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Saratoga 2004

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NYCB's Saratoga season opened last night with a "Russian tribute:" Robbins's Circus Polka followed by three Balanchines: Apollo, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and Cortege Hongrois. Three Stravinskys and a Glazunov. Rather odd programming taken as a whole. I think of Glazunov as being not so much "Russian" as Romantic, and can't see much of a connection to Stravinsky, but whatever. :shrug:

The highlight for me (and the rest of the audience, to judge from the reaction) was Cortege. I've always considered this the least of Balanchine's essays on Raymonda, with Raymonda Variations and Pas de Dix (another setting of Act III) far superior, and the tacky costumes, better suited to a circus, don't help. (The ballet could also use more of a set, suitable to the palatial wedding being celebrated, than the swags of curtains at the sides.) But it was so well done last night that I was able to overlook the garish designs.

This was my first-ever glimpse of Sofiane Sylve, who was making her debut in the role, and it just made me want to stay put for the rest of the season and see her every performance. She is a terrifically strong, mature, and theatrically sophisticated ballerina who knows just how to shade a role like this without going overboard. Her authority is tremendous -- she made her entrance on a stage full of dancers and the others just seemed to vanish. She had the audience in her spell instantly. How often these days do we see someone with this kind of ballerina authority? Most "ballerinas" these days are just leading dancers. Here is someone who knows what being a ballerina is all about. The audience, which had been in blah mode until then, went wild.

I believe that Stephen Hanna was also making his debut (as Sylve's partner) and he looked quite impressive, more so than in my previous (brief) glimpses of him. The rest of the company also looked good. But what happened to the ending? The homage to the ballerina, made initially for Melissa Hayden's retirement, but which was retained in all subsequent performances that I've seen, was gone last night. When did this happen?

Before Cortege, Nikolaj Hubbe danced an intense Apollo, but the Violin Concerto looked wan and underpowered.

Emotions are running high here in Saratoga about the company's future at SPAC. "Save the Ballet" buttons are everywhere, and there is much gossip and intrigue. If SPAC's decision to drop the company after 2005 is reversed, the whole episode might be seen as salutory, a revitalization of a relationship that perhaps had come to be taken for granted.

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Ari - from what I recall in one of Croce's books, the change to the finale in Cortege was done not too long after Hayden's retirement. She says (paraphrasing off the top of my head, I'm at the office) that the dancers, instead of facing in salute to a retiring ballerina, face front in salute to the heritage of Raymonda. Was that what you meant?

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I was lucky to be there for the opening night at SPAC. We have a friend that was a little pink girl in Circus Polka. They were all so cute.

Ashley Bouder was wonderful in Apollo. I guess you could say it was the first time I was able to focus on her and she is so strong. Ms Sylve is beautiful to watch. I don't remember seeing Cortege in the past so I enjoyed it from a novice view point. Ms Ringer looked like she was having so much fun, you couldn't help but smile with her. Mr Hanna was so impressive, I could watch him any time.

The Save The Ballet group was there with their flashlights on, waving in the air between performances and I was sad that I forgot mine. At the end of the evening the conductor Maurice Kaplow came onstage for bows and he had his flashlight too.

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Ari, thanks so much for your report about Sofiane Sylve. Although she had been getting new roles in New York, they were not the "glamour" roles (i.e., T&V, Bizet, Stars & Stripes, M/M, Agon, etc.); to me, she was under-utilized this past season. I am so very glad to hear that she had success in Cortege. From the first time I saw her as Sugar Plum, she has never disappointed me in any role she's taken on.

Please, please report on Thursday, July 15th's Emeralds, where not only Sofiane will be featured but Ashley B. will be making a debut: definitely a surfeit of riches!!

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Leigh, about the ending of Cortege -- I didn't see Hayden do it, so I can't say whether Balanchine changed the ending after she left, but as long as I can remember the ballet has ended with a homage to the ballerina in which the curtain falls on her standing in a pool of light. This was completely absent last night -- it ended on an upbeat note, after the big ensemble dance, with the the principal couple posed centerstage in front of the corps. This is the first time I've seen it done this way, and I'm wondering how long the company has been doing it.

