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Alexandra

Balanchine Celebration Program #3

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What? No reports?

I'll just say briefly that I thought San Francisco Ballet's "Bugaku" was extraordinarily good. I missed Kent (who coached this version, according to the progrram) and first saw the ballet with Heatehr Watts, in an advanced stage of pretzelitis. By that time, the ballet had become lewd (and has gotten worse. DTH's version, the last I've seen, a few seasons back, was hideously vulgar.)

SFB danced it was, one reads, it was meant to be danced. This isn't Western Romantic love, but a Japanese marriage ceremony. Cyril Pierre was the husband; a fierce warrior. Yuan Yuan Tan was the bride: Dignified, fragile without being timid. It was a very internal performance; she managed to express feelings while keeping an impassive face, leaving the impression of an independent young woman who had already completely adapted to her society's restrictions. She brought out dozens of nuances, especially in the hands, that I'd never seen before. Different casts tonight and tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if this was just a matter of having a dancer made for a role, or if the other two casts are at the same level.

While "Bugaku" (like the company's performance, with Lacarra, of Robbins' "The Cage") was as good as you could find in any company in the world, "Symphony in C" was quite a let down. I don't think this was an off-night (although, again, we shall see) but because the dancers, especially the female corps, aren't up to it. The dancing was both heavy and weak, and, despite some good performances from some of the leads (none remotely outstanding), the corps just plain underdanced it (I thought the male demisoloists were fine). The company seemed more uniform in body and style several years ago, when it first did "The Sleeping Beauty" and when SFB brought the Bizet here a few years ago, I had admired it very much, thinking they were just about to break out of the regional level.

Pennsylvania Ballet, long a Balanchine company (and still one, despite several changes in direction) opened the program with a perfectly respectable "Serenade." Lovely in parts, but a bit on the light side.

I wonder if last week was the off-subscription week? I forgot to check. While last week one got the sense of many people being new to the ballets, last night's audience seemed to know exactly what it was getting. They greeted the Pennsylvania Ballet warmly, gave "Bugaku" about five curtain calls, and did not seem to be caught up in "Symphony in C."

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Just a comment on your "off-subscription week" musing. No, both weeks are part of the subscription. Then nothing until April. (ABT's Nutcracker and Alvin Ailey are optional selections for subscribers.)

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In your notes on the various first program, Alexandra, i think you said the real star is Balanchine. you are still right. The 3rd program didn't have the snap/crackle/pop of the first week, yet there was much to relish in looking at structure, costume and, with the dancing, at nuances his work allows/encourages. I've never seen such exquisite hands as Yuan Yuan Tan's

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I agree, Samba. This has also been a lesson, for me, in programming. Last week's programs, on paper, didn't work at all. Program #1 (Mozartiana, Rubies, Square Dance with caller, and Stars and Stripes) was like a menu of caviar, cheetos, hot dogs and cotton candy. But on stage, it worked. Program #2 (Divertimento No. 15, Agon, Tarantella, Four Temperaments) was unbalanced (I don't think Agon and Four Ts should be on the same program unless you're doing a Black and White program). It didn't quite work as well, as #1, but it was more theatrically valid, I thought, than it had seemed.

#3 is a great program. Serenade, Bugaku, Symphony in C. And maybe if Symphony in C had gotten a sizzling performance, it would have worked. But....

It's also interesting, looking back, that Miami City Ballet could get by with non-Balanchine bodies (lots of shorties) and no stars. (When I said their performance of Four Ts was the best I'd ever seen, I've seen a lot of soloists who were better than these soloists; I meant the ballet as a whole.) They have the fabled old "no stars, the ballets are the star" look down pat.

In contrast, SFB has some very interesting individual dancers, but the overall impression was not, for me, as strong.

I also wanted to say -- and this will probably jinx it -- but I'm very happy that we got through one whole entire week without dragging out the NYCB/Martins-as-Balanchine conservator controversy but focused on the companies before us.

