All Wheeldon ProgramDiscussion, Casting, Reviews
Posted 07 October 2011 - 11:09 AM
At the top of the show, the people sitting in the balconies see the conductor enter the orchestra pit before the people in the spendy seats on the main floor, so the pre-show hush starts upstairs and makes its way down to the rest of the audience. I usually sit on the main floor (I sit where they put me -- as a solo person Iím easy to move around) so when I hear things settle down I look to see the conductorís head pop up when he steps onto the podium. Kershaw had a mane of white hair, while Dameronís frizzy halo surrounds his bald spot. de Cou (aka the new guy) is a brunette, but thatís all I know so far.
Carousel - I know that everyone is excited about the carnival effects and the merry-go-round at the end of this work, but honestly, thatís the least interesting thing for me. Wheeldon has made a ballet here, with the same kind of personnel that St Leon and Petipa used, and itís very interesting to see what he does and doesnít do with that heritage. This isnít the highly structured kind of work that Caniparoli made a couple years ago. That work used a pre-existing score that had divided the project up into discrete sections (very Petipa-like) while this piece is more through-created. There are distinct sections in Carousel as well, mostly delineated by songs from the original musical -- itís not strictly an orchestral version of the R&H score, but it does tend to keep each song separate. And since so many of those are keyed specifically to events in the original book, Wheeldon does ďtell the same story,Ē but it isnít as literal as the source material. The lead couple are Billy and Julie, and their big duet, which culminates in ďIf I Loved YouĒ reflects those characters, but doesnít act them out per se.
The rest of the cast are more generically part of the community -- we see more of the two soloist couples, but they arenít really specific -- no Carrie and Mr Snow. Some of their movement has a bit of character attached to it -- some task-like gestures for the ensemble and the tumbling cartwheels that resemble carnival rides, but for me, the interesting stuff was his use of more standard vocabulary. He knows what to do with women on pointe, uses some very inventive partnering and in general seems happy to own his heritage as a ballet choreographer.
I saw Korbes and Orza in the main roles, and they were well suited to the style and to each other. Heís got an excellent vibe as Billy -- thereís a note of aggression in his dancing that really works with this part, and she was very clear about the transition between wariness and abandon -- you could see where her character chose to commit to him. Elsewhere, it was great to see Kiyon Gaines as one of the soloists -- I missed his presence on stage for much of last year. Ben Griffiths was the other solo man, and the two of them were very in sync. Theyíre close in stature, although theyíre not really twins, but there were a couple of moments where they were just identical --same line, same initiation, same follow-through. It was very effective. Later in the program, Griffiths dances with Lucien Postelwaite (the male duet in Polyphonia) -- they do a fine job, but in some ways I think his duet here with Gaines is better matched. They were partnered with Margaret Mullin and Kylee Kitchen, who were both very flowy, and made good use of the waltz rhythms in the piece.
After the Rain - This is one of those works that is open to all kinds of interpretation. It has a gentle and methodical quality to it, and for all that the vocabulary choices are far from classical it doesnít feel tricky to me the way that some of Polyphonia does. When I first saw it here a couple years ago, I thought it was mostly about endurance, that this was a couple who had fought a long and taxing battle, and that we were seeing them at the end, where they may have been victorious, but you couldnít really tell through the exhaustion. At the very end, when he picks her up and turns around with her in a deep back arch, and then puts her down in a kind of back-bend bridge, I thought of a dog that turns around itself as it gets ready to sleep, so that when he slides under her and then gently pulls her down on top of him it was as if he was getting to bed and she was his safety blanket. This time around there was something about the way she leaned forward while standing on his thigh, like a bowsprit, that made me think of sailing and of travel. They were on a journey, and found their destination in the end.
I got two casts -- Chapman and Cruz are very well matched physically, but he seemed more of a support than an equal partner this time around. Rachel Foster and James Moore felt like an even-handed pairing. Theyíve both had big success with the more contemporary parts of the repertory, and it shows well here -- they donít editorialize on any of the steps -- they just do them.
Polyphonia - I wish I could see this a couple more times -- thereís so much going on that I have to keep myself watching the piece as it unfolds rather than taking a moment to puzzle out a particular step or relationship. It is indeed the most ďBalanchine-yĒ of the works on the program, and some people might think itís almost too derivative, but I think he makes excellent use of his adopted heritage, quotations and all.
