Jack Reed

12-16 October 2011 in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center

22 posts in this topic

Wednesday, October 12 I'd say the big-hit performance of the evening came late, as well it should, so the program wouldn't run downhill: In Natalia Magnicaballi's absence, a dancer we haven't seen with the troupe for a while, Heather Ogden, took Farrell's role in Diamonds, with Michael Cook. Not that Ogden reproduced Farrell's way - she did it Ogden's way, which was smaller-scaled than Farrell's but with greater effect than Kay Mazzo, for example, had had in Balanchine's company while Farrell was away.

It's always hard to find adequate words for a performance, and in spite of the corniness of speaking this way of Ogden's performance in a ballet named for a jewel, I haven't found better than to call it faceted, beautifully cut, its soft inner brilliance rapidly rising and falling and rising again as it turns constantly in the light. That's not say it glittered - it was finer than that. Real jewelry, if you will, not paste; and I would like to think the opening night audience's fit of coughing, which began when it saw only two dancers to look at, was brought to a close by the power of this performance. (Speaking of the audience, at the end of the second intermission I went down the aisle to the edge of the pit and looked back to see the house well filled, to the back of the balcony; there are also boxes here, but I couldn't see into them so well.)

For Cook to reproduce Martins's performance of old would be going some, and he sometimes looked to me hampered by the size of the stage as Ogden had not been, or not so obviously, anyway. But he was everything she needed, evidently, and that goes some way in my book.

This was a performance of the complete ballet, by the way, with the ranks filled out with members of the Saratoga Ballet, who distinguished themselves. Everyone looked good to me this evening.

The program opened with Serenade, led by Elisabeth Holowchuk as the girl who arrives late and later "falls"; Momchil Mladenov lent his very effective commitment to the role of the boy with the dark angel (Courtney Anderson); and Audra Johnson enlivened the lead in Tema Russo even more than the other girls did their parts. Holowchuk's dancing is always a pleasure for her dance intelligence; she lives in the role, although in this one one might wonder for an instant how it happened that such an intelligent person could arrive late, but as she quickly finds her place - Holowchuk doesn't overplay this as I have seen some dancers do - she makes sense - her sense - of this bit.

Concerto Barocco was led beautifully by Violeta Angelova, with less beautiful dancing by Kara Genevieve Cooper - few in the company could really make a pair with Angelova anyway, and the roles are not equal. Angelova was supported so powerfully by Kirk Henning I thought for a moment, Michael Cook ? And the structural clarity of the playing in Barocco was a treat rare in my experience - we see so much structure, but we don't always hear it so vividly from the pit - not only the soloists but also the orchestra had had the volume of their lines adjusted by the conductor, Emil de Cou, at each point that they didn't cover one another nearly so much as too often happens.

Edited by Jack Reed

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Thanks, Jack! I'm sorry to hear Magnicaballi's missing, however. I'd really been looking forward to her Diamonds.

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So had I kfw; while not forgotten, she was only virtually present, in many fine photographs of the company, including Carol Pratt's of her and Mladenov in the Diamonds pas de deux, and in Paul Kolnick's of them in Agon in a taking slide show going in the foyer, which went all the way back to Goh as the Sleepwalker. (There's also an enticing exhibit of company costumes, from repertory not on view on stage in this run, thus subtly reminding us of the extent of that repertory, in the Hall of States. Seeing both pas de Mauresque costumes made me want to see them filled, and animated!)

Ogden's appearance reminded me of their alternation as Dulcinea, where Magnicaballi's dancing carried better in the huge Edinburgh Playhouse (hard to imagine effective drama in the largest theater in Britain, a converted cinema) but Ogden's had a vulnerability better suited to the role. Here, in Diamonds, as I've tried to describe, she considerably compensates us with another way, one which may not so easily get lost in a modestly-sized house.

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Jack, does your program list who's dancing in Diamonds tonight?