Side note: Bruce Sansom was in the audience. He must have already started his SFB stint. And if anyone came early and thought that all the TV crews and cops and cordoned off roadways had anything to do with Balanchine, it didn't. There was a Kennedy Bash in the Eisenhower Theater at the same time. I don't have the details. A friend told me that it had something to do with Caroline Kennedy's new book on human rights?

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"Light" was the right word for this "Serenade", or at least the last two movements, all I saw of it. Easy tempos, little agitation in the fourth movement.

As for Bugaku, not one of my favorites, it was pretty good, not too vulgar, Tan's filling out of her role some compensation for Pierre's not bringing the power and force some used to give this role up to the level of menace we sometimes got. But it strikes me as a little preposterous overall, and makes me feel again there are a few too many "novelty" ballets available for this type of celebration and too few leotard and tee-shirt ones.

And, yes, "Symphony in C" didn't really get up there and fly.

Program 2, especially "Divertimento No. 15", remains my favorite so far.

[This message has been edited by Jack Reed (edited September 20, 2000).]

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Just got in from Wednesday night. Both "Serenade" and "Symphony in C" look more relaxed tonight, I thought. In addition to being light, "Serenade" lacks mystery, or any sense that there's a secret story there.

In "Symphony in C," there were some minor casting adjustments (better pairings of demi-soloists, some shifting about of the corps) that made the production look more uniform, although still somehow bare. Lacarra (again, in second movement) was lovely. She's not a killer technician, but she's still a ballerina, in my book. She's only 23, and has both authority and perfume. In addition to her incredible predatory insect in "The Cage," second movement in "Symphony in C" shows her vulnerable side. Tonight, she reminded me of Audrey Hepburn -- dewy and coltish.

Muriel Mafre danced the woman's role in "Bugaku" very well. Her long, long limbs make the role more grotesque than Tan -- not good or bad, just different.

I've asked several colleagues who saw last night's "Bugaku," and who have been watching that ballet since it was created how the Tan/Pierre cast--and the ballet generally--compared to past performances (I'm always wary when I think a cast is extraordinary if I haven't seen the original) and all said some variant of "this is as good as any cast I've ever seen." Also, that many nuances, small touches, in the ballet that had dropped away had been restored, particularly in the woman's role. With all the attention given to Farrell as a Balanchine stager, it seems only fair to note that Allegra Kent is credited for "additional coaching" in this production.

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Alexandra, I was suprised program #1 worked so well too. Ditto for Agon and the Four T's together. But is Rubies supposed to be the Cheetos in that analogy? wink.gif I'm not sure what I'd compare it to offhand, but it would something invigorating. A tonic.

I saw #3 tonight, and to my relatively untrained eye the overall level of technique was lower than last week, and the number of especially interesting dance personalities was considerably lower. Still I loved it all.

Serenade is a ballet that I'm never too excited about seeing one more time beforehand, and that bowls me over every time. No, it didn't have the mystery it sometimes does, but it still moved me. I'm really sorry I missed Yuan Yuan Tan in Bugaku. I could see that, as you say, the principals didn't oversell this one, but I'm wondering what those hand nuances and restored details were. It was amusing -- it's always amusing during that ballet -- to hear the murmurs from people seeing it for the first time.

In Symphony in C, the men impressed me more than the women overall, but I found Feijoo and Lacarra most interesting among the women. That ballet is always the evening's closer, of course, and it's so full of steps it's always more than I can take in! I suppose that's true for most anyone, that's one of it's glories, but I find my attention coming and going. I get satiated and have to force myself to focus instead of just letting it all wash over me. I love the way it builds and builds.

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Saw the program last night.

SERENADE (Pa. Ballet)

"Serenade" was the highlight for me, by far. The feather-light touch is just what I've always envisaged for this ballet; NYCB is too earthy; Kirov is lighter, but too tentative with the steps.

SYMPHONY IN C (San Fco Ballet)

"Symphony in C" has long been one of my favourite 'Balanchine-Abstract' ballets, along with "Ballet Imperial" and "Theme & Variation". Alas, my good vibes couldn't save the evening! With the huge exception of the ravishing Lucia Lacarra, "Symphony in C" was a let-down tonight. It came nowhere close to the magnificent performance that I saw by this same troupe at Wolf Trap two years ago. The current corps are simply too disparate in body types to make this work. And I was sitting way up in 2nd tier...its still noticeable.

