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MCB Program IV"Dances at a Gathering", "Who Cares?"


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#16 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 18 March 2010 - 04:38 PM

I did think at the time and still do that the dancer's personalities are key to sustaining interest in the work. Otherwise it can get a bit "mushy"


I saw this a couple of times early on at NYCB, and I would tend to agree with Richard's remark, because it's all lovely, but can get a bit boring unless the performance is really inspired. I was just thinking of 'Les Sylphides', which definitely is a Chopin-based ballet of genius, but it has a drive through it that is considerably stronger than DaaG, if I'm recalling the latter correctly (quite long ago, I haven't seen it in recent years.) Some sort of stronger sense of 'narrative' in the Fokine, is that it?



Ok Patrick, so reading your post has just done it. I think you just hit the spot and touched some sensitive issues that I had with my first and-(so far)-only run of DAAG.
First, and to be totally honest this time, I'll say it: I did get bored. I found the he dancing to be too much alike. I hadn't looked for any pre-performance references, wanting to have a fresh, "real" first look at it without a preconceived notion, and I guess I couldn't "see" all that has been said about it here. I perceived it as a long series of dances set to a very dragging rendering of Chopin's pieces. Oh, and also about Patrick's reference to "Chopiniana"-(which, BTW, is one of my all time favorite ballets EVER)-I sense that many factors of Fokine's ballet-(absent from Robbins')-makes it a winner : A complex, rich choreography for the Corps-(actually the actual USE of Corps), the costume design and in general the beautiful neo-romantic atmosphere of the whole thing. Finally, but surely an extremely important factor in my own balletic standards, the happy decision to orchestrate Chopin's pieces. Never been a fan of ballets set just to piano scores.
Plus...I found it a bit too long.
Still...I will see it again, for sure. In any case, one should be always open to possible surprises...(who knows...a different cast, or a faster tempi...)

#17 SandyMcKean

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Posted 19 March 2010 - 09:38 AM

As I've said here before.....I am a huge fan of Dances. I absolutely love it, and I could watch it 7 nights in a row if I could (altho I agree with the thought that an arresting performance of Dances needs dancers who can bring the "characters" in Dances to life). I can also understand not liking it, and especially being bored by it.

My thought is this wide range of reactions has mostly to do with what one is expecting when one walks in the door. I don't mean expecting in terms of what Dances itself is, or what it is about, but rather what one is expecting from an evening at the ballet (with its none too cheap cost). I often expect to be thrilled and moved by the power of the dance I am about to see (Patrick uses the word "drive" perhaps in this way). If that's what I want from Dances, I'm not going to get it. Dances is very different (and that difference is a large part of what I love about the piece). When going to see Dances I recommend expecting to see beauty, to see subtlety, to see variation (in the sense of exquite differences in what might otherwise appear on the surface as similarity). But most of all I recommend looking for acting, personality, and character in the various roles (the separate roles usually named by the color of the costume and the sex of the dancer...e.g., the "brown boy"). Robbins has not made these characters obvious; it is all very subtle; but these characters make a journey during the piece that is the heart (I think) of what keeps the piece from being boring. It is the characters that have someone like me wishing that Dances was even longer. This aspect is also what makes it imperative that one sees the "right" cast. It has also been remarked (and I strongly agree) that the "space" of remembrance, or remembering, is a theme that helps tie the work together, and gives us, the audience, a "handle" with which to pull ones self into the piece.

And finally, I believe one has to hear the exquite beauty in the Chopin just as pieces of music. I do find the music totally captivating, but I can easily imagine this piano music not appealing to many. If one is not in the space of loving the music (and the music too must be played well), then it may be impossble to truly love Dances. In some ways this aspect of Dances is a crap shoot. You either like the these piano pieces of Chopin or you don't. I do love this music (specifically, I love how the mood or emotion invoked by each segment so often changes -- often very rapidly -- for me it is these sudden shifts that provide the excitement in the music of Dances).

