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Program II, July 7

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Glorious occasion Wednesday night with added surprise

of seeing Durante & Kumakara. (Hadn't realized they were

the pillars/founders of K Ballet company.)

Audience enthused by each presentation, but loud vocal

cheers came from different sections of the house as

fans "bravoed" their respective companies. Significant

Japanese representation in international audience, including one

gorgeous white kimono-clad (corporate or official wife?)


Entire last 6-8 rows of orchestrta were empty.

Advice to those attending future performances of

Ashton 1930s classic 'Wedding Bouquet" tonight and'

later this week: This ballet is filled with witty

Ashton spoofs of (a) wealthy lady who was trying to

'get him to marry her, (B) Ninette de Valois,

© Gerturde Stein, and others. To appreciate these

in" allusions, read pp 200-204 of Julie Kavanagh's

great biography, "Secret Muses -- the Life of

Frederick Ashton" before you come.

Ed Bock

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I saw Wednesday night performance and I must say the thing that struck me the most about the evening was the large diversity. The only thing they had in common was the genius of Sir Frederick Ashton.

K-Ballet perform Rhapsody

This ballet is pure virtuosity - its completely understandable this ballet was created for Baryshnikov. Tetsuya Kumakawa had the audience in the palm of his hand from the start. He did a series of split kick turns in the air that I have on idea what the ballet term you would call it, but it was awesome. But I must admit I didn't think the ballet really didn't come alive until the pas de deux and everything that came after. It was lovely to see Viviana Durante - I was wondering where she was dancing. Her footwork was clear and sharp. She and Kumakawa danced well together. The corp was also good. The audience clearly enjoy the performance.

On a side note I think ABT would be very wise to get this ballet for a showcase for Herman Cornejo.

Birmingham Royal Ballet perform Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan and Dante Sonata

Obviously I never saw Isadora Duncan dance, but Sir Frederick brought the spirit of her alive in his marvelous choreography. Ashton was clearly moved by her performances. Molly Smolen as Duncan was a fantastic. Every movement she made from dancing, jumping, running or simply standing still gave you an idea of what it must have been like at a dance concert of Isadora Duncan. And I like the fact she remain in character during her curtain call. The piano soloist was Kate Shipway who perform the Waltzes in perfect harmony with Smolen dancing. My favorite performance of the night.

Dante Sonata was totally unexpected. A ballet that can almost be looked it as a modern dance. In the playbill it was noted that Ashton created this ballet somewhat in respone to World War II. In his choreography you can see that. The warring conflict between the Childern of Light and the Children of Darkness was made very clear in their interaction with one another. First the Darkness over took the Light but then the Light counterattack. I love the moment when the Light capture male members of the Darkness and pile them on top of one another and the Darkness began moving there legs. The effect made them look like dying bugs. Creepy. The ensemble work of the dancers was perfect. I can understand why many regard this as one of his masterworks.

The Joffey Ballet perform A Wedding Bouquet

This was the only disappointment of the evening for me. Not because of the choreography which was lively and fun. Non wasn't the dancers who characterization was right on the money. It was the narration. This is a comedic ballet and the choreography reflect that, but I think that most of this humor comes from the spoken narration. Christian Holder, the narrator, voice did register over the orchestra. Making it nearly impossible to hear him. Which made him a distraction to the ballet. Hopefully he will be wired with a microphone for Thursday night's performance. And if he was wearing a microphone the technical problems will be fix.

But overall I had a wonderful evening.

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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!]

Rhapsody opened Wednesday instead of closing, and I saw it from the heavens instead of the orchestra. It works from above; the ballet is spatially interesting with its platform and stairs and scrims creating a forced perspective. These were designed in 1995 by Patrick Caulfield and painted in vivid colors along with military looking costumes for the men recalling Stars and Stripes. Many people disliked the designs, apart from disliking the long skirts for the women I found them an interesting change from my usual expectations. It also made me wonder if Christopher Wheeldon had seen these designs; and if they had anything to do with the scrims in Mercurial Manoeuvres.

Birmingham made a very intelligent programming choice, opting to pair Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan made for Lynn Seymour in pieces in the seventies with Dante Sonata, made in 1940 and revived in 2000. A striking divergence between Mr. B and Mr. A: Like Pavlova, Ashton’s childhood memories of Duncan were inspiration for him throughout his career. Balanchine also saw Duncan as a child, and what he recalled later (if I recall the quote correctly) was “a fat pig rolling around on the floor.” There’s easily enough room within the actuality for both men to be right. If Balanchine could gain no inspiration from her, Ashton’s was remarkable. The Duncan waltzes were a riveting coup de theater. Each waltz is brief, a scrawl across the stage using simple props. After a few waltzes, Molly Smolen picks up a large silk scarf off the piano and unfurls it for a dance; it’s like a beacon in the velvety blackness lit by Mark Jonathan. In the final waltz she scoops two handfuls of rose petals out of an urn and surges from the back to the front of the stage, littering the petals in her wake. Part of the fascination is stagecraft; even though you know Smolen only had what was in the urn, their supply as she dances seems endlessly replenishing. She still scattered petals long after you thought they were gone. From what little I’ve seen of Duncan revivals, the key is “in the Manner of”: Ashton filters what inspired him through a classically trained body. You get the freeness, the weight and the classical Greek influences, but you also get pointed feet and a carriage of the upper body that comes from ballet. Smolen, an American from Philadelphia and a wunderkind at ABT before she left to go to England, holds the stage as if she could will herself to be much larger than she is.

The curtain went down on the waltzes and up on Dante Sonata and there were the same walks, the unstructured dresses and the unbound hair. A style that might have taken us unaware was placed in context. The ballet itself speaks very much to its time, 1940. The world was being plunged into war again; Ashton looks at conflict with ambivalent despair and hope. The cast is divided into two groups, Children of Light and Children of Darkness. The Children of Darkness are bound in black strips, the Children of Light in loose, flowing white. The groups are almost but not quite symmetrical, and it’s Ashton’s instincts along those lines that keep the ballet from becoming obvious. Like the sonata itself, the dance proceeds as episodes rather than formal set pieces; we wonder in the tortured, shadowy and windswept landscape of the Inferno. The dance ends ambiguously in a double crucifixion of both male leaders. It verges unashamedly on emotional hysteria; as once before it may recede from popularity when the times do not demand it, but it seems quite apt right now.

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