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Ballet Talk on Tour Diary


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#1 Helene

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 03:32 AM

Wed 23 April
London
Royal Ballet

It was a relief to see movement in the opening of "Serenade." Among the principals, Marianella Nunez performed the Waltz Girl, partnered by Federico Bonelli. I found the opening more effective than the partnered third movement, when the two tended to bland out each other, and there wasn't much emotional transition into the last movement from Nunez. Lauren Cuthbertson made her mark from the beginning as Russian Girl, sustaining her performance throughout and flying into the arms of Rupert Pennefather in the last movement. He was a stiff presence as the man led by the Dark Angel, danced by a fine Mara Galeazzi.

The premiere of Kim Brandstrup's "Rushes: Fragments of a Lost Story" followed. It was set to Michael Berkeley's orchestrations of an unfinished Prokofiev score that was meant for a film version of "Queen of Spades." I thought the score was ravishing. The piece, not so much. Brandstrup clearly has a great eye for film and talent for transferring movement to film-like imagery, as is the first group scene where the couples of the corps enter from behind the farther back of two transparent curtains made of vertical strings. Then they started to dance, and he showed a very limited dance vocabulary: lift, turn, turn, lift. Turn, lift, turn, turn, etc, with lots of unison work. It wasn't awful -- there was no writhing -- but the interesting part for me was the score.

Ostensibly the work is about a man thinking back to the past. There's a woman in Red (Morera), a woman in Brown (Cojocaru), and lots of angst, mourning, and regret. The final pas de deux, with the lovely Alina Cojocaru, had a number of lifts that ice dance couples should steal, because that's what they do: lift, lift, turn, turn, and Brandstrup does have an eye for putting them together. Acosta's part made me a bit sad: it was an acting/partnering role for a dancer at the end of his career.

The set and lighting designs by Richard Hudson and Jean Kalman were evocative and effective, with the curtains indicating separation and break-through, and when lifted to show the light of a bare bulb provided the emotional resonance that the generic choreography only indicated.

"Homage to the Queen" was a reconstruction of the Entree, Apotheosis, and "Air" movement by Christopher Newton of of Frederick Ashton's original work. According to the program notes, there wasn't much to go on for the other three elements, and Monica Mason commissioned David Bintley for "Earth," Michael Corder for "Water," and Christopher Wheeldon for "Fire," with a request for the choreographers to use Ashton's original numbers and groupings for demi-soloists, and to put the ballerinas in tutus. All complied with the first, but only Corder with the second, which made the languid "Water" look more formal than "Earth" and "Fire" with their structured tunics. All of the costumes, by Peter Farmer, were stunning in color, style, and detail, making this one of the most visually pleasing productions I've seen in quite a while. Where the ballerinas were in tutus, so were their demi-soloists. with the remaining corps in flowing dresses to mid-calf.

Of the three new works, for me the most satisfying was the Bintley; I didn't know he had such a formal ballet in him. He paid a little tribute to Ashton by making a flattering ballerina role, which Leanne Benjamin danced with charm. Miyako Yoshida and Valeria Hristov led Corder's "Water" section, substituting for Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg. Yoshida is a very clean dancer, with every position in place, but her dancing is jewelry box ballerina tiny, and the ballet suffered from her performance: it had nowhere to go. "Water" is not a vertical ballet: it ripples and moves, and she, literally, didn't go with the flow. I was much more interested in the work of Ricardo Cervera, Laura Morera, and Lauren Cuthbertson in the Pas de Trois. I thought "Fire" was a big, frenetic mess, with fast steps and meaningless weight changes. For me it had little charm or impact, and especially did not create the fiery lead-in to the celestial "Air," despite the lovely Sarah Lamb's attempt at making something of the ballerina role.

Alexandra Ansanelli, as the lead ballerina of "Air," made a great entrance, and nothing else she did matched it. Her performance was oddly constrained, and she looked pained, as if her thoughts were rolling across her forehead. It did not help at all that her partner, David Makhateli, could not have been less there for her had he been invisible. Throughout the entire ballet he was looking elsewhere, and I don't think Ashton intended for the Michael Somes cavalier role to be 1. the center role of the ballet and 2. a poet searching for something else out there. Ansanelli didn't show signs of coping with whatever happened to be onstage at any given time, though, and that is deadly for a performer. She might be a dancer, but she doesn't strike me as a stage animal.

