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Spring 2003 Week 3


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The role Reichlen danced could be thought of as demi-character choreography, light and fast. She did a very credible job with it. She has tremendous speed and clarity, particularly in the lower body. She is probably the tallest woman in the company but her articulation would have been thought of as brilliant if she was only Abi Stafford's size (and maybe the role calls for an Abi-Stafford-Size dancer?).

The role is often cast tall. In the '72 revival, it was split by Colleen Neary and Merrill Ashley. Also, I agree it's a speedy role, but I'm not sure what's demi-caractere about it, could you explain what you're thinking of?

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I'd have to agree with Leigh. To me, the demi-soloist role always seems to be danced by those who often then go on to do Sym. in C first movement - Ashley, Nichols, Lopez, Somogyi. Or by a trusted tall senior corps member like Reyes and Gifford. On the character of the role, if the lead couple are queen and consort (or queen and king, depending who is dancing), the demi-soloist is a princess. She's not just the little girl who can do all the fast, hard stuff. I'd hate to see that role cast that way.

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Back in the days when it was still "Ballet Imperial", the role used to be regularly danced by Colleen Neary's sister, Patricia, and a fine job she did with it, too! Pat was often used by Balanchine as iconoclastic casting, because she was a long tall woman who would dance roles like the lassie in the kilt in "Scotch Symphony" that you would think would be given to the tiny, pert sort, but she could do anything as fast as you liked.

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That makes sense, it's also a perfect functional description of Merrill Ashley, or Tess Reichlen.

What is the casting history of the female principal's role, the one Dale refers to as the Queen (the one danced by Whelan Friday night)?

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Originally posted by Michael

What is the casting history of the female principal's role, the one Dale refers to as the Queen (the one danced by Whelan Friday night)?

The original ballerina was Marie-Jeanne, a small, strong, speedy dancer. When the ballet was revived in 1972, the role was taken by Patricia McBride, who was very well suited to it. It was later danced by other short, powerful ballerinas such as Melissa Hayden and Violette Verdy, and looks best on smallish women, I think, although tall ballerinas (Farrell, Ashley, Whelan) have also danced it well. I'd love to see Jennie Somogyi do it; it's the perfect role for her.
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The lead is one of those roles that has been cast in conflicting ways (that's not out of the ordinary for Balanchine).

I'm not sure where I read this, but I think Marie-Jeanne's version of the role had double saut-de-basques in it, deleted by the time that it was done at the Ballets Russes by dancers including Natalia Krassovska (I'm betting Mary Ellen Moylan did it as well, but am away from home and not near any references)

The ballet was set on the Royal Ballet in '50 - Fonteyn did the lead, the general comments (including from her) were she wasn't comfortable with it. Moira Shearer had more success in it, as Beryl Gray did with the second ballerina role.

There was a revival of the ballet in the early 60s, and then again in 72 (or 73). In the later revival, Ashley did move from the second ballerina role to the lead after a season or so, and I think she's shaped the post-Balanchine casting. It takes a major technician to do the first turns on her entrance, which are terribly difficult without looking so.

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The lead ballerina was certainly one of Farrell's greatest roles and one frequently saw Calegari cast as the second ballerina opposite Farrell or Ashley. But it was also a great part for McBride, especially the first solo to the violin cadenza.

Did Nichols do the first ballerina? or am I just imagining her in the role.

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Interestingly enough, I just saw it staged as "Ballet Imperial" this Saturday night at the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin.

Not sure which version I got, but it was coached by Colleen Neary and Adam Luders.

Some nice corps dancing, but a truly dreadful Queen, whose name I have mercifully forgotten.

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Just looked it up on the Staatsoper website. (I had thrown my program away.) At the performance Saturday night, the Queen was played by someone named Beatrice Knop. I have not seen her before, so perhaps she had an off-night, but her footwork seemed imprecise and her jumps were highly uninspiring.

Polina Semionova did, in fact, dance the role at two earlier performances.

The website informs me that this was, in fact, the 1964 version, which is why it was danced in the old-fashioned tutus. Also that if I had arrived a week earlier I would have seen Malakhov and Vishneva dance it.

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Originally posted by KayDenmark

The website informs me that this was, in fact, the 1964 version, which is why it was danced in the old-fashioned tutus.

While I'm delighted that Ballet Imperial is being staged as it should be, I was under the impression that the Balanchine Trust insists on staging the ballets as they existed at the time of Balanchine's death. Does anyone know?
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Thanks, KayDenmark:)

I think the company doing the work can pick which version they want to dance. The Kirov has the full version of Apollo and the earlier version of Emeralds.

