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Kennedy Center season - Program 1

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(from Washington, DC) I've just seen this afternoon's open rehearsal, and it was very exciting in spite of the marking of some parts etc. Goh danced full in "Mozartiana", animating the role, inhabiting the music, giving a performance that emanated effectively from the stage. "Tempo di Valse" was led with large effect by, I think, Shannon Parsley; any questions about showing this excerpt seem to me more than adequately answered by the quality of performance it got. Not least of the pleasures in watching it was that of seeing again how in every phrase it grows out of the content of that musical phrase, yes, like flowers from seeds... After a neat "Tchaikovsky pas de Deux" by Fournier and Du, there was an unusually beatiful "Serenade" with, I think, Magnicabali as the Dark Angel and Parsley opening Tema Russe and then certainly Bonnie Pickard as the girl who "falls". The clarity of meaningful detail in the flow of movement - this was not an X-ray of a ballet but a revival of it in the best sense - a bringing of it back to vibrant life - was literally wonderful to see. This company - now having performed for weeks - has no trouble dancing large, unlike MCB, which I've seen six times in recent weeks. MCB aims right, but this company hits the target more often, IMHO.

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(from Washington, D.C.) This evening's performance confirmed the casting I thought I recognised this afternoon, but more to the point, it was a different one - In what I thought were "easier" tempos than this afternoon, Goh adopted a different approach to "Mozartiana", more playful this evening, which I happen to think less appropriate, than the straightforward "let it happen" way she danced at the rehearsal, while Jared Redick, her partner, substituting on a couple of days' notice for the injured Peter Boal (who is expected to appear soon), made his role more clear and, therefore, satisfying, than at the rehearsal. Alexaner Ritter's Gigue seemed more fully achieved this evening - maybe he was taking it easy at rehearsal.

"Tempo di Valse" benefitted from proper costuming, although I could quibble about the brilliant lavender backdrop. Encountering Shannon Parsley later, I found out she enjoys dancing Dewdrop as much as she appears to and as I do watching her. But Fournier's ease and flow in the adagio of "Tchaikovsky pas de Deux" that made me unsure who she was this afternoon seemed less this evening. Opening night tension? I hope what she showed this afternoon she can do reappears later on.

"Serenade" was even more beautiful this evening - not the least of this was conductor Ron Mattson's clear balances, good tempos, sensitive phrasing, and dramatically disdended tempo in places like at the end of the pas de trois in the last movement, where Momchil Mladenov laid Bonnie Pickard back on the floor and turned her into her original "fall" positon. That let the audience soak in what's happening, and after he presses her hand to his heart in farewell and moves on, guided again by the Dark Angel (Magnicaballi), she lies there, while the six (eight?) girls come on in double file. In a couple of directions I heard people say, softly, "Hm." Yes. Exactly. And during the applause afterward, many in the audience got to their feet. A moving performance.

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(from Washington, D.C.) "Wow!" was a New York friend's summary comment as we walked out of the Eisenhower Theatre after Wednesday's performance. I certainly agreed; it was the best of the three performances I'd seen, counting the rehearsal (where I allow for marking, etc.). Goh showed us her dances in "Mozartiana" with powerful delicacy in the large-scale, fully formed continuously changing configurations above and below. (Okay, it's one of those times when adequate words are hard to find.) She was not so playful, compared to her Theme et Variations Tuesday night (when her rendition of Preghiera was also appropriate to an invocation), but superbly fresh and vital, really magnificent right through, I felt. Ritter's crisp, spiky Gigue could still benefit from more flow-through, like his brief part in the Finale has, to give it more cumulative effect, and Jared Redick, Goh's partner in Theme et Variations, was less hesitant and held in and more often in mastery in this, his third day, I believe, with this complicated part, but what he did - maybe what anyone other than Peter Boal, originally scheduled for this performance, could have done - was inevitably put a little in the shade by contrast with Goh's sparkling performance.

"Tempo di Valse" (or Waltz of the Flowers) was led this time by Bonnie Pickard in a superb performance, light and clear and nuanced; while Parsley's had been a delight, this was an order of magnitude better, and the audience responded. Do you find that sometimes a performance is so good it seems to mess (pleasantly) with your mind for a little while? During the pause, the absurd thought came to me from nowhere, Oh, that's why Tchaikovsky wrote that - for her! But that's the way she had made it look. And then after the pause came "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux": Fournier's easy flow of Tuesday afternoon came back, and then some: supple inflections (right through the bows for applause) enriched this performance.

