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Saturday, July 10th

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The evening started with Dante Sonata - afterwards, during intermission, I heard lots of people talking about how old fashioned and “Grahamesque” Dante Sonata was - I didn’t think so. Despite the flowing costumes, bare feet and obvious influence of Graham and Duncan, I thought this was definitely ballet as opposed to modern dance. I found the imagery still very effective,and very appropriate to our time and I realy liked the way that Ashton presented the ravages of war without taking sides. There were no winners in this scenario. Angela Paul as the lead female “Child of Darkness” was a standout.

Nothing could have prepared me for the impact The Two Pigeons would have on me.

When the ballet began I thought, how charming! Ashton certainly is a master of character, and of idiom. This is lovely. A tad predictable, perhaps. A little dated and pre-feminist. Okay, we have an artist imposing his idea of perfection onto his model/lover. She's a beautiful girl, deeply in love with the great artist but she refuses to be objectified - she is an imperfect human being, not some abstract idea of perfection. But then act I descended (however beautifully) into a pat scenario of the ever faithful woman dealing with the man’s wanderlust, and I thought - what a pity. It probably didn’t help that the girl was portrayed as a virginal symbol of bourgeois values - beautifully danced but no sense of sexuality or womanliness from her - as opposed to the sexual allure and abandon of the gypsy girl.

The second act caught me completely by surprise - the intensity and nastiness of the gypsy camp ( so much more believable than ABT’s gypsys in DQ!), and the tender lyricism of the final pas de deux. It was so powerful, even though you could see that final image coming a mile away, it was still heartbreakingly beautiful. I did find myself questioning the underpinnings of the plot (In the poem the wandering pigeon knew that he was just off on a brief adventure & would come home, here I felt that if the boy had been able to beat the gypsy man & keep up with the gypsy women our poor young girl would have been sitting out on the balcony searching for the skies for her mate for a very long time...). But still, the ballet moved me to tears, and I’m not the weepy type!

Ashton’s incorporation of the bird movement was masterful, and very effective as a metaphor. The images he created were beautiful, and the dancers were wonderful but I found myself so caught up in the story and the beauty of the dance that I was rarely aware of technique - though I couldn’t help but notice how high and beautiful Vallo’s extentions were, and what beautiful line both she and Chao had. Asta Bazeviciute was ravishing as the gypsy girl.

I’m so glad I was able to see these companies, and these great works, and so sad at how empty the Met was again last night. I am a big fan of big stars and bravura dancing, but to think that there’s such a limited market for masterpieces like these is disturbing.

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I loved The Two Pigeons and think it's amazing it's taken the ballet so long to get here (it was made in 1961). The story is simple, even archtypical: good boy loves good girl, is tempted by siren and lured away, learns lesson, and goes back to sweetheart. It's dramatized in a very innocent way; life in the artist's studio is a well-scrubbed, sanitized version of la vie de boheme (the British equivalent of all-American? :) ), and even the sexual allure of the Gypsies is strictly G-rated. Hard to imagine a greater contrast with the ballets of Kenneth MacMillan, whose lurid, violent sensibility is, unfortunately, much more representative of contemporary tastes. But to judge from the warm reception the ballet received on Saturday, I think there's an audience for this style as well. (Incidentally, Susan, I didn't think the Met was empty. The back of the orchestra was vacant, but the balcony and Family Circle seemed pretty well populated, and the side boxes were occupied.)

It was interesting to watch this ballet immediately after having seen a videotape of Ninette de Valois's ballet The Rake's Progress. Although that ballet was made in the 30s, it was still being performed when Ashton made The Two Pigeons (the tape I saw was made in 1960) and can, I suppose, be said to represent the prevailing approach to story ballets at the time. The Rake's Progress is really a pantomime with some wholly extraneous ballet steps thrown in. Watching it, I kept wondering why they bothered with the steps, since they added nothing to the story and looked odd in that context. T2P is an enormous contrast to this type of story ballet. Ashton didn't take on more of a story than he was capable of telling in dance, and it was fluidly told through the dancing -- there was no sense of stopping the show in order to get some dancing in. I think a lot of choreographers go in for complicated plots and Significant Themes to cover up their lack of choreographic ability. T2P shows what can be done when the choreographer trusts choreography enough to let it shine through. Of course, the choreographer has to be, you know, talented in order to let that happen. :)

One thing I always marvel about in Ashton is the way he can use motifs that in other hands would come across as crude gimmicks and make them meltingly sweet and heartwarming. The way the girl struts around on pointe with her arms akimbo and flapping like a pigeon, or the use of the real pigeons to end the ballet -- can you imagine how some other choreographers would have handled that? :speechless:

I very much liked Ambra Vallo as the girl, she was a charming ingenue without being coy or cute. Everyone was good, in fact. I got a much more positive impression of the Birmingham Royal than I did the last time they were here, in 1986. Too bad I won't get to see more of them.

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