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The last time the company danced it, Somogyi was the second lead, and she was fabulous. I don't see it as a demi at all. To me it seems like the summation of Lilac and the Queen of the Dryads, and needs someone with an radiant and gracious authority, whether they are short or tall. (Which Somogyi has in spades.) I found Reichlin rather dry and felt she was just doing steps--I saw it Saturday night, when Tewsley was injured, so maybe everyone was thrown a bit. ABT does it in the proper tutus, don't they, and so did the Royal Ballet a few years ago. I think it looks much much better--I would love to see the mime restored, but I guess that is a lost cause! But I don't see why the second lead can't be danced by someone with some experience, and I don't think at this level (ditto with Boree) that the audience should have to make allowances.

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Leigh, there were indeed double saut de basques in the role; both Moira Shearer and Maria Tallchief speak of them (Tallchief says she told a ballerina at ABT about them and the ballerina responded "that's what John Taras said, but I thought he was kidding!") Roma, there was a beautiful mime passage which Balanchine deleted when he redid the ballet as Concerto no. 2 in '73 (the passage was in the adagio). I saw both Nichols and Ashley in the role frequently and was especially ravished by a Nichols performance about ten years ago at a Saturday matinee. the audience was rude, uninvolved, inattentive, and Nichols gave one of the all-time Experiences Never To Be Repeated. the swivel or quarter-point turns in the cadenza, which are notoriously hard and unreliable, were bagatelles to her. :-) The soloist role was never thought of as a demi part by Balanchine, who cast ballerinas in it (the young Tallchief with Moylan in the principal part, Patricia and Colleen Neary, Ashley, Nichols, Calegari, etc.) it's an extraordinary ballet, either as Ballet Imperial or Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 2.

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Not to change the subject, but can anyone enlighten me (in any way) about Ives, Songs? I saw it tonight for the first time, bracketed by a disappointingly lackluster (and dispirited) Barocco, and the latest new Martins ballet.

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The original soloist girl was Gisella Caccialanza, Cecchetti's god-child, his last protegee-- she married Lew Christensen and moved to San Francisco and became a ballerina here. She WAS A FABULOUS JUMPER -- SHE had a famous double saut de basque, and Balanchine was setting his latest version of Symphony in C on her -- the jumping girl, 3rd movement == when she tore her Achilles in rehearsal and was replaced for Ballet Society's opening night by Beatrice Tompkins. (She recovered from her injury -0- perhaps the first ballerina to make such a comeback -- and danced for a couple of years in Christensen's company in SanFrancisco.) So it's entirely plausible -- indeed, it's likely -- that the first version of Ballet Imperial had double saut de basques.

There are old movies of her taking class on that famous trip that Balanchine's company took to south America in 1934 -- these turned up in Christensen-family archives and were shown for the first time at her memorial service, I guess now about five years ago. The remarkable thing was how fluid and supple a dancer she was -- a prodigious jump, but also a DEEP cambre, fantastic fluidity in every joint Though she had not a lot of turnout, she made wonderful use of what she had).

I live near San Francisco, in Berkeley, and I met her several times -- first in a hospital, where she was visiting Anatole Vilzak after he'd had some serious illness. Thereafter, I never saw her when she wasn't being an ambassadress for ballet -- except once when she invited me to lunch to meet Marie Jeanne, who'd come for a visit.

She'd burned a chicken, and was very funny about it -- actually, she'd roasted ht chicken and only burnt the sesame seeds it was covered with, about which she was totally hilarious. What a darling person she was. Marie-Jeanne, too, sweet, funny, unpretentious, with that earthy sense of humor so many dancers have -- nothing vulgar about it, but so very matter-of-fact. Marie-Jeanne took off her sandals and showed me her famous long feet--"yep, and long toes, too.' Beautiful feet. She praised Gisella -- "the perfect Cecchetti dancer, just perfect," and Vladimirov, and showed me how he raised his shoulders in high fifth, and how his wrists drooped, very Fokine. (But if you know the photograph where Balanchine is showing Swan Lake to Villella and Allegra Kent, it's a lot like that).

It was a warm Sunday afternoon in one of the unfashionable suburbs south of San Francisco, the Christensens had a comfortable sunny ranch house on a hillside, and I'd brought a gift from Francis Mason, who'd found a copy of Cecchetti's "Letters to his godchild" ("Whatever you do, do not omit your battement serres -- at the end of every day, stand at the foot of your bed and do battements-serres before you go to sleep") -- i.e., letters o the young Gisella, -- and asked me to present the book to her.

What an entree!

