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Nov. 2013 Kennedy Center Season


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#16 Cygnet

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 07:21 AM

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



#17 Natalia

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Posted 08 November 2013 - 09:17 AM

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.



#18 Natalia

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 05:56 AM

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. 



#19 Jack Reed

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 06:51 AM

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.)   



#20 Alexandra

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Posted 09 November 2013 - 08:16 AM

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!



#21 Natalia

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Posted 10 November 2013 - 04:50 AM

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. 



#22 Jack Reed

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Posted 10 November 2013 - 01:22 PM

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.



#23 Alexandra

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Posted 11 November 2013 - 01:17 PM

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!




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