Natalia

Nov. 2013 Kennedy Center Season

23 posts in this topic

The mixed bill sounds wonderful!

Share this post


Link to post

I'm also keenly anticipating this run. Anything they do is apt to be full of wonders. Thinking about it, I imagine how the repertory might be presented:

The Kennedy-Center web page linked to* speaks of "Two programs" and the list there holds four ballets running from 20 to 28 minutes each, so I'm anticipating each program will consist of three from the list - I'd bet on Mejia's Romeo and Juliet and Balanchine's Pas de Dix being on both, being company premieres - or, or second thought, maybe they'll alternate in the "premiere" slot, and we'll see more of what I anticipate will prove to be the greater masterpieces of the run, and very different ballets at that, Mozartiana and Episodes.

The same phrase there also says "to include," and who knows? Maybe some more repertory will be added, some short item(s). It's a long time yet, and anything can happen.

And I also anticipate a webcast of a Millennium Stage preview of the run, a few weeks, maybe three weeks, before the performances.

*Note that that page has now been updated.

Edited by Jack Reed

Share this post


Link to post

I like to give myself a warm-up before I see a ballet program, hearing the music or reading some description, or both. Here's some links to Suzanne Farrell's Notes from the Ballet which apply to this season's repertory:

http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/ballet/farrell/notes.cfm [Duo Concertant, Tempo di Valse, Pas de Dix]

http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/ballet/farrell/notesarch07.cfm#balanchmozart [Mozartiana]

http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/ballet/farrell/notesarch09.cfm#episodes [Episodes]

http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/ballet/farrell/notesarch10.cfm#agon [Agon]

Interesting as these notes are, they don't go far enough for me. It seemed like a good time to review Nancy Goldner's recent Balanchine Variations and More Balanchine Variations, and for those others who might like a warm-up for this season, here are my paraphrases from those sources:

Mozartiana

1. The emotional landscapes of many of Balanchine's ballets is hard to pin down… [but] In the [opening] preghiera the ballerina literally does raise her arms in prayer, and the general soulfulness of the dance can't help but cast a sadness over the rest…

2. The gigue… borders on the fierce… It is very fast, and rhythmically complex, and this intensity precludes jocularity. This man often seems an interloper, breaking the spell of the preceding soulful preghiera, and sometimes he hints regret…

3. The entrance of the minuet dancers overlaps with the gigue dancer's finish, and he remains on stage as the women begin their dance. He then walks off the stage slowly… reluctant to leave. And depending on the dancer, his backward glances can convey a foreboding, or a secret…

4. The theme and variations is introduced by… the "presentation" of the woman. That is, the couple simply walk about the stage, elaborating on the stroll with changes of direction and various exchanges of their arms… The pas de deux begins with the same idea, but is interrupted by a whirlwind visit by the four women of the minuet. [but] this pas de deux is neither formal nor grand or even a proper duet, for it contains little supported movement. The two are always joining hands and separating, rendering their dance an extension of their solo variations… The music's repeated opening statements and subsequent digressions - here highlighted by wild flights of the violin - interrupt the sustained rhythms we have come to expect from a pas de deux. The contemplative mood of the woman's earlier solos is felt in her walks on pointe as she circles around her partner… Her walks here convey inwardness, a feeling that she is thinking about something. Most pas de deux are for the audience; in Mozartiana we watch private moments.

5. The finale is cheerful, folksy, with all the dancers joining hands and galloping about… But Mozartiana is obviously not a happy ballet… One admires it for its cerebral muscularity and for its technical craftsmanship at the highest level. Yet the ballet doesn't sing to us, move us, and for the absence of lyrical force you must look to the music… [That's what] makes Mozartiana the ballet it is.

(There's a stimulating short thread here, too: http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/25232-mozartiana/

Episodes

1. The first part of Episodes is set to Webern's Symphony. It is a clean, fairly neutral exposition of the… angularities, inversions,… and pristine isolation of body parts we've seen before, in Agon and The Four Temperaments. What makes Episodes stranger than the earlier ballets is Webern. With a score devoid of rhythmic vitality, the choreography seems detached from the world; it is suspended in time and space, like molecules, as Balanchine once described the music.

2. The Five Pieces are terribly short episodes - the fourth no more than a few seconds - miniature illustrations of how the man and woman make no sustainable contact. Each ends in mid-sentence.

3. The Concerto returns to the opening style but… now there is a relationship between the man and the woman. It's her willingness to let her limbs be moved in extremis that suffuses her being with drama… both participant and observer of the manipulations… A woman can consent to being a tool without relinquishing her spirit.

4.* [Variations Op. 40] A convoluted solo "like a fly in a glass of milk" (Balanchine, to Paul Taylor, in 1959)

5. Ricercata. The dancer's harmonious lines and… Webern's more sustained lines mark a return to normality… With an ensemble of fourteen, the stage is much fuller than in the previous sections, yet it falls short of the music's grandeur… [The] effect of blocks of bodies moving in counterpoint… [has] a didactic tone.

Because of its music, [Episodes] needs the mediation of dancers to bring the audience closer to the dance.

Agon

In Agon, there are at least two actions happening at the same time, and the effort to absorb these multiple actions produces a tension in the viewer… Balanchine achieves this multiplicity by adapting the musical canon structure to dance, wherein a step or a few steps are repeated by the dancers on consecutive beats. If they were doing different steps, the effect would approach chaos, but it's repeating the same phrases not quite in unison, but in the blink of an eye, that lets the audience stay in the game. We perceive the order and the strategy; we just have to be alert to take it all in. The effect is often witty.

