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DTH Mixed Rep

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The most unstinting praise for DTH’s mixed program should go to their repertory selection. A single program that contains Balanchine, Ashton and Robbins in it deserves our approbation. It’s a risky business for DTH to bring those choices to the State Theater, both Serenade and Fancy Free evoke comparisons to the resident Lincoln Center companies.

Serenade works well outside City Ballet; it doesn’t require a world-class company to do it well, and it doesn’t need to be done “Balanchine” to look good. DTH’s Serenade, set by Miami City Ballet’s ballet mistress Eve Lawson, is cozier and homier than City Ballet’s; it feels warmly lit and it even seems to take place in a smaller space (this may be so – it seems they use fewer panels of marley, but I could easily be wrong). The corps is well-drilled, but doesn’t have the same sort of facility that the NYCB corps does. Of the soloists, Lesley Anne Cardona was a buoyant Russian Girl. Andrea Long danced the Waltz, and she had danced with City Ballet for nine years before dancing at DTH. She’s strong, and projects a joy of dancing (unfortunately whether the role calls for it or not – a beaming Waltz girl is not the best interpretation) but she doesn’t feel like a ballerina even in leading roles. She doesn’t act like she’s leading the company; what I heard Maria Tallchief describe in an interview (I’ve long forgotten the source and the exact quote, alas) as the responsibilities of a First Dancer. Tai Jimenez acts like a First Dancer, even in the Dark Angel part, which at City Ballet feels a notch below the Waltz and Russian dancers; it’s often given to a “specialty” dancer rather than someone who is a backbone of the company. Even her aloofness seems like the sort that’s necessary if one is to lead rather than be in the corps. Her musicality was individual; it felt like she had gone through the part with a fine-tooth comb to find her chosen accents. What felt meticulously prepared also felt a bit hard-edged; I’ve never seen the Dark Angel look quite so implacable.

Ramon Thielen was the man driven on by Jimenez; Duncan Cooper partnered Long in the Waltz and was quite good all the way down to the ankles, where things unfortunately got mushy. His demeanor was courtly, but his reticence set him apart from the other dancers interestingly. Non-NYCB Balanchine can get very specific; I’ve seen that with other companies which have strong acting traditions (the Danes, for instance). You don’t look at DTH’s Serenade and see “Woman” “Man” or “Fate” – you see this specific woman, that specific man. Cooper’s more calm presence in the Waltz let me see the archetype as well.

An observation not central to the ballet, but interesting nonetheless was that Jimenez made no concessions towards a typical hairdo. She wore her hair short and natural, unstraightened and without a false bun. For those used to the City Ballet version where the hair is released in the Elegy, our eyes take readjusting. There is a certain appropriateness to the moment where the Russian Girl appears onstage with her hair also unbound completing the trio to soar across the stage into the man’s arms at the climax of a plaintive phrase. As indelible as it may seem to some of us, it’s not the original version. According to the catalogue of works, Balanchine made that change approximately 1977, so Mitchell never danced in that version (and Miami City watchers can tell us more, do they do a hair-up version as well?) Still, Jimenez’ hair isn’t even up. I’m impressed by her nerve; I don’t prefer that style, but she’s good enough to get away with it.

Jimenez gave a similarly studied performance in the Meditation from ‘Thaïs’ pas de deux by Ashton. This is a brief bauble of Orientalism from Ashton; the woman remains shrouded in a veil for much of the dance. Jimenez’ authority works against her here. The choreography is full of rushes and leaps with her partner (Donald Williams) and they seem to call for a precipitous quality; you don’t just run, you run to him and dive at him. Jimenez has the whole thing polished to a glow, but now she needs to show us in all the dancing exactly what’s at stake. The only thing that would make her a better dancer would be vulnerability.

Robert Garland’s The New Bach was the newest, home-grown work on the program. I’m just not fond of the genre (step, tendu, hip-hop) but it has a history in the company’s repertory – works like “Forces of Rhythm” sounded far more extreme than this. Garland’s choreography shows he can work classically, and his choreographic temperament is sweet and sunny. He deals with the collision of genres by partitioning them. The dancers do a classical phrase, then a hip-hop flavored one. The audience bursts into applause at the hip-hop ones. I only wish I didn’t think they were more relieved than pleased. The leading man, Ikolo Griffin, moves beautifully and with a wonderful, pulled-up and classical lightness in his tall frame. He, along with several of the other dancers, can make sense out of both genres when he dances, but my reservation is that the union isn’t happening in the choreography; it’s the dancer bridging the gap. Is this bringing in a new audience for ballet or is it just pacifying those who wish they weren’t watching ballet? Are we doing ballet a service when we make ballets where the parts that people really like are the parts that aren’t ballet? To offer a defense against my own accusations, I’m still amazed that Billy Eliot really did bring a whole generation of boys into the ballet studio. There are a lot of things about popular culture I’m clueless about.

