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Miami City Ballet in Chicago, 2-4 October 2009Symphony in 3 Movements/Valse Fantaisie /Black Swan/In the Upper Room


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#1 emilienne

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 11:34 PM

There are rather a lot of parts to this, including the Fireside chat on Saturday 7 PM before the performance and a talk after the 2 PM matinee on Sunday. I will post as coherently as I can when time permits. Hopefully Jack chimes in soon and grounds my flightiness in fact.

Miami City Ballet in Chicago, Auditorium Theatre
3 October, 8 PM
Row P, Orchestra

Symphony in Three Movements/Valse Fantaisie (1953)/Black Swan/In the Upper Room

There’s a moment in the Vision scene in Sleeping Beauty when Aurora wafts through the Lilac Fairy’s attendants. They are arrayed in rows, suggesting paths, perhaps mazes. Perhaps it’s a foreshadowing of the thorns to come.

The image came back to me upon viewing Symphony in Three Movements for the first time. The curtain rises on a cascade of hair and legs. I was reminded of a slightly unruly hedge with ponytails and arms and legs enough for spikes. Their bodies, clad in white, gleamed (to borrow a phrase from Ms Farrell’s book) like bleached pebbles.

There was a strong undertone of Rubies in the choreography. In fact the cognitive dissonance became so great at one point that I was forced to look down (alarming Jack in the process) to remind myself of its provenance. The jazz references grew more acute with references from what seemed to be the Charleston. Here was the ghost of McBride doing arabesques in profile, the corp of girls repeating the prancing jog of the boys in a rhythmic march, even the one brief glimpse of the tall girl, face briefly visible upside down. But always they were refracted images, seen in clusters, either in unison or in rounds, briefly glimpsed resemblances that receded into the mist.

Particularly notable was Alex Wong in the first movement with his wonderfully soft and full-bodied leaps. Tricia Albertson repeats it after him, casually. Anything you can do, she seemed to say, well never mind about the height, here is a lesson on style!

At the end of the first movement, the corp formed a giant pinwheel as Kronenberg pirouetted her way through the criss-crossing ranks. I was sitting too low to see the pattern, but there was a wonderful sense of changing depth even when viewed it straight on. I especially appreciated the Company's clarity in movement. There was a suggestion of great physicality without it looking difficult or fussy which I loved.

I had not thought to associate the pas de deux in second movement (echoes of Gailliard in the instrumentation!) with stillness. Space, in the absence of the corp, acts as both ornamentation and the ultimate barrier, the deep blue of the backdrop added depth to the movements even as it limited them to their bodies.

In fact the second movement seemed like a meditation on containment, motions and bodies caught up in orbit around each other. We see the motif repeated in the hands, around the bodies, and even how the dancers moved in relation to each other (was this a binary system or a planet with a satellite?).

Kronenberg and Guerra were deliberate in their partnering – nothing hurried or affected – serenely allowing the movements to bring out their innate sensuousness. Echoing the first movement, Guerra and Kronenberg alternating with each other as they delineated the circular space around their bodies in lazy breaststroke motions (‘helicopter arms’, as Mr Balanchine called them).

If Sleeping Beauty’s hedge were alive, I thought it might look something like the third movement, terrifyingly beautiful as it grew and moved in near-sentience. In this case, the woman was the hedge, mesmeric and prickly.

After that, I found myself rather weak in the knees! In fact I was in such a daze that I don’t quite remember what happened in Valse Fantaisie (1953), some twenty minutes later. I can report that Sara Esty replaced Jeanette Delgado and that I thought “Apollo with his three Muses, at a (Russian) social?” but beyond that and an image of Les Sylphides that I will come back to in my post about Sunday, it is a blur of waltz music.

I located some of that lost composure for the Black Swan pas de deux, danced by Rolando Sarabia and Mary Carmen Catoya. I found myself wondering what a full length Swan Lake from the two of them may look like. Rolando Sarabia has lovely carriage and gorgeous air positions, and his Siegfried knew it.

