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Jack Reed

October 21-23, 2016, Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center; Danses Concertantes, Gounod, Stars

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October 21 at 8 pm

 

It turned out to be a fairly brilliant opening evening:

 

Danses Concertantes is an attractive and lively program opener, especially in these close approximations to Eugene Berman’s 1944 originals by Holly Hynes, even if not all - or maybe any - of the choreography - dates from then; Alastair Macaulay has drawn attention to this misleading attribution in the program, which omits mention of the 1972 revision.   A little odd for a troupe so concerned to revive seldom-seen Balanchine ballets to leave us thinking this one is the original.  

 

That said, never mind, there’s a lot of fun right away, in the March, where the fourteen dancers introduce themselves, in four trios and the principal pair, parading across downstage in front of a good reproduction of Berman’s original front drop.  (I have another tiny quibble here:  Look at the Millennium Stage Preview video, and see if you don’t think Ian Grosh’s “big hair” doesn’t add to the humor of the Red pas de trois.  I missed that last night!  He’s had a haircut!*  Oh well.)  

 

But the fun and play of these groups - the two girls who disdain their boy and prance off without him, and his dismissive gesture after them, for example, the pas de deux girl who turns and turns and - if her boy didn’t grab her, she’d have continued right past him into the wing; and so on, never lets up in this part.  

 

This pair - in yellow - were  Valerie Tellmann-Henning and Kirk Henning, tonight , and I only thought they did a bit much with their faces, though she is so gorgeous anyway it looks good on her.  (The matinees are cast with Natalia Magnicaballi and - we hope - Stephano Candreva, who was subbed in the third ballet tonight.)

 

It’s not all fun and games, even if it never becomes very weighty either; Stravinsky provides variety, witty amusement, but little real substance, and we see what we hear.

 

Gounod Symphony, or three-fourths of it, was another matter entirely:  Costumed by Holly Hynes almost entirely in black and white - the principal pair more richly in warmer tones -  the three movements (without the Minuetto)  “work” in the theater sense - two fast and lively movements nicely frame one in moderate tempo, so nothing looks like it’s missing;  but what’s present in Gounod is the point of the whole show here:  At NYU on September 11, Farrell called attention at one point to an unusual step, but she could have done it over and over and over, because this unusual piece, which to my ear reveals Gounod’s love of Beethoven and Haydn, German symphonists - a surprise to me, from this opera composer who worked in his own voice most of the time - appears to have brought forth from Balanchine a world of strikingly original movement.  Appears, because as always with Mr. B., you see what you hear.  

 

Many of us couldn’t understand, later, why haven’t we seen this ballet more?  We’re grateful, Suzanne Farrell, thank you, thank you! 

 

Stars and Stripes received a fine performance, distinguished by Allyne Noelle and Thomas Garrett in the pas de deux and by the rich, original Karinska costumes, not the meager, simplified, blue and white colors you can find examples of on the Kennedy-Center web site.

 

*Not to exaggerate the importance of this, but Saturday afternoon, I noticed all the Concertantes boys wear close-fitting black caps trimmed in the color of their costume.  I still like my idea about Grosh's big hair, but I like Berman's costume idea even better.  

Edited by Jack Reed

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I hope to have some more to say, having now seen the run - of just four performances - but I don't want to delay correcting the mistaken caption under the picture in Sarah Kaufman's review in the Washington Post.  That's not Stars and Stripes; that's a picture of Gounod Symphony, for heaven's sake, and the principal couple aren't Allyne Noelle and Thomas Garrett but Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook!  (Somebody at the Washington Post incorrectly identified the ballets, and consequently the casting too.)  

Edited by Jack Reed

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I unexpectedly was able to see this program the first night--also my first time seeing Farrell's company in many years. They lived up to their reputation--and more. I'm not interested in using Farrell's Balanchine as a stick with which to beat Martins or NYCB, but without a doubt (and especially in the final two ballets on the program) her dancers showed a shared quality on stage that entirely belies their pick up status--although the latter may partly account for their evident joy at being on stage--and that brings out qualities in Balanchine that are not always on offer at NYCB. (And I am definitely a present-day NYCB admirer and fan.)

