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Posts posted by bart

  1. It's fascinating to read these posts and to realize the long, rich history of ballet in America during our lifetimes. Ballet history resides in the memories of the collective, dance-loving audience.

    Of couse, some of us are older than others. My first ballet memory -- other than my mother jeteing around our suburban house, doing housework -- was around 1950. I was taken to an outdoor Central Park performance of (I think) one of the Monte Carlo touring groups. All I remember was the Black Swan pas de deux with Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch (the exotic names impressed me, especially "Igor"). I recall how odd yet glamourous and fascinating the grand ballet movements and gestures were. And I learned my first (not entirely beneficial) lesson that "black" in our culture meant bad, while "white" meant good.

    My first ballet on my own was as a very young adolescent. City Center/ NYCB. I remember "The Cage" with Magallanes and (I think) Tallchief. VERY scarey from the 5th row center. It bacame my favorite for years. Also on the program: Firebird with Melissa Hayden. For the first time I realized that watching movement helped me hear the music in entirely new ways. Incidentally, it was the opportunity to come to know and love these very accessible story ballets that prepared me to appreciate the abstract Balanchine ballets when I got older.

  2. Thanks, Nicoal, for reopening this strand. I will be attending 2 performances of Miami's Program III when it comes to West Palm Beach this weekend, and will have the chance to compare my reactions to yours.

    I really appreciated your second post, because I also notice that, during Balanchine works, I tend to focus on the steps, and am often unable to appreciate larger patterns and sweep of the whole thing. So much happens -- steps, gestures, costumes, lights, interactions -- in such a short amount of time.

    Let's face it, most purchasers of ballet tickets attend only a handful of first-rate, serious performances a year -- either by choice, or because that is all that is offered in their locality. They also patronize other performance arts. They look to be entertained.

    I honestly don't know how someone like this could ever be expected to experience all the layers of feeling and meaning in a serious dance work. People looking for the kind of enjoyment provided by more accessible entertainment don't "get it" partly because they don't really know what they are looking at and have decided that it is not really worth the effort to achieve the enjoyment readily available in other art forms, including other kinds of dance. People know that the steps are "difficult", and are able to admire the work involved. But it takes a lot of experience -- repeated performances, some technical knowledge, a knowledge of the historical context, familiarity with different dancers, etc -- to "see" (and appreciate) most is going on. This is not unlike trying to watch an NBA game once or twice a year, without knowing anything about the plays, the players, the rules, the opposing teams, or the history of the season so far . It becomes a surface blur: so much to see, so much to miss.

    I think that the programming of serious dance work is sometimes to blame. Outisde of the biggest cities, when there is a mixed bill, a single Balanchine comes first. There, in splendid isolation is this genuflection to "art," with appropriate polite applause. This is followed by something familiar (which alludes more directly to popular culture) by Tharp, Caniparoli, Stroman , etc. You can feel the audience heating up. Hey, we understand this. We are meant to leave the theater feeling good, with most of the people around us talking about how much they enjoyed the later works.

    An all-Balanchine program, showing the range of feeling, style, and visual images that this choreography can yield, seems to serve Balanchine better than the isolated work. Miami's Program II last season, with Ballo della Regina, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and Stars and Stripes, is an example of this. It produced a lot of enthusiasm and post-curtain chatter. Granted, these are "popular" Balanchine works. But people were given the time -- and a certain amount of comparative context -- to observe and learn about Balanchine in a variety of musical styles. And it seems to have worked -- that time, anyway.

  3. Paul Parish's description of Barishnikov's turning grands jetes in Giselle fits my memory exactly. Especially the sense that feeling, rather than physical exertion, was being expressed. Also: the arms -- often flailed to assist a dancer's lift and turn, seemed perfectly natural and at rest. Seeing Barishnikov in other roles was also the first time, in my experience, of being aware of the illusion that the dancer was actually pausing in mid-flight. I also remember the gasps from the audience.

    My question is: was Barishnikov really an exceptionally high jumper, or was he primarily a master of the physical illusion? (Not that it makes any difference.)

  4. Thanks for your comments. I agree that the stage was very crowded during the ensemble numbers, with a certain amount of dodging to avoid bumping into fellow dancers or scenery. This made it difficult to see the patterns in the group dances -- especially from the orchestra (easier from seats above). There was a building projecting from the wings (stage right) that had no function at all -- except to provide a backdrop for a bench where the burgomeister sat. It was sad to see the the ensemble dances so constricted for so little purpose. I admire the act one coreograhy, and also thought there was a lot of excellent dancing, including work from a couple of apprentices. But it was all too crammed in. And the Kravis has a rather big stage.

