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Leigh Witchel

NYCB 1/26/01 (Allegro Brillante, Duo Concertant, Episodes, La Valse) a

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Allegro Brillante is one of the most proliferated of Balanchine’s ballets (the most, at least among regional companies, is probably Valse Fantaisie, which is the first ballet the ballet the Trust seems to give to an unfamiliar company, although that policy may no longer be so.) Like The Four Temperaments, perhaps the most proliferated of the masterpieces; it’s always interesting to see the home team do it. Allegro was done in 1956 at City Center on Maria Tallchief. It’s aptly named; there are brief adagio moments in it, but of a very heroic kind, or the pretzel variety as in Piano Concerto No. 2 or Concerto Barocco where the corps is woven and intertwined into the design. Nice stuff, but as much as that, what tends to remain with one after the ballet are moments like the ballerina’s unsupported turns (for their harrowing baldness) or the forays by first the women and then the men, lead by the ballerina or her cavalier, darting or lunging in all directions of the compass. It’s a powerhouse classical distillation for a powerhouse ballerina.

Allegro is not a ballet at NYCB that anyone traditionally “owns”, many people dance it, and it can suit several dancing styles. Wendy Whelan’s gifts as a dancer include her fearlessness and the extended reach of her limbs; that is what she brought to the choreography in an intrepid performance. Tallchief also had a lioness’ heart, but was a smaller, shorter-limbed woman; Whelan used her length and pliancy well, she leapt at Damian Woetzel who spun her around to a lunge and Whelan made it last even longer as it traveled down her back and out her arms.

Injury meant we got a switched-about cast, but since NYCB never lists changes to the cast of the corps de ballet in inserts, people unfamiliar with the company might not have known that five out of eight of the corps de ballet were not the dancers listed. For the record, the cast was Deanna McBrearty, Jennifer Tinsley, Kathleen Tracey and Pascale van Kipnis with Stuart Capps, Stephen Hanna, Arch Higgins and Alexander Ritter. The company has been casting Allegro with soloists or senior corps for as long as I’ve been watching; I consider it healthy institutionally. Over the past decade, there’s been a slow and small but laudable tendency to reclaim the position of soloist; the rank seemed to be a waystation to principal or a dumping ground. Soloists didn’t have a repertory of their own; they just did principal parts less frequently. No dancer flourishes without casting, giving the soloists the opportunity to be onstage several times weekly is good for the entire company. There is a potential soloist repertory in the company, but it tends to go to promising corps de ballet members, who then get promoted to soloist and get those roles taken away from them so they can be given to the next promising corps de ballet members, and so on. Roles like the variations in La Valse, or the couples in Allegro Brillante (or even the four demi-soloists in Theme and Variations, which at ABT is considered a soloist role) need not to be considered part of the soloist repertory, not an insult. The company hasn’t gotten there yet; several of the members of this cast are languishing at soloist and casting still reveals more about someone’s position with the company than any crystal ball. We know plainly who’s going somewhere and who isn’t.

Duo Concertant was given a solid performance by Yvonne Borree and Peter Boal. It’s the ballet I’ve seen Borree do her best work in; the exacting petit allegro of the three danced movements suits her very well and her physical similarity to the originator of the role (Kay Mazzo) gives the ballet an interesting continuity. I never saw Mazzo in the role, but I feel like I can extrapolate back to the effect she had with Borree. Made during the ’72 Stravinsky Festival on Mazzo and Peter Martins, Balanchine’s casting of the role is a bit of a conundrum to me. According to Merrill Ashley’s Dancing for Balanchine after Mazzo, the first person he considered for the role was Ashley but she did not do it due to a chronic injury. Mazzo was small and delicate, Ashley tall and athletic; the link between them must have been speed (they were the two casts of Square Dance as well after its revival). The first dancer I recall in the role was Kistler, whom I barely remember in the danced sections but broke my heart more than once in the final undanced section. Her conviction in this tiny dumb show about the eternal relation of a man and his muse convinced me it must have been a Farrell role even though I knew it could not have been. Farrell’s exile from the company at the time it was made seemed perversely indicative of the correctness of the assumption rather than its flaws. (Asking people who have watched the company longer, one person said he thought Farrell had rehearsed it at some point and perhaps done it once. If anyone recalls her dancing it, I’d be interested in hearing.) Still, even knowing that, I can’t shake my conception of the role as being the rightful claim of the muse-ballerinas, the Farrells and the Kistlers. It’s probably the sentimentalist in me, but I can’t help thinking that Mazzo, who was called on to take over much of Farrell’s repertory at her departure was then asked to tell the story of Balanchine’s loss.

