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Mixed Rep: Bournonville, Balanchine, Tharp


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#1 Helene

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 11:51 PM

Why do dancers allow themselves to be cast in Bournonville? It has to be the hardest, most unforgiving ballet discipline, requiring precision, musicality, proportion, balance, opposition, and the defining Feldenkrais characteristic of reversability. Slips and stumbles and going off balance can't be saved by a supporting partner. Most of the music doesn't support melodramatic excess. Large preparations and indulgent big effects distort the line. And there's that demanding quiet fifth position out of every possible weight shift to end the phrase. Every flaw is exposed. The music does not have the same extremes as the big Tchaikovsky scores, and the dancers must find a way to ride more subtle dynamic changes. And it requires taste.

Ballet Arizona's Mixed Rep program begins with two Bournonville works: Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux and Konservatoriet. Two dancers who joined Arizona Ballet this year, Michelle Mahowald and Ross Clarke, danced the Pas de Deux in today's matinee. Both are tall, or at least Mahowald's long legs make her look tall. Clarke, in particular, danced as if he were projecting on the stage of Symphony Hall, the Company's main venue, rather than the intimate Orpheum Theatre. Extension and long leg line that are ideal for classical and neoclassical works don't necessarily fit into the geometry and balance of the ballet, and they both had a tendency to phrase in discrete pieces, so that you could see the measure markings. Which isn't to say they danced it badly, but they did look like classical dancers in a new style. When Clarke lifted from the sternum, though, in en dedans pirouettes and was so straight up and well-centered he looked like he could have done a dozen clearly articulated turns, and when he did the same in beautifully prepared and rhythmic double tours, it was a joy to watch, even if the impetus was more classical. (And, he landed in perfect fifths.) There was a beautiful moment at the beginning of the pas de deux when he stepped forward and tendued back, opening his arms in second in welcome. A simple movement, but so generously done. Watching him, I thought what a wonderful Albrecht he would make.

Astrit Zejnati has all of the qualities to shine in Bournonville, and he showed them as Alexis, the Ballet Master, in Konservatoriet, dancing with his usual elegance. The best example was during a series of jumps across the stage (maybe sissones?). While he lifted his working leg to the side above his waist, it looked like an effortless snap up, without distorting his upper body. But other dancers can do this. What was remarkable was that he had an equal snap down, and immediately replaced the leg as the supporting leg. It sounds basic, but to watch someone and realize that's the way it's supposed to be done is always, for me, such a wonderful jolt.

As Eliza, Ginger Smith showed why she shines in so many roles, however minor: she dances from the center. Her arm movements start deep in her back, like the upward lift of a parabola, and when she raised one arm on a diagonal forward, it was in balanced opposition from just beneath her breastbone. She always looked like she could go in any direction from any place in movement. She also danced through the measures, in long phrases, and made the gentle modulations that made the phrases bloom. Paulli's music is not so intuitive to the 21st century ear, as it's rather sweet; to hear the peaks in it and understand where the life is in the music is a really fine achievement.

Children are an applause machine -- and hopefully bring their own extended family and friends -- and today was no exception. There are eight children in Konservatoriet, and the young girl, front and center, understood the turning of the head and the epaulement, as well as the way that the arms are inherent in the logic of the whole in the ballet exercises. There was also a blond woman in the corps -- she ended the ballet downstage right -- who had an energy that made the dance more than an exercise. I couldn't recognize her from the program.

Another dancer I didn't recognize was Robert Dekkers, whose hair looks nothing like his program picture, and it covered his face a bit. (I thought there might have been a substitution, but he didn't look like anyone else's picture, either.) He danced Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux with Ginger Smith in the evening performance. His physical proportions -- not such long legs -- were more pleasing to my eyes in the role. Although he struggled a bit with the ending fifths and his tours were a little unwieldy, he had a verve and a snap in the role that was very appealing, and he and Ginger Smith had an ease together. Smith was superb in this role as well; only towards the very end did she lose a bit of crispness. Her ear stood her in good stead, as she showed the same sensitivity to phrasing and dramatic arc that she did in Konservatoriet.