In the pas de deux, tension and wit are not intertwined… The duet embodies the volatile climate in which an intimate couple lives... in constant flux between moments of tenderness and aggression, assertiveness and submission, challenge and compliance, escape and return.

There's another good thread here; it rambles around a little at first, taking in other choreographies to this music (!) but Leigh Witchel and Mel Johnson focus on the version at hand in post #22 and after: http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/8310-whats-going-on-in-agon/

*If the Wednesday afternoon orchestra rehearsal is any guide, and I think it's a reliable one, this solo is not included in these performances. I'm not sure where I got the idea it was, and I'm sorry for any confusion or disappointment I may have caused. (I do expect this dance to be included in MCB's programs in late February, however, for what that's worth.)

Edited by Jack Reed

Share this post


Link to post

I just received this offer in my email. It is good for Wednesday or Friday. Enjoy!

The Kennedy Center is offering tickets at the special price of $25.00 for orchestra seating for the performance of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in the Eisenhower Theater on Wednesday, November 6 at 7:30PM and Friday, November 8 at 7:30PM. Tickets are regularly as high as $70 in the orchestra.

You can click the link below and your discount will appear automatically. If you call or stop by the Box Office for the discount, be sure to mention Offer Number 166594. See you at the Kennedy Center!

http://tinyurl.com/ohmct2q

Share this post


Link to post

I just received this offer in my email. It is good for Wednesday or Friday. Enjoy!

The Kennedy Center is offering tickets at the special price of $25.00 for orchestra seating for the performance of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in the Eisenhower Theater on Wednesday, November 6 at 7:30PM and Friday, November 8 at 7:30PM. Tickets are regularly as high as $70 in the orchestra.

You can click the link below and your discount will appear automatically. If you call or stop by the Box Office for the discount, be sure to mention Offer Number 166594. See you at the Kennedy Center!

http://tinyurl.com/ohmct2q

I received an email yesterday that's even better: $39 for orchestra seating or $19 for balcony seating. Good for not only Wednesday and Friday, but also for Sunday evening! The Offer Number is 166599.

Share this post


Link to post

Has casting for this season been posted anywhere?

It never is.

Share this post


Link to post

We'll see about that. Principal casting, from the program book:

Program A

MOZARTIANA

Preghiera

Heather Ogden (Nov. 6, 9)

Natalia Magnicaballi (Nov. 7, 10)

Gigue

Ian Grosh (Nov. 6, 9, 10)

Kirk Henning (Nov. 7)

Theme et Variations

Heather Ogden (Nov. 6, 9)

Michael Cook (Nov. 6, 9)

Natalia Magnicaballi (Nov. 7, 10)

Pavel Gurevich (Nov. 7, 10)

EPISODES

Symphony

Paola Hartley (Nov. 6, 10)

Valerie Tellmann (Nov. 7, 9)

Matthew Renko (Nov. 6, 7, 10)

Ian Grosh (Nov. 9)

Five Pieces

Jordyn Richter, Ted Seymour

Concerto

Elisabeth Holowchuk (Nov. 6, 10)

Paola Hartley (Nov. 7, 9)

Michael Cook (Nov. 7)

Kirk Henning (Nov. 6*, 9, 10)

Ricercata

Natalia Magnicaballi (Nov. 6, 9)

Heather Ogden (Nov. 7, 10)

Ian Grosh (Nov. 7)

Pavel Gurevich (Nov. 6, 9, 10)

ROMEO & JULIET

Juliet Elisabeth Holowchuk (Nov. 6, 7, 9)

Paola Hartley (Nov. 10)

Romeo Kirk Henning (Nov. 6, 7, 9)

Michael Cook (Nov. 10)

Tybalt Ian Grosh

*This is actually a change from the printed program, which listed Michael Cook in the role. I'll try to get the Program B casting up soon.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Jack. I'm looking forward to Saturday's programs.

Share this post


Link to post

Program A: Mozartiana, Episodes and Romeo and Juliet. In a nutshell, it was a very satisfying and promising start to the season.

Last night's rendering of Balanchine's Mozartiana (1981) will remain in my memory for a long time due to the outstanding performance of Heather Ogden in the lead ballerina role. Blending extraordinarily secure technique with keen musical sensitivity, she took us to a balletic paradise, from the opening calm of the 'Preghiera' to the technical wonders in the 'Theme et Variations,' to the fleet-footed finale. Ogden's languid pirouettes-in-attitude alone were to-die-for; she absolutely floats. No flash - just a lot of class. Michael Cook was her awe-struck cavalier in the T&V segment. Ian Grosh was neat and precise, if a big small scaled, as the Mozart-like figure in the Gigue. My only quibble with this work was that only one of the four junior dancers was a little girl (the one standing audience-far-left), the other three appearing to be significantly taller...so we had one little girl and three "tweens," which altered the effect of Balanchine's choreography, to these eyes.

Balanchines Episodes, to four Webern pieces, followed the now-traditional NYCB staging, i.e., minus the original fourth movement for a solo man (Paul Taylor in 1959). Perhaps due to opening-night jitters, I found most of the movements to be performed tentatively, especially by soloists. The two big exceptions were (1) the second movement -- an unusual acrobatic pdd titled 'Five Pieces' -- featuring the tall blonde sculptural beauty of Jordyn Richter, ably partnered by Ted Seymour, and (2) the precision of the 14 female corps members in the closing 'Ricercata' movement. They were beautifully rehearsed and captured the elegant majesty of the Bach-inspired melody.