The first movement of the ballet, the Cantilène, is not danced; the violinist and pianist are onstage, and the dancers stand quietly behind the piano, listening and watching. This is no rest for them, their job is to represent all of us as engaged audience members, Balanchine is honoring Stravinsky’s music at his festival and giving us lessons in appreciation and deportment. They are his chosen teachers. They look at one player, than the other, silent, respectful and receptive. And then they go where no audience member can; the man leads the woman to the other side of the stage to begin dancing the first Eclogue. Stravinsky’s music has a piston-like drive and sweep in its folk melodies; the dancers strike decorative and rapid-fire poses. One senses a panoramic change in the landscape like looking out the window from a train traversing Central Europe. The dancers return to listen to the second Eclogue; again the hidden difficulty is how to move from listening to dancing. I’m quite sure Balanchine would have wanted no motivation more complicated then “Now you go over here and you start” but I think the transition from stillness to movement demands as much reason as the transition from silence to words or words to song. There’s an impetus, even an upwards ascent in the Eclogue itself.

The Gigue is the most virtuoso section of the ballet, containing extremely fast, insouciant variations for both the man and the woman. Boal gave a particularly fine performance in his. Odd to see both Woetzel and him in the same evening, both giving very good performances, but leaving with the feeling that Woetzel is penned in by the repertory’s restrictions, while Boal is freed by its parameters. Also from watching the gigue one sees so much of the allegro vocabulary, the skids and feints, that Peter Martins incorporated into his own choreography. The Stravinsky Festival was the point of conversion for Martins. It shaped him and that shaped the company. Unlike Borree, Boal does not extrapolate back to the originator of the role. Martins towered over Mazzo, Boal approaches Borree gallantly, but as an equal.

I’ve talked about the final Dithyramb above; very little happens in it that won’t seem trite in words. The action occurs in small circles of light; only parts of the body are visible. The woman’s face is framed like a cameo; she blows a kiss. His hand appears, then hers, he kneels at her feet. They embrace, she leaves. He searches for her, lost, and the stage plunges to blackness. And then the pool of light with her face reappears and the process begins again, to end with him sinking to her feet. In the right hands, it’s unspeakably moving.

I’ve never been certain of how NYCB feels about Episodes; rather than a great work in its own right, it sometimes looks as if they dance it like Agon Jr., or a longer version of Monumentum/Movements. It’s revisions and recuttings since its premiere in tandem with a Martha Graham work have hurt it rather than helped it. Balanchine cut the solo for Paul Taylor to the Variations in 1961. He may no longer have had a suitable dancer, but the solo added a structural integrity. This is the first time I’ve seen the ballet since I watched Melissa Hayden coach the Ricercata at PNB last spring. Remembering the clarity and sharpness of the rhythms she taught made me feel the blurriness of the work as it looks. There’s no culprit; it’s looked that way for a while.

I was interested to see Miranda Weese in the Symphony. Though she does Sanguinic, one does not think of her as being someone who does the Black and White roles, the same with Jennie Somogyi in the Concerto.

Weese loops back to the originator of her role, Verdy, in her sophistication and wit. It’s not an easy role for Weese to make an impact in, even with her acute musicality. I wonder how Verdy looked in it; the Symphony seems caught in a limbo between elegance and oddity, entering neither realm. It may be a black and white ballet, but they wear huge rhinestone earrings for this one.

Somogyi also made a gave a good performance, but I would have trouble linking Somogyi to Allegra Kent, simply because I have trouble drawing a link from Kent to anybody. The more tapes I see of her, the more she confounds any effort at ballerina taxonomy. She’s an adagio dancer with a fabulous jump. She’s a legato dancer with a birdlike jerkiness. She’s smooth and she’s precipitous. She is absolutely unclassifiable. Kent has coached at NYCB, Verdy no longer does. Too many cooks can spoil any broth, but what I wouldn’t give for some of those people to be able to go back and give us a view of the original context of the work, not just for the Balanchine Foundation, but for the stage.

The more I see La Valse, the easier I find myself entering into its haunted landscape. Its gothic romanticism takes getting used to in an ironic age, but I’ve always been sympathetic to dramas of artifice and manners. Like Croce, I love the anxious rushing that begins the final part of the ballet, fleeting encounters, some unnerving (Croce’s description of the young man from the fifth variation’s meeting with the three enigmatic “fates” of the ballet is perfect. She describes their position, one arm covering the eyes, the other upraised as looking like “crosses in a graveyard”). Contrary to earlier comments on the board, I found Darci Kistler no less plausible as the doomed girl than Makarova as Juliet at the Met. I was also up in the fourth ring, people closer might have thought differently, as they may have about Makarova. Kistler delivered a good though slightly fuzzy performance, more atmosphere than accuracy. Someone encountering her for the first time might wonder what the fuss was; I recall my confusion catching the tail end of the careers of both Farrell and McBride. Kistler’s young woman was the decadent, not the innocent kind. Somehow she knew she was “playing with matches”, but once she tried on the necklace Death presents to her, she was hooked. There were sound effects. On backing into the Death figure (Jock Soto) Kistler let out brief, sudden but very audible cry. It was obviously a very real moment for her if very unexpected for the rest of us. I liked the contrast of casting between Jared Angle and Soto. Angle’s youth and innocence made it easy to imagine Kistler as jaded, and prey to someone mysterious as well as her own curiosity and restlessness.

