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Jack Reed

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  • Connection to/interest in ballet** (Please describe. Examples: fan, teacher, dancer, writer, avid balletgoer)
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  1. The Ballet Chicago Studio Company presents their annual run of their version of The Nutcracker this weekend and the following one, previously eight performances, but this year, nine: Curtain times are 7:00 PM on December 13, 14, and 19-21, and 2:00 PM on December 14, 15, 21 and 22, in the Athenaeum Theater, 2936 N. Southport, near the intersection of Southport, Wellington, and Lincoln Avenues in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, next to the landmark St. Alphonsus church. Ballet Chicago is one of the country's leading Balanchine-oriented ballet schools; most of their ballet curriculum consists of Balanchine ballets or fragments of them, but Spanish and modern dance are included, as well as choreography by faculty like Daniel Duell, who danced in Balanchine's NYCB; his partner in life, as well as in art, as he likes to tell us before the curtain, Patricia Blair, who danced in the Eglevsky Ballet when Edward Villella was running it; Ted Seymour, who danced in the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and elsewhere, and others, some with background in Spanish and modern, and some alumni. The Ballet Chicago Studio Company takes in B.C. students "when they are ready"; thus it's the cream of the school and performs the top roles, including the surviving parts of Balanchine's Sugar Plum pas de deux in this production, to which Duell has contributed a male variation to replace the lost Balanchine one. Blair has contributed the choreography of the Snow scene which concludes Act I and includes an adagio pas de deux to the Pine Forest music, as well as other parts, along with a lot by Duell and some by Seymour. (I gather these last two are the ones who remade the Battle scene into the dancey-ist version I've seen, deploying some of the classical vocabulary unexpectedly in martial action. Personally, enjoying dancing most when I see what I hear, I prefer this production, made by people true to their roots in Balanchine's way - "See the music, hear the dance" - instead of the new Joffrey one, by Christopher Wheeldon, which doesn't look to me nearly as well heard as his Polyphonia did, for example. In these peoples' hands, these dancers do pretty much what Tchaikovsky asks for. And with tickets at about one-fifth the price of the Joffrey production, it's value for money in that way too. That the dancers are paying tuition instead of drawing a salary and that the musicians are recorded (from well-chosen performances) are partly responsible for the lower prices. Belying the low production budget, the costumes, sewn up by volunteers, "The Guild of the Golden Needle", look good and move well, too. (Have a look at some images here.) Here are some moving images from a few years ago: Mirlitons [Flutes] Waltz of the Flowers: Finale: And here's Act One, from 2014: (Inevitably, this imagery provides only glimpses.) How some scene and costume changes are accomplished in full view adds drama for me along with the charm of the evident, dedicated community producing this show. Except for a very brief number with some three- and four-year-old bunnies in the matinees, no one on stage is trying to do something even a little beyond them; and aside from charming the audience (including their parents), these little ones remind us that stage experience is part of a dancer's training. Most of the time, though, we don't notice. We see the music. We're entertained. We're lifted on high.
  2. For background on this staging, Alistair Macaulay's review of February 7, 2015 gives as usual the nub of the matter - except that this time around, four years later, the dancing may be even a little better: A better observer than I told me that BAZ's dancing in Napoli in its first season made him aware of the steps, which left some room for improvement. We agreed that ballet is better if you're not so aware of the steps, and now Napoli has improved. I didn't see that first season of it, but I did this one. All of it. And I'm really glad for it. There's a lot to see. Macaulay has a short, expert paragraph summary; there's a good synopsis in the program, and though the entry in Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets has the dry pedantic flavor of the entries I think are written by Francis Mason, it gives you a good impression of how full this ballet is. (The account written by Cyril Beaumont early in the last century goes on for pages; Beaumont was like that.) For instance, there's so much going on the the first Act that it wasn't until Saturday evening - my fourth visit - I actually saw Gennaro and Teresina sneek off upstage to get into their little boat so the plot could progress into the Blue Grotto scene, and then only because I looked for it. Some say this is Bournonville's best; I can't compare but any ballet lover should at least give it a try. If you missed BAZ's this time around, there's a pretty good video on Youtube of the 1986 staging by Kirsten Ralov, but if there's any justice, this one will come around again. Act II is easily the most beautiful (my neighbor in the theater one night was really delighted), while Acts I and especially III are the most joyful, and BAZ's Act II is credited to Ib Andersen alone. I believe it; the movement style and flavor of Acts I and III seem to me