Tonight's performance was Mozartiana, the Violin Concerto (replacing Agon), and Tchaik. Suite #3. I'm afraid I can't agree with those who say that Kyra Nichols looks ageless; she seemed out of breath before the end of the pas de deux and while she danced well enough, her face betrayed the labor involved. Hubbe's solicitous partnering helped, but I'm not sure that's really appropriate in this ballet, in which the two principals seem to be dancing in separate worlds, coming together only fleetingly. Tom Gold replaced the originally scheduled Daniel Ulbricht as the second male soloist.

The Violin Concerto looked a bit better than on Tuesday, although Jock Soto is also showing his age, and Yvonne Borree is indulging in inappropriate emoting.

Tchaik. Suite #3 looked pretty good, with Carla Korbes luscious and dreamy in the first movement, Stephen Hanna, while still very American looking, showing promise in the romantic yearning department, and Ashley Bouder displaying the kind of hunger I love to see in dancers but so rarely do. Miranda Weese, in Theme, was not at her best but has developed a true ballerina authority that won over the audience as Sylve did last night, and Benjamin Millepied -- a dancer I have not been impressed with in the past -- gave a surprisingly fine account of the tough danseur role. This was, in fact, the best performance I've seen him give.

Bobbi, I wish I could report on next week's Emeralds, but I won't be here! :D I'd love to see Sylve do the Verdy role. But I must say I think that Bouder will be wasted on the pas de trois -- she's far beyond that now.

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Ari, I was surprised by Ashley B.'s casting in the pas de trois in Emeralds, but any glimpse of her dancing makes me happy. It will be really interesting to see how she handles this type of ballet. We know she can do the "gut-crunchers" but Emeralds -- my most favorite part of Jewels -- requires its own special "perfume." Wish I could be there myself, but it's a Thursday . . .

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Notable events in yesterday's two performances were the opportunity to see Peter Boal in Agon (he replaced the injured Sebastien Marcovici) and the debut of Megan Fairchild as Calliope, both in the evening performance. Fairchild danced well but hasn't yet grasped what the role is all about, which is understandable. It would be nice for her to be given another opportunity to do it, but she is not scheduled for the final performance on Saturday.

In other casting news, Daniel Ulbricht did dance the second male soloist in Mozartiana at the matinee -- I liked him very much, although he and Tom Gold (who had replaced Ulbricht on Wednesday), who is also wonderful in this role, are very different. And Benjamin Millepied replaced Robert Tewsley in Theme & Variations in the evening.

One of the pleasures of Saratoga is the opportunity to hear talks by dancers and others associated with the company before each performance. On Wednesday it was Merrill Ashley, who talked a bit about her recent trip to St. Petersburg to participate in the Balanchine Centennial celebration organized by the Maryinsky/Kirov. She said that some of the Russian teachers were very interested in the Balanchine technique and asked a great many detailed questions. One of them was the former ballerina Gabriella Komleva. When Ashley explained a fine point of Balanchine technique -- something to do with the way the toes were pointed -- Komleva said, "Ah, that's the old Imperial style." I asked Ashley about an issue we had discussed on this board: when she sees the Maryinsky dance Balanchine, does she want it to look like NYCB or does she like to see some of the Kirov style? She said it's a mixture. There are some things the Russians do that are beautiful and make the ballets look better, such as the way they hold their upper bodies and arms -- but only in the slow dancing. In the fast dancing, she said they want to retain their use of the arms, holding them far from their bodies, but it's not possible to move quickly that way, and they have to learn to bring them in closer to the torso. She also mentioned that "some people" (she didn't say who) who had seen the Kirov's Jewels a couple of years ago in America and had thought that they hadn't understood Emeralds at all, were very pleased with the company's progress in the performances they saw last month.

Only one more performance for me here in Saratoga. I hope that others will go to the rest of the season and report in!

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My last performance :( in Saratoga was the best yet: Divertimento #15, The Four Temperaments, and The Four Seasons. A well put together program, very well danced for the most part, to an enthusiastic crowd that ended the evening with a standing O.