I’ll always wish for a bit more scenic dressing than La Valse has, but I find myself having more and more affection for the Gothic Balanchine, because I worry that those will be the first of Balanchine’s work to vanish. They don’t fit into our neat conception of him as either the man who made Symphony in C or Agon. Classicist or modernist is not enough. He was influenced by German Expressionism profoundly. Ivesiana is in tatters, and probably has been since well before Balanchine’s death. Opus 34 is lost. I think Kammermusik No. 2 is not a lovable enough work to endure many generations. I can’t sit through Variations for a Door and a Sigh and probably would have felt that way at the premiere as well, but those are the ballets that round out the picture of Balanchine. It took about 60 years for the majority of Bournonville’s more serious works to be dropped from repertory because they weren’t popular. What Balanchine, if any, will people be watching in 100 years?

Short notes

Just to mention a few dances and dancers in the past weeks with notable performances. Maria Kowroski turned in a sexy Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. As it was for Farrell, it’s a great role to loosen her up. Hair down and in high heels, Kowroski’s gams are just perfect. Woetzel turns in more committedly happy performances of pop works like Slaughter than of some of the classics. I haven’t seen Organon yet, but I can understand the attraction of populists like Feld or Tharp to Woetzel. It’s a shame that Broadway has no current Jerry Robbins to utilize him. Proving again that there are no small parts, Stuart Capps made a big deal out of the cameo role of Morrosine. It’s a shame we haven’t seen much this season out of Saskia Beskow, another dancer with a gift for squeezing blood out of what might seem a turnip of a role.

Le Tombeau de Couperin got a lovely performance with a cast that primarily and rightfully showcased the senior corps. The patterning and splitting of the stage into right and left quadrilles was like watching a flower burst into bloom through a kaleidoscope. Jenifer Ringer is having what is certainly her season; her La Source was as lovely as her Spring in The Four Seasons. Her technique does not fail her, her lyric voice rings true. It’s a nice way to start off one’s tenure as a principal.

I was impressed by Abi Stafford in the second ballerina role in La Source; like others have mentioned it’s good casting for her. Interesting to see her and her CPYB classmate Ashley Bouder double cast in that role. They’re both very talented, but apples and oranges as dancers; about their only point of intersection is their training and their technique. Stafford is more delicate, Bouder more forceful, but their size means they will be double cast. Right now, the company has a surfeit of smaller technicians (at principal level, Weese, Tracey and Borree, now Somogyi. Van Kipnis is rising fast in the soloist ranks as is Ansanelli, and Stafford, Taylor and now Bouder are coming up in the corps.) Talent is talent and God bless it, but I hope there’s enough roles to go around and also that the company maintains “genetic diversity”. It’s a real shame for the company that a talented tall dancer like Riolama Lorenzo got away.

Seeing Weese thrown into Fall on short notice with Woetzel makes me again regret that partnership never took hold. She performed that night as well in Donizetti Variations with Boal but the ballet itself seemed to do less for her. Weese is like a sports car that performs best at high speeds. Watching her in Donizetti was like watching her held back in third gear; it was a pleasure to see her put the pedal to the floor in Fall. Millepied looks like he barely tolerates his Pan outfit in Fall, which makes him even funnier, and the combination of Weese, Woetzel and Millepied makes for a shamelessly virtuoso exhibition.

There are dancers who provoke controversy at NYCB, but I haven’t yet heard a carping word about Pascale van Kipnis. She’s been interesting in roles as diverse as first movement, Scotch Symphony, second theme in The Four Temperaments and the Verdy role in Liebeslieder Walzer. The combination of allegro technique and real dramatic intelligence is awfully attractive. From Liebeslieder, I think that she’s not the sort of dancer that sparkles in smaller soloist roles but wilts in the ballerina repertory. I’d like to see her get more lengthy principal roles and be groomed to become a principal dancer.


Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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Leigh. it is true that Farrell danced Duo. I saw her several times with Martins. The balance with the two of them was very different than what we saw with Martins and Mazzo. In that pairing, he seemed to dominate her rather as he did in the ppd of Sravinsky Violin Concerto. In fact, I always felt these two ballets were paired and in some way about the ideal relationship and the loss of that relationship. With Farrell and Martins, it was a dance of equals and the end of the ballet was unbearably moving.

Back when Martins used to cast Nilas and Bouree, I felt he was trying to recreate his partnership with Mazzo. But it never worked for me because Nilas always seemed too large for Bouree, making her look like dwarf-like.

Boal and Bouree seem to echo the more equal pairing of Farrell and Martins.

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Because of Sonora's discussion on "Recent Performances" I thought I'd bump this thread back into view.

[ 04-11-2001: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]

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