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Balanchine on Film program

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Nesholm Family Lecture Hall ~ Marion Oliver McCaw Hall

April 27, May 4, and May 11, 2004

SEATTLE, WA -- Pacific Northwest Ballet proudly pays tribute to the genius of George Balanchine, the most influential choreographer of the 20th century, as PNB’s Balanchine Centenary celebration continues with BALANCHINE ON FILM. Hosted by dance historian Doug Fullington with guests from PNB, the three-part screening of historic and documentary films features Balanchine’s revolutionary choreography and his immense contributions to the world of ballet. The series runs April 27, May 4 and May 11 in the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall.

EVENING ONE Tuesday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m.

From Silence to Sound

BALANCHINE ON FILM kicks off with a program featuring the hauntingly beautiful silent films of Balanchine's La Valse (filmed at Jacob's Pillow, 1951) and La Source (filmed c. 1969). These silent films of Balanchine’s choreography are brought to life by PNB pianist Dianne Chilgren, who seamlessly synchronized her playing of the score with the films’ visual images, in this 1995 joint project of The George Balanchine Trust and The New York Public Library, directed by Ron Honsa. Tanaquil LeClercq and Nicholas Magallenes in La Valse, as well as Violette Verdy and Edward Villella in La Source are among the featured dancers to watch for.

Western Symphony

Balanchine's immense versatility is exhibited in this rare archival film of the Paris taping of Western Symphony, his delightful cowboy ballet choreographed in 1954 and set to Hershy Kay's western-inspired score. Filmed two years later as a motion picture and directed by Thomas Rove, the film features New York City Ballet Dancers Diana Adams and Herbert Bliss, Melissa Hayden and Nicholas Magallenes, Allegra Kent and Robert Barnett, and Tanaquil LeClercq and Jacques d'Amboise.

EVENING TWO Tuesday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m.

New York City Ballet, 1965

The celebration continues with a film that takes a more personal look into the life and work of George Balanchine. Filmed for WNET television and directed by Charles Dubin, audiences are given the rare opportunity to see Balanchine discuss his views on dance in this program featuring New York City Ballet dancers performing Balanchine pas de deux. Among the featured dancers are Suzanne Farrell and Arthur Mitchell (Agon), Patricia McBride and Edward Villella (Tarantella), Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise (Meditation) and Melissa Hayden and d'Amboise (Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux).

Balanchine Lives!

Balanchine Lives!, directed by Michael Blackwood, is a 1997 documentary about Balanchine’s choreographic legacy and the preservation of his ballets as living works of art. The George Balanchine Trust repetiteurs Francia Russell, Elise Borne, Bart Cook, Suzanne Farrell, Sara Leland, Kay Mazzo, Patricia Neary, Suki Schorer, Victoria Simon, Violette Verdy, and Karin Von Aroldingen contribute to an intriguing discussion about the process of staging Balanchine ballets over rehearsal footage of six American and European ballet companies including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet de Capitole of Toulouse, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Bern Ballet, Miami City Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

BALANCHINE ON FILM concludes with PNB's award-winning production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Balanchine’s first original full-length work was choreographed in 1964 to a radiant score by Felix Mendelssohn. The enchanting two-act re-telling of Shakespeare’s beloved tale was revived by Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1997 in a staging by Francia Russell, with new sets and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz. PNB Company dancers, students of PNB School and the BBC Orchestra, directed by PNB Music Director and Conductor Stewart Kershaw, all shine in this production filmed in high-definition by the BBC at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London in 1999, directed by Ross MacGibbon. Winner of the IMZ Dance Screen award for "Best Television Realization of a Stage Production," this special screening is not to be missed.

Tickets to BALANCHNE ON FILM are available from the PNB Box Office at (206) 441-2424. Ticket prices are $12 for single tickets, $30 for series tickets (all three evenings). Student tickets are half price. For further information, visit PNB’s website at www.pnb.org.

Pacific Northwest Ballet thanks for following BALANCHINE ON FILM promotion partners: 911 Media Arts Center, Film Info List, Mayor’s Office of Film and Music, and TheWarrenReport.

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Tonight's presentation was phenomenal. First Doug Fullington introduced Diane Chilgren and spoke a little bit about what we'd be seeing. I didn't take notes, and I don't remember which of Chilgren's comments came at the beginning and which came during the Q&A, but here are paraphrases of some of them:

*Chilgren got the silent tapes two months before starting production. She had scores of La Valse and La Source with minimal markings, and she did her own notation. Since she worked with Verdy on La Source, she was able to get Verdy's input and to confirm the work she did on her own.

*Chilgren came to NYCB in the '70's and hadn't seen LeClerq dance; the La Valse tape was the first time she saw LeClerq.

