New WorksMarch 2012
Posted 15 March 2012 - 02:07 PM
Posted 21 March 2012 - 09:45 AM
I was searching this morning to be sure I spelled San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancer Maria Kochetkova's name correctly, and I came across this 2010 article in "Pointe" magazine in which she said that while an apprentice with the Royal Ballet (after she medalled at the Prix de Lausanne), she was inspired by David Dawsons' "A Million Kisses to My Skin" and joined English National Ballet "to do that kind of ballet".
Posted 22 March 2012 - 08:59 AM
Mating Theory -- with great insets of the choreographer working in the studio on the same parts being performed on the stage:
Posted 22 March 2012 - 10:12 AM
That's very kind of you, but the editors get a big share of the thanks for brevity -- you can tell from the chatty stuff I post here that I can run on and on...
And for those that haven't seen the April Dance Magazine yet, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is on the cover, with a pair of very red, very high heeled shoes!
Posted 27 March 2012 - 11:15 AM
Miscellaneous thoughts about the program
A Million Kisses to My Skin
It really is true that, whatever technical wizardry dancers can accomplish, some of the most powerful things they can do on stage are stand in one place, walk and run. There’s almost no standing still in this zippy work, but there are a few key moments when walking and running are interwoven with a heightened classical vocabulary, and those seemingly pedestrian skills stand out. When a single figure strides forward in the opening of the ballet, we sit up a little straighter -- the steps may look simple but the sense of purpose clues us in -- it’s going to be brisk, and we’d better pay attention. Later in the work, a trio of women enter from stage left with the same sense of purpose, and it reminded me of a critic talking about a Tharp work several years ago, where a dancer, walking to her spot on stage, reminded the writer of how deftly she had danced to that place previously. In the performances I saw, Lindsi Dec was particularly memorable in this -- not only does she pull off some fiendishly tricky stuff in two cadenza sequences, but she knocked me flat just walking straight downstage, shoulders swinging like she owned the world.
This is the first Dawson I’ve seen, but I’m hoping after this introduction to find more to watch -- I know that he speaks about Balanchine and Forsythe as his base, but I think there’s something going on with his British technical background as well. He’s clearly working in a neo-classical vein here, but over and over again, I saw small differences in the structure of vocabulary than I’m accustomed to in Balanchine’s innovations on classical technique. There is certainly the same emphasis on extension, both in terms of individual amplitude and relationship to the stage space, but there is an underlying self-referential quality to the movement that I don’t often see in Balanchine’s work -- a difference in the relationship to the center of the body. Dawson seems to have his dancers cutting underneath themselves and shifting directions/facings more often -- the gesture leg comes to the center of the body over and over again while the line of travel remains the same. It felt like what I know of the RAD vocabulary, and its precision -- he seems to have taken all that complexity, and run it superfast. It reminded me a little of a complex knitting stitch -- you’re still making a scarf, but the needlework is more intricate than knit and purl.
Everyone in the cast was dancing full out all the time -- Maria Chapman remarked in a post-show Q/A that by the curtain call she was so tired she could barely see the audience in the house. But this is more than simply an endurance test -- they really took on the style of this work and made the structures clear. I’ve been watching for beginnings, middles and ends in choreography lately, and trying to see where music choices help or hinder that task. The Bach is pretty much a no-brainer in that regard -- it’s organized so tightly that you’d have to work hard to make it look wrong -- but Dawson takes such complete advantage of the structures that Bach created that it’s clear he knows what’s going on in the score.
Chapman and Sara Ricard Orza both looked wonderful all the way through -- when they alternated as the Queen of the Dryads in Don Q last month I spent some time thinking about shared qualities, but that was really obvious here. Dec and Laura Gilbreath had some similar twin-ish moments, and while I was watching them make those long bodies move twice as fast as everyone else I began to think that tall was becoming the new normal. Carla Korbes and Seth Orza’s duet at the beginning of the middle section was fascinating as they gave a slower look at the changes that had zipped by us before. The first lift, with her facing dead front and then arching back over his head while she turned her wrists up to the sky, was almost grim -- she seems for a moment like a an offering to a god with a taste for blood. But as they continued, we could see that this amount of exposed torque was just the standard. Shape after shape was twisted and extended far past a classroom sense of croise and efface. They were constantly working on the edge of the usual parameters in terms of energy as well as shape -- when he stops her at the end of a series of turns, we can hear a slap as their arms connect. They dance together again in the third section, where this intensity gets sped up and they seem to be doing a high octane version of the Lindy Hop.
In the post-show Q/A Chapman said that Dawson was great to work with, that he tailored the choreography to the individual, but that he often would make it harder or faster if he thought you were ready for that. Peter Boal said he first saw the work on the company in Dresden, and that it’s been the rep of the English National Ballet and the Dutch National (where it was made). And interestingly, Dawson couldn’t come to Seattle for casting, and so it was done via Skype -- they initially set up a web cam in the studio during company class!
I’m hoping that this comes back to the repertory soon -- there’s such a lot of stuff happening that I really want another go at it.
