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Program 4: Serenade, Funny Papers, Symphony In C

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MCB's Program 4 is coming to West Palm Beach this weekend. It's already been performed at Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

The program consists of Balanchine's Serenade and Symphony in C, and Paul Taylor's Funny Papers. We last had Symphony in C only last year, I think, which is a puzzle. I'm lookng forward to Seranade, which I haven't seen in decades. Now that I've actually done the memorable movement at the start -- suddenly opening the feet to first position -- I hope I'll see it and feel Serenade in a new and different way.

Has anyone seen the Miami and Fort Lauderdale performances who can tell us what they were like?

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I saw the Fort Lauderdale performances, my first of the company, and was impressed. I don't have my program available so can not say much about casting.

Serenade was the weakest for me. The slow tempo deprived the corps of the sweep we get at NYCB. I did not care for either of the Hidlago sisters as two of the soloists but Kronenberg was impressive as the girl who falls. There were a number of partnering glitches in the Dark Angel and in general I was not as impressed by the men as by the women in the company.

Funny Paper was cute but I am not a fan of the ballet companies in Talyor's work. His dancers push down into the ground and ballet goes up, so I feel that most of the time Taylor's choreography is not shown to its best advantage. Obviously, it suffered by comparison to Balanchine's masterpieces.

Symphony in C looked great. My favorite was Katia Carrozza in the first movement. Crisp, clean pointe work and lovely arms. I did not like the interpretation of the second movement, it is not Swan Lake, and the ballerina went from pose to pose rather than giving us a long singing phrase as we see from Whelan and some other NYCB ballerinas. The corps women looked good in this, better than in Serenade.

The audience was very enthusiastic and clearly loves their company, as they should.

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Thanks a lot for your review, liebs. It's good to get comparisons with current NYCB practice. I will look, especially in the Serenade, for some of the qualities you mention. I find that one of the hardest things to "see" -- and one requiring the most experience -- is precisely the difference you mention: between dancers who can sustain a long phrase throughout, and those who move (however gracefully) from pose to pose. Very few, in my limited experience, can project that long sweep of movement that incorporates but also transcends each pose.

I've noticed -- but not really conceptualized -- differences between Taylor's own company and the few ballet company performances I've seen. I have enjoyed Piazzolla Caldera by Miami (last performed in 2004). I'll look for that ground v. air thing. Thanks. Generally I find it had to give myself to ballets that include music from "Popeye the Sailor Man," as Funny Papers is said to do. But I'll try. I expect this is the Easily Accessible Crowd Pleaser that is found on so many mixed ballet programs. The fun between the 2 Balanchines.

Re the names of dancers, I think you're referring to the Delgado sisters (Jeannette and Patricia). And to Katia Carranza, in Symphony in C.

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liebs,I'm in general agreement with what you had to say (about the March 11 Saturday evening performance, I believe) - one of my occasional disappointments at MCB are slow tempos. (I don't have the current NYCB point of comparison, although I've agonized through some slow tempos there, too, since the mid 80's.) In particular, your remarks about the second movement of Symphony in C. Not to be unkind, but for the record it was Haiyan Wu, a fairly new dancer I've been finding more interesting lately as she develops in diverse roles, but although I think she was technically quite secure in C there were better ones on view that weekend by Kronenberg (with Guerra) and especially by Seay (with Nikitine), IMO.

As to Funny Papers, ballet dancers don't generally do Taylor nearly as well as Taylor's dancers do for me either, they're too light weight and make it look watery and - comparatively - ineffective, to my eyes. That said, I thought Tricia Albertson and Mikhail Nikitine brought plastic continuity - tensile strength and flow - to the first number, "Alley Oop," making it even more effective than Charlene Cohen and Didier Bramaz had on Friday night (and would again Sunday afternoon). On the other hand, Jeremy Cox, who had given a wonderful performance of the title role in Prodigal Son, in "Popeye" complicated the part, I thought, putting me in mind of what someone said about a performance conducted by Leonard Bernstein: "He gives it everything he's got, and that's too much." This part is really a simple character, a comic strip character at that, and Luis Serrano's simple, direct realization of it seemed to me more successful. bart, you're going to find out that the music, or rather the lyrics, is where much of the fun is to be had in this diversion. Yes, the Balanchines supply the real substance of the program.

I'd still say Villella's programming things like this is defensible for the sake of variety, on the grounds that Taylor's company doesn't get to Miami; and he himself, in one of his pre-performance talks, said, IIRC, that Taylor and Tharp help to make MCB a company "without an accent" even though the dancers come from many places. I don't follow his logic here, but most of the time I like his results. A lot.

liebs, isn't MCB touring in your general vicinity this Spring? I'd like to read more of what you have to say about them...

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the program finally reached us in West Palm. Here's Link to a review by Mark Lynch, which, I think, did not make it into the BT Llinks section:


The retirement of two MCB dancers was announced at the Saturday evening performance: principal Michelle Merrell (12 years with the company) and soloist (Bruce Thornton). Merrell was wonderful as the dark angel in Serenade and especially (a surprise to me) in the comic "I am Woman" section of Funny papers. Thornton danced "I Am Woman" in another performance, and was also in Symphony in C, and he was very effective in Serenade. They got flowers and a standing ovation -- from Villella, their fellow dancers, and the audience.

I don't have enough experience to compare tempi in various companies' peformances of Seranade. I did feel, though, that the string section of the Florida Classical Orchestra was too small for Seranade, espcially the lush opening section. The entire piece was under-powered as to sound, though played beautifully by the individual players. This may have added to the sense that the tempo was too slow.

