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Gerald Arpino


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The Chicago Sun-Times' dance critic, Hedy Weiss, is very high on Gerald Arpino. In her review of the current performance, she calls him

...a very gifted yet often underrated choreographer ...

And in a separate article she gives us a dancers'-eye view of his choreography:

"His ballets are extremely athletic, yet at the same time he is always reminding you to be feminine and to use your whole body. So you can't just muscle your way through the movement; you have to be lovely, too."

And that's not all. Dancers performing the works of Arpino, the co-founder and artistic director of the company, must also be tremendously adaptable. Because above all else, Arpino is a stylistic polyglot

Is Weiss' assessment generally shared in the ballet community?

And a related question: what other companies have Arpino choreography in their repertoire?

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Great question, treefrog. I'm looking forward to the responses. And thanks for the links.

When I was young in the 60s I remember an Arpino ballet set to what I guess you would call rock music. It took the form of a stylized anti-war protest. My friends and I thought it was v-e-r-y cool, and I recall thinking: so ballet can be political, too. This was about the time the Joffrey revived The Green Table. After a while the Balanchine aesthetic reclaimed me -- but I still have a fondness for what the Joffrey was capable of putting on the stage in those turbulent days.

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Just off the top of my head, "Kettentanz" would appear to have the best "legs" of Arpino's catalogue. The National Ballet of Canada, The Australian Ballet, BalletMet Columbus, and the Vienna Staatsopernballet have it in repertoire. Dayton Ballet has done "Trinity".

I can't be impartial enough to answer about the consensus in the general audience on Arpino's place in the world pantheon of choreographers. I worked too closely with him, and "old school tie" and all that.

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Read Arlene Croce on Mr. Arpino for a different take :)

I think the ballet community is so broad now that there isn't a one size fits all answer. I think few New York critics of a certain generation would put him on their top ten list. My own view is that he's very talented at moving people around, which is certainly one quality of a good choreographer. But, perhaps because he didn't grow up watching good choreography at close hand to see how a Petipa, a Fokine, a Balanchine, a Nijinska made dances, he doesn't move people in a consistently well-structured way and there are also lapses in vocabulary -- knowing what steps can and should go together, how to mix in foreign phrases so that they fit rather than stand out like very sore thumbs. That's as close as I can come to stating my objections. There's also the matter of taste, and Mr. Arpino's taste is rarely mine. When a choreographer sends one row of dancers coming across the stage at top speed on a diagonal from back to front, stage left to right, and another one at equal speed coming the other way, and the audience is praying they don't run into each other -- well, that's bumper cars to me, not a ballet.

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I think she wrote a lot about him -- and I know about the Joffrey generally -- when the company was based in New York. I don't have the new collection, just the original ones ("After Images" and "Going to the Dance" would have most of them, I think.

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Round of Angels is still my favorite. Nothing compares to seeing it live and watching the curtain open to that huge velvety starfield and the silvery light glimmering off (and limning) the dancers. The Mahler Adagietto, too, works to create a feeling of an infinite serenity above and beyond commonplace worries. Magical.

Does anyone still do this ballet?

Also, who choreographed "Panoramagram?" I will never forget the dancers on risers in the opening piece perfectly immitating a computer circuitboard, and that drop from a 10-15ft. high tower into the arms of attentive partners.

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