When I saw the lec-dem during the first week of the run, I thought that seeing this work next to After the Rain might undercut the two pieces -- that they might seem too much alike, but that wasnít the impression I got in performance. They may have real similarities in their vocabulary, but the time out of time quality of the duet doesnít really have a match in the Ligeti.
The opening section, where the four couples take the main phrases apart and put them together again, does look like Balanchine in his Stravinsky mode, but the pattern games seemed more front and center here, and made me think of Wheeldon as a part of the post-modern dance generation as well as a neo-classicist. But then, at the end of the section, when the front lights started casting shadows on the upstage scrim and the eight dancers on stage looked like part of a larger, more noir-ish crowd, the piece took on an emotional weight it didnít have before. That sense of mystery kept reasserting itself through the ballet, particularly in the next duet, with its creaturely images.
So for me things seem to alternate between games with patterns and more emotionally evocative material. Thinking about it in those terms, I was most struck with the two duets in the middle -- Nakamura and Griffiths dancing like furies with windmill arms, and Griffiths again, with Postelwaite this time, in a tag team dance that looks like Bournonvilleís Jockey dance and Balanchineís male duet from Agon. The more mysterious stuff really came to a head for me with the Allegro con Spirito (Sarah Ricard Orza and Jerome Tisserand in the performances I saw) The contemplative feeling of the side-to-side shifting at the top of the duet played out through the whole of that dance and into the following solo for SRO. Towards the end of her solo she does a series of chaine turns with her arms descending from a high fifth position, her hands holding onto an invisible something. Itís a moment you can interpret a hundred ways, and each of those ways becomes a story about who she might be and what powers she might invoke, and then itís over and we launch into another section of the ballet. Iíve seen Polyphonia maybe five times now, and would line up in less than a minute to see it five more.
Variations Serieuses - This is such a smartypants work. Between the snarky takes on backstage behaviors, the references to 42nd Street and The Red Shoes, the sharp observations in the faux-19th century choreography, and the skewed stage space, this is Wheeldon offering up something for everyone in the audience. I could bring my most hide-bound dance friends to this and sit them right next to colleagues who eschew the slightest reference to classical dance, and put them in the laps of people who know nothing at all about the art form and they would all be having a grand time. Strangely enough, thatís the same kind of thing I say about Twyla Tharpís choreography (that itís full of multiple references from disparate parts of the dance world) but I donít see Wheeldon and Tharp making similar works.
He got my Ďloves an arcane momentí self from the opening of the curtain with the ghost light on the apron of his fake stage and from there it was Ďname that referenceí all the way though. I spent a big chunk of time trying to figure out who he was basing his ballet-inside-a-ballet on. When the aspiring dancer first tries out some steps when she thinks sheís alone, it looked a bit Balanchine-y to me, like a fourth muse in directorís-cut Apollo. Later on, the twitchy ballet master made me think Massine, and his rehearsal felt a bit like one of his symphonic works, but once the women started filing in wearing their costumes, romantic-length skirts with wings on their backs and wreaths on their heads, a la Marie Taglioni in La Sylphide, I thought it was more like an homage to Fokine, a post-modern variation on a neo-romantic evocation of a Romantic era ballet..
There are lots of aphorisms out there about how hard it is to do comedy, and I think it must be even more challenging to do it in dance. We have very few comedies in the ballet repertory, compared to theater and music we seem like a noble and dour bunch. Most of the humor in VS come from its references to existing concepts or stereotypes: we already know the fussy director, a conductor with his head in the clouds, the self-absorbed diva and the winsome ingenue -- weíre familiar with those types even when they appear in contexts other than a ballet company. When the diva is working up a head of steam to retaliate against the doofy chorus boy who knocked into her she literally paws the floor with her pointes -- she looks like a bull in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon about bullfighting. It was fascinating to see Imler and Gilbreath in the role during the first weekend. Imlerís diva is right in line with what I think of as her Edith Wharton parts -- the Queen Mother in Swan Lake and the Matron in The Concert -- women who know their place in their community and wield their power. With Gilbreath, itís easier to see her as the result of the same life cycle we follow in the ballet -- she was once an aspiring ingenue herself and replaced whatever ballerina came before her.
