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Joffrey Ballet "Masterworks" Program


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 2002 - 12:58 PM

Knowing what a stickler I am for terminological exactitude, gentle reader, you will perhaps not be surprised that I might quibble with a program called "Masterworks," which includes "Lilac Garden" and "Rodeo" along with Gerald Arpino's "Kettentanz." That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. (And "Kettentanz" was certainly very well danced smile.gif ).

I've seen "Rodeo" dozens of times and always grudgling liked it -- admired its craft; it's such a solidly constructed ballet -- but last night, the Joffrey made me love it. I've never seen such an alive performance of this ballet -- with apologies to ATM and others who saw the first seasons; I'm sure this was nothing like them smile.gif

The Cowgirl was phenomenal. (The program listing was confusing, and I don't know the dancers; I think it was Taryn Kaschock.) She's tiny, much smaller than anyone else on stage, and that made her seem like a little girl whom no one realized was growing up, rather than a big, gawky adolescent. The Head Wrangler (Sam Franks) was a big guy -- and not in the least mean or snotty. You can imagine that he, and all the cowboys, saw her as a sweet, slightly annoying little runt who wanted to play with them all the time when they were trying to work. This Cowgirl wanted to be a girl, but didn't know how. The Champion Roper (Willy Shives) was terrific, too. Also an older brother, but a sweet one.

What I thought was the real knock out of this performance, though, was how the story was told through dancing. The Cowgirl gets their attention at the dance, not because she seems even gawkier in that stupid dress (the way I always have seen it played) but because she comes in, realizes she's made a horrific fashion error, hitches up her metaphorical britches, and starts dancing. It's her courage AND the fact that she outdances everyone else on the stage that brings her to everyone's attention. They're stunned, not by seeing Cowgirl in a dress, but by the way she moves. In the duets -- to the music now known as "What's for Dinner?" -- she was phenomenal -- playing, playing with her partners, playing with her own femininity, which you could sense that she was just beginning to realize. I do think more could have been made of the crucial last moments when she ditches the newly-interested Head Wrangler for the Champion Roper, but I'll forgive her that for the rest of the performance smile.gif

Everyone on stage was in the spirit of the ballet, and the audience was into it, too. No museum here, but a 60-year-old ballet, bursting with life.

I also liked "Lilac Garden" although I talked to someone who knows the ballet far better than I do who had quibbles, especially about the musicality.

The production has new designs, by Desmond Healy, and I thought they were, well, pretty awful. There are so many lilacs the dancers should have been choking on them -- I expected the Lilac Fairy, to be drawn to the site and come in and save everybody any moment. The costumes, too, were rather tacky and not really in period. They were just stage dresses. HOWEVER, this, in its own kinky little way, added to the feeling of the ballet that made it work for me. It was more Midwestern American (I'm influenced by recently having seen "The Magnificent Ambersons") than English, but that's okay. I kept thinking of all those Fitzgerald stories about social climbing and trying to be elegant and awful parties. I thought some of the portrayals were a bit overdone, but there was an urgency in the dancing that built as the party continued that I've never felt from the ballet before -- that I've read about, but never seen. I've read that the ballet was about a party held so that Caroline and Her Lover could have one last meeting and they keep being interrupted, but I've only seen a series of entrances. Last night, I saw them as interruptions. Flaws and all, I think they have a solid base to work from.

And again, EVERYTHING LOOKED AS THOUGH IT HAD BEEN REHEARSED! Thank you, Joffrey Ballet.

I was very cheered by the performance. It's so nice to leave the theater feeling good about what I've seen and not angry smile.gif The Joffrey once inherited City Ballet's cast offs when NYCB moved into the State Theatre and those ballets were core rep for them for a time (they could come back....) Now, perhaps they can take over the Tudor-DeMille rep that no one else seems to want. Odd. ABT these days seems more and more like the Joffrey two decades ago. Maybe Joffrey can start becoming what ABT was three decades ago. Back to the Future smile.gif

[ March 02, 2002, 01:04 PM: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 12:16 PM

Come on, I saw at least two Frequent Posters there smile.gif What did you think???