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Tonight, Thursday the 13th, the Diamonds cast is headed by Danielle Brown and Ricardo Granziano, with Kate Honea, Victoria Hulland, and Ricardo Rhodes among the soloists; these dancers are all from The Sarasota* Ballet. They are cast in the Saturday matinee (15th) and Sunday evening (16th) performances as well.

*Oops. I had this as The Saratoga Ballet originally, until balletgirl22sk posted her correction immediately below. (Thanks!)

Edited by Jack Reed

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In the performance on Thursday the 13th the big deal for me was Heather Ogden's single appearance (otherwise we get Audra Johnson, who is quite fine, but...) - there were times when hers was easily the most articulate body on stage, and to have her and Holowchuk in the same ballet was a real treat.

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Hello Jack! Thanks for your posts, I always look forward to reading them. I'll be in DC for the Sunday matinee performance - would love to know who's dancing. Anticipation is building...

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Jack, agreed, I greatly admired Heather Ogden's dancing last night, and Serenade generally. Otherwise, I was disappointed with the dancing in Concerto Barocco (aside from Angelova's), which I thought lacked precision. And I'm looking forward to seeing Diamonds again with Ogden Saturday night. I didn't love Danielle Brown last night.

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Hello Jack! Thanks for your posts, I always look forward to reading them. I'll be in DC for the Sunday matinee performance - would love to know who's dancing. Anticipation is building...

Sunday matinee cast is same as opening night:

Serenade - Elizabeth Holowchuk, Audra Johnson, Courtney Anderson, Momchil Mladenov, Ted Seymour

Barocco - Violeta Angelova, Kara Genevieve Cooper, Kirk Henning

Diamonds - Heather Ogden, Michael Cook

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Hello Jack! Thanks for your posts, I always look forward to reading them. I'll be in DC for the Sunday matinee performance - would love to know who's dancing. Anticipation is building...

Sunday matinee cast is same as opening night:

Serenade - Elizabeth Holowchuk, Audra Johnson, Courtney Anderson, Momchil Mladenov, Ted Seymour

Barocco - Violeta Angelova, Kara Genevieve Cooper, Kirk Henning

Diamonds - Heather Ogden, Michael Cook

Thanks cinnamonswirl, thats just the casting I was hoping for. I'm really looking forward to Holowchuk in Serenade and Ogden in Diamonds.

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^ I don't think you'll be disappointed. I was very impressed by both.

I wonder when Holowchuk will be promoted to principal. She's certainly being cast and dancing like one this season (leads in Serenade, Baiser de la fee, Prithopratka).

Also. does anyone know what's going on with Natalia Magnicaballi? She's still listed as a company member on the Kennedy Center website. Did she just have other commitments this week?

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I wonder when Holowchuk will be promoted to principal. She's certainly being cast and dancing like one this season (leads in Serenade, Baiser de la fee, Prithopratka).

She's been dancing lead roles with the company for years. I have particularly fond memories of her in Ragtime, and now, from yesterday's rehearsal, in Baiser de la Fee.

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With regard to Magnicaballi, I think the continuing listings of her in both the TSFB and Ballet Arizona rosters imply that she is expected to return sooner or later. Of course we all wish it to be sooner! But don't dancers sometimes get sidelined for a time, typically owing to injury, without much detailed information coming out?

As to Holowchuk, I recall that Farrell is slow to make formal promotions - the dancer has to earn it, although, not unlike Balanchine, she'll cast somebody above their nominal rank sometimes.

And now, as the hour is very late, I'll just post some thoughts I wrote up earlier this evening, for what they're worth:

Program B: Friday October 14 and Saturday matinee October 15

Divertimento from 'Le Baiser de la Fee' This pas de deux plus fateful episode in which the corps, immediately appealing and charming, returns in the same spirit in the coda and then, on a sinister turn in the music, begins to interfere with the relationship - or eventually even the possibility of relationship - between the boy and girl (the "Fairy" of the title no longer individually represented like she was in the early version to the complete score) was differently served by, first, on Friday evening, Elisabeth Holowchuk with Matthew Renko, and then on Saturday afternoon Ms. Holowchuk and Michael Cook.