After all I had read about the New York performances of Divert, I didn't know what to expect, but tonight's performance was beautifully rehearsed and danced. Only Yvonne Borree, in the second variation, was subpar. Both here and in Apollo and Stravinsky Violin Concerto she delivered a shrunken version of what should be a rich, multilayered role. I also don't think she was appropriately cast in this part, which calls for more of an adagio dancer. I kept seeing the lovely ghost of Maria Calegari, especially in the adagio.

The Four Temperaments looked very good, and Sofiane Sylve and Robert Tewsley gave a fine, idiomatic reading of Sanguinic. Teresa Reichlen was Choleric and continued the fine impression she has made all week. When I saw her in Washington in March I thought that, while she was obviously gifted, she was rather stiff and unsure of herself in solo roles. She has made great strides in just four months, and has loosened up and dances more freely and with more confidence. I'd been looking forward to seeing Faye Arthurs in the First Theme, but she was replaced by Dana Hanson.

The Four Seasons is a ballet I haven't seen in years, and while it's never been a favorite of mine, tonight I was able to sit back and enjoy it more than I have in the past. It's hard to hear that music and not wonder what Balanchine would have done with it, and it's impossible to banish the memory of Kyra Nichols in Spring. But Ashley Bouder, Edwaard Liang, Carla Korbes, James Fayette, Miranda Weese, Benjamin Millepied, and Daniel Ulbricht made the most of what they had to do and ended the evening on a high note.

A few random observations. Nilas Martins has danced unusually well this week. In both Apollo last night and Divertimento tonight, he was alert, responsive to his partners, and committed to his dancing. Carrie Lee Riggins has come a long way from the gawky kid I remember; she is now a poised, elegant young woman. And it's wonderful to see young American boys like Jared Angle and Stephen Hanna developing into classical danseurs.

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Ari, thank you so much for the lovely reviews, a balm for those people like me who are stuck in the hot, dirty City for the Summer. I loved your remarks about Sylve, and your note about Riggins immediately brought her dancing to mind. Because of injuries, Nilas had a very busy season in NY and it sounds like it's continuing there. He has never been a virtuoso, but I like his cool, calm partnering. I saw his Apollo a few seasons ago and enjoyed it. And I agree, Steve Hanna is the next Prince...tall, handsome, sincere, lyrical.

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Ari is a far better reviewer than I...but I'll do my best, starting with our second week of performances tomorrow. And I'll say a few words now about Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.

The two Apollos that we saw earlier in the week were a fine prelude to the quintessential Apollo experience--Saturday night's Peter Boal, possibly the most fully realized Boal performance that I have ever see--and I've seen him lots! It is a rare Apollo who can enable me to turn my eyes away from the muses in their variations, but watching him watch them....and thank goodness for Alexandra Ansanelli who is growing into the role of Terspichore so beautifully.

The first week ended with another performance of the ravishing Tchaik Suite 3. How I love that ballet, and how I have missed it! My fondest memory of Kip Houston--the end of the elegy. Steven Hanna developed miles in the role over the three performances, and I eagerly await his Diamonds later this week.

The first three movements were exquisite, unfortunately an under-the-weather Andrea Quinn took a racing tempo in the T and V, and even Wendy Whelan couldn't keep up. Still a satisfying conclusion to the first week.

Yesterday was a most special event: a pops concert, with an opportunity for NYCB's orchestra to sit on the stage and be visible. Andrea Quinn conducted with elegance--a varied program ranging from "Overture to Marriage of Figaro", to Anderson's "Bugler's Holiday" (featuring three excellent trumpeters from the orchestra), solo movements from each of the fabulous concertmasters and "Rhapsody in Blue" featuring the amazing pianist Susan Walters, and "The Man I Love", danced by Ringer/Fayette, as well as an arrangment of Scott Joplin pieces, choreographed with a horse-racing theme (this is SARATOGA) by Tom Gold, for 6 company members and 12 local children. And then a rousing encore of "Stars and Stripes Forever".

All performers and stage crew donated their time--the dancers and musicians giving up an entire Sunday off--to thank Saratoga for supporting NYCB. All proceeds (and there was a nice large crowd there) from ticket sales go to the matching state grant. Ron Wasserman, principal bass, worked tirelessly to make this event happen and SPAC was gracious enough to host the concert.