The same cast as Tuesday performed "Serenade". Although Runqiao Du was credited in the insert, Momchil Mladenov performed in the Elegy movement, adding to his fine partnering and solo dancing the right degree of dramatic involvement, just observing each of his three partners in turn without anything further, while, in the Waltz, Bonnie Pickard added a bit of involvement - smiling into her partner's face - which seemed to me to be something "Serenade" is not about. This is quibbling, but when you have as much to give as Pickard does, giving it your all may sometimes be a little too much. But overall, as my friend from the Golden Age of Balanchine's lifetime put it, "Wow!"

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I look forward to Farrell’s Kennedy Center visits so much. Watching her company, such as it is, I see the dancers’ joy, and I see, or imagine I see, the attention to detail, and the musical sensitivity, coherence and vision that her stagings are known for. I don’t always see, or don’t always mind, the technical shortcomings that more practiced eyes notice in some of the younger dancers. If I was disappointed with the first half of this first program this year, it was mostly due to Boal’s absence.

Mozartiana -- I’ve always admired Goh’s dancing, naturally, and she struck me as appropriately spiritual in Chaconne last year. But Tuesday night after the Pregheria she gave the impression (and the impression is all I’m talking about) of dancing for us instead of for herself alone. I presume it’s this quality that Alexandra describes as “shy . . . “joy” and Jack calls “playfulness.” From row F – effectively the 3rd row with the orchestra pit in use (hooray!) – I thought of it as understatedly flirtatious. Whatever the case, on Wednesday night she muted it into a more appropriate, and very lovely, quietness and dignity. I don’t know that I’d call it inwardness yet, but she was getting there.

After the ballet’s opening movement prayer, the character dance that follows has always somewhat broken the spell for me. In her autobiography Farrell said something about being eager to discover the world of this ballet. To my mind, the two movements were set in different worlds. Ritter’s Gigue made sense to me Tuesday, though, and Redick made me miss Boal less than I thought I would. Still, my favorite rendition of Mozartiana this week was the rehearsal, where from the back of the balcony the choreography struck me as much as the performance.

Waltz of the Flowers was a full-fledged delight, frothy like Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux to follow, but with a lot more emotional weight. I’ve seen this live only three times previously, but I don’t remember feeling as much excitement as when Parsley came plowing downstage (downstage?) while the corps parted just in time. With Pickard Wednesday night, the moment was actually suspenseful. Both danced with a beautiful, almost brash confidence and joy, but while Parsley projected a certain self-containment nonetheless, Pickard looked like she’d just received unimaginably good news. She was so aw-shucks –exuberant (OK, what’s the St. Petersburg salon phrase for “aw shucks”?), it took me some time to adjust.

I don’t know how much Boal might have energized and emboldened Fournier, but without two completely performers so confident they can almost, as it were, toy with the ballet, there isn’t much point in it, is there? I wonder if Farrell gave it to Fournier to prod her into letting loose, as Balanchine was sometimes known to give dancers parts they weren’t yet suited to.

I think it was Alexandra who wondered what Serenade must have looked like in the original costumes. After Tuesday afternoon’s run-through I can report that danced in a motley mishmash of practice clothes and tulle skirts it’s a heart-tugging, spellbinding, deeply romantic ballet. I’ve seen this ballet in the theater a mere 9 times now, counting Tuesday and Wednesday – NYCB, MCB, and the Kirov – and these 3 were by far my favorite performances. Jack has described the wonderful moment when the man lays the Waltz girl down. Mladenov let her down ever so slowly, pausing even, and the orchestra paused with him. For several seconds. I’ll have to watch my tape and listen to Robert Irving’s recording to compare, but . . . whew! In the Elegie, I fell in love with the score all over again. As for the leads, as good as Parsley and Magnicaballi were, Pickard was the heart of the ballet for me. Jack, I can’t really make sense of Pickard’s smile Wednesday either, but I loved it. You may have noticed too that he actually smiled back at her at one point, as they moved through the corps.

I’ll bet that tonight’s performance, Boal or no Boal, was even better. In any case, we’re getting snow and sleet here in Virginia, with more predicted. I have matinee tickets for Saturday and Sunday, and I’m calling on all good ballet fans to pray for the weather!