Are there any dancers in the Royal Ballet who remember a time in the British monarchy before Princess Diana? During the Apotheosis, I kept thinking of the sad, young queen, mourning her father and taking on the responsibilities of the monarchy and post-war England at so young an age. It's hard to think of a contemporary transitional moment with the same resonance.


Thu 24 April
Antwerpen
Vlaamse Opera

Taking a step off the ballet path, I heard a superb performance of a concert version of Bellini's "La Sonnambula" by the Vlaamse Opera at the Konigin Elisabethzaal concert hall.

Elvino, sung by Colin Lee, is a bit of a dopey character (tenor lead and all), but Lee, especially in tender solo passages and in duets with Annick Massis, who sang Amina, gave the character a bit of substance and dimension. Elvino has one killer aria in the piece, with high everything thrown in, and he was so dead on in it, it was like watching a ballerina do the Rose Adagio twice in a row and never worrying that she would not hit every balance perfectly.

Giorgio Giuseppini sang Count Rudolf with pathos in a resonant, rolling bass. Amina's foil, Lisa, was sung by the young Belgian soprano, Hendrickje Van Kerckhove. The hall struck me as having dynamic acoustics -- and Jan Vuye's very fine chorus roared, what a sound! -- and her voice was not big, but it was spot on accurate in the coloratura runs in both directions. She's a tiny, beautiful woman, with a great Queen-of-the-Night theatrical expression. (Amina and Elvino better not run into her in a dark alley after they reconcile in "happily ever after.") I don't know if she has a large enough voice for the major opera houses, but if she developed to have a major career, it wouldn't surprise me.

Van Kerckhove and the audience were given a lesson in all of the shades and colors that a coloratura soprano could bring to a role by Annick Massis. Her singing was brilliant, nuanced, and what a voice she has: the last time I heard a coloratura with that much range, imagination, and beauty was when Beverly Sills sang Elisabetta in "Roberto Devereaux." Massis' voice doesn't have quite the sheen that Sills' did, but she is a superb musician and vocal dramatic actress, and has breath control to spare. When she hit the high notes, they were the cherries on top of the sundae, but when she hit a long one and then went low in the same breath and held that to the end of the orchestration, it was to die for.

I heard a charming intermission interview with Massis on Sirius radio a few months ago, during which she spoke about working out at the gym, and when she came onstage, I recognized her immediately by her upper arms.


Fri 25 Apr
Gent
Royal Ballet of Flanders

This "All Stravinsky" program opened with "Apollo," which had the strongest and finest dancing in the program. Each of the dancers brought freshness and energy to his/hor role, and the dancers "got" the dance logic and impetus, especially Wim Vanlessen as Apollo, where the trajectory of Apollo's development was clear and delight to follow. Calliope's variation is the oddest of the three, at least to my eyes honed on neoclassical works, and is over before the transition into the competition among the muses is felt fully. Guilia Tonelli did more than a credible job, but needs more experience in the role. Polyhymnia's is a psychologically true mini-drama: who hasn't done the hardest possible thing -- in her case, huge turns with one finger over her lips -- only to slip up just before completion on the easy stuff? Jessica Teague danced big with good dynamics. Annabelle Hellinckx's Terpsichore was danced more completely in the pas de deux, but Vanlessen's Apollo had made his clear choice after her solo, and his was bright and heartfelt. The production is the full version, with the birth of Apollo and the fulfilling ascent to the heavens, and it was staged by Patricia Neary.

After seeing Corder's "Water," I looked forward to seeing a work by a ballet choreographer who loves ballet, does not apologize for liking and creating ballets, and is not allergic to steps. In the "be careful what you wish for" category, in his reworking of "Orpheus," Corder filled the score with so much ballet that it was bursting at the seams and had no room to breathe, and in doing so, he missed many of the music cues. The ballet was an epic, with what turned out to be a somewhat thankless role for Orpheus, danced by Sanny Kleef, full of mourning and lifting. Aki Saito, the Euridice, is a beautiful dancer with lovely line and flow who managed to be interesting through an interminable pas de deux, but she danced Juliet, not Euridice. To be fair to her, Juliet may have been what was choreographed. Orpheus is a story of grown-ups. While what I saw was a ballet by a man who loves ballet, the emotional content and musical response did not make a ballet of grown-ups.