Vitaly Breusenko danced Alexis. Unlike Zejnati, who walked into the studio as a natural leader ("of course they will follow"), Breusenko was a bit more emphatic and charismatic. (They actually look quite a bit alike onstage.) Natalia Magnicaballi danced Eliza. In her solos, she didn't look a natural for the style, especially in proportion, but she and Breusenko had a surprising chemistry in their pas de deux. Not surprising that they had chemistry, but in Bournonville, particularly Konservatoriet isn't where I expect it. It isn't that they acted out romance, but particularly because Magnicaballi has an "it" aura -- it's hard to imagine that this wasn't recognized when she was young -- you could see why a Ballet Master would be drawn to her. It was a brief glimpse into how all of those relationships between Ballet Masters and their students could happen spontaneously out of the work in the studio.

Kanako Imayoshi danced Victorine. It was she who did that wonderful slow develope to high second, and held it for an hour or so while she did a slow turn on flat without dropping her extended leg a millimeter. (And she had to compete for attention as Magnicaballi did something to the other side of Breusenko.) Her final solo, to a fast violin solo, was a splendid example of the reversability principle: she was so centered, she looked like she could have shifted in the opposite direction at any time. It was also a wondeful example of how a dancer can infuse Bournonville choreography with life without breaking balance or line.

Of the four men in the corps, Joseph Cavanaugh was a standout. In his solo, he danced with a completely different energy than he brings to everything else he dances, and I can only think that he decided to creat a little mini-character in the piece, as the "correct" dancer, but didn't look like caricature, either.

Rubies was the second ballet, staged by Sandra Jennings. The opening tableau brought a huge "oooo" from the audience in both performances. Kenna Draxton danced the "tall" girl as if the role were made on her. (She dances all performances.) She gained authority throughout the first movement, and when the four male demis manipulate her leg in all directions, she became more and more powerful. The lead couple was danced by Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook. In 30 years, I've never seen a sexier performance of the female lead. Watching Magnicaballi, I started to think of Suzanne Farrell. Magnicaballi doesn't dance like Farrell, and her inherent glamour and appeal aren't the same kind as Farrell's, but they're just as potent. She didn't put on a single extra tada or glamour puss. She just was herself, which was intoxicating. Cook responded to her as if he were the Prodigal, an innocent who would follow her to the ends of the Earth, while she called the shots. His dance reaction was explosive. That she didn't outwardly ask for the power it made her all the more irresistable.

Paola Hartley and Astrit Zejnati danced in the evening performance. I don't think I've ever seen a clearer or more articulate dancer than Hartley. Her approach couldn't have been any more different than Magnicaballi's, but every single step and movement was transparent, and this was a revelation. In the pas de deux, you could see the devil come over her, but Zejnati was her equal, not her follower.

Joseph Cavanaugh and James Russell Toth were great in the male quartet. Both of them danced in all three sections of the program -- Hartley and Cook did back-to-back Rubies and "Golden Section", yikes -- and I don't know how they could stand by the end...

Because the Tharp piece was pounding. It was the "Golden Section" of The Catherine Wheel, staged by Keith Roberts. As Paula Citron wrote in The Globe and Mail about Ballet British Columbia's mixed rep program (from today's Links), "Curiously, but predictably, the Vancouver audience saved its loudest applause for Twarp's clever but shallow, albeit eye-catching Baker's Dozen, set to the infectious music of the famous Harlem stride pianist Willie (The Lion) Smith, which is performed live by the excellent Terence Dawson." With a few substitutions, she could have been writing about "The Golden Section." I wasn't impressed by The Catherine Wheel when it was broadcast on PBS years ago, and I didn't like it any better now. (Although I did like "The Golden Section" more than Movin' Out, but probably because the music was by David Byrne, not Billy Joel, and it was about 1.5 hours shorter.) It received standing O's after both performances, which the dancers deserved, if the choreography didn't. Joseph Cavanaugh, Paola Hartley, and James Russell Toth were particularly outstanding, as was Lisbet Companioni in the matinee. (I think there was a blond dancer replacing her in the evening.)

