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Inaugural Season Opener, w/ Farrell Ballet in Episodes


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#1 jonellew

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Posted 29 October 2008 - 06:26 AM

I haven't posted in quite a while, but I have been lurking again as of late and so impressed by the discussion and knowledge on this board. I'm seemingly settled in Austin now (I was living in Boston when I joined Ballet Talk), and I'm thankful for all the careful descriptions of New York and other performances!
Anyhoo, I was wondering if anyone else here saw Ballet Austin's season opener last weekend. I did and, although I was thankful to see Episodes for the first time after having read so much and researched it, I found myself wishing much of the time that I was seeing City Ballet do it. I didn't see much of the intense response to the music that is said to be so important to the ballet (albeit I was in the balcony; maybe the orchestra folk saw it). My favorite dancer in the piece was Indre Vengris Rockefeller in the Ricercata—she seemed freer and more musically responsive than the others, although I suppose the music of that section is easier than that of the others.
As for the other two ballets on the program: Stephen Mills presented a new work, Liminal Glam, to Philip Glass's Concertp Fantasy for Two Tympanists. First of all, there was no live orchestra for this piece, which was a major bummer. I'm not sure if it was a budget thing or if perhaps it's difficult to find two tympanists to play this piece. Anyone? As for the dance, I found it pretty much a lot of Forsythe-inspired fluff. The costumes were nice, like Forsythe tutus but in pastels shorter, with spirals going up the bodices; the guys wore pants with the same spirals and pastels, which nicely hid any unsavory leg lines. There was a lot of big rond de jambe, and frankly, I've already forgotten much of the choreography. The lighting was also pastel—the whole thing ranged from powder pink to powder blue, in various shades—and I didn't see the "glam" in it. I guess I got the "liminal" part, as the atmosphere was of something in between, maybe up in the clouds . . . ? If anyone else saw this ballet, I'd love to hear another impression.
Last on the program was Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs, which, to be honest, I had relegated in my mind to a boring crowd-pleaser and wasn't looking forward to. Actually, I liked it much better than I did several years ago (maybe I was too young to appreciate the nuances of love that are depicted), and I felt the dancers did some of their best work in this piece. And of course it's always lovely to see beautiful dresses by de la Renta.
OK, that's my report. I hope there'll be some fellow dance-crazy Austinites to chat with here. :sweatingbullets:

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 29 October 2008 - 07:49 AM

Jonelle -

It's good to see you settled in and back. To me, Episodes has been a ballet that even NYCB has had some problems maintaining in shape. It's not in the form it was originally imagined (a solo originally made for Paul Taylor was deleted from the ballet early on - though it made a few appearances back briefly over the past 20 years) and sometimes it gets treated, as I think I said once, "like Agon Jr."

Please keep reporting and let us know what you think of the rest of the season.

#3 jonellew

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Posted 29 October 2008 - 09:27 AM

Thanks for your reply, Leigh. Yes, it's crazy to think that the ballet was once half of a Graham–Balanchine "collaboration"!

sometimes it gets treated, as I think I said once, "like Agon Jr."

This is especially interesting as Farrell has said that this ballet could never be confused with Agon (in the context of trying to un-lump the leotard ballets). But historically, in a larger context, I suppose maybe Episodes is Agon Jr. . . . ?
At the Ballet Austin/Farrell Ballet performance, I was wishing for more rawness, of course layered on top of technical assurance.

#4 ajg

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 08:46 AM

In the program commentary held after the performance, Stephen Mills said they had considered using a live orchestra for his piece but although there were only 2 timpanists, it required 14 timpani! Beyond the problem of trying to find 14 there was just no place to put them. He added that this gave the orchestra time to concentrate on the Webern.

I sat next to a gentleman who started softly chuckling from the moment that Episodes began, right through the first three movements (not the Bach). It really changed my perception of the ballet. There are certainly are humorous moments but at that point I wondered if Balanchine was having a little joke on the audience about "serious" ballet.

#5 bart

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 09:24 AM

I sat next to a gentleman who started softly chuckling from the moment that Episodes began, right through the first three movements (not the Bach). It really changed my perception of the ballet. There are certainly are humorous moments but at that point I wondered if Balanchine was having a little joke on the audience about "serious" ballet.

I seem to remember that some of the fun was being poked by Balanchine at Balanchine himself. The manipulations of the ballerina in the pas de deux and the tangles and extrications of corps dancers towards the end were definitely seen as ironic comments in the early days. You're lucky in Austin to have someone willing to revive this work! It was one of my favorites from the first time I saw it.

This thread has made me curious about something -- What was the participation of the "Farrell Ballet" in this program? Was Suzanne Farrell herself involved in setting it for Austin Ballet? Did some of her company members join the Austin dancers in the performance?

#6 amitava

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 10:49 AM

What was the participation of the "Farrell Ballet" in this program? Was Suzanne Farrell herself involved in setting it for Austin Ballet? Did some of her company members join the Austin dancers in the performance?


Ms. Farrell set the piece for dancers from both companies (11 of BA's dancers) - http://www.balletaus...eleaseFINAL.pdf . The group performed at the Kennedy Center (there is a thread on the rep in the SF Ballet set) and once more in Austin. I will post a few images soon from the BA show in Austin. I have really tried hard to appreciate Ms. Tharp's work, but keep missing the appeal. I assume I have not matured enough to experience her choreographic talents.

A

#7 Pointe1432

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Posted 06 November 2008 - 07:05 PM

My parents saw the program. They really liked the diversity of the entire show.