Re Kylian's "Symphony of Psalms," the score is gorgeous.

#2 Helene

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 08:41 AM

Sat 26 April (matinee)
Gent
Royal Ballet of Flanders

This afternoon I saw a repeat performance of the Balanchine/Corder/Kylian program, with a lot of new casting. In "Apollo" Jessica Teague reprised her strong Polyhymnia. Ernesto Boada's Apollo had a difficult birth: his swadling did not come off properly -- I'm not sure Leto's two attendants unwrapped him so that he could turn out of the rest -- and he spent his opening moments trying to improvise how to get out of the tangled mess of cloth, which did not look like a lot of fun. (Whether the audience, which like last night was a convention of dementors, sucking out the last ounce of life from the opera house, even noticed that this was an issue, is questionable.) Boada recovered nicely and gave a convincing performance of the young god, if his phasing was a bit glottal. He's a tall, long-lined dancer, towering over his muses. The Calliope, Ashley Wright, and Terpsichore, Courtney Richardson, were a cut above their counterparts from last night. Wright's phrasing was beautifully sculpted. Richardson made the role worth watching just with her feet, which looked dextrous enough to have been playing Apollo's lute. She danced the role big, a leader as a teacher, and was a real pleasure to watch.

With lower expectations, I liked "Orpheus" better overall on second viewing, especially as I watched the women's corps, and I appreciated some of the ways in which Corder used gesture in place of mime, like when Euridice's nymphs notice that she lay dead, with a simple croise epaulment. In the section where they were in lovely black dresses with cross halter tops -- I believe at that point they were inhabitants of the underworld -- they danced with conviction, and I'm fairly certain I saw Ashley Wright again, dancing up a storm. The women looked better in this -- more determined, more articulate, and with greater energy -- than in the Kylian which followed, my only frame of reference.

Wim Vanlessen danced the title role of Corder's "Orpheus." With clear, beautifully finished positions in the middle of movement, and lush, musical phrasing, there's almost a glow about him; he's what I'd describe as a golden dancer. Sadly, that brought out what I think is the biggest weakness of the ballet, which is the Disneyfied emotional landscape in the choreography. In this ballet, he could only be Romeo to Aki Saito's Juliet, because the choregraphy, especially in the central pas de deux, doesn't even have the gravity of the bedroom scene of "Romeo and Juliet", let alone the tension in a man so close to what he wants, but who responds to his great love's doubts and loses her for the second time. I would love to see Vanlessen dance the real thing. Without barrel turns or huge leaping sequences or repeated multiple pirouettes -- Orpheus has, I think, one pirouette sequence amidst the corps -- or any traditional flash whatsoever in the role, it was impossible for me to take my eyes off him.

Watching "Symphony of Psalms" it was clear from where Nacho Duato got his dance vocabulary. I think Duato uses it far more effectively in his two pieces to music by Maria del Mar Bonet ("Jardi Tancat" and "Arenal") than anything in this work, which has no relationship I can see to Stravinsky's beautiful score. The Flemish Radio orchestra and chorus played and sang, and they sounded dry in both performances, unlike the rich sound of the Vlaamse Opera orchestra and chorus I heard the other night, which was far superior. They were credible in the last two pieces, but in both performances, the small orchestra that played "Apollo" sounded intermittently sour and out of synch. These dancers deserve better.

For the New Yorkers on the board, or at least those who will be around in the summer, Royal Ballet of Flanders is bringing the Forsythe work "Impressing the Czar" to the Lincoln Center Festival this July.

#3 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 09:46 AM

Many thanks for the report and for coming over to Gent, Helene. Great meeting you and Leigh! Hope you'll come back someday.

#4 Helene

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 12:44 PM

It was my great pleasure to meet you, Marc, and to return to Gent. I do hope to be back.

#5 Helene

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 03:06 PM

Sun 27 April (matinee)
Paris
Paris Opera Ballet

The stage at the Bastille is huge and very, very deep. When Laura Hecquet and Sebastian Bertaud entered for the first theme in "The Four Temperaments", it was as if they were in the middle of a sea. Sadly, the music matched this impression, played in the tempo of a dirge, making a sea nearly impossible to swim out of. As a result, the theme dancers and Eleanora Abbagonato and Alexis Renaud's Sanguinic tended to break the dancing down into fixed phrases, as if they had run out of breath attempting to match the slow, slow music.

