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Fearful Symmetries


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I've seen it. I'm not a big fan of Martins' choreography, but I found this ballet less painful than some of his other work. it is fast, not slow, and to me seems less an attempt to ape Balanchine than many of his other works (that I like less).

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I think it is one of Martins's best ballets. The music is propulsive and the motion is constant until just a little before the end. It is one of two Martins ballets ("Barber Violin Concerto" is the other) that I always look forward to seeing and thoroughly enjoy.

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George Bernard Shaw divided some of his plays into "pleasant" and "unpleasant". I've always been more interested in Martins' "unpleasant" works because they seem to be where his heart lies. This is one of the best of those. A highly personal viewpoint, but I like "Fearful Symmetries" as a time capsule of NYC ca. the late 80s (it was made in 1990). The driving propulsion of the work and the violence under the skin remind me very much of the city in that era. Other people have watched the ballet and wondered what the hell I was talking about when I said that so your mileage may vary.

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A highly personal viewpoint, but I like "Fearful Symmetries" as a time capsule of NYC ca. the late 80s (it was made in 1990). The driving propulsion of the work and the violence under the skin remind me very much of the city in that era. Other people have watched the ballet and wondered what the hell I was talking about when I said that so your mileage may vary.

My take on the ballet, whose premier I saw in 1990, was a personal one: I thought that Merrill Ashley, the woman in one of the three couples, was made to look diminished in the style of Heather Watts, who danced in the second couple. The propulsion in the ballet seemed random to me, and I never felt a randomness to the violence in NYC. ('Going postal' -- yes. The legacy of mentally ill homeless people who had been released wholesale from state instititutions -- yes. Turf wars -- yes.) It was the work in which I saw Margaret Tracey (third couple) fling herself around the stage, and came up with my basic formula for new works: Is it worth the risk of injury to dance this piece, and in the case of Fearful Symmetries, my answer was "no."

PNB performed this work in 2001 and 2003, and I saw two widely divergent casts: Nadeau/Apple/Nakamura in 2001 and Imler/Lallone/Ostergren in 2003. There were still remnants of Wattsisms, although the dancers gave very individual takes, and neither Apple nor Lallone was prone to the type of mannerisms that Watts had in this genre. The work has a lot of energy, and there are lots of attractive bodies dancing it, but my answer remains the same. To me, however accomplished, it's program filler.

George Bernard Shaw divided some of his plays into "pleasant" and "unpleasant". I've always been more interested in Martins' "unpleasant" works because they seem to be where his heart lies. This is one of the best of those.

I actually like two of his "pleasant" works the best: A Schubertiade and the small work for violin and piano sonata he did for Kyra Nichols and Adam Lüders that was televised with Ecstatic Orange, Barber Violin Concerto, Valse Triste, and possibly another piece. Both because they gave superb roles for Kyra Nichols, but also because they went against Martins' grain and had a clarity that many of the other early and middle period leotard works didn't.

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Funny, but as many times as I've seen "Fearful Symmetries"(close to a dozen) I've never much noticed individual dancers. In fact, to dredge up a mercifully-obsolete word of that era, it's always struck me as pretty much a "unisex" ballet. So Helene's mention of Merrill Ashley, Heather Watts, and Margaret Tracey is almost as surprising to me as her saying that the violence in New York was not random.

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I've only seen this with Pacific Northwest Ballet, so don't have the reference of the original cast. In my opinion, it's pretty well made, reflects the dynamism of its score (to me, it sounds a bit like train travel) and has several nice show-off roles for the cast. In this work, Martins seems to share an interest in twisty dancing with William Forsythe, though it doesn't include his post-modern theatrical experimentation.

I don't like it extravagently, but I don't dislike it.

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>The work has a lot of energy, and there are lots of attractive bodies >dancing it, but my answer remains the same. To me, however

>accomplished, it's program filler.

High energy, running around with fast movements (for the most part). Costumes are pretty basic classroom style. Many dancers at NYCB refer to Fearful as a ballet dancer aerobics class.

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I think I saw this danced by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden in the early '90's with, amongst others, Irek Mukhamedov and Tetsuya Kumakawa... however, as the title refers to the Philip Glass score (I think!) I wonder if it was the same choreography? Can anyone tell me?

