I found this description of the NY Philharmonic performance very interesting, and wish I could be there to see it:
Everyone’s a Dancer at the Philharmonic
‘A Dancer’s Dream’ Includes Orchestra in Stravinsky Ballets
"For the New York Philharmonic’s production of Petrushka that opened on Thursday night at Avery Fisher Hall, part of an ambitious season-ending program called “A Dancer’s Dream,” the director and designer Doug Fitch did not have a corps de ballet to enact the scene. Still, he had very willing substitutes: the Philharmonic players." -- I think Diaghilev is smiling.
I've only read positive reviews of the Petrushka (three of them now))--I'm afraid I did not really share the overall positive reaction and it's possible i just didn't "get it." Diaghilev smiling? Maybe, but I found myself thinking that Stravinsky, Fokine, Benois and Diaghilev, too, might be pretty pissed off.
Gilbert is a charismatic conductor and I think fans of the Philharmonic enjoyed seeing the musicians cut loose a bit. We saw the musicians drinking, eating, wearing funny hats, stamping their feet, going to a peep show--while the show turned out to be a priest wagging his figure at them, even making a joke about Petrushka and the Moor -- "Look the puppets are fighting" one of them worded silently while titles indicated what she was saying and paper doll puppets went after each other. (One could only "see" most of this because while it happened live, it was projected on a large video image above the orchestra.)
Perhaps it sounds like madcap fun, but though I laughed at some of the jokes, I was never moved by this Petrushka which I found sort of trivializing. Speaking as a lover of puppets and puppet shows, I also found it disappointing on the puppet front. I did enjoy one bit of puppetry magic towards the end, a baby bird leaving the nest, learning how to fly. It came late in the carnival 'scene.' But I didn't entirely understand why the bird's nest was there except as an allegory of Petrushka's struggle; but since we didn't seem invited to take that struggle very seriously, it didn't integrate very well into the rest of what I was watching. The dancing bear puppet I rather liked too.
I can imagine artists creating a powerful and fresh meditation on the puppet/dancer relation created by Stravinsky, Fokine etc. -- with puppets standing for dancers (the dancers of the original ballet that is) performing the role of puppets who long to dance as freely as....dancers. But what I saw didn't touch the depths of the music or even riff on the older material in a way that renewed or re-invented it for me. Even minor elements such as the bits of folk dance and juggling fell a bit flat for me--except perhaps for the few seconds a live Mearns was on stage and maybe the dancing bear. A goat sequence with Amar Ramasar included some reasonably impressive masks but I had difficulty making the link to the story or the score. (The puppet's unexpectedly Pan-like desires?)
The main story action was carried by tiny, barely visible puppets (mostly paper cut outs) and children's toys doubled by their huge video image above the orchestra and human performers in the role of the puppets. (I gather there were inside jokes I missed entirely such as having well-known singers play "mime" roles on video...) The story, by the by, was -- as best I could tell -- exactly the same as for the ballet libretto, but rendered as a sort of child's fantasy (toys, miniatures, cut outs) come to life. I assume that should have been "come to unexpectedly dark life" -- but the darkness was lost in all the goofing around. And with bits of audience participation it was a "fun" audience experience to get people more involved in the music. A painless Petrushka.
For me, there was one moment where the irreverent fun did seem to take flight. Late in the final carnival scene, the entire orchestra stood and played their instruments standing and swaying and the entire stage briefly looked like a joyful elaboration of an image from Chagall. The audience began to clap rhythmically, too. Much more of the performance should have been like that. For me--and, so far, I do seem in the minority--it was not.
Actually, at one point, I was so grumpy I thought if THIS is what it takes to keep people coming to live performances rather than listening to CDs even in New York City with the New York Philharmonic, then there is no hope for any symphony orchestra anywhere in the U.S.
The Fairy's Kiss opened the evening and introduced the theme of the dancer enchanted then enchained to the world of ballet (which culminates in her becoming the Columbine/doll of Petrushka in a brief transitional solo to music by Durey).
Ironically, while all the reviews I have read disliked or dismissed this part of the evening, I loved it--perhaps because I went to this program after all primarily as a ballet fan and to see Sara Mearns.
Fairy's Kiss was more of a real ballet than the puppet/video event that accompanied Petrushka, though a ballet miniature. It was also an amazing tour de force for Mearns. She is on stage almost the entire ballet, dancing for most of it--occasionally with support from male or female partners, notably Amar Ramasar, but basically carrying the entire work.
The choreography by Karole Armitage was deft, though I agree with criticism that the different stages of the story were not always clearly articulated. And, though with Mearns as my guide, I was somewhat entertained by the toy-like props, I was mostly indifferent to a lot of the stage and video business, making me I guess NOT the target audience for this work. I was amused by the video image of a stage prop cheese wheel (which I took to be an allegory of midwestern wholesomeness) transforming into a full moon (an allegory, let's say, of artistic madness).
In fact, I certainly missed some of the larger "meanings" carried by the video -- the whole mixed media dynamic that was clearly intended -- because I could not take my eyes off of Mearns. She appeared to dance with complete freedom--it was the kind of wild-yet-controlled dancing that characterized her dancing in Namouna a couple of seasons ago: sensuous, powerful, and spontaneous. Well, obviously, not literally spontaneous, but so totally present in the moment that it looked as if she was making it up as she went along. (I was several times reminded of Farrell.) The small slice of stage space which several critics complained about just magnified her impact for me. I found her enthralling.
If I were to see the whole performance again, then perhaps I would be able to tease out more from the event as a totality and find things in both sections that I missed this go round. But I certainly don't regret having had the chance to see Mearns showcased by Armitage in such splendid fashion.