    I also liked Marc Spielburger as Dr. Coppelius. Very quick, very sprightly, often funny -- and very quick on the temper-trigger. It was interesting to watch Evan Unk in the same role the next day -- much more deliberate, shuffling slowly, everything dampered compared with Spielburger. The virtue of Unk's approach was evident in act two when Coppelius was confronted by the rather gruesome remains of his doll Coppelia. He genuinely mourned her. And it was quite moving to see him do it.

    There is a brief notice in Danceview Times this week about Edward Villella's visit to New York that weekend. 8 dancers are mentioned, but not named. Does anyone have more information about this event? Thanks.

  5. Yes, many fine ballet dancers are also excellent in the modern style. But for most dancers, is the reverse true as well? And why or why not?

    As a strategy for companies, how -- in practical terms -- does cross-over actually work? Is the content of daily company class (as oppossed to rehearsal time in particular modern dances) altered?

    I remember hearing a post-performance talk by the director of a ballet-based modern company mention that half the company class time was traditional ballet. The idea seems to be that SOME on-going ballet training is good for much modern choreography. However, is training, practice, and time allocation devoted to modern technique at all beneficial to ballet?

    I certainly notice a lot more difficulty maintaining center balance in turns as well as an awful lot of forward-falling at the end of big jumps. Not to mention many other problems (I'm sure) that I don't have the eye or experience to notice. Or the very common phenomenon where most of the dancer's steps are fine-- even brilliant -- but the performance does not cohere or satisfy as a whole.

  6. This is a very interestimg topic. I agree with the observations by Herman Steven. But I also am interested in the economic issue for smaller dance companies, since "best for the dancers" also includes providing them with the opportunity to work at their art. How can you attract audiences if you limit yourself to training and programming from just one genre?

    Our local company (22 dancers, 40-week contract, 60+ performances) describes itself as "classical, modern, jazz" though training is ballet-based. They do Balanchine, Parsons, Forsythe, Ezralow, Stevenson, Caniparoli, Nebrada, etc., etc. -- which allow audiences to see a wide variety of choreography ordinarily not available in our area. The price is that they can't do everything at the level of highest proficiency. This shows most in the difficult classical and neo-classical, unfortunately.

    My question is, what SHOULD companies that are not at the very top of the international or even national food-chain, be programming if the goals are: (a) dance at the highest level; (b) do the best for the dancers; and © (b) draw audiences and donor support to stay alive?

  7. Vrsfanatic -- I'd love to hear some of your impressions of the Saturday evening performance. Especially, what about the production you did not like. I feel that I am re-learning how to look at dance after a long time away and nothing does this better than reading other people's responses to productions and performances I have actually seen.

    I've been enjoying reading the Ballet Talk archives -- but there's so much detail about NYCB, ABT, etc., and almost nothing about local or even regional companies. Surely there are more than 2 of us in all of South Florida who saw and had feelings about this this MCB Coppelia revival.

  8. Sunday matinee performance -- traditionally the biggest crowd in this town. Principal dancer Deanna Seay as Swanilda, soloist Mikhail Nikitine as Franz. Well-danced, but generally less interesting than last night's performance. Biggest area of improvement over the previous cast was partnering. Nikitine, who trained in Perm in Russia and has danced in Moscow, Hartford, Fort Worth/Dallas, and with the Carolina Ballet, is handsome, elegant, and a generous partner. Seay has the steps, but perhaps not a lot of personality. Therae were a few of those times when you find the eye wandering towards, and becoming fascinated by, the villagers lounging around in the background.

    During the pre-curtain talk, MCB's new ballet mistress Ileana Lopez -- who retired last year after 17 years as the company's most popular, and truly 'beloved' dancer -- discussed restaging the ballet to increase the amount of dancing, especially in Acts One and Three. A lot of repetitive miming was deleted, and Swanilda and Franz now express their characters and situation in dance more than in previous years. Indeed, Act One was a big improvement. No time wasted in getting to the dancing. Still, there was PLENTY of mime for those who love it and regret its passing. Once you get the idea that patting the heart means LOVE, pointing to your ring finger means MARRY, making small circles with your hands next to your ears means CRAZY, and whirling your arms above the top of your head means DANCE, you've pretty much got the plot. (Neither Swanilda nor Franz has a mother-in-law to explain -- yet.)