*The tape of La Valse was a pirated tape made by a fan at Jacob's Pillow in 1951. I don't think either Chilgren or Fullington said that the La Source tape was also a pirate -- it was shot from front and above -- but they both were made with hand-held cameras, and Chilgren said that a challenge was that because of that, the dancers sped up and slowed down. She had to match her playing to the tape, which she said were not the tempos she was used to from playing the pieces at PNB.

*Someone asked Chilgren how she came to PNB. She said that Balanchine was artisitic director of a company in Geneva towards the end of his life, and she worked for that company until he died in 1983. At that point she decided that she wanted to return to the US. Barbara Horgan recommended PNB, and her family lives in the greater Pacific Northwest, so she wanted to return here.

*Someone else asked how Chilgren became involved in dance. She said that someone -- and to this day she doesn't know who -- recommended her to NYCB, and just before she was about to do a recital at Town Hall, they called her to ask her to audition. She decided to wait until after the recital, and they called again. She went and they asked her to play excerpts from Firebird. She said after that, the Glazunov score they gave her was easy. The final part was playing for one of Balanchine's classes. She said he kept talking to her and eliminating all of the classical music she had. First she mentioned that he preferred show tunes because of the energy, but then added that he didn't like classical music played at incorrect tempi. Having passed that "test" she said that she really liked the Company and found Balanchine fascinating, so she stayed while continuing to perform concerts on her own.

The first half of the program was a series of different tapes, beginning with the silent version of Tanaquil LeClerq and Nicolas Magallanes performing the Eighth Waltz (to "Valse Nobles et Sentimentales). For some reason, it elicited some giggles from the audience. Then the ballet was repeated with the piano accompaniment by Chilgren, and it bloomed, yet at the same time was eerily intimate. LeClerq was in her early 20's when it was made, and what a unique sensibility she had at such an early age.

La Valse was followed by interviews with Violette Verdy, who started with one thought and kept branching farther and farther out, from Balanchine and French music and how he used it more than French choreographers, to dancing the roles he made for her using French music, to working on the reconstruction. There was footage of Chilgren recording the music as the film of La Source played, and a discussion between Verdy and Chilgren, in which Chilgren held her ground to get a word in edgewise :flowers: One of the topics they talked about was trying to figure out the timing to make it seem like the dancers were responding to the music, not the other way around. One challenge they discussed was that Villella got airborne quickly when he jumped, so that it was hard to time; in one instance, Chilgren played so that on the four she was back in exact synch with him.

The film itself was almost all pas de deux and solos for Verdy and Villella. There were several shots of the corps as Verdy and Villella entered, but until the finale, there was almost no corps action. The dancing was phenomenal, and the woman's role is so difficult. Not that the man's solos are a cinch, but, for example, in the second pas de deux, Verdy has to keep her leg up through various supported positions, and her leg was light as a feather the entire time. She had two solos that went on so long, it was hard to imagine the stamina it would take to survive them, let alone making them look effortless.

After a short break, a French film version of "les etoiles avec les danseurs" of the NYCB performing Western Symphony was shown. The short excerpt from the beginning of the second movement, and the extended one from the fourth are familiar from the PBS Balanchine documentary. What a cast: Diana Adams and Herbert Bliss in the first movement, Melissa Hayden and Nicholas Magallanes in the second, Allegra Kent and Robert Barnett in the now rarely seen third movement (scherzo), and LeClerq and Jacques d'Amboise in the fourth. Before it was shown, Fullington mentioned that it was filmed one week before LeClerq contracted polio, and it is the last film of her dancing. During the intermission I heard someone say to Francia Russell that she was the star of the second half, which she shrugged off, but Fullington pointed out that she was one of the corps girls in the first movement, on her first assignment at NYCB (on a European tour no less). So when she came into focus, she got a round of applause.

If someone told me I could have one of the three films, I wouldn't know how to decide. The footage of La Valse was so poignant, Verdy, especially, and Villella were dreams in La Source, and even though I think Western Symphony is a bit of a dog, all of those great dancers were in it...

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Program II consisted of two films: "Balanchine Lives!" from 1997 and "New York City Ballet, 1965" a WNET production, and a Q&A with Francia Russell.

The theme of "Balanchine Lives" is staging Balanchine, and it's comprised mostly of a series of interviews with Artistic Directors who programmed Balanchine ballets and the stagers who worked with the companies, as well as short excerpts of the actual staging rehearsals. Bernard Taper and Barbara Horgan were also interviewed. The film cut back and forth among the various stagers, so there wasn't an extended section for each of the ballets that were staged. It went by so fast that my notes were sketchy, and it was hard to get complete quotes, but I'll try to give the essence of what was said.