I saw this in the studio when Lopez Ochoa was making it on Whim W’Him, and I saw it in their show a year ago, so I felt pretty familiar with the work, but it didn’t seem to make the transition to a larger stage quite intact. I know that she added dancers and added extra material, but those aren’t really the difficulties for me, so much as a question of focus. The stage at McCaw is larger altogether, but it’s the change in the width that I found the most disconcerting. Looking back at the performances at Intiman Theater, where the stage proportions are narrower, I think that the closer quarters there reinforced the sense of “isolation in a crowd.” When the dancing field is opened up, those relationships are less clear.
(Interestingly, looking at the video by Lindsay Thomas on their website, where the dancers perform excerpts from the work in a variety of places outside the studio, many of those locations have a strong narrow orientation -- they are almost deeper than they are wide. The sections on the stairway, in the parking strip and along the railroad tracks really reinforce that sense of depth -- now I wonder how much of my reaction to the McCaw performances is influenced by that...)
The cast has a lovely group vibe all through the work, which makes the points where individuals drop out read quite clearly. And Lopez Ochoa’s movement vocabulary sits very well on them -- they work with the differences in shape and initiation without seeming to abandon their home base. The performers need the strength and amplitude of their classical training to accomplish this work, but those qualities are not the topic of the choreography as they might be in other, more ballet-forward contemporary works (I’m thinking of Kylian mostly).
Lucien Postelwaite and Kaori Nakamura have a very deep relationship as partners, and they bring it to their work here with excellent results, so that at the end, when she leaves with the rest of the group after having sat with his prone body, there is a real sense of grief. Karel Cruz and Dec have a very dissimilar look (Postelwaite and Nakamura aren’t short per se, but next to this couple...) but do have a similar vibe. As you might expect, the shapes look loopier in their performance with more limb to work with. Dec is really starting to diversify her performing character -- earlier on, she was more of a sunny-all-the-time girl, but there are moments of pathos and aggression now, that are very interesting to watch.
If “Cylindrical Shadows” looked like an extension of ballet technique, “Mating Theory” feels more like an alternative to it -- the senses of shape, timing, attention, phrasing are all pretty far from home base here. The dancers are still working hard to realize Quijada’s breakdance-based vocabulary, and to perform it cleanly rather than translating it into a gloss on their fundamental technique, but it remains a big challenge. At its best moments, it transforms the dancers into human animals, exploring their territory, testing their skills against their landscape and their tribe, making group activities into rituals and interactions into contests. The fundamental structure of the work is the gender dance, a group of men and a group of women identify their members and stake out their territory. Eventually a couple of them become curious about the other group, and you can predict the rest. It isn’t the plot so much as it is the materials that are used to tell the story that become interesting to us.
The movement is mostly about control and strength. Phrases are short -- a single gesture may be broken up into a series of disarticulated elements that don’t accumulate momentum so much as they build tension. All the performers seem hyper-aware and deeply agitated -- there are several moments of stillness, but they are not calm. Even in the more conventional male/female encounters there is little pleasure in contact -- instead, it’s mostly about dominance.
I have a tendency to make references to older dances when I see something new, and so when Rachel Foster turns out to be the inquisitive female I think of her work in Molissa Fenley’s “State of Darkness” (not to mention the Pina Bausch “Sacre du Printemps” that we see in the Wim Wenders film) . Postelwaite is her opposite, but though Foster seems to muster her skills and bravery as she heads into the unknown, Postelwaite has a kind of doofy quality. At first he looks over the women like he’s checking them out, but this devolves until, later in the work, Imler starts to shove him around by his lapel. After that he’s more of a victim and we’re in “Giselle” territory, or maybe “The Cage,” with Imler as Myrtha or The Leader. But at the end, with Foster and Postelwaite in a teetering counterbalance, it’s more Coralli and Perrot than Robbins.
To their credit, the PNB cast did a full-out job with this work. Q/A comments were packed with admiration for Quijada (and his assistant Anne Plamondon), for their skills, and their willingness to teach the style from the bottom up. There were several really striking moments in the performances I saw, especially for Foster and Imler, but also for Price Suddarth and Ezra Thomson. There is, though, a large “but” in my perception of the work -- this is the second piece that Quijada has made for PNB, alongside the dances he’s made for his own ensemble and his other freelance jobs, and I see some real changes in his craft here -- I’m just not sure if this is a direction that brings additional strength or development to the fundamental ballet base of the company.
Posted 27 March 2012 - 12:55 PM
I couldn't agree more.
Regarding your comment about a sense of grief, Dec said at the Saturday matinee Q&A that in the moment of the ballet that you highlight here, as she looked down at her partner (who is her real life husband), she was so into character, and the emotion of that part of the piece was so overwhelming, that suddenly the unwelcome thought entered her mind that she was looking down at her actually dead husband's body. She said she had to get hold of herself, and tell her mind to "cut it out", and to bring herself back to reality (knowing that he was just fine and that she was just performing). Truly, Lindsi is moving up the ladder from good performer to great performer.....3 cheers!
I am not a huge fan of "Cylindrical Shadows" (like I am of both Kisses and Mating), but what I did love most about Shadows is this very palatable sense of grief, loss, and isolation that it so successfully invokes. At that moment, it was powerful enough to overwhelm the performer with grief for a loved one.......just as I'm sure it did to all of us in the audience to varying degrees.
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