I can't thank everyone involved enough, and for a very personal reason as well: our college music major daughter was given a very special opportunity to play with the orchestra due to a last minute shortage in the viola section. It was a thrill for us to see her on the stage with that orchestra.

Oh....and the orchestra sounded just wonderful too.

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Yes, Janie danced in "Eros Piano". It was our first look at her this season. I didn't dislike the ballet, but I didn't love it either--I just put it into the category of "more of the same" Martins ballets. I will say that I received more enjoyment from the score than I had expected. For Adams music it was almost melodic.

Janie--and the others too--did a creditable job with what they were given.

As for "Shambards"--it was done twice here, but with a totally different look, because the second time was a matinee. It was totally washed out in the daylight. I LOVED the evening performance. Because I was prepared for the violence it didn't upset me terribly, and I found the ending emotionally satisfying to tell the truth--I saw more tenderness than violence in Jock as he dragged (can't think of a less extreme verb) Miranda upstage. I didn't enjoy the matinee as much and found it to be much more violent the second time around. In polling friends in the audience, most people enjoyed having another look at Chris Wheeldon's work, but were disturbed by the violence.

"Musagete" is another story entirely. After reading posts and reviews here, I thought I was prepared, but nothing can adequately prepare one for the horror of that piece. I can't even think of enough adjectives, so will only say that it is an affront to Mr B's memory and to everything that he valued in ballet. I cannot believe that it is in the rep for winter season 05. I'll be picking my performances carefully, and even though I am going to Friday night's performance I'll be going for a glass of wine during "Musagete".

Since "Musagete" goes at the end, it's hard to gauge audience reaction. Every night the performance has ended with standing ovations, bravos and cheering...but that is for the company and the Saratoga residency. Last night was the same deal, but I cannot believe that it was for the trash that had just been performed. A few people actually admitted to enjoying it, many were lukewarm, and most were horrified.

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Oberon, it's a valid question....I just don't know if I can do it. The choreography is so unsuited to the music and so poorly done that I don't know that any dancers on the planet would look good in it.

Wendy of course is a phenomenal dancer but it was heartwrenching to watch her pawing and scratching. As for Robert Tewsley I didn't see that he was given much to do other than roll around in the chair and mime "I have a great idea!!!", of all things to insult the approach that Mr B took. As were many others, I was most offended by the Tanaquil character--in her interview in today's Saratogian Alexandra tried to convey that she wanted to be respectful...and she was, to whatever extent she could be in that circumstance. I feel for her. I have never seen Maria Kowroski look less Suzanne-like.

So I guess the answer is that it was danced as well as it could be considering that it is a worthless piece of trash. As my friend Farrell Fan would say now: "So...tell me...how did you really feel about it?"

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I was dismayed to see it's on the schedule for Winter Season.

:blushing: Also the ticket prices are increasing $3.00 across

the board. Not much if you're a First Ringer---- but a

whooping 25% increase for Fourth Ring Society tickets.

Oh well, it's still the best bargain in Town and still a

privilege.....Wish I could be in Saratoga tomorrow - looks

like two joyful performances to end on.

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Having held the 4th Ring Society prices at $12 for several years, I don't begrudge them going to $15...in fact, it has been a (pleasant) surprise they they have stayed @ $12 for so long. I will cheerfully pay $15...as Balanchinomane points out, it is a tremendous bargain.

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I was there for the final week of the season. Originally it had seemed that would be THE final week of the NYCB residency at SPAC, but thanks to a grass-roots outcry and some political help, a 2005 season is assured. The future beyond that is still unclear. It is inexplicable to me that after the original announcement, the New York Times has not covered this story at all. It's been a big deal in the Albany, Schenectady, and Glens Falls papers, as well it should be. The opinion in those papers (not The Saratogian) seems to be that SPAC president Herb Chesbrough must go if NYCB is to have a future at SPAC. The "Save the Ballet" people I spoke to felt the same way. Is that a fair statement, rkoretzky?