The film opened with part of an interview with Francia Russell, then it segued to Karin von Aroldingen and Sarah Leland getting out of a cab in Toulouse, and trying to find the entrance to the rehearsal hall! von Aroldingen was the main stager for Liebeslieder Walzer, and Leland was there to partner her in rehearsals, and it was really neat to see them dance together. At one point they both were trying to tell the man not to look at his partner, which Leland explained something like, "it's not that you don't like her -- you're just blinded by her," which strikes me as such an American explanation. They were delightful to watch, and von Aroldingen was glowing during the staging. From listening to her talk about staging and about the ballets, it was clear why Balanchine liked her so much as a person.

She talked about the ballets Balanchine created for her as "presents," but also said that the ballets were presents to anyone who danced his work. He created four great roles for her -- [Edited out "Man I Love" and added in] "Who Cares?"/"Stairway to Paradise" in Who Cares, Stravinsky Violin Concerto First Couple, Davidsbundlertanze, and "MacDonald of Sleat" in Union Jack -- which I think stand up to the ensemble roles he made for anyone. According to Russell, she inherited the rights to Liebeslieder Walzer and is a specialist in staging it, which she did in the film for Ballet du Capitole of Toulouse.

Barbara Horgan explained that the rights for most of the ballets were divvied up in Balanchine's will, including shared rights to some ballets, and the Trust was created as the inheritors got together to "make a whole" out of the legacy. According to Russell (Q&A), Betty Cage inherited the rights to Symphony in C, which she gave to John Taras when he was unemployed after his stint at ABT. Russell said that he charged 3x the usual amount for the rights to the ballet, and that when PNB wanted to include it in next season's Balanchine Celebration program, he insisted on a long list of conditions as well, including using only his version, which was different than the version Russell preferred to stage, the one that PNB had performed in the past. (That's the reason that Symphony in C was replaced by Ballet Imperial on the program.) Because Taras died recently, what will happen to the rights is not yet public. Russell said she was flying to NYC tonight and was having dinner with Barbara Horgan tomorrow night, and that she would ask if anything was known, in the hope to be able to add Symphony in C back on the program. (Too bad Cage didn't create a lifetime trust for Taras, and then revert the rights back to the Trust.) Russell did emphasize that Taras was "very generous" when he gave PNB the rights for free to perform the 4th movement of Symphony in C during the opening celebration for McCaw Hall.

In the Q&A dancer Jodie Thomas asked what would happen to the ballets when the copyrights expire. Russell said she would ask Horgan when they meet tomorrow. It was great to see a lot of PNB dancers in the audience watching the programs. Russell, Stowell, and Ballet Master Otto Neubert sat in my row for the films. Russell commented during the Q&A that the staging community is very close, and they know each other's quirks, so they were trying not to giggle too much as they listened to their colleagues' comments.

Patricia Wilde appeared, looking like a proper Boston lady, in a high-necked cream-colored silk blouse with three fabric-covered buttons on the collar, and a pin (looked like a cameo) on her blue jacket. She said that if Pittsburgh Ballet Theater was going to do all of Jewels, she wanted it to be when she was still there. Elyse Bourne did the staging. I think it was she who said that she was of a different generation than the original dancers, but that everyone who worked with Balanchine in ary era has something to contribute.

Susan Hendl staged Theme and Variations for Miami City Ballet, and she said that because Villella danced the male lead in the NYCB premiere, she asked him to help her with the male role and partnering. He was shown helping to coach during the film. She was very funny when trying to describe what she wanted vs. what the dancers had done; at one point she told them, "Anyone can 'plop.'"

Patricia Neary staged Concerto Barrocco for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo; her voice sounds very much like Melissa Hayden's. Artistic Director Jean-Christophe Maillot was one of the most interesting people interviewed for the film. He contrasted von Aroldingen's approach -- "giving information to the dancers that they have to pick up and do something with" -- with Neary's -- "She has a lot of energy...is still dancing...having Pat together for a year would be death, but for a period it's like a whip." Maillot mentioned liking working with different stagers, because he said, "the spirit of the piece will be different" and said that it's good to have different intellects and aspect. Neary, taking off her pointe shoes, talked about wanting to keep up with the dancers, even though she was "old enough to be their mother, but don't tell them that."

Farrell wasn't shown staging, but she said that when she saw Concerto Barrocco from the audience, she realized that the two soloists "were in danger of becoming intertwined" with their bowing, and that when she stages the ballet, she makes sure that the two women dance very closely together to reflect this aspect of the music. If Bart Cook was interviewed about staging, those parts were edited out, because he talked about working with Balanchine to round out the part of Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and seemed really tickled that he was able to make Balanchine laugh.