#3 samba38

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 05:26 PM

I'm not sure you meant moi but I'll speak up:
Chutzpah indeed for Arpino to put his Kettentanz on a "masterworks" bill but the piece was beautifully danced and quite charming. Local folks had the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth Mertz in fine form (gal in the gold dress). But it was very difficult, as Alexandra mentioned, to puzzle out who danced what roles from the programs. I had to check who was the solist in blue. Valerie sorry-don't-have-my-program-for-last-name.
This was the first time I've ever seen Rodeo, which I anticipated mightily. I reread the chapters in Agnes DeMille's autobiography describing at length the joy and hilarious miseries of teaching that cowboy American movement to the Ballet Russe men. What an astonishing experience it must have been for her dancing the cowgirl role. She always described herself as a comedienne and, indeed, this was the first ballet I've enjoyed with laugh-out-loud funny moments. The Joffery did danced this with panache (I've been abused tooo many times by ABT coming in and treating the KC audience like preview week before the VIPs of NYC audiences.) Here's what I'd like to know from veteran Rodeo watchers: is the men's movement sometimes done with sharper angles? More kick and release? This seemed a little "rounded" less gritty and more, like the big cowhand, kinda gruffly sweet.
Lilac Garden was a huge disappointment. Unlike the rest of her lean, lovely colleagues, the lead was so ghastly thin that her psychodrama looked like someone swooning from painful hunger. Lilac was also afflicted with the dark mottled lighting that also made the dancers in Kettentanz look splotchy. Hence her gaunt miseries were highlighted in a most distracting way. Along came the bounding busty miss from the "his past" and who wouldn't blame any man on stage for galloping off with her -- particularly if they could rip off that hideous purple dress. I've seen Lilac Garden where it's taut and sad and pulls at your own memories of misteps of the heart. This is what I wanted from Joffrey. But once again, I join Alexandra in thanking Joffery for doing things well and thoughtfully. Even when I think they're making the wrong artistic decisions with a piece, they are treating their audience seriously.
Too bad we don't get this same serious treatment from ABT.

[ March 04, 2002, 09:31 AM: Message edited by: samba38 ]

#4 Ari

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 06:51 PM

I guess I'm the second FP Alexandra mentioned, so I'll add my two cents. I've never liked the Joffrey in its classical mode; its style just isn't refined enough for my taste. So I had problems with the dancing in Kettentanz and Lilac Garden. Many of the men in Kettentanz weren't up to the demands of the choreography, though the audience loved their energetic attempts.

The problems with LG went much further, though: it looked like the dancers hadn't a clue as to what they were doing (though Suzanne Lopez as the Episode in His Past had a strong passionate moment at the end). Poor Maia Wilkins as Caroline looked utterly lost, a waif who had never been in love or who had any capacity for tragedy.

It took me a long time to warm up to Tudor, and I still don't like many of his ballets, but I've come to like LG (this could come under the "Changing Tastes" thread, too). But in order for his work to be effective, the dancers have to understand the lyrical impulse behind all the movement, and the Joffrey didn't get this at all. There was no tension in either the dancing or the drama. Who is Donald Mahler, who is listed in the program as having staged the ballet? Does he have solid Tudor credentials?

I don't want to offend any Joffrey lovers, but I always think of this company as being a troupe of kids, enthusiastic but raw young people whose mission is to bring teens and twentysomethings into the ballet fold. LG is a grownups' ballet, and the Joffrey just isn't old enough for it.

#5 catlady

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 08:01 PM

Ari,
must resectfully disagree with you regarding Joffrey being a group of raw "kids." I know many of the company members on a personal level and a good many of them have been with the company for well over ten years. Many are well into their 30's and beyond. One thing you can say about Arpino, he is loyal to his dancers and keeps them as long as they want to stay and are up to the task. Beatriz Rodriguez danced with the company until she was nearly 50.
I agree that the men were a bit out of their depth in Kettentanz, but I have never seen the group as a whole look stronger. The women were terrific and what a pleasure to still see Deborah Dawn dancing. (speaking of a seasoned dancer who has been with Joffrey for as long as I can remember.)
I was a bit dissapointed in Rodeo, but that is because I grew up seeing Beatriz Rodriguez as the cowgirl with the phenomonal Luis Fuente as the Champion Roper. Unforgettable.
I think it a commendable that the seasoned dancers of the Joffrey still have that certain something that would make people think that they are younger and hungrier. They have always had a zest and a passion for the dancing they get to do no matter what it is, and I say kudos to them all.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 10:23 PM

Samba, I don't think the men's dancing in Rodeo was particularly sharp, and especially the Champion Roper's tap solo. (This didn't bother me; it added to the "down home" feeling of the whole production, and made the Cowgirl more special.)