[And for whomever on this Board wrote, a few days ago, "Jeannie--uniformity has nothing to do with Balanchine..." I respectfully answer: "CRAP! It does count in works where a corps de ballet is supposed to be dancing the same steps, side-by-side." That having been whispered wink.gif ...I can state with some degree of first-hand knowledge that no company can touch the Kirov with this work...and I've seen NYCB, Bolshoi, Royal Ballet & POB (the latter two via video) dance it within the past 18 months. Would love to someday see POB dance it "live" as, like the Kirov, the French dancers seem to have a crisp uniformity...not to mention a certain 'majestic-regal hauteur' that, IMO, should come through in the faces of the corps when performing these sorts of Balanchine ballets that pay homage to the Mariinsky.]

BUGAKU (San Fco Ballet)

As for "Bugaku," I couldn't stand it before...can't stand it now. 'Grotesque' is the only word that comes to mind. I'm sorry that I missed Tan in the role of the Bride because Maffre was as vulgar-looking in the role as was Heather Watts or whoever I saw years ago with Dance Theater of Harlem.

IN SUM

Program #1 remains the undisputed winner among programs in this Balanchine Celebration...by far. I'll be seeing Program #4 tomorrow (opening night) with great hope for a repetition of the sparkle from Program #1. - Jeannie

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited September 21, 2000).]

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Jeannie, may I ask which was the POB video of "Palais de Cristal" you saw? I didn't even know that such a video existed... Who were dancing the main roles?

I saw the SFB in "Bugaku" in Paris, with Muriel Maffre in the main role. I have a good memory of it, but not very precise, as it was in 1994 and I was almost a newcomer then.

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Jeannie, is there *anything* the Kirov doesn't do better than everybody else smile.gif

There's always been a weight to "Serenade" at NYCB, and some of Balanchine's earthiest dancers have been cast in it (Von Aroldingen did the Girl Who Falls Down for years).

I don't mean that it's "wrong" to want it to be light (or faster, slower, etc.), but just didn't want anyone to get the impression that NYCB is wrong for dancing it the way it has/does. Balanchine wasn't very fond of prettiness. He liked strength (if anyone has seen the photos of the first "Serenade" cast, those earnest women in shorts that Balanchine confronted in 1934 look like a shot put team).

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited September 21, 2000).]

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There's quite a bit, Alexandra. I detest--absolutely DETEST--the Kirov's APOLLO with those "prima-donna-smiley" muses. Especially the toothy-grinned Assylmuratova (in 1992) &, more recently, Svetlana Zakharova primping & smiling at the audience.

Estelle, this was a 'private video' that I saw at the house of a European acquaintance, last year. wink.gif Several etoiles & premieres danseuses from ca-1998 (I recall Arbo, Guerin & Letestu among female solistes). Mind-boggling perfection among the corps.

- Jeannie

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited September 21, 2000).]

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Jeannie, I'm feeling a bit jealous. wink.gif

As far as I know, they last danced it in Paris around 1994, but they might have danced it on tour a bit later. I really regret they don't dance it more often...

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Yep...I don't know where & exactly when this version was made. A while back I also saw a version with -- hold onto your hat -- Monique Loudieres in the second movement. I believe that that one was made ca-1994, during the period to which you refer. I'm REALLY jealous of the people with that video!

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited September 21, 2000).]

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I know Monique Loudieres danced it in 1994 (I had seen another cast then, with Francoise Legree in that movement), so it probably was filmed then... Pity there are so few available videos of Loudieres (what did you think of her?)

But we're getting a bit off-topic now...

Alexandra wrote:

Lacarra (again, in second movement) was lovely. She's not a killer technician, but she's still a ballerina, in my book. She's only 23, and has both authority and perfume.

It's a pity for Marseille that she didn't stay here (Petit had hired her at the beginning of her career), but surely she has a more rewarding repertory in San Francisco (and also I suspect that Pietragalla might not like to share the stage with another ballerina...)

