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Posts posted by Quiggin

  1. Thanks, Sharon for the tip on Joan Boada--On the basis of last night's performances, I couldn't think of the SF Nutcraker without him. His phrasing and sense of measure was pitch perfect. Kristin Long was very articulate in her dancing--I kept looking at her feet the way you look at someone's lips when they are saying something fascinating, hanging on to every word.

    I found the choreography clotted and difficult to figure out when there were more than 9 or so people on stage, though when the Snowflakes were in Y shape/conical form, that was very nice. I enjoyed watching Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun & Chidozie Nzerem in what snippets he had in Arabian, and most everyone else in act 2. And I can sort of imagine the Christensen Brothers in slightly corny Russian, pretty brilliant last night with Pascal Molat, and James Sofranko and Garrett Anderson.

    I agree with Paul that this is sort of a new warhorse for the company to dance finely to, but the setting of in Edwardian San Francisco--yet with Queen Anne style houses--seems a bit pointless. The stock characters such as a nanny and carriage (despite SF's notorious inclines), a solo policemen, two fawning nuns, and Eliza Doolittle were a bit too sugary. And too much furniture and moving backdrops and outlines of vaults and domes hanging like clothing on a line. But yes well worth revisiting for the night to night nicely varying performances.

  2. But is it a biography, and would a biography from Arlene Croce be that interesting? And sometimes biographies take decades longer than projected as more and more material presents itself. Maybe she is structuring it ballet by ballet, or genre of ballet by ballet? (The working title at somepoint--reported in another thread--was Ballet and Balanchine.) Croce has always comfortably written with the upper crusty tone of a New Yorker writer, and now she has to recast all her thinking on Balanchine into a different form. So it's a rather formidable task.

  3. Opera generally seems to have attracted a younger and smart audience--much more so than ballet has--in the last 10 years. In the fifties and sixties all the literary and artworldly crowd made regular pilgramages to see Balanchine, and to Cunningham later on, but I doubt in any of the ArtForum crowd know much about Mr. B, despite his Russian constructivist background.

    Part of the opera thing is that there is so much serious opera criticism being published these days--76,600 hits on Amazon, as oposed to 605 for "dance criticism" and 52 for "ballet criticism." We all turn again and again to Denby and Garis and the wonderful but idiosyncratic Arlene Croce, and not much else. It's too bad that Susan Sontag, who was a NYCB fan, didn't write about ballet, or Roland Barthes (who writes so well on the sensuality of Cy Twombly--he might have commented on Balanchine scribbling or writing with the ballerina's foot, such as that which occurs in the arc-enscribing sequence in Liebeslieder).

    Opera is the voice, and people identify their being with singing more than with dancing (singing--not dancing--in the shower). It's difficult in criticism finding a natural point of identity for audiences within ballet as the voice is in opera. Though Joan Acocella did get close to something interesting in her Balanchine-and-the-crouch lecture at UC Berkeley earlier this year.

  4. My list would include:

    Alexei Brodovich for his classic book Ballet which has great swirly corps-rushing like-water-across-the-stage pictures of 1940's Ballet Theater productions (It includes some nice Cotillion and Balustrade photos)

    Walker Evans for his anti-romantic pictures for a Fortune article, including a stark picture of Davilova doing making and a picture of a flower being pinned to a dress of a ballerina, as if to the bark of a tree

    Cartier-Bresson's pictures of Russian ballet in his Russia book

    Also I believe Inge Morath took some nice ballet phots.

    Definitely having the limitation of 36 photographs to a roll of film made better photographers of everyone.

  5. For improvised 1930's comedies add

    She Married Her Boss with Claudette Colbert and Melvyn Douglas with the person/people who live in the department store window

    Also: Bizarre Bizarre by Marcel Carne with Louis Jouvet and the great scene of the empty milk bottles piling up to show the progression of the affair between the kitchen maid and the milkman

    Sullivan's Travel's about the director of "Hey Hey in the Hayloft" and "Ants in Your Pants of 1942" wanting to do socially significant films and hitting the road as a homeless man to see what real life is like.