Things picked up with Mathias Heymann's Melancholic: although the music was no faster, he managed to keep the dance phrases from breaking down into sections. It was also odd to see him alone right in the middle of that huge stage. The two demi-soloists, Fanny Fiat and Celina Palacio were crisp, and they and the corps girls -- as well as the corps girls in Sanguinic -- were determined to give their performances despite the music.

Mathieu Ganio did a very soft interpretation of Phlegmatic. Who knew that Phlegmatic was part onnagata? I loved what he did with it though, and the four tall girls were a terrific foil for him. Sara Kara Dayanova was up and down as Choleric, never quite getting a unified approach. Again, the orchestra didn't help her.

"Raymonda" is the type of ballet that should fill the Bastille stage. When the curtain rose on Act III excerpts, a couple in Hungarian dress stood on a shallow but wide set of stairs, looking very small and isolated. Their retinue entered, beginning the Hungarian dance, which they joined. Whose party was this? Were they the hosts? Were they entertainment in a side room, however big? What was the point of all of these people coming in and out and dancing? Certainly not a royal wedding.

For the most part, I pretty much hate almost all of Nureyev's overly busy choreography for this ballet, especially for the clumsy/chummy choreography for Bernard and Beranger. It makes very little sense of character or occasion. The exception was Henriette's solo, danced beautifully with great clarity by Fanny Fiat. Nureyev turned Clemence's solo into a Pas de Trois, with Clemence's part barely distinguishable from the others, but Marie-Solenne Boulet was quite fine in it and was clearly the one to watch.

In my opinion, casting Emilie Cozette as Raymonda is one of the greatest casting mishaps I've ever seen by a major company. She had no sense of phrasing I could see, no grace, no epaulement, and zero perfume. She was simply wooden. The only life she showed was when she did the claps in her solo, in which she seemed to be saying, "Wait until I get you hanging in my dungeon, and I have a stancion in my hand." It was painful to watch.

The program ended with "Artifact Suite." The first part is about twice as long as it needs to be, but I was very much looking forward to the second half, which I remember loving in San Francisco. When it was over, I had to ask Leigh again and again, "Is that really the Part Two we saw?" "That isn't another version, was it?" "Really, that was what we saw?" I was dying of boredom by mid-point. I love to watch class, and here was a stage full of glorious bodies dancing their heart out in a faux ballet class, and all I wanted it to be was over. The music that I had found so intense was starting to remind me of a Hollywood score.

Dorothee Gilbert and Myriam Ould-Braham were gorgeous, though.


27 April (evening)
Paris
Paris Opera


Never having been to the Palais Garnier, I had ordered a ticket to Not Mats Ek, which turned out to be "Le Prisonnier," (Il Prigioniero), an opera by Luigi Dallapicolla set in Spain during the reign of Phillip II and the uprisings in Flanders, from which I had traveled in the morning. I almost went kicking-and-screaming, because Leigh, Jane Simpson and her husband, cygneblanc, and I were having a lovely dinner across the street from the Garnier (and there was no time for more conversation, wine, and the tempting house special profiteroles.) Because it is such a short opera, it was preceeded by Schoenberg's "Ode to Napolean," set to the poem of Lord Byron. It's the kind of piece I usually try to avoid: really good music over which someone declaims text. In this production, on the half of the stage without the five musicians stood Dale Duesing in cabaret drag. As he recited the text, he stripped off his black sequinned dress, heels, garter belt, stockings, and wig. He then put on prison pajamas, and at the end sat in a chair and put a cloth bag over his head. Compared to what followed, this was very heavy-handed.

The set of "Le Prisonnier" for most of the opera was a revolving round, white/grey structure of vertical bars, ranks of doors, and steps leading up and around the bars. The center was the interior of the prison. The opera opened with Rosalind Plowright, who sang the role of the prisoner's mother with intelligence and pathos, standing downstage center garbed in a leather jacket thrown over her plain dress, walking to the prison on a treadmill built into the floor. (It was a contemporary dress production.) She sang of the vision she had that King Philip II appeared to her as Death, and though she was on her way to visit her son in prison, she was sure this would be the last time she'd see him alive. Behind her, in the interior of the set, was a prisoner hung by his ankles and beaten by both guards and fellow prisoners as the military clerics look on.