The one novelty of the night, Paul Mejia's Romeo and Juliet (to the gorgeous Tchaikovsky score) was a very happy surprise on most fronts, despite some rocky moments, particularly in the high Soviet-style lifts performed by Elizabeth Holowchuk and Kirk Henning as the protagonists. (In general, the piece semed under-reheared.) This brief rendering of Shakespeare's famous tale is set against a mostly-black backdrop with a podium and twin staircases in the back. The large corps of 18 is covered in black long-sleeved unitards for most of the work, changing to white leotards and tights for the final tableau; only Romeo & Juliet wear white throughout the piece.

I found the more 'static' moments of the work to be most effective. Mejia paints the essence of the play by beginning and ending the ballet in the Capulet tomb. Juliet discovers the dead Romeo, triggering a series of flashbacks to their story, such as their ballroom meeting and the death of Tybalt (Ian Grosh). All the while, the black-garbed corps morphs into different characters and, at one point, even pieces of tomb architecture. I found it interesting that, at all times, all but Romeo/Juliet are barely visible...just visible enough to convey an idea of what's going on, while keeping the focus on the protagonists. At times, the dark corps reminded me of the observers in the Alonso Carmen; at other moments, the dark males lift Juliet, as if to convey flight, just as Leonid Jacobsen did in Taglioni's Flight (in which the Sylph appears to be flying in the night). The final tableau is simply breathtaking, with a white billowy cape engulfing the entire stage, emanating from the shoulders of the star-crossed lovers. The piece was very well received, with loud applause and 'bravos' from the public. Not a masterpiece but certainly an effective ballet.

Share this post


Link to post

I dearly hope Ogden's Mozartiana will remain in my memory for a long time! At the open rehearsal in the afternoon, Farrell spoke very briefly about Mozartiana's being "what heaven must be like" and watching Ogden in the evening, I felt transported there. Not leaving such matters to chance, I also expect to watch her again Saturday evening.

Program B Principal Casting, from the program book:

PAS DE DIX (Company Premiere)

Heather Ogden, Pavel Gurevich (Nov. 8, 9)

Paola Hartley, Michael Cook (Nov. 10)

DUO CONCERTANT

Natalia Magnicaballi, Michael Cook (Nov. 8, 9)

Elisabeth Holowchuk, Kirk Henning (Nov. 10)

TEMPO DI VALSE ("Flowers" from George Balanchine's The Nutcracker)

Paola Hartley (Nov. 8, 10)

Heather Ogden (Nov. 9)

Alison Basford

Amy Brandt (Nov. 10)

Valerie Tellmann (Nov. 8, 9)

AGON

Elisabeth Holowchuk, Michael Cook (Nov. 8, 9)

Natalia Magnicaballi, Pavel Gurevich (Nov. 10)

Paola Hartley (Nov. 8, 9)

Kirk Henning

Valerie Tellmann (Nov. 10)

and

Amy Brandt, Jane Morgan, Matthew Renko (Nov. 8, 10), Ian Grosh, Jesse Campbell (Nov. 9)

Share this post


Link to post

If there are any procrastinators out there, I am stuck with an extra ticket (balcony F11) for Friday. My unfortunately English-impaired co-worker had thought that she had switched her NSO ticket from Thursday to Saturday (she has season tickets), but when she looked at her ticket this evening it turned out to be for Friday, and the KC rules are that you can only change the date of a season ticket once.

Share this post


Link to post

Program A: Mozartiana, Episodes, Romeo and Juliet

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

Washington DC

Orchestra U 107, V103

Mozartiana was the first ballet that I ever saw live. I love the solemn pageantry, the evocation of French courtly manners, and best of all, the feather light displays of petit allegro.

What continues to amaze me is the range of emotion that different ballerinas call forth in the same choreography. Suzanne Farrell, in her 1983 televised performance, was joyfully spiritual, even triumphant; Whelan, the first woman I saw in the role, evokes dignity and command even seen years apart, though the initial imperiousness seems to have melted into a calmer self-reflection; and Veronika Part, an earthly Dulcinea, warm and loving.

Heather Ogden in the same ballet called forth serenity. Her dancing brought to mind teachings from the taoist canon, which emphasizes naturalness, simplicity and spontaneity. It was not a static performance; there was always the sense that we see only those bright facets that the ballerina chooses to show to us, that there is more of the enigma hovering just out of reach.

Preghiera is an invocation, but last night my mind veered off of Christian prayer to that of invocation of the Muse at the beginning of the Iliad, asking for divine inspiration to guide his hand in dance. It's rather appropriate: his first surviving masterpiece is a celebration of Muses (Apollo, 1927), while what is more or less his last work calls on them for their favor.

Ogden sets the stage with four girl attendants. Despite the mismatch in size, as some attendants were visibly and bigger than others, their solemn dignity complemented Ogden's prayer well. Ogden has a very lovely and calm bourrée, and she uses it well, though I would have liked to see Ogden utilize her back and head more fully to match.

Ian Grosh was the courtly jester in the Gigue. He is not yet comfortable in the role, more concerned with the fiendishly difficult footwork than the proper conveyance of manner. However, this is a complaint not unique to this performance. I continue to scream (in a vacuum, it seems) that this jester should be the most dignified person in the room. He is not a clown, and nobility bearing should permeate his upper body. I have yet to see sufficient consideration and weight given to the sparse simplicity of the port de bras. In this respect, Grosh was more effective in the Menuet, as he remembered to give proper attention to his carriage as he took his leave of the audience.

On that note, I would like to give a discommendation to his execution of the petit allegro. The dancing should give more consideration to distance covered rather than the height attained during steps. What I saw last night was all up-and-down and flattened the choreography to an unhappy extreme.

