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Posts posted by odinthor

  1. Tall people in the orchestra section? OK, that would be me (6' 3 1/2"). Sorry!--I always try to hunch down when the curtain goes up. Anyway, will be there Saturday evening 12/12 to see Veronika and Marcelo!

    And side seats? Me, I like my longtime side seat. "Less than ideal," yes, quite so; but there are certain plusses to the un-ideal: One gets a rather different experience of the performance proper from what one would get on, say, a DVD or the like, which can be thought-provoking and perhaps can give insights of one sort or another. Also, it's fun to be able to see a bit into the wings and observe what's going on there; and being close to the end of the row and freedom has benefits beyond anything mere words can express . . .

  2. I was present, in my usual way up front seat, for the Saturday night performance of Raymonda. While I can't make dancer-specific comments with good overview and perspective, as many of you have done, I feel I should make some remarks because, as I've mentioned elsewhere, I have strong reason to believe that Raymonda appeared here, premiering on the West Coast, specifically because a letter of mine to the management about two years ago mentioned not only it but also everything else on this season's regular roster (meaning "not Nutcracker," which is an optional add-on); at least, if this was a coincidence, it's the most remarkable one I've ever heard of. I was thus personally pleased to see this rarity in its full length, and indeed liked Act II--enthusiastically--with its exciting diversity much better than what one usually sees from the show, the pas de dix from Act III. About Oxana Skorik, I defer to the opinions of earlier posters; I came away with the impression that she danced beautifully while not feeling the part; but I laid that to the nature of the show (see below). Andrei Yermakov made a noble and handsome Jean de Brienne without the part giving him ample opportunity to dominate. Yuri Smekalov reveled in the lustful sneakiness which mediaeval times characteristically invested in Saracens; exacting technique such as his can too easily be camouflaged by the grand gestures required by such character roles. The show's various friends and troubadours were without exception wonderful, focused and invested in their roles; the various national dances were nothing but thrilling; the corps faultless as always; and I was especially charmed by the children's dances.

    Raymonda does not offer the emotional impact of shows such as Giselle, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, or indeed even Coppelia. It is a show of atmospheric moods and tone, not of character development. We are immediately plunged into a mediaeval ethos, and the attitude and action of the work is best digested from this viewpoint. The original's inclusion of the supernatural White Lady would serve to enhance this mediaeval mind-set; its exclusion thus weakens the show's dramatic underpinning. Glazunov's music, while good enough, especially in the ethnic or character dances, does not seem to me to be deeply felt; rather, while it often seems to echo Tchaikovsky, it seems to be echoing a Tchaikovsky having an off day. All of this, I feel, is why one leaves the theater less touched with Raymonda than one is accustomed to be after seeing an acknowledged classic ballet, its unfamiliarity also militating against it.

    I had no problem with the clouds per se as the audience is taken into Raymonda's dream; but the length of this passage, combined with the fact that the audience was unfamiliar with it, seemed to be sparking discomfort in the audience as if something had gone awry in the scene change. This--and I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the audience--had a shadow effect in that it distracted audience members with a notion that there would be further such interludes in the show. We have all been to dance performances in which part of the show is for the dancers to come down into the audience and drag audience members onstage; when this happens, the audience remains wary for the rest of the performance that this usually unwelcome development might happen again, and so distracts from the presentation. Same with this segue into Raymonda's dream (though less worrisome). The audience likes to know what to expect, and then likes to have its expectation fulfilled!

    While much of the above is of the nature of general remarks on Raymonda, rather than remarks specific to the performance, these elements played their part Saturday night. The audience members who remained to the end of this delightfully long ballet were enthusiastic in their standing ovation; but, between acts--especially after Act I--we lost more than I would have anticipated. Were Raymonda more familiar, were its special and varied charms and serene sophistication more securely placed in the minds and experience of the less cosmopolitan ballet-goer, the greater familiarity would, I am certain, engender exponentially a fuller and warmer appreciation of this ballet. Much as the ripe genius of Verdi pervades his late opera Falstaff, a masterpiece though of a difference sort than the early Rigoletto, so do I sense the ripe and consummate genius of Petipa in Raymonda, still achieving choreographic wonders of the highest level as his career neared its unwilling end. Raymonda is magnificence; it is a magnificence that the audience member has to prepare to live up to. That is what I saw on Saturday night.

  3. Many thanks (please excuse the delay; cataract surgery--perfectly successful--has thrown a monkey-wrench into the smooth flow of life, for the moment) for your very enlightening and detailed post! Very good to know and reflect on.

    Yes, I'm almost certain that the Segerstrom Center had a hand in producing the ABT Sleeping Beauty, recalling the press when the season was announced.

    Right, my idea was along the lines of the venue's availing itself of different companies scattered across the globe to present the various Petipa works (of course, I'm just using P. as an obvious example; I'd be just as delighted to see a survey of Buornonville etc. etc. etc.. or--focusing on era rather than choreographer--a somewhat less focused theme of the likes of "little-seen early ballets"), and not taking over whole seasons but just one or (getting greedy) two of a season's yearly presentations. Among the other many benefits, it would give the audience member a feeling of anticipation and commitment each season. It's impractical in many ways; but it's very canny in other ways.

