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MCB Program III

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(Sunday matinee 13th March) Coming in late - guess who forgot to set his watch forward? - I had to watch Scotch from Row MM on the center aisle, from where Jennifer Lauren looked very good, large and vivid, direct, less "grand" than Kronenberg*, and maybe a little simpler in other ways, but well animated. Her partner, Renan Cerdeiro was everything she needed, and more: What the role needed, too. (No criticism of the others we've seen here, but I believe he is their junior by some years.) And Nicole Stalker repeated Kilt Girl, without quite energizing it like Arja had.

By Promethean, I was down in Row Q, where I could concentrate on Catoya (and Trividic, imposing figure that he is in this) and see everyone else simultaneously. This is the way I like this piece, as more or less abstracted from the music, with situational or character references from time to time.

Without many cast changes, there were still some nice surprises in Nine Sinatra Songs, especially Albertson, who with Michael Sean Breeden again, seemed to have brought "Something Stupid" more fully to life. She had already nailed the timing, essential if action humor is going to be funny. And Kronenberg and Guerra made "One for My Baby" if anything more flowing and lyrical and just as nuts as before, and the audience, gray nation that most of this one is, had a very good time with it. As they did with "My Way," which music is their anthem, as Croce pointed out, following Sinatra's introduction to the first recording of it we hear.

And it was good to see Jeannette Delgado heating up "That's Life" with Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, specially since I believe she's been sidelined recently, though I do miss the risky original version of this woman rushing at her partner across the front of the stage to jump at him, while he puts on his jacket - here as elsewhere it's been tamed. (Not that I want Jeanette D. sidelined again; anyway, I've never heard of anyone missing the catch, so to speak. Dancers can do anything, can't they?)

*Re-reading this next day, I would like to emphasize that Kronenberg's rendition was the richest experience for me of the three dancers I saw, especially as approached without the distraction of whether the dancer before me was more or less "Sylph-like" - talk about chasing will-o-the-wisps, there's irony for you! - although of course I would liked to have had a better look at Lauren's performance.

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Thanks, Jack, for doing such a superb job from Fort Lauderdale. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to respond.

First of all, I really loved the balance of works in tihs program. During his pre-performance talks recently, Edward Villella has been stressing the theme of stylistic variety and praising his dancers for their ability to perform in a variety of dance styles. One can quibble about this or that detail -- or about the essential look and feel of MCB's approach to the Taylor and even the Tharp -- but Program III showcased each of the three works very nicely.

When the weekend ended I found myself feeling slightly exhausted, emotionally satisfied and, in a way I still do not understand, enriched.

Scottish Symphony.

I've seen this on and off since the 60's but it has never ranked with my favorite Balanchine works. This time around, I was especially impressed by the dancing of the corps, and with the the intricate, delicately detailed choreography Balanchine has made for them, especially in the last movement.

MCB certainly seems to have fielded a lot of Scotch Girls. I did not see Arja, though I can imagine this role as being a good fit. I've always thought of the Scotch Girl as having a slightly hoydenish, devil-may-care quality, combined with great technical precision and speed. None of the dancers I saw had this difficult combination. For speed and clarity of technique, I liked Zoe Zien best. For sauciness and character, Ashley Knox. For charm, Sara Esty. Of the male demi-soloists, Michael Sean Breeden displayed a can-do enthusiasm, combined with beautiful ballon and careful attention his attention to his partners, that was especially appealing.

What about the leads? I've never experienced this as a particularly mysterious or "Romantic" ballet. Jack seems right when he says that there appear to be different "planes of existence" for the "Sylph" role. In a less charitable mood, I might call this: "poorly executed story-telling." Somehow, all these elements have never come together for me, though my dim memories of Allegra Kent suggest that she probably came close.

I saw Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra three times and Mary Carmen Catoya/ Renato Penteado once. All four seemed to ignore the sylphide aspects in the plot. Nor were they much troubled by the on-and-off menacing behavior of the male corps. This Scotch Sympony was an excercise in dancing, not coherent story-telling.

There are times, however, the power of dancing itself can make up for all sorts of narrative deficiencies For me, it happened on the last performance of the weekend: the Sunday matinee. Kronenberg came to life -- which means that the Kronenberg/Guerra partnership came to life -- as did not happen (for me at least) in their other performances. I can still visualize a magical series of parallel jumps in which Kronenberg and Guerra were subtly off beat with the orchestra but completely in sync with each other. For me, the magic that many find in this partnership, but which often eludes me, suddenly came to life.

