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Program III - Ft. Lauderdale

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I'm posting this some time after the actual performances of 25th through 27th February in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale - Program IV is already being shown - and Bart's account of Program III in West Palm Beach is consistent with my experience of it; but, for me, trying to write about it is, among other things, a way to relive it while seated at my computer, and there are some things about what I saw that just won't leave me alone (not that I really want them to):

Deanna Seay's performance in La Valse was powerfully effective even from the second-rate seat circumstances obliged me to take for it Friday evening, especially the duet ending the first part of the ballet, to the last of Ravel'sValses Nobles et Sentimentales. Not a demonstration of plastique, nor ademonstrationof anything, but arealization of the dance, with its dark undertow, her every move in the supple flow of continually changing strangely beautiful angles of her body had expressive point. And in the eerie series of lifts - with their backs toward us - into the wing she and her superb partner Mikhail Nikitine achieved the effect of a series of weightless arcs. And later, she made vivid her character's torment under Death's spell with details like extending her arms to reach for the cracked mirror he shows her while at the same time raising her hands to push it away. (Sunday I was lucky enough to see them in this again, and from a good seat!)

Saturday afternoon Jennifer Kronenberg was lovely in this, with very effective arms, unusually important in this ballet, but overall not so effective as Seay, and those lifts concluding the first part, with Carlos Guerra, didn't appear quite so effortless. Saturday evening Haiyan Wu, with Renato Penteado, gave this clear technique, but the experience of watching Seay and Kronenberg suggests it benefits from something more than just that.

After intermission, Jerome Robbins's Afternoon of a Faun was danced the most satisfyingly by Kronenberg, with Guerra, on Saturday evening. Right through, they were seamlessly enveloped in Debussy's luminous music, never breaking the spell of it. The lift where she perches on his shoulder, for example, had the apparently effortless grace appropriate to this pastoral idyll, and in the second of the low lifts where she is horizontal, she shifts her profile on a note from the triangle in a way that seems to answer to the gleaming sound of that instrument.

Friday evening, Wu's performance seemed to me to lack some effect, although the low lifts were lovely; her partner Mikhail Ilyin realized his role so well I noticed quotes from Nijinsky's setting that I hadn't noticed before. The following afternoon, Patricia Delgado, with Jeremy Cox, gave a performance more effectively continuous, and Cox, at the moment when the girl stands in profile with her head up and he passes his hand along her hair, kept his hand noticeably clear of her hair, as it had always been done in Balanchine's company, instead of actually touching the hair as some of the other men did this weekend. An importantly different effect. Sunday afternoon Katia Carranza, with Ilyin again, instead of the scheduled Renato Penteado, gave a performance which mostly went of itself but sometimes looked a little studied and careful, and I wondered whether it was her debut.

Faunwas followed after a pause by Balanchine'sSonatine to the Ravel music for solo piano, and although the recorded music for the rest of the program was acceptably reproduced, if not so well as in the Jackie Gleason Theatre in Miami Beach, it was a pleasure not just to hear this music played on a piano on stage but to hear it played with sensitive phrasing, clarity among the lines, regard for the color of his instrument, expressively and simply at the same time, by the company pianist, Francisco Renno.

I thought the best dance performances were by Mary Carmen Catoya, with Penteado, on Friday, and by Deanna Seay, exceptionally well partnered by Kenta Shimizu, on Saturday evening. Catoya's gleaming performance, with its quick, small movements of her feet very clear but not detached from the flow, was so different from Seay's luminous, creamy, luxe one that sometimes they seemed to be presenting different texts. (I wish I knew this ballet better.) Sunday afternoon brought what I later learned was only Tricia Albertson's second performance, which mostly seemed to go of itself but occasionally looked studied, a promising beginning, but she did not take over her space quite like Seay had. Pity that Albertson only began to show us this role at the end of the run, but on the other hand, as someone has said, success is doing what you can.

And then, after another intermission, Fancy Free. The outstanding performances in this for me were Mary Carmen Catoya's as the passer-by in the yellow skirt in the two matinees and Luis Serrano, Jeremy Cox, whom I liked best, and Carlos Guerra as the the three sailors in the two evening performances, who brought their characters into clearer focus than the matinee cast did. In the early number where the sailors taunt the girl in yellow by playing "keep away" with her purse, the choreography makes clear how her impatience turns into anger, without any need for acting, and Katia Carranza was superb in this in the evening performances; but Catoya, without any exaggeration that I could see, made her effect larger and more vivid, so much so that, if I remember correctly, the evening audiences applauded the end of the number as two of the sailors took off after her after her exit, while at the matinees with Catoya, the applause began as soon as she had stalked off in a huff, before the sailors began to follow her.

Good as these three men were, none of them were the equivalent even of Carranza or of Albertson, the second passer-by in the evening performances, who inflected their movement more meaningfully than the men. (Maybe this was part of why bart was less taken with these performances than with some past ones.) This brings to mind the well-known quote from Balanchine, "Ballet is Woman," which it occurs to me now to take not as any sort of edict but merely as a statement of fact, based on commonplace observation. (Sorry, guys.)

I think the keen observation and economical plotting of this ballet is much remarked on and pretty well known. I was struck this time by how the duet in the bar between the second passer-by, in lavender, and the remaining sailor answers the question we may have when the girl in yellow and her two sailors, whom we last saw at odds with her, reappear as her friends, as to how that could happen, because we have just seen it happen in the bar. But another thing that makes this ballet greater than Faun for me is the aptness of the music at every moment. Of course, Bernstein tailored it to Robbins's purpose.

In the case of Faun, though, something vaguely bothered me about it when I first began seeing it years ago, until I read Violette Verdy's acute observation that there is nothing in Debussy's music about the vanity of dancers. And so, glad to be in agreement with dancers I have long admired, I recall also Merrill Ashley's recent remark that Robbins's best ballet was his first one, Fancy Free. Don't get me wrong, though; I think they're both good additions to MCB's repertory, and La Valse is a superb one.

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Thanks, Jack Reed, for allowing me to revisit Fancy Free. (I confess that my favorite Kravis Center seats -- Grand Tier box near stage -- obscured a lot of the stage business, way over on stage left, between the men and the women. So actually you were describing a few things I never even saw.)

Also, I was glad to learn that Jeremy Cox and Patricia Delgado got a crack at Faun and did so well. Both these dancers are multitalented, and Villella uses them in an amazing variety of styles.

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