Most noticeably in his solos, Renko has propulsion and flow and something of the mystery in this but less than complete command and clarity, in other words potentially an interesting dancer in this, while Cook elucidated the choreography with great clarity but was more staid in tone. Renko will be seen in this again Sunday evening, by which time he may have had the benefit of the additional time with it he appears to need - and with this company's great coach. Holowchuk inhabits the role at every instant - we who know her dancing wouldn't expect less - but doesn't particularly enlarge it. (Disclosure: Seeing this again recalls to mind Patricia McBride and Helgi Tomasson, a comparison both complimentary to this cast, in that it realizes the ballet this well, and yet presenting a standard probably impossible to equal.)

Sonatine, another pas de deux of separation and union and final separation, but not in the least sinister or tragic - "whipped cream" Violet Verdy, its first dancer, is supposed to have called it - became even more different in the hands - I mean bodies - of the two casts: With Violeta Angelova and Michael Cook last evening, it was possible, for example, to notice that initially the dancing had direction in the usual ways but on her departure he had little circles and turns, which have no direction, suggesting to this watcher the idea that when his lady leaves him he loses his direction, and recovers it when she returns.

With the beautiful dancing of Courtney Anderson, especially, and the great manner of Momchil Mladenov, this afternoon the ballet was rounded, enlarged, filled out, and lifted: Both made so much more of it - or rather - showed us so much more was there, there was little occasion for sentimentalizing on the outside as I was drawn more completely into its own world.

Pithoprakta is a ballet I've tried to write about before (see the fifth and sixth paragraphs there). This time I can add another fascinating detail or two: At one point, Holowchuk and Henning have made vertical rings with their arms and are slinking around downstage comparing them against one another. Then with her back to him, she raises one foot and puts it through his "ring"; calmly he watches its progress and then slowly swings his gaze up her leg as her entire body proceeds to follow her foot. (This bit flows immediately into the touchlessly-supported turns in my previous account.)

Diamonds was led Friday evening by Heather Ogden, more wonderful and expansive, ably partnered by Cook. (The two had done some work together during the open rehearsal yesterday afternoon while Farrell worked with the corps; Kim Kokich's continually intelligent commentary, which should be published, drew attention to the "facets" aspects of Ogden's choreography in particular, linking the appearance of a jewel turned in the fingers to the effects of the clearly-executed directions in the choreography.)

Saturday afternoon the ballet was led by Brown and Graziano of the Sarasota ballet again. I think they are better together, more supple and enlivened. When they are apart, the dance goes a little dead. (No sign of actual difficulty, though, they are well up to the demands of this.)

Last night's and this afternoon's orchestral accompaniment reached new heights - in Diamonds, some passages had such strong vocal phrasing it verged on the operatic, the chorale really inspired as the brass built it up, the strands of the fugue scarcely became entangled or obscured one another. And at the very end, the remote kettledrums, not to be seen in the little pit, were finally heard well, after being obtrusive Wednesday evening and nearly inaudible on Thursday. (Odd this problem hasn't been solved for good some time ago. In Divertimento, the harp, also somewhere else, always sounded fine.)

Edited to add: A word about the lighting: While the lighting still tends somewhat to draw attention to itself and away from the performers by frequent fussy changes, instead of establishing a space and letting the dance happen in it, a serious problem with Diamonds has been corrected. The dark lane across the back, where in the last movement much of the large corps parade early in the chorale has been illuminated like the rest of the stage, and the dancers no longer become shaded back there.

Edited by Jack Reed

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Thanks to Jack and others for the reports. Getting over my 'Italian Jet Lag,' I'm looking forward to today's two performances at the Kennedy Center. I am especially happy to read that I'll be getting Heather Ogden's Diamonds lead at the matinee. :)

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Sunday, October 16

How often does one have the opportunity to spend an entire day delighting in only Balanchine ballets? That's what I did yesterday. In general, I enjoyed both programs very much and congratulate the company's dancers and creative team...although I am still a bit miffed that, after ten years -- longer if you count the earlier incarnations -- this is still basically a part-time 'pick-up' company of dancers whose main jobs are elsewhere.