The young Russian baritone Yevgeny Nikitin -- he appeared in the "Sacred Stage" video -- sang the role of the prisoner, a man who has newfound hope after bearing unspeakable torture, since a guard called him "brother" ("fratello"). After his mother's visit, a guard told him that it looks like victory in Flanders was near -- this was accompanied by an extended video montage of scenes of revolution and military intervention -- and left the door unlocked. He escaped, despite being in the proximity of the clerics, at which point half of the set was removed, leaving a semi-circle with a brightly lit area in the center from which he ascended. About to make his final escape, the Grand Inquisitor appeared, and called him "fratello"; his final torture was being given hope. Three guards strapped him down to a table which rose from the stage floor, and the prison doctor administered a lethal injection. Nikitin doesn't have a huge voice or much vibrato, but he's a singing actor and was brilliant in creating a believable arc to the character.

There were some very beautiful parts to the score, sometimes used straight, like for the choir which sang from the center of the top tier of the house, and sometimes used ironically, like the tender music for the clerics having a mundane conversation and cigarettes. Other times it was stringent, but because of the contrast in tone, the story was gut-wretching. It was a strange contrast to the ornate Palais Garnier, but the intimacy of the stage was perfect for it.

I always read that people fall in love in Paris, but for me it happened on the way. I thought I was going to be bypassed by another conductor with another ticket unstamped, when towards the end of the trip, he appeared. Not only did he speak to adults in their own language, and not only did he speak to children in their own language, but he also spoke to every child's stuffed bear in its language. So my heart was lost to Philippe.

#6 volcanohunter

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 06:09 PM

Since the stage of the Bastille is so much bigger than the New York State Theater, I wonder why the POB feels compelled to use all of it. Why not reduce the depth of the stage for set-less ballets?

I agree with you completely about Cozette's Raymonda, but I didn't like her any better as Chorelic, especially with the likes of Ould-Braham and Gilbert dancing to the hilt around her. In Temperaments Cozette's tendency to jut her head forward was that much more visible, to the extent that I wondered how she could do chaîné turns at all. (Awkwardly.) I was puzzled by her promotion, and having just seen her live in two roles, I'm more puzzled than ever.

I also can't get used to Nureyev's interpretation of Raymonda's variation. Perhaps on paper the idea of having Raymonda channel some of Abderam's barbarism made sense, but having robbed the variation of all phrasing, grace and épaulement, there's nothing left but the dominatrix act, as you say. It's funny, because in the Ballerina series Makarova used that variation to illustrate épaulement. I'm glad I'd already seen POB's ballerinas perform that solo on film, otherwise the shock would have been too great. Give me the soulful, even soapy Russian interpretation any day. And may I add that I see no point in asking Raymonda to perform her coda retirés at that impossibly slow tempo? Even if a dancer did possess superhuman balance and calf strength, how would the choreography benefit?

#7 cygneblanc

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 09:43 PM

Thanks for these reports, Helene. Yeah, the diner was lovely, and it was great to meet all of you. I hope you can come back some days and have some profiteroles!

#8 ami1436

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 12:19 AM

Yes - it was also lovely to meet in London! And Helene, you continue to astound me with your lack of travel fatigue! :)

#9 Estelle

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 09:43 AM

Many thanks for your reviews, Helene ! What a pity I couldn't go to Paris in that period.

In my opinion, casting Emilie Cozette as Raymonda is one of the greatest casting mishaps I've ever seen by a major company. She had no sense of phrasing I could see, no grace, no epaulement, and zero perfume. She was simply wooden. The only life she showed was when she did the claps in her solo, in which she seemed to be saying, "Wait until I get you hanging in my dungeon, and I have a stancion in my hand." It was painful to watch.


Now you understand why her promotion didn't exactly create much enthusiasm among many of the POB fans... :-(

I saw that program too, on April 15th, and my feelings were more or less similar to yours: a somewhat strange program, with "The Four temperaments" often looking a bit mechanical and slow (but I really loved Wilfried Romoli as the Phlegmatic), "Raymonda" which looked a bit strange on such a bare stage with no sets(I never saw the full work, but those excerpts didn't make me look forward to seeing it...) I found the first part of "Artifact" a little bit annoying (too many tricks, as though Forsythe was trying to tell the audience "ha ! I'm smarter than you"), the second part was more interesting but unlike you I had never seen it before.