    The Act three solos ( Dawn, Prayer, and Spinner) were beautifully done. Patricia and Jeanette Delgado repeated from the night before, but were more consistent and IMO sparkling. Haiyan Wu, who joined the company last year as a Principal (formerly dancing with the National Ballet of China), was superb is Prayer. Soft, airy movent, supported by strong technique. The big arabesque -- hands praying, one leg raised to heaven) was so secure that it seemed truly effortless and oddly spiritual (for something based in the physical). For me, the best moments in dance are those in which technique becomes invisible and the most difficult physical movements seem as natural and spontaneous as a child at play.

  9. Has anyone out there seen one of the Coppelia performances, either in Naples, Miami, Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach?

    Tonight was the "first performance" for both Tricia Albertson (newly appointed as a Principal Soloist) and Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez in the leads. A very young cast, using all the apprentices in the group dances. (No principals. Apparantly Edward Villela and a group of principles had just flown north into the snow storms to perform in NYC.)

    It's always exciting to watch young dancers new to major roles that have such a place in ballet history. Albertson and Garcia-Rodrigues projected the adolescent goofiness of squabbling boy-and-girl friend, and their different styles played off each other well. Garcia-Rodriguez (tall, slender, with long elegant legs) had an exceptionally beautiful line and very high elevation in every category of jump. And I mean HIGH -- no comparison with the other male dancers in the company. Whenever he moved he dominated the stage.

    Albertson has been given a lot of opportunities by this company (I am thinking of the chance, last year, to do the lead in Ballo della Regina) , and this role played on her considerable strengths -- strong leg and footwork, good balance, a personality that projects the enormous pleasure of dancing.

    I can't speak about the other casts -- but this one was a great hit with the audience. Lots of bravos. (Often a Palm Beach audience comes to life only when it time to dash for the valet parking; that did not apply tonight.) It was also fun to hear the enthusiastic cheers and applause among the dancers themselves on stage after the final curtain. Same thing happened after Albertson did B della R.

    Is this a common way company members have of acknowledging and celebrating role debuts?

    All the dancers on stage seem genuinely happy to be dancing -- especially in such a repertory. This is almost always the case with Miami City Ballet. I'm looking forward to the same ballet, different cast, tomorrow.

  10. Whatever one says about the qualitiy of NYCB Orchestra conducting -- and the comments have been quite interesting -- all of it sounds like heaven compared to the abysmal sound quality and, of course, unyielding tempi of recorded music.

    Last season the Miami City Ballet was given the funds to do several performances with a live orchestra. What a difference. This was a pick-up orchestra of primarily young performers, but the quality of sound was universes away from the always-wretched sound equipment at our rather grand opera house. Very exciting.

    A few years ago, even our smaller local company Ballet Florida managed to do all its Nutcrackers with the excellent Palm Beach Opera Orchestra. But no more.

    Two years ago a travelling Swan Lake, performed by a group of Russians, struggled through Acts I and II with a tape that actually broke the musican line into unconnected tracks, so lines like the Act II violin theme (de-DUH, de-DUH, de-duh-D-U-H) had each of its components starting and ending at different times. Try dancing to that. Just sitting there was extremely painful -- and that was nothing compared to what the dancers felt. (Very untraditional looks on the faces of Odette and the Prince. Get me a sledgehammer, Siegfried.)

    Incidentally, the NYCB Orchestra has always been critiized, even back of what is now -- apparantely -- considered the glory days of Robert Irving and the (then) much maligned Hugo Fiorato, his assistant.

  11. Now that I have moved away from, and have less physical access to, the areas where the greatest companies perform, I find that I rely more than ever on dance criticism to create and re-recreate visual memories of dances, choreography, company style, etc. And, probably even more important, to evoke the emotions which these dances -- as well as specific moments, frozen in time -- can make me feel.

    A critic who has a real talent for translating visual images into words is Alastair Macaulay, drama critic for the Financial Times. Macaulay writes regularly on dance for the (London) Times Literary Supplement. This week he "reviews" 5 Ashton ballets at Covent Garden: Devil's Holiday, Wedding Bouquet, Voices of Spring, Sylvia, and Daphnis and Chloe.

    Macaulay begins his piece with three exceptional paragraphs setting the historical context, going back to 1936, for the creation of Devil's Holiday. We are introduced to, and told something significant about, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Alexandra Danilova, Frederick Franklin -- even Henri Matisse -- as well as the strange performance history of the work, including the circumstances that brought the world premiere to New York instead of London, at the start of World War II. In just three paragraphs! With not a word wasted.

    Movement is briefly but very memorably described - and closely tied to the feeling that the movement evokes. For example: "To see the male solo is to feel that Ashton is still alive... The dancer is caught up in his own lyrical emotion. The rich legato ardor of his opening ports de bras and the long phrases that follow are immediately affecting; most poetic of all is the way the dancer falls repeated to his knees, even after a double tour en l'air and grade pirouette."