There is a stillness about Catoya that had a very lovely effect on her dancing (I lost moments speculating on her Emeralds). Her Odile did not deal in superfluities – she allowed Siegfriend to project his own desire onto her, maintaining an amused remoteness throughout. After all, the boy was ready to fall in love, unnecessary motions would have been overkill. However, she seemed to be a bit off of her legs at the night performance, her balances came off fairly well but her pirouettes did not look secure.

It may have been shock at seeing something non-Balanchine after such a feast, but I thought the warhorse was crammed too full of tricks, and the discomfort kept me from enjoying it as much as previously. The partnering looked off that night as well, and Catoya looked like she was about to fall onto the floor when Sarabia took away his hands during the last partnered pirouettes. I should also add that the Russianness became jarring when Sarabia launched into what seemed to be one of the male solos from Theme and variations with a series of double tours en l’air – pirouette in the middle of the coda.

I’ve only seen In the Upper Room through video, and I must admit that I don’t particularly enjoy it. Video flattens the stage and this is one piece that loses much more than average in a recording. Seeing it live restores some of the excitement and depth to the choreography that had been missing.

However, that being said, it’s still not one of my favorites (or even preferred) upon a live viewing. There are figure skating references, yoga references, all sorts of movement ideas thrown in there for an interesting soup, but appreciating the athleticism of dancers can become a bit tedious when the pacing lags and the choreography does not develop toward any unifying idea. The bombers and the stompers dance, occupy the same space, share each other’s clothes, but the choreography is sealed off against each other. They coexist but they do not interact. It became extremely noticeable in the last section, as the music tried to build toward a heart-pounding (and unsubtle) climax that the choreography was simply unable to match.

That being said, I did enjoy watching dancers enjoying themselves. Most of the dancers looked a bit lethargic in the beginning, but woke up (the transition was rather obvious) as they threw more energy and attitude as time went on, but they still looked a bit too much like ballet dancers. One notable exception from the very beginning was Jeanette Delgado, whom my eyes gravitated back to time and again, though she was replaced (I'm told) after two sections by another stomper due to injury. She had a wonderful way of throwing herself into the choreography. Her body radiated tension, as if trying to contain anarchy within its limits as it fought to get out everywhere.

[A few minor edits due to late at night stupidity and for optimistically thinking I could go it along without my program or my notes. Corrections were primarily for grammar and clarity save for a more major one correcting Ms Kronenberg's name. My apologies, Ms Kronenberg, I shan't do it again!

Per Jack's suggestion, I have also edited the name of this thread.]

#2 Jack Reed

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Posted 18 October 2009 - 11:07 AM

I've been wondering for a long time whether I could think of anything to add to that! For instance, I think emilienne's critique of Upper Room resolved for me why I don't particularly care for it, either; what I do get out of it derives from everybody being in it, or almost everybody, and I like to watch these dancers do what they like to do. And "amused remoteness" for Catoya's Odile's treatment of poor Siegfried is bull's-eye, or "spot-on": She quite knowingly plays with his feelings; it's obvious to everybody, everybody but him. (Actually, with dancing like hers in anything, it's easy for any of us in the audience to empathize with someone in Catoya's power.) And, yes, Symphony in Three Movements can overwhelm on first seeing (And I had wondered whether our seats in row P would be too far back for the performances to be effective!), and I do have this thing about watching the stage the whole time, every instant, getting it all, and checking casting or whatever later, and I confess I made a little gesture which I guess emilienne saw peripherally. That's what that was about.

I've also been waiting for the promised report on Sunday's performance, but maybe emilienne has been waiting for me to "chime in", although I'd characterize what's up here so far as sensitive perception rather than "flightiness"!

But okay, if "facts" are my assignment, maybe it's of interest that the Orchestra seats of the Auditorium were well filled, about 1000 people there, I'd estimate, remembering what the audience looked like and studying the seating charts later; I couldn't see into the First Balcony from where we sat, but there were people visible in the first row of it. There likely were maybe 300 more there, based on my experience. (The Auditorium, an opera house, seats 3950, I believe.) Ticket prices ranged from $95 down!

