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Jack Reed

Ballet Chicago at Chicago Cultural Center

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The Chicago Cultural Center was originally the central public library, and Preston Bradley Hall was originally a large reading room, flanked by smaller ones and reached by a stairway all separated from it only by arcades, and not a performance hall at all. There was no stage and no wings, just a partition at the back, around which performers could appear from another room, maybe a kitchen, and return to it. Ballet Chicago, Dan Duell and Patricia Blair's students, mostly, with Ted Seymour, a former student who teaches at their school, performed on a 25 by 40 foot Marly floor on Masonite panels on carpet on the original terrazzo floor; the audience of grade-school children and their teachers was seated on three sides of this floor, right up to the edge of it. The dancers used every foot of their space and looked a little held-in at times. They had to be, otherwise someone could have been hurt, maybe a member of the audience, even. And in line with this, some of the tempos of the recorded music used for the performances were a little easier than usual.

I saw the second performance of the day, at noon. Watching from such close range, I found the dancers a little huge, and while on other occasions in the past that has sometimes diminished the effect of the dancing, I found the simple purity of these dancers'movements stood up well to such scrutiny, and things like the moment in the first movement of Serenade where the front end of the diagonal of girls progressively flows away to the left even more thrilling than from a distant location.

The program had opened with some demonstrations and calls by Duell for volunteers from the audience for some movement examples, and then the performances led off with variations 1 through 5 from Divertimento No. 15, and here there were some apparently effortful moments as there often are (though not with NYCB the previous week IIRC, but their dancers are of course years older and supposedly the pick of the country, if not the world).

Then there was another call for volunteers to try out some simple floor patterns, with the children arranged with the taller ones toward the back, and when one of these excercises immediately ran into obvious trouble, it was an occasion for the unflappable Duell to remind us all what rehearsals were for, and pretty soon things went obviously right, to applause. (These kids were a well-behaved and responsive audience.) This was an introduction to a performance of the second movement of Concerto Barocco, with its elaborate floor patterns, and this was realized on a more exalted, if somewhat matter of fact, level, owing to the constraints of the circumstances, with smooth lifts by Seymour looking, even at this close range, much easier than they must have been.

To see this choreography danced this well to this music in such inauspicious surroundings brought some tears to my eyes. I like to say great art exists outside its time and place, although I didn't exactly have in mind a phenomenon like this. But there it was.

The Serenade movement which closed the program looked the best, I thought, scarcely compromised by the circumstances, with the dancers re-costumed, and dancing beautifully to the point of exciting.

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So does this amount to a re-constituting of Ballet Chicago, or was this a performance by the students of the School of Ballet Chicago?

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The latter. (I see I could have been more careful with terms.) I believe Dan and Patricia have been doing shows like this for about 18 years.

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Jack, thanks for that thorough description of the event. It brought back many memories.

Dan has always been very articulate and intelligent: a wonderful speaker/explicator at lec/dems, symposia, panels, and interviews, especially about Balanchine after Mr. B died in 1983. When NYCB went to San Francisco/Berkeley in 1986 or so (87?) he gave a very interesting, informative and accessible talk. He and his late brother Joe also spoke at a NYCB Guild Luncheon, and were very good together.

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