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SFB: Dances At A Gathering & Elite Syncopations, 2-8 mat


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#1 BalletNut

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Posted 09 February 2003 - 05:14 PM

Two very different ballets, with two things in common: a piano and Muriel Maffre's phenomenal presence and sense of humor.

Dances At a Gathering is obviously a complex work, that probably becomes more and more interesting the more you see it. I wouldn't mind seeing it again; but, please, give me a different cast! I have never seen so many bored-looking dancers in one ballet as I saw in that performance. Particularly Vanessa Zahorian (mauve), who usually seems so happy to be dancing (and I'm usually so happy to see her...), and Julie Diana, a tiny little slip of a thing who seemed overwhelmed by the prominent pink role. Perhaps they would be happier if they had switched roles. Catherine Winfield in blue seemed just fine, not outstanding one way or the other. Ditto David Arce and Jaime Garcia Castilla, blue and brick respectively, although Castilla's cartwheel deserves a mention. These lackluster deliveries were balanced, thank heavens, by the assured presence of Damian Smith in purple, the subdued pyrotechnics of Gonzalo Garcia in brown, and the absolutely adorable Ruben Martin in green. I especially liked Maffre's wit and carefree-ness in green, and Kristin Long's presence, passion, and musicality in yellow/apricot/whatever. Her joy and elan, while immensely flattering on her, only highlighted the halfhearted (I *was* going to use a less family-friendly term, but...) delivery of the other women, Maffre excepted. Such was this performance of Dances At A Gathering: wonderful performances in half of the aspects, lackluster in the other half. Hot and cold, or really hot and lukewarm. Fascinating choreography. Interesting compilation of Chopin pieces. Choppy piano playing by Daniel Waite, who made many more blunders than I would excuse due to stage fright or whatever. Fabulous ballet. Not-so-fabulous performance. Sigh...

So, where was the energy that was missing from Dances At A Gathering? It was in Elite Syncopations. After trying to decide whether the costumes were hideous or hilarious, I went with the latter. How to describe them? Loud...80s redux from hell...unitards on acid...oy vey. But I like them. Hard to believe that this is a MacMillan ballet. I was afraid that the music would be canned, but there is live music, even though the orchestra pit is indeed empty, the musicians are there, on stage, with the pianist/conductor, all decked out in checkered clown-pants, glittery Vegas-like vests and crazy hats. The dances fit pretty well into this atmosphere, though the music seems rather quiet and understated by comparison! Katita Waldo was gorgeous in her Calliope Rag solo, as were the carnations on her head. I got my first glance at both of the new soloists, Pascal Molat and Sarah Van Patten, in this ballet as well. Van Patten is, thank goodness, not as awful as reviews had led me to fear. Actually, she is rather charming, pretty face, looks remarkably healthy. It's rather hard for me to predict, however, what she'd look like in a more traditional costume or ballet--as in, not wearing a bleached wig and lime-green tights and pointe shoes. She was partnered by Peter Brandenhoff in the Golden Hours. Yuan Yuan Tan...in my eyes this woman Can Do No Wrong. And she didn't. She nailed the "star" role, played it like a glamorous leading lady. Very admirable, I must say; I can't think of too many ballerinas who can look glamorous in a unitard with one star on each butt-cheek. And she wore a lovely hat too. Yuri Possokhov is perhaps too dignified to be wearing the striped cacaphony that was his costume, but I was too busy looking at Tan anyways.

If any ballerina could rival Tan, though, it's Muriel Maffre, the MVP of this matinee. She dominated poor James Sofranko in her peacock dress and floppy hat, in a little "lets make fun of tall ballerinas" piece that was oddly reminiscent of Western Symphony, but even more so. She wove her legs through his armpits with abandon, kicked over his head with ease, and graciously ended by sitting on her spread-eagled partner.

Did anyone else see this program?

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 February 2003 - 05:38 PM

Thank you for reporting BalletNut! I'm going to see Elite Syncopations for the first time at the National Ballet of Canada in two weeks, so I'm going to look at this again after I've seen it. How long has it been in repertory at SFB?

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 09 February 2003 - 06:09 PM

Leigh, I think Elite Syncopations is new for them this season. (I'm writing that without checking, and may well be wrong.)