(I'd gone to see Mr. Vilzak on an ultimately fruitless errand for Francis Mason, to interview him for inclusion in "I Remember Balanchine" -- but Mr. Vilzak did not have much to say on the subject, He ws still not feeling well -- when I came in, Mrs. Christensen was sitting with him; she was dressed as for church, but without a hat. When I arrived, she excused herself and went down the hall to visit another patient, her sister-in-law, Ruby Asquith.)

Marie-Jeanne had a lot to say about Ballet Imperial -- which she did not consider a great ballet (by contrast with Concerto Barocco, which she knew WAS -- IS a great ballet -- though it was very different then). Ballet Imperial was also very different then -- Balanchine did not ask her to do those notoriously difficult double swivels which the ballerina now does in the opening cadenza and cause such a shriek of rosin on the marley-- "He said, 'Do something jazzy' -- so I did something crazy. And then again..... and again -- none of those things were set -- I just 'did something,' very jazzy, they were all crazy moves..."

I got the very strong impression that the two women were old old friends who really liked each other, that both of them had long ago lost the muscle memory of what they had done exactly in those roles but knew what the general feeling of them had been, and had been -- especially Marie-Jeanne -- quite dismayed to see how the roles had been adapted over the years -- esp Barocco, which had been "very jazzy" -- much in the same way that Caroline Brown and Remy Charlip had have told me they've seen the pungency of their roles change over the years as Merce Cunningham's company has grown more facile and less flavorful

I have to apologize, I realize I'm quite sentimental about Gisella, she was one of those sweet dancers with hardly enough evil in them to be a ballerina at all..... As the baron said of the hero in "Grand Illusion," she "was able to make you forget she was famous." But I hope these reminiscences will be of value to fans of the ballets she helped to create.

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Paul, thank you for your reminiscences. John Taras has frequently said in articles that if you hadn't seen Marie Jeanne, then you didn't see Ballet Imperial or Concerto Barocco.

Some attribute the change in Concerto Barocco to Farrell, who smoothed out the jazziness to suit her legato style. She was stunning on CB, but I believe the changes occured earlier, if films can be trusted.

Regarding Ballet Imperial, when the ballet was revived for the Royal several years ago, it was later version done by NYCB, but according to an artle in Dance Now by Stephanie Jordan, it was then reworked into the version set on the company by Balanchine in the 50s and notated. So there are more than a few versions out there. I think the ABT production was the 1964 version. I think it's good to have the version with the mime and Balanchine's later setting. And both sets of costumes work for me, although I don't like the wigs in the Royal's production.

PNB does Ballet Imperial with tutus. Is it the '64 version? I guess it would be since Russell was ballet mistress during that time.

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I was thrilled to read Paul's post before (tonight) seeing Piano Concerto. I know I am in a minority here, but neither it nor Ballet Imperial is a favorite piece of mine. Lop off the first two movements, and I'll reconsider. (I do love the third.) For a Balanchine/Tchaikovsky evocation of the Imperial Ballet, give me Theme, give me Diamonds. (N.B., I realize that, ballerina's choreograpy aside, Diamonds is a lesser work, but I just like it better. :D) Still, watching it while imagining the jazzier feel of its earliest incarnation enriched tonight's performance for me -- and I'm sure all subsequent ones.

Thanks, Paul!

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I sincerely hope someone saw Wednesday evening's performance because it was on of the strongest I've seen City Ballet do in a while.

The program got off to an wonderful start with ''Symphonic Dances'', a personal favorite among Martins ballets, with Janie Taylor in the lead, filling in for an injured or sick Yvonne Borree. I was completely blown away by Janie, who has always been a favorite of mine, yet somehow managed to impress me even more that evening.

Normally words like 'abandoned' and even 'crazy' can be used to describe her movement quality, but that night she was dancing with subtlety and thought in ways I had never seen before. She really was a ballerina. If this girl doesn't get promoted next year, then no one really deserves it.

Nikolaj was his usual charming self, and certainly seemed to be enjoying his role. Two of the apprentice boys, Austin Laurent and Christian (can't spell his last name, haha), made their debut in the piece and fit in well.

Morphoses was the second of the trio of pieces to go on Wednesday, and it remained as thrilling as always. I still marvel at the way Wheeldon can make a ballet so perfectly attuned to the music and the abilities of the dancers he's choreographing on. It should also be interesting to see Amar Ramasar performing in Damian's role next week.

The closing piece was the final performance of Symphony in Three Movements this year, and though it may not have been the best I've ever seen it, it was certainly nice to see Somogyi and Evans in the second movement. After the ballet is over I decided that it really is Balanchine's most genius leotard ballet. The ending still gives me chills with each performance.

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