    To end: I've wanted to air this thought for quite some time, just to put it in the air for those who could conceivably act on it. There in the audience with my long-familiar audience subscriber-neighbors, I hear (and participate in) the groans or cries of pleasure when the content of a new season is announced. I see who renews, who disappears, and generally know why. This is my way of addressing the question, "How do we develop subscriber loyalty?"

    Thanks again for your kind responses!

  4. As a sort of PS to my note above: It often seems as if, considering multiple adjacent seasons at a particular venue, ballet seasons comprise just a sort of better or worse miscellaneous choreographic hash slung at subscribers. We're used to that, so nobody squawks too much, however they might feel about it; but wouldn't it be an improvement if there were some sort of integral coordination or multi-season "build," not necessarily taking in all presentations of the seasons, but including some portion of the shows? To clarify with an obvious example: I know that, if SCFTA would, over successive seasons, at length have presented all of the ballets of Petipa for which his choreography was still extant, or for which there was a good approximation of same, I would certainly be moved to very joyfully renew my subscription each year, no matter how many years it would take, with the fulfilling feeling that, when the due number of years had passed, I would have experienced all told something very special. And, perhaps more to the point, it would carry along into successive season subscriptions subscribers who might otherwise scowl, "Eh, just [insert uninspiring company] yet again, and another [insert common and uninspiring show]. Bah!" as they decline to re-up. If successive seasons would at least partially reflect on and enrich each other in a well thought out way, well, my opinion is that everyone would be better off. If memory serves, The Joffrey Ballet did something like this once upon a time for a few seasons with many of the Diaghilev-related ballets; and I at least found it exciting and, well, wonderful.

  5. This season is all the more interesting to me, as--if memory serves--most of the companies, and indeed one of the specific shows (Raymonda), are among those on the not-very-long list of those I recommended to the Segerstrom management a year and a half ago when I wrote a letter bitterly complaining about their then-recent seasons and scheduling. (In protest, I for the first time in decades didn't renew my long-held subscription for the 2013-2014 season [i've been a subscriber since I believe their 3rd season; their 30th season is the upcoming one]; I'm back in my usual seat for the current season, and already sent in my renewal for this coming one.)

    Raymonda came into the letter as an example of Petipa ballets which exist but are never seen here out West, and so were desirable for presentation.

    So, golly! Did my letter put some ideas in their head, or is it just chance? Either way, I'll take it! Now let's see if I can get SCFTA subscribers a look at The Pharaoh's Daughter one of these seasons . . . [starts plotting] . . .

  6. Saw the Saturday night performance, with Vishneva, and Gomes as topliners, both in top form; Veronika Part brought a striking truly royal elegance and caring placidity to the Lilac Fairy. Others have expressed well most aspects of the production; I'll touch on a few strays: Elizabeth Kaye gave the pre-show talk effectively, even touchingly. I've always found her effective and touching in her remarks. Her subject was mainly Tchaikovsky and his ballet-writing career; she ended her talk with an interesting and affecting story of how the ABT show indeed went on the evening of 9/11.

    For the show proper: It appeared to me that all seats were full; and I noticed no empty seats as the intermission ended before Act III. There was only a sprinkling of "little ballerinas," as far as I could see. As usual in Orange County, the audience was generous and anxious to have a good time. Cynics call them clap-happy; but I find their enthusiasm adds to the magic (and doubtless encourages the dancers!). My audience neighbors, long-term subscribers like myself, were enchanted with the show and dancing. I aired my feeling that this was the first perf of SB I've seen in which the dancing really made me feel the personality of Aurora (to which there was agreement). While I doubt I'll ever see a better Bluebird than Bujones--he really did seem to fly!--this perf's Gabe Stone Shayer gave a beautiful, lyrical, relaxed Bluebird which charmed and impressed me. I looked away at the wrong juncture; but his Florine seems to have stumbled or had a maladroit moment, if I gather correctly (and maybe I don't). Isadora Loyola gave us a very playful and sexy White Cat. Victor Barbee rendered a majestic, deeply-felt King; Alexei Agoudine fretted amiably as Catalabutte. The children dancers throughout were delightful and professional. I was fascinated by the twistings of the garlands in the Garland Dance. Craig Salstein gave a memorable limping Galifron; regrettably, the audience's attention is divided while he's doing his main shtick. I enjoyed the barely tolerant attitude of the Prince's courtiers towards the farandolists.

    The weirdest costume was that of the Guards in Act III--specifically, their fabric cuisses (or what I took to represent cuisses). I'm sure many an audience member turned to his/her companion with a questioning look asking why those soldiers were wearing skirts; I'd say that they're a distraction, look graceless and bizarre, and should be dispensed with.

    I was surprised that individual curtain-calls were not manifest. Though surely this was because the evening was already very long, this was regrettable, as it deprives both the audience and the dancers of fulfillment and an important aspect of anticipated across-the-footlights bonding. While the reversion to the original style of dancing deprives us of the athletic balletic excitements we're accustomed to, the subtleties of this original style more than make up for it through expressivity and suavity, making for a profoundly beautiful experience. Very much recommended!--and it appears that Ratmansky's new Nutcracker will debut in Costa Mesa this year (presumably in December), so, based on his SB, something to look forward to very much indeed.

