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Kennedy Center Season, October 8-12, 2008

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Pointe1432, thanks! Part of the value of posting here is that people's responses help me to write better.

My phrases differ in degree: I'm thinking of a range from "over-etched, similar to a demonstration", let's say, to "smooth and featureless, lacking details", so "sharp and crisp" is in between these two extremes, closer to the "overetched" end of the scale, and "clean and clear" is in between too, but closer to the "smooth and featureless" end of the scale. Does this help?

Struggling to analyze what I see as I do this way, I'm all the more taken by the professional writers like Alastair Macaulay or or own Alexandra Tomalonis, who catch more than I do, in fewer words. Less is more. I think a great value of ballet talk, whether in a theatre foyer or on line, is to help us to engage more fully with our experience of ballet.

For example, Natalia also saw a difference in quality of movement between Farrell's dancers and Ballet Austin; she disagrees with me about which is better, but as we are all different and we care about the same thing, that's bound to happen. Along the way, I'm reassured that the difference I saw really was there.

I'm trying to sum up my thoughts about the run, but in the meantime I can say something about seating in the renovated Eisenhower theatre in line with emilienne's remarks: A couple of my friends had bought tickets for the third row in the Box tier only to discover when they were seated that they couldn't see the stage because the heads of the people in the rows in front of them blocked their view. The floor of the boxes is not raked. They were reseated in the center Orchestra around row M and saw just fine from there. (My own previous experience there was that that row is a bit low, but that may have ben changed.)

And I found that I could be blocked in center Orchestra row Q because many people sat in row P in chairs whose seats were about four or five inches higher than the few theatre seats in that row (two at each end, next to the aisles). Row P is directly accessible from the cross-aisle and has few permanent seats in the center section, apparently to accommodate people in wheel chairs; this seems to me a laudable effort which has suffered slightly in how it was carried out. Maybe lower chairs will be provided.

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Having danced just enough pas de deux to really appreciate the challenge, I have to say that I enjoyed the “Balanchine Couples” immensely. While I was considering writing a review, Maculay’s review of the 14th actually stole 95% of my own thoughts, and much better written! All in all, I was impressed with the dancers since the production featured, if my count is correct, 15 dancers in the spotlight, from a company certainly not normally thought of for its depth. I also felt it was a much more personal production than what we are familiar seeing, not only because of the nature of being solely pas de deux, but also the connection Ms. Farrell lent to them and conveyed in her personal remarks.

Thanks also to all here for the feedback on seating at the renovated Eisenhower. With regard to my experience, I was dead center Row L. Like Emilienne, I was somewhat concerned when I got them but they turned out great, particularly so for the more intimate “Couples.” The rake there made for a surprisingly good sightline. While even that close, eye level was several feet above stage level. Having said that, for a production with more dancers on stage, I think I would still prefer seats with a higher perspective.

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Thanks Jack Reed, that did help a bit. I initially read it and said "huh?", so I appreciate you explanation. Figuring that of course there is a difference in styles between the SFB dancers and the BA dancers, I was wondering especially what the "regulars" saw.

I think it is such an interesting concept to partner two companies together, and what a wonderful networking opportunity for both groups.

Next week the SFB will be in Austin to perform Episodes on Ballet Austin's program. I wonder what the Austin audience will think of the pair up.


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I apologise for the lateness of my report but the commitments of an academic-in-training is never done. Also food poisoning killed whatever was left of me for three days and that is never fun. I went to both programs on Sunday 12 October, the matinee of Liebeslieder Walzer/Ragtime/Episodes, and the night time curated performance of Balanchine's pas de deux. I don't have very much to say about the second program, so I've combined impressions from both into one post.

For those people looking for seating information, I've posted about it in this thread a few messages back. (http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=27990&view=findpost&p=234758)

Liebeslieder Walzer/Ragtime/Episodes

Sunday 12 October 2008 2:30 PM

Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

Row C 23 (Left Balcony, four seats from the left end)

All three pieces on the afternoon program were new to me. I've seen Liebeslieder Walzer on video (including Karin von Aroldingen coaching pieces of it on Balanchine Lives!) but never from a stationary perspective. From a first outing perspective I think I would have preferred to see no other company. While the dancers seemed tentative at first they settled into the dances soon enough, especially in the pointe section. There were some lovely movements - the couple who danced the 'pushing' duet in a later segment lost themselves to the delirium of the dance. The woman spun away, reaching for something out of the confines of this particular ballroom. The man grabbed her hand at the last moment as if anchoring her to reality, it looked as if he reminded himself as well. All in all, the steps and the moods were there, but aside from flashes of insight the dancers were not yet comfortable enough to delineate distinct personalities among them. With Liebeslieder I wonder whether the dancers are distinct couples trying out different moods and fates while they associate, or whether they are anonymous projections of relationships, viewed at a remove. With the SFB I currently lean toward the latter. Part of it, I think, is simply dancers needing more time with this particular ballet. They do not yet look comfortable, as if waltzing was not yet firmly ingrained in their bodies.