#18 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 09:27 PM

If one is not in the space of loving the music (and the music too must be played well), then it may be impossible to truly love Dances. In some ways this aspect of Dances is a crap shoot. You either like the these piano pieces of Chopin or you don't.

So then I find myself in a difficult position, as I DO love Chopin and still didn't "get" the 18 dance numbers...
Confession...at some point I stopped watching to start just listening, which proved to be more pleasant.

Anyway...I just found my playbill, and here is the cast of this performance. Maybe bart or Jack will get something out of this info, in relation with casting issues. I will also transcript some very few notes I scratched.

Katia Carranza-pink
Sarah Esty-yellow. ("Mischievous")
Patricia Delgado-mauve
Mary Carmen Catoya-green. ("Mazurca. Never on full pointe")
Jennifer Lauren-blue
Renato Panteado-brown. ("Devilish solo")
Rolando Sarabia-purple
Daniel Baker-brick. ("Athletic")
Renan Cerdeiro. ("Who's this?")
Daniel Sarabia-blue.

...and some from "Who Cares...?"

"PDD Kronemberg/Guerra. (The Man I love). Beautiful"
"Patricia Delgado. Red Solo. Tricks"
"Great Finale!!"

Not a lot, I know. :D

#19 SandyMcKean

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 10:03 PM

So then I find myself in a difficult position, as I DO love Chopin and still didn't "get" the 18 dance numbers...

Interesting. Well, I was just speculating, and when one speculates, it often ends up as little more than BS :D :)

I find the relationship btwn the music and the choreography/emotion in Dances so totally integrated, that I find it hard to imagine loving one without loving the other. But to each his own. There have certainly been plenty of pieces that others love that I just don't get.

#20 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 29 March 2010 - 09:00 AM

For some reason, I suspect that there were casting/music tempi issues. I still have the three Miami runnings to come, so let's see...

#21 Paul Parish

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Posted 29 March 2010 - 09:16 AM

I've been thinking about this....

Yes, it must feel improvised, and because Legris (and to a lesser degree Vaestro) anticipates, indeed even dances ahead of, the music, it loses that aura.

It sounds true, but it doesn't fit the way I feel about Legris's performance, so I wondered where my difference comes -- since I respect your knowledge and taste so much, I usually find I agree with you.

The thing I realized is that for me, if I'm really listening to the music, sometimes I know what's coming -- even in a piece of music I don't know by heart. The composers who make me love them often set me up for what's coming, and when it arrives it's bot ha pleasure and a surprise and a fulfillment of expectations I didn't know I had.

I find Legris's brown boy EXTREMELY musical, , actively musical, like he's listening like Fischer-Dieskau listened to Gerald Moore. this music is intensely nostalgic, and it evokes something long-lost, partly forgotten, but that IS already there -- so you'd maybe attack it since you heard the downbeat coming and might want to twist your shoulders or twizzle the leg cuz that's where the grace note belongs....

#22 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 10:03 PM

On Friday night I went to another running of Program IV, hoping to maybe "get" Dances this time, for which I had planned to bring a more refreshed, open, but still vigilant approach. It did not work. :D
At first I attempted to scribble my usual notes on the dancers, choreography and so on, but after some pathetic lines I realized that this wasn't working and gave it up altogether. From that point on I decided to just relax, so I sank deep in my chair and tried just to enjoy the whole thing without being too analytical. I think this was a better idea, for which the dancers and numbers were passing by freely while the mellow music surrounded everything to almost made me get TOO relaxed-(which prompted me to seat up again on my chair and try to be more alert). Next thing I knew the ballet was over, bringing down the house. The audience LOVED it.
Just a little final detail that I almost decided not to share given the high probability of it being considered silly or out of context, but which was something that stroked me from Dances. Toward the end of the ballet, the full cast gets together onstage facing the audience, one girl kneeling and the opening male character surrounded by everyone else. Right then and there they suddenly gazed upward at the distance at unison, then proceeding to move their heads slowly from left to right, like following something with their eyes...their look that of enormous sadness. Well, THAT little detail, believe it or not, moved me tremendously. It just hit me right away, reminding me of a very similar scenario from the real life. Thing is, in Cuba over and over we would go to the airport to say bye to friends or family members leaving the island for good, eyes following the plane disappearing in the sky without knowing when would we see them again-(in the case that it would ever happen). The last time I was in that undesirable position I was looking at the plane that was taking away my mother. Other times, whole families-(the reason for why the group of dancers reminded me of this)-would gather together to see their loved ones leave...eyes full of sadness.
Oh well...I know this is crazy, but still...I just wanted to share it.