  7. Just to report that you'll have one more (rarely-posting!) member present for this production: I'll be there on Saturday night in my long-held seat just a few rows from the stage. Many thanks to earlier posters who are thereby prepping me for what I'm to see . . . Sounds as if I'm going to be very pleased indeed! Will be closely observing in order to post any interesting details which might escape the sharp eyes of other posters. Any comments about the pre-performance lecture? Who was the speaker?

  8. I attended the 7:30 November 29 performance at Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa. Almost everything I could state has already been eloquently discussed in previous comments about previous performances elsewhere. I can add that rarely have I seen a ballet audience so completely captivated from beginning to end as happened last night. The audience was truly "with" the dancers in spirit throughout, and with increasing intensity as the evening went on--electrifying! Some numbers were performed through continuous applause; and never have I heard so much enthusiastic vociferation from an Orange County audience as I heard last night. Yes, at times Vasiliev's strutting irritated me . . . but I contented myself by thinking that it was appropriate to the character he was portraying: To lead the masses, Philippe needs to have a dynamic, magnetic, self-starting personality. If Vasiliev himself is like that, well, it's a perfect marriage between dancer and part, and if that's what it takes for this sort of ability to hold the audience in the palm of his hand, then more power to him. The position of my seat is such that I can see into the wings; and, yes indeed, I noticed and thought at the time that Vasiliev was very out-of-breath, and for a longer period of time than I'd have expected. But he'd pull it together moments later for his appearance onstage. Part of the court sequence reminded me in tone of the dance of the Roman patricians in Spartacus--coolly and beautifully elegant; and the little court ballet was especially delightful. Flames of Paris is wonderfully entertaining beginning to end. It may not have the deep characterization nor the delving into the profound questions of Life which touch us deeply; but it compensates through its confident vigor and choreographic fireworks.

  9. The number of viewings of this thread has made me think that perhaps some readers would be interested in my expanding on some of the remarks I made in my initial posting:

    1. Why do we attend a story ballet? Each of us will likely have a different answer. Many, noting that members of the audience are rarely in doubt as to the outcome of the tale, essentially attend ballet as a sort of dance exhibition in fancy dress; neither the story nor the theme hold much interest to these folks, except inasmuch as they give the dancers varying opportunities to show their stuff. Others such as myself, while giving equal value to the dancing per se, cling to the notion that a story ballet is drama presented through dance, and so ponder the story well on that basis, and meditate upon the abstract theme just as they would with a play, a poem, a novel, a statue, a painting, and so on. We enter the ethos of a piece of Art, consider the conditions and realities of its circumscribed world, and then, with that newly-gained perspective, look upon our own world with new eyes, drawing new conclusions (or not being able to draw them, as the case may be!). I feel that the “happy ending” version of Swan Lake completely undercuts the thematic value of the presentation. Essentially, we are led as the story develops to believe that vows and the conditions and outcomes of vows are immutable absolutes. The story indeed falls apart midway if we and the characters do not believe that. What are the vows and conditions of concern? I quote from Wikipedia’s pleasantly to-the-point description: Odette explains “that Rothbart's death will only make the spell [girls into swans] permanent […]. […] Siegfried vows to love Odette for eternity, promising to save her from Rothbart's evil enchantment. He invites her to attend the Ball at his castle and promises to choose her as his bride. Odette agrees, but warns him that if his vow to her is broken, she will remain a swan forever.” And so, in due course, we come to the grand conclusion, and find that . . . ha ha!, fooled you: Odette was wrong about what would happen in the case of Rothbart’s death, and vows, and the breaking of vows, don’t really matter at all in life if one is good at fisticuffs and can tear a wing off of an adversary. Very enlightening. We, with Rothbart, thus learn that the secret to worldly success is dedication to upper body work at the gym.

    Now, turn we to the “sad” ending (which really isn’t sad at all, just sobering). Siegfried broke his vow. Yes, he was tricked into it, but life often tricks us, and still we have to bear the consequences, gym work or not. Again, we are beholden to Wikipedia for a clear-eyed précis: “Odette returns to the lake in despair over Siegfried's betrayal. He follows her, finds her amongst her companions and begs her to forgive him, swearing that he loves her only. She forgives him, but explains that she is now under Rothbart's spell forever and the only way she can escape the enchantment is if she dies. Rothbart appears to part the lovers and reminds Siegfried of his vow to Odile. Siegfried declares he would rather die with Odette than marry Odile and a fight ensues as Rothbart tries to take Odette away. Unable to live without her Prince, Odette throws herself into the lake and Siegfried follows her. In the climax of their sacrifice, Rothbart and his powers are destroyed and Odette's companions are finally freed from the spell. As the sun rises, Siegfried and Odette ascend to Heaven together, united in love for all eternity.” The terms of the story are fulfilled; we have the satisfaction of reflecting on the fact that, on some plane, true love—not mere violence, with its built-in ambiguity as to outcome—will in the end overcome all obstacles. The story is æsthetically consistent with itself; and, while some may roll their eyes at notions of true love and its powers, and at considerations of responsibility and dedication, still, I leave it to others to discard these from their lives.

