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Spring 2003 Week 2

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5/8 – Swan Lake -- Jenny Somogyi

Somogyi’s Odette/Odile tonight was the performance I’ve waited for from her for years -- She has always danced with a great deal of feeling, even emotion (in the past for the music) but this fully dramatic role gave great scope to that aspect of her talent and the performance was remarkable for its realization, emotional depth, even passion. The role suited her. She looked good in the tutu, she was strong enough and commanding enough for the part. Shed held the stage. Of those who I have seen dance this role, the dancer she reminded me of the most of was Meunier. She had that kind of breadth and emotion. She knew who she was supposed to be most of the time, although some transitions and passages need to be worked on, there were momentws when she seemed not to know where she was going, but she picked up the thread again quickly, this is all as one would expect, think what she could be if she only had some coaching. One assumes she had to watch carefully and invent this herself.

It’s been some years since I’ve seen this production and I was startled by how poor some of it looks. The “Court” in Act I which dresses like the peasantry in Giselle. The many long ensemble passages filled with so much motion, so much activity and figurative “heat,” but which generates so little figurative “light.” The confused over-busy patterns for the corps de ballet, particularly in the White Acts. Either Peter Martins has created a production giving Von Rothbart a prominence second only to that he enjoys in McKenzie’s at ABT or Ask La Cour took over the production in his performance tonight. La Cour, by the way, was quite exceptional.

The Hungarian dance was very well performed by Rachel Rutherford and ensemble (Korbes, Keenan, Wolf, Barak, Fowler, Hall, Hendrickson, Orza, Suozzi). I do not remember ever seeing a character dance better done by NYCB. And in fact all of the National Dances, except for the Spanish, were quite good last night. Megan Fairchild and Lindy Mandrajieff also deserve mention for a fine pas de trios.

Whose idea was it to include Melissa Barak among the 4 “small” Swans? She is much too tall for the other three.

In contemplating these performances, I was perhaps naively happy the company was going to revive this work because I believed it would affirm NYCB’s commitment to classicism, particularly as a work by Martins in this style would send a message to the younger dancers that this "style" was valued.

But on viewing, the performance last night was actually very exposing of the apparent lack of a strong classical foundation in the company at present. Classical style, it seems to me, begins and depends upon basic elements of alignment and posture. In the White Acts tonight one saw little of that. Heads were pushed every which way, necks set at every direction and angle, shoulders shaped at every point of carriage and held rounded or lifted at random, there was a sense at times of the corps de ballet “flailing” about, something emphasized by the exceedingly busy and inelegant way in which Martins deploys his corps so that the eye does not know where to focus. Lindy Mandrajieff and Megan Fairchild in the pas de trios, delivering a credible semblance of classical training, made the lack of it by contrast very visible in much of the rest of the company.

Maybe the trap is that a “classical” ballet company cannot regard “classicism” as just another “style” to be adopted on any given night. Either basic placement is bred into you or not. It has to be the native tongue or no other, it cannot be one among a number of languages. One wonders how one could repair this. It is easier to instill proper alignment and deportment by constant training between the ages 7 and 14 then it is to “unteach” it and repair it in mature professional dancers. And the irony is that I saw many of these dancers at SAB where they had a solid basis in that schooling. The trouble is that they actually seem to lose it when they reach company level.

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Originally posted by Michael

 It is easier to instill proper alignment and deportment by constant training between the ages 7 and 14 then it is to “unteach” it and repair it in mature professional dancers.  And the irony is that I saw many of these dancers at SAB where they had a solid basis in  that schooling.  The trouble is that they actually seem to lose it when they reach company level.

Alignment being the least of what seems to get lost in the transition from SAB to NYCB. :rolleyes: What happens to all that spirit, that joy, that unbounded enthusiasm (i.e. morale) of the students once they go pro?

As to the production itself, the biggest blunder of this production (ugly designs aside) is that Martins has plopped the Balanchine single-act version whole into the midst of his (Martins') own choreographic mire. If Mr. B had wanted it to be presented that way, he'd have done it. It is recontextualizing (badly) a work that needs no context other than its own, and distorts the purpose of the original -- the purpose being a commentary, not a mere retelling.