I continue not to have much to say about the Menuet. From memory, I think it's a piece better seen straight on than from above. It was excellently performed, but it is the choreographical weak link in Mozartiana and thus hard to make much of. Despite the suggestions of Dresden Shepherdesses in costuming and hairstyle, these women are courtly attendants. I wanted the women to demonstrate solemnity that their girlish counterparts had displayed to great effect, as I think the elegance would keep the pastoral portrait from imploding in triteness.

Mozartiana is a ballerina's ballet, and Michael Cook very intelligently recognizes this, devoting himself to displaying Ogden like a shining treasure. Occasionally his bearing is too ardently yearning, but that is a slight correction.

Despite the disparity in petit allegro — that is, Cook demonstrates an understanding of its execution and goal (that of clean, fleeted footwork that hovers over and across space rather than simply measuring its height) — the casting demands that we compare he and Grosh as doppelgängers. They are sufficiently similar in coloring and build, calling back to the mirroring of girl and woman attendants, and who are ultimately refracted shadows of the ballerina herself.

Cook initially tries for sharply etched movements in his solos, calling equal attention to the choreography as well as the occasionally blurry execution of it. I think I (and he) enjoyed it more as he relaxed into the music, and it showed in his increased ease (and ironically, clarity) of movement.

I wish that I have other Farrell stagings of this ballet for comparison, especially when it came to the final tableau. What came to mind was not of the ballerina ascendant, but a sense of reconciliation, of disparate parts reaching rapport, celebrating a harmonious oneness in purpose. It was joyous enough to make this perpetually grumpy observer burst into discreet tears.

Allan Lewis is the new(?) conductor this year, and he lead the orchestra in giving a finely textured performance. However, I will note that like cowbells, one can never have too much glockenspiel in the variations.

Holly Hynes's costumes worked well for the female attendants, but the fringes on Ogden's bodice detracted from its elegance. The swooping excess seemed more appropriate for a gypsy dress meant for the tavern scene in Don Q. Similarly, Michael Cook's vest was too low cut. The objective is courtliness, not Eurotrash.

Ballet Austin provided the corps for my first and last experience with Episodes in 2008, which incidentally was my first experience with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. I find that I rather miss them in this iteration. I miss the full-bodied physicality that their dancers brought to the round. It is too refined this time.

I won't bore my gentle reader with too many wild theories about the name. After all, Episodes? Episodes of what? They could be called "anecdotes", but episodes imply repetition and continuity.

Episodes is a weird, dreamlike echo of Four Temperaments and Agon. We see quotations from both works, some weirdly abandoned in the middle of its execution. When I first saw it, I stared at blankly and wondered if perhaps Balanchine was having me on. Who, what, antlers?!

On a more serious note, if we were to talk about progressions, we could talk about the progression of womanly bodies from the petit, short-waisted Paola Hartley in Symphony, to the statuesque but long-waisted (shades of Aroldingen!) Jordyn Richter in Five Pieces, to the shapely but humanly sized Elisabeth Holowchuk in Concerto, to the Balanchine archetype that is Natalia Magnicaballi in the Riccerata. The juxtaposition of soloist and (where available) corps bodies in the first three movements is especially piquant when compared to the physical homogeneity of the Riccerata.

But then, I could be reading into it too much.

I don't do too well with black-and-whites on my initial viewings, so I will save more detailed choreographic comments for the second night. The first movement (Symphony) was tentatively performed, though it settled down as the orchestra grew in confidence. Jordyn Richter was all cool nonchalance in contrast to Ted Seymour's guilelessness. He is a very intelligent dancer and carefully rations his theatricality to delicious effect. Holowchuk and Henning (substituting for Cook) performed the Concerto. Holowchuk never makes the same movement twice, and she coolly twists Cook into knots of bodies and limbs. I really appreciated Cook's ability to make the choreography look natural rather than silly (which did happen later in the program, but more on that later). Magnicaballi and Guervich were the courtly leads in the minor-key Riccercata, conveying a sense of subdued personal tragedy into the moving tableau. Their downward sweeping gesture at the finale is done with great delicacy; it is equal parts request and reminder that we must now leave them.

(I moved to V103 for this portion of the program)

While I enjoyed Mejia's Eight by Adler, I didn't hold much confidence for his Romeo and Juliet, if in part because I have no confidence that anyone can overcome the musical cliché of the Tchaikovsky suite. I am sad to say that my suspicions were mostly confirmed. Holowchuk and Henning did marvelous acting (poor Ian Grosh had a thankless job as a thrashing Tybault), but it wasn't enough to save the brawny and sometimes anti-musical choreography, by which I mean that the action on stage clashed against the musical mood. Mejia does have a fine sense of theater, and I liked his neo-German Expressionist staging, especially in the costuming. Some of the action made me think (rather uncomfortably) that the choreographer had a series of striking tableau in mind, but not the steps to fill and link them. At the end, I remarked to my friend that I liked it better when they weren't dancing, and I still can't bring myself to retract that statement.

Share this post


Link to post

Program A: Mozartiana, Episodes, Romeo and Juliet

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

Washington DC

Orchestra Left, S3

Everything was a little off-kilter in Mozartiana tonight, as if the energy hoarded for last night had bursted at a few seams. We were left with some interestingly conceived dancing that didn’t seem to belong to the same ballet.

Natalia Magnicaballi has a luscious rubato and uses it intelligently. While I liked Ogden yesterday, she anticipates the music too much and that occasionally comes off as a lack of confidence. Magnicaballi allows her phrasing to flow through the music, never hurrying her movement for the sake of the next beat. Part of that power comes in her calm upper body, extending her head, back and arms so that the movement always feels completed to its full potential.