    2. I wrote “[…] Odette came across to me as somewhat cold, bordering on something of a Myrtha . . . which made another feature of this performance more chilling than intended. Our Siegfried […] has a very boyish appearance, which in fact sorts well with the character's part in the tale. Meantime, our Odette, whatever her chronological age, projected a maturity which, in this case, made me a little uncomfortable: There was an (unintended) air of an innocent being taken advantage of.” I thought of Hamlet: “[…] The spirit I have seen/May be the devil: and the devil hath power/To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps/Out of my weakness and my melancholy,—/As he is very potent with such spirits,—/Abuses me to damn me.” Siegfried has seen Odette, will see Odile; he falls for the one, he falls for—or is at least excited by—the other. How is he to know which is taking advantage of him? In point of fact, left to himself, he doesn’t. It is vital for the integrity of the work that a performance’s Siegfried and Odette be not only well-matched but that they also have a chemistry or empathy which projects abundantly to the audience. Otherwise, we might as well be watching Albrecht and Myrtha.

    3. One point I only alluded to glancingly previously here, but enlarged upon elsewhere privately, was that the company seemed largely disengaged in this performance—disengaged from each other, from the orchestra, and from the audience. As an audience member, I felt as if I had wandered in to a rehearsal. For the performers, what distinguishes a dress rehearsal from a performance? What do you personally put onstage for a performance that wasn’t there for a rehearsal? Addressing this subject is not an easy task, as it involves factors which, by their very essence, are intangible, instinctive, personal, even largely subconscious. As an audience member, I can feel a collective spirit being formed by the audience—can’t you?—and it varies with each event. Before the curtain goes up, perhaps there is a thrill in the air, perhaps the audience is already “dead,” but, either way, there is a mood which prevails. Think of the audience and its mood as waves at the beach; think of the performers as surfers who either catch the wave or don’t. The ones who don’t, don’t get anywhere; the ones who do are in place to show their more tangible expertise. There are performers who can simply appear onstage, and they’ve already “caught the wave,” they’ve already tapped into the prevailing spirit in the house because part of their talent is in being receptive to the audience’s mood, in being sensitive to the vibes. They and the audience are engaged with each other from the word go. The audience member feels completely invested in the performer’s leaps, gestures, expressions; the performer feels in return the energy and good-will of the audience. The dynamic between the two feeds on itself and intensifies the experience. Similarly, there are whole companies which seem to be able to tap into this—Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba quickly come to mind—how this instinct becomes company-wide, I won’t even try to guess. It was this spirit of engagement with the audience which was, in my estimation, lacking for the most part in the Mariinsky performance which prompted my original posting; and the disengagement at this performance seemed to me to encompass co-performers on stage and the orchestra as well. The dancing at the performance was brilliant, and I think dazzled many people who look only for dancing at ballet events. For others, it was a cold performance of beautiful dancing. We wanted Odette; we ended up with Odile.

  10. I see that in composing and recomposing my comment, I accidentally edited out my mention of our Odette/Odile's name: Oxana Skorik.

    I read the review in the Los Angeles Times, was excited about what it seemed to forebode, and was disappointed in the outcome. I think my hopes began to disintegrate during the first act pas de trois; the "friends of the Prince," while proficient, seemed to me to be just going through the motions. The excellent speaker at the preview spoke of that moment before the curtain goes up when the people on both sides of the curtain are anticipating the give and take of meeting each other's needs during the performance. I largely did not feel that connect at this performance; for the most part, I felt the sterile feeling of watching a ballet on TV. I agree that Act IV, the first half of which always just feels like "filler" to me and so I usually get fidgety, was quite good in this production. And I agree about the wonderful lighting, very subtle and dramatic with Rothbart in particular. The very traditional sets were beautiful, and suitable through not being ostentatious and calling attention to themselves (and away from the dancers). I particularly liked the way in which the vision of Odette was handled; in other productions, it often doesn't work as well as it did here.

    Romanchikov (Rothbart) had a most curious look on his face during the applause at the end, as if he were at a loss to explain why the audience was applauding. Orange County audiences tend to be clap-happy, which actually I find rather endearing. They're there to enjoy themselves, come what may, and I think feel that, if everyone claps hard enough, it makes a good time come true. But my own applause, usually enthusiastic, was pretty moderate this time, for the various reasons already mentioned. I'm glad if the show succeeded elsewhere in the audience; but in my "neighborhood," it didn't go over at all. The couple to my right was very chary with its applause, more so than I. The couple to my left was complaining (without prompting from me!) about the same air of disengaged listlessness I had observed. The couple in front of me left after Act III. At the end of the show, the look on Romanchikov's face echoed my own.