 

At the performance I saw I was struck by many qualities including the "freshness" Vipa mentioned on another thread--but I would say, remembering Farrell herself, the dancers look spontaneous even when dancing in the most splendid unison; that is, they look alert, immediate in their response to the music and to each other. They dance playfully and they dance FAST with the speed, flow, and musicality of the movement taking precedence over precise elegance of line or form or...I would say, rather, creating entirely new lines and forms, though always lines and forms that move. And they dance with every inch of their bodies - the eyes are dancing, the fingers are dancing. The whole stage is alive.

 

Now Farrell is part of a Balanchine ballerina diaspora, part of me wished as I saw the company Friday night, somewhat as the Washington Post reviewer did in her review, that Farrell had more consistently top-tier, world-class dancers to work with--the Post mentioned POB--but  part of me isn't so sure she would get the same results from artists more ensconced in their own traditions as is often the case with an older institution like POB.

 

I saw Gounod Symphony in an earlier revival and remembered liking it, but didn't remember much about it other than one diagonal formed by the ensemble. I really loved it this time. My eye did have to adjust to the black and white palette and the rather modern looking little white dresses with black trim and black dresses with white trim the women were wearing. (The ballerina was in a gold-toned tunic.) But the ballet itself this go round I loved. I think it's a masterpiece and companies should be lining up to dance it. In her notes to the ballet Farrell refers to the unusual qualities of the choreography for the corps de ballet--she says it's not like anything else in Balanchine and I think she is right. There is an intricacy and richness of choreography for the corps that is wonderfully distinct and with Farrell's guidance the corps here dances like a living organism...at times watching them was like watching a plant bloom in time lapse video. 

 

Anyone who has seen much (or even a little) Balanchine has seen him play with dancers or small groups of dancers walking in daisy chains, and gliding under each others' arms or, perhaps, one dancer holding another's hand and guiding him/her--or even two or three other dancers--under yet another's arm and the like...Well, in Gounod Symphony the corps de ballet builds that effect into a kind of shared delirium and brought off with such speed and playfulness in this performance that you could feel the audience respond with a kind of silent happy laughter. (I don't think I imagined that.) In the ballerina role Natalia Magnicabelli danced with tremendous poise--though I do wish I could have seen her second performance--in a role that poses multiple challenges including one sequence with repeated (and repeated) supported alternating double pirouettes en dehors/en dedans broken up after each alternating set with a developpé also each time in a different direction or position, and the entire sequence performed as one single silken skein of movement. And fast. I've seen things like it in Balanchine, but not exactly. Really wonderful. 


Among fans I've heard Gounod Symphony lightly dismissed and have never heard its loss from regular repertory much regretted. But if Farrell's company dances it again next year, then I would urge all serious Balanchine enthusiasts to try to see it if they can. I think the mistake might be to think of it as, say, "not Symphony in C" -- Gounod Symphony is its own world and well worth a visit.

Edited by Drew

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Gounod is a masterpiece.  I am baffled as to why I have sat through so much choreographic drivel from some companies when this exists.  Hopefully Gounod will be coached by Farrell in the future at companies like PA, WB, SF, Mariinsky, Bolshoi.  It needs the highest caliber principals of a certain type  which Farrell gave us in  Noelle/Garrett [also Stars 4rth]. 

 

The pas de deux and intricate patterns of the corps are brilliant.  The corps has the fifties style dresses - they do move like flowers in the wind.  We were thinking clouds with black lines [disconcerting visually] so would have preferred trim [if any] on top only in pale gold/sage.  It was like SL where the principals are so riveting one doesn't notice the corps or big swans except for the beauty of the wholistic movement.

 

Farrell's coaching of Gounod and Stars and Stripes was brilliant.  Under Farrell the phrasing of Garrett's entrance [diagonal flat developpe croisse] even became a moment.  I do prefer the bright red/white/blue  but it was interesting to see the more muted/European costumes.

 

 

Edited by maps
+staging to coaching

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Thank you, Drew, I couldn't have said it better.  No!  I couldn't have said it as well!   

 

And it needed to be said!  Dancing on this level needs to be known.  (Not just with the mind, reading here, of course, but with the eyes and ears, in the theater.  It needs to be known with the senses.)

 

And we three - or four, counting Sarah Kaufman - are in agreement about Gounod - and Farrell's projects generally - needing even better dancers - which it now comes to me, she might develop from some of those she already has:  She needs better circumstances; these ballets need her to have better circumstances; and I share Drew's concern whether, were she to visit an established institution for a time, she'd find them there.

