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Program III - West Palm Beach

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This weekend, Miami City Ballet brought its third program to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach for 5 performances. The program included three company premieres (the opener, Balanchine's La Valse, and Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun and Fancy Free) as well as a revival of Sonatine, choreographed by Balanchine for the Ravel Festival in 1975.

Edward Villella, the company's Artistic Director, typically opens these performances with a pre-curtain talk. He expressed his pleasure at being able to offer the first Robbins works in the company's repertoire -- especially Faun, in which he made his debut as a NYCB principal. Robbins got his idea for the ballet years earlier when he noticed Villalla, then a teen aged student at the School of American Ballet, relaxing and stretching against the barre, apparentely lost in his own interior dreams.

Incidentally, Villella's talks are performances in themselves. The sinuous deep voice, slightly gravelly, with a few vestiges of a Queens accent. The slight, dark-haired figure sitting on a stool, spinning word pictures of the ballets the audience is about to see. Only his arms moving gracefully through the air. Rivetting. In this program, especially, I appreciated how very much Villella is a central figure and living reminder of one of the most creative periods in all dance -- the years when "those two great men," Balanchine and Robbins made their dances at NYCB.

Here are two fo the casts:

LA VALSE. SATURDAY EVENING: Principal couple: Deanna Seay and Mikhail Nikitine. Death: Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez. Secondary couples: Jeanette Delgado and Alexander Dufaur, Charlene Cohen and Emanuel Colina, Katia Carranza and Mikhail Ilyin. SUNDAY AFTERNOON: Principle couple: Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra. Death: Garcia-Rodriguez. Secondary couples: Patricia Delgado and Jeremy Cox, Tricia Albertson and Didier Bramaz, and Frances Katzen and Bruce Thornton. The wonderful corps of 24 dancers included several soloists and a couple of very impressive apprentices.

AFTERNOON OF A FAUN. SATURDAY EVENING: Haiyan Wu and Mikhail Ilyin. SUNDAY AFTERNOON. Katia Carranza and Renato Penteado.

SONATINE. SATURDAY EVENING: Tricia Albertson and Jeremy Cox. SUNDAY AFTERNOON. Haiyan Wu and Mikhail Ilyin. A LIVING, BREATHING PIANIST, Francisco Renno, peformed the Ravel Sonatine. What a joy to have live music, beautifully played, at a ballet performance, especially after the dreadful sound system that muffled and distorted the recorded music for the other ballets. My car radio sounds better than that.

FANCY FREE. SATURDAY EVENING: the three sailors: Renato Penteado, Didier Bramaz, Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez. The girls: Mary Carmen Catoya, Patricia Delgado, Emilie Fouilloux. SUNDAY MATINEE: the three sailors: Luis Serrano, Jeremy Cox, Carlos Guerra. The girls: Tricia Albertson, Katia Carranza, Jessica Shults.

It's always enlightening to see different casts, especially on consecutive days. There's also an advantage in having different seats. In this case, Saturday night was from a side box, Grand Tier level, close enough to the stage to see the eyes of the Faun and the woman as they stare, fascinated, even mesmerized, into the mirror. Sunday afternoon was from the back of the house, Grand Tier. An entirely different experience emotionally. I'm surprised more people don't talk about their seating when they review dance performances. Low-high. Front-back. Center-side. What incredible differences in the experience of a performance.

For this observer, this was the single BEST-DANCED program in the 4 years I have been attending Miami City Ballet performances. La Valse was incredible -- both casts -- from principals to the large corps running, swirling, turning, leaping.

Seay was passionate. When Death presenters her with long black gloves she plunged her white-gloved arms into them. She seemed impelled to run towards death. Jennifer Kronenberg showed more terror, especially when Death offered her the black necklace. When she accepted the glove, she inserted her arms slowly -- then seemed fascinated and even pleased by the way they looked on her arms. Then the terror returned. The pas de deux with death was frightening and powerful. The image on the dead girl, borne aloft by three male dancers rotating in one direction while the corps swirled around her in the other direction. (The current vogue (Alexandra's bete noire) for Dracula ballets aside, this is one of the most macabre and beautiful dance visions I can imagine.)

Faun both times made the same impression on me as I remember Moncion and d'Amboise (and Villella) years ago. And what differences between the casts. Haiyan Wu, a principal who danced with the National Ballet of China, entered as if in a trance, almost not sure why she had entered the room, a fragile presence despite her strong technique. Katia Carranza walked briskly: she was looking for a studio in which to practice; only gradually did the fascination with her reflection in the mirror take over. Ilyin seemed torn between the mirror and the girl. When he kissed Wu's cheek, it seemed unplanned. She barely reacted. Slowly, she got up and drifted out of the room. Penteado's kiss, on the other hand, was more tentative (a sneak kiss like a teenage boy might try). Carranza gave it some thought -- then decided that she did NOT want to go in that direction. She left the room at what APPEARED to be much greater speed than Wu. (An impossibility, since the same music tape was used, dictating tempo.) This was another lesson for me about the ability of fine dancers to create powerful -- and different -- illusions based on style and personality.