#10 cygneblanc

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 01:27 PM

Well, I cannot say I have been thrilled by this program either. I don't like the four temperaments, Raymonda in 25 minutes is a complete disaster, and I was expecting more from the Forsythe.

I have to say the full Raymonda needs to be seen, then you can like it or not. The sceneries and costumes are magnificent.

Like in all the Nureev's works, there are a lot steps (maybe too many ?) and the soloists parts are very, very difficult. But it is definitively a highlight of POB's repertory.

#11 Helene

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 01:36 PM

Monday, 28 April
Paris
Paris Opera Ballet

I, like volcanohunter, saw Cozette as both Raymonda (yesterday) and Choleric, tonight. She's such an odd bird to have come out of the POB school: she's flat even in croise. I'm not sure I saw her profile in either performance. It's almost as if she's dancing in a competition, instead of interpreting a role. I don't know if someone is giving all of the ballerinas in "Raymonda" the same coaching, but Eve Grinsztajn seems to have confused Raymonda with Gamzatti, which is not what I remember from the "Dancer's Dream" DVD of "Raymonda." She, however, had attitude to spare, and her head moved very nicely on her neck, which moved very nicely on her shoulders. I still wouldn't want to be on her bad side. When did people start to think that Raymonda was Catherine the Great?

Conductor Vello Pahn picked up the pace, at least a little, in "Four Temperaments," which may have allowed Mathilde Froustey to give a more dynamic performance than yesterday afternoon in the second theme, if the program is correct. (Froustey was replaced by Fanny Fiat at Henriette last night and we thought the pre-performance announcement said she was injured; she may also have been replaced for second theme yesterday as well. There were no announced substitutions tonight.) Isabelle Ciaravola's phrasing in the third theme had a more of the needed legato than Grinsztajn, but both resolved to square placement before they took the off-kilter hip and leg positions. Yesterday, I found the theme men more interesting than the women, and this was borne out tonight when last night's third theme man, Christophe Duquenne, danced an athletic Melancholy, quite a contrast to Mathias Heymann's more etherial interpretation. Dorothee Gilbert danced Sanguinic with Karl Paquette. I found Gilbert a little too square in the hips during the Sanguinic movement, but she was superb in the last movement, where she was exactly what the role needed. Paquette has an almost casual way of moving -- no princely stuff for him -- and this worked well in Sanguinic.

Phlegmatic tonight was Stephane Phavorin. He brought out many of the classical details without being "correct" and he had a mime-like quality. There was one tall girl in the movement who looked like her hair had blond highlights, and I'm fairly certain she was one of the tall quartet in "Raymonda," which means (if the program is accurate), she is either Marie-Solenne Boulet or Vanessa Legassy. (Boulet danced Clemence last night, but I couldn't tell if it was she in 4T's. I don't see photos on the POB website, and the program only shows Etoiles and First Dancers.) In any case, it was a joy to watch her lush phrasing.

"Raymonda" had a new cast, with Melanie Hurel dancing Henriette, who has the solo variation, and Eleonora Abbagnato dancing Clemence, leading the Pas de Trois. I preferred Fiat's brightness yesterday, and thought Hurel was a bit too emphatic, but Hurel has beautiful feet. Fiat and Froustey performed the Pas de Trois with Abbagnato, who, again, was clearly the lead, even if the choreography was the same for all three for most of the variation. One thing I find confusing is the casting of Jean de Brienne. Last night Florian Magnenet had a softness in his solo, and tonight Bruno Bouche was more energetic, but it's as if the company won't cast a man who can do the male variation and coda solo smoothly. I watched some demi-soloist men who danced with clarity and cleanly, with precise positions and landings, including a dark-haired dancer among the shorter four pairs, but the principal men both had problems and looked labored. It's an odd solo, too, with no character throughout, just pure classical line, but it ends with a boppy Hungarian heel click, which didn't quite work. When I wrote yesterday I had forgotten one part of the Bernard/Beranger duet that I liked very much: each does a series of beats in succession on the diagonal.

In "Artifact Suite" tonight, Myriam Ould-Braham reprised her role, dancing with Christopher Duquenne, and Dephine Moussin danced with Karl Paquette. Moussin made less of an impression than Gilbert yesterday: you could anticipate her preparations. By contrast, Ould-Braham threw herself at the choreography with the intensity it needs. (Moussin is a lovely dancer, though; I wish I had seen her in something else.)