Matinee:

Serenade - The opening never fails to steal my heart...and the finale always brings tears. TSFB corps did one of its best jobs with this ballet, although I kept waiting for more 'poetry' from the female soloists Elisabeth Holowchuk, Audra Johnson and Courtney Anderson. The male soloists, Momchil Mladenov and Ted Seymour, seemed more in tune with Balanchine & Tchaikovsky.

Concerto Barocco - I totally agree with Jack here: Violeta Angelova is simply stunning - a ballerina who has-it-all: looks, musicality, technique, and, most importantly, that special ability to "sing" with her body & feet. Brava! But I also loved the pert and technically-sound Kara G. Cooper in the other female lead. Kirk Henning lent able support to Angelova in the 2nd movement. While not pristinely uniform, the corps ladies performed admirably.

Diamonds - This Diamond *did* shine brightly, thanks to a large corps bolstered by members of The Sarasota Ballet, as well as the exquisite dancing by the leading ballerina, Heather Ogden. Just like Angelova in Barocco, Ogden imbued her dancing with powerful feelings, beautifully matching Tchaikovsky's glorious score. Michael Cook was her steady partner, although rather lackadaisical (not to say downright sloppy) in his solo dancing moments. [He did not dance in that evening's Sonatine, so perhaps he was dancing injured through this Diamonds? I have heard many good things about Cook; what I saw did not match the pre-talk.]

Evening:

Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee - Like his La Source or the three Raymonda suites, this ballet is Balanchine's somewhat quirky 'take' on what was once a longer ballet. Still, the choreographer managed to capture the 'essence' and 'mystery' of the original in less than 30 minutes. Divertimento-Baiser includes some of the most difficult choreography in the Balanchine oeuvre, particularly for the man. Matthew Renko was simply spectacular. He was, hands down, the most impressive man among all soloist men in both performances that I saw. Not only technically adept but so zippy, light, fleet-footed, highly musical, full of poetry, etc, etc. He was the ballet to me. As his fiance, Howlachuk was OK; I much more enjoyed her later, as the lead in Pithoprakta (see below). The corps ladies were commendable. One qualm: What was up with the costumes...almost an 'economy model' of the NYCB originals? The dress for the fiancee, in particular, with the red "sweetheart" neckline, was most unflattering, making the ballerina's already-largish torso look even bulkier. The costumier did her no favors. [As you'll see, a common negative thread tonight was the quality of the costuming.]

Sonatine - Up to now, I'd only seen tiny video clips of Violette Verdy's jazzy solo in this work from the '75 Ravel Festival at NYCB. Verdy is a tough act to follow but Violeta Angelova came very close to the bubbly-champage spirit of the original interpreter. It was a 10-minute delight, to lovely solo-piano accompaniment by ever-wondrous Glenn Sales. Replacing the indisposed Michael Cook, Monchil Mladenov provided gracious partnering to Angelova. On the negative side: again, the costumes. Why clothe the two dancers in "blah brown"...or was it a dark auvergine? Violette Verdy had worn a bright, clear one-shouldered tunic, which went with the spirit of brio and lightness, while the original's male dancer, Bonnefous, had worn a one-toned short without the dopey stripes that we saw here.

Pithoprakta - Elisabeth Howlachuk was totally in her element as the lead ballerina in this ultra-modern, ultra-quirky work by Balanchine, with a wild & weird score by Greece's Xenakis. Howlachuk's physical presence and bold manner of movement made this work for me. Kirk Henning and the corps in black added zest to the stew. So when will we see a reconstruction of the 'companion piece' to this ballet - Metastaseis?

