tomasson is firmly in the neo-classical school in his own choreography.

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>>... and I think there is little difference between today's NYCB and SFB repertoire in

>>terms of type of work performed.

Excuse me.... but what??!! NYCB performs how many great Balanchine ballets and good Robbins' ballets during each season compared to SFB's rep? Diamond Project seasons are one thing, but...

What I will remember most about SFB's visit here this past week is how enthusiastic *every* dancer was in *every* ballet performed, and what a fine credit that is to Tomasson's directorship.

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Excuse me.... but what??!! NYCB performs how many great Balanchine ballets and good Robbins' ballets during each season compared to SFB's rep?

When I saw NYCB this Spring after a break of five years, I thought, "no one does Balanchine like this company. They are absolutiely Numero Uno in this department--a national treasure if we ever had one." I think SFB has a different, complementary set of skills and values, and Leigh's comment helped me to see it more clearly. But SFB is still very much in the process of defining itself artistically. It may be America's oldest professional ballet company, but it has only recently moved from regional to international ranking, and it is still developing its core idenity. It's a very young company in spite of its long history. I really appreciated the critical eye so many of you lavished on SFB this week in New York on this board. Thank you!

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halfway through Artifact Suite I almost got up and left.

I had the same misgivings, and got up my courage to leave 5 minutes before the end (a first, for me!). I guess the many 'thuds' of the descending curtain and the lack of 'wings' screamed 'avantgarde', in case the audience was not quick enough to catch on. Granted, it could be my problem that I cannot see much merit in this work. I did have the unsettling thought--'would I have booed the premiere of 'Rite of Spring'; but then, I did have an appreciation of Balanchine long before he became an Ikon, I was able to recognize genius (forgive the word, I can think of no other) even at a tender age.

The one ballet on this mixed repertory bill that I would really like to see again is Tomasson's '7 for 8'. I don't think I have ever seen a b allet where I come away marveling at the male port de bras---all the men exhibited beautiful port de bras but the honors to go Pascal Molat in his solo 5th movement--and Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun I would love to see again and again.

As to Wheeldon's 'Quaternary'---I found it a bit hard to swallow that he is considered by many to be the great-hope for choreography. I am a bit weary of the I'll-slide-down-your-back-crotch-in-the-face School of Choreography. I saw some of this last week in Chautauqua NY by the North Carolina Dance Company, but the choreographer was a teen-ager and I attributed it to raging hormones. But at least 'Quaternary' gave me a chance to see Tiit Helimets perform.

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To me, the profiles of NYCB and SFB are significantly different. Alexandra and I were speaking yesterday about SFB; we noted that during Tomasson's tenure he moved away from the Balanchine satellite company model to a more European contemporary model - and it was what the audience and the company needed. The company doesn't have a legacy to guard and I think Artifact shows the company more accurately than Who Cares (to pick a Balanchine ballet out of a hat)

SFB was one of the earlier US companies to get a Forsythe premiere, New Sleep ca. 1987. (Joffrey got Love Songs earlier and also Square Deal, which I never saw. NYCB got Behind the China Dogs a year later.) I know Forsythe has not allowed other early works to be performed, I wonder if that's another one he's withdrawn.

Completely off topic and thinking back to the mid to late 80s with works like that and Frankfurt's visits to NYC bringing France/Dance and Same Old Story. . .every dancer in NYC showed up when a company brought a Forsythe work on tour. Once upon a time it really looked like he was going to re-define ballet - or at least what the generation after Balanchine was going to add to the historical stew. That was going to be our contribution to the mix.

What the hell happened?

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>>... and I think there is little difference between today's NYCB and SFB repertoire in

>>terms of type of work performed.

Excuse me.... but what??!! NYCB performs how many great Balanchine ballets and good Robbins' ballets during each season compared to SFB's rep? Diamond Project seasons are one thing, but...

Balanchine is a neo-classical choreographer. NYCB dances very few strictly classical ballets (mime and Candy Cane from Nutcracker, first two acts of Coppelia, Swan Lake pas de deux, sections of Sleeping Beauty), unlike the Kirov. NYCB, through substantial Diamond Projects and the American Music Project, commissions works that range from neo-classical to contemporary.