I have no doubt that Martins intended his retention of the Balanchine as an homage to his mentor, but with homages like this, who needs trashings?:eek::)

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i saw last night's (May 9th) performance, and on the unlikely chance that no one else saw it, i'll say that i thought it was pretty good. There were 5 or 6 little mistakes that caught my eye (someone not holding a balance long enough, someone banging their foot into their partner on their attitude turns, etc.), but besides that i thought it was fine. one point that i really don't like in the choreography is when all the swans are coming on stage for the first time, and they have their legs in arabesque with their heads sticking out at the side near their arm in what i think a very un ballet like pose, rather ugly. adam hendrickson as jester got some chuckles from the audience, and i thought he did well. i love the little kids in it, they are adorable, but i thought the little boys in the first act ( not the boys with the jester) needed to have some more grace taught to them. when they were holding hands in a line going across the stage it looked to me rather like they were playing an odd game of tug of war, yanking each other a bit. i thought the little girls did quite well though. i can't say anything like what any of you say, but i was satisfied with Maria K's performance, i, not knowing much about artistry, felt properly moved, and the two fellows i was with (neither of whom dance) enjoyed it as well. So the general public appreciated last night's performance.

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. . . The best things about this production, on the other hand, are that it has good emotional impact at the conclusion, and that the role made for Odette/Odile is one of great sustained interest for a Ballerina.

Miranda Weese was brilliant this Satursday afternoon with Peter Boal. For the first time this year I thought she seemed completely back from her injury, completely back in shape (clearly lighter then she was this winter) and this performance was one of the best I have ever seen from her, on a level with her Themes and Variations two years ago and by saying that I am trying to say a very great deal. The odd thing is I have never seen the White Swan PDD played and danced at a slower tempo then it was today (Maurice Kaplow) and it seemed to me that she was asking for it that way -- It led to an extremely creamy, melting rendition, and this from a dancer who above all others is quite comfortable with fast tempos. There is no one who looks quite like Weese in a supported Arabesque and no one who quite has the same liquidity to her pas de bouree and who phrases with such a seemless legato flow. And what was new, having seen her in this from the first season, was the extraordinary maturity and emotional depths revealed at times, something quite different from what she was before. The brief moment, at the conclusion, when Boal gently enfolded her before she boureed forward out of his grasp, was heartbreaking. In her performances three or four years ago, after the retire relevee in the Black Swan she had nowhere to go emotionally. Not so today, the performance was complete.

Also, Janie Taylor, Abi Stafford and Sebastien Marcovici were superb in the pas de trois. This may well be as good as I have seen this company perform it.

And Somogyi, Van Kipnis, Ansanelli and Jonathan Stafford were if anything even better in the pas de quatre. Jonathan Stafford seems to have made a quantum leap in his dancing similar to that made by Philip Neal in Mozartiana last Winter -- I had to double check my program to make sure it was him. Somogyi, in particular, was in breathtaking command of the choreography; She and Van Kipnis are so well matched -- same size, same age, same visual weight on stage, and years of experience dancing together. And Ansanelli spotting up in a series of buttery chainee turns seems to be able to accelerate them to a climax much as Jose Manuel Carreno can with his pirouettes.

Daniel Ulbricht as the Jester played a bit too much to the audience (he should aim his antics more to the Court on stage). He showed amazing elevation in the jumps and great control of his pirouettes, but can learn to phrase his dancing more, particularly in the big diagonal towards the end of the first section, where he could hold the balances slightly longer and thus achieve much more visual drama. He could think of how Ashley Bouder holds her balances to achieve phrasing in that manner.

So I have to ask myself why did I like this better today? Was it the "familiarity makes one overlook Aunt Cyrano's big nose" principle at work again? The problem for the company does not seem to be at the Principal Dancer and Soloist Level or even at the demi-corps. The corps in the White Acts continued to seem ragged at times but how much of this is the choreography?

I did notice that what I dislike most about Act I is the endless waltz at the beginning, eight men dancing with eight women, on and on, not much structure to how you handle this. And, at the very end, what exactly happens to Van Rothbart? He seems to die, that I can see. Unlike the Kirov version (one of them that is), he does not get wrestled with, but why and how he dies remains unclear.