MCB's production is beautifully costumed but is performed in front of a crudely painted flat (castle, lakes, etc.) that seems borrowed by a high-school production of Brigadoon.

Promethean Fire.

This is a great dance work. Or so it seems to me. I watched the video of the original Paul Taylor cast several times before the MCB weekend. We've already talked about the weightedness, the relationship to the floor, that makes this work a challenge for a ballet company. Promethean Fire is full of bent over runs; fast, low one-footed skips; forceful straight-arm gestures; dramatic collapses to the floor; low grands jetes increasing in height as the dancer escapes from the stage. The Taylor Company performs this with a remarkable uniformity of style. They are powerful, even in collapse. They maintain gravitas and never descend into melodrama. MCB's dancers convey the power and weightiness of the piece very well, but come across as more vulnerable -- more as individuals than as members of a tribe. This may actually add to the poignancy of the piece. Anyway, I loved them.

Yann Trividic was extraordinary in the lead male role. His lean torso, long arms, flying hair, intensity, and sense of desperation will stay in my visual memory of a long time. He dominaates the stage. Among the other men, everyone did most things right. One young dancer, Chase Swatosh, seemed closest to the Taylor style. While some around him seemed to skim the ground while running -- or floated upwards as they skipped -- Swatosh seemed to stay close to the ground, even when jumping rather high. There is a point in the ballet when the dancers collapse one by one onto a mound of bodies. One at a time, each dancer stretches a single arm upwards as he or she falls. Later each crawls off stage surrending it to the two lead dancers. Swatosh's straining arm, his sudden fall, and his frantic, ground-hugging crawl to the wings, mesmerised me.

I saw Patricia Albertson and Catoya.in the lead women's part. Both worked smoothly with Trividic in the wonderful long pas de deux, though they lacked the strength and presence of Lisa Viola in the original Taylor performances. MCB is full of wonderful women dancers, but none in the Viola mold. In this work, at least, all the women tended to blend into the ensemble. This was not the case with Taylor's own dancers..

P.S.: MCB is the first outside company licensed to dance this piece. (Villella mentioned that he and Robert Gottlieb had a long personal association with Taylor, going back to the 50s.)

Nine Sinatra Songs.

This is such an inventive piece, and so clever about creating "characters" for each couple. So why do I find it so forgettable? Jack wrote that it began "to wear on me" by the fourth viewing. Me too. Highlights for me included:

-- Sara Esty and Renan Cedeiro in the opener: Softly As I Leave You. (Cerdeiro has the makings of an elegant hoofer, in the Jeremy Cox manner. It's nice to see Esty in a sexy, elegant role.)

-- The magnetism of Carrie Manning and Yann Trividic in Strangers in the Night. The choreography here has some awkward, arbitrary lifts, meant to call attention to themselves. The dancers handled these lifts so smoothly that you almost didn't notice how hard Tharp was trying to impress us..

-- Tricia Albertson and Michael Sean Breeden, deligihtful in the silly, slightly slapstick Something Stupid.

-- Jeanette Delgado (in a sexy red dress) back on stage after a long recovery from injury , dancing with Isanusi Garcia-Rodriquez. . :flowers: This is a tumultuous relationship, to put it mildly. Delgado throws herself into passionately, it just as she throws herself into every role. Great dancing. Welcome back !!!!

-- The Highlight of Highlights -- The Finale, set to My Way. Tharp is strongest, It think, in filling the stage with so many couples. The couples dance only by themselves, never interacting with the other couples. But the stage picture suddenly becomes brilliantly, magically complex. I can still see those long, gorgeous traveling lifts, A thrilling conclusion to an on-and-off ballet.

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I agree about the costumes but didn't go for the new backdrop myself, and when Villella, in his pre-performance remarks, referred to the Scottish Highlands as the setting for Scotch Symphony, I thought he mustn't have had that in mind reviewing designs for the backdrop, because this whole setting - the side drops also have a stone block design, very competently and realistically executed I'd say - is indoors, looking out on a wing of the castle or something, which actually blocks our view of the landscape. All in all then, just a tad strange, to my taste.

(Another new Scotch backdrop I saw at NYCB in June, credited to Karin von Aroldingen, no less, an ivory and beige abstraction, or an evocation of the bleakness of the Scottish Highlands, or both, contributed to dwarfing the dancers, whose presence was also weakened by my distant seat, in row N, of the Koch theater at Lincoln Center, a good distance before the recent remodeling.)

Years ago, there was a woodsy, "outdoor" backdrop which seemed to me to suit the ballet well.