It was such a pleasure to see Konservatoriet, a ballet I like more and more each time I see it. It alone would have made the trip worth it. (So would Rubies, but that was a more predictable success from this company that does Balanchine so well.) It was fun to see that the front inside cover ad in the program is for a furniture store in Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale named "Copenhagen"; it almost felt like a bow to the origins of Bournonville ballet.

In rather nice twist, the head of the arts agency in the City of Phoenix government made a pre-curtain speech. He mentioned that the operating budget was over $5 million, and said that ticket sales raised half that amount. Bracing myself for the "but we need you to help raise the other half," he, surprising to me, thanked the people in the audience for buying tickets and being there, providing that support.

#2 stinger784

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 09:15 AM

Hi Helene,
Thanks for a "real" review as we know local papers tend to miss the point.
Lisbet was replaced by Tzu-Chia Haung in the evening performance.
And I do not think Robert was onstage for Conservatoriette in the matinee or evening. He did however dance Flower Festival in the evening.
Thanks,
~Ian Poulis~
Ballet Arizona

#3 Helene

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 09:22 AM

Thank you for the info!

Sometimes I can't read -- it was from the Tharp that I remember Dekkers' haircut from the matinee. By process of elimination, that haircut could only have belonged to Dekkers, but I still couldn't believe it. I also lost track of the number of blond women in the Tharp, trying to figure out who the blond woman I like so much in Konservatoriet was.

I have another question: your legs look six feet long by themselves. How do you move and beat so fast?

#4 bart

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 09:34 AM

Thanks, Helene, for that wonderful review. It sounds like a fascinating program. It certainly seems to proclaim: our dancers can dance everything !!!

Why do dancers allow themselves to be cast in Bournonville? It has to be the hardest, most unforgiving ballet discipline, requiring precision, musicality, proportion, balance, opposition, and the defining Feldenkrais characteristic of reversability. Slips and stumbles and going off balance can't be saved by a supporting partner. Most of the music doesn't support melodramatic excess. Large preparations and indulgent big effects distort the line. And there's that demanding quiet fifth position out of every possible weight shift to end the phrase. Every flaw is exposed. The music does not have the same extremes as the big Tchaikovsky scores, and the dancers must find a way to ride more subtle dynamic changes. And it requires taste.

I guess it helps to have a Danish-trained AD. Anderson and the company deserve a great deal of praise for attempting this difficult feat.

I share your frustrations with being unable to identify some of the dancers, even when their are photos in the program. Actors are so obsessive about getting good head shots. Why do so many ballet companies, in contrast, tolerate snapshots from what looks to be a passport office? And then repeat the same photo year after year? :jawdrop: There are frequently standouts in even the smallest part or in the back of the corps, who have that rare gift of capturing and holding the eye and the imagination. They deserve to be seen and also to be named. I appreciate your efforts -- and those of so many others on Ballet Talk -- for doing this consistently. :)

#5 carbro

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 09:39 AM

It wasn't just the Bournonvilles that were demanding. Each ballet on the bill has its own special "killer" aspects. That BA succeeded as well as it did indicates that Andersen is nurturing a fine artistic instrument from what is still a young company.

Congratulations to him and the dancers of BA!

#6 Helene

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 10:38 AM

There are frequently standouts in even the smallest part or in the back of the corps, who have that rare gift of capturing and holding the eye and the imagination.

Without Paul Parish sitting next to me, so that when I ask, "who was that amazing brunette who ended up downstage left and was the middle one in the third trio" he can tell me it was Erin McNulty, I'm afraid I'm stuck with "the blond woman who ended up downstage right."

#7 stinger784

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 03:41 PM

Thank you for the info!

Sometimes I can't read -- it was from the Tharp that I remember Dekkers' haircut from the matinee. By process of elimination, that haircut could only have belonged to Dekkers, but I still couldn't believe it. I also lost track of the number of blond women in the Tharp, trying to figure out who the blond woman I like so much in Konservatoriet was.