The second part was easier for me to watch tonight, because I found members of the corps and a couple of demi-soloists who caught my eye, and I focused on them. The most impressive was a short, dark-haired woman, who had an atypical physique for the company. She had a solo among a small group (five or six) men, and later led a small group of women. She knew how to move with more amplitude than women a good deal taller. She was worth watching even when she was in the back row. The work was more interesting watching it head on; I had a perfect seat in the right section facing the stage in the orchestra, in the 16th row on the aisle closest to the center. From the next tier above, the ballet pales, despite the patterns.

The program book seems to list only those etoiles and first dancers who will appear in the program. Romoli was listed as one of them, and I was sad to miss a last chance to see his Phlegmatic. Perhaps Leigh saw him in the Mats Ek?

We're very sorry you couldn't be here, Estelle. We missed meeting you.

#12 Helene

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 06:06 PM

Tuesday, 29 April
London
Royal Ballet

The Royal Ballet's production of "The Sleeping Beauty" has a bunch of attributions: the choreography is by Marius Petipa, with additional choreography by Frederick Ashton (Prince's and Aurora's variations in Act II, Florestan and his sisters -- after Petipa -- in Act III), Anthony Dowell (Carabosse and the Rats in the prologue, and Polonaise and Mazurka -- assited by Christopher Carr), and Christopher Wheeldon (Garland Dance). Then the program lists that the production is by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton after Ninette de Valois and Nicholas Sergeyev. The staging was by Christopher Carr. The original designs were by Oliver Messel, but the realization and additional designs were by Peter Farmer. It was a remarkably coherent production for one that had that many chefs in the kitchen.

The sets and costumes are stunning. Act I's is particularly lovely, depicting an an outdoor terrace with a majestic staircase stage right, and painted murals stage left and hanging from the flies. The production has lovely tableaus. It was a very detailed staging, some like the trim Balanchine wanted sewn on every layer of the ballerina's tutu, unseen by the audience. For example, after Lilac Fairy is lifted by her cavalier and one of the other fairy's cavalier at the back of the stage to give her airborne blessing over the infant Aurora, she is lowered by them slowly as the women's corps performs. Upstage, each of the cavaliers bows and pays his respect to her, unseen by many in the audience who are watching the corps. In Act II, Joshua Tuifua as Cattalabutte created a mini-vignette just by the way he adjusted the blindfold. I was not impressed, though, that Catalabutte has an out in this production: the court ladies interrupt him to ask to see the baby Aurora as he goes through the invite list, distracting him from the task at hand.

In the Prologue, the two fairies that most impressed me were Bethany Keating as Fairy of the Woodland Glade (3rd variation, in green) and Helen Crawford as Fairy of the Golden Vine (5th variation, in mauve). Keating was a very gracious presence, and her backward hops on point on the diagonal had a wonderful flicker to them. Crawford danced with fine attack, lots of energy, plush movement, and wit. I had mixed feelings about Yuhui Choe's Fairy of the Crystal Fountain, because the combination of soft to snappy was jarring, but she was quicksilver in the coda. Among the cavaliers, who danced in unison, the one who stood out was Sergei Polunin, who has superb, clean beats.

Laura McCulloch danced Lilac Fairy. When she danced among the fairies, she was clearly the leader. The variation was too difficult for her, at least tonight, and you could both see the work behind it and that it wasn't working. Her mime was patient and clear, though, and she was a fine presence throughout. This is a production where the Lilac Fairy does practically everything for the Prince: shows him the way, sails him to the castle, clears the bracken, gets rid of Carabosse and the mice, finds Aurora, etc. He doesn't even swash a ceremonial sword. The only thing she doesn't do is tell him how to wake Aurora; instead she has the "Concentrate really, really hard and maybe the vapor between your ears will condense and an idea will form in that pretty little head of yours" mime.

The star of the Prologue for me was Gillian Revie's Carabosse. She entered in an ab fab dress, with a fitted black bodice, very Spanish lace sleeves, and a skirt that looked like anthracite geodes with red, glittery eyes throughout and on her translucent black cape. In her mockery, imperiousness, and overwhelming personal power, she could give some drag queens I know a lesson or two. Her "get these insipid little pastel fairy girls away from me" face was priceless. I was hoping this performance would be the alternate story, in which Carabosse rules, but no such luck. She has a more extended scene that I've ever seen, in that after the Lilac Fairy waves her wand and Carabosse falls to the ground, she gets up slowly, shows up in Aurora's bedroom, and goes behind the mirror over Aurora's bed, and it shatters as the Prince kisses Aurora awake.