    Along with Dirac, definitely Buster Keaton, and the Reluctant Debutante was an absolute favorite for me as a kid. It made up for the sluggish movie version of My Fair Lady.

  6. Here's a lovable rant from Propect that intersects with this topic from a little different angle. You only have to compare the arts coverage in the NYT Sunday Times to that of ten or fifteen years ago to arrive at a US version of this complaint.


    [in the old days...] Every single debutant at the Wigmore Hall was reviewed, every new play at the Bush or the Theatre Upstairs or the ICA. London is still the music capital of the world; in those days, the arts pages, led by the FT, treated it as such. Lord Drogheda was chairman not only of the FT, but also of the Royal Opera House. When looking for the paper's first music critic in the early 1950s, he found Andrew Porter, a critic of an authority and brilliance to rival George Bernard Shaw and Ernest Newman. There is no one else quite like Porter, who today writes mainly in the Times Literary Supplement. Great critics are rare birds; rare birds, though, need a welcoming aviary, and the zookeepers are not on the lookout for such special—and specialist—breeds of plumage any more...

    But the truth is that newspapers increasingly devote largely uncritical coverage to the latest product of the publicity machine, be it an inexperienced actress, a media loudmouth or a Glasgow pop group. Previews and interviews now take precedence over critical responsibility. But the idea that they do so in order to meet a public demand is, I believe, false. Anyone under the age of 30 who wants to read about pop music, new film and reality television knows where to go. That place is not the broadsheets, but magazines and the internet. So the liberal, professional intelligentsia who read the broadsheets are confronted with coverage they don't want and comment on "high culture" by people who often know less about it than they do.

  7. Yes, with a refresh rate of 1 image per second, very painterly--like Manet or Gerhardt Richter.

    The last act variations came over very nicely, and so very familiar since I know them as Pas de Dix of Balanchine from the Eglevsky-Maria Tallchief video. Does anyone know if any parts of Balanchine's version have made their way back into the Bolshoi version, or is it that

    Balanchine is fairly faithful to the original?

  8. All of Helene's criticisms are valid, and yet I was strangely moved by the production, especially at the end where the Lilac Fairy blessed the court--though they dramatically didn't deserve it. That part was a little Shakespearan for me, like the reconciliation at the end of one of the romances, in Pericles or in Winter's Tale. Lopatkina was as interesting to me throughout, as Vishneva--in her calm bubble of Vishnevaness--was slightly alienating. L. in the interlude with Prince seemed to be able to dart across stage as quickly as a Firebird or NYCB ballerina. I enjoyed watching Zelensky present himself, reeling in and letting out small gestures--hands, wrists, movements of chin. And his dancing was quite fine. (I don't remember him being overweight at NYCB, just a bit scowly). Other things I enjoyed: the strange, staccato, stiff legged dance of one of the middle fairies, perhaps Sapphire; the corps in their lateral pas de quartres and/or sixes, or as a background in a line of 12 on one knee--perhaps when the Prince and Princess are doing backwards traveling arabesques? (The corps' yellow wigs made the men look like women and the women look like men, just at first.) Yes, you could hear everyone touch the floor, like the sound of dominos spilling onto a table, and the orchestra was a little loud--though what a orchestra to sound too loud! If it lacked anything, it missed a little of the perfect focus and dynamic shadings of Agrest and Gergiev, who were in Berkeley the last time around. At times the dancing was merely a elegant froth riding on waves of perfect sound.

    But it was Anton Korsakov as Bluebird who was the standout, and belated discovery, for me. His movements are a perfect balance of strong large thrusty gesture and Kirov refinement. There was a good intensity and some degree of risk taking to his dancing. Some his effect is from the pinking shears profile of the backs of his legs: the sharp zig zag of heel to calf to thigh which made his beats doubly effective (Lindsay Fisher at NYCB shared something of this characteristic). Anyhow, the evening was a delight, and the generous number of intermissions most welcome for all the coffee I had drunk before, and the glass of wine later on.