different from Act II. Act II is in a different vernacular, closer to the Balanchine I've watched for decades. Not surprisingly, the high point of Act II is the role of Teresina, the Neopolitan fisherman Gennaro's intended bride. Her first long dance with the chilly sea spirit Golfo, in whose Blue Grotto she arrives, washed up by a storm, is a contradiction to the trite nonsense that "Everything is beautiful at the ballet": Her moves are beautiful except for an additional alienated, estranged quality both dancers here gave them, early in the scene. Arianna Martin, the first Teresina I saw, on Thursday night, was quite spooked in her first long dance with Luis Corrales' Golfo Teresina is ill at ease with Golfo - we later see some pantomime, rejection gestures, but what I found taking is the way Arianni Martin and especially Jillian Barrell gave the movement a quality that said, I'm going through the motions here, because I have to - she looked worried to the point of distracted. (Barrell, the more veteran dancer in this, already in the action of Act I phrased her port de bras on a larger scale and so, more effectively than the younger Martin. Yes, I would also say she was radiant - her role radiated to the back of the theater.) There was not a fearful trembling I could see, but she showed us her soul was trembling, if you will. Ballet is one of those arts that make the invisible visible - often it's about making the music visible as best demonstrated in Balanchine - and that was here, too, Bournonville or here, Andersen, are that type of choreographer, but this was something more, another dimension. Soon, Gennaro having found his way into Golfo's cave and prevailed on the lovely Naiads there to reveal Teresina to him, smoothness and sweetness returned to her movement, but not expansive scale, not even the scale of her falsified dancing with Golfo; she is not the Teresina we saw in Act I, she's more withdrawn, remote, uncertain. But finally, Gennaro deploys the amulet Friar Ambrosio gave him at the end of Act I, and her dancing recovers its former large scale and energy and warmth as she recovers her realization of herself and her awareness of who Gennaro is. Not to say its former joy! Joy bubbles up repeatedly in Napoli, the more effectively for the occasional contrasting sorrowful or threatening moments. There's a lot to see in Napoli, even in one role, in one scene.
  3. Lacking a link to an on-line copy of Garis's review of the premiere, I offer this savagely condensed version, trying meet our word limit on quoting published material:
  4. I'm curious, mussel, how about that added duet, and the order of the second and third numbers, the two ballerina variations? Originally, as you probably know, Verdy led the ensemble first number, then Paul had a variation, then Verdy had her "Spinner" variation as the third number. When she retired and Balanchine added the concluding septet, he also put "Spinner" second and the Paul variation as the third number. So I'm wondering how closely Mariinsky sticks to the original sequence (which of course included the remarkable "walking" pdd), which sequence I prefer - when adequate dancers are available. (Edward Villella had Mary Carmen Catoya in his MCB year ago, who, coached by Verdy, danced Verdy's part so well I thought he could have restored the original sequence, but he didn't.) Personally, I'm encouraged that they have dropped the septet.
  5. My preferred method also, Sygyzy! And there are lots of good recommendations here, mostly, I assume, of the version with the revised "Emeralds" Balanchine made in 1977 on Verdy's retirement, which is the one you will probably see. In addition, Robert Garis wrote up his sensitive and evocative perceptions of the original suite in Partisan Review for Fall 1968 if you can get your hands on it somewhere. Nancy Reynolds quotes his review at unusual length in her Repertory in Review: 40 years of the New York City Ballet (1977), itself hard to find now, I'm afraid.
  6. The trouble with the Front Balcony is the distance. Likewise the Dress Circle, the last part of the Orchestra. I think there are a few Dress Circle seats which are partly obstructed by (slim) posts supporting the balcony above, indicated on the seating charts by dark disks with exclamation points on them; but the Auditorium seats nearly 4000: It's a huge opera house, not ideal for ballet IMO but with better sight lines than the Met, where I sometimes sit in whatever the lowest balcony is called in there. (The Parterre?) The point is, most of the seats, while unobstructed by the people in front of you - unlike on the Met's main floor, because of the unusually steep and progressive rake in the Auditorium, increasing toward the back - are pretty far back. (Not a lot of seats where you get the "emanations," toward the back of this place - you can easily wind up feeling outside the event.) I like the center of Row P - seats numbered in the 300's - on the main floor because it's not so close as to be too low. The first ten rows of the Front Orchestra are very risky to being blocked for someone like me who is 5'8" in his socks, though things do get better toward the back of this section. But Row P, being the first row of the Back Orchestra, is a bit higher than the gradual progression in the Front Orchestra would put it, and I prefer it to Row O, right in front of it, an extra step down into the Front Orchestra. Likewise Row Q is better than Row O, IMO. (I was glad to watch some performances of ABT's Whipped Cream from Rows P and Q in April.)