Sonatine was a delight. It was originally created for Violette Verdy and Jean-Pierre Bonnefous, who helped set it on the Miami Company in 2000. The dancing of all 4 principals was elegant, smooth, seamless, and exceptionally beautiful. Wu and Ilyin were possibly more gentle and classical in their roles. (Wu lands so softly from her jumps.) But Albertson and Cox made a bigger impression, especially Albertson with her long arms and more-and-more solid classical technique, and Cox with his intense concentration on partnering.

Fancy Free was, for me, something of a disappointment. I expected this to be the crowd-pleaser that programmers so love to end the evening with. But audience response, despite some chuckles at the comedy, was not as enthusiastic as for the other dances. Something was missing, despite the virtuoso performances (even the women). At first I thought it was because this ballet, with its imagery of young, half-innocent, horny guys on leave in the Big Apple, was oddly old fashioned. The miming (as complicated as anything you'll see in a Russian performance of Swan Lake) and the mugging were simply not very funny. There were lots of steps, but it was essentially demi-character dancing in which very young contemporary ballet dancers tried to convince us that they were young warriors, home from battle, desperately trying to find female companionship on a 24-hour leave. (Best partsare the 3 distinct dances in which each of the sailors expresses his personality -- and his "line" -- in an attempt to get one of the -- alas! -- two girls.)

This led me to think about the original ABT premiere in 1944. Americans had been at war for over 3 years, and there was a year of some of the worst fighting to go. The Navy had gone through hell. One of the sailors does a piece of mime, trying to impress his pretty pick up, trying to convince her that he is a gunner shooting down an enemy plane. This came across as rather jejune, kind of cute, getting some scattered laughs. In 1944 this surely had a very different impact.

I wish I felt differently about this ballet. I've heard so much about it. We all love Bernstein, love the movie, love West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof. But there was a dated and unreal quality for me. As though this waterfront bar in NYC were as removed from our time as Siegfried's court.

Anyway, an evening of brilliant programming and great dancing, with Miami's Balanchine style getting better and better, something Eddie Villella has all the reason in the world to be proud of.

Edited by bart

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This led me to think about the original ABT premiere in 1944.  Americans had been at war for over 3 years, and there was a year of some of the worst fighting to go.  The Navy had gone through hell.  One of the sailors does a piece of mime, trying to impress his pretty pick up, trying to convince her that he is a gunner shooting down an enemy plane.  This came across as rather jejune, kind of cute, getting some scattered laughs.  In 1944 this surely had a very different impact.

That bit of 'business' about the gunner was not in the ballet in 1944. I am not sure when it was added, but I know it startled me at the time, and although a small thing, it has always bothered me.

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Thank you so much for your review. It sounds like a wonderful program. I'm sorry Fancy Free was a disappointment. I felt that way after seeing Ashton's The Dream, after hearing so many good things about it for so many years.

When I first moved to Seattle a decade agp, the very first program on my PNB subscription was La Fille Mal Gardee, performed by the Australia Ballet. In order to bring other companies to Seattle, but not subject them to trying to fill weeks worth of houses from scratch, PNB added the performance to the subscriptions, as they had done for a multi-week visit from NYCB before I got there. I was hoping that this would continue at least every few years, and that MCB would be one of the companies added, but, alas, I believe the only time MCB came to Western Washington was to Olympia, and I was travelling on business at the time. I would very much like to see the Company.

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I really feel that we have to keep speaking up for the strong, dedicated regional and even local companies: Pacific Northwest, Arizona, Miami City, Ballet West, Pittsburgh, Penna., Washington, Boston, the California companies . (I just wish that there were some kind of touring festival that would make it possible for more of us to see them.)

As on old New Yorker, long spoiled by living at the Center of World, I have been bowled over by the way these companies struggle to keep alive an aesthetic vision and practice that is so out of sync with what we are TOLD is the dominant entertainment culture of this country. There effort is truly heroic. I'm especially impressed by the way the vision of the old NYCB has spread across the map, working so hard to keep alive artistic ideals that -- if you credit some of the criticisms of the Martins regime back home -- have been adulterated, or even cast aside back at the source.

I always read and enjoy your reports from the West Coast. The top of the pyramid (New York, etc.) really does depend more than it knows on the vitality and morale of dancers, companies, and audiences further down the slope.

Incidentally, I was reading an old thread about Jerome Robbins from several years ago. You had post there, quoting Tanaquil le Clerq's father (a professor of French literature) commenting to Robbins that the original Mallarme poem has two nymphs, "one chaste, one more knowing". The two have been conflated in the single woman in the Robbins ballet. Reading the other posts about various dancers in the roles, it seemed that most of these dancers emphasized either one aspect or the other, including Haiyan Wu this weekend (chaste) and Katia Carranza (knowing). I wonder how much is interpretation that is chosen and how much comes naturally from the dancer's personality and approach to the world. Your comment really helped me understand something I had felt but could not put into words this weekend.

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