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Kathleen O'Connell

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Everything posted by Kathleen O'Connell

  1. Maybe a little off topic, but in case any of you in the NY City area are interested in seeing Indian dance live, you can do so courtesy of The World Music Institute on Sat April 20 8pm / Sun April 21 7pm at Symphony Space (B'way & 95th St). Details are available at the WMI website (www.heartheworld.org) Here's the blurb from their performance calendar: "Odissi Dance of India Nrityagram Ensemble $30, $25 One of India’s most treasured dance troupes, Nrityagram has enchanted audiences and critics with its performances of the sensuous and lyrical Odissi classical dance of northeast India. Its New York debut was hailed in The New York Times as "one of the most luminous dance events of the year" and its celebrated soloist Surupa Sen was described as "truly a star in the making." Live musical accompaniment." I've attended a couple of South Asian dance performances sponsored by WMI and I can attest that they were indeed thoroughly enchanting! It's very interesting to note the similarities and differences between the various South Asian dance styles and ballet. I was told that the port de bras charactersitic of ballet got to France via the earlier forms Spanish flamenco dancing, which, through its gypsy heritage, has South Asia roots. I don't know if this is true or not, but it's certainly delightful to imagine that it might be so! [ January 08, 2002: Message edited by: Kathleen O'Connell ] [ January 08, 2002: Message edited by: Kathleen O'Connell ]
  2. Manhattnik wrote: Yes, indeed! For an example of this special quality, look at the picture accompanying yesterday's (1/7/01) New York Times review of "Quartet for Strings." Somogyi is the ballerina in the middle. To me she seems to uncoil a skein of lovely energy even in a moment in repose, where other dancers might simply look static. I think it's this quality that makes Somogyi's dancing seem so "three-dimensional" to me.
  3. I think it's important to try to be alert to a work of art's implicit assumptions because art is a very powerful means of communication; the images that it leaves with us and the emotions that they provoke become part of our mental "furniture" and have the capacity to influence the way we perceive the world or think about things, perhaps without our even being consciously aware of it. This doesn't mean that one needs to stop seeing and enjoying Giselle; but I do think one needs to be alert to the work's social and cultural assumptions and its (overt or implied) worldview and I think one is justified in making value judgements about them. Some people may find that worldview more troubling or irritating than others do, and that's fine with me. (In fact, I find their expressions of irritation or outrage a useful trigger for me to examine some of my own assumptions. "HMMM," I think, "maybe I should be more perturbed about this myself." One does get used to how the furniture looks when one lives with it day in and day out, even if it's pretty ugly ...) I would find it extremely difficult to sit through a ballet (or a play or an opera or a novel) that had as one of its central premises and plot drivers the notion that, say, people with brown skin were inferior to people with pink skin and that their subjugation was therefore not only wholly justified but a thing to celebrate. No amount of trying to view the work through the eyes of another age or trying understand its context or trying to appreciate its purely formal beauties would make me more comfortable with the work or with the fact that some people enjoyed seeing it again and again or any less angry that it was still in the active repertory. I'm not sure I'm comfortable denying those who find Giselle's images of women offensive a similar response.
  4. I'll never forget this moment from an NYCB perfomance years ago: One of the women's shoes came off during one of the "crowd scenes" in the first waltz of Balanchine's Vienna Waltzes (this is the one with the women in long, full, pink ballgowns and heeled slippers and the men in Hussar's uniforms). The shoe got very visibly and perilously kicked from one end of the stage to the other for what seemed like hours as the dancers swirled over it and around it. Judging from the gasps, I think everybody in State Theater was fixated on that shoe and the apparently imminent disaster of someone tripping over it, falling down, and starting a New Jersey Turnpike style chain reaction pile-up. Finally some young man from the corp bent down and swept the slipper up as he passed, held it triumphantly aloft for a moment or two, and then flung it off into the wings with a flourish to a round of applause. Disaster averted!
  5. You know, I think Mark Morris could actually make Texas Bayadere work ... No, really, I'm being serious! Now there's a choreographer who could mutate the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders into the Kingdom of the Shades. I would make the trek to BAM and pay good money to see it! But would Morris -- such a moving Dido -- make a better Gamzatti or Nikiya? Let me hasten to add that I am a huge Morris fan and have thought on more than one occaision that he's George Balanchine's true heir, but that's for another thread.