  9. I saw Peter Boal, Albert Evans and Teresa Reichlen this spring in the Four Temperaments. They were just great, but their phrasing of movement seemed different than in the 1980s videos that Alexandra refers to. In Spring 2005 4Ts, the transitions through the forearms, wrists, and hands and ankles seemed more delicate, though still involving. What was missing was the conviction and angst of the corps. The friend I was with said they weren’t “menacing” enough.

    For me what Balanchine is all about—and Fokine and Ashton aren’t—is an intense musical conversation between soloists and corps, foreground figures and background ones. It’s all about strong counterpoint and Constructivist angularity and bits of phrases being initiated by one group and finished off or vetoed by the other. This seems to happen less and less.

  10. Yes, Lorena Feijoo and Sergio Terrado really made the Sanguinic variation come alive--great presences, very angular, astringent, with lots of Accocelean pelvic thrust. LF didn't skimp on the great sliding hand gestures during her lateral lifts, which make it look as if she were grandly controlling everything, or at least the rate at which everthing happens. (These hand movements were almost completely absent last week's performance).

    Gonzalo Garcia's solo in Square Dance was quite absorbing and wonderful. He and Vanessa Zahorian seemed to be having some differences about the tempo of the third or so section, but she was also quite good, though less the highly articulated whirlwind that Tina LeBlanc was the week before. I had never, before this performance, really realized that each of the three lifts in the somewhere slow movement (I'm never sure of the lay of the land in Square Dance) are each a head higher than the last.

    "Reflections" looked startlingly like Symphony in C, sort of nibbled away here and there by post-modernist complications and quotations, such as a fall here (from Seranade?) and awkward movement there, and the mirrors seeming to fall out of Vienna Waltzes; on the whole not displeasing, somehow satisfying.

    "Grosse Fuge" always gives me uncontrollable giggles in the part where the men are dragged about by their swim suit waist bands by the women. Poor Beethoven at the Beach!

  11. I enjoyed tonight's (Friday's) Giselle and agree with Andre Yew on many of his points. I liked Tina LeBlanc more in the second act than the first. She was a bit too coy in the first and when she jumped and beat--or whisked--her feet, they ran across each other too quickly. Garcia's strengths seem to be the natural and at once unnatural unexpected extra extension he has in his cabrioles (or jete battus--unsure of my vocabulary), something of the same effect of the extra punch that Melissa Hayden has, at least in videos. GG always holds his arms firmly but gracefully across which gives a nice contrast to the movements of his feet and make them appear as if suspended from above, and when his hands are higher it's as if there held by strings at his wrists. Other members of the company seem to have too much of a bending, willowy carriage of their arms, which is not as architecturally interesting to me. I did like the dancing of the members of the pas de cinq--Vanessa Zahorian, Francis Chung, and Sarah Van Patten, and I liked Elizabeth Miner a lot as a Solo Wili. She seemed to dance just a touch behind the beat, which made the finishes of her moves have a satisfying fullness to them.

    On another note, it's always a thrill to be arriving at the old War Memorial Opera House at the last minute in the crush to pick up tickets and to overhear people in line exchanging, or to participate in, heated thoughts on ballet. Last week the woman behind me was from Denmark, here to see what Helgi was up to, and this evening the woman in her place--with her two San Francisco neices--was from New York and a NYCB regular, and talking with her was like speaking a foreign language you haven't spoken for years and yet remembering all the words and constructions. Our ballet Latin included: who in New York had just been mysteriously promoted and who had significantly been not, who was tall and who was short, what the real reason O. was retiring was, and that P. had really gone too far this time; who did Rubies well and that Emeralds been a real disappointment this season. (SF is far too polite for this kind of talk and nothing ever really gets beyond the first stages here.) And in the auditorium the woman next to me had seen Nureyev as Albrecht in the first Giselle she saw years ago in Italy and he had signed her program, and the young dancers in front of me giggled and nudged each other and gossiped with their fingers as the performances went on, and afterwards showed great signs of having been overwhelmed and at the same time amused by what they had seen. It's always great fun.