#23 cargill

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 05:11 AM

Cubanmiamiboy, I don't think that idea is at al far-fetched. I interviewed Peter Boal a while ago, and he talked about Robbins coaching him in Dances at a Gathering, and he said this about the beginning and the end.


He talked a lot about the opening solo. He told us “You are an older man, you’ve been through a lot, and you return to the dance studio where you first studied. You walk into that room, and you look at the barre over there, and you remember who stood there, and you remember that they were your friend, and you look over there and you think ‘I never liked that person’, and the teacher used to stand there and the piano was there. And then you begin to dance.” But it has to register at the beginning that this is a place that I knew when I was young.

The lighting definitely makes it seem like it takes place out of doors.

Yes, but whatever his own image when he choreographed it was, he felt that the ballet studio was the best metaphor for us to grasp. The ballet studio where we had learned to dance is our frame of reference. For others it could be the playing field I grew up on or the house my grandmother lived in. Everybody has the significant location where life and feeling and understanding really began, and for dancers it is the ballet studio. He wanted that sense of returning.
Yes, “I am remembering”, or “I am remembering too much”. It is an important thought, but it is also a passing thought. And the final gesture at the end of the ballet of touching the ground is hard to put into words without sounding awkward, but it is a place where I lived, where experiences happened, but it is just a place. I must say that Robbins would die all over again if he knew how many words I am using to describe this!

It is all about memory, and everyone has an individual reaction. Mary

#24 jsmu

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Posted 13 April 2010 - 12:55 PM