  11. Last night's performance of Swan Lake by the Mariinsky Ballet at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa was decidedly one of the most unexpectedly odd I have experienced. Setting aside my standard complaint about usage of the "happy ending" version, which, for this work, I

    A) Despise;

    B) Abhor; and

    C) Abominate,

    my general remark is this: The members of the company--other than the impeccable, as ever, corps--seemed largely distracted and wrapped up in their own thoughts such that I wondered if something had happened backstage or back home to take their minds off of their performances, or, perhaps more accurately, off of integrating their own performances with those of the others onstage. They frequently gave the impression of being out of sync with each other and indeed with the music; and even the orchestra sounded harsh and unintegral, as if the members were each trying to be heard over the others. The difference between the tempi for Siegfried and those for Odette was unpleasantly prominent. Considering the reputation of the company, and my past experiences with it, this all was so odd that I thought I myself must be "off" or in the wrong mood; but then I noticed others around me giving quizzical looks and making remarks during the intermissions.

    This is not to say for a moment that the dancing was in the least bad; and our Jester, Ilya Petrov, gave a focused, spirited, and freshly playfully humorous performance, interactive and aware, deepened by genuine-feeling moments of insight and poignant affection for his master. His is the performance which will remain for me the keepsake of the evening. Our Odette/Odile was intense and crisp, splendidly so in her Odile; her Odette came across to me as somewhat cold, bordering on something of a Myrtha . . . which made another feature of this performance more chilling than intended. Our Siegfried, Vladimir Schklyarov--and more about him later--has a very boyish appearance, which in fact sorts well with the character's part in the tale. Meantime, our Odette, whatever her chronological age, projected a maturity which, in this case, made me a little uncomfortable: There was an (unintended) air of an innocent being taken advantage of. Schklyarov should be paired with a Swan Queen who projects more naiveté and vulnerability. Schklyarov's dancing was strong, exact, and soaring, his terminations crisp; but his tempi were by far the slowest I've heard for the role, and the impression left was that he was being, while beautifully skilled, too cautious. That said, his acting, his emoting in the role, had an affecting depth and sincerity, perhaps the best I've seen in a Siegfried.

    Our Rothbart, Alexander Romanchikov, was strong and faultlessly splendid. The national dances were delivered with brio which came close to dispelling the strange listless atmosphere which hung over the rest of the performance. As mentioned, the corps was impeccable, wonderfully so.

    All in all, a performance which left me with uncomfortable and ambiguous feelings...

  12. I had the good fortune to attend last night's perf. of Cinderella by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Though I'm very much a lover of traditional ballet, I found the contemporary ballet choreography of Maillot to be enthralling!, fulfilling!, eloquent!, and touching! The sets, while spare, were absolutely appropriate to the production; the costume design showed sensitivity to the values of the production; the dancers, one and all, were focused and enthusiastic; and the only regret I have is that the music was canned (such, I suppose, are the economics of the situation). Our Cinderella, Anja Behrend, was natural and sympathetic in beautifully conveying the whole minefield of emotions the character undergoes over the course of the show. The same can be said for our Prince, Asier Uriagereka, with a somewhat different range of feelings to depict. Chris Roelandt ("Chis" in the program) was unusually moving in the refreshingly different role of The Father, as conceived in this production. What, for me, moved the production from "merely" splendid to memorably outstanding was the delightful conceptualization of the roles of The Pleasure Superintendents (think "Chamberlains"), just the perfect touch to the show in lightening its sometime troubling tone, keeping the show from taking itself too seriously. Asier Edeso and Raphael Bouchard were--and I'm running out of superlatives--wonderfully (and appropriately) playful and enthusiastic in these physically demanding roles which required a degree of attention far beyond the norm. (They even managed to remain in character to pick up and make disappear a prop which had gone astray from another character's doings in an earlier scene.)

    The question I always ask myself upon walking out of a theater is, "What would I have done differently?" Precious little, in this case. The interlude with The Exotics, during The Prince's search, seemed somewhat gratuitous; or, rather, it would have been better integrated had there been more of a mix of guests at the ball. (That is, why is the Prince going to exotic lands to seek his lost one when all of the guests seemed to be "locals" in his Principality?) Also, for me, the "foretaste" of the ball didn't work; this could have been handled just in the "play within a play" sequence a few minutes earlier.

    This production premiered in 1999. I'm the poorer for not having seen it so much sooner. I eagerly look forward to future visits by the Monte-Carlo troupe to see the other delights they have to share.

  13. Thanks, Anne! Just wanted you to know I caught your thoughtful comments, which made me reflect further. When a show is "modernized"--even only modernized so far as the 1950s--some such as myself walk into the performance already burdened with suspicions and apprehensions (it's the "too much modernized Shakespeare" syndrome), and so--sometimes unfairly--quickly lay the blame about anything which displeases one at the feet of modernization and its adjuncts. When we're dealing with a show that has a certain flaw to begin with, I can see that companies are between a rock and a hard place: Complaints if you stage the traditional flaw, complaints (from traditionalists) if you change anything. Shows with built-in flaws, and how new productions deal with them, would probably make an interesting thread!