This may sound odd, but I agree with both Samba and Ari about Lilac Garden. It wasn't a top notch performance. I enjoyed it more than you all did, I think, because I saw something in it that I hadn't seen before (what I mentioned about the urgency, that it wasn't danced as a series of entrances and exits). I agree that the acting was -- well, I'd put it over-emoted and under-acted. And several people were asking, "Who's Donald Mahler???" smile.gif I thought the action and motivations hadn't been explained clearly to the dancers -- it certainly didn't come across clearly.

Welcome, catlady. I know you've been here awhile, but I don't remember seeing you on recent performances. Disagreeing is just fine smile.gif

I also think of the Joffrey as our Youth Ballet. I don't think it matters how old the dancers are, as much as how they're presented. It's a plus and minus, as is the technical level. I don't think of it as raw technique, as much as bodies -- especially feet -- that might not be accepted by ABT or NYCB. But that also means that you have dancers who really really really want to dance, and have learned to make up for their physical or technical imperfections, so that, like the youthful vigor, can be a plus.

#7 catlady

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 10:39 PM

I think it is really hard to seperate yourself and be objective from a performance where you know and are friends with many of the performers. Having been exposed to alot of the Arpino rep and being quite well aware of how technically and physically challenging it is, I'd like to see ABT or NYCB dancers try it. I am pretty sure a fair amount of them would not be able to get through it. Particularly the looong pas from Kettentanz. While I don't particularly care for Suzanne Lopez's interpretation of it, I had to recognize how taxing and tricky it was and all the more appreciate how she made it look effortless. A particular gift of most of the Joffrey ladies. Being able to make the most ardouos ballets seem like a piece of cake.

#8 Ari

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 11:14 PM

Catlady, when I called the Joffrey "a troupe of kids," I didn't mean to be literal. Heck, I remember Deborah Dawn from the old days at City Center, when we were both New Yorkers. smile.gif I was referring more to the company's profile--its repertory, its advertising, its--as Alexandra says--method of presentation. Yes, that has its pluses and minuses. There are probably a lot of people who saw their first ballet performance due to the Joffrey's image as a fresh young upstart troupe that danced to rock music and did other unconventional things. But the downside of that is that there were no more mature roles for the dancers to grow into. I remember Kevin MacKenzie, Rebecca Wright and Starr Danias all citing this reason for leaving the company. Adding ballets like Lilac Garden is an encouraging sign that they are beginning to realize that they need to broaden their repertory. They may not be able to dance the ballet well now (and this is probably not all their fault, if it wasn't staged properly), but at least it provides something for them to grow into.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 11:14 PM

I certainly know what you mean, catlady! My direct association with the co. ended over twenty-five years ago, and I'm just as partisan and vehement now about them as I was back in the Goode Olde Dayes, and can get very thin-skinned and easily riled when somebody makes a derogatory remark about them. However, Alexandra's point about the Joffrey being the "Youth Ballet" is well taken! There's something that the artistic staff is doing right to project a sense of such urgency, ingenuity, and drive that gives the dancers such a wonderful corporate stage presence!

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 03 March 2002 - 11:21 PM

Catlady and Mel, I think it's probably impossible to separate oneself completely when one knows the dancers and is associated with the company. And, Mel, I think anyone would be understandably thin-skinned about reading negative comments smile.gif

Since this forum is primarily for audience members to voice their opinions, maybe I should put up an Announcement at the forum head that says, "For audience members to voice their opinions. Dancers, directors, choreographers and those associated with the company, read at your peril!" smile.gif

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 04 March 2002 - 09:25 PM

Not a bad idea, Alexandra, but I feel I must answer the "Unanswered Question" here about Donald Mahler, if only for the honour of dear old Ontario! He's from the National Ballet of Canada, and danced the work for years there.


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