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Program IV -- West Palm Beach

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Another thoughtfully balanced program put together by Edward Villella: (in order) Paul Taylor's rather balletic 1981 "Arden Court"; Balanchine's "La Sonnambula" (originally "Night Shadow," 1944 for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo); and "Ballet Imperial" (1941, for American Ballet Caravan).

I saw two castsd soloists, Saturday evening and Sunday matinee. The show moves on to Fort Lauderdale next weekend, to end the company's 19th season.

ARDEN COURT. I haven't seen much Paul Taylor, but what I recollect was not as incredibly air-borne as this, and I was surprised by the variety of ballet steps (especially leaps) integrated into the dance. This struck me as very Balanchinian, though that may be due to the Miami company's always improving Balanchine qualities of speed, lightness, and the seamless connection of steps. William Boyce's bouncy baroque music added to this impression.

Six men are the stars. The three women have little to do. The men are in constant motion, very high energy -- the women seem to be there to observe, interrupt, support, and engage in dancing of a distinctly lesser level of interest than that which is given to the men.

I was really impressed by the dancing of soloists Didier Bramaz and Jeremy Cox, and corps member Marc Spielberger -- each of whom danced in all three of the ballets on Sunday. A small dancer, Alexandre Dufaur, was also a standout. All four had great energy, enthusiasm, extension grace and style -- completely inhabiting their roles. Among the company's principals, only Renato Penteado fit comfortably into the ensemble and style. Carlos Guerra, who often does The Prince, seemed a bit out of place and was possibly underrehearsed as to positioning, steps, etc. Isanusi Garcia-Rodrigues brought a broody, panther-like quality to this, as to all his roles, which was interesting if not completely apppriate. Garcia-Rodriques always commands the stage, which doesn't really work in a piece like this.

Villella, in his pre-curtain talk, referred to the vast rose that forms the backdrop of the setting, and suggested that the dancers might be seen as skipping, jumping, completely kinetic insects in human form. The ending was very impressive: a long pathway of light emerged, crossing the stage diagonally. The men tore across the stage again and again in a variety of leaps (of which grand jete was actually the simplest). No concluding pose -- the curtain drops as the leaping continues.

Incidentally, Villella mentioned that, in his opinion, ballet dancers can handle about 20% of Taylor's work, with the other 80% not really appropriate.

LA SONNAMBULA. What a strange ballet this is -- kind of an insight in what the highly dramatic story ballets of the Diaghelev days might have provided. But look closely at the pas de deux between the Poet and the Sleepwalker, and at the corps work during the ballroom dances, and you'll see some of the choreographic originality we're familiar with in later Balanchine. Allegra Kent, for whom Balanchine revived the ballet in 1958, came to Miami to coach the dancers.

Edward Villella talked about "suppressed and clandestine love". The Baron's masqued ball seems to be not much more than a place meet someone for sex. The formal dances must have been intended suggest a contrast between the conventionality of the dances and the hothouse seediness of the situation. The young and rather wholesome Miami dancers have a way to go before they can express THAT.

For instance, the Coquette is an odd character. She has to pass quickly from posing as the Baron's mistress-hostess, to experiencing sudden passion (always pronounced pass-ee-OWN ni these situations) within a few seconds of the Poet's arrival at the ball, to intense but hardly coquettish dancing with the Poet, to jealous rage, to a sudden, spontaneous act of revenge. Not easy to do. Carllie Manning, one of the purest dancers in the company, reacted sharply at her first glimpse of the poet, making me think that she recognized him as a previous lover. That at least provided a reason for her strong reaction. Her Poet was Carlos Garcia, quite elegant, but not yet able to convey deep feeling, so the pas de deux tended to be reduced to a ballroom dance with plenty of swirling of skirts. The second Coquette, Patricia Delgado, was more passionate, but also had to dance with a Poet who knew the steps but not the poetry.

Haiyan Wu's Sleepwalker was soft, fragile, and incredibly dazed. As she bourreed across the stage, her white gauze sleeves fluttered behind her like some exotic moth. I preferred Jennifer Kronenberg's more substantial and powerful presence -- as well has her facial expression which, although completely still, expressed passion and loss, rather than gently dazed. She's a dancer who can convey feeling and real life even in repose.

The pas de deux between Poet and Sleepwalker included a series of moves, beautifuly done by both pairs, where the Poet gently pushed the boureeing Sleepwalker, manipulated her leg up to arabesque and down again, and experimented with what she would do if he lay his leg or arm on the floor in her path. (She pauses briefly, then steps over.) Great stuff.