Edited by Jack Reed

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  http://kennedycenter.tumblr.com/post/151148761085   .

 

The post explains some of the intricacies in Gounod and one quote is " music is symphonic so it’s all very big and lush. Mr. B clearly knew what he was doing by choreographing this music to so many dancers—otherwise, what the ears hear would outweigh what the eyes see. "    I've noticed that some choreography is the equivalent of visual noise. 

 

 

Edited by maps

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14 hours ago, Jack Reed said:

I hope to have some more to say, having now seen the run - of just four performances - but I don't want to delay correcting the mistaken caption under the picture in Sarah Kaufman's review in the Washington Post.  That's not Stars and Stripes; that's a picture of Gounod Symphony, for heaven's sake, and the principal couple aren't Allyne Noelle and Thomas Garrett but Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook!  (Somebody at the Washington Post incorrectly identified the ballets, and consequently the casting too.)  

 

In the print version the article is titled "A Ballet Reborn in 'Gounod Symphony'," but the photo is of Danses Concertantes. The principal dancers are identified as Magnicaballi and Cook, but in fact, as I peer through my magnifying glass, they appear to be Tellman-Henning and Henning, who were of course first cast, and were probably the ones photographed. Go figure. And the only dancer mentioned in the article is Magnicaballi. Cook and several others, in my opinion, deserved to be named.

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I went to the Saturday night performance. While I mostly agree with the above reports on the crispness and buoyancy of the corps in GOUNOD SYMPHONY, I was mostly disappointed with the staging, as the new costumes and bright lighting killed the romantic POB-Degas-Era perfume of Balanchine's work, which I saw in full bloom ca-1985, with glorious Meryl Ashley and Sean Lavery in the leads. (That French "perfume" is so important to this ballet that it became a signature for Violette Verdy in its early years, even though the original ballerina was Tallchief.) Now in 2016, the tacky white-and-black cocktail dresses for the corps ladies, not to mention that horrendous beige-goldish "lampshade" for the ballerina, are out of place. No wonder that SAB did not allow Farrell to change the romantic puffy-tulle pink Karinska tutus for the 1990 staging! When the basic style of costuming changes, the ballet changes because the "look" of the movements change. Case in point with the GOUNOD is a passage when the corps forms a big arc behind the leads and, while holding hands, they lift their legs back in arabesque. With the long puffy tutus, the ladies used to form delectable "clouds" behind them. That effect is totally lost now, as are many others that I've loved in the past. Sigh.

 

I also take issue with Farrell opting to chop away at the work, removing the 3rd movement, the Minuette, for six corps couples and the leading pair. I remember it as a gorgeous piece, especially for those featured corps couples..very clever entrances for each. Was this due to budgetary reasons or because the soloists' portion had been reconstructed (or rethought) by Peter Martins in 1985? Whatever, it's a major disservice, not to say a bit of false advertisement, to make the paying public believe that it was going to see a complete ballet.

 

Finally, as so many have pointed out, Natalia Magnicaballi (unable to perform any of her pirouettes fully on pointe in a sequence where she is supposed to twirl into the arms of her partner) and Michael Cook (solid but devoid of "line") are not up to the roles of ballerina and lead danseur in this sort of ballet. I'm sorry to have missed the alternate leads (Alynne Noelle & Thomas Garrett) in this, as both of them were simply  magnificent in the pdd of the closer, STARS AND STRIPES.

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I wonder if one has to get permission from Martins for the part he choreographed/filled in...

Edited by Drew

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I keep thinking that, in fact, I saw Gounod previously, but I can’t remember any of that; and now I think Natalia has put her finger on the reason - it’s such a different color now, it’s become too different a ballet.  (And it may have been I had no opportunity back then to absorb the music beforehand - I find that helpful almost to the point of essential.)

 

But, that said, it's another valuable Balanchine ballet, well worth staging, unique; and I'm grateful for what we got of it.  Quibbles accepted, but still, a very enjoyable experience, all too rare.

 

As for SAB, I would have guessed - it’s only a guess - that for a school workshop, given that costumes were available to borrow, they easily elected not to spend a dime for new ones for four performances (counting the dress rehearsal).