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I agree with Jeannie's observation that the Kirov presently dances "Symphony in C" the best. They didn't do this work in London this summer, but I still remember the Kirov's performances of Bizet in London in 1997, especially with Uliana Lopatkina in the second movement. Then I saw "Symphony in C" again in early 1998 danced by NYCB in the "Balanchine Black and White Week". Somehow there was far more exhilaration and radiance in the Kirov performances. (I remember however NYCB dancing this ballet far better in the late 1980s.)

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I was quite disappointed with the Kirov's Symphony in C, in fact with all their Balanchine, last summer, and I'd been looking forward so much to their Balanchine evening at the Met. On the other hand, I thought the Bolshoi did a sensational job with Bizet last July at the State Theater. Much, much, much better, to my way of looking at it. Faster, quicker, more together, aggressive and on top of the beat.

I guess I'd better write something about it, if only to get the bad taste of Edward II out of my mouth. Ugh.

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Thursday night impressions:

SERENADE -- My second time seeing this ballet (first was the Washington Ballet a few years back). I thought it was beautifully danced, although not quite sublime. Serenade and Leaves are Fading are two ballets that (to me anyway) need to achieve an otherworldly, mystical quality for the dancing to be able to match the music. I liked that the costumes were ice blue rather than a pastel light blue -- more pure.

BUGAKU -- If I went the rest of my life without seeing Bugaku again, I wouldn't feel deprived. I didn't hate it, but it didn't move me. I thought Lucia Lacarra and Stephen Legate were very good. I thought of their portrayals as sort of like the wedding of Gamzatti and Solor if there hadn't been a Nikiya in the way -- not true love, but an advantageous and successful match on both sides.

SYMPHONY IN C -- I couldn't help but wish that Suzanne Farrell had gotten ahold of this corps. They weren't BAD, but they were just doing steps. Among the principals, Yuan Yuan Tan was absolutely exquisite in the second variation, and I also liked Tina LeBlanc's clean, energetic technique in the third. The quick footwork seemed a bit much for Julie Diana, who replaced Katita Waldo last night.

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Allegra Kent fascinates me. I would love to know where she's coaching, what she's doing now. Several more expert people than I noted Tuesday that Yuan Yuan Tan's exquisite performance was a triumph both for her and for Kent. Does anyone know what she's up to? Has she wrangled a professorship for herself a la Farrell in Fla and Verdy in Indiana?Will anyone give her the kind of support Kennedy Center has given Farrell?

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Thanks, Bard's More quick impressions. Of the three performances of Program 3, overall, I thought last night's the most successful.

Serenade--Last night, finally, the dancing was light in the sense of being airborne, not insubstantial. Dede Barfield in the central female role, and Meredith Rainey as the man in the Elegy were especially fine, I thought.

Audience opinion seemed divided, from what I heard at intermission. Several people down from New York were quite happy with it, but two diehard NYCB fans (from New Jersey) dismissed the dancing as "regional." I asked what they meant and the answer was a firm "amateurish." (I didn't think it was amateurish.)

I will always be grateful to SFB for making me like "Bugaku." Lacarra was wonderful in it, not only for her extraordinary flexibility and delicacy, but because, young as she is (only 23) she's already a ballerina. She glows. She doesn't have a beautiful line, and she's not a strong technician, but despite this, she's totally in control of a role, knows exactly what she's doing, and does it on her own terms. For her, "Bugaku" was Balanchine's Petit ballet, but she made it work. Of the three casts, I preferred Yuan Yuan Tan and Cyril Pierre (Stephen Legate in the man's part was a bit too tender for a Japanese warrior) for their cold, courtly ceremonial detachment, but Lacarra's solo was the "dance of joy" described by Balanchine in his "Great Books of the Ballet" (written by Francis Mason, but on Balanchine ballets, after conversations with Balanchine).

"Symphony in C" was also better -- more energy and faster, for one thing, but the corps is still ragged. One woman's version of arms en couronne has been "stick 'em up" arms--straight in the air--three nights running. i've seen companies with very different heights and weights in the corps still give uniform performances, unified by style. It matters a great deal how you "put them up," as the Danes say: who is next to whom. There is a great deal of mismatching here.