Attendance seemed slightly up most nights from last year when it was slightly up over the year before. It was WAY up on Thursday and Saturday. The Thursday program was Who Cares?, Eros Piano, Tarentella, and I'm Old Fashioned. Closing night on Saturday, we had Who Cares? I'm Old Fashioned, and Stars and Stripes. I pointed out to rkoretzy that while the line "Dedicated to Fred Astaire" before I'm Old Fashioned never fails to bring down the house, I wished there was also applause for "Danced by New York City Ballet." The next time, there was applause for "New York City Ballet Presents" thanks to rkoretzky.

I preferred Joaquin de Luz to Daniel Ulbricht in Tarentella with wonderful Megan

Fairchild. Similarly, I thought the Fancy Free cast of de Luz, Higgins, and Millepied preferable to Orza, Ramasar, and Ulbricht. But both casts were fine and the audience loved them. I have to disagree slightly with rkoretzy about Musagete. I think the SPAC audience ate it up, and Robert Tewsley got real ovations both times. There was also applause during the ballet, which for me made it even harder to bear.

Anyhow, Saratoga has proved it clearly loves NYCB and wants the company to stay. I'm told that Peter Martins has been much moved at how the community has taken NYCB to its heart.

Same time next year!

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Exactly right, FarrellFan. Everything that Herb Chesbough does and says points to the fact that he doesn't want NYCB here. If SPAC isn't big enough for both of them, there is no one with whom I have spoken who would like Chesbrough to be the one who wins out. He does have a contract which doesn't expire until 2006 (at which time he says he will retire). No one that I know has seen the terms of the contract, so no one seems to know if he can be fired before 2006 and on what grounds. We are in for some interesting times here.

The attendance question is interesting. Of course SPAC didn't reach the unattainable 75,000 tickets goal (a whopping 30% increase over last year, which was already an increase from the previous year) that was dictated by Herb at the beginning of the season. The question that now needs to be asked is: what next? We have NYCB for 2005, but is 2006 already eliminated as far as the SPAC board is concerned? I can tell you right now that it is NOT eliminated as far as Saratogians are concerned, and once again I'll say that things here will be interesting. I'll post updates if BA readers would like me to do so.

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I wanted to add a few impressions from Saratoga 2004, but didn't want to muddy them up with the political stuff, so here goes:

MVP (male): Steven Hanna proved himself over and over again as a shortened roster of male principals gave him opportunities to shine, notably for me in Suite 3 and Hongrois.

MVP (female): Alexandra Ansanelli puts her own stamp on every role she takes. Rubies, Stars, and Strav Violin Cnto look magnificent on her. All of the pleasure of watching Patty and Kay in the original roles is returned to me when Alexandra is cast. As an aside, as much as I enjoy Wendy Whelan in VC, watching Sofiane Sylve in that role was also a revelation. Sometimes you just want to see a new person take a role when someone has been doing it for such a long time.

ON THE FAST TRACK: It almost seems redundant so say so, as so much has been written already about her, but Ashley Bouder has ***STAR!!***written all over her. She's the one you watch--whenever she is on the stage. What a joy to have this young woman back--healthy and stronger than ever. I'll buy a ticket to see her anytime, in anything. RUNNER-UP: Tess Reichlen in Rubies and 4Ts, queenly in bearing....dwarfing the principals in Rubies and devouring the stage in Choleric.

FAV BALANCHINE: My favorites weren't programmed this summer, but the ballet that I wanted to see over and over was Divert. With all the turmoil of this season and my personal issues with SPAC, Mozart was what I wanted to hear and the ordered symmetry and crystalline perfection of Balanchine's choreography was what I wanted to see.

REVELATORY PEFORMANCE: Believe it or not, the trifle called Zakouski became thrilling to watch with Megan Fairchild and Ben Millepied.

Programming for week 3 was lightweight, but audience favorites. I could have done with different Robbins (how many times can you see OldFashioned?), but opening night (with 1000 flashlights shining) and closing night (with me sobbing and FF and my husband both trying to comfort me) were memorable and thrilling.

Who's coming to State Theater for opening night? I am!!!

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