"In the Upper Room" and the Philip Glass scorepowerful and ambivalent responses to it
Posted 21 January 2007 - 03:37 PM
There are TWO CDs of the score readily available--I think originally it was included on "Glassworks" (not sure it's complete) and now the newer "Danceworks", which includes 3 Glass works that were later choreographed. This second CD includes the complete "In the Upper Room" and "Mad Rush" which Kirk Peterson choreographed for the ABT Studio company. Both CDs are available at Amazon, B&N, and probably other sites (or stores) as well. The music is very popular to choreograph to because it creates a sonic "wall" of music, and no matter what you do, you'll always be on a beat. (Something that's also true of Bach.) I happen to like "minimalist" music including the ubiquitous Part, Adams, Reich etc. so I can find it oddly soothing as well as enervating.
The first time I saw "...Upper Room", (after a very long break), by ABT in 2005, the fog effect was so thick there were MAJOR complaints in the City Center Mezz because the dancers were totally invisible! Then an ABT staffer ran out fast, informed the FX guys, the fog cleared a little, and Lo! We could see. In 2006, I saw it ABT do it 3x.
It is a marathon performance, but there are breaks, not all dancers are onstage all the time. I tend to view it by concentrating on particular duos and groups through the entire piece. Because of this, I can watch entrances/exits and how they react or differentiate themselves from the general "corps". Partnering (and difficulties there) also becomes more apparent. There is also a LOT of repetition, so it is possible to then turn your attention to others who may be doing something different in the corners. What I enjoyed most was watching the most classical dancers in ABT just 'let loose' and yet still try to retain the technical control that's so ingrained. I'm not sure if that made it correct "Tharp" but it was interesting. I have a feeling the Bolshoi may have a similar hurdle. I agree totally that Stella Abrera got the head 'bobble' the best. (I miss Cheryl Yeager.)
Posted 22 January 2007 - 08:34 AM
Bart, have you ever looked at “The Winger”? Several dancers contribute “behind the scenes” posts and there’s one by Alex Wong with photo’s and comments on MCB’s current productions including “In the Upper Room”. I think you’ll find it very interesting, here’s the link:
If you look through their archives you’ll also find a post from David Hallberg with photos & comments on ABT’s production...
Posted 22 January 2007 - 08:45 AM
Wong's a second-year corpsman with MCB and makes a huge impression every time he dances -- one of those natural movers who only get better with experience. The threesome of stompers (Wong, Jeremy Cox, and Daniel Baker) had probably the most consistent, energetic and exiting dancing of the entire piece. Villella obviously has his eye on all three, possibly recognizing elements of his own dance personality and technical promise as a very young man.
4mrdncr, I am right with you on the following:
Another thought: With its jazzy moves, head wagging, karate chops, kick boxing, allusions to the Frug and other old popular dances, etc., this comes across as something of a period piece -- a fond, if frenetic, look at New York City 20- or 30-somethings in the 80s. I don't mean this as a criticism. Works, over time, are seen in different contexts and by audiences with different experiences from those that saw them at the premiere. Agon, too. That has become more "classical" and "court-dance-like" with time, now that we are relatively familiar with the style, "look," movement vocabulary, and even music.
Posted 27 January 2007 - 09:00 PM
I'm having a pretty good time with this, but I think Glass's music is why it's not better. The music doesn't go anywhere, or, as Arlene Croce pointed out at the time of Room's premiere, "He sets a properly frenetic pace but builds no momentum; each dance is pinned in its own gridlike cage of sound. Compared with David Byrne's score for The Catherine Wheel, the Glass makes almost no rhythmic or textural demands on Tharp."
I think it has its moments, though a lot of it is whizz-bang effect, not the least of which is the emergence of much of the cast from the fog bank in front of you. (Balanchine wanted to have upstage entrances for something - Vienna Waltzes? - but wasn't satisfied with what he could achieve. Fog was not his thing, I believe, although water was.) But then, as Croce said, "it would veer back to being genuine," although she doesn't say where so I don't know whether we're really in agreement. Not that I never enjoy whizz-bang effect, but it's not so memorable. And these performances, MCB being the company it is, have an awful lot of bang; they really pump this one up.
Posted 31 January 2007 - 01:15 PM
(from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida) Having just come back from seeing Room for the third time in two days, I offer a couple of little thoughts, as the hour is late: I asked the MCB sound man this evening whether they were using a commercial CD of the music, and he said no. He didn't think there was one, but then he uses what he's given, I suppose, and doesn't have the same reason some here do to seek one out, but I add this note of caution at the risk of annoying 4mrdncr, which is not my purpose, of course. [quote]
Yes, CD's are for those of us listening to the music, NOT performing to it. I would not expect the 'sound man' at MCB or any other company to use a commercial CD as their source for a performance--unless it is a smaller company with a consequently much smaller budget that usually performs in a much smaller (sonic & physical) space. The reason is the need for correct tempos.
How long has it taken me to find a decent recording of Swan Lake at the correct tempo?! For years the 2-LP (that's a black plastic "record" disk for those too young) soundtrack to the Nureyev/Fonteyn film sufficed since it's tempos were fine, but the need to find additional music resulted in an endless (decades long) search since most symphony orchestras have little experience with this. Therefore, to avoid this extremely annoying problem, unless I'm desperate, I usually try to purchase ballet CDs made by a ballet orchestra. "Pitch differentials" on the CD player can be used to compensate, but will never be as accurate as a recording made to the dancers' moves themselves. Today, digital technology allows music sources to be from numerous sources including files on a central server!
Happy birthday to Mr. Glass. I suppose he is comfortable with all, but poor Mr. Tchaikovsky must be more uncomfortable looking down on us.
Posted 20 February 2007 - 03:15 PM
Posted 20 February 2007 - 08:47 PM
Just a footnote... Kirk Peterson originally choreographed "Mad Rush" for the Pennsylvania Ballet in the early 1990s.
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