Chris Wheeldon was quite right in a recent interview that productions of Swan Lake vary in direct proportion to how then treat Von Rothbart. I'm not sure Von Roth needs to appear on stage again at all in the final scene, we can understand perfectly well without him that Siegfried's betrayal of Odette, even if she forgives him with transcendent love, cannot overcome the fatal mistake (any more than Lohengrin can choose not to depart after Elsa asks his name).

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Actually, the final moments of this production are quite lovely -- Odette bouree-ing backwards offstage into a shaft of light, drawing the other swans with her.

I had bought the ticket in anticipation of seeing the since-injured Jenifer Ringer, and decided to keep it in order to reevaluate the production and to report to a distant fan of Maria's on her performance.

. . . which was really beautiful. She has tempered her tendency to plunge into the 180-plus degree penchee, and "slipped" only once, holding her line within the bounds appropriate to a white-tutu role. The line of that body is e n d l e s s, and line is all to Swan. She did have a sloppy moment in the 3rd Act Variation, losing control of her arms in the pique manege. Otherwise, lovely.

Unfortunately, Maria's Prince, Philip Neal, was a cipher, dancing nicely enough, but giving her no emotion to play against.

I cannot fairly evaluate the other dancers. Martins' original choreography -- a step beyond the Nureyev "cram-as-many-steps into-a-phrase-as-you-can" style of choreography -- is as nails on a blackboard to me. I will, however, list them:

ROTHBART: Fayette; QUEEN: Natanya; JESTER: Hendrickson; BENNO: Millepied; PAS DE TROIS: Riggins, van Kipnis; PAS DE QUATRE: Ansanelli, Mandradjieff, 2 Staffords; HUNGARIAN: Rutherford, Fowler; RUSSIAN: Taylor, Marcovici; SPANISH: Ash, Beskow, Hanna, Seth; NEAPOLITAN: Edge, Carmena; PRINCESSES: Abergel, Bar, Hankes, Hanson, Keenan, McBrearty; SMALL SWANS: Barak, Fairchild, Mandradjieff, Walker.

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Comrades in Port de Bras, I cannot tell you how much I treasure your immediate first hand reviews of multiple performances of major companies. As a self exiled NYC expatriate, patiently awaiting the reign of Stowell the Younger at OBT, I read each one with anticipation...close my eyes...and am transported. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to share moments both brilliant and botched. I especially enjoy completely different takes on the same performance: "That's what makes the world go 'round'".

I would like to harken back to the quote by Michael, highlighted by carbro. I would suggest (based on my limited sampling) that perhaps SAB is not entirely to be taken off the hook in assigning blame for a loss of classical fundamentals (placement & alignment, ETC {there's a lot contained in that ETC, but don't have the time to list it all})

Of the half dozen student ballerinas I know that have studied at SAB (4 in SI; 2 year round) five have returned with strangely broken wrists, heels that can't find the floor, odd head and neck affectations, and a host of unclassical habits. The exception to this was the remarkable Angela Snow, currently in ABT Corps, whose classical technique was unshakable. But I must say that I know not a few knowing parents who hold their breath as their son or daughter packs for Lincoln Center, wondering what will have to be "unlearned".

It is, of course, ridiculous for me to make general comments based on such a small sampling, but Michael's critique of the corps is so in line with the out of line nature of the training ...that I am beginning to wonder: though SAB has the reputation as the finest ballet school, how long before someone shouts: "The Emperor has no clothes!" ?

Apologies to fine teachers and dancers who work and train at SAB. I adore the legacy of Mr. Balanchine. I raise this issue to encourage discussion of SAB as a training ground for classical dancers. I think it's a serious issue.


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For me, at least some of this is consumer education. Balanchine style is certainly ballet, but it is not classical style, it's neo-classical. They aren't training Petipa dancers there and they aren't doing the Petipa repertory, even when they're doing Swan Lake. I don't fault the company for doing a weak Swan Lake any more than I question ABT's lethargic Balanchine performances; in both cases I question them for doing it in the first place. It isn't what they do, and at this point, it doesn't feed or link to the rest of their repertory. In both cases, I think it's possible that it eventually will, but that takes considering, rehearsing and casting repertory with that in mind.

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I wouldn't even say that NYCB is doing Swan Lake, but, as was said about something else a long time ago, "it's not Swan Lake but an incredible simulation!"