As to bad story-telling, I think that's perceptive, bart, but you don't go far enough: I don't think there is a story in Scotch to tell, just evocations of situations; characters, even, but no story. Who are they? Who are these guards? Why do they interfere, and protect her, and then hand her over? Why don't we see the first-movement girl again?

In "Balanchine's Complete Stories," he merely outlines the three movements. We see wisps of narrative, no more than that. References to La Sylphide, too, or to the second Act of Giselle for that matter, for those who recognize them, or a different kind of delight for those who don't but can "read" the evocations of her ephemerality. For me, it's all authentic and typical Balanchine. When people asked him, Why did you do this, or Who is that, he's said sometimes to have replied, What did you see? An ambiguous answer, meaning, I'm curious what you think? or, It's up to you?

I dug up some notes on the Tharp ballet the program ended with - I find it useful remembering the performances, though it might have been better to have had this handy beforehand instead. Maybe they'll serve better linked to next time:

Some notes for Nine Sinatra Songs - from twylatharp.org and, then, from Tharp's Sinatra, by Arlene Croce, in The New Yorker for February 13, 1984.

1. Softly as I Leave You

based on the theme of infatuation

exhibition-dance heroics

2. Strangers in the Night

"bastardized tango"

militant tango by a serious, straight-backed team, parody

3. One for My Baby

a "close" couple in late night, knowing rapport

labyrinthine acrobatic choreography - a tortuous series of slithers, blind leaps,

upsy-daisy lifts, and ass-over-heels floor work

4. My Way - previous 3 couples

5. Something Stupid

lends tart, comic relief

the essence of dopey, Junior Prom ecstasy

6. All the Way

bathed in unhurried, unshowy glamour

7. Forget Domani

couldn't be showier

dance manuals and cruise brochures; the essence of dopey middle-class escapism

8. That's Life

the capstone couple engrossed in a battle of wits and maneuvers; they play it hot,

hard, and furious

9. My Way - all 7 couples

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Why don't we see the first-movement girl again?

Probably because, as Maria Tallchief says in her autobiography, Balanchine spent a lot of time

and energy on the first movement solo for Patricia Wilde; Tallchief says that she herself

jokingly said, 'George, I thought this was supposed to be a ballet for ME'-- but that she

thinks he took this comment seriously, because he made no more choreography at all for Wilde

in this ballet after that.

Of such things is art made--like the girl who fell at Serenade rehearsal,

and the Union 802 strike which eighty-sixed the ballet Balanchine wanted to do

with Suzanne Farrell as Salome.

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Jack, thanks for the Sinatra Songs crib sheet. It would have helped my memory problems with this work..

jsmu. Thanks for that information on the development of Scotch Symphony. This does help explain why I have always felt that there is a diffuse, even cobbled-together aspect to the piece. As though Balanchine's attention wandered during its creation.

Thanks also for the interesting story about the aborted Balanchine version of the Salome story. Why do I have the feeling that this piece, had it actually been created and performed, would not have been among my Balanchine favorites. With Farrell or without her. :innocent:

Do we know anything about the music he was hoping to use? (Not Strauss, I hope.)

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I did see once - once was enough - a brief solo to Strauss's "Dance of the Seven Veils." Was that the music you dreaded, bart? (I'll let you guess the details, for now.)

But Taper's biography has something on Balanchine's unrealized project:

... One ballet he was keen to make at one time was Salome, with Suzanne Farrell in the title role. He consulted Stravinsky as to suitable music and settled on Alban Berg's "Lulu Suite." At the time, Stravinsky and Robert Craft jested wickedly about Balanchine's motives in regard to his choice of subject. They surmised, wrote Craft in his diary, that his incentive was the awareness that a modern-day Salome would retain none of her veils. That project died when Farrell married in 1969 and left the company. Balanchine revived it in 1977, after her return. A set was designed and actually built for Salome, but the project once more had to be shelved[,] because of budget problems. After that season, what with Balanchine's declining health and other commitments, it was never again considered.

By and large, those projects that failed went unmourned by him. "If only..." had never been a part of his vocabulary. ...

(I've quoted Taper at a little more length than the topic requires because of the resonance that last bit has for me. Does everyone know Farrell's last words in the documentary on her, Elusive Muse? "There are no if-onlys in my life.")

Anyway, I saw that little Strauss Salome because I was in the theater for something else. Bejart's "Ballets of the XXe Century" or something was in New York, and the opener was this piece, with Patrick Dupond in a black kilt or something doing air turns; at the end, someone brought just out of the right wing a silver platter with John's head on it. The thing I was there for was Le Sacre du Printemps, having read Balanchine's praise of it, and I was not disappointed.

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