There were I think quite a few 'Glass ballets' made in the '90's - wouldn't suprise me if there are different ballets in existance using this same score.

Please excuse my ignorance - I wish I still had the programme and cast sheet!

I did enjoy it at the time - although it was too long ago for me to comment on it now.

EDIT: OK OK so it's not Philip Glass it's John Adams ... sorry it's been a long day.... and I even HAVE the score on CD somewhere (sure it was Glass) anyway I'd still like to know if it's the same ballet if anyone can tell me!

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I think I saw this danced by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden in the early '90's with, amongst others, Irek Mukhamedov and Tetsuya Kumakawa... however, as the title refers to the Philip Glass score (I think!) I wonder if it was the same choreography? Can anyone tell me?

There were I think quite a few 'Glass ballets' made in the '90's - wouldn't suprise me if there are different ballets in existance using this same score.

Please excuse my ignorance - I wish I still had the programme and cast sheet!

I did enjoy it at the time - although it was too long ago for me to comment on it now.

I think the ballet at the Royal is choreographed by Ashley Page (sp??).

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GoCoyote!, the ballet is named after Adams' score. It's a safe guess that Adams was referencing William Blake's mention of "fearful symmetry" in his poem, "The Tiger." Helene, the ballet for Nichols and Luders you're thinking of must be "Beethoven Romance." I like that myself, but not "A Schubertiade" the one time I saw it. It seemed to go on foverer.

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In this work, Martins seems to share an interest in twisty dancing with William Forsythe, though it doesn't include his post-modern theatrical experimentation.
Many dancers at NYCB refer to Fearful as a ballet dancer aerobics class.

That's it, the nail on the head. Fearful Symmetries reminds me of an exercise class, a complete contrast for me to a work like in the middle, somewhat elevated, which if it didn't have a story, at least had an arc.

Helene, the ballet for Nichols and Luders you're thinking of must be "Beethoven Romance." I like that myself, but not "A Schubertiade" the one time I saw it. It seemed to go on foverer.

Thank you, kfw!

A Schubertiade needed serious editing (one third to one half excised), but it had the core of a great ballet, with the pas de trois, a very nice developmental role for Nichol Hlinka, and a killer role for Nichols.

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GoCoyote!, the ballet is named after Adams' score. It's a safe guess that Adams was referencing William Blake's mention of "fearful symmetry" in his poem, "The Tiger."

Thanks kfw - I remembered the Blake reference but just muddled the composer ... I have done a little research since my last post and the RB version was definately by Ashley Page.

I also just remembered seeing what looked like a very different 'Fearful Symmetries' more recently (perhaps 5 years ago) by a visiting company - possibly SFB - but more likely Pacific Northwest Ballet. That MUST have been the Martins version and I remember not liking it so much. The RB version seemed much more daring... aggressive even.

From Blake's 'The Tiger':

'TIGER, tiger, burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?'

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Just in case anyone recalls John Cleese as Ann Elk (Miss) in Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Ahem. This is my theory about Peter Martins' choreography. That is to say I have a theory, and it is mine. It is my theory. [furious throat clearing noises]

More seriously, you may have already heard my pet theory on his work - if so, skip it, if not, it is apropos here.

I think Martins' ideas on choreography were formed most strongly by the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. For what it's worth it's also the point when he was taken into the bosom of the company after an awkward beginning. You can see the genesis for most of his major works within the festival itself. The division of the corps in Fearful has some relation to Stravinsky Violin Concerto - as does the double couple lead. The musical choice (driving perpetual motion) has roots in Symphony in Three Movements. The nascent violence in the work might be prefigured by the moment in the Aria of Violin Concerto that Martins danced with Mazzo where it looked for a moment like he might break her neck.

The violence in Fearful isn't the random violence of a mugging. For me, this work as well as others (Tanzscene and even the much later Guide to Strange Places) has recalled the "preppy killer" case from the late 80s of Robert Chambers and Jennifer Levin with the "rough sex" defense. Tanzscene at the time was thought to refer to the case directly.

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