  14. Interesting--thanks! The best I can do, so far, is only that the Oxford English Dictionary--by which i mean in this case an abridgement of the OED dating to the 1930s (hey, it's what I have on my own bookshelves)--gives the earliest usage of "star" in the "performing luminary" sense as 1824. But (1) my abridgement doesn't give the 1824 quote it's citing, so I don't know if it was referring to a ballet dancer; (2) it of course doesn't address "étoile" but only "star" proper; and (3) it's likely that the OED has advanced in its work since the 1930s . . . But 1824 gives us a (going backwards) starting point--certainly in the Taglioni era, with her debut in 1822.

  15. I've had the impression that using the term "star" for the most talented (or at least most renowned!) performers originated in the world of Ballet by the early 1800s, subsequently spreading to the other performing arts; but I'm questioning my impression. Can those familiar with early dance literature give any citations of early usage of the term "star" (or, more likely, "étoile") in this way in Ballet? Thanks for your thoughts!

  16. I attended the October 22 evening performance of Kings of the Dance at Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, said Kings being, alphabetically, Guillaume Côté, Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg, Denis Matvienko, and Ivan Vasiliev.

    The performance preview talk was conducted by, non-alphabetically, Messrs. Gomes (throughout) and Côté (in the last half). Of my many years of attending dance performance preview talks, this was certainly one of the best such, the two speakers being relaxed, responsive, and eloquent. (Myself, I have long felt a "connect" with Mr. Gomes' performances; as you might imagine, it was consequently gratifying to find him to be such good company--intelligent, perceptive, precise, playful--as a host/speaker. Marcelo! Let's talk about this ballet I want to do on Ramon Novarro...)

    My postings here usually posit that I'm at a loss or a disadvantage concerning a certain performance--hey, no false advertising here. And indeed I'm again at a loss or a disadvantage, as, despite decades of exposure to contemporary dance, I'm never quite sure how to assess anything other than classical ballet, except perhaps on a visceral level, which is all well and good, but which, being of a personal nature by definition, doesn't mean much of anything to anyone else. But, here goes: I was excited! thrilled! and, if not stunned, at least mildly agape at times! If there was anything I wasn't enthusiastic about, it would I suppose be the high proportion of what I call "hand jive" throughout. But I post this here not so much to express these sentiments as to encourage others better able to parse the performance to post their comments.

    Our Act I was "Jazzy Five," music by Federico Bigonzetti, choreography by Mauro Bigonzetti, danced by all of our Kings, a sort of overture in which the personality or perhaps I should say affect of each dancer is brought to the fore. Consonant with that, Gomes, in his comments at the preview, drew a similitude between the dancers in this piece and the solo but interacting instruments in a jazz combo. He also related one person's (favorable) impression that at times the piece had an air of what one might see at certain points of a bachelorette party.

    Act II consisted of solo pieces for each of the dancers, plus a grand finale with all. As each of the dancers was splendid and focused, each in his own way, and with comparisons thus being pointless, I'll confine myself to listing each piece's data:

    "Kaburias," music by Leo Brouwer, choreography by Nacho Duato, was danced by the poetic Mr. Hallberg.

    "Tue," music by the mononomic Barbara, choreography by Marco Goecke, was danced with intensity by Mr. Côté.

    "Still of King," despite the title not I think about royal moonshine-makin', music by Franz Haydn, choreography by Jorma Elo, was danced with wit and elegance by Mr. Gomes.

    "Labyrinth of Solitude," music by Tomaso Antonio Vitali, choreography by Patrick De Bana, was danced by the super-charged Mr. Vasiliev.

    "Guilty," music by Frederic Chopin, choreography by Edward Clug, was danced with empathy by the reflective Mr. Matvienko.

    Our finale, "KO'd," music by our Mr. Côté, choreography by our Mr. Gomes, onstage piano segment with the composer at the keyboard, was danced with vivacity by all five. The lights, methinks, went dark a second too soon at the end; I suspect that many thus didn't see that in the piece we come full circle.

    The audience was, appropriately, enthusiastic.

    Attendance was poor, alas, with many a vacant block of seats on all levels. Those present were fortunate to have had a memorable evening. Those not present, ah--the loss is theirs!

  17. I attended the June 18 evening performance of Ballet Nacional de Cuba at Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, at which The Magic of Dance, a program of selections from Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Don Quixote, Swan Lake, and Gottschalk Symphony was performed. It was interesting to read CubanInUSA's review of the Washington, D.C., performances of the company. I can agree that there was an air of inexperience in the efforts of the lead dancers, particularly in some very tentative dancing in the "first act" (Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker) . . . and yet . . . and yet . . . and yet, by the end of the evening, I was very much with them every step of the way. The troupe showed a very traditional sensibility, no doubt flowing from the group’s venerable, accomplished, and sensitive founder, Alicia Alonso. In the current general aesthetic environment, in which presentations seem somehow out of touch with their own Art, I found this sensibility refreshing, and a vivifying renewal of the very kernel of the Ballet experience. It was what I found so enthralling back in the 1970s and 80’s when I first became enchanted by Ballet. It’s very hard, even for someone who parses feelings so minutely as I, for me to put my finger on just what it is; but most companies seem to me to have lost in the ensuing decades that animating artistic spark which was formerly present. Not so with the Cubans! Their spirit, their easygoing but dedicated "presence," the way in which each member of the troupe engages the audience such that the audience member feels that he or she is part of the performance--this is the dynamic which all companies should strive for. With the company's recent experience with defections, this, admittedly, may not at this time be seasoned, stratospheric dancing—though I must say that never have the Wilis seemed so frightening, so implacable—but seeing the Cuban troupe is like finding a Fabergé in a bin of plastic souvenirs: They clearly are very much in touch with the Magic of Dance. I will not detain you further with ramblings about specifics, other than to state that this was the most exciting Mazurka from Coppelia I have seen; and Arian Molina and Sadaise Arencibia were beautifully strong and outstanding in the Swan Lake Act II Pas de Deux. Miss Alonso is guarding the sacred flame of Ballet well. Bravissima, maestra!