If anything, SFB dances more strictly classical ballets than NYCB, with two full-lengths a year (not counting Nutcracker) -- although it sounds like Martins is trying to catch up -- with the occasional ABT piece, like this season's Rodeo. The majority of their repertory is firmly rooted in the neoclassical -- the majority of new work is choreographed by Tomasson and Wheeldon, as well as work by Julia Adam, and now that Possokhov is resident choreographer, I'd expect more from him. I don't know whether Morris' piece Pacific was intended as a ballet, like Sylvia and Maelstrom.

For next season, the balance of the repertory consists of Paul Taylor's Spring Rounds, Lar Lubovich's Elemental Brubeck, David Bintley's Dance House -- the one time I saw his work, it wasn't memorable, and I don't recall his style -- and works by Wayne McGregor, who has choreographed for NYCB and according to this interview is a self-styled "contemporary" choreographer, and Matjash Mrozewski. I haven't seen either, but the latter is creating new work for SFB, Royal Danish Ballet, and National Ballet of Canada this year, with works in the rep of Royal Ballet, Houston Ballet, West Australian Ballet, and Royal Swedish Ballet as well according to his website. That alone doesn't guarantee style, but he seems to be one of young "hopes" among classical ballet companies worldwide, with a resume deeper than many Diamond Project choreographers over the years.

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Once upon a time it really looked like he was going to re-define ballet - or at least what the generation after Balanchine was going to add to the historical stew. That was going to be our contribution to the mix.

What the hell happened?

Leigh, would it be possible to start a new thread elsewhere addressing just that question?

Many of us get the chance to see a few Forsythe works now and then, because they've entered the regional rep. I my case, the total that I can recall by name are Steptext and Love Songs. Plus excerpts of In the Middle Somewhat Elevatated on video.

I'd reallly like to listen in on a serious discussion of Forsythe's ballet-oriented works compared to more recent non- (or even anti-) ballet work I've read about. It might also be useful to get a list of those ballets that you, Alexandra and others consider are part of Forsythe's more ballet-friendly output, and to find out who, where, and how they are currently performed in the US.

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To me, the profiles of NYCB and SFB are significantly different. Alexandra and I were speaking yesterday about SFB; we noted that during Tomasson's tenure he moved away from the Balanchine satellite company model to a more European contemporary model - and it was what the audience and the company needed. The company doesn't have a legacy to guard and I think Artifact shows the company more accurately than Who Cares (to pick a Balanchine ballet out of a hat)
I've been watching the rep over the last decade, and it looks to me like Tomasson has replaced Balanchine with his own work and, lately, Robbins'. I don't see an overwhelming number of European contemporary; if I don't feel it's worth traveling to SFB to see a program, it's more likely to avoid Tomasson's work than not. He is trying to develop and encourage choreographers from within his company, notably Adam and Possokhov. (I think Christopher Stowell's style is a little too similar to Tomasson's for that to be a great fit.)

I do think the Company's ability to dance Balanchine well is a gauge. In the late 90's, I saw a stunner of a Liebeslieder Walzer with Julia Diana and Evelyn Berman, and over the years, a few wonderful Stravinsky Violin Concertos, as well as superb relatively recent performances of 4T's. I was less enthralled with the recent Apollos than most. I don't think they do a good job with Who Cares?, but, then again, I hadn't seen very many good performances of the ballet by NYCB in the early 90's, and I can't remember any outside the company, including Durante's guest turn in the 1993 Balanchine Celebration.

ETA: There must be something in the water in San Francisco, with choreographers Possokhov, Adam, Christopher Stowell, and Paul Gibson all coming out of the SFB dancers ranks.

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Some scattershot impressions and comments:

Sylvia: Thursday, July 27th - Elizabeth Miner, Pascale Molat and Pierre Francois-Vilanoba

I was told by NYSusan that there wasn't really any dancing until the third act. I actually was very taken with the first act. The stage was somewhat bisected by a stream and greenery on the upper stage left which cut into the dancer's space. The set of the ABT/RB "Sylvia" is similarly rather cumbersome and intrusive on the dancing space. I liked the opening dance of the satyrs, dryads and naiads with the naiads and dryades competing for the attentions of the satyrs. Morris used the music well in letting the shimmering arpeggios in the accompaniment signal the entry of the naiads from the stream.