  6. Here are some random thoughts on both the winter and spring NYCB seasons, which were the most satisfying overall that I’ve experienced in a while. I’ve hardly ever written about dancing before, so apologies in advance for struggling to put into words things that I can hardly think of how to describe! I'm sure I'll sound either harsher or more slavishly uncritical (or both) than I intend to! Favorite Costumes -- Carole Divet's tutus for the women in Soirée. I adored them, especially in the context of the music and the overall tone of the ballet. (This was clearly NOT your polite evening social ...) I thought the girls looked both knowing and innocent at the same time -- kind of like Columbine on a bender. I despised the costumes for the men, however: they looked like croupiers, when they should have looked like boulevardiers. Least Favorite Costumes (which have driven me batty for 20+ years) -- a) The sorority girl cocktail dresses the women wear in Walpurgisnacht. I’ve been mystified since the first time I saw them. I always think that these women should look rather more supernatural and maybe even sinister -- this is, after all, the music of a witches' sabbath. I'm not suggesting that they have to wear pointy hats and hag hair, of course, but something a bit more atmospheric would be appropriate. B) the headgear in Dream, especially whatever it is that has been affixed to the butterflies' heads and Theseus' historically correct but extremely unflattering doge's cap. No one, in my experience, has ever looked anything but utterly goofy in it. C'mon, the guy's in charge of a major city-state and he's enamoured of a warrior queen with big bow, a pack of hounds, and multiple fouettées as her signature step -- give him something appropriately dignified to wear! I happen to think that George Balanchine was one of *the* great geniuses of the 20th century period – not just one of the great dance geniuses – but matters of theatrical décor were not his strong suit. Don’t get me started on Jewels. I probably fall in the “conservator” camp – except for the costumes. (I actually think the question of whether or not a ballet’s original costumes and sets are an integral part of the whole and therefore should be preserved more or less intact along with the choreography is an interesting one. Balanchine himself abandoned the much more elaborate original costumes for Apollo and Four Temperaments. Does his having done so mean we are now free to change them again to suit current tastes, or should we retain his final vision intact?) Most Instructive Experience -- The opportunity to see two VERY different dancers -- Wency Whelan and Monique Meunier -- take possession of roles I particularly associate with Suzanne Farrell (the dancer I miss the most). They were both magnificent in Walpurgisnacht -- but stikingly different -- and proof that one doesn't have to LOOK like Farrell to succeed in her roles. (This is something that I wish Maria Kowroski would realize. There have been a couple of times -- Davidsbundlertanze especially -- where I felt that she was trying to emulate Farrell rather than just dance like her own wonderful self.) It was like seeing two equally gorgeous manifestations of the same substance: Whelan was sparkling Waterford, Meunier sinuous Lalique. One of Meunier's turning combinations just took my breath away -- like a white hot lava flow, but with every shape her body made in space absolutely and clearly delineated -- even if just for a nanosecond -- before melting into the next one. Whelan is more crystalline, but what's interesting to me is the fact that even though she can repeat the same step three times in succession in *exactly* the same way each time (for instance, the travelling sequence of developpés in second in Walpurgisnacht), it *never* seems mechanical. It's as if she were transmitting to us glimpses of ideal forms from some platonic realm that we can't normally see. Most Moving Experience -- Following on from the point above, Whelan in Chaconne. I thought she got it just right. It's hard to think of a dancer who is less like Farrell physically or temperamentally than Whelan is, but I thought she did something that few other dancers have been able to do with this role: present Chaconne's unique "gestures" (e.g., the "snooty walks" passage in the central pas de deux) as something genuinely integrated into the fabric of the dance and the world it creates (or maybe represents) rather than as something just pasted on for momentary effect. As Whelan danced it, the persona of the woman at the heart of the ballet came through so clearly just from the steps -- no acting required. (And kudos to Philip Neal for matching her in this. I think Chaconne is really suited to him temperamentally -- it makes a virtue of his characteristic reserve and seeming hauteur.) Best New Look at Old Steps -- Jenny Somogyi in Concerto Barocco and as Hippolyta in Dream. I don't know how else to describe her dancing except as completely three dimensional and thoroughly musical (thus exploiting the fourth dimension -- time). This is a dancer who takes up SPACE -- not by dancing "big" so much as revealing an additional plane of movement. I really don't know how else to describe it. Biggest Unsolved Mystery -- Why we saw more of Yvonne Borree than [fill in name of favorite underused or MIA dancer here]. Try as I might to appreciate her, Borree is a dancer I just don't "get." Although she seemed somewhat more self-posessed than last season, I still find her dancing clenched and joyless. I was surprised to learn that she is thought to posess something of a bravura technique; to my eyes, her unstretched feet, her seemingly underpowered turnout, her slackness of attack, and her tendency to skitter through the steps rather than clearly and forthrightly articulate them leaves her with little but gesture to rely on for expressive effect. It's not that she's awful (she isn't) so much as that she's just sketched in. I thought she absolutely vanished on stage in Dances at a Gathering in the company of the radiant Ringer and Rutherford, the witty Kowroski, and the smoldering Alexopoulos. If one didn’t know the ballet, one might have been surprised to see Girl in Pink (Boree) rather than Girl in Yellow (Ringer) given the privilege of the final bow after the curtain. I hate to be harsh, but tickets aren't cheap and there are other dancers waiting for their chance at the spotlight. I do sense that there may be a fine dancer in there, but for some reason -- lack of commitment, lack of confidence, anxiety, whatever -- she can't seem to get out. Help! What am I missing? Well, I went on longer than I intended, and *still* haven’t complimented everyone who deserves it or noted even a fraction of what made this a thoroughly enjoyable season – but many thanks to all the dancers (and musicians, and stagehands, and wardrobe personnel) for so much joy!