Ballet Nut! THANK YOU!!!!! The company did Dances here, with a slightly different cast, but I also thought it was too dull. I wrote that it looked as though it had been rehearsed by OSHA -- the part where the women throw themselves at the men that looks wonderfully daring at NYCB looked like a tea party in the SFB production.

I'm so happy to read a long review of SFB here -- I hope it will bring out the rest of you Lurkers!!!

#4 dirac

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Posted 10 February 2003 - 03:28 PM

Yes, Elite Syncopations is new to the repertory.

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 February 2003 - 04:43 PM

[Board Host Canape tray at the ready, glass and spoon for making announcement at hand. . .]

Ahem.

Yoohoo? San Franciscans? San Franciscans?

The New Yorkers are awfully noisy about what they've been seeing. The Londoners, Parisians, Muscovites and Petersburgers are chattering away.

You wouldn't want people to think that you weren't going, or even worse, had nothing to say, now would you?

[Continues to pass out yummy Board Host canapes. . .]

#6 LMCtech

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Posted 14 February 2003 - 12:14 PM

OK, fine, pull me out of my hole.

I agree with most of what was said above. I saw approximately the same cast, but my opinions differ on two points.

I did not like Maffre as the green girl. She did not to my taste flirt enough, show enough joy. She was too serene.

I also didn't like Yuan Yuan. Especially in her solo. I think she is not understanding the music or the atmosphere, or something...She seems too much of a "creature" to pull off a role that is very human and feminine.

Everyone else was great.

#7 Rachel Howard

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Posted 17 February 2003 - 03:23 PM

I went back to see second casts in "Dances at a Gathering" and "Elite Syncopations." Agreed with LMC Tech that Maffre isn't chatty enough as Green. But the big revelation to me was Pascal Molat, a French soloist in his first year with the company. He made an impeccable Brown Man. I knew he had technical polish to spare after seeing him in the gala, but his easy dramatic capabilities came as a pleasant shock. He just seemed to be enjoying himself and enjoying dancing with the other performers, just as Robbins would have wanted. And the moment when he touched the ground--he let it resonate, but didn't get melodramatic about it. He's incredible. I'd be surprised if he didn't get promoted to principal quickly.

Also, after seeing Tan give a dull performance as the bowler-hatted girl in "Elite Syncopations," I want to give Julie Diana her due. She's tiny and utterly non-intimidating, but she worked that role as hard as she could. She deserves respect for vamping it to her max.

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 February 2003 - 03:49 PM

Thanks to both of you for your observations. Are they into another repertory program yet?

C'mon San Franciscans, fall in and report!

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 18 February 2003 - 11:30 AM

Thanks Rachel and LMCTech -- I hope that one of your New Years Resolutions (both of you!) was posting on performances.

I wasn't there for these performances, but I did see "Dances at a Gathering" here and had liked Maffre as the woman in Green. (The other was Feijoo, who I thought a bit too desperate, the kind of woman who babbles helplessly at a cocktail party, and while the men have to be polite in her presence, they can't wait to run away.) I thought Maffre was subtle, and self-confident enough (her character's self-confidence) that she thought it odd to lose two men in one evening, but nothing to get upset about.

I'm surprised that "Elite Syncopations" went over -- but then, I never liked it, even in its first cast with the Royal, so the fact that I thought it would appear dated can be totally dismissed :D

#10 Rachel Howard

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Posted 18 February 2003 - 01:48 PM

Alexandra, your description of Feijoo and Maffre's interpretations are spot-on. I see a case to be made for each of them.
As for "Elite," I think the music makes it, so pleasant and nicely performed by the orchestra and perfectly miked. An acquaintance of mine complained about the costumes--she said she couldn't focus on the choreography. But the choreography itself isn't anything to write home about--it really doesn't show any special insight into ragtime as a musical form.
Where is Paul Parish when you need him? He's been watching this company for so long and writes about it so vibrantly--you hear that, Paul?

#11 Paul Parish

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Posted 18 February 2003 - 10:45 PM

Well, golly, you guys -- Rachel!!
I don't know where to start --

It's easier to talk about Helgi's new piece, on program 3 but I'll maybe post on that later...