Perhaps it’s part of Magnicaballi’s emploi, but there’s always a sense of fragility in her dancing. Today it colors the Preghiera (as it did in the Riccercata yesterday) as tragedy. It was not an invocation as yesterday, asking divinity to use her as instrument; it was instead a sacrifice and she was the courtly victim, Andromeda on the rocks as appeasement or intercession.

There was a new cast of girlish attendants, attendants to the doomed bride. These girls are older than yesterday’s cast, and there is not enough physical contrast between them and the womanly attendants, nor between them and Magnicaballi.

It was yet another interpretation from the four (or five) that I have seen, and I was looking forward to how that theme would be developed. Unfortunately, the Gigue happened.

Kirk Henning has elongated limbs that seemed more suited to the geometry of petit allegro. While still not quite satisfactory, it was an improvement over Grosh. However, his usual musical intelligence seemed to have failed him today. This was a frolic worthy of the Soviet clown out of Swan Lake. I won’t say that he simpered, but the uncomplicated cheeriness made the fine music insubstantial. It did not follow what has come before and made me wonder whether I had sleepwalked into a different ballet between movements. Once again, as with Grosh, he was most effective while standing still in the Menuet. His leave-taking was flirtatious and seemed oddly inappropriate for a courtly jester, whose dreams of dignity exists only on my soapbox.

Again, not much to say about the Menuet. Once one sees the shepherdess curls, one cannot unsee them.

In the Theme et Variations, Magnicaballi gave a command performance of the solo variations. It was a masterclass in phrasing. Again, like Ogden, the execution seemed spontaneous and yet endlessly complex.

Pavel Gurevich is Magnicaballi’s cavalier today. While the two are long-limbed and seem physically suited, their dancing was less harmonious than what was promised by their promenade. Gurevich moves well for his size and build, but his upper body lurches oddly upward when jumping. The partnering looked curiously underrehearsed. Their spacing was off, and there were a few parts in which he looked like he was manhandling Magnicaballi in the partnering.There was one turn en attitude in which I could only focus on his hand gripped around her wrist, while her hand trembled above like an autumn leaf. Magnicaballi looked visibly off-center after the pas de deux, and all but staggered off the stage. It was more than a little disastrous, and the whole thing made me think longingly of Momchil Mladenov, one of Magnicaballi’s former partners of a similar build, since retired from the company.

The Finale was an uncomplicated relief. Henning and the girlish attendants came together in joy, Gurevich and Magnicaballi tried to remember the distance between their respective limbs, and the whole thing came to a triumphantly relieved end.

Allan Lewis conducted the orchestra. As with last night, it was a finely textured rendering, marred only by the clarinetist, who seemed to have forgotten his fingers. The reed also seemed suspect in the higher notes. The lighting changes were more noticeable than tonight. I started to squint during the pas de deux and realized that my eyesight was not in error. It is a modern intrusion and was unappreciated. Also as with last night, I tried very very hard to ignore the flouncy flounces on Magnicaballi’s gown. It was easier today with all of the other bewildering things that were happening simultaneously.

I mentioned last night that black-and-whites are hard for me to digest. Unlike the gentleman sitting next to me, I cannot follow the tone rows without sheet music. I spent most of yesterday’s performance sorting the bodies on stage so that I can match the action to the music. It’s a cheat, of course, but repetition and a perverse appreciation for arbitrary musicality yields enough amusements to make the endeavor equitable.

Last night I ranted on the opacity that is Episodes. Episodes of what indeed. My growing suspicion, planted last night, that these were episodes of episodes. In other words, it’s a sequence of events that loop back upon themselves in reference. It is much like the Four Temperaments, except the repetition is not both melodic and choreographic. Instead, it is only choreographic, integrating thematic ideas and the choreographic conventions that came before in tighter and more enclosed rounds.

At intermission today, I mentioned that the whole thing reminds me of PDQ Bach’s Art of the Ground Round (Opus 3.19/pound). That was a tour de force of parody upon the convention of the round (think row, row, row your boat). The idea of rounds is something that keeps popping up in this piece, and the whole thing makes me wonder whether Balanchine has constructed one hell of a joke.

Symphony, Movement 1, is a masterclass on rounds. The opening tableau is even vaguely circular, as are the opening arm isolations. The dancing starts with simple rounds, in which one couple does a movement, the next couple replicates two beats later, repeat until finished.

The dancers then start a second round, escalating the complexity as dancers find rules to play with. First, the corp chooses to replicate the main couple in the same direction, in the next round they choose to replicate in contrast. Then the corp decides that moving in unison among themselves is boring and that they should move in tight contrast to each other even as they are still moving in counterpoint to the leads.

The pairs then get tired of each other, and suddenly it’s time for rounds with genders. First it’s straightforward rounds with men and women, but then for added complexity, the lead man and woman extract themselves to create two more layers of moving bodies. I felt like a giant game of choreographic Twister and I was a little cross-eyed, trying to keep score.

Valerie Tellmann and Matthew Renko were the leads today. Both the music and the dancing were more confident when compared to yesterday, which also made it easier to keep track of the action.

Webern is difficult, and the dancing can be obscure. I heard one audience member behind me muttering in dismay. She was advised to “try to take a nap, if she could”. Disappointment is to be expected, but I wish it didn’t have to be so loud during the dancing.

Jordyn Richter and Ted Seymour were the leads again in Five Pieces today. At first glance, they seem like anecdotes that seem to to have nothing to do with rounds, but they provide thematic material for integration later.