  12. Regarding the orange of the Gates, here is Hal Foster in the latest issue of the London Review of Books:

    Yet the hue was off, at least to my eyes: the light orange was too close to both the bleached green of the grass and the smoky grey of the trees to make for a vivid contrast. Sometimes the banners did catch the light or the breeze to flow like veils or shimmer like kites, but often the nylon hung rather dull and limp like big tarps or giant laundry. Red would have been better, or black or white, but all these colours have political associations, and everything about The Gates was dictated by an assiduous avoidance of any such significance. It’s easy to understand why: Christo and Jeanne-Claude first petitioned to do the piece in 1979 but acquired the permit only in 2003 (their lawyers might be considered co-authors as well). Perhaps as a result, the colour, the materials, the very design are bland, stripped of any edge. It was quite a feat to set up so many gates in America today and not prompt any reference to security checks and immigration outrages. But no colour is entirely without association. ‘It’s the orange of police cones,’ my wife said as we entered the park; ‘it looks like a Princeton reunion run amok.’ Princeton’s ‘school colour’ is taken from William of Orange, and if this work were placed in Belfast, a civil war would break out; even in this city in another time The Gates might have turned into ‘The Gangs of New York’.

    Foster also gives some backgound on Christo's borrowings from avant garde ideas of the 1920's.

    London Review of Books

    As a footnote let me add that when I used to work in Central Park, we used to dread events like this because of the stress on the park, at least in summer. When Pocahontas was premiered, Disney requested that the branches of old trees be cut at a straight line to facilitate projection of "the show." The arborists, bless their hearts, refused.

  13. My favorites impulsively include:


    Cotillion (from Balanchine biography clip and descriptions in various biographies)

    Symphony in C (or Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet)

    Agon (with Darcey Bussell)

    Concertino (from Eglevsky clip)

    La Valse


    Sylphides (based on recent Kirov performance and Maria Tallchief/Royes Fernandez clip)


    Symphonic Variations (last year's SFBallet version with Julie Diana)

    Non Ballet

    Daniel Nagarn log dance

    Gene Kelly newspaper dance

    Fred Astaire turning room dance

    Margo Jenkins early vaguely remembered piece

  14. I thought the juxtaposing of named males, Nureyev & Baryshnikov, with an unamed "harem of Balanchine ballerinas" fairly offensive.

    Also Balanchine hardly came of age "prefilm." He knew Eisenstein and had seen his works and there is an interesting 1930's interview in which he talks up choreography for the screen, against the interviewers "better thoughts" about it.

    A friend--with a longer memory and stronger opinions than I--said that Mr. Rockwell knew absolutely nothing about classical music, and yet he was the Times classical music reviewer, and he knows absolutely nothing about dance and yet now he's become the Times' dance critic.

  15. The Times has two former political writers now writing on food--WA Apple and Frank Bruni, and a former music critic writing on art--Michael Kimmelman, passing over the fairly savvy Roberta Smith. They have made similar lateral crossover assignments over the years. They seem to like someone familiar from within, with unthreatening taste and unstartling observations. Also in general the Times has a strange love-hate relation to intellectuals and artists. They have a longing for art but get fainthearted when it goes too far. They prefer the safe secondary version to real thing. Their recent obituaries on the real things, Francoise Sagan and Jacques Derrida, were provincial and shameful...