The last few times I saw ABT do Symphony in C they were far from lethargic; in fact they looked pretty darn good (except for the double sautes de basques in Third, but we've beaten that horse to death). As witnessed in the recent Bayaderes, the much (and deservedly) maligned ABT corps has had an amazing turnaround in the past year or so.

I've heard opinions of SAB that run the gamut; I think, as you've implied, much of what one thinks of SAB's training has to do with one's expectations. SAB trains dancers to do Balanchine's works, or rather Balanchine style as interpreted by Peter Martins. Or (shudder) Peter Martins' style. It's a house school, not a general purpose school. And there's nothing wrong with that; I think they're pretty good at what they do, although it is rather disconcerting to think of how few of NYCB's current principal men actually came from SAB.

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Actually most of the current principals were trained, at least partially at SAB:

Soto, Woetzel, Boal, Millepied, Fayette, Neal, Martins and Evans are all SAB grads. Hubbe, Tewsley, Marcovici and Askegard are the exceptions, but all except Macovici came to NYCB from another company.


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Martins was trained mostly at the Royal Danish school. Woetzel was part of Clifford's Los Angeles Ballet at 15, before he came to SAB. Neal went to a boarding school that had a strong ballet program and Evans received early training from a school in Atlanta. Soto also studied at the Westside ballet school in Los Angeles (where Monique Meunier, Melissa Barak and Anna Liceica also trained at the Balanchine-style school run by former NYCB dancer Yvonne Mounsey). There are many examples of NYCB who went to SAB in their early-to-mid teens only after getting strong training elsewhere. That's not to diminish SAB. In the NYTimes review of Somogyi's Swan Lake, Kisselgoff points out that Somogyi studied with Nina Youskevich (the article says in NY but I believe it was in New Jersey, where JS is from). However, Somogyi studied at SAB as a young girl and was even Clara in the Nutcracker. It goes both ways. But there are quite a few NYCB dancers who come to SAB for "finish" before joining companies. And it is not unknown for an AD to have a dancer from the outside to go to the company school before joining the company.

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I'm well aware of the backgrounds of the NYCB principal men...Neal went to St. Paul's in NH, BTW. Does anyone know who directed their ballet/dance program back then? (Didn't someone else take over recently?)

To come in from a slightly different angle...I think my point is that it is much more common for advanced students to do a "finishing" year or two at SAB, rather than spend their whole student career there.

Thus, I don't think that the current NYCB principal men represent anything different from the norm. (Actually, among the soloists and corps, Ask laCour and Andrew Robertson are the only male dancers who didn't attend SAB). And, I don't think there are many dancers in the company who spent more than two or three years at SAB (Peter Boal and Carrie Lee Riggins are two who did spend many years at SAB).


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Sneds, I don't understand the point you're making. If we can agree that most dancers at NYCB spent at least 2 years at SAB, do you think their training reflects SAB or the other schools they attended?

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A few weeks (or was it months?) ago, there was a performance by the Royal Ballet School. The students were technically precise and all the alignment and placement that has been discussed in this thread thus far was there. But there was something missing. A spark, a quality, a joy of movement. Though their technique was wonderful, there was so much more to be desired and to be explored by these students.

SAB students may not have the placement of students of the Royal Ballet School, but what they have is a beautiful means of expressing themselves through movement.

Alexandra Ansanelli (trained at SAB from age 10 on) can be a bit of a mess in class, if you've seen her, but when she is onstage there is no way you will be taking your eyes off her. She an absolute revelation in her love and her grace, and I'm sorry, but you won't find that thing in any other kind of company or any other kind of school. Give me that any day over perfect technique.

This year, as we know, SAB is doing no Balanchine whatsoever, getting back to it's so-called roots. There are four students who have been brought up through the school with major roles/leads and I will tell you that you not only will you find a strong technique, devoid of said mannerisms, but you also will see a love of dance that is unparalleled.

I have heard the stories about people having to unlearn SAB habits, but you also have to respect that it's a different technique that stems from the greatest genius ballet has ever experienced, and is not exactly like the classicism that runs much of the rest of the ballet world.

The one problem is that students often misinterpret the technique based on what they have heard is pleasing to the teachers. Students hear, falsely, that SAB only cares about speed at all costs, lack of epaulement is excusable, etc. This is why you'll notice more mannerisms among summer students who don't yet know how things really work at SAB.