  18. I'm at a bit of a disadvantage to offer cogent remarks on the Napoli presented at Segerstrom Center in Orange County, California, Saturday night, as, despite forty years of ballet attendance, this was my first Napoli. It was for that reason, as you'll readily understand, much anticipated by myself; and perhaps it was also for that reason that I found myself just a bit disappointed.

    As we expect with the Royal Danes, the dancing was strong and focused, offered with that easygoing confidence which excites the bonhomie of the audience towards the performers. This production was something of a high concept, with the tale being set in the 1950s, much de-religionized, and given a Fellini-easque treatment. To those who have had the happy opportunity to experience many Napolis in their audience-lifetimes, doubtless the change could be refreshing; to those who haven't--or at least this one--there is a nagging doubt as one trudges back to the car after the performance that one has really experienced Napoli; and with that I'd like to solicit the comments of those who have seen both more traditional performances as well as this current one.

    The actual dancing--already, as we know from researching Napoli, rather elusive, most particularly in the first act--I found to be further obscured by the fussy business inherent to the Fellini-esque treatment. Too late does one realize that, oh yes, those fishermen over there have actually been dancing--dancing, mind you--while we have been distracted by the rich Neapolitan turmoil of children, bicyclists, tourists, streetwalkers, argumentation, gesticulation, and other what-not. Do we attend a ballet to be given insights into Italian street life of the 1950s? Many may be dubious. Yes, the alternative may be lengthy stretches of traditional ballet mime, trying, I know, to some; but the one goes with the territory, the other does not. Even the storytelling itself was sabotaged by this treatment; it was only chance, a sharp eye, and familiarity with the story which enabled me to pierce the general busy-ness and see and understand the significance of a split-second glimpse of sail--I think that's what that flash of white was!--when Gennaro and Teresina embarked. Even the very dance-y third act seemed to me claustrophobic and muddled by the production's Fellini approach.

    If those who have enjoyed more traditional productions have had the same reaction to those productions, then I am left without much more to say than that the problem is inherent to the piece rather than to the production; but doesn't basic stagecraft demand that the treatment serve the priorities of the show, which I take to be dancing and story before spectacle, rather than to undercut it? The second act, simpler in concept, was strikingly beautiful in this production, both visually and choreographically, and shows how a complete reconceptualization can succeed magnificently; the act's new music was appropriately aqueous; Golfo and the Naiads were, appropriately, the sexiest creatures of the sea one could hope for; and the act could have washed over us for another hour or two without any complaints from the audience. The second act of this production will stay with me as a cherished memory; recollection of the rest will only make me sigh and wish for an opportunity to see a traditional production. Such are the paradoxes of ballet-going!

  19. Boris Eifman's "Don Quixote, or, Fantasies of a Madman" premiered at Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa on April 26. Having seen several of Eifman's works before, I attended, with feelings of foreboding, the April 30 evening performance--Walpurgis Night! Ballet instead of bonfires for me... The Los Angeles Times bestowed on its readers a harsh review of the April 26th performance. With those facts as background, let us move on to the two issues we have to cover: (1) the work itself; (2) the performance.

    Eifman's "Don Quixote, or, Fantasies of a Madman" is not to be looked upon as a new or parallel production of the familiar Petipa-based "Don Quixote," nor as a new treatment of the Cervantes novel (or any part of it) per se; and this, I think, is the mistake that the Times' reviewer, Victoria Loosleaf, made (I won't quote from the review, as it is available on-line). Eifman has taken the Petipa ballet as a springboard for delving into, on the surface, the psyche of our ingenioso Don, but, more abstractly, into the dynamic of mankind's dreams and fantasies--and a moment's reflection will remind us that dreams, fantasies, and--uncomfortably--madness are part and parcel of Art itself. Don Q.'s unconsciously, through his personal "mad" vision, redeeming the fake Dulcinea from an unremittingly ugly life into one which can thereafter cling to a vision of hope is something which will remain with me; and it is a parable of Art's place in human affairs. While I walked into the theater very dubious about what I was going to experience--Eifman's works have, in the past, seemed to me to be largely heavy-handed angst-fests, but performed beautifully by a skilled and dedicated ensemble--I left the performance deeply touched by what I felt to be Eifman's success in his undertaking. I congratulate him.