Fancy Free is going to be 60 years old soon. Is it going to become a time capsule; a comedy of manners of working class New York ca. 1944? Will future generations learn as much about that time and society as we learn from watching something like Bournonville’s Lifeguards? It’s also useful to note that the ballet combines genres in much the way I’m objecting to above, and I’m not objecting here. Perhaps time smoothes out the bumps between genres in mixed works. Some of the difference is in intent. Like an even more mixed work, Billy the Kid, the ballet has a plot, and the combined vocabulary is used in service to it.

Fancy Free was set by Judith Fugate, and is the late City Ballet version – the sailor who does the pas de deux also does the final rumba variation. I’ve now seen three companies do this work, it looks believable and durable on all of them. In both the NYCB and the ABT productions, there’s always the feeling of an odd man out; what’s interesting about the DTH production is that the trio feels balanced. You don’t know whom the women might pick, it really could be any of them.

I was surprised by the problems with musicality at this performance. I wouldn’t expect the jazz rhythms to stymie these dancers, but they did, the angry stamps performed by the first passerby (Long) when the sailors attempt to take her purse were muddied. Accents that were supposed to happen on a specific beat (the sailors shifting their legs as they drink) didn’t. The acting, on the other hand, was unsurprisingly detailed and moments that look like blocking at City Ballet had motivation. Kellye Saunders was an interestingly oblique passerby (the second in purple). She has a birdlike way of never seeming to approach you dead on; she always seems to be looking at you from the side. Cooper was at home in his part as the third sailor and the other two men (Antonio Douthit, Taurean Green) were equally good.

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I was at Thursday's performance of the same program by a different cast. I, too, thought bringing Serenade and Fancy Free to NYST was brave, given the familiarity of those works on that stage. And while the Massanet may approach my schmaltz limit, the musical choices made for good listening.

The Serenade was truly breathtaking. Even in the Fourth Ring, I had a sense of immediacy from the dancers, intimacy, almost. They flew through it with such propulsion, giving it more sweep than the ballet calls for, but wonderfully appropriate -- three movements of whooooosh! (The last movement does not lend itself to quite that same feeling.) If the feet of DTH's dancers (women and men) were not as clean as those of NYCB's, the women's torsos had a lovely freedom. The company's evident attention to details of presentation and musicality gave flight to the ballet. The staging was credited to Eve Lawson. My biggest gripe was that the costumes, along the lines of the familiar blue ones, looked cheap, with a single layer of tulle net for the skirts.

Leigh, some of us remember Serenade before Balanchine decided to have his leads take down their hair for the Elegie. I never got used to the change, so it did not bother me that this company didn't do that. I still think it feels like the afterthought it was when City does it. I have no problem with a smiling Waltz girl -- no reason why someone rapt in a rush of romance shouldn't beam. Grinning might be pushing it a bit, though. :D

Thais is not top-drawer Ashton, but it did give us a chance to see Melissa Morrisey's fluid arms. I also liked her dress, designed by stager Sir Anthony Dowell.

Garland's choreography for New Bach fell short of the majesty of the Concerto in A Minor, but I think I enjoyed it more than Leigh. He succeeded best at those moments when he fused the classical steps with the jazzy moves, but there were passages that dragged, when he stuck to the classical mode. The ballet's wittiest images involved shoulder isolations, hip slitherings, shimmying, and finger snappings.

Fancy Free was a bit of a disappointment. The set pieces were generally well danced, but there were serious mis-timings in the narrative passages. The sailor's mime of shooting down the planes was too drawn out, and the moment before the two ladies recognize each other seemed e n d l e s s . :sleeping:

For those who have complained about empty Met houses for the Kirov/Maryinsky Opera, I wish I could give more encouraging news. The Fourth Ring was only about one-third full, and the lower rings only slightly more full. The orchestra seemed to be a a bit over half full. :dry:

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