I labeled these as “episodes of unreadyness” in my head. The woman and the man are never in the same physical or mental place. Richter plays it straight. Her acrobatic antics are tools to befuddle poor Ted even further. He wants to look up, she looks down. He looks for her, she hides behind him, legs in the air creating the ballet equivalent of bunny ears (antlers!). Ted wisely does not overact, letting the absurdity of the choreography enhance his guileless expression.

Concerto, the third movement, puts elements of the first two movements to work. The dancers start in a simple round, but as they escalate in difficulty as in movement 1, the lead couple incorporates the juxtaposition of purpose seen in movement two into their dancing.

Michael Cook and Elisabeth Holowchuk danced again today (Holowchuk substituting for the scheduled Paola Hartley). I hadn’t particularly liked his dancing with Magnicaballi, as their reciprocal comfort often looks like complacency, but he’s working out quite well with Holowchuk, who seems to to have an adversarial relationship with him on stage.

The last movement of Concerto made me laugh, as it was literally a round of women surrounding Cook. Just to make sure that we haven’t missed it, we also start with Holowchuck tightly encircling Cook with all the limbs she could find. It’s got to be some sort of a joke, but the final choreography for Cook is that of a man desperately looking for a way out of a round.

Last night, the preceding contrast of bodies stood in counterpoint to the physical homogeneity of Riccercata. Tonight, the preceding fugue of choreography was startling when we arrive at the conventional choreographic voicing of the Riccercata, an orchestration of Bach’s Fugue in 6 voices from Musical Offering (BWV 1079). Webern’s orchestration adds instrumental texture even as it preserves the (dare I say) conventional harmonics of Baroque music. It was a weird return to normalcy after the stringent compositions that preceded it. (I felt the audience members behind me stir in interest, and then in appreciation. Nicely done, Mr B.)

Six groups of dancers, five corp groups and the lead couple, represent the six moving voices, though the lead couple retains the singing melody at all times. It is a moving tableau of bodies, exploring permutations on a motif. Heather Ogden and Ian Grosh were the lead couple tonight. She was majestic in contrast to Magnicaballi’s restrained melancholy, and Ian Grosh found the dignity and simplicity in movement that should have gone into Mozartiana. When they finally bade the curtains to go down, Ogden gestured with authority, imbuing her hands with weight. Here endeth the masterclass, they say.

I don’t have anything to add to last night’s observations about Mejia’s Romeo and Juliet. Holowchuk and Henning make it work despite the choreography, though they were less spontaneous in performance tonight. Despite some sour flourishes by the french horn, Tchaikovsky got another elegant performance, its floridity sufficiently subdued to keep it on this side of parody.

Share this post


Link to post

Program A: Mozartiana, Episodes and Romeo and Juliet. In a nutshell, it was a very satisfying and promising start to the season.

Last night's rendering of Balanchine's Mozartiana (1981) will remain in my memory for a long time due to the outstanding performance of Heather Ogden in the lead ballerina role. Blending extraordinarily secure technique with keen musical sensitivity, she took us to a balletic paradise, from the opening calm of the 'Preghiera' to the technical wonders in the 'Theme et Variations,' to the fleet-footed finale. Ogden's languid pirouettes-in-attitude alone were to-die-for; she absolutely floats. No flash - just a lot of class. Michael Cook was her awe-struck cavalier in the T&V segment. Ian Grosh was neat and precise, if a big small scaled, as the Mozart-like figure in the Gigue. My only quibble with this work was that only one of the four junior dancers was a little girl (the one standing audience-far-left), the other three appearing to be significantly taller...so we had one little girl and three "tweens," which altered the effect of Balanchine's choreography, to these eyes.

Balanchines Episodes, to four Webern pieces, followed the now-traditional NYCB staging, i.e., minus the original fourth movement for a solo man (Paul Taylor in 1959). Perhaps due to opening-night jitters, I found most of the movements to be performed tentatively, especially by soloists. The two big exceptions were (1) the second movement -- an unusual acrobatic pdd titled 'Five Pieces' -- featuring the tall blonde sculptural beauty of Jordyn Richter, ably partnered by Ted Seymour, and (2) the precision of the 14 female corps members in the closing 'Ricercata' movement. They were beautifully rehearsed and captured the elegant majesty of the Bach-inspired melody.

The one novelty of the night, Paul Mejia's Romeo and Juliet (to the gorgeous Tchaikovsky score) was a very happy surprise on most fronts, despite some rocky moments, particularly in the high Soviet-style lifts performed by Elizabeth Holowchuk and Kirk Henning as the protagonists. (In general, the piece semed under-reheared.) This brief rendering of Shakespeare's famous tale is set against a mostly-black backdrop with a podium and twin staircases in the back. The large corps of 18 is covered in black long-sleeved unitards for most of the work, changing to white leotards and tights for the final tableau; only Romeo & Juliet wear white throughout the piece.

I found the more 'static' moments of the work to be most effective. Mejia paints the essence of the play by beginning and ending the ballet in the Capulet tomb. Juliet discovers the dead Romeo, triggering a series of flashbacks to their story, such as their ballroom meeting and the death of Tybalt (Ian Grosh). All the while, the black-garbed corps morphs into different characters and, at one point, even pieces of tomb architecture. I found it interesting that, at all times, all but Romeo/Juliet are barely visible...just visible enough to convey an idea of what's going on, while keeping the focus on the protagonists. At times, the dark corps reminded me of the observers in the Alonso Carmen; at other moments, the dark males lift Juliet, as if to convey flight, just as Leonid Jacobsen did in Taglioni's Flight (in which the Sylph appears to be flying in the night). The final tableau is simply breathtaking, with a white billowy cape engulfing the entire stage, emanating from the shoulders of the star-crossed lovers. The piece was very well received, with loud applause and 'bravos' from the public. Not a masterpiece but certainly an effective ballet.