I have another question: your legs look six feet long by themselves. How do you move and beat so fast?


Well Helene what I can tell you about my legs and the fast movement, is that it took a while for me learn how to move that fast. Being Russian trained at the Kirov DC, it has been quite the adjustment coming to a Balanchine company. But it is a challenge that I am thoroughly enjoying. I have always wanted to do Bournonville and I am so happy I am getting my chance. (How did you know I was 6 feet tall?)

Of the blonde women in Tharp, either Kendra Mitchell (had the long solo at the end of the ballet) or Karen Wojtowicz (the one who was tossed into the air by Michael Cook).

In Conservatoriette, I believe it was downstage right you were talking about in the company not the children, it may have been Heather Haar. She was the blonde in my line if that's who you were referring to...

#8 Arizona Native

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 07:12 PM

Speaking of misidentifying standouts in the corps -- today I realized that I previously mistook Ross Clarke for Michael Cook, when singling out a particularly involved and appropriately-animated member in Coppelia. Seeing the two dance next to each other today in Tharp's "Golden Section," I see why I confused them, but am now unlikely to make that mistake again -- sorry, guys.

Regarding Flower Festival and Konservatoriet, I was similarly struck by the extreme physical demands of the Bournonville: in addition to all that noted previously, the choreography follows up the adagio with the petite allegro, as if as a matter of course a dancer should be expected at any moment to just toss them off equally well, with the switch of the proverbial switch. We were sorry that Ginger Smith did not perform today, and hope she is not injured.

While I dislike "The Golden Section," particularly the beginning, I thought the piece was too short. It seemed to end just as we were beginning to delve into it. Like Helene, I don't much like the dance itself, but sure liked the dancers, who were tremendous in this extemely athletic contemporary piece. It required of them, among other things, a kind of teamwork and inter-relationship that is absent from classical ballets. It was interesting to watch different aspects of their personalities begin to emerge, as they necessarily attended to relating to each other physically -- turning one another end-over-end, throwing and catching or stepping onto each other -- so that the audience would see the dancers, at times, without their performance "faces" on. I have often wondered whether there has yet evolved a contemporary movement vocabulary to accompany contemporary pieces such as this: a lack of vocabulary would make these particularly hard pieces to learn.

This company just gets better and better. In that context, it has been especially nice to see Kenna Draxton blooming. She has done a great deal with her technique, which now shows her lovely, chorus-girl body to advantage, so that she will now have more freedom to come forward with her personality. Thanks to all members of the company for this performance, and we look forward to seeing you again in June!

#9 Arizona Native

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 07:14 PM

Oh -- and, Helene -- any chance we could somehow draft you to review for "The Arizona Republic"?

#10 stinger784

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 09:45 AM

Oh -- and, Helene -- any chance we could somehow draft you to review for "The Arizona Republic"?



I KNOW!!!

http://a683.ac-image...5bac60b30ca.jpg


Photo By Rosalie O'Connor. Here is a look at me from Conservatoriette and for those to get an idea of how the piece looked.

#11 Kazdncr

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 02:25 PM

Dear Helene,

I'm wondering about your comment about the blonde girl in Konservatoriet- was she on your right when looking at the stage from the audience?

#12 Helene

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 08:42 PM

On my left facing the stage, in the front of the line.

#13 Kazdncr

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 09:53 PM

On my left facing the stage, in the front of the line.

It's Heather Haar that you like:)

#14 Helene

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 10:23 PM

Thank you so much, Kazdncr!

In any piece with corps, one or two dancers grab my eye. Hopefully, I'll learn who all of the dancers in the Company are, and learn to appreciate each one. (It just takes me a while, and since I'm from out-of-town, it has to happen over a couple of years.) Many times, a dancer I hadn't noticed will be cast in a different style ballet, and really shine.

For example, in the Sunday afternoon performance of "Golden Section," every dancer and each role in the piece was equally vivid to me in his/her own way, whereas the first two times I saw it, my eye kept going back to the same dancers. The same thing with Rubies: all four men were equally impressive, each in his own way, and the female corps was spot on.


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