Experienced observers in the crowd whom I have the privilege to know and learn from were divided about these new costumes, some preferring them to the old, some not, but all generally agreeing that they don’t move well enough for ballet costumes.  They just hang on the dancers.

 

The matter of the third-movement Minuetto seems a little fraught.  As I noted about the Skirball event, the energetic lucidity Farrell displayed on the rest of that occasion left her when she turned her thoughts to it.  Drew may have a good clue: It may simply be another manifestation of the whole Farrell-Martins situation, I would have to say, antagonism, as I see it.  “Artistic differences,” folks.  (“Star Wars,” we called it, back in the day.)

 

And Natalia is right to regret not having seen Noelle and Garrett in the second-movement Allegretto.  Though I slightly prefer Magnicaballi for other qualities, several of us who saw the alternate couple preferred Noelle’s clarity in taking her positions, and some remarked how she is rapidly becoming a ballerina.  (And as I suggested above, others have sharper eyes than mine, and I value the chance to see through their eyes, listening in the foyer and when I read them.  I’m sorry to have missed Natalia on Saturday evening.)  But those who missed them in the matinees in the Eisenhower theater might glimpse them in the rehearsal studio video on the Kennedy Center web site.

 

(You may also be able to enjoy their Stars pas de deux again in the Millennium stage Preview video at [24:15]; if you let the whole video load into your computer, you can nudge the progress button at the bottom of the video window forward or back.) 

 

Edited by Jack Reed

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On 10/25/2016 at 3:55 AM, Natalia said:

I also take issue with Farrell opting to chop away at the work, removing the 3rd movement, the Minuette, for six corps couples and the leading pair. I remember it as a gorgeous piece, especially for those featured corps couples..very clever entrances for each. Was this due to budgetary reasons or because the soloists' portion had been reconstructed (or rethought) by Peter Martins in 1985? Whatever, it's a major disservice, not to say a bit of false advertisement, to make the paying public believe that it was going to see a complete ballet.

 

Here's a quote from Macaulay:

"Since parts of the third-movement choreography had been lost, Peter Martins, the ballet master in chief of City Ballet, made new versions. But later revivals for the School of American Ballet (1991, 2007) omitted the third movement altogether, and so did this Farrell staging."

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/25/arts/dance/review-ballet-with-intricate-geometry-and-a-lot-of-fun-suzanne-farrell-george-balanchine-kennedy-center.html

 

"Lost" presumably means that no film exists of the 3rd movement, and any former dancer's memory of the choreography was so incomplete that it wasn't possible to present Balanchine's original choreography in good faith. Farrell would need Martin's permission to use his version, but they don't seem to be on good terms to begin with, and it isn't Farrell's mission to celebrate the choreography of Peter Martins. ;)

 

There are a number of lost Balanchine ballets that people would pay money to see even if only portions could be reproduced. I'm thinking of ballets like "The Seven Deadly Sins" and "The Figure in the Carpet" (there is a single section with Diana Adams dancing on film). It would still be fascinating to watch sections of these performed, but alas...

Edited by pherank

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Even if you have a lot of money to pay, it doesn't happen.  The early loss of Roma and Bayou were especially regretted by Lincoln Kirstein, Nancy Reynolds tells us - in the entry for Gounod Symphony - in "Repertory in Review."

 

But I seem to remember it being said lately that film exists of the corps parts of the Minuetto, shot for a staging in France; and in February of 1985, Arlene Croce wrote that

 

Quote

Gounod always belonged to the corps.  Originally, the third movement was danced entirely by groups.  Balanchine, after a season or two, inserted two entrees for the principals, and these are the only parts of the choreography that have been lost.  Peter Martins made new choreography [in 1985] that passes for authentic Balanchine.  The rest of the ballet has been staged from a choreographic script of her own devising by Vida Brown Olinick, who in 1958 [the year of the premiere] was Balanchine's ballet mistress, and who also staged the Paris premiere.  (Gounod has long been defunct in Paris ...)   Besides Ms. Olinick's script, the company had only a silent 16-millimeter film of the corps in rehearsal and the principals in performance.  ...

 

Edited by Jack Reed

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16 hours ago, Jack Reed said:

....

 

But I seem to remember it being said lately that film exists of the corps parts of the Minuetto, shot for a staging in France; ...

 

Indeed it does, Jack, sans solistes.

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