  7. I also find that an inside, "no view" room is usually a good strategy for peace and quiet, the exception being where there is noisy, malfunctioning machinery down in the court.
  8. Good point about the train! I do have friends who can sleep anywhere, but for the rest of us, beware. Also, the former Congress Street, recently renamed Ida B. Wells Drive, between the Congress Hotel and the Auditorium, gets heavy traffic, so visitors might better consider the east side of the Congress, on Michigan Avenue, with a nice view of Grant Park and Lake Michigan beyond, and less noise trapped and building up between the hotel and the theater building. There are actually two Hiltons in the neighborhood: the luxurious Hilton Chicago is two block south on Michigan Avenue, also affording views of the Park and farther from Wells Drive but also exposed on the back to the dreaded "L" trains; and the moderate Palmer House, four blocks north up Wabash Avenue, above which those trains rumble and squeal and facing State Street - no trains but plenty traffic - on the other side. So, a room in the Congress in the south-east corner of the building might be the best value.
  9. I'm encouraged to see music mentioned by someone who intends to market dance, when I've too often noticed its omission from that context - we're commonly supposed to relate to the dancers' physical effort, although they're normally so good that effort is invisible, or to the ordinariness of their personal lives, or to their choreographer's biography. No, it's important to listen as you watch, to see how the movement connects with the music, as she says. And what's it all for? Watching dance, liking the experience of other art, takes us out of ourselves, it takes us up, to somewhere beyond, at least for a time, but sometimes, to change us permanently. I'd say Tweeddale is on the right track, and I wish her good luck too - especially with finding staff who embrace her enlightened view and do not talk down to the people they bring in.
  10. I realized that I hadn't read a lot by Kourlas, unlike others here, so I went searching, and found that she edited the dance department at TimeOut for twenty years, maybe the period Macaulay refers to, so I'll try to catch up there. But in the meantime, I'll hope her work has some measure of the virtues I've found in that of Denby, Croce, and Macaulay himself, and others to a lesser degree, writing that enables us to see what they saw through their eyes, that enables us to follow their thinking along to their judgements and conclusions, and, regardless whether we agree with them or not, that enables us better to draw our own conclusions and to deepen our own experiences of the performances we see - even of ballets these writers didn't write about. "Just like being there," yes, great exercise for strengthening our seeing minds.
  11. And BAZ itself doesn't always have an orchestra. This Chicagoan prefers their Balanchine weekend, in May, performed in Phoenix Symphony Hall, when their music has been played from recordings for several years. Yes, no reason to exaggerate; but Turner's little bio in the BAZ program presents her as a marketer, so true to that role, she may feel exaggeration to promote her company comes naturally. Actually, my long experience watching MCB in Florida taught me that recorded sound can be quite satisfactory: Part way through my career in the audience there, there was such a dramatic improvement in the quality of the sound I heard over the previous season (in the Au-Rene Theater in Ft. Lauderdale) that I had to look in the pit at intermission to see whether there were any players in it, but there was no sign of any. (I had already noticed different loud-speakers set up at the sides of the stage, and inquiry brought out that they were responsible. Indeed, if I remember correctly, I was told that the rest of the equipment was the same as before.) So, with all due respect to hard-working musicians looking for long contracts, "live" vs. "recorded" is a little irrelevant to me. Agreed, though, BAZ, a company of 30 or so, has a lot to brag about, without exaggeration.
  12. Indeed, seen in 2017 and 2018, the view from the Compass (300' up) is pretty dramatic when the sun is out, if maybe less so than from the Space Needle in Seattle (600') - when it's not fogged in! But I have another question about accommodations in Phoenix: When that wonderful oasis of a bed and breakfast, Maricopa Manor, is booked, what's second best? BAZ's Napoli weekend in October has already been booked there for a while - what I'm thinking of as a "snowbird" phenomenon - so I'm seeking more advice from the wise people here who sent me there in the first place years ago.
  13. I think it's an elitist attitude to which we can all aspire!
  14. I agree with you about Bourree Fantasque, which has a lot of jokes to stretch the range of the classically well-trained SAB students, but if you look again, I think you'll see that in the passage you quote I was writing about the Agon pas de deux Durham danced with Brown.
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