As for the divertiseements, Luis Serrano's and (especially) Mikhail Ilyin's Harlequins were actually funny. The "Oriental Pas de Deux" was fascinating -- with coiled, angular movements quite at odds with the usual sinuous. slitherings that usually are meant to convey the orient in ballet. Mary Carmen Catoya and Jeremy Cox captured this beautifully.

As for the famous ending: both Poets died a well as you can when you haven't really been stabbed. Most impressive to me was the highly stylized, stunned grief of the dancers at the ball, joined at that point the dancers from the divertissement. The Sleepwalker receives the body of the poet and has only a few seconds to walk backwards, carrying him into the tower. The appearance of the Sleepwalker's candle in the tower windows -- and its progress behind a scrim towards the moon -- simply did not work. This was bloodless death with very little transfiguration. The Saturday night audience seemed puzzled and rather lukewarm in applause. The Sunday audience gave the dancers a big hand, but also seemed reserved about the ballet.

BALLET IMPERIAL. Villalla said that he tries to select new additions for the company's rep "just in advance" of their ability to do it. Friends of his involved with the Balanchine Trust apparantly tried to dissuade him from Ballet Imperial, saying his dancers weren't ready for it. But he felt that it was a chance to tackle something "just beyond a grasp" and reach for a new "horizon of achievement."

Villella obviously loves this piece, one of the "quintesssential classical ballets of all time" as well as one of the most difficult. These older, bravura Balachine neoclassical works seem to suit the company very well -- Symphony in C, Ballo della Regina. The dancers started working on it last August, andhe ballet certainly ended the program on a high.

The two lead pairs were a study in contrasts, each very effective in their own way. Saturday night Mary Carmen Catoya, smallish and technically brilliant dancer, was paired with Renato Penteado, who has similar qualities. They were dynamos of of technique and spirit -- jumps, turns, especially demanding for the women. It was about the steps (great steps though they were), and there may have been a little less of the "imperial" in this couple than the choreography allows for.

Tricia Albertson and Mikhail Ilyin looked the part of an imperial couple and could handle all the movements. Alberton has always struck me as a risk taker. As a result she is always growing, always interesting. There were a few off-balances and positions that had to be ever so slightly corrected after the landing -- but the effect was always dramatic, grand, yet human. I checked Bernard Taper's book on Balanchine, which discusses Balanchine's own setting of this ballet on Sadlers Wells in 1949. Margo Fonteyn was the lead in the first cast; Moira Shearer in the second. Citing Shearer's memoirs, Taper writes:: "[balanchine] didn't want the ballerina dancing straight classicism -- not straight up and down, as for "Swan Lake" or "Sleeping Beauty." He wanted a diagonal angling of the body that would look dangerous, as if the dancer were taking risks and must surely fall. Fonteyn never achieved that look." For me, Albertson did.

The ending is exciting: 30 dancers in ranks, facing the audiences, soloists in the front, jumping, jumping, jumping in unison. I had to look up the names of some of the jumps: assembles, multiple entrechats, jete battus, you name it. Thrilling!

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Thanks for the review, bart! It was certainly an exceptionally good program -- three top-notch ballets.

Interesting that Miami City does Ballet Imperial (with tutus and tiaras) as opposed to Tchaikovsky Piano Cto, the "stripped down" version Balanchine seemed to have favored.

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More thanks, bart, for the great review! BTW, Pacific Northwest Ballet also did the tiara version, Ballet Imperial, and it will be interesting to see what version Peter Boal will choose, if the ballet is revived.

I am surprised that Villella was discouraged from choosing this ballet. Miami City Ballet has the reputation as having given some of the finest performances of Balanchine's works in the world, and the Company has performed other works of comparable scale.

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My thanks, too, Bart, for such a comprehensive and interesting review.

I'm not surprised by the Miami audience's puzzled, lukewarm reaction to La Sonnambula -- the NYCB audience, which ought to know better by now, reacts in much the same way. I'm curious, though -- did the audience laugh when the Sleepwalker stepped over the Poet's outstretched arms? They've done so in almost every performance I've ever seen, both in NY and Washington.

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Ari, indeed they did. So, actually, did I, if you call a brief, involuntary, amused chuckle a "laugh". The Poet seems rather the experimenting teenager at that point, faschinated by and toying with the Sleepwalker. At least that's how Carlos Guerra played it, and it worked for me.

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