Thank you so much Natalia for your detailed and concise report. Brevity is the soul of wit happy.png.

Share this post


Link to post

My pleasure, Cygnet.

I'm looking forward to tonight's opening of Program B, including the company premiere of the Balanchine rarity Pas de Dix (to the celebrated Raymonda Act III 'Grand Pas Classique Hongroise' music). I've seen this oeuvre 'live' only once, 15+ years ago at Diablo Ballet in Oakland, CA. According to programme notes, this revival is dedicated to the memory of Maria Tallchief.

Share this post


Link to post

Very quick report on last night's opening of Program B, as I'm traveling once again...living in two cities is no great fun. smile.png

Were it not for the beautiful Pas de Dix, which opened the evening and was very well performed, this mixed-bill program would have (alas) been a total dudd. So as to end on a high note, I'll begin with the worst and work my way backward to the beautiful opener.

AGON - AGONY. The miscues, bloops and pops in the orchestra were the least of it. The couple who performed the crucial PDD missed many of the iconic moves & poses, e.g., the high lift in which the lady does a big forward split did not go more than a yard off the ground...the final 'droop down' pose, she did not go all the way down to his shoulders...etc, etc. The 2nd pas de trois was also full of bloopers, such as the final throw-and-catch pose, with one leg dangling. The first pas de trois (2 gals and 1 guy) was acceptable, with the 'gaillard' duo by Amy Brandt and Jane Morgan being particularly nice.

TEMPO DI VALSE ('Flowers' from Nutcracker) - With a mediocre Dewdrop/Leading Lady, this piece droops. The simple saggy costumes (in the style of Tchai PDD or Allegro Brillante, where such dresses work well) did not help, as the billowy wide-tiered skirts of the NYCB version -- with the pouffy way that they bounce -- are part of the choreographic picture of Balanchine. No bounce + no flounce = no proper look to this dance, IMO.

DUO CONCERTANTE Wonderful musicians: Glen Sales (piano) and Corey Cerovsek (violin). The two dancers, Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook lacked the sharpness that I see from most pairings in the 2nd and 3rd movements...but were sharper and with more personality in the mini-solos within the 4th movement. The 5th (final) movement in darkness and spotlights is always moving.

PAS DE DIX (to selections from mostly-A3 of Raymonda) - As with the Mozartiana of Program A, I can once again state: Heather Ogden alone is worth the price of admission. Imagine the technical brilliance of Tallchief or Bouder with the angelic qualities of, say, an Obraztsova or Lunkina...this was our Raymonda last night. Brava! Oh but there was more to applaud. Pavel Gurevich was a very noble Jean de Brienne, even if his long pirouettes weren't quite in the league of Eglevsky...then again, whose are? (See the VAI commercial recording of this ballet to see what I mean.) Amy Brandt was sparkling champagne in the first variation. Valerie Tellman - one to watch-out for - was cool and elegant in the 2nd variation (to rare music used only in the current POB version, where it's danced by three girls).

***Biggest delight of the night: Alison Basford and Katie Gibson were picture perfect in the lovely 'mirrored duet' that Mr B created to the brisk 'Children's Dance' music in the Petipa original. Absolutely in synch, which is so important for this dance. Bravi!

Gurevich soared in his solo. Heather Ogden - absolute brilliance in the majestic Hungarian 'clapping variation' to solo piano...but, in Mr B's version, spiced up with double pirouettes and other 'Tallchief Tricks' performed so easily by Ogden.

The coda was danced mostly by the 8 corps/demisoloists, with the leads dancing small solos at one point, e.g., Ogden in the famous series of passes. The ballet ends in a scintillating Galop danced by all. BRAVI TUTTI!!!!

I don't have time to truly analyze MrB's version to other Raymonda Gnd-Pas Hongroises out there, except to note that this version is ultra-brisk. The Entree music that opens the work is danced at double the speed of most versions, for example. More! Faster! Zippedee-doo-dah! But it works. Totally American Raymonda. It's a shame that NYCB no longer performs this; Cortege Hongroise may use a lot of the same music, but it does so in very different ways, with a large corps. I believe that there is unique beauty and value to maintaining the Pas de Dix in the rep.

p.s. As in the 1957 VAI recording of the Tallchief/Eglevsky cast, this performance omitted the Male Pas de Quatre that MrB created ('after Petipa') for this work. I'm pretty sure in my recollections of the 1999 Diablo Ballet performance, that said Male Pas de Quatre *was* included.

Share this post


Link to post

With a nod to Natalia's circumstances, the program opened with the revival of Pas de Dix, a varied suite Balanchine made in 1955 to some of Glazunov's music for Raymonda, and then then it proceeded in reverse order to her list.

That said, I'm in considerable agreement; Duo Concertant ravished the ear right off the bat - will all readers know this little suite, unusually, begins with the pair of dancers standing behind the onstage piano, just listening to the two musicians, for the first movement? - even in music which is not among my many Stravinsky favorites. This was better violin-playing, and piano-playing too, than I can remember we ever got, back in the '70s, when Duo Concertant was new. (Balanchine's NYCB maintained pretty high musical-performance standards, but there were lapses.)

