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Joffrey Ballet at Detroit Opera House

Ed Waffle

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The Joffrey brought a short, all Diaghilev Ballets Russes program to Detroit: “Les Noces”, “Parade” and “Le Sacre du printempts”.

Principal roles on Saturday evening were:

Les Noces:

Bride..............Trinity Hamilton

Bridegroom....Samuel Pergande


Chinese Conjurer......Calvin Kitten

Little American Girl....Jennifer Goodman

Acrobats...................Maia Wilkins and Willy Shives


The Chosen One..Deanne Brown

The Old Woman...Maia Wilkins

An Old Sage.........Adam Sklute

A few notes:

I have never looked forward to “Les Noces” and feel that it is one of the works of that period that hasn’t aged well, despite its Nijinska/Stravinsky genesis. A good way to approach it would be to make it much longer—about two hours per tableau would be fine. It could be presented as a Phillip Glass / Robert Wilson / Einstein on the Beach type extravaganza.

“Parade” is such a lighthearted and engaging work that it took me a minute to realize that I had never seen it. The Erik Satie score is very familiar, of course, and the costumes and sets contain some of the basic images of early 20th century art. The cubist constructs for the Manager from New York and the Manager in Evening Dress are less amazing today but still wonderful to look at. If you have spent much time in Chicago, the Manager on Horseback is a welcome shock of recognition. There is a statue in steel by Picasso about five stories high in the Civic Center Plaza in the Windy City. It is simply called “The Picasso” and looks very much like the head of the two-person horse in this ballet. The Joffrey’s wig, makeup and costume department did a masterful job in executing the reconstructed creation, especially for Chinese Conjurer.

The score is influenced by jazz and ragtime and is full of extra-musical elements—pistol shots, sirens, typewriters. Since a good part of the audience has probably never seen or heard a typewriter, I wonder what they made of that odd noise. The music itself is almost self-consciously post-Debussy, although it also moves from tender to purposely archaic to splashily colorful. Joffrey Ballet had the U.S. premier of “Parade” and they do a great job with it.

“Sacre” is almost an old friend, although calling such a stark work friendly is strange. Satie characterized the score as “vibrating transparency”. No one has described it any better. While the music in has a very spiky angular rhythm and is full of dissonance, it was a perfect modernist setting for an imagined eons old pagan ritual.

It is impossible to reconstruct what that riotous 1913 premier audience thought and felt at the choreography--accounts of the first performance say that the music, even with Stravinsky’s augmented percussion, was all but inaudible, either on stage or in the house. However, one’s own response to the turned in feet, the graceless seeming jumps and awkward looking postures can at least give a hint.

“Sacre” remains on of the most powerful works of the 20th century. Stravinsky wrote longer, more complex scores. Symphonies, operas and other genres followed, some of them brilliant but nothing had the impact of “Sacre” and nothing he wrote was more important.

Deanne Brown as the doomed virgin and the rest of the company were excellent, giving a real sense of the inevitability of the sacrifice and also how it was rooted in time immemorial. The repetition of the patterns by the various classes of people on the steppe seems both natural and frightening. That human sacrifice to an implacable and unknowable was not only part of the past but also the present and (one assumes) the future is one theme that can be taken from this performance.

Based on this program the Joffrey is a company to be treasured.

A note concerning BalletAlert: When one types “parade massine” into the Yahoo search box, the first page (of 813) that is returned is that of Estelle Souche.

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Ed, I'm glad to see that my old (needing much updating) site still can be useful! :)

And thanks for the review, that does sound like a very exciting program. The Ballet de Bordeaux will perform "Parade" in a Massine-Lifar mixed bill in June in Paris, and I'm looking forward to seeing it.

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