While the performances got warm applause, maybe a little better than what I'm used to in the Broward CPA in Fort Lauderdale, it was nothing like the sustained demonstrations of appreciation the company got in the New York City Center in January, from what some say is the toughest audience in the country: New Yorkers know what they're seeing, and this company finally got there what I've long thought it deserved! But the two Chicago audiences -- I attended the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances -- weren't the same, the first one interrupting Black Swan with applause for the "tricks", the matinee one applauding this one only after each movement, while the evening audience took Upper Room pretty much whole and the matinee one responded frequently as it rolled along.

The music was all recorded of course, and Saturday evening I thought that Symphony in Three Movements sounded congested when loud, even though I was encouraged to see unfamiliar speakers at the sides of the stage apron, not the usual pile of black boxes the Auditorium has used. But the music for Upper Room sounded clear, solid, and deep, like it always has in Broward, where the company has used mostly its own equipment in recent years, and Sunday afternoon the Stravinsky sounded better. (By way of observing our standards of disclosure, there have been times listening at home I've suspected my 71-year-old ears to be getting temperamental.) And the stage hands, whether local or traveling with the company, managed the smoke very well in Upper Room both times.

On the other hand, the light faded to dim on the last bars of Valse Fantaisie, rendering an anticlimax right when Glinka and Balanchine are trying to render their climax. This struck me as a mistake, and I hope it will be reconsidered.

#3 Jack Reed

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Posted 18 October 2009 - 12:19 PM

3rd October 2009: 6:30 PM Fireside Chat, Dress Circle level, Auditorium Theatre

Edward Villella with Chicago dance critic Lucia Mauro

[The architects of the Auditorium Theatre carried commodiousness to the extent of providing inglenooks -- literally, "chimney corners" -- on the entrance foyers to different levels of the theatre, where I suppose patrons might warm themselves on padded benches flanking a fireplace, perpendicular to its wall, so although no fire was actually going this time, the two of them faced each other in this congenial setting, where a few rows of chairs were set up for us to listen. As usual, both speakers were more coherent and continuous than my fragmentary notes make them; mainly I grabbed at unusual details.]

Q: Are you okay with this arrangement? Which is your good side?

E.V.: I don't have a good side -- I'm sitting on it. [laughter]

...

Q: [What was the dance scene in New York like in your day?] E.V.: At NYCB, we didn't spend time thinking about our position, or the general scene. We had to get through the day. I only thought about the curtain going up...

But it didn't go on forever. You can't lose two geniuses like Balanchine and Robbins -- [that had an effect.]

[I took some time off], and coming back was terror.

... It's better now in America for guys in dance.

Q: You refused some TV appearances? E.V.: Yes. No, it's difficult to put the art form I love into a [Johnny] Carson comedy setting. Tony Randall offered script approval, so I did that.

Male dancers are competitors, trained to do tricks. They're not trained to dance. Cubans come from Alonso. I'm very concerned how dancer are trained. It's worldwide. I try to train them away from tricks. I made an effort at SAB and especially with Stanley Williams -- we'd talk for hours about how you extend the hand in classical position -- [demonstrates]

"Poets of gesture." Competitive dancers aren't seeking that.

Balanchine knew his dancers, as students and as professionals. "I have twenty scores in my head," he would say, so he could go ahead when circumstances were right.

If we didn't know the 19th Century we were the more putty for him -- he played to our strengths.

Q: Your definitive role? E.V.: I had two incredible guys making on me. It's important for me to pass on the range of styles, where you are on stage.

Starting with nothing, I could do what I wanted with Miami City Ballet. The mistakes are mine [audience laughter]. It's a dancer's company, what I would have liked to have danced in.

It takes about two years to achieve an internal understanding of Balanchine... We directors are authoritarian; I wanted to make a different company for the dancers so they would become confident doing anything.

Abstraction reduces a large [concept] to its essence. [In [i]Stravinsky Violin Concerto[/i]], "Aria I" is about Stravinsky leaving his first wife... Balanchine showed me Apollo: "Very real", not like sculptural and painting [versions]. Apollo, Prodigal Son gestures came from somewhere.

