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Glossary. NYCB 1/4/01 (2 & 3 Part Inventions, Polyphonia, Scotch Symp


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 January 2001 - 02:18 AM

Tonight at NYCB, we saw three different ballets that made a great deal of referencing ballet. Only one of them, Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony ventured outside the company’s native style to explore foreign territory.

I found more to like in tonight’s performance of Jerome Robbins’ 2 & 3 Part Inventions than I did on a previous viewing, but I probably will never be its strongest advocate. Robbins’ ballet inhabits territory he’s explored better before; we saw several devices and stratagems from The Goldberg Variations and more than a few to the four couple dances in Agon. Robbins’ best characteristics are in evidence here, especially in the adagios with their delicacy and dappled light and dark shadings. His least appealing quality, a forced ingénue charm is also in evidence here, and wisely underplayed by the cast, especially senior dancers like Alexander Ritter. Ritter can’t look green when he dances; he has no choice but to look elegant. Benjamin Millepied and Rachel Rutherford also danced with a light touch, but don’t try and play young. Edwaard Liang danced well, but has done something absolutely inscrutable with his name, adding an extra ‘a’. Is there a Law of Alphabet Conservation at NYCB, and Jenifer Ringer’s loss of an ‘n’ is being made up for here, or is this more like Wheel of Fortune and he has bought himself a vowel?

Casting Alexandra Ansanelli in the pivotal role was fortunate both for Ansanelli and for Robbins; her foal-like gangliness is disarming in a part best done by someone one step away from awkward youth. She still hasn’t gained total control of her limbs and ankles, but there’s something there worth watching for, something with maturity and depth. The rest of the cast is strong and puts forward a few faces that we seem to be seeing more of; Jared Angle (cast in two principal roles next week), Eva Natanya and Carrie Lee Riggins, who nailed several pirouettes in succession impressively in a duet with Ansanelli.

Like Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon’s best qualities are also his flaws. Wheeldon is exceptionally facile about incorporating outside influences. In Mercurial Manoeuvres, his glosses on Ashton and Balanchine make the ballet. When Mercurial premiered Tobi Tobias in New York Magazine wrote that Wheeldon choreographed like a precocious schoolboy overeager to show you what he knows. I didn’t agree there, but unfortunately, I think the charge might be leveled against his new work Polyphonia. Wheeldon is learning his trade on the job, and one can almost see the lessons he sets out for himself. In Polyphonia, to piano music by Hungarian György Ligeti, Wheeldon has decided to attack and scale the mount of modern ballet. The intent cannot be faulted, in fact his desire to survey repertory is again his best quality as well as the problem. But here, he’s doing five finger exercises and asking us to watch. His opening and closing also refer to the unison line of four couples of Agon, but the sad effect compounded with the Robbins before is to make one wonder if anyone at NYCB thinks there is a world of ballet worth exploring or quoting outside of NYCB. It’s just too hermetic a world view. Perhaps that was what made Mercurial so welcome to me, Wheeldon was in effect opening a window onto another vista by invoking Ashton. Here, we open the blinds and it’s just the same damn courtyard again.

In between the two group sections we have a series of smaller dances to the Ligeti, which is a good deal more interesting as dance music than I had anticipated. The most successful of these are the ones where his emulation breaks through to synthesis. A duet for Craig Hall and Ansanelli that becomes a solo for her was again a place where the choreographer and dancer did right by each other. He’s given her a part that uses her well, but has a dark contemplative quality that anticipates and evokes a new maturity in her. The part for Hall, a talented dancer rather new to the company, was the most sketchily drawn of the ballet. Casting Wendy Whelan in the two major pas de deux was more exploitative than grateful. Wheeldon traded on her expertise in the modern ballet canon, not only in Balanchine, but in Forsythe and other choreographers, and gave her a part that recapitulated her mystique without extending it. Here she was being splayed into impossible extensions or bent into insectile positions. Here she was doing the pas from Agon, and then ‘Five Pieces’ from Episodes. We learned nothing new. In the end, the sections did not hang together either. For all the facility, from dance to dance, I could not for the life of me figure out what Wheeldon was up to besides a survey of possibilities. We’re mired in process and I’m waiting anxiously for product. In fairness, I don’t think one viewing of Polyphonia is sufficient to tell what Wheeldon is up to, and just because I don’t know doesn’t mean that he doesn’t either. At its worst, it is well crafted and watchable. I’ll definitely go again to see what I learn on further viewing; my comments at this stage could easily be premature. But is Wheeldon the whiz kid all there is to Wheeldon?

Scotch Symphony ended an evening of references. It isn’t fair to compare Balanchine’s expertise to Wheeldon’s or even Robbins’; he has his entire career and canon to back up his choices. To further a previous question asked by Michael1, to my thinking the connection with La Sylphide helps to make sense out of Scotch, but Balanchine isn’t offering a resetting of La Sylphide, but rather a gloss on the romantic myth. The complexity is the ballerina role is actually two different roles. In the second movement, she is not a woman, but like the Sylph, a supernatural creature. It helps to make sense of the choreography. In La Sylphide, the Sylph flies up the chimney and doesn’t realize that James can’t follow her. The intersection of the human and supernatural world is new to both parties. In the same way, when Kyra Nichols as the ballerina brings Charles Askegard to the wings to vanish, she doesn’t realize he’s going to be blocked by her guards. She thinks he can follow her; but there are impediments to entering a different realm. In the same way, she shouldn’t think of being surrounded by those guards as an impediment to Askegard. It’s best played that she thinks of it as something temporary, like cars before a traffic signal. Then the light turns green and one crosses the street. There’s nothing extraordinary about it to her.

