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SFB 2014 Program 8

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#31 pherank


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Posted 12 May 2014 - 12:44 PM

As far as the group not being In perfect sync, this isn't "Swan Lake" Act 2 and it didn't bother me at all. It's a group of individuals, after all...

Actually I did care that Agon would come off well as a whole ballet, with all its interlocking parts and “visual overtones” intact – rather than being a series of good performances for company members. There are many other ballets for that. 


Agon is the one major Balanchine work done in a year at San Francisco Ballet and for the year to come, until Four Temperaments at end of next season. Last spring Symphony in Three Movements  – with both its casts, Yuan Yuan Tan & Vito Mazzeo; Sarah van Patten & Carlos Quenedit – was a brilliant success. It too had very difficult counts – as did Shostakovich Trilogy... Some ballets like Agon are important to keep alive for their idea content, the dancers almost invisible within them. 


I know this is a minor quibble within the San Francisco Ballet Company topic heading and the comings and going of dancers (of which I'm as much interested as anyone), but the condition of the Balanchine ballets themselves might be of broader interest – somewhere.



Your point is well taken, Quiggin. I found the 2 performances/casts that I saw engrossing, but there were a significant number of "lost in translation" moments. When the opening male Pas de quatre is not well synced I find myself displeased and waiting to be won over. Sylve's and Tan's performances redeemed things for me (and for different reasons), and certain dancers like Hansuke Yamamoto and Molat had many good moments (again though for different reasons). I think I had less of a problem with the Corps and lower-rank dancers who, "just did the steps", than the principals who have a tendency to want to interpret, or add flavor: sometimes it would work for me (Tan comes to mind) but mostly the deviations would make the Balanchine choreography less distinct, less sharp, the constant state of tension, the precariousness, I expect from Agon was dropped a number of times.

It's worth pointing out that it's all a matter of what we compare with - SFB can perform Agon, and the orchestra can play Agon, better than 95% of the companies out there, but is it performed in the manner that the masters intended it? (I've got to include Stravinsky given his close involvement with the project) That is another issue. Those of us who greatly admire Balanchine's work, long for a return to the original approach and aesthetic, but I concede it will never really come again.

Note that Serenade will be in Program 1 in 2015 - and I eagerly await that time.  ;)

#32 jsmu


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Posted 13 May 2014 - 03:08 PM

Quiggin, I didn't see that Symphony in 3, but heard great reports. I agree with you about the paucity of Balanchine (which is an upsetting new trend at SFB) and you are absolutely right about the ideas in a ballet like Agon. 

That said, there was NO dancing in the Agon performance I saw which involved the dancers 'interpreting' in any way. Tan's, Chung's, and Nedvigin's dancing was well within the range of classic Balanchine style, and although personal and interesting was never mannered, contrived, or attempting to impose the dancers' own schticks. I see this sort of dancing constantly from Kochetkova, which is one reason I try to avoid her performances if humanly possible. I saw this sort of horrific infliction of personal schtick (in this case, accompanied by an embarrassingly inadequate technique) during the hellish years when Heather Watts was given every principal role in the NYCB rep to slaughter at her whim. Speaking of other Agons, I don't know how many you've seen recently, but other than Pacific Northwest Ballet's this is about as good as they get now. NYCB's current Agon, like most of the rest of their repertoire, bears no resemblance to the great ballet of which you spoke quite eloquently.

#33 Quiggin


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Posted 13 May 2014 - 08:31 PM

jsmu, I liked Sylve in this production of Agon – she was excellent; it’s always interesting to see just where she’ll break a phrase in two or suture two phrases together. She seemed a little less cooly vulnerable or walking on a the edge of a precipice than Darcey Bussell, a non-Balanchine dancer, did at City Ballet in 2004.  I also liked the Miami production I saw in Berkeley not too long ago with Jeremy Cox and Deanna Seay and Jennifer Kronenberg – it was smaller in scale and had softer contours than City Ballet’s, but Cox in the coda of the first pas was intensely locked into his character, very memorably staring straight out into the empty darkness all the time. And way back were Peter Boal, Wendy Whelan, Arch Higgins and Nicolai Hubbe in the Agon that I saw in 1993. The recent Dutch National Ballet clips on YouTube (now gone) of the two men in the bransle simple were a good example of well-done layered patterns and off-time timings (so I will have to disagree with you, pherank, about the 95% number).


Frances Chung on Tuesday was also very good (she was also fine in Raymonda iii last year), though I sometimes feel she leaves the stage just a little too soon and I haven’t had time to completely take in everthing she’s done. Tiit Helimets improved between the dress rehearsal Thursday and Tuesday night, less tenuous, less blank, and he did hit some parts towards the end right on – the little off-side stomping dance steps almost onto the invisible fourth wall between the audience and the stage. I felt Pascal Molat was trying to intrepret but couldn't find his character or the tone of the part, and I didn’t get to see the other cast, as Wednesday night’s performance was cancelled. In general I guess I was also not able to give passes I might otherwise for the once a year Balanchine event from a company that has a reputation for doing Balanchine well (and often).


I was not a great fan of Heather Watts either, especially in Bagaku which she seemed to own. The 1990’s were supposed to be an off-period at City Ballet, but I always did look forward to seeing Maria Calegari, Roma Sosenko, Wendy Whelan, Kyra Nichols, Jeffrey Edwards, Damian Woetzel, Boal, Hubbe, Higgins, wonderful Symphonys in C, Emeralds, Liebeslieders, etc. 

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