All of that being said, here are my caveats, as have been mentioned by several posters and reviews already. It may have been a function of where I sat, but the male singers were overpowered by the women, especially at first. They sorted themselves out and performed admirably, but it was to the audience. The acoustics may be off but I wanted them to remain within that diegetic space, to preserve the illusion of unity between music and dance. Second, Jack's right about the chandelier - the sparkliness was even more distracting and provided a very clear 'ceiling' to the dance during the second part. I would rather not have souls fly up and hit themselves on a million and one shards of waterford crystal. Third, someone (was it you Jack?) mentioned the lighting change - the distinct impression of lights fading into the starry night in second section instead of an abrupt dimming of lights. It was so subtly done at first that I thought it was my eyesight. I think I really would have preferred an abrupt dimming to clearly cue the difference in moods.

But these are all staging caveats, the dancers danced beautifully. I would love to see what they can do in a year's time, or perhaps even five. It would be a lovely ballet to grow into.

The dance archeologist in me wonders what the first concert version of Ragtime looks like (with Diana Adams). This version with its demi-caratère gestures and the loose-limbed choreography can only connect in my mind to Farrell and her little eccentricities. Elizabeth Holowchuk did admirably, but she filled the Farrell mold - is it possible for her to exceed it? Actually the first thought I had when they began dancing was, "My God, it's Rubies with Suzanne Farrell!" But it wasn't, not quite, she was perhaps a less cynical jazz baby, before she had acquired quite the verve and edge of Rubies.

I went into Episodes completely cold, as I had seen only a recording of Kent in Episodes from the RM Productions. I must confess that I had to stifle giggling all through it. There were wickedly funny quotes from Agon (splits from the pas de deux, non linear canon work), what seemed to be the Rite of Spring (distorted plie work), and even tendu éffacés and écartés from what looked to be Theme and Variation in the Ricercata. The dancers, from both the SFB and Ballet Austin, had terrific energy and commitment in the performance of it, and the SFB dancers looked visibly more comfortable in this than in Liebeslieder. I did notice that the SFB dancers had sharper, more clearly delineated movements than those from Ballet Austin. The difference between whips and knives, perhaps?

Finally, I will add that the corp work in the Ricercata, both in canon and also in its echoing of the principals, reminded me strangely of Fokine's logic in his corp work in Les Sylphides. The orchestration in the 'style of Bach' did nothing to dissuade me of that impression.

Sunday 12 October 2008 8 PM

'The Balanchine Couple'

Orchestra Row S 123 (Center Orchestra on the Left Aisle)

I thought that this would be a good program to take a ballet neophyte to - and while Farrell's narration was great - the pas de deuxs were too disconnected from each other to make for good continuous watching. Watching Balanchine's work in excerpt always reminds me of how interlocked his choreography was - how do you begin to understand Apollo and Terpischore when there is no context of what came before or after?

As I have nothing substantive to say about, this portion is broken up into random impressions:

Apollo: See above for my complaint about context. Apollon Musagète is my favorite Balanchine ballet for its simplicity of both dance and orchestration. I'd love to see what sort of an Apollo Runqiao Du is in a complete ballet. After seeing him in Liebeslieder and this I have in mind him as a Martins type - he of the quiet controlled majesty. All right, perhaps Martin's majesty was a bit less controlled. :flowers:

La Sonnambula: I've only seen the recording of Baryshnikov and Ferri in this, so I don't have a fair comparison of it. Kirk Henning was a suitably yearning poet, perhaps too curious or attracted for his own good. Magnicaballi was a beautiful Sleepwalker - her controlled dancing created a lovely and menacing contrast with the lush and (I thought) rather insipid orchestration.

The Unanswered Question: Hands down, my favorite pas de deux de six of the evening. I love Ives, and Holowchuk's disquieting performance was wonderful. There looked to be a few technical difficulties when the men moved her about, but it didn't break the atmosphere. Cook's dancing read very clearly on the stage against the dim lighting, but its sharpness also lent it a bit too much theatricality.

La Valse: I told Jack that Maurice Ravel is one of my favorite composers. I love Dear Maurice precisely for his sense of orchestration - that one or two acidic notes in a lush chord that subtly throws my harmonic universe out of alignment. Death's appearance was sudden and dramatic (this being the revised version from the 70s), but I am of the opinion that if danced with suitable aplomb then his presence is not needed until the final scene in the ball room, the menace should have been telegraphed alone by the tension inherent in both the music and dancing. That said, I have nothing substantial to say, except that I'd love to see a full La Valse from SFB.

(I've just realized that I had more to say than previously envisioned. Whoops.)

Agon: I asked Jack if Agon was a contest between the dancers and the music, or whether it was a contest _between_ the dancers. He said Yes. In my limited experience I've never gotten the sense of the second part from a performance. It could be dancer proficiency or any number of things, but this performance put some of that menace, that sense of competition between the man and the woman, back in. Is he guiding her or is she being presented with a challenge that she cannot win? Moreover, did she provoke him to it?

Meditation: ... After the last few pas de deux, Meditation felt surprisingly conventional. It was quite a shock, really.