I was sorely disappointed with Wheeldon's Garland Dance. It opened with the women being supported in big jete lifts, and then became posy and static, with the recurring theme of the men imprisoning the women with the garlands around their waists and the dancers not moving. In the middle section of all women, half of them didn't even have flowers, and those that did have garlands barely used them to any affect. The costumes were lovely, though.

Alexandra Ansanelli danced Aurora. Despite a few very high extensions in develope in second, a one 180 degree one where she tilted to the side, and one scene-ending proper NYCB arabesque, it was amazing to see a contemporary dancer, especially one schooled at SAB, take her model from over half a decade ago. Her performanced was a bit old-fashioned in that respect, but those virtues are in short supply and welcome. It was a double-edged sword, though, because it was clearly studied rather than something intrinsic. But if you're going to steal, stealing from the best is the way to go.

Ansanelli gave a very technically accomplished performance; her Rose Adagio was dead on, and she met the technical challenges of the Act I variation, although sometimes there was the work, then the glow. In the Act II vision scene, she looked a little lost and seemed to impose a story of sadness and loss; it wasn't really pure. In Act II, David Makhateli showed nice line in his solo, the one that is attributed to Ashton, but wasn't quite as polished in Act III. The Act III partnering seemed to go much more smoothly than last week: he was watching her instead of the wings, and she didn't look like she hated him.

There were two parts where I thought Ansanelli gave a personal, rather than studied performance. The first was from the time she pricked her finger on the spindle until she fell into deep sleep. She ratched up the intensity in a surprising way in this scene, and danced with more freedom. The second was during her Act III variation. If every eyelash was calculated, there wasn't a single indication of it, and it looked very fresh and spontaneous.

Among the divertissement dancers in Act III, Sergei Polunin was a standout in Florestan and his Sisters. He has impeccable form and very clean technique, with fantastic beats and soft landings. He started with two sisters, Samantha Raine, who had great energy and spark, and Sian Murphy, who shortly into her solo was injured, and limped offstage, seemingly unable to put much weight on one foot. (She didn't return for the rest of the section or the coda.) As Princess Florine, Yuhi Choe was polished and light. Her Bluebird, Brian Maloney impressed me a lot, not only with his clean beats and controlled upper body in the weight changes in the diagonals -- there wasn't a inch of lurching or break at the waist -- but also as an attentive partner, and in their cases, the whole was even bigger than the parts, they looked so good together.

This was the the last performance in Europe of Ballet Talk on Tour. I'm hoping to take a ride on the London Eye tomorrow, and then it's off to the airport. If I'm lucky, I can convince my best friend to see one of the programs at NYCB before I head back west, and Leigh will be on his way to see the San Francisco Ballet New Works Festival. It'as been a great week!

#13 papeetepatrick

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 06:43 PM

These are marvelous, Helene. The whole trip is one of the most elegant things I've ever heard of, and you have reported on it wonderfully.

#14 carbro

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 07:22 PM

I've enjoyed the trip immensely, Helene. Thanks from me, too. :(

#15 Paul Parish

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 09:07 PM

Wonderful report on Beauty, helene --

I had no IDEA that there was mirror breakage in Sleeping Beauty!


how did you like the fountain?
........................
edited to add, I've now read all your posts, helene, and wow, what a wonderful trip you've taken ME on. Read it backwards, and right now I'm touched by your sense of the sad young queen as an essence that should inherent in the ballet dedicated to her.

For some time now I've been struck by the way Fonteyn kind of doubled as the queen -- they both looked exactly the same, same face especially, and same gallant and modest war work and same readiness to do heir duty and make the gestures that people needed to see and be the person the people needed to have in charge and look up to. Fonteyn's Aurora was the answer to the cry "Woe to the land whose prince is a boy," in the counsel to princes tradition that came down from before Shakespeare's day.... with de Valois in the background as eminence grise doubling as the Queen Mum. SO I'm particularly struck by how right your feeling seems to me. (I think Frears's movie was about this, too -- certainly Mirren's performance was Fonteyn all over again.)


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