Valse Fantaisie. I draw a distinction between the two versions. I like to put four principals on stage [rather than two principals and four corps girls, as in the later version]...

I look for quality of movement in dancers, value within musicality, physicalization of music; decent human beings: We're on top of each other all day. Willingness. Talent. I can't teach talent. I can teach technique to talent.

Miami is not of a Liebeslieder inclination, but we're constantly exploring.


[The reference to Tony Randall reminded me of one of the few times I watched his comedy serial, The Odd Couple, which Randall and Jack Klugman did for a few years. In a scene in the Randall character's bedroom, we saw two small portraits hanging over his bed, one of George Balanchine, the other of Arturo Toscanini.]

#4 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 18 October 2009 - 02:25 PM

Ah...so finally Odile made it down here...
Hope she stays... :thumbsup: (even the Miami weather being kind of hot for a black swan)

#5 bart

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 10:22 AM

Ah...so finally Odile made it down here...
Hope she stays... :off topic: (even the Miami weather being kind of hot for a black swan)

Cristian, you're ignoring our mini-cold wave. Two days in the 70s. Evenings in the low 60s. Get out the winter clothes!

Thank you, emilienne and Jack for your posts. Emilienne, I especially appreciated your report on the Black Swan pdd. Considering that dancers at MCB do get to perform these works on regular programs, I'm amazed that they do as well as they do when I've seen them. (One expects this of the big fully classical companies.) Your comments on Catoya made me smile: I could SEE exactly what you were describing, based on other performances. You also raised hopes that we will be seeing more of Rolando Sarabia this season. He can just stand still on stage or walk a few steps and your eyes are pulled towards him.

I love the image of the Symphony in Three Movements corps as a hedge. I'll be looking closely for that in Program I. They also performed it in 2003 and 2007, so they have lots of experience.

For those who did not catch these on the Links thread, here are 2 newspaper reviews of the MCB visit:

http://www.suntimes....-hedy04.article

http://www.chicagotr...0,1980190.story

I've been rereading your posts, emilienne and jack, and will have other responses once I digest completely what you've written.

One thing however -- and the only downer. Jack, did Villella REALLY say "Miami is not of a Liebeslieder inclination... "? :( On the other hand, did he sound like he was offering HOPE when he added "but we're constantly exploring"? :P

#6 Jack Reed

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 12:40 PM

Yes, bart, yes to both of your questions. (I try to be as accurate as possible in my quotes and paraphrases, based on notes I'm scribbling down at the time, but I don't claim perfection; if I'm corrected by some one else who was there, I'll say so.)

Your questions remind me to wonder how they think they know what their public wants, what "market research" they do, if any. Living in Chicago, I'm not exposed to whatever a south Florida resident might see of whatever publicity they put out there, like Miami Herald ads and so on. I just see their mailings and web postings, which get to people already interested, I would think. There are questionnaires in the programs sometimes, but they don't ask about repertory preferences in terms either of general types or specific ballets or dancers, as I recall.

They seem to think something like Night Spot brings in a crowd which then sees another short ballet, representative of another branch of the repertory; but is there another, "classical" crowd? (One that might go for Liebeslieder?) Are they ignoring it? When MCB performs in Arsht, they don't sell out, right? When they team up with the Cleveland Orchestra, they do sell out, don't they? Does the CO sell out there by itself? What does it all mean? Is this a subject for another BT thread?

#7 bart

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 06:16 PM

MCB seems to me to be in a peculiar position vis-a-vis its audience or, more accurately, it's "audiences.". It's based in a very heterogeneous city where it gives only four performances of each program plus 6 Nutcrackers.

Most of MCB's dancing is outside Miami: 4 performances per program (plus 5 Nutcrackers) in Fort Lauderdale; 4 in West Palm Beach; 1 in Naples (programs II and III only) plus 1 Nutcracker.

This means, MCB doesn't have a single "home" market to research.

