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Program I

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I did -

K- Ballet was stunning in Rhapsody last night, and very well received. The Met Opera House was 1/2 empty, and gave the Joffrey & BRB a pretty cool reception however they really came alive for Rhapsody and gave K-Ballet a very enthusiastic ovation.

I'm trying to catch up with work today, l'll post details later in the week


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As GeorgeB Fan noted, the diversity of Ashton’s genius is awe inspiring. This was beautifully illustrated by the opening program of the Ashton celebration on Tuesday. Presenting his futuristic, minimalist “moonwalk vision” of Monotones I & II on the same program as a work that displays the character development and drawing room charm of Enigma Variations and the bravura abandon of Rhapsody was brilliant. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that Monotones & especially Enigma Variations benefited from the cavernous dimensions of the Metropolitan Opera House, but I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to see them both.

The Joffrey opened the evening with Monotones. I love these pieces and thought they negotiated the technical challenges well, but I didn’t really feel that sublime otherworldly quality so much, especially with Monotones I. I’m going to see it again tonight, and may comment more later.

Enigma Variations was second on the program, performed by BRB. This was a beautiful, carefully detailed ballet. Early on I found myself thinking of Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon…” - it was like a tableau from another time, a slice of a different, more genteel world captured in an old photograph. The ballet was like a small, quiet portrait that developed slowly, and while I loved the choreography of each vignette and the wonderful, subtle performances, I have to admit that for me, the whole added up to less than the sum of its parts. It was charming, but not something I would rush out to see again, or recommend to a casual ballet – goer. I especially liked the dancers who played Elgers, his wife and his daughter (I think it was supposed to be his daughter – the girl in white with the red ribbons).

I adored Rhapsody – the romantic rush of the music, the bright, futuristic, pop art sets, the ensemble as well as the star turns. I really enjoyed the enthusiasm the whole company brought to the performance. Kumakara was fun to watch, but I was fascinated by Durante. I do not have a long history of watching Ashton ballerinas in this type of ballet, but after seeing ABT do Symphonic Variations last year watching Durante breeze through the choreography at breakneck speed with such grace and delicacy was wonderful. I absolutely loved those skimming bourres, the way she coupled those incredibly fast steps with unbroken flow in her arms and upper body – none of the brittleness ABT’s ballerinas displayed in SV.

Yes, GeorgeB Fan, I think ABT should grab Rhapsody for Cornejo and a couple of other men on their roster, but they’d also be well advised to bring Durante or Cojocaru in for some guest appearances…

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[Avant-propos - I wrote this as a long review but broke it into chunks so I don't kill the discussion dead. Apologies for the delay!]

The first program was a parachute jump into a labyrinth; an uncompromising introduction to Ashton's repertory without any thought to the overall construct of the evening. Monotones I and II, Enigma Variations, and Rhapsody; NYCB might as well open a Covent Garden season with Monumentum/Movements, Liebeslieder Walzer and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. It took time to find ones bearings.

I was far up in the Family Circle for Monotones; from a long-distance perspective the performance looked very “steppy”. The dancers looked more concerned with shapes and poses than entire phrases of movement. Monotones is too contemplative a ballet to open a performance, much less an entire festival; Les Patineurs would have been smarter programming.

When watching Enigma Variations, performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet, for brief periods I would throw my eyes out of focus to stop myself from parsing the steps. With Balanchine, watching the steps is watching the ballet. It’s more of a red herring with Ashton. I would have loved to write without mentioning Balanchine, each can stand on his own. Watching one choreographer after growing up with the other is the same challenge; one needs to eliminate the frame of reference and the preconceived expectations. A conversation at intermission with a friend shows the calibrations needed: My two questions to her were “Why do you think Ashton set the ballet on pointe?” and “Is he talking about a time that was, or the way people wished it was?” Both questions got answered at the same time, “Because it’s imaginary.” I was miscued by Julia Trevelyan Oman’s incredibly detailed costumes and setting into seeing the ballet as naturalistic. Like Anton Chekov’s plays, it only looks naturalistic; the pointe work, like the scrim at the beginning through which we first view the scene, is part of the dream.

Rhapsody was made in 1980 for Mikhail Baryshnikov; it’s a flashy, but very solid and rather cagey ballet. The most interesting thing about the ballet may be that it’s a great choreographer’s almost prophetic response to what would become the dominant issue in ballet for the two decades following: how to accommodate male virtuosity in classical ballet. The ballet was performed by K-Ballet, a group formed after a fissure with the Royal Ballet by its star, Tetsuya Kumakawa. Baryshnikov’s part is one of grueling virtuosity that sets the standard expectation of where focus in a ballet should go (on the ballerina) right on its ear. It addresses his strengths but also camouflages weaknesses. That’s particularly evident in the partnering moves; Ashton makes sure there’s impressive partnering (an overhead press lift) but it’s carefully set up with a clear preparation and plenty of time to get out of it. The other notable lifts in the main pas de deux are “cradle” lifts where the woman jumps into the man’s arms; they’re almost foolproof. He avoids partnering with hidden preparation or limited transitions.

The role consists of entrée after stunning entrée among a group of six couples. The ballerina (Viviana Durante) appears late in the work and gets a fleet-footed variation and a pas de deux, but she’s clearly his consort, not the other way around. It starts to become almost comic in the finale, where Kumakawa spins out an endless chain of pirouettes as Durante patiently waits and watches. Finally, she echoes his finishing pose. I half expected her to partner him. I last saw Kumakawa as the Jester in Cinderella when the Royal Ballet visited in 1997. He can certainly manage all the steps, but he lacks Baryshnikov’s gift to connect with the audience. I was surprised by how grimly determined he seemed in this role. At the end of the ballet, he blew a kiss to the audience. It seemed false. Did Baryshnikov do the same? My reading of Croce’s report was that his final gesture was a shrug. The dances for the corps de ballet are wonderfully fashioned and meaty, especially for the men. What’s fascinating is how Ashton invests his corps with a personality, boisterous for the men, flirtatious for the women. It isn’t “eyebrow dancing” at all, and I hope that’s another prejudice the Celebration punctures. As personal as it is, it’s also the sort of corps de ballet work that makes better dancers. Baryshnikov attended the performance on the opening night; Kevin McKenzie has been in the audience for most of the festival so far. I wouldn’t be surprised if ABT acquires Rhapsody as a savvy repertory choice.

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Leigh! You went?? :)

Thanks for posting that (those, all three). I think one of the ways that Ashton cues you that he's moving from reality to the world of the imagination is that each of the characters has an "entree" of one or two walking (or tricycling) steps. It's very clear in The Lady's first solo (I speak from watching Beriosova in the film). She takes a step or two, and then, almost imperceptibly, she's dancing. He uses a similar device in the "Romeo and Juliet" balcony pas de deux. R&J meet, greet and kiss on the balcony. Then Juliet runs down, off the balcony to the stage. What follows is poetry, not reality -- like all of the death arias in opera. We know the dying character isn't belting out "Our love will never die," or whatever, on her deathbed, but her soul can still sing.

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