I attended two performances of Dances/Who Cares? this past weekend, and I must say
it was probably the most disappointing show I've ever seen MCB give.
Dances, which was made on and for stars (McBride, Mazzo, Kent, Verdy, Villella,
etc, ad infinitum), is not successful without the charisma which those stars brought to
it in addition to their superb dancing. Katia Carranza in pink was her usual lovely and
lyrical self, but rarely rose above a monotone; Tricia Albertson was, sadly, just as
inadequate as the Girl in Yellow as she was in the jumping role in Who Cares? (these
are probably the worst two miscastings ever of this perfectly fine dancer, calling for
jumps and acrobatic tricks she simply cannot do with any style, scope, or panache);
Carlos Miguel Guerra couldn't manage all of his choreography, and the extremely fine
Renato Panteado looked taxed to his absolute limit in Villella's solos, especially the one
to the A minor Etude, Opus 10, no. 2 (close to the end). Only the divine Deanna Seay,
whose retirement is a tragedy for us, and the nearly as divine Jennifer Kronenberg rose
to the occasion; they both danced the Girl in Green, with interesting differences: Kronenberg
was more flirtatious, lighter, and slightly more of a coquette, while Seay was a grande dame
rather like the Hostess in Les Biches--dazzling. Kronenberg was also compelling as the
Girl in Mauve, with an utterly piercing moment after her partner deserts her near the end of
the girls' trio to the A minor Waltz, and Amanda Weingarten, who is still in the corps, was
very promising in this role as well. And, sadly, Dances was by far the best dancing of the
performances. Who Cares? is also for stars, and I have never seen MCB put on more mediocre,
undistinguished Balanchine dancing; ONLY Kronenberg in the McBride part was at all
good (especially in The Man I Love; the weight shifts and breakneck coda of Fascinatin' Rhythm
were difficult even for her); the young corps dancer Jennifer Lauren may be a 'good turner' in
a quotidian sense, but she was completely incapable of even a simplified version of Marnee
Morris' drop-dead virtuoso variation. The role is, sadly, usually dumbed down/made easier
even at NYCB--especially the one notorious diagonal from upstage right--but the turning
ballerina in Who Cares? should not be falling out of her double fouettes, nor struggling with
the speed throughout. I was sorry to see Lauren so woefully miscast; she seems to be an
appealing and attractive dancer. The absences of Mary Carmen Catoya and especially
JEANETTE DELGADO in these technical firework displays were beyond lamentable; I am not
a devotee of Patricia Delgado and she was suited to neither the turning role nor the McBride
part--one could not help but think of her sister in both. There was also an extraordinary
bizarrerie which I'm surprised Mr. Villella put on and the Balanchine Foundation countenanced;
imagine my surprise to see three men listed partnering the three Who Cares? ballerinas, when
of course the role made on Jacques d'Amboise is a tour de force with three pas de deux and
a dynamite variation-- for ONE man. Had this occurred with an announcement, and only at one
performance, it might have been due to the injury of, say, Rolando Sarabia; but it clearly
was not a one-off. This was more disturbing even than the subpar dancing throughout. I should
mention Sara Esty and especially the wonderful, leggy, tall, vibrant Allynne Noelle in the smaller
pas de deux; Noelle has great presence and style.
I certainly hope not to see this sort of denatured Balanchine ever again from MCB, which has been so
brilliant in so many others of his ballets.

#25 SandyMcKean

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Posted 13 April 2010 - 05:52 PM

Well, THAT little detail, believe it or not, moved me tremendously. It just hit me right away, reminding me of a very similar scenario from the real life.

Silly? Are you kidding me???? That's it......that's "Dances". Robbins got to you; and for your sake I'm glad he did. I find it particularly striking that this moment that moved you so was about something you were remembering. For me, "Dances" is all about remembrance and remembering. It ain't a coincidence that your feeling was one of remembrance from your own life.

Cargill says all this extremely well; I won't even try to add anything.

P.S. cubanmiamiboy, in keeping with this theme, and quite seriously, your description of you remembering that plane, and of Cubans generally remembering planes, quite moved me......I totally got this about Cuban culture from your shared words......THANKS.

#26 bart

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Posted 14 April 2010 - 05:38 AM

jsmu, thanks for your long review. It's a privilege to hear from someone who remembers so much about earlier New York City Ballet dancers in these roles.

Program IV reaches us in West Palm Beach this weekend. I'll be attending several of the performances. I've seen them perform Dances before, but not Who Cares? As someone who can visualize each of these dancers as you name them, your report gave me much to think about.

P.S. There is indeed something strange about the casting of three men in Who Cares? I've been wondering what it says about the strength and depth of the MCB male contingent.

#27 carbro

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Posted 14 April 2010 - 12:50 PM

P.S. There is indeed something strange about the casting of three men in Who Cares? I've been wondering what it says about the strength and depth of the MCB male contingent.


This is not unprecedented. As can be seen in the Balanchine Celebration video, splitting the male role has also served to display four different men. NYCB has split the role in subsequent galas, too, if I remember correctly.

If the rest of the program had been slanted heavily to feature the females, I would have understood the role splitting as a counterbalance, but with Dances, that's clearly not the case. :beg:

#28 bart

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Posted 14 April 2010 - 02:24 PM

Thanks for that clarification, carbro. I go back to d'Amboise, though I recall later performances by Robert La Fosse and Sean Lavery.