The established MCB audience in all locations would seem a natural for Liebeslieder IF (and I am anticipating some of the complaints one might hear) it weren't s-o-o-o long and didn't have s-o-o-o many waltzes. :huh: Whether this work would attract new audiences, and whether MCB has the promotionalskill to bring that about, is something I don't know.

Cristian, you have a Miami-Dade perspective. What do you think about the issues Jack raised?

My own reason for wishing that they would prepare and perform Liebeslieder is based on small cast (4 couples) and the number of MCB dancers who could handle the various roles. Something emilienne said about Jeanette Delgado -- that she "had a wonderful way of throwing herself into the choreography" -- strikes me as being almost as true of quite a few of the MCB dancers. They appear to relish the opportunity to learn new styles. Given their Balanchine training, Liebeslieder might be something of a stylistic stretch, but it's one they're prepared for and would work to make their own.

#8 Amy Reusch

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Posted 19 October 2009 - 08:11 PM

Male dancers are competitors, trained to do tricks. They're not trained to dance. Cubans come from Alonso. I'm very concerned how dancer are trained. It's worldwide. I try to train them away from tricks. I made an effort at SAB and especially with Stanley Williams -- we'd talk for hours about how you extend the hand in classical position -- [demonstrates]


This lends some light to the So You Think You Can Dance controversy with Alex Wong, doesn't it?

#9 Jack Reed

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 07:38 AM

Is this the controversy you're thinking about?

http://ballettalk.in...p...c=29640&hl=

Balanchine was also averse to dancers going to competitions. I think it's a matter of contrasting views of what constitutes a dancer's "progress". In Villella's view (as with Mr. B.), "poetry" trumps "tricks". Can a dancer excel at both? The two AD's seem to think not. Notice Villella's reference to "achieving an internal understanding" of Balanchine. Notice also Villella's remark about turning down some TV appearances, and why he did. Even then, he felt dancing -- his kind of dancing -- should be presented in a certain way and not in other ways.

#10 bart

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 08:35 AM

It's always the right time to speak up for artistry.

"Tricks" as tricks -- or tricks which stop everything to call attention to the dancer -- don't have a place in Balanchine's work. "Poets of gesture" is much closer to the mark.

Having said that, Villella -- like Balanchine -- seems much more successful in developing mature female artists than mature male artists. I wonder why.

#11 Jack Reed

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 05:26 PM

I don't have a ready response to that, but I do have another one of those parts emilienne mentioned at the beginning of this thread. Here are my notes, such as they are, from Villella's second speaking appearance in Chicago:

4th October 2009 post-matinee "Q & A" with Edward Villella in the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago


Q: Did you develop your own regimen vs. Balanchine's so your dancers can dance Balanchine without hurting themselves? E. V.: There was Stanley Williams; I took time out. [Villella is a welterweight boxing champion.] But dancing is physically different from sports. I was at a disadvantage in Balanchine's class. So I worked with Stanley Williams who learned from Balanchine. I train my dancers first for Balanchine because it's the most sophisticated; then you can go back to the 19th Century. You can't go the other way. It takes dancers with old training about 2 years to dance Balanchine. This company is a company trained to dance 79 different styles.

Q: Is it your mission to preserve Balanchine or [is that] a by-product of it? E. V.: It's a dancer's company, and I owe a debt to the works which took care of me. I pay back that debt; we always look to move our field forward.

Q: Are you preserving your archives and your company's history? E. V.: We have twenty-four seasons of video to refer to. I'm thinking about a book, drawings, DVD's, to aid understanding what's going on. We respect the past, delight in the present and prepare for the future. Maybe in the next few years.

Q: How did you get to Miami, and what challenges are there? ... [I'm sorry to post the question without his answer, but it's not in my notes. I hope somebody else who was there will help at this point.] [Somebody did! See below in Post #13.]

Q: Videos of your dancing? E. V.: I've never thought about that, I live in the present... Like athletes, we constantly break records. I leave that to others. These guys [gesturing behind him, toward the curtained stage] is my achievement. I hope it's sufficient. [audience applause]

Q: [What do you think about] choreographers now? E. V.: Great ones are rare. I want just those.