    Or this brief evocation of a moment from Daphnis et Chloe: "One lift in particular, as performed by Alina Cojocaru and Federico Bonelli along a diagonal, was heart-stopping. It's a cabriole lift (the two legs come together to beat in the air): as Chloe beates the cabriole, she opens her arms like a pair of wings. The gesture coincides with a high, soft string note. The lovers rush forward, as if to the music of the spheres."

    I have seen that moment -- even though I did not attend this performance and, in fact, live thousands of miles away. I have experienced it in another performance of the ballet, where I confess I did not really notice it. And I have seen versions of it even in other ballets, with other scores, and actually with other steps. Now that I have read the review, I will look for it again, more knowledgeably and more appreciatively.

  12. I agree about Joan Acocella. Her latest New Yorker article -- an appreciation of Ballets Trockadero -- is a good example. Like Denby and Croce, she has the ability to describe movement (or, the effect of movement on the viewer) in a manner that breathes and stays in the mind's eye almost as much as the actual performance. This is a rare, vivid and memorable gift.

    She is not afraid to use technical language, but is in no way dependent upon it. For example: "Have you ever wondered, while watching Michel Fokine's 'Les Sylphides,' what those dainty, fingery, seeing-to-listen or seeming-to-whisper hand gestures are about?" Or, about the poet in the same ballet: ""At one point, with great eloquence, he simply stood there and rotated his wrists so that his palms faced us. 'Why am I here?' he seemed to say. 'Why are all these fairies running around, hurling themselves at me?'"

    The New York Times has been a kind of paper of record for dance reviews and occasional dramatic stories about the ups and downs of companies and administrators. It has, for decades, published interesting general pieces on dancers, choreographers, etc. But memorable criticism? I wonder. Much sadder, for me, than the NY Times's declining respect for ballet is the down-sizing of serious dance writing at The New Yorker.

  13. For me, the issue is not so much "imagining" ideal performances I have not seen -- but "remembering" bits and pieces of ballets I have actually seen. And then using these fragments to transform, in my memory, the larger, often ordinary context.

    In so many cases, a few glimpses remain in the mind -- some are transcendant, some are small and even silly. Fonteyn and Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet -- leaping in tandem across the stage, with Nureyev jumping just a little bit higher and remaining in the air just a little longer. Showing her up? Protecting her? That's the memory that triggers the ideal performance in my mind. Or, rather, makes an ideal performance out of what was actually rather lackluster and quickly forgotten.

    "Firebird" at the NYCB at the old City Center. I was a child, but I can still recall the pallid Russian princesses, the cardboard, uninteresting Prince, the silly gobblin-like creatures like something out of a children's pageant. And the great music, which I had not heard before or even knew existed. I cannot visualize and feel the entire evening because at center was Melissa Hayden (this child's favorite NYCB dancer at that time). Sharp and imperious. (Taught me the power and danger of a pointed foot.) Then the seductive and sinuous. Those undulating arms. (Lesson: that it was possible to produce wavy, graceful, apparantly random movements perfectly and identically each time.)

  14. Anyone know where to locate information/discussion about Ballet Florida, based in West Palm Beach? After 3 years in the area, I've become a big fan, but find that they are almost invisible on the internet.

    This is a small but very ingratiating company, with highly individualistic dancers and a wide range of choreographic styles (currently doing a number of Ben Stevenson pieces). Despite the size, they mount a huge and joyful Nutcracker each December (9 performances in the 2000-plus seat Kravis Center). Last year they performed at the Joyce in NYC and they tour in Florida and, occasionally, out of state. Even in West Palm, they are out-gunned (financially, in size, and in classical technique) by Miami City Ballet, which does four programs a year in West Palm and recently opened a Palm Beach County liaison office at the Kravis. But they have a good school, a 40-week employment contract for the dancers, most of whom have stayed with the company for years, and a very loyal, enthusiastic fan base. Several friends have commented that the dancers seem to be having fun -- something that cannot always be said of performances by Royal Ballet, NYCB, or ABT. This comes, of course, with recurrent financial difficulties. One symptom is a web site that is rarely updated. (For the entire 2002-03 season, they site listed the performance schedule for the previous year.)

    It is easy to find lots of internet talk about larger companies (all the principals, every cast in every last Swan Lake). But smaller companies can't get forums beyond the local -- and even have to struggle to get that. Hope someone can help out with Ballet Florida. Or at least with discussion of similar companies in other parts of the country.

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