    The work does still need some re-thinking here and there, some ties between various elements to be made clearer, and the meaning of some symbols or sequences to be clarified. For some specifics: Once the insane asylum element has been established, which is immediately, we could do with less indulgence in its inmates' general antics subsequently. If Don Q. is to be identified with Basil, which I understood not from the show but rather, with surprise, from the notes which I read after the show, this needs to be put across to the audience more forthrightly. What was meant to be, evidently, an actual escape from the asylum and episode in a "real" tavern, I took to be an imaginary escape to the Petipa's Don' Q.'s gypsy camp. Eifman's ideas in all of these are good, valid ones; but these and no doubt others flew right over the head of even this very pensive and symbol-seeing audience member. This is a very good piece, and deserves further careful attention and development from Eifman.

    As I mentioned before, whatever I might think of particular shows, Eifman's dancers have always struck me as giving beautiful and dedicated performances; and this was the case last night. If I had to find something unsatisfactory to note, aside from the music being of the canned variety, I'd say that our Basil, Alexei Turko, seemed to me to be a bit effortful at times, and distracted me by seeming to be talking to himself. Back to the plus side, our substitute-Dulcinea, Anastasia Sitkinova, impressed not only by her dancing but also by truly inhabiting her role dramatically, which called for a wide range of emotions. Vladimir Dorokhin provided the most skilled and fresh portrayal of Gamache I have seen. The three threatening "giants" were psychologically frightening in just the right way.

    This show validated Eifman to this former unbeliever. See it, enjoy it, learn about madness, art, dreams, the human condition, and redemption through hope.

  20. Hi, Brent, and a welcome from me, too! Easy way to tell the Monotones apart - I has 1 man, II has 2 men. If you don't remember another guy with Glenn, then it was very likely I. When we did them at Joffrey, our original I man was Burton Taylor, the II men were Robert Thomas and...Kevin MCKENZIE(!?!)

    Thanks, Giannina and Mel! As this is an "introduce yourself" area, maybe I shouldn't be stretching out this thread; but it's interesting how many of my memories are Joffrey-related, when my Joffrey experiences were limited to the short time the company had a second home in L.A. When the Nederlands company was at then-OCPAC several years ago, I had the pleasure of "meeting" Glenn E. at a pre-show talk (that is, I was in the small talk audience); which leads me to what is perhaps the most unusual pleasant ballet memory I have, which unfortunately has a lot of set up without much payoff: At the intermission that evening, I noticed that Glenn was hanging out in the public area, and so was going to step up and mention my appreciation of his performances decades earlier. However, another gent was interminably bending his ear about which Nederlands shows were on DVD and so on, so I gave up and strolled about for the rest of the intermission. The chimes at length sounded for us all to return to our seats, and so there was quite a press of people moving along where Glenn and the gent were still talking. Still talking! Huh! Now, when it comes to crowds, I am a scurrier-through rather than a stately walker-among. The only path to my seat lay through a narrow bottleneck between, as it happened, Glenn and the wall. Nothing daunted, I forged ahead, gracefully I like to think, Glenn could see where the arc of my "choreography" was leading, and, as he must have done hundreds of times on stage in cramped conditions, subtly accorded this other "dancer," me, just enough room to complete my step without affecting his own bit of "business" with the chatting gent. It's not much in the telling! But I always smile to think of it, as for a moment it made me feel as if I were on stage in a crowd scene, indeed a co-performer with a dancer for whom I had had so much admiration for so many years... And so you see, we in the audience are performers too, in our way.

    Best Wishes,


  21. Having joined the site several years ago, I have put off for much too long both introducing myself and posting comments!

    I'm Brent, alias BCD (from my initials) or odinthor (from my e-mail moniker). I've attended ballet performances regularly, as a season subscriber, in the Los Angeles/Orange County area since the mid-1970s--ye gods, has it been so long?--first primarily at the L.A. Music Center, and now at OCPAC or I should say the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

    If I were asked to reach back and tell you of memorable performances of single artists which I saw in the earlier part of my ballet-viewing, the first three I'd think of would be Glenn Edgerton in Ashton's "Monotones" (I or II? I forget!) as well as in "Petrouchka," and Erik Bruhn as, can you believe it, The Chosen One in "Sacre du Printemps." Ah, but I can't forget Peter Martins in "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme." Hm, I look at the list, and am surprised to see that my memory is favoring the gentlemen. Whole-show performances which have moved me to tears (in a positive way!) have been the Royal Swedish Ballet's "El Greco" and any number of perfs. by various companies of "Swan Lake." An aspiration would be to manage to see such Petipa and Buornonville ballets as are rarely-produced here (has a "Raymonda" ever come to Southern California?).

    Most recently, I attended "Reflections" last Saturday night at the Segerstrom Center. What struck me most was the palpable sense of relief and enthusiastic gratitude which clearly swept over the audience with the Balanchine segment . . .

    Having long read and appreciated the knowledgeable, articulate, and insightful postings here, I hesitate to post mere babblings; but, posting or not, here I am, and appreciating your efforts and ponderings!

    Best Wishes,


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