The School of American Ballet has the best faculty imaginable, many of whom Balanchine worked with extensively for years, as you all know, so who better to teach the next generation of dancers? People have been spreading rumors about SAB's supposed downfall for years, and yet in recent years we've seen the rise of some truly amazing dancers from the school.

This year students have been offered both corp and apprenticeship contracts with Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, Carolina Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Alberta Ballet, Colorado Ballet Oregon Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet, and ABT Studio Company, among others. If there was something faulty in the school's teaching, I don't think a wealth of other companies would be accepting so enthusiastically.

I'm beginning to feel quite guilty now for making such a long reply on something that's already off-topic (and just in my first post!), but I just really wanted to share my feelings. I just want you guys to know that once you see this year's workshop, you'll be re-considering, I'm sure of it. ;)

Again, sorry for the length and misplacement of this post. Perhaps I should have made it in the ''SAB Workshop'' thread.

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Welcome brokenwing. I hope you will continue posting on what you see.

Your post about SAB is very interesting. There appears to be as many views on the direction of SAB as there are about the direction of NYCB.

The school has taken some hits recently (the New Republic article from last season and Jenifer Homans' article in the New York Times). The comment about learned mannerisms is interesting. Some people I've spoken to feel what Balanchine wanted on stage after the dancer graduates from SAB is not what he wanted when they were at the school. He wanted clean Imperial Russian technique taught in the school. But once a dancer was in the company, he could take that strong technique and twist it, speed it up, turn it in etc... However, now that company style is taught at the school. From articles, I have read that there are several former Balanchine dancers and SAB teachers who were not pleased with Suki Schorer's book on Balanchine Style, saying Mr. B never intended those twists he had in his choreography to be taught to the students.

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I don't think it's the training received at school that is primarily responsible for what I perceived as some raggedness in basic form deep in the corps de ballet at one performance.

To begin with I'm not even sure that there is any general pattern here. My problem was with how the corps looked in one or two performances of Swan Lake, a piece harkening back to Petipa style and not in the mainstream of what they generally perform. This is not something the company generally is used to approach.

Second, regading basic alignment and uniformity issues, not simply those generated by Swan Lake, I also don't think the school can properly be the focus of discussion. The irony for me is that students coming out of a workshop are often more attuned to basic issues of placement than dancers who have been in the company several years. It is simply not valid to generalize what you see at the State Theater as a problem at the School. Some of the best placed dancers are the younger ones.

My gut feellng is that at the State Theater itself they are not particulary concerned with those issues, except as they may arise ad hoc. For the dancers it may be very much of a sink or swim environment. There is pressure to stage many different works very quickly. These issues simply may not command much attention at company level. The works performed have different technical and aesthetic demands as well, some of which are even at odds with each other. And there has been a huge turn over in personnel the last two to three years.

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As you mentioned, Michael, some of the better placed dancers are the younger ones, and the older ones could likely do a better job but many simply don't care any more. Perhaps instead of being concerned about the school, we should instead turn our worries to a lack of motivation among once-spectacular corp dancers.

We see it happen all the time; people seem to become depressed with being in the corp and the simply don't care and wonder about the stage like zombies. The sad thing is, I'm not sure there is anything one can do about that, as there are always people who are going to be disappointed with their position in the company. The only thing you can do is wait for a new wave of young dancers who are fresh and inspired, which I believe has been happening lately.

Ellen Ostrohm, Jessica Flynn, Stephanie Zungree, Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring have all been lighting up the stage with their new presence in the corp, and with the rumors the Mr. Martins will again be taking a large amounts of students as apprentices due to the Balanchine Celebration, I think we can expect even more of that to come.

There've also been rumors of many of the corp girls pursuing other careers/paths, which will hopefully make some of the less motivated with ballet happier in life. There are only two leaving so far, that I know of (Ms. Ash is going as a soloist to Beijart Ballet, and Ms. Ciccone is going to Stanford University), but talk says otherwise. But of course, talk is often unreliable, and I don't want to become a gossip queen at the board. ;)

Either way, it's going to be very interesting to what changes the new year and the Balanchine Celebration shall bring.

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I think we need to be careful with rumors etc... on dancers moving elsewhere or hirings. See our gossip rule on the sticky at the top of the New York City Ballet forum. Thanks. Now, on to week three!

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