Elizabeth Miner had an airy, outdoor fresh quality to her Sylvia with some of that cheerleader spunk you associate with the "All-American Girl" choreography that Balanchine created for Suzanne Farrell. However, she is also definitely very feminine and warm onstage, so her conversion was never really in doubt. Where I felt Morris did better than Ashton is in the mime and storytelling. The relationships seemed a bit more fleshed out in this version with dramatic tension sought out in the choices. Eros is more of a clown and trickster which seems appropriate and gives a comic dimension to this story of amorous misadventures. In fact, Morris never stooped to camp which some people were looking for knowing his previous work. He threw in dry humorous touches but played it quite straight and let the humor take care of itself. So there was contrast between serious ballet presentation and goofy modernity.

There was contrast too between the choreographic steps - the leads were very balletic with some fluent solos but the supporting characters were given more modern dance moves. There is no such contrast in the Ashton where everything is very 19th century balletic. Either you prefer the stylistic consistency and period charm of the Ashton or you are turned on by Morris' eclecticism.

The second act which some people liked best, I liked least. Maybe it was more what you would expect of Morris but I found the choreography thin. The Pas D'Esclaves music was just thrown away on a clumsy dance for the male corps with little invention. The cutesy orientalism of the music didn't fit the primitive roughness of the male slaves/cave dwellers. The clumps of rocks in the middle of the set limited the dancing space though it did create levels. I used dramatic license to dispel disbelief that Orion could be knocked unconscious by Welch's grape juice, perhaps he is diabetic. :mad: Luckily this act is short.

Morris made the dramaturgical choice to keep Orion in pursuit and his lovers in suspense for Act III. In Ashton's Act III the plot has basically been entirely resolved and it is all just a lovely divertissement marriage celebration like Aurora's wedding in "Beauty". In Morris, Aminta though alive doesn't know where Sylvia is or that she now loves him. Sylvia is brought in disguised as a houri-like slave girl by Eros disguised as a pirate/slave dealer. Sylvia is veiled and Morris devised a gorgeous pas de deux (I may prefer it to Ashton) for the veiled Sylvia and the still-clueless Aminta. First of all, this lets the lovers discover each other and provides the missing love/courtship scene because previously they have been kept apart by circumstances and only reunited by divine intervention. The use of the veil was a direct quote from the "Kingdom of the Shades" act from "La Bayadere" one of my favorite, if not my first favorite, ballets. I liked the choreography for Aminta's solo in this act very much but wished I was seeing Marcelo Gomes or Angel Corella dance it. Pascale Molat was generally elegant but seemed to have to push here. Orion reappears in this act and fights with Aminta for Sylvia but is vanquished by Diana. The denouement is then similar in both ballets. However, this choice keeps the dramatic conflict going throughout most of the evening. In the Ashton the story seems pat and anecdotal.

The third act set of a courtyard with columns in the background with a drop of an idealized Hellenic landscape by Martin Pakledinaz was stunning and open and was a wonderful space for dancing.

The beauty of the music is evident in this version and is emphasized by Morris' musicality. But the problems stem from the story and libretto which leaves all the work to the deus ex machina and makes the two lovers seem like puppets with no inner life of their own. The love story between Aminta and Sylvia happens mostly offstage. There were enough lovely moments, good ideas and fine choreography in this version that I will miss certain elements when I see the other version, though I feel that Ashton, in general, is more successfully realized. I wish Ashton was alive to steal some of Morris' better ideas for his version.

I also attended the first night on Saturday July 29th of the mixed program and will post on that later.

Faux Pas

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I suppose this should really be posted under “August Silliness.” Notable difference between NYCB and SFB ballerinas: WHERE were the false eyelashes? Did they leave them at home? Couldn’t anyone give them directions to the nearest Ricky’s? Is this a left-coast / right-coast thing or a genuine glamour deficit that will keep SFB from achieving the world-class status it might otherwise deserve? Clearly I’ve been living in NYC for far too long – I thought false eyelashes were required just to get up on pointe. (Isn’t that how the Trocks do it?) :)

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I do think the Company's ability to dance Balanchine well is a gauge. In the late 90's, I saw a stunner of a Liebeslieder Walzer with Julia Diana and Evelyn Berman, and over the years, a few wonderful Stravinsky Violin Concertos, as well as superb relatively recent performances of 4T's. I was less enthralled with the recent Apollos than most. I don't think they do a good job with Who Cares?, but, then again, I hadn't seen very many good performances of the ballet by NYCB in the early 90's, and I can't remember any outside the company, including Durante's guest turn in the 1993 Balanchine Celebration.