But some of the soloists were quite good. In the third movement, LeBlanc, who had an off-night Tuesday, was back on form, dancing with a wobbly, though appealing (and high-jumping) Gonzalo Garcia. I liked Yuan Yuan Tan and Cyril Pierre (I hope it was Pierre; that's who's listed in the program, but he was so different from the man in "Bugaku" that I wouldn't have known him) in the second movement very much. They're reserved, but beautifully musical. Vanessa Zahorian has been terrific every night in the fourth movement. Very clean dancing, with snap to it; beautiful turns, clear jumps, what more could you want?

The weakness every night, aside from the corps, has been the first movement. I liked Julie Diana more than Katita Waldo (who's too quirky for that role, in my book) but the role needs a stronger dancer.

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Samba, I'm sorry. I had meant to comment on your question about Allegra Kent and forgot it. It's been haunting me smile.gif

I don't know about Kent's history as a stager and coach; if someone else does, I hope you'll respond. It's hard to answer from watching a single ballet, and not knowing exactly what her input was.

Farrell wasn't supported (in the sense of people constantly writing that she was an excellent coach, or, in some cases, practically demanding that she should be the one staging Balanchine) for several years after she started. There was interest after she set "Scotch" in Russia, but merely interest. It wasn't until her week-long run in Washington with the Washington Ballet that you could tell that yes, she can do this at a very high level. Before that, there was a lot of speculation, but many naysayers -- ballerinas can't coach, they only know their own roles; how much is she really doing? Is it her assistant and she's just getting the glory? Et cetera. At that Washington season, people were grilling the dancers, saying, "Who's doing what? Is this really Farrell?" etc. So it seems now that everyone jumped on her bandwagon, but it wasn't instant.

I've never read anything about Kent that indicated she was interested in doing the same kind of thing that Farrell is trying to do -- teach and stage, manage a small company. That's very different from merely coaching (not that "merely coaching" is in any way fair; "merely coaching" very well is as rare, I think, as choreographing very well).

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Did anyone catch Miami City Ballet at Wolf Trap about 5 years ago? They did the first and still, IMHO, the best Bugaku I've seen. Douglas Gawralijk (SP?) and Salley Ann Isaacks, the leads, had intensity and personality to spare. What drew me in to that ballet immediately was the music, kitschy as it may be. And because neither the music nor the court ceremony framing the pas de deux are erotic, the eroticism of the pas de deux doesn't strike me as just plain vulgar.

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Ken, I think it's so funny that you liked the music to Bugaku! I absolutely HATED it. I came up with the terms "dying cats" and "dying cows", respectively, to describe the music for the women and the men. But, to each his own, as we see from the opinions of program #4.

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Bard's Ballerina, I take it you don't like all that droning! This isn't music I'd want to sit down and listen to at home, anymore than I'd put on John King's score for Merce Cunningham's CRWDSPCR all by itself. But I do love the atmosphere it creates for the ballet.

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I also saw this performance. I saw the Thursday night and I was very upset that I wasn't able to go to another night of differnet performances.

I did not like Penn Ballet in Seranade. The beginning was beautiful but I was not "into" the ballet as I usually am when I see other companies perform it. The company did not seem to be emotionally envolved in the choreography which makes the audience not get into it. The corps also seemed to not be together which is not a good thing for Seranade. I also did not find the guys in this ballet that great. They did not catch my eye.

I LOVED Bugaku. Not because of the music, because I thought it was headachey music (until the pas de deux), but because of the costumes and the prima dancer from San Fran. Talk about a flexible body. My goodness!

Symphony in C. I thought that this ballet was the highlight of the performance and I believe the audience agreed with me. The girls were just beautiful the 3rd and 4th movement as well as the finale were done beautifully. I wasn't sure just how well San Fran could pull off Balanchine but because Symphony in C is more classical than most of his ballets, they did a really good job.

Sorry this is short but I must go. I might write more later.

Hollyberry

[This message has been edited by Hollyberry (edited September 25, 2000).]

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