When it came to Symphony in C, with full orchestra, I thought everything was fine. Many of MCB's dancers are more than capable of NYCB's speed and attack, but not all of them -- especially the younger dancers, some of whom are actually school apprentices. This difference was very noticeable during the company class (with everyone on stage) that Villella conducted on Friday, a class full of quick, darting movements, syncopation,etc..

I wanted to respond respond to liebs' comment that the men in the company seem weaker than the women. I definitely agree that they need help in partnering. Just compare Guerra (with Kronenberg) in the second section of Symphony in C with Nikitine in the same role (with Wu). Guerra, like almost all the men in the company, tends to look down at the floor when holding the woman by the waist There's almost always an expression of nervousness or concern (will I be able to hold her upright while she bends?). This is followed by a smile (relief? triumph?) as the movement reaches its conclusion. Kronenberg, probably my favorite overall woman dancer in the company, did not look as well as she might with this sort of partnering in the first section of Seranade. In non-classical work, this problem disappears.

In contrast, Nikitine was a true cavalier the next day, presenting Wu beautifully and with great skill. It was a joy to watch his face and follow his eyes. This may be one reason why Wu on Sunday was, to me at least, absolutely radiant and classical in the second section. It may be Nikitine's training (with Perm in Russia), but he's everything a partner should be. Mikhail Ilyin, trained at Vaganova Academy, is another strong partner in the company.

The other males in demi-soloist roles in Serenade had occasional difficulty with faces.. It's something I tend to look for.) I saw men, including some of the best dancers in the company biting lips, darting their eyes around the stage rather than focusing on their partner, making mechanical adjustments from one facial expression to another in the middle of a combination; and, in one case (and not the first from this dancer) actually smirking. ON the other hand, I don't see the blank look ("my body is here, but my mind is elsewhere") that I often saw from the men at NYCB in my days of very regular attendance, which brings distractions of its own.

The Miami men have enormous potential, but they may need some serious help in partnering, and perhaps should be shown closeup videos of their facial expressions in performance.

Serenade is one of the first Balanchine ballets I ever saw, almost 50 years ago. I was moved almost to tears then, and the same thing happened this weekend. (Villella, in his pre-curtain talk, called it the most beautiful opening and closing tableaux in ballet.) The first movements of the corps bring the simple classroom movements at the start of barre to a level of high art. The corps, despite the inclusion of student apprentices performed very well, I thought.

I saw both Deanna Seay and Jennifer Kronenberg as the "waltzing girl" (or "girl who falls"). Each was as good as I've ever seen (and I've seen many). Seay's performance was perhaps more tragic, and Kronenberg's more gentle and heart-breaking. Bruce Thornton made a real character of the second man. When Kronenberg fell, he looked at her with a wondering kind of love. Then, when the dark angel came up behind him and pulled his attention away, he look upward and outward with an entirely different expression. Something was awesome and powerful out there. This turned the role -- in which the man is usually a passive figure in the hands of the dark angel -- into something much more interesting. He saw an alternate future, and he was actually choosing it and moving on.

Funny Papers Cast meant everything here. Luis Serrano was a light-weight, aerial Popeye. Jeremy Cox was stronger, earthier, more real. Merrell had a great fun in "I Am Woman," and Marc Spielberger camped it up a bit too much. I liked Callie Manning and Bruce Thornton in the same roles. Two student apprentices -- Leigh and Sarah Esty -- brought an MGM musical joy to Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini ("hey kids, lets put on a show!"). Fun. But not rolling-in-the-aisles fun.

The revelation to me was Callie Manning. I really llike this soloist, who has a very classical style and dances with great classical technique. In character roles, she tends to be given the cold bitches (Siren in Prodigal Son; the Coquette in Sonnambula). In Funny Papers she was ... well ... FUNNY!. And playful, and bouncing, and ironic. This seems to have carried over into her corps and demi-solo work in both Serenade and Symphony in C. Her face had expression; she conveyed real delight in the dance. Her eyes were alive and expressive. It's really wonderful to see a young artist develop beyond technique before your eyes.

Jack, you're right about the music. That out-of-tune "I Am Woman" was worth the price of admission!!

Symphony in C I preferred the Sunday matinee performance, which was really first-rate. Deanna Seay (regal and radiant) and Kenta Shimizu (first section); Haiyan Wu and Mikhail Nikitine (2ns); Katia Carranza and Mikhail Ilyin (3rd); and Patricia Delgado and Didier Bramaz (4th). I also lwas bowled over by Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado -- the company bravura dancers -- in the 3rd section on Saturday. The large component of demi-soloits and corps seemed at their best on Saturday. And it was good to see certain corps members -- especially Agnieszka Szymanska and Ashley Knox-- get a chance to move out in front. Villella's very generous at giving his dancers these opportunities.

All in all: :dunno:

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thanks for your so very detailed review. I too am in love with Serenade, from the moment the curtain opens to that "choir" waiting to sing! I saw it in Miami a few weekends ago and honestly it still moves me beyond anything else. I will try to post more later. Thanks again! :dunno:

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Please do post, justdoit. Which cast(s) did you see?

I'm interested in what it is about Serenade that moves so many of us -- while others, while appreciating its quality as a ballet, seem kind of immune. It starts as a ballet "about" ballet (its rituals, purity, elegance, etc.) and grows into something much larger. I almost feel that it's a kind of Rorshach test for ballet lovers -- though I have no idea what the results would tell us. :dunno:

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