Balanchine throws us a fast one in the third movement by completely dispensing with the conceit and making the ballerina a human being in the third movement, but he’s done this before in Ballet Imperial with its gloss on Swan Lake in the second movement. There’s no point in even attempting a transition or bridge between the two movements in either ballet. The ballerina is the way she is in both because the story is over and this is the finale and we all dance now. It’s really that simple, I think. Kyra Nichols had an off night in the lead, Askegard as her partner did not. His variation in the finale was particularly well done, and the improvement in his lines since he first came to the company is simply heroic. He’s worked like a dog to assimilate the company’s style. I think the effort has paid off in spades.



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#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 09:23 AM

I'm bumping this up to be visible because of the discussion of Scotch Symphony in the Farrell thread in the Recent Performances forum.

#3 Roma

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 08:24 PM

Since we are talking about Scotch, there is a question I have been wanting to ask for a long time. It's about the place in the ballet where the ballerina used to get thrown by her guards into the arms of her partner. Now she is simply "handed" to him. When did this change take place and why?

#4 rg

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Posted 04 October 2001 - 08:47 AM

from what i understand, the 'throws' in "scotch symphony" disappeared not too long after it's premiere. i've never seen them; i first saw the ballet in the early 1970s. i was told by a more veteran nycb goer that the reason was probably to avoid the chances of mishap, etc. memorably dramatized when, during one perf., for example, maria tallchief ended up flat on top of erik bruhn who had taken over the lead male role and was unable to negotiate the catch sufficiently.
one 'return' to original details, i understand, tho' may be true for the farrell staging. i've been told that she's been using the 'original' karinska costumes which means that the female corps de ballet bodices are once more dark, forest green rather than the black that was used when they were rebuilt at nycb some years back. but i have not yet seen these for myself to learn if what i understand is indeed true.
perhaps other longtime nycb goers have more particular info. to offer about the change from 'throws' to 'passes'. (my info. is hearsay and not the product of any thorough research.)

[ 10-04-2001: Message edited by: rg ]

[ 10-04-2001: Message edited by: rg ]

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 04 October 2001 - 09:20 AM

What they're doing down here (Suzanne Farrell Ballet) is a half-throw, half-pass. It looks like a very careful, guided throw, but there is a hint of throw in it, if that makes sense -- I thought I had seen the same thing in Farrell's staging for the Kirov.

#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 04 October 2001 - 10:46 AM

Weird coincidence, but Bruhn seemed to be at the center of another choreography change story - there's a promenade in the third pas de deux of Divertimento No.15 that was altered (I wish I could recall where I read this, maybe in Taper's bio?) because Allegra Kent and Bruhn fell down on stage trying to execute it.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 04 October 2001 - 10:48 AM

Hmmm. Maybe all those nasty stories about Markova being "like a stone" to lift have another side to them :)

#8 rg

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Posted 05 October 2001 - 07:26 AM

having done a little checking it would appear that erik bruhn is NOT guilty in the 'scotch' case: nancy reynolds' 'repertory in review' does not have his name listed among the subsequent casts following a. eglevsky. so the anecdote given above is either misremembered by the teller or by yrs. trly. in remembering the details. as l.a.w. points out the bruhn/kent mishap story from 'divertimento 15' is documented in print, so perhaps the 'scotch' story confused the ballets, or i misremembered the details. (the divertimento story is well known.)
of the partners listed in reynolds' book, i never saw h. bliss or a. prokovsky, so perhaps it was in one of those subsequent performances that mishaps happened. by the time i was seeing the ballet, w/ d'amboise, bonnefous, schaufuss, etc. the 'throws' were gone. tho' to be sure, as alexandra observered sometimes the transfer of 'sylph' to her scotsman's arms is part-throw and part-pass. tho' in my day it's been mostly pass w/ little throw, depending on the timing of the corps de ballet ballet men lifting and transferring the ballerina, and on the daring of the ballerina and/or of her partner. (i assume balanchine's original 'throw' intent was in some oblique way to reclaim an effect memorably recorded in ballet history from 'la peri' where it is said C. Grisi leapt from a 6 foot platform iinto the arms of L.Petipa during the 'pas de songe' an episode concerned w/ an opium dream.

[ 10-05-2001: Message edited by: rg ]

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 16 October 2001 - 06:13 AM

I first saw "Scotch Symph" back in the City Center days, with Melissa Hayden and Conrad Ludlow doing the pas de deux. It was definitely a toss, then.

#10 felursus

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Posted 21 October 2001 - 03:27 AM

I second Mel. I well remember the toss but am not sure when it disappeared.

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 October 2001 - 07:21 AM

And a second memory floats to the surface - when the Joffrey used to do Scotch Symphony, the movement was very definitely a toss, then, too.

A similar "La Peri" kind of catch with a much different impression occurs in the pas de deux in Ruthanna Boris' "Cakewalk" when Hortense, Queen of the Swamp Lilies mounts the upstage platform, and leaps, bottomfirst, into the arms of a waiting Harold, The Dying Poet. Harold gives a rather audible "oof!" At least Max Zomosa used to.


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