It seems to me that having one male lead creates a kind of over-arching story line that holds the work together. With different men, wouldn't the effect be more like a suite of separate dances? I guess I'll get the chance to answer my own question this weekend. :beg:

jsmu's memories of the original cast raises the issue of what happens when new dancers enter a ballet, bringing different strengths and personalities. Merrill Ashley, who I believe danced more than one of the parts during her career, including the Morris role to which jsmu refers to, was sometimes criticized for being miscast.

McBride was lucky to have danced (monopolized) The Man I Love and, especially, Fascinating Rhythm, for so long.

#29 jsmu

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 11:33 AM

Thanks for that clarification, carbro. I go back to d'Amboise, though I recall later performances by Robert La Fosse and Sean Lavery.

It seems to me that having one male lead creates a kind of over-arching story line that holds the work together. With different men, wouldn't the effect be more like a suite of separate dances? I guess I'll get the chance to answer my own question this weekend. :wub:

jsmu's memories of the original cast raises the issue of what happens when new dancers enter a ballet, bringing different strengths and personalities. Merrill Ashley, who I believe danced more than one of the parts during her career, including the Morris role to which jsmu refers to, was sometimes criticized for being miscast.

McBride was lucky to have danced (monopolized) The Man I Love and, especially, Fascinating Rhythm, for so long.

Yes. In fact, as carbro said, the only times the role has ever been split this way is in galas, when things are being done as excerpts; certainly not in repertory performances. I think it's a spectacularly bad move, not only because as bart says it's intended to be a kind of story line with ONE guy and three women, so to speak ( there is no 'plot', but that is quite different from complete abstraction), but because there is no virtuosity if a different man dances every pas de deux. There are several SMALL pdd in the section with the soloists before the principals appear; clearly it is a progression to larger and more virtuoso star parts and dances. This is one of the few Balanchine ballets which features a male role every bit as smashing as the ballerina parts, and piecing the role out ruins it.
The brilliant Ashley danced all three of the roles in Who Cares?, perhaps the only ballerina ever to do so; she began with the jumping role, moved on for many years in the turning role, and finally McBride's part until she retired. I did not see her in the Morris role, though I did see her exquisite performances in The Man I Love and Fascinatin' Rhythm more than once, but I think the occasional remarks about miscasting were probably made when the company was filled with rather brilliant turners. Ashley, as she observes in her book Dancing for Balanchine, had great trouble with turns when she got into NYCB, and her remarkable prowess in them later (passages such as the doubles opening into arabesque in Ballo della Regina, made for her) was probably due to the trial by fire of such roles as Morris' in Who Cares? She changed one diagonal, as did everyone who's danced it except the goddess Elizabeth Loscavio, but Balanchine certainly would not have kept her in the role for years were she inadequate. He doubtless saw it as 'stretching' her, as he did by putting her in Emeralds, Swan Lake, etc, and asking for more lyricism, more repose, and more softness--which was beautifully realized in Ballade.
The other lamentable thing about MCB in Who Cares? was its esthetic cluelessness. This is a ballet with music from and, basically, about the Twenties and early Thirties, and the qualities of high spirits coupled with the 'nice' and 'all-American' behavior of the time. When the ten dancers who do the five small pas de deux reenter the stage and wave happily at each other, the gesture is completely lost; MCB's boys and girls look silly and self-conscious in it. The giddiness of brilliant, showy social dancing as an outlet for youth, irrepressibility, and very elegantly sublimated sex is utterly absent; these look like well trained 2010 dancers going through the motions in what they see as a dated period piece. I very much hope Mr. Villella will insist the entire company watch some Fred and Ginger movies before their next revival of this ballet, at the very least.

#30 bart

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 12:53 PM

jsmu, I very much appreciate the long experience with both works that you brought to the MCB performances. I have much less experience, so of course I had a slightly different take on the program and the way it was danced.