There was ample footage of Russell staging A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1997, which reminds me of the NYCB "people we miss" thread. In the clips were Seth Belliston and Vladimir Bourakov dancing Puck, Maynard Stewart dancing Oberon, Lisa Apple dancing Helena, Konstantin Kouzin dancing Lysander, and Gavin Larsen and, I think, Rachel Butler as butterflies. Sadly some have retired and other are dancing elsewhere (sniff), although Larsen is only three hours away in Portland.

In the film Russell told an anecdote about sitting next to Balanchine during a staging of Symphony in C in which he said that she was the only person who would know how it really went. She said that other people would know, but in the Q&A she emphasized how important it was for the next generation to learn to stage the ballets. She also said that Barbara Horgan will ask former dancers who have not transitioned into another field, or are unemployed, to try their hand at staging, if she thinks they have the aptitude.

More On Balanchine:

von Arolding quoted Balanchine as saying that the waltz is difficult because you have two legs but it's in three. Villella quoted him as saying that the floor on which they danced was the music.

The second film was rather stagy, with Balanchine and his dancers watching the tape of the program. A dancer gave the intro to each of the four pas de deux in the program. Introducing the (first half of the) Agon pas de deux, Mitchell said that it was "like seeing live sculpture...becoming live before you." He danced with Suzanne Farrell. It was funny watching Villella pose like a movie star -- not quite James Bond, but... -- listening to his intro, in which he emphasized his and McBride's speed and energy. They then performed Tarantella at breakneck speed. Villella was terrific, but McBride was unbelievable, considering the pace and the intricacy of her part. For me it was the highlight of the program.

d'Amboise introduced Meditation is his characteristic rambling, but energetic and upbeat style. He said that it was very Russian, and that Balanchine was "tasting a little sorrow" by making the ballet. He said that he thought there was a pleasure in the sorrow, and Balanchine replied that it (sorrow) was "not pleasure at all!" Meditation was the third ballet I saw NYCB perform, with Farrell and d'Amboise, and I didn't like it any more several decades later. If Sonatine is the "best Jerome Robbins ballet Balanchine choreographed," then I think Meditation must be the worst, but that's just me.

Rounding out the program was the variations through the end of Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, danced by d'Amboise and Melissa Hayden. The most impressive part was how first d'Amboise started a series of turn sequences that started slow and built gradually, and Hayden followed with very slow fouettes that built to fast ones. What control they showed. Unlike Tarantella, I don't think TPdD works well on a small stage with the camera up close; the sweep is missing.

There were some other Q&A questions that didn't involve staging. Someone asked why PNB has never done Vienna Waltzes. Russell replied that because of the expense and the number of dancers needed, PNB couldn't do it on their own. PNB and San Francisco Ballet were going to pay for it and peform it jointly on a proposed tour of LA, SF, Portland, Seattle, and, possible, Vancouver, but the project fell through.

Another person asked what was the thinking behind next season's programming. Russell said they wanted to do their favorite Stowell ballet, which is Romeo and Juliet, a Stravinsky program, and to end with Silver Lining, because the entire company is in it, and they wanted to end their tenure "surrounded by the company." They also wanted to show the range of repertory.

The question that is dear to my heart, but the answer to which was heart-breaking was why Russell and Stowell never staged Liebeslieder Waltzer, which Stowell had danced with Suzanne Farrell. She said that it was expensive and long, and that the ballet -- Stowell's favorite and Russell's "desert island" ballet -- was a "specialized, acquired taste." She said that even in NYC, the audience leaves "in droves," which she found "sickening." She talked about the people who leave during the pause. She said the people who love it, really really love it, but that the "bigger problem" is that the ballet has "limited audience appeal for such a long work." Part of the expense comes from the costumes, but the other part comes from the set, which is required by the trust. She said that she and Stowell have a great sadness that they've never done the ballet. Russell's tongue-in-cheek solution was to "bar the doors" and to make each audience member "watch it three times before you say you don't like it!"

Edited by hockeyfan228
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Once again hockeyfan you done us all a great service by reporting on this program. Thank you very much! :)

Regarding the rights to Balanchine's ballets I'll quote directly from an interview Barbara Horgan gave;

"During their lifetime the heirs own the rights, control the rights, get the income, and at their death they could designate the income for twenty years to as many heirs as they wanted. But the rights would stay in the trust. After twenty years the trust would continue to negotiate these rights, but at a certain point those rights would end, and they would be transferred to The George Balanchine Foundation... So at some point in the next twenty to twenty-five years, the Foundation will become the licensor and owner of the Balanchine repertory."

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