Q: [Tell us about your children?] E. V.: ... [Ballet Mistress] Crista [Villella] spent 45 minutes today putting two dancers into Upper Room so you wouldn't notice.

Q: What's your favorite ballet in your repertory? E. V.: I'm very prejudiced, toward works I danced. But now I realize, Prodigal Son, Rubies, how hard they are. Geniuses who know you, they made them for me, so they were easier for me.


Lately we have had glimpses into that 24-year video archive Villella spoke of in the form of promotional videos on the MCB website and (with better image quality, in my experience) on the company's YouTube channel. For instance, the opening ballet in Chicago, Symphony in Three Movements, also on Program I in the upcoming season, is there in video from a few years ago, with a cast led by (I think) Katia Carranza and Jeremy Cox; unfortunately, the four glimpses of that one are slightly out of order: We get first the great corps-line opening emilienne wrote about at the top of this thread, then we skip ahead into the second movement pas de deux, then the third glimpse is of the principal ballerina's circle of pirouettes* (with playfully "perverse" hand positions characteristic of this turned-in ballet) emilienne correctly places in the first movement, and then in the fourth glimpse we see some of the third (last) movement.

The same sequence problem turns up in the clip where Villella talks about the ballet, discussing the three movements in turn, where the image quality is even better; evidently, MCB's archive is technically good, but it's a shame that we don't always see in this clip what he's talking about when he's talking about it. A good opportunity was incompletely realized here, IMO, but I do think to offer video "samples" of ballets is a very good idea for ballet companies, and maybe MCB, just starting this, will do it better as it goes along.

*pique' turns, actually

Edited by Jack Reed, 22 November 2009 - 11:08 AM.


#12 kfw

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 06:13 PM

Villella -- like Balanchine -- seems much more successful in developing mature female artists than mature male artists. I wonder why.

That is a great question. In Balanchine's case, we can speculate that it's because he was much more interested in the women, and -- particularly if Villella's autobiography is any guide -- that he saw some men as potential rivals: "now, you're the star" (rough quote), as he said to Villella one of the dancer's rapturous receptions in the Soviet Union.

Thank you so much, Jack and emilienne, for all you've taken time to record and recollect for us here.

#13 emilienne

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 07:45 PM

I think that's a hint for me to chime in between grading. My apologies for dropping out so abruptly - there is a second infinitely more loopy review of Sunday that I haven't yet finished writing. Here I'll add a few more things about the talks to supplement Jack's copious notes.

From the Fireside Chat:

On Prodigal Son: He didn't understand how to carry himself and finally Mr Balanchine lost his patience and said, "Russian Icons, dear!"

On Apollo: He talked about chariot drivers and everyday men and from that Mr Villella learnt to draw the distinction between the Apollo of antiquity and the Person in Stravinsky's and Balanchine's conception.

"He taught me Apollo in an hour and a half and I never saw him again!"


From the post-performance talk:

Q: How did you get to Miami, and what challenges are there?

Mr Villella was apparently approached by a group of businessmen/patron of the arts about the possibility of cultivating a dance audience in Florida. In response he wrote a five/five and a half year plan (I think - it could be slightly more) to fundraise, train dancers, and to cultivate a repertory. Afterward, he asked who they had in mind to take up the challenge and was then offered the job because he had such a clear vision of what to do. After waffling a bit (he didn't want to leave New York), he consulted his wife, who was unexpectedly enthusiastic about the idea, and they made the decision to move.

#14 Jack Reed

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 08:09 PM

Thanks, emilienne! (And it's good to know you're still alive there under the books and papers and stuff.)

Villella has told the "Russian icons" story before, and then, if not this time, he added that at first the reference just confused him more and made him more miserable, until (with some one's help, I think) he was actually able to look at some icons, when everything Balanchine had been driving at suddenly became vividly clear.*

I can hardly wait for the second review, of Sunday's matinee, but we realize you have other responsibilities...