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I just got back from Thursday night's performance and it's snowing -- huge flakes, already a dusting on the ground.

Tonight, "Meditation" was substitued for "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" (with Goh and Boal). I can't write more now; there were several Ballet Alertniks there and I'm sure they'll report in full. But I thought it was a very strong evening, and, if Tuesday night's audience was a bit cold, tonight, everyone was into it from the moment the curtain went up.

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I was there last night (Thursday) and thought it was an excellent performance all around, and the best I've seen from this company. All four works were fully realized, with a clear shape and sensitive musicality that is so seldom seen at NYCB these days. While the dancing wasn't NYCB-calibre, it was extremely good for a small company, especially one that doesn't perform year-round and is pretty much put together afresh each season. If this were a "regular" regional company, I'd say it was in the top league, along with the other SFB (San Francisco), Miami City, Pennsylvania, etc.

Mozartiana perhaps came off the least well -- it wasn't seamless. The four little girls seemed to have no relation to the four big girls, and the solos, while individually well danced, appeared inserted from outside. I was impressed with Jared Redick, who seems to have come miles from his apparently shaky start on Tuesday (I wasn't there; I'm basing this opinion on reviews that appeared on BA). Alex Ritter's feet and legs were very quick, nimble, and articulate, but in the solo his upper body seemed to be following along after his nether parts. He was more pulled-together in the finale.

The Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker was danced on a huge scale that would have delighted Mr. B. The audience exploded as soon as it ended.

Meditation, replacing the Tchaikovsky pas, was fascinating to me as it was the first time I'd seen it without Farrell (and Jacques d'Amboise, for that matter). No one else has ever danced it at NYCB; it wasn't included in the 1993 Balanchine Festival, nor is it scheduled this year. Most critics have read this duet literally as Balanchine fantasizing about Farrell. Well, all of Balanchine's ballets can be seen as Balanchine fantasizing about something, often a ballerina. What makes this ballet so personal is that it was choreographed solely to display Farrell's unique gifts without making a substantial ballet in the process. (You could make the same argument about Diamonds, but because it's fleshed out with a corps and is part of Jewels, critics seldom do.) Chan Hon Goh danced beautifully, but she's not the Farrell type. What was really interesting to me was the sight of Peter Boal in the d'Amboise part: paired with the tiny Goh, he looked like a great big, strong, man. Not the way I'm used to seeing him at all, but utterly fascinating and delicious. And with these dancers, the duet seemed much more of a pairing of equals, rather than a ballet for a ballerina who needs the occasional assistance of a partner.

One thing must be mentioned: the musical standards at this engagement are very high. And that makes it all the more baffling and unforgivable that the conductor was mentioned nowhere in the program! He did a wonderful, sensitive job, and the orchestral playing was excellent. Special kudos to the violin soloist in Meditation -- I've never heard this piece of music played more beautifully. The program does list the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. After all the criticism on this board of the taped music used by this company on its tours, I wonder if it would be possible for this orchestra to tape the scores used on the tours.

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(from Washington, D.C.) I'm glad to be in general agreement with what's been posted about Wednesday and Thursday evenings, even including the snowflakes - they looked like white leaves floating gently down - they were an inch and a half across, some of them! But here in Foggy Bottom, there's no accumulation.

I felt that "Mozartiana" had cohered better, and tempos were better, too (not so slow in Theme et Variations, for example), and Jared Redick continued to realize his role. Shanon Parsley again radiated love of what she was doing in "Tempo di Valse", and we again radiated back love of what we saw. (Not incidentally, she's head and shoulders taller than Pickard, her alternate.) The big novelty of the evening was, of course, Boal's return to the stage in "Meditation", certainly a good beginning for this ballet, and well described above. But another novelty not mentioned so far was another first appearance in this run, that of the superb April Ball in the "Serenade" role Shannon Parsley has been dancing. No quibbles from me!

P.S. The Fall 2003 issue of Bomb magazine, devoted to "in-depth" interviews (hence the name?) with arts people, has a fine one of Farrell by Emily Fragos; it's not included on Bomb's website, however. (Among shops around here, One Stop, 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, probably has it.) It offers insights into her way of working with dancers and the ways she worked with Balanchine, and gems like this one: "Life is hard, it's meant to be a test, but while you're studying for that test, isn't it nice to be dancing." The Balanchine Couples program starts tonight, and it's to include spoken introductions by Farrell. I can hardly wait.