Pas de deux mauresque: Not the greatest of works, but it was a great display of range. It was character dancing à la Balanchine and a charmingly sinuous one, In a Manner Other than Coffee.

Diamonds Pas de deux: Seeing this done in a Swan Lake esque classical tutu (instead of a powderpuff) just reminds me all the more powerfully that Diamonds is _not_ Swan Lake. Magnicaballi and Mladenov gave a good performance but she was slightly off her legs (tired perhaps?). It wasn't as majestic nor as mystically ecstatic as it could have been. I think I'd love to see Magnicaballi in Emeralds. Mladenov slipped off the radar (sorry!) as I spent most of it trying to figure out what she was doing with the role.

Stars and Stripes: Pickard and Cook gave a spirited performance of the pas de deux (but alas, no full company finale!). They've both got the idea of it, but I don't think that either of them quite had the legs for this sort of dancing. Pickard at the end especially looked tired (perhaps concerned?) through the split jumps. Both of them played it straight. While the pas can be too campy, I remember seeing a recording of Hayden in her delight and perhaps even amusement at the things that her legs were doing (look at them go!). Of course, in this I could be a little biased, as my own private nickname for Liberty Bell is Tweety Bird.

The Balanchine Couple is a lovely program, but it simply whets the appetite for _more_, for complete renditions of each of these ballets from the company. At moments I did question Farrell's casting, especially in the Stars and Stripes, but for the majority of it her choices worked well and gave _distinct_ performances in the pas. It is this very distinctness that I would like to see more of in Liebeslieder.

A lovely day of visual overload and then it was back to academia for emi. i look forward to seeing them again in fifteen months or so.

I may have more to say in the future but I think for now this is it.


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Wow, emiliennne! Good things are worth waiting for. Thanks. I'll comment on a few things you said because they reminded me of my own reactions.

I too have only seen Liebeslieder on video, but I agree with everyone that the personalities weren't fully delineated. Yet something from Alastair MacCauley's review of this program sticks with me: "Perhaps the tragic and transcendent aspects of “Liebeslieder” — its dramatic weight — can emerge only where dancers have achieved the authority of being familiar year-round to their audience?" I take him to mean that the full dramatic weight of the ballet can only be felt when the dancers are well-known, and really, that's a keen but common sense observation: the more experience we have with particular people, the more we understand them in a particular situation. Having seen the Farrell and most of the dancers in this staging year after year, and remembering them, even during my two viewings of this ballet, in other much different settings -- Erin Mahoney-Du in Clarinade especially, and Matthew Presscott, at an age where he looks so much more mature every year and even more so with his relatively tamed hair here -- I found these performance plenty rich. I saw characters, not projections. I take the point that the singers weren't fully integrated into the setting, but, more than that, what dimmed the illusion for me was the simplified set. I would have preferred a more detailed room, like the ones in the recorded and broadcast NYCB performances.

As for Ragtime, although this second version as reconstructed was made on Farrell, I thought of her only in retrospect, and that'a a tribute to Holowchuk. I guess she was nervous in Pithoprakta in New York, but I've never seen her look that way in D.C., and she kept me laughing with delight all the way through this ballet. But even on second viewing, and from close up, the choreography was less interesting than on first viewing from the back of the orchestra. It was fun to see the orchestra onstage, and to see Ron Matson get into the spirit of things and shimmy a bit as he conducted.

I agree that the pas de deuxs lose too much by themselves to make The Balanchine Couple a fully satisfying program, but of course when it's Balanchine, one can't complain.

I think Runqiao Du has the temperament for, as you say, a quietly majestic Apollo, and after seeing him do yeoman work in ballet after ballet, I'd love to see him get a shot at the full role. Here, I didn't think he had much of a chance.

In her review in danceviewtimes Alexandra praised Kirk Henning as the Poet in La Somnabula, but I didn't care for his performance. Perhaps I was too close, or perhaps I couldn't get past the memories of the wonderfully ardent Jason Redick in 2003 with this company, but Henning struck me as less enthralled than puzzled, and when he pushed the Sleepwalker he seemed downright rough, almost as if he was toying with her. I didn't see a sympathetic poet, I saw a frat boy.

The Unanswered Question was my favorite piece in this program as well, and Holowchuk is suitably remote for it. Oh, to have seen Kent! I wish Farrell would stage the whole ballet sometime.

I saw Erin Mahoney-Du and not the more commented on and praised Rockefeller in Agon, but I felt the same competition with an edge of menace you mention, and that made this one of the best Agon pas de deux's I can remember, far more dramatic than the relatively NYCB bland version with Whelan and Evans this March.

Meditation with Magnicaballi just went by me this time. She is well cast for this, if not in the first bloom of youth, and if it had been programmed first (not that it should have been dramatically) I would have been better able to concentrate, but Farell has brought this at least 3 times now, and I've probably seen a half a dozen performances, and apart from its historical background, I find it all too swooney. Boal made it memorable, but I think it would take star casting to make me care again.

Thanks to everyone for their reviews. I enjoyed them all.

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