ETA: There must be something in the water in San Francisco, with choreographers Possokhov, Adam, Christopher Stowell, and Paul Gibson all coming out of the SFB dancers ranks.

Forgive me as this is my first post. I am an SFB subscriber and see all 8 programs - sometimes twice - each season. Thank you everyone for all the posts about the Lincoln Center engagement - I wish I could have gone. But I just had to reply to this post - is Evelyn Berman a dancer I don't recall??? I'm sure you must be referring to either Evelyn Cisneros or Joanna Berman :grinning-smiley-001:

Helene - I'm glad that I'm not the only one who wasn't as thrilled with Apollo. In its premiere season, my ballet friend and I did not like it. When it was revived this year, it was the first performance on the program and we had a drink at the bar instead!!! Although I must admit I would have been curious to see Tiit Helimets perform the role.

~Herm

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Forgive me as this is my first post. I am an SFB subscriber and see all 8 programs - sometimes twice - each season. Thank you everyone for all the posts about the Lincoln Center engagement - I wish I could have gone. But I just had to reply to this post - is Evelyn Berman a dancer I don't recall??? I'm sure you must be referring to either Evelyn Cisneros or Joanna Berman :grinning-smiley-001:
Welcome to Ballet Talk, sf_herminator!

I did mean Joanna Berman. :) Thank you for pointing this out -- I always seem to combine these two, who were very different dancers.

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Of all the reviews I've read of SFB, this comment by Robert Gottlieb struck me as particularly astute:

"San Francisco Ballet strikes me as deeply virtuous, and I can’t wait to see it again. Even so, it lacks, for me, a crucial element of great dancing: large-scale personal expressivity. Like most companies, it reflects the characteristics of its leader. Tomasson was an immaculate classicist—elegant, tasteful, contained, never vulgar, always correct and frequently charming; that’s what his company is like, too (several of the men actually look like him). But he never fully absorbed Balanchine’s insistence on dancing full-out: His movement was always measured, his presence small-scale. Peter Martins was a cool, smooth dancer, Edward Villella was explosive and full of feeling, and their companies reflect their qualities. How could it be otherwise? Splendid as Tomasson’s San Francisco is, I can’t help wanting more—dancers not only superbly trained, hard-working and personable, but dancers who thrill."

http://www.observer.com/20060807/20060807_...ttliebdance.asp

PS: Thanks, Kathleen, for the real difference between SFB & NYCB ballerinas :blush:

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On Wed. night, I thought Yuan Tan very impressive. Lovely feet, beautiful beautiful line, deep positions, and dramatically alive.

Act II of the Ballet is the best. Morris had an original idea there and worked in his own idiom and Yuan Tan and Possokhov were most interesting. The final tableau was quite uplifting.

As for the rest: Morris is not a ballet choreographer of great skill by training or experience. He is a great choreographer in his own material but ballet isn't his metier. His ballet here, the enchainements and staging is rudimentary and thin and at times amateurish. A big mistake was to cut the stage to such shallow depth. The processionals in Act III had no punch. The material for the fauns and satyrs at the opening, likewise. There were few variations so no comment on that. But the pas in Act III was student level with a few pyrotechnical tricks thrown in. What I thought of the Gay Svengali Eros I can't say.

This will and has sold tickets because it's Morris doing Sylvia. It should not have been done. Do Act II as a short piece.

MP

I thought Yuan Yuan Tan was best in contempory pieces. Her line is beautiful, but she has no expresssion. Can anyone tell me why Mark Morris made every guy look gay??? I was sooo disappointed in this particular version of Sylvia. I happen to love the original. I know that quite a few people in the audience near me left after the second act. These were both people who had seen the original and those that have never seen the ballet. Mr. Morris' version was a disappointment for me. I love him and adored Plate' . But this seemed a bit tired, perhaps because this was not his idea to. I heard he was commissioned to create a new version. Maybe that is why his vision is stale.