*Well, not exactly. Here's the passage on pages 82 and 83 of Villella's autobiography, Prodigal Son:

... [Balanchine] was trying physically and mechanically to explain the gesture [to Villella and Diana Adams, the Siren]. Then he stopped, looked us in the eye, and said, "Icons. You know, dear. Byzantine icons."
I said to myself, "Oh my God, icons."
The image made me understand the movement and I looked at as many reproductions of Byzantine icons as I could find.


Edited by Jack Reed, 21 October 2009 - 06:29 AM.


#15 emilienne

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Posted 24 October 2009 - 05:32 PM

Well, Jack, it wasn’t an acute hint for you to post, but I am glad that you did, though I would love to hear more impressions as well as fact. After that abrupt disappearance caused by a veritable deluge of papers to write and grade, I have returned to talk about the matinee performance. I shall endeavor to keep my perceptions from taking off entirely, but well – see below for final judgment.

Miami City Ballet
Sunday 14 October 2009
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Center Orchestra, Row P

Symphony in Three Movements

Nothing quite compares with the shock and joy of seeing a new favorite for the first time.

That said, the second look was pretty shocking and aweful as well. The dancers in all four pieces were more alert and energetic than the night before. The jumping in Valse Fantaisie and the level of energy in In the Upper Room ceased to look as labored as the night before. Catoya and Sarabia shed their reminders of Things Other Than Swans. This was an on-message performance throughout.

Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, as the program tells me, was a musical attempt to capture the maestro’s impressions of the Second World War. There are the odd moments of crashing chaos sandwiching the deadly quiet in which one sits in dread over what happens next.

Mr Villella and Ms Mauro at the Fireside Chat talked about the ‘generic’ (or perhaps simply general) images of war choreographed into the piece: that of the Home Front, the helicopter arms, etc. In the last review, I described the choreography using organic images (the sentient hedge, orbiting bodies), but in truth I also had no idea how to organize the anachronistic but highly persistent images of the Great War, courtesy of my fantastical love of Blackadder Goes Fourth.

The pale gleaming women of the Home Front reminded me of particularly sinister and organic barbed wire (its spikes the arms and baroque hands of the Balanchine-trained corp). Tricia Albertson’s jumping contest with Alex Wong became more competitive in the matinee: she challenged him head-on in both ability and athleticism. It wasn’t the lighter one-upmanship of the night before but a grimmer competition whose purpose is unknown.

The rhythmic trot, the precision formations strip the corp members of their respective genders – they are anonymous bodies, trying to trap and engage and out-maneuver each other’s units. This time the imagery of the Rubies women seemed more integrated into the action of the corp, pulsing into focus and then just as quickly disappeared, like reflections from popped foam bubbles. The cognitive dissonance is less when one prepares for it, but it is still disconcerting. Are they brief reminders of civilization amidst the chaos? Or perhaps is it an allusion to the spirit of woman as, or at, war?

Someone once said that conflicts were in reality short and brutish things, most of the other time in war was spent in boredom, in anticipation and also in dread. As I watched the second movement, I kept thinking about life in the trenches, of bodies sitting still, contorting to climb over obstacles and other bodies. It is a moment of reflection in the stolen calm, in which life resumes in all its oddity. Kronenberg and Guerra in this performance was not as languorous (nor the observer as delirious) as the night before, the newly observed sharpness in their movements better accentuated the contrasts in the choreography.

Once again I short-change the third movement in my inability to call up a unifying image of its proceedings (an excellent excuse to see it yet again). Perhaps the most I can say is that if the first had directed my attention to the personalities of dancers or blocks of dancers, then the third forced me to look at the movements of the dancers in relation to each other. It was as if I were forced to view war from above like one would view a Busby Berkeley musical, where suddenly one could extract purpose and logic and even beauty from its purportedly senseless components.

The tragedy of war lies in its costs, regardless of the identity of the victor. Perhaps it was an accident of the close reading, but the image that I took away from the finale were the men, prone like corpses, staring out into nothing as the women erected trees of graveyard crosses behind them.