But not only the musicianship last night. "Personality" is the right word here, and Magnicaballi filled her roll out, enlivened it, with her dramatic intelligence united to (variably effective, as Natalia says) dance intelligence, in agreeable contrast to the air of vulnerability Kay Mazzo brought to it years ago. Mazzo was complemented by Peter Martins's towering noble strength in those days, and if Michael Cook doesn't supply all of that, no matter, no loss; his partner is Magnicaballi, not Mazzo, and there's not the same place here for it. So here's a revival that made this observer more happy than the original did!

(The original performers were featured in a television program of the time, titled "Three by Balanchine," if memory serves, so if you can find a video of it, you may be able to judge for yourself how my memory serves...)

Agon often lacks the tension now it had in the day, when tempos were a little faster too, and we let the tension build in us by holding our applause until the collapse of exhaustion at the end of the pas de deux and then until the end of the ballet. Last night's rendition was perhaps a bit limp even by contemporary standards - unlikely to make us feel like the tops of our heads would blow off - but I felt that most of the cast was at least tuned in to Agon's world, except for Paola Hartley, who knew the moves, all right, but looked unacquainted with the customs here. (Agree about Brandt and Morgan, veterans, who know the lay of the land.) Some say this is the greatest ballet ever, and if it was not fully revealed, fully realized, neither was its potential utterly concealed by multiple marks and blots - more like an enduring masterwork damaged some by physical accidents rather than emerging with new freshness. (In the pit, the trumpets in canon went conspicuously badly.)

Share this post


Link to post

I also went last night (to the first performance of Program B) and liked both "Pas de Dix" and "Agon" very much. The house (at least the orchestra) looked sold out, which was nice to see.

I liked "Pas de Dix" because it was so dancey -- not a classroom exercise, as we so often see today in this and other similar works. It's not academic classicism, it's dancing to the music, and this the dancers showed beautifully. Even the clapping solo was a tempo, rather than How. Slow. Can. The. Bal. A. Ree. Na. Hold. That. Line. I thought both Ogden and Gurevitch were excellent and would like to see a later performance, as I'm sure it will be tighter.

I've always been interested in "Agon"'s casualness as well as its tension. Last night, the men at the beginning could have come from a Robbins piece of the same time period, and it was quite a contrast to the way the ballerina is stretched in the pas de deux. I thought the pas de deux was a bit pallid -- but it might look stronger at later performances. I liked both Kirk Henning and Paola Harley in the two pas de trois.

And I liked Paola Hartley very much in "Tempo di Valse" too. At first glance, I thought, "She doesn't look like a Balanchine ballerina," before I remembered that none of them did, until he made them Balanchine ballerinas and then, presto, there was a new "type." I liked Hartley's professionalism -- an experienced dancer among a lot of eager youngsters in the Valse -- and I especially liked her musicality.

And for me, "Duo Concertante" was a misfire, partly because of the Bright Blue shoes/socks worn by the man. It was hard for me to look anywhere else. I thought Magnicaballi's dancing was exceptionally clear, but the piece didn't hold together for me. Michael Cook looked small for this Peter Martins role, and so I thought the geometry of the ballet was off. His quick, emphatic style also seemed off-key to me. The performances I've liked of this ballet in the past had had a mysterious quality about them, and I missed that.

I enjoyed the evening and was glad to see it. I'm going again Sunday afternoon (I couldn't attend the opening). There were quite a few Ballet Alertniks there, and I hope you'll write!

Share this post


Link to post

I have no problem with Paola Hartley's 'look,' if that's what you mean, Alexandra. I have a problem with Hartley's performance of steps, e.g., low pas de chat, which is a signature step for Dewdrop. Saw her three times (once on Wednesday, in Episodes, and twice on Friday). Not my favorite but, hey, this wonderful company is full of dancers who I very much like. Different strokes for different folks.

Share this post


Link to post

Speaking of Hartley, about whom I've also had some (slight) reservations, she and Michael Cook led Romeo and Juliet just now, and while I've enjoyed watching the ways Holowchuk and Henning move in themselves in the previous performances, I felt the - I'm going to call it classical stature, for lack of a phrase I like better - that seems to come naturally to these two this afternoon pointed effectively to the universality of the story, especially earlier on. And I continue to admire the dramaturgy of most of it - the employment of figures in black about the stage, and so on, this tableaux vivant, a friend calls it - which this quality of theirs supports, and I continue to enjoy the respect Tchaikovsky is accorded in the pit.

Farrell has assigned Hartley to lead several sections in this program, and while not arguing with my keen-eyed friend, I agree that she has a lot going for her.

Share this post


Link to post

Sunday matinee was also a full house -- not always the case with this company. I usually run into New York friends over the weekend, but didn't on Sunday. It's a shame, as this week had much enjoyable dancing. I liked Magnicaballi in "Mozartiana." She had a bit of trouble, especially at the end, but this ballet is so hard (the men were both miscast and out of their depth, I thought). Magnicaballi gave a very thoughtful (not overthoughtful) performance, especially in the Preghiere. This season has depended a lot on the guest ballerinas. Heather Ogden is a Principal with the National Ballet of Canada, of course, and both Magnicaballi and Paola Hartley are leading dancers with Ballet Arizona. I liked Harley the more I saw her. She's extraordinarily musical.

I thought the group did a good job with "Episodes," too, for the most part. I liked Hartley in the opening section and Ogden very much in the last. I can't say I loved "Romeo and Juliet," but I found it interesting. I liked both leads (Hartley with Michael Cook). I think this was Cook's best role here. This is one ballet that looked quite well rehearsed, but it's not as complicated as any of the Balanchine we saw.

These are just a few quick thoughts. I'll write more for danceviewtimes, probably tomorrow.

I do hope others who were there will let us know what you thought!

Share this post


Link to post