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Gosh so much has been written I won't over do it by adding my thoughts. The thing that I just wanted to check with was I have never seen Serenade put as the closing piece of the night. Then I heard from one of my teachers that Serenade is an opening ballet and never is used as the last piece of the night, and should not have been. Is that a usual tradition?? It came off to me as the strongest ballet of the night...which could of led to her deciding to put it last in order to have the best for last perhaps?? I am not sure if this is even relevant. I was just curious.

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It's often an opening ballet, you're right. But there's no rule that says it can't be a closing one -- it either works or it doesn't :wink: There are some ballets where there are rules. One I can think of is Robbins' "Fancy Free". He insisted that that close the program. But "Theme and Variations" (which is not yet in the company's repertory) was made specifically as an opener and has become a closer too.

There were some mumbles and grumbles before the season opened about putting "Serenade" last. But given the circumstances -- the company had to give an all-Tchaikovsky evening because of the Kennedy Center's Tchaikovsky Festival -- I don't think they had much choice.

Tell us what you thought of the program -- even if you have some of the same opinions as someone else doesn't mean your comments won't add to the discussion :) Everyone sees something different.

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Yes, to me it would not matter where it was placed. I was only curious in if there was a tradition of some form behind it. Interesting to know about "Fancy Free".

My main comment is on the impeccable musicallity of the corps. I think I took more of a liking for "Mozartiana" when I saw it a few years ago done in the Terrace. I was not blown away by the whole night but I am glad I saw it. "Serenade" was a pleasure to see. I am looking forward to seeing the years to come of this rising company.

On a humourous note:

The gentlemen that sat a few seats down from me asked me at the end (after "Serenade")..."when the other ballerinas came out with there hair down was that to make the other girl feel better for her hair falling out" :wink: . Well it brought a smile to my day!

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In another of Arlene Croce's reviews from 1977 (21 Mar), she wrote in the context of noting "Balanchine's tinkerings" since the last performances of Serenade,

The three female principals in the Elegy now go through it with their hair hanging loose, which may be the way it was done once upon a time but looks out of place today.  The sisterhood of the corps in Serenade, which has expanded through the years as Balanchine expanded the choreography, is in its anonymity one of the most moving images we have in all ballet, and th three new heads of hair in the last movement violate the image.

Quoted from Afterimages.

In the parent thread of this one the loose hair theme was much discussed. Croce suggests that for a long time, the hair stayed up.

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(from Washington, D.C.) Saturday night it was last but not least, for Program 1. Goh's performance of "Mozartiana" was her best, differentiating the sections within the variations, showing them with such gorgeous clarity and flow it came to me how glad I was to live now to see this masterwork revealed again. And Ritter, in Gigue, brought to that much better flow-through without any loss of the "corners", the quirky details, and so the role became a connected whole, and you could see it entire. It must still be said that Redick's role is too much for him (I think it challenged Ib Andersen in 1981), but he realized still more of it. And nowhere does he spoil it.

Shannon Parsley's luminous and joyful dancing with the lively corps again lit up the brilliant choreography of "Tempo di Valse." (Tuesday evening I had spoken to someone in this who described herself as "only a corps girl" but who said that Balanchine's corps parts not only gave her plenty to do, but unlike some other choreographers - she didn't name them - she never got tired of doing them.)

"Meditation" followed immediately again as it had Thursday, because, I heard, Fournier had hurt her foot, though fortunately not so badly as to deprive the "Apollo" pas de deux of her beautiful if small-scaled performance Friday night. Goh's performance was rightly impassioned again, but the surprise, Peter Boal apparently having returned to New York, was Runqiao Du's performance in Boal's place. Remembering some effective details of Jacques d'Amboise's peformance years ago while watching Boal, I had noticed Boal - or somebody - had different ideas about conveying the man's emotional journey to final catharsis, and while these ideas worked also, I thought d'Amboise's way had been more direct and more effective. When I watched Du I saw much of d'Amboise's performance, his way of walking when we first discover him and the different way - chest open, head up - at the end, as well as his crouching expressions of overwhelming grief where Goh joins him to comfort and restrain him (especially one moment downstage left).

In the final "Serenade," April Ball took over Magnicaballi's role (Dark Angel) beautifully if not quite with Magnicaballi's presence.

Edited by Jack Reed
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