My father is not a huge Sinatra fan, but really enjoyed Nine Sinatra Songs and how drastically the stage changed into that setting (the previous two pieces were on a light gray floor, but for Nine Sinatra Songs a black floor was laid during intermission. If that doesn't keep you busy I don't know what does!) Tharp is sort of hit or miss for me. I've always enjoyed dancing it, but when I see it I'm never instantly in awe. I wonder if her work is something you have to grow into appreciating or if it is at all related to the current context of the dance program it lies within?

In any case I love seeing these works revived and the chance for companies to collaborate like these two had the opportunity to.

#8 jonellew

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Posted 07 November 2008 - 06:34 AM

Thank you, ajg, for the information about the lack of tympanists. That makes sense, and I figured as much, but the lack of live orchestra was just so unfortunate for Episodes, I thought.

I sat next to a gentleman who started softly chuckling from the moment that Episodes began, right through the first three movements (not the Bach). It really changed my perception of the ballet. There are certainly are humorous moments but at that point I wondered if Balanchine was having a little joke on the audience about "serious" ballet.


This is interesting because in the book Balanchine's Stories of the Great Ballets, Balanchine (w/ Francis Mason) writes the following of Episodes: "Some people watching this part [Five Pieces] of the ballet in the theatre laugh a little. That is, here at home, not on our tours of Europe or Russia. I sometimes think Americans feel obliged to laugh too much when there is not much reason to."

Any thoughts? I agree that Americans are freer to smile and laugh and that carries over into their (our) reactions to art. Nothing wrong with it, except that maybe others perceive it as disrespectful or not taking things seriously. There were a few moments where I did smile, myself, but I don't remember that any of them were in the Five Pieces section.

#9 dancer100

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Posted 07 November 2008 - 08:41 PM

Hello jonellew!
I am a ballet dancer living in Austin and I did go see last Friday's opening night performance. Even though I am in the ballet academy at Ballet Austin, I despise how "contemporary" the company is and I have little respect for the artistic director, Stephen Mills. I did not enjoy his opening piece. He always tries too hard to come up with "new" and "abstract" ideas for his choreography which never really are successes. On this particular performance, I think he HAD to use all of the crazy costumes, blinding colored lights, and horrific "mission-impossible-like" music to hide and distract from his terrible choreography. If he stopped trying to be "innovative" and "modern" and did more classical ballet pieces, I think the company would be much better off. Besides the awkward men Mill's keeps hiring into the company, whenever Ballet Austin performs a more classical ballet, I enjoy it much more and anyone knowledgeable in quality ballet would also!
On the other hand, I LOVED Episodes! The clear crisp movements of the Suzanne Farrell ballet dancers was awe-striking and I was mesmerized throughout the entire dance. Her female dancers are so slender and have such long legs (although no one will ever be comparable to Suzanne Farrell) and were excellent dancers. The Farrell dancers were EASILY distinguishable from the Ballet Austin dancers with the dynamic and timing of their dancing. Ms. Farrell has trained them well! (I actually sat a few seats from Ms. Farrell and had to refrain from staring at her admiringly all night. I really wanted to speak with her, but during the intermissions she seemed to disappear and did not look like she wanted to be bothered. I respected her privacy and had to satisfy my hunger to meet her by knowing that I was in the same theater, nevertheless a few feet away from such a legend!)
I also enjoyed (although to a lesser extent) the 9 Sinatra Songs. I liked seeing the different "characters" each dancer imitated. The choreography was wonderful and very pleasing to watch.
I hope you enjoyed the performance! I can not wait to see BA's Cinderella coming soon. I am anxious to see how Mr. Mills stages it.

#10 gogogo

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Posted 12 November 2008 - 05:26 PM

I saw this performance, and while there was no orchestra for the first ballet, there was for Episodes. The Austin Symphony Orchestra played the Webern wonderfully. My understanding from the lecture after the performance was that Suzanne Farrell chose Ballet Austin to work with. That's quite an honor.

#11 amitava

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Posted 12 November 2008 - 11:09 PM

Photos from the performance are at ... http://insightphotog...ugmug.com/Dance

Enjoy

#12 Pointe1432

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Posted 13 November 2008 - 05:37 PM

dancer100, I'm trying to understand why you would think Mr. Mills "HAD" to use specific costumes and music (which if you thought it was reminiscent of Mission Impossible you can blame or thank Phillip Glass for that). I highly doubt he was forced to do any of the above. As far as his choice to do so much contemporary work, that is simply the company's and his vision. I think it's incredible the range of work BA does, from classical full lengths to new innovative works. I think each company has their place and plan and BA's, at least since Stephen has been there, has never been to be a "museum", and I for one will applaud him for that.

You have to take the risk of possible failures in order to truly achieve.

-Pointe1432

#13 dancer100

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Posted 15 November 2008 - 03:01 PM

Hello- When I had said Mills "had" to use those flashy costumes and distracting music I meant that he needed them to cover up his unoriginal choreography, not that someone literally forced him to. And yes, I believe that Ballet Austin has a contemporary vision, as they are a more contemporary company, but Mills sometimes tries too hard and ends up just having a bunch of chaos and crazy arms on stage (for example, this recent performance). They have had great success with contemporary and innovative works in the past and have done a wonderful job when there was a message or greater meaning behind the dancing (such as in Light/the Humanity Project).
As you had said earlier that "You have to take the risk of possible failures in order to truly achieve", I 100% agree. If no one took risks in ballet we may have never known the tru geniuses of dancers/choreographers such as Nijinsky, Balanchine, etc and ballet today would be completely different.


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