I think we agree on Deanna Seay's Woman in Green and Jennifer Kronenberg's Mauve and Green. I understand the quality of "monotone" that you found in Katia Carranza's Pink, but I found a lot more than that. This is the central role in the ballet, and Carranza is not Patricia McBride. But there was something to be said for her elegant dancing and her understated emotionality. I've grown to appreaciate Patricia Delgado, who I think has become a much more subtle performer and quite a versatile dancer. Delgado, dancing with the 17-year-old wonder apprentice Renan Cedeiro, did a marvellous Pink/Green pdd at the Saturday matinee.

Dances at a Gathering is one of my favorite works and it rarely fails to draw me in and bring me just to the edge of tears. I saw the original cast. I've seen a number of more recent great dancers in the roles. Speaking for myself only, MCB's version does not reach the emotional heights, but it is lovely dancing. It also had a story of its own. Villella speaks frequently of something Robbins said: that this was a ballet about the camaraderie of dancers working and performing together. I felt that connection among the dancers very strongly. There was less of Poland, less sense of aristocrats revisiting their memories, than I would have preferred and have become accustomed in subsequent years. My memory of the original cast is that they, too, danced a dance about dancers. The "ground" that Villella's character touches was -- for Robbins, for Villella, and (still) for me -- the floor of a studio or stage. Robbins once said that he would have liked to call it "dances in a rehearsal studio."

Among the interpretations I loved was that of young Sara Esty and Daniel Baker in the giggle dance. Esty, while not actually giggling, danced as though she were. Their movements were fast, clear as crystal, beautifully in sync, joyful, sunny, effervescent, you name it. A woman behind me said during the applause: "They're adorable." And they were.

As for Who Cares? I agree that MCB's approach doesn't have the feel and authentic style of the NYCB original cast. (I don't really remember the first few NYCB revivals and haven't seen this in 25 years.) I don't know if I would go as far as to accuse Miami of "aesthetic cluelessness," but I do feel, that they would have benefited from looking at videos of artists better versed in this style. (Like you, I found myself wishing that they had had a deep-immersion course in the Hollywood musicals of the day.) The corps clearly did not know what to project. Young dancers -- and the corps is VERY young, full of school apprentices and people recently out of school -- need direction. Otherwise, they full into a natural "Hey kids, let's put on a show" mode, and that is what we got.

Having said that, I guess I don't find this ballet as profound (either aesthetically or culturally) as some, so I many be less concerned abut keeping it pure.

I liked the principals much better than the corps or soloists. Jeanette Delgado -- back after missing 2 programs due to injury -- was amazing in Embraceable You and especially My One and Only. (Corps member Jennifer Lauren was quite good, I thought, in the same part, though inevitably not as finished.) Kronenberg was at the top of her considerable form in s'Wonderful and Fascinatin' Rhythm. Patricia Delgado surprised me by the way she handled the multiple shifts of weight, stop-starts, and jazzy effects in Fascinating Rhythm. Her performance was a real show stopper.

The men were weaker. They had an excuse. With the disappearance of Sarabia, Penteado and Guerra had to dance every performance of both ballets. They were clearly exhausted by the end, something you could see in the lifts and in less than usual accuracy with turns and landings. Yang Zou partnered well as the Green Boy, but the great treat was the student apprentice, Renan Cedeiro. Talk about progress in just a single year in the U.S. He's a natural stage performer, with long legs, expressive arms, a winning smile, and all the speed, flexibility, jumping, turning, concern for his partner, etc., that predicts a really good future.

In the absence of Alex Wong (out of this set of performances) and Cox (gone from the company), no one left has that American hoofer skill that Villella, d'Amboise, Woetzel had in New York. Recruiting men -- and a souple of strong classicists wouldn't hurt either -- should be a goal.

Also: they need more in the way of ballet master/mistressing. Deanna Seay not only has had a rich and wonderful career, she is (I'm told) a fine teacher. And she is very thoughtful about ballet. She cares about the art. I hope they are thinking of her when it comes to reconstructing their rather out-of-balance ballet mistress/ ballet master organization.


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