The ballet is stuffed with fun details -- I loved the Barbie pink costumes for the men with the slashed doublets (very Ballet Russe) and the little wiggle for the Diva when she walks through a cloud of perfume. And the cast embraces them all with relish -- this is the most relaxed I think Iíve ever seen Seth Orza, and the most nuanced. He was attracted to the ingenue, empathetic and familiar with the diva, businesslike with the ballet master -- a rounded human being. And Ezra Thompson was an excellent Jughead, snoozing in the wings, chatting with his colleagues, and coming in at just the wrong time to catch the diva as she hurtles into the orchestra pit.
But what makes VS really special to me is that alongside all this charming fun, Wheeldon is making some very tricky choreography. I spent one performance trying to visualize what Iíd be seeing if I was sitting in the fake audience over on the real stage right, and as near as I could tell, it was a very interesting and stylistically consistent ballet. It made sense on two sides simultaneously, and thatís a difficult thing to accomplish with an art form that is very wedded to the geography of the stage space. Peter Anastos made a series of works for the Trocks that were funny because they took on the structural themes of the ballets they referenced (rather than only satirizing the characters), and Wheeldon has done the same thing here. Like I said, what a smartypants he is.
Posted 08 October 2011 - 05:03 PM
I, for one, am very glad you take the time to do this. Frankly, I look more forward to these "cast offs" than yor printed reviews because you have the space here to make so many interesting observations. Keep 'em coming!
I'm afraid this is where I off-load extra thoughts I couldn't fit in a review........
I absolutely loved those moves in Carousel. As you say they invoke the carnival, but what I liked about them even more was the way those moves reflected the sharp change in the music from somewhat serious to whimsical. Indeed, my overall reaction to Wheeldon is how, like Mr B, his choreography springs so naturally and so completely from the music. For me, that tendency defines dance -- particularly ballet. Wheeldon succeeds like few others in making this vital connection fresh at every moment.
....and the tumbling cartwheels that resemble carnival rides
I very much like how you say this. After the Rain also invokes in me many cascading emotions and "in my head" stories. But your idea of traveling and finding a destination is very thought provoking. Well said indeed.
This is one of those works that is open to all kinds of interpretation........They were on a journey, and found their destination in the end.
I can see folks calling Polyphonia "derivative", but IMO, they'd be missing the point. Clearly Wheeldon meant this as a homage to one of his main inspirations: Balanchine (furthermore to Agon in particular). That being the case, I would say "derivative" can't apply. Then when you see how Wheeldon is also using his own voice here, and that Mr B is only a departure point, I can only imagine someone using "derivative" if they had but a mere superficial look at the ballet.
It is indeed the most ďBalanchine-yĒ of the works on the program, and some people might think itís almost too derivative, but I think he makes excellent use of his adopted heritage, quotations and all.
I was absolutely blown away by Sara Richard Orza in this solo on the first Saturday evening performance. She did it extremely well every time I saw her dance the part, but she seemed on another plane that night. My thought is that she sort of became pure dance that night since she did little but dance from dawn to dusk. She danced 3 major parts that afternoon in the matinee, and then returned with only a few hours rest to dance this difficult solo in Polyphonia (not to mention doing the ingenue role in VS immediately following Polyphonia). Putting it all on the line like that can transport an artist (or an athlete, or anyone really) into what is often called the "zone". For me, that night, in that part, Sara did her finest dancing ever. What a treasure she is.
The more mysterious stuff really came to a head for me with the Allegro con Spirito (Sarah Ricard Orza and Jerome Tisserand in the performances I saw) The contemplative feeling of the side-to-side shifting at the top of the duet played out through the whole of that dance and into the following solo for SRO.
I'm becoming a big fan of Ezra's. Watching him I feel he is not "doing dance", but he is dance. He's relatively new and has a long way to go, but when he's on stage, I tend to spend way too much time watching Ezra whatever he is doing. I look forward to his future with anticipation.
And Ezra Thompson was an excellent Jughead, snoozing in the wings, chatting with his colleagues, and coming in at just the wrong time to catch the diva as she hurtles into the orchestra pit.
I spent one performance trying to visualize what Iíd be seeing if I was sitting in the fake audience over on the real stage right, and as near as I could tell, it was a very interesting and stylistically consistent ballet. It made sense on two sides simultaneously, and thatís a difficult thing to accomplish with an art form that is very wedded to the geography of the stage space.
I too was fascinated that Wheeldon somehow pulled this off. I can't say I actually tried to visualize myself sitting in the faux-audience like you so clevely did, but I was continually amazed that the dancing "made sense" from BOTH these angles. I guess in such things lies genius.
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