  16. Best:

    SF Ballet's

    Apollo (all casts did interesting things; Gonzalo Garcia seemed to be visually thinking his role out loud, slightly sullenly,--like a Beckett actor or like Anna Magnani in a Cocteau monologue, or Leonardo di Caprio in the Aviator)

    Symphonic Variations (silly and brittle and lyrical and very clear and intelligent)

    Square Dance (modestly and self effacingly--in the SFB style--well done)


    Brahms Schoenberg (sort of a more radical Symphony in C but in pink) & Liebeslieder

    SF PALM's lecture series with Joceyln Vollmar (who danced the Sanguinic T. in 1948), Sally Bailey, Nancy Johnson; Kyra Nichols and Sally Streets; & SF Ballet's series with Merrill Ashley and Allegra Kent and Helgi Tomasson:

    Lots of interesting little details and insights on how Balanchine's dances were constructed; the wistful observation by KN how young NYCB dancers don't watch intently from the wings and soak up every move and gesture by older dancers on stage as her generation used to; how she quietly stripped down and rebuilt the Suzanne Farrell roles she inherited.

    The PBS American Masters Balanchine with rare glimpses of Card Game, Figure in the Carpet, the fast clipped Cotillion (with an Emeralds-like Pas de Trois).

    Least Good:

    SF Ballet's production of Grosse Fugue (Beethoven at the Beach) and their Nutcracker (the height of blandness)

  17. I saw the San Francisco Ballet long version earlier this spring and, while I enjoyed seeing this version once in a while, I prefer the shorter, starburst ending, which always moves me terribly. There is a bit of clumsiness to going up the stairs, and the birth scene is a bit old fashioned for my taste, not so High Modernist. That said, I did, however, like seeing the "wheelbarrelling" at the beginning. And as much as I like Stravinsky, a little less sometimes strengthens the whole.

    Incidentally, the SF readings of Apollo, especially with Gonzalo Garcia, while not brilliant, were very, very good (better than the 1990s, post-Ib Andersen NYCB ones, but maybe there are more persuasive opinions on this).

  18. The Brahms-Schoenberg piece on Saturday was first rate Balanchine--a sort of lopsided Symphony in C, in pink, less cool and crystalline and, sadly, with no great recapitulation. Instead there was substitute gypsy dance last movement, Rondo alla Zingarese, which was a terrible disappointment after all the witty choreographic asides that had preceded it. I liked the first movement best, with its strange ending where most of the men stepped out of the scene, to let the last string of figures enfold on their own. In another section one of the women leaps into her cavalier's arms and he carries her off backwards and elsewhere the corps jack-knives open into asymmetrical arrangements. It's one of those seemingly traditional and innoculous ballets that Balanchine is subverting at every juncture.

    I enjoyed the second movement of Thursday's Symphony in C with Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard very much, but it has been years since I've seen a performance where the great abacus lines of corps upon corps and soloists upon soloists has totaled up to the great effect it should. Liebeslieder was great, and seemed to be even better on Saturday than Thursday, or else by then I was less jet-lagged. Kyra Nichols seemed to completely luxuriate in her role by then, not rush the ends of her figures, snap them off, as it seemed Thursday, and Wendy Whelan, when carried across stage, continued the "bloom" of her gestures, by varying them ever so slightly, inventing time, so that they filled out all of her being aloft.

    When she spoke at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library with Sheryl Flatow earlier this spring, Kyra Nichols said that Liebeslieder, unlike other Balanchine works, was not one in which you looked to the audience for support, but in which you danced in as if you were in a box, in another world. You could say that Liebeslieder, which we all have been so lucky to see one more time this year, is something like one of those quiet and strange little boxes that Joseph Cornell made for Allegra Kent.

  19. Robert L. Herbert's book "Impressionism: Art, Leisure & Society" has a nice chapter on dance in which the mother/daughter/benefactor relation figures. Herbert uses the paintings of Degas, Manet, Morisot, and Cassatt to document a world in great change, where classes are mingling that have previously given each other wide berth...And doesn't Balzac Cousin Bette's cousin have a husband who is keeping a ballerina? Here is a bit of Balzac poached off the internet from "Unconscious Comedians" which touches on some of this:

    "That rat, who is just leaving a rehearsal at the Opera-house, is

    going home to eat a miserable dinner, and will return about three

    o'clock to dress, if she dances in the ballet this evening--as she

    will, to-day being Monday. This rat is already an old rat for she is

    thirteen years of age. Two years from now that creature may be worth

    sixty thousand francs; she will be all or nothing, a great danseuse or

    a marcheuse, a celebrated person or a vulgar courtesan. She has worked

    hard since she was eight years old. Such as you see her, she is worn

    out with fatigue; she exhausted her body this morning in the dancing-

    class, she is just leaving a rehearsal where the evolutions are as

    complicated as a Chinese puzzle; and she'll go through them again to-

    night. The rat is one of the primary elements of the Opera; she is to

    the leading danseuse what a junior clerk is to a notary. The rat is--


  20. Yes, Leigh, it was Death in Venice, and I thought Jeffrey Edwards was too pretty and pliant for Tadzio. It'd be interesting to see a D in V that casts a little against type, with rougher edges. (Ib Andersen in the ballet or Jean-Pierre Leaud in the movie, with Godard directing!) Do you at all remember the out-of-character-for-Balanchine work that they revived during the 1995 Celebration for Maria Calegari and JE?

    I always liked seeing Roma Sosenko and Tracy Bennett (on tape). Their movements were good humored--they sort of laughed with their bodies.

  21. I enjoyed watching Jeffrey Edwards and Maria Calegari week after week in the early 90's. Great musicality and subtle variation of movement towards the end of their choreographical figures, a sort of rubato I guess. The last thing I saw them in was a strangely overwrought Balanchine version of The Cage about the time of the Balanchine Celebration. JE went on to star in an silly expressionist production of Billy Budd at the Met. They both look great in the PBS B-Celebration Union Jack tape.

    I never cared for Kozlova--I thought she looked bored, but her last performances in Swan Lake and Symphony in C (or Diamonds) about the same time were wonderful.

  22. I was in Berkeley, too, on Friday night at Zellerbach and agree with a lot of what dirac and Helene have said, that April Ball was a pleasure to watch and Alexander Ritter was graceful and musical, and that the Serenade-like costumes were a bad choice for Tempo di Valse.

    The recorded music was also a bad choice. It was loud, badly balanced and came from high over the stage, rather than from below, from beneath the dancers' feet as it naturally should. It would have been better, perhaps, had the speakers been positioned in horizonal banks in the orchestra pit. An alternative for a company of Suzanne Farrell Ballet's means would be to use reductions for live piano and/or strings, at least on tours. The Divertimento #15 could be effectively played by a string trio, and both Stravinsky and Balanchine tossed off all sorts of piano reductions, often quite brilliant ones, that might be used. (Some of these are described in the recent Charles Joseph book that I'm just starting to read.)

    As it was, the recorded music alienated me from the ballets, especially Divertimento, which was simply shouted out from a big black box. It seemed to hold the dancers prisoners to relentless and inelastic tempos. This only added to the difficulty of this very difficult ballet, which everyone struggled against, struggled bravely to fit all the steps into.

    Serenade worked beautifully for me, and I thought of how many of the mysterious and ambiguous Balanchinian relationships are already in place in this early ballet: Strange pas de deuxs that smear into pas de trois; elevated ballerina sculptures; inside-out hook-ups of outstretched arms. I'm looking forward to seeing this ballet again this winter at the War Memorial Opera House.

  23. Yes, Socalgal, I saw the other program and recommend it. It's really important to see this stuff while it's around. You live on stale bread and lentils for the following week, but your heart is full.

    Alexandra, you make a good point about Korsuntsev not being wild enough for Apollo. Zelensky was a little unpredictable the times I saw him at NYCB, but he could do it well--better than Nilas Martins and quite differently than Peter Boal.

    Perhaps the Kirov did not do the afterword to Emeralds because it would have been just too much. The additional, post-ending ending seems to reverse all the prior emotional gains, and already in its short form Emeralds doesn't seem to be much of a crowd pleaser. You can often feel audiences embracing Rubies not only for itself, but also as a way of forgetting Emeralds.

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