Valse Fantaisie 1953


“The three ballerinas, wearing headdresses reminiscent of Glinka's Russia, moved together in a perpetuum mobile, attended by the male dancer.” – From the Balanchine Foundation catalogue entry for the second Valse Fantaisie

I am rather ambivalent about the ‘modern’ costuming that every Balanchine ballet seems to have these days. On the one hand, I think it would have lent grandeur and a more overt sense of story (or at least structure) to the choreography; but on the other, the national costumes would have overwhelmed the choreography with notions of character.

The increased energy level improved the performance of this piece perhaps most of all. The night performance had dancers looking as if they were straining to jump and was very distracting. That had disappeared by the matinee and the dancers looked happy and free as they bounded all over the stage.

There is a clear structure to Valse fantaisie that at once evoked that of the grand pas de deux from Paquita (ensemble, male solo, female solo, female solo, pas de trois, etc) but also transcends it. The waltz rhythm is relentless, an ever-present pulse that sustains the action even as dancers stop, reset, find each other to dance in another configuration.

Perhaps the strongest impression that the piece made (besides the excellent dancing by all, including the late substitution for Jeanette Delgado, Sara Esty) were the number of Les Sylphides references that Mr Balanchine seemed to have snuck in. There were the sequence of one footed hops to pointe from the Mazurka and even the undulation of the arms.

Valse fantaisie does not resemble Sylphides harmonically but there was the same choreographic integration of the corp and the soloist when the four dancers reunite for the finale. Instead of maintaining the distinction of rank, Mr Balanchine integrates the soloists into the corp (but then again, what kind of corp do four lead dancers make?), allowing them to emerge and melt back seamlessly into a moving tapestry.

As Jack noted, there were indeed some problems in the lighting, as the lighting began to dim even before the dancing was over! It wasn’t the most climactic of endings, but overall, still a lovely performance.

Black Swan pas de deux

The small glitches in mannerisms had disappeared by the matinee performance. Sarabia, prince that he was, ditched the Theme and Variations quote. Catoya dropped the odd Don Quixote/generic Spanish epaulement that she did at the end of her fouettés. The partnering seemed rougher than Saturday night, though the trick-y moments (which I am still not so fond of) - particularly the ending partner spin in which he takes his hands off - no longer looked as if Catoya was about to fall over while doing the rumba.

Sarabia is, as I say again, elegant, but really the Black Swan pas de deux doesn’t give him much to do. In addition, I could not keep my eyes off of Catoya, who seemed to have drunk a million cups of seductive evil coffee before the matinee. While the amused detachment still remained, this time she casted her web more widely out to us, fascinating an admittedly primed audience with little more than presence. I particularly appreciated her balances that went on forever. I felt as if I were granted a glimpse into the essence of Odile, that of a potent distillation of intent and technique aimed at Siegfried with the sole purpose of getting him to say YES. It was particularly startling when, during one particularly balance, she suddenly turned her head to look at us, as if commanding us to devote the proper amount of attention and awe to her if we weren’t already, and believe me, we were!

Poor Siegfried didn’t stand a chance, and quite frankly, I didn’t feel sorry for him.

I’ll leave off In the Upper Room as I have very little to add. I seemed to have lost track of Deanna Seay in the matinee performance. I don’t know how it happened, especially as I quite enjoyed her dancing as a stomper the night before. The smoke did not work as well as the night before, differing highly in quantity in quantity as well as location as the performance went on. The performers in the afternoon also seemed to have more trouble with the scenery – two or three got a bit tangled in the black fabric strips, but these are minor quibbles. Everyone danced their heads off (once again, Jeanette Delgado the stomping demon!) and the energy levels complemented the music (and the still convincing climax) much better. Jack noted that the two stompers at the end seemed to have jumped twice as high as they did the previous night, and they did!

Applause was not as sustained nor as loud as the previous night. There was a lot of it but not as much as the company deserved. For their next performances in a clime near me, I think I should invest in an amplifier, or perhaps an unobnoxious company of claquers to do what the city could not.


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