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julip

pnb rep program

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i just got back in from seeing pacific northwest ballet's spring repretory program. one of the pieces that was performed was stravinsky violin concerto. it was my first experience with the piece and i was curious what others thought about it. while i loved the exploration of movement i thought that the emotions and humor that were used came out of nowhere. i found it hard to appreciate the work because of this. what do other people feel about this work?

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I've been thinking about this, and I don't remember thinking of Violin Concerto as being humorous, so I don't know what to say. (I don't mean to question your perception, at all, since I didn't see this production.) I saw this fairly frequently when it was fairly new, and to me it's one of those ballets where casting really mattered. The two couples were big man/small woman contrasted with big woman/short man. My sharpest memories are of the tenderness of the Martins/Mazzo couple, especially the ending, when Martins covered Mazzo's face with his hand and bent her backwards while (I believe) kneeling. The contrast of the strength and tenderness was very moving.

The easy answer to "where did it come from" is "out of the music," but I can't give you examples. Arlene Croce wrote about this a lot; there should be some articles in her collections, if you can get to them. And I always turn to "Repertory in Review" (Nancy Reynolds) but I understand that's very hard to find now.

Can you tell us some of the parts you found emotional and humorous?

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while watching this work i was thinking that the emotions that i was watching that were 'coming out of nowhere' were because of the casting.

the martins/mazzo duet was very emotional in this performance at the very end. but not at all during the rest of the duet. it seemed to be really interesting and innovative choreography without emotion until the very end. suddenly it was just there without any leadin.

for the humor again it was probably because of the choices of facial expresions that dancers tended to make at key times (during the backbends in a circle, while slapping hands, during the walkovers). if done with different expressions i might have had a different reaction. but, again, the dancers weren't able to make a conncection emotionaly from movement to movement.

because i have never seen this work performed before i don't know if that is a choreographic choice or dancer's interpretation. i am hoping that it is dancer's interpretation because otherwise i cannot see violin concerto as a masterpiece.

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Thanks for such a clear description. It's hard to tell (and be fair) not having seen the performance, but it sounds as though it's a problem of interpretation. The dancers may well be doing exactly what they were told, or layering on emotions, or (this has happened, even with Balanchine Trust stagings) have learned from a less-than-ideal videotape.

"Violin Concerto" seems to have deteriorated rapidly. When it was new, it was considered an "instant classic." By the 1990s, I talked with several people who hadn't seen it with its original cast didn't see much in it.

I don't know if that helps. To me, structurally, it was definitely a masterpiece, and it suited those dancers perfectly.

(Yours is an excellent question, by the way. One of the hardest things to do is to see what isn't there, and often one just has a sense that something isn't right, or that what one is seeing doesn't match what one has read or been told. So thank you for raising this.)

Anyone else have ideas on either what julip has described (do the dancers sound on or off target?) and/or where Violin Concerto is placed?

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Bart Cook staged Violin for PNB. He was back a few weeks ago to restage it this time around, as well. Bart was a member of the second cast in 1972 but joined the first cast shortly after the premiere. Dianne Chilgren played for rehearsals. She was there in 1972 also and has her score full of notes and counts.

My thoughts are that at the end of Aria II, any emotion that may seem to well up might come as a result of the dancers standing still, facing the audience. The man is behind the woman and reaches out. Their heads tilt as his hand moves. The audience has a chance to really look at the dancers, particularly their faces, and the music may reinforce the emotional effect. Does that make sense? At PNB, Jeff Stanton danced Aria II with Patricia Barker. Louise Nadeau also danced the Kay Mazzo role - she is tiny like Mazzo. Others danced these roles as well, but I can't remember who at the moment

As far as humor (and fun), I think there is a LOT in Violin Concerto. Balanchine put in Russian character steps and steps one might think stemmed from his years in Hollywood and on Broadway. The final Capriccio is a real party. I've always loved watching it. I enjoy this ballet as much as Four Ts and Agon.

These comments are also very interesting to me in light of PNB's performances. PNB is known for its rather dry interpretation of Balanchine ballets, particularly the black and white rep. The dancers tend not to be the sort that would layer on an interpretation of "put on" emotion just for its own sake. At the same time, I can't really see Bart Cook asking for that sort of thing either. The rehearsals I saw were very straightforward. Steps set to music. I would guess that anything "extra" resulting from it would spring from the combination of movement and music perceived by the individual.

Gee, does that sound TOO dry?! :)

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I'm with Doug on the issue of humor in "Stravinsky Violin Concerto". It is WIT -- that most elusive, most difficult-to-define, most essential part of many examples of great choreography and its choreographers.

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I was thinking of wit as well, but, like so many things, wit is in the eye of the beholder and the body of the performer. Over-emphasized wit can become humor -- or, if one is expecting a dry performance, any emotional tinge can seem too much.

Wish this had been televised so we could all see it :)

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I'm actually part of the "saw it well after the premiere and never thought it was top tier" crowd. Of the Stravinsky Festival Ballets, the one that I like best is Duo Concertant and neither Symphony in Three Movements nor Violin Concerto ever did all that much for me. In the performances I saw, they struck me as Balanchine imitating himself. Of course, as Alexandra mentioned, a performance can have much to do with how a ballet is taken.

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thank you all for sharing your feelings on this work...i think i just need to see it again by a different cast.

also, doug...since you actually saw this program could you share your thoughts on the kent stowell piece? especially the choice of putting a work with walkovers in the same program as violin concerto. also, the night that you saw it did the female dancer appear to collapse during the walkover? i wasn't sure if that was choreographed or not.

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The Kent Stowell piece is called "Poeme Saint-Saens" (forgive the lack of accents, etc.) and is a 7-minute work for a ballerina and 3 men. I saw Jodie Thomas and Julie Tobiason.

I doubt that the programmers considered that both Poeme and Violin have walkovers! The walkover in Poeme comes at the end when the ballerina is tired, so maybe it looked as though she collapsed, maybe she did collapse, maybe her back was tight, etc. That's the joy of live performance. They looked okay to me, but I'm generally not keen on walkovers in the first place, so I'm a bad judge of execution. :)

I know I'm biased toward PNB, but I feel they have a great way with the black and white Balanchine ballets in their rep. I have to say I was SO disappointed with NYCB's Four Temperaments this past January. I was expecting something great and thought most of it was really underdone and some of it just plain badly danced (or set? - also very dully played by Richard Moredock). Most everyone else thought it was a highlight of the season, so I think we are seeing and expecting different things in these ballets and dancers.

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