  7. Kiplin Houston was *already* dancing with NYCB back in 1977 when I started attending regularly! I think Kyra Nichols and Helene Alexopoulos are the only other active NYCB dancers who have been around as long -- Nichols joined in 1974 and Alexopoulos in 1977 or 78. I'll miss them all when they retire! Houston danced Lysander on Tuesday night when I attended Dream. I'm also going Friday and Saturday nights in some sort of compare / contrast frenzy, and will try to report back when the dust settles ... Judging from the cast lists, hardly anyone will repeat the same role twice. Here's the rest of Tuesday's cast: Titania: D. Kisler Oberon: P. Boal Puck: A. Evans Helena: K. Tracey Hermia: P. van Kipnis Lysander: K. Houston Demetrius: A. Higgins Hippolyta: J. Somogyi (sub for Meunier -- hope she's not injured again ...) Theseus: H. Seth (sub for R. Lyon) Cavalier: C. Askegard Bottom: J. Fayette Butterfly: J. Taylor Divertissement: M. Weese (sub for Whelan) and J. Soto Andrea Quinn conducted The house was PACKED, by the way, which surprised me for some reason. On aa related note: there is an interview with Albert Evans in this week's Time Out NY in which he discusses his fondess for the role of Puck, among other things. He's apparently choreographing something for the next Diamond Project.
  8. I saw Tanner’s new ballet, “Soirée,” on Saturday evening, June 16. OK, I liked it for what it was – a high voltage showcase for the hot young talents of the moment. (If I get a chance, I will try to post at least a summary of my impressions.) But here’s what troubled me (she said, getting very cranky): where was the new ballet for the established and in many cases sadly underutilized talent on the NYCB roster? Is *no one* interested in making a ballet for Albert Evans or Monique Muenier? (Is anyone even interested in casting them anymore? Good Lord! I’d rush over to State Theater just to watch them walk across the stage in their practice clothes.) These are just two examples (glaring, in my opinion) at the principal level, but one could draw up a list at the soloist and corps levels, too. Pascale van Kipnis? Eight minutes of Andrew Veyette was ok, but really, at this point in their respective careers I’d rather have eight minutes of Alexander Ritter. Eva Natanya? Carrie Lee Riggins? (Although I think the latter two have gotten a few small things.) And I’d like to see someone make at least a little bit of a fuss over corps stalwarts such as Amanda Edge, Pauline Golbin, and Elizabeth Walker; on some very dismal NYCB evenings when absolutely nothing that any of the principal dancers was doing was worth watching, their care and commitment alone made the trek to State Theater worthwhile. I’m sure many variables go into casting new ballets – who’s healthy, who can be released from the rehearsal schedule, and of course, who is interesting and technically accomplished enough as a dancer – and lord knows a ballet company shouldn’t be run on a seniority system like the civil service -- but sometimes the omissions really are puzzling, at least to a non-professional like me. For a while now, NYCB seems to have been casting on the barbell system -- very, very junior dancers and very, very senior dancers (neither always up to the task) get used a lot, and a whole swath in the middle is left to lie fallow. (If any of the professionals out there can enlighten me, please do!) Oh, and re Janie Taylor: after “Soirée” my husband described her dancing as “flying glass” (which he meant as a compliment in the context of the ballet he’d just seen).
  9. The term "ear" is also used for cereal grains generally -- per Websters, "ear" = "the fruiting spike of a cereal ... including both the seeds and protective structures." "fruiting spike" -- now there's a term to throw around at your next cocktail party! I think I have now reached the absolute limit of my store of knowlege on things botannical ...
  10. I think this may be an example of the "two great coutries separated by a common language" phenomenon: although in the US the term "corn" is generally used to refer to the grain also known as "maize" or "Indian corn," elsewhere in the Engish-speaking world (with the possible exception of Australia) it's used to refer to ceareal crops generally, such as wheat or oats. Kathleen O'Connell
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