I saw this program twice, and was very moved by Dances at a gathering..... I took a friend who learned ballet in China, where as a child the first few years she actually studied from books, with no teachers.... She rose to become a people's artist, and is now teaching, a BEAUTIFUL dancer. I say all that because her response was very important to me -- she had never seen Dances at a Gathering before. It was all I could have hoped for. She was like staggered by Robbins' invention..... the tenderness, the playfulness, the reverence, even.... the heel clicks, the bows, the reverences of every sort that come up over and over again in the dances, how pure the sentiment of fellow-feeling is, and how omnipresent -- and when it's NOT, as in the dance for the 2 boys (brown and purple) how that only heightens the sense of an idyll, a danced utopia....

The whole was greater than the sum of its parts that night -- I can't even remember who danced the girl in pink - I could look it up, but... she was fine. The three girls were wonderful. The boy in green and the girl in mauve were wonderful, in the slow sad mazurka with the battements lentes -- heartbreaking.

The point really was the ensemble.... The outstanding dancers were Kristin Long in yellow and Hansuke Yamomoto in brick, and it's appropriate for them to bring the mood up that high....

Elite Syncopations fits really well with it on a double bill -- both are character ballets, to piano music that has an idea about dancing (i.e., Chopin and Joplin have ideas about dancing) -- and yet they're so DIFFERENT, in tone, attitude, spirit, the on so refined, the other so raffish. Elite went over wonderfully in SF, which is still not that far from its own Barbary Coast days.

If you've never seen Elite Syncopations, it's a comedy of atmosphere; with no more story than DatG; its references are not to Mazurkas but t o Pigeon Wing and other rag-time dances, and a preposterous plastique of its own -- with lots of steps that turn in after things have already gotten going. At one point the corps is doing grands jetes sideways with their legs totally turned in, like flapping wings -- they're hilarious, I left the building trying to do them.

The variation mentioned above that Lorena Feijoo and Katita Waldo did on alternating nights is sure-fire, an absolutely fantastic character dance, that involves demi-detournees to b-plus with the butt stuck out.... Pardon my language, but the dance itself is intentionally rude in just that way, the character is as brassy as Mae West.....

Both casts of Elite had wonderful moments -- though I don't think the ballerina's role (Merle Park was famous in it) was a success. Julie Diana worked very hard but didn't make it interesting; I agree that Yuan Yuan Tan was spot-on in it, but I kept finding that I wasn't watching her but was completely waiting to see how her partner, Yuri Possokhov, would upstage her. He was playing it like a bored businessman out with his vain wife -- she'd kick her leg up to 180 degrees, and he'd roll his eyes ("there she goes again') -- he was simply fabulous, and he got his effects by doing almost nothing, and actually by making you wait -- for he didn't react like this every time -- it's a gesture we all recognize, the shoulders are set like concrete, the neck is pulled back, like a turtle's when he's trying to retract his head into the shell; the Trockadero who played Taglioni did something like that, and the effect was Trockadero-level uproarious, at least to me; he got HUGE applause at the bows.

And the tall girl-short boy duet was just as funny as everybody has said -- it's marvellously constructed, so that at the end of the dance, after he's ducked under her battements and she's tried to jump over him but gotten stuck and fallen on top of him, on the last beat of the music, his knee goes out and the heap collapses utterly..... Both casts did it well, though Maffre and Sofranko were tops -- Actually, Sofranko (a corps boy, one of Harkarvy's from Juilliard I gather) is a wonderful dancer -- he's always vivid, clear, clean, and sweet, you always notice him -- but this was his first big break -- and long before the duet he was doing wonderful solo bits. His plastique comes from the athletes in Les Biches -- torso contracted, legs making turned-in coupes, arms making biceps, hands making fists -- and he's a little darling live wire... Wonderful part, wonderful performance.

#12 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 February 2003 - 11:39 PM

Paul - that was fascinating. Please tell us more and talk about program 3 as well.

Thanks to everyone. Alexandra always says it only takes three or four to make a conversation - look at what a difference it makes.

#13 carbro

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Posted 18 February 2003 - 11:56 PM

Alexandra, I always thought that the characterization you ascribe to Feijoo was precisely what Robbins wanted -- a little neurotic and very needy, working too hard at being charming.

#14 glebb

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Posted 19 February 2003 - 03:50 AM

I recall Violette Verdy and Delia Peters in Green, I remember a woman very busy, slightly older than the men she is chatting up, and quite charming in appearance. At least that is the image that lingers on my mind.

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 19 February 2003 - 04:39 AM

I remember Violette and Delia doing that part as well, and it seemed to me that Robbins had created for the ballet a Merry Widow part, some mature, fascinating creature.


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