Diamonds - I had braced myself for a not-so-grand experience, after reading the early reviews of this cast of Sarasota Ballet principals Danielle Brown & Ricardo Graziano...and was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful solo dancing that I witnessed last night! No, Brown is not yet Heather Ogden or Uliana Lopatkina, but she was secure and quite lovely in her own right, with only the slightest of missteps in the pas de deux. In the coda, the beautiful redhead delivered an even zippier set of mini-fouettes than Ogden's! Graziano was nothing short of spectacular as the cavalier, so much more energetic and high-flying that Cook in the matinee (though Cook, again, may have already been injured). Were it not for the extraordinary Matthew Renko in Divert-Baiser, I would have crowned Ricardo Graziano the Male Star of the Run!

Bravi Tutti...except for, again, the costumes. Dumb Question: HOW OLD ARE THESE 'DIAMONDS' COSTUMES? Their 'dirty' look -- combination of grey and beige, especially the corps' ladies skirts -- did not go with the grand ballroom atmosphere...or with the shiny-white satin pointe shoes. The Farrell troupe deserves better.

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Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee - [ . . . ] One qualm: What was up with the costumes...almost an 'economy model' of the NYCB originals? The dress for the fiancee, in particular, with the red "sweetheart" neckline, was most unflattering, making the ballerina's already-largish torso look even bulkier.

Good to read your report, Natalia. That costume can be seen here along with Macaulay's review. I liked it, actually, but to each his own.

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I saw the Sunday matinee of Serenade, Concerto Barocco & Diamonds.

Serenade & CB were very enjoyable, Serenade especially notable for the musicality & sweep of the corps. Unfortunately, as the waltz girl in Serenade I found Howlochuck's dancing rather dry and her interpretation lacking in poetry. I did really love the Russian girl, Audra Johnson, but I have to say that neither ballet revealed any new meaning or nuances for me. They were good performances but not ones I'm likely to remember a year from now.

Diamonds was another story. The production, the music, costumes, scenery (a simple white ballroom), the corps & soloists were all first rate but the heart of the performance, in fact the star of the afternoon was Heather Ogden.

She gave such a beautiful performance, especially in the pas de deux. I can see what Jack meant about her showing all the facets of a diamond. She doesn't possess the majestic extensions of Kowroski or the thrilling attack of Mearns, but she brought her own interpretation that was just as valid.

What struck me most were the quicksilver changes in direction and in attitude that she manifested. It was as if you could hear her innermost thoughts and feel her turmoil. Yes, I love you -no this can't be - but what if it could...

Michael Cook was a solid Cavalier but I agree with Natalia that his own dancing was sloppy. I kept wanting him to point his damn feet!

But Ogden's was a great performance and I hope I get to see her in the pdd in NY.

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....Michael Cook was a solid Cavalier but I agree with Natalia that his own dancing was sloppy. I kept wanting him to point his damn feet!

....

OMG, so right about the feet...especially in the circle of jetes around the stage. The Sarasota Ballet's cavalier (Granziano) had spot-on gorgeous feet in those jetes and practically everything else...and, unlike Cook, finished in beautiful closed 5th position after each of his double tours. Sorry that you missed him.

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Bravi Tutti...except for, again, the costumes. Dumb Question: HOW OLD ARE THESE 'DIAMONDS' COSTUMES? Their 'dirty' look -- combination of grey and beige, especially the corps' ladies skirts -- did not go with the grand ballroom atmosphere...or with the shiny-white satin pointe shoes. The Farrell troupe deserves better.

But far preferable to the blindingly white tutu designed by Holly Hynes for the pas de deux a few years ago, IMO.

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Right, cinnamon! I called that one the Flashlight Tutu because of all the little mirrors sewn on the skirt, which reflected the lights. I sat in row A and was almost blinded, LOL! The 'after Karinska' designs on display in DC last week were rented from the National Ballet of Canada, according to the playbill.

TSFB is performing only the pdd from Diamonds in NYC (Joyce Theater) later this week; I wonder if they'll be getting "dirty beige" or "the flashlight"?

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Briefly, as I am on dial-up, no one should miss the Macaulay review in the 18th October NY Times, not only for his perceptions about the tragedy of Baiser, which are particularly valuable; and as he noticed, the very last performances were even better than those just preceding. I thought Cooper acquitted herself better later in the run vs. what I got from her earlier.

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