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Ballet Florida Program: Wainrot's Rite of Spring

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This was challenging programming: starting with the Stevenson sad and lovely 5 Poems, which the company has done before -- then a company premiere, Dominic Walsh's "Bello" performed to a live performance of a number of Handel arias -- and then Wainrot's version of Rite of Spring, originally created for the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Everything either sad, wistful, tragic, or terrifying. Quite the opposite of the company's previous program, which was light-hearted and joyous.

(Not to mention, that most the dancers had to do their incredibly demanding roles three times over a 48-hour period. And the last performance was the best, I think.)

Five Poems , set to the Wesendonck Llieder, is a wonderfully atmospheric piece for 11 dancers. It was the only ballet of the evening done on point. Except for a single male duet (second song), the dancing is slow and elegiac and features some of the more complicated and extended lifts of any ballet I've seen. With some of the lifting -- especially in the 4th poem, where three men bear a single ballerina who sails and swoops through the air without ever touching the ground --the difficulty was a bit too visible , but Yumelia Garcia soared above it all with complete grace, regality, and an incredible smile. Only Jerry Opdenaker, of the 3 men, appeared to share in her serenity and joyfulness, maintaining grace and a smile, while his two companions sometimes had facial aexpressions that suggested construction workers hosting a girder into place. (From seats further back this might not have been so visible.)

The Third Poem, a pas de deux in which the woman appears to be wasting away from a fatal (but lovely) disease, was my favorite, thanks to the dancers Lorena Jimenez and Jean-Hugues Feray. Jimenez was intensely in "character" every second of the performance, and her movements -- many of which involved anti-balletic positions like flexed feet, etc. -- flowed seamlessly from one to the other. Feray's partnering in the role of the man dealing with the pain of his lover's suffering, was supportive, sensitive and emotionally convincing.

Bello is a nice piece, originally created by Walsh for his own, new contemporary company in Houston. Live music !!!! -- a Baroque chamber ensemble and a countertenor performing from the stage. Just about all the comments I heard after the performance were about how wonderful it was to have live music. I wonder that more companies don't take advantage of the cheaper chamber-music alternative. If Mark Morris can tour with his own company of chamber players, why can't local companies develop their own. Audience members LOVE it.

The countertenor -- Gerrod Pagenkopf -- was simply extraodrinary: his voice deep and expressive, and his enunciation of the Italian words perfectly clear. He sat at a desk at stage right, pen and paper in front of him, apparently recalling the relationships of his life. A brief synopsis of the Italian words might have helped us understand this more. Walsh himself describes this process as "a loose journey of man's life."

I'm not really qualified to evaluate the choreography, which was often attractive -- though not as mesmerizing as the music and the setting. The exception for me was third Third Movement, a pas de deux involving long crimson gloves and a red scarf/skirt that passed from the man to the woman. There's the suggestion that she is death -- or something very like it. Stephanie Rapp was scarey and powerful in one performance. Tina Martin, the company's specialist in dark, dramatic roles, was different but equally good in the next performance.

Rite of Spring , which concluded the program, was the highlight and got the most enthusiastic response. Marie Hale has said that she held off doing this until she had the dancers to perform it, and it's clear that without the new dancers who've joined the company in the past three years, most of them from Spain and Latin America, it would have been impossible. Wainrot's version is for 18 dancers, including the Chosen One (Tina Martin) as well as an older wise woman (Maria Angeles Llamas) and the male Leader of the tribe (Marcus Shaffer).

Costumes are simple -- flesh-colored silk slips for the women (all of whom had grown their hair to a length that permitted it to be flailed around quite a bit -- bare chests and flesh-colored jazz pants for the men. There are no side curtains, so the width of the stage is expanded. Dancers who left the stage walked off into a kind of crepuscular gloom.

The score, which I hadn't heard in many years, is incredibly beautiful -- the shifting rhythms are only part of the effect. Whatever the people in Paris in 1913 thought, it's great dance music now, and quite accessible. The women at the start are hyper-alert, almost ferile, running in plie witih their heads stretched forward, eyes darting. Llamas is clearly the authority figure. Llamas was extradorinary, for instance in a scene where she seems to be taking on herself the pain of symbolic childbirth and maybe even sacrifice. When she's aiding the Leader in selecting the sacrificial victime, she becomes cold and calculating.

The men first appear suddenly, in a long line across the back of thes stage, emerging from behind a dark grey scrim. Dangerous and ominous -- a clear intrusion on the world of women. One young woman dances and appears to be seeking to become the Chosen One. For some reason his is rejected by the elegant yet brutal tribal Leader. Marcus Shaffer was a revelation in this part. I've thought of him as a rather bland stage figure until fairly recently, though quite a good classical dancer. Over the past year or so, he's gained power and authority on stage. This characterization dominated the stage as the man dominates the tribe. At a certain point, he looks at the girl, turns his head to the older woman, and nods. This girl will be the Chosen One. This occurs at the back of the stage, and there's a great deal going on at the time. But you notice the simple gesture.

Tina Martin's part required swift development from simple girl, to someone terrified of being chosen, to a strange kind of acceptance of her fate, to rage, frenzy and then collapse at the cruelty of the tribe at the end, when they smear her body with blood and mud and drive her out of all communion with the group. Her collapse at the end -- with the brightly lighted bodies of the tribe frozen in the act of closing in on her -- lasted only a few seconds. But it's one of the most powerful images -- and conclusions -- of any ballet I've ever seen.

I have to admit that I much preferred this visuallyl simple version to my memory of the Joffrey's reconstruction of the Nijinsky version years ago. I hope that other companies pick this version up. And that Ballet Florida is able to make it the basis of a more ambitious touring policy than they've been able to undertake in recent years.


There was a short Ballet Talk discussion of the Wainrot Rite of Spring (started by Silvy, who saw it at the National Ballet of Uruguay) in 2003. You can access it at:


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