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I happen to love the original

The original ??

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I'm guessing though it isn't "original", suzkess means the Ashton version.

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Thanks jps for the Robert Gottlieb quote.

I've found SFB exactly that way: measured, calculating, precise and polite. I grew up in Saratoga watching NYCB and even as an adolescent found their dancing expansive and demanding to watch. Mr B (as paraphrased by a friend in the company) compared Russians to other dancers in the way they sneeze: "Russians sneeze big and loud, letting it all out. Others sneeze small and polite. We want to dance like Russians sneeze."

I always liked that image of dancing like a healthy, big sneeze: organic, cleansing, unembarassed. SFB, by way of Mr. T's coaching, seems to opt for the more restrained and measured performance: polite a'choos of restrained dancing. If I see Yuan Yuan or Nutnaree on their backs slowly unfolding their legs in one more blue-lighted adagio....

Maybe it's just me, but I really like dancing like skiing: always a little bit out of control. Give me a dancer on two feet taking risks with the music, conductor and audience in tow!

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Thanks for your comments, Globetrotter. What I appreciated about Gottlieb's comment is that it is not only a criticism of SFB but an appreciation, and a suggestion for future development. I don't think there is any question that SFB has benefited from Helgi's particular gifts, and has needed precisely those gifts. Your story about Mr B's comment reminded me that the talk around here (San Francisco) is that Yuri Possokhov would make a great associate artistic director for SFB. Then we would have Helgi's elegance combined with full-hearted Russian expressiveness. Meantime, I continue to think of SFB the way I think about a favorite gifted young dancer: full of promise, a pleasure to watch, and nowhere near her full potential. That's the spirit in which I took Gottlieb's comment.

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A belated comment on the SFB rep program. Artefact Suite blew the other works out of the water, whatever one thinks of Forsythe (and among balletomanes, I sense a distinct dislike of his work--why is this?). My thought was that that rep program would be perfectly fine in the context of seeing the company alot--i.e., if you live in SF--but that it was not the best choice for showing the company off in a city that, as John Rockwell pointed out in the NY Times, it visits rarely.

BTW it was very interesting to hear the audience twitter when the fire curtain slammed down in Artefact. I felt like I was at the premiere of Rite of Spring! I know, I know, it's a gimmick....but I was unexpectely moved to find myself suddenly in a dark room, listening to Bach.

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Hey Ray - good to see you here again.

The audience did laugh at the fire curtain on Sat. night, but not on Sun. matinee. I think it was a flaw in the idea, not the audience; I like Artifact (see above a few posts - it gave me a lot of nostalgia for when Forsythe was going to be It) but find that after the third time the fire curtain shtick is obvious and doesn't do what it was intended to.

I don't speak for Every Balletomane on Earth, but I felt Forsythe has little allegiance to ballet despite works like Artifact. He hasn't done anything related to ballet as far as I know since '99 - and even before then his interest was waning and at its height only interested in a limited aspect of ballet - slash and burn. There's way more to ballet than there is to Forsythe, and that's why my interest in him is qualified.

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I'm sure this information is not news to regulars here, but for the record:

DanceViewTimes has published six diverse and well-written (as usual) reviews of SFB at Lincoln Center; the first five, by Susan Reiter, Leigh Witchel, Mary Cargill, and Lisa Rinehart are here:

http://www.danceviewtimes.com/backissues/2...uly/073106.html

The latest is Nancy Dalva's "Letter from New York."

It's a thoughtful, funny love letter to a dance company:

http://www.danceviewtimes.com/index.html

Robert Greskovic's appreciative review of Mark Morris's Sylvia appeared in the Wall Street Journal on August 10. The full review is only available to subscribers to the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/public/us.

Nonsubscribers can download it for $4.95 after 8/18, possibly via this link:

http://online.wsj.com/public/search/page/3...allet&x=10&y=10

PS: SFB is back in San Francisco and looked good yesterday during its free summer outdoor performance at Stern Grove. The impression I get is that the New York trip made them more determined than ever to be themselves. The home-town crowd gave them a very warm welcome.

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