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Spring 2007 Kennedy Center season

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There will be some performances at next Saturdsay's (Sept 16) KC open house.

Also there will be 2 Performance Plus events, for which tickets are now for sale--an open rehearsal and another class for adult "nondancers".

Tickets for the KC open house events are free, first-come, first-served, available 30 min before each of the 2 performances.

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(from Washington, DC) The idea expressed last fall and appearing just above about gaining admission to Suzanne's events on a half-hour's notice seem a little optomistic now, after I was told weeks ago they were sold out; she's a big draw, around here at least, and at a contributors' dinner before the performance this evening I met some more people who came from other parts of the country for this.

Anyway, I've just returned from the opening performance and seeing the semi-dress rehearsal (some dancers were in costume, some weren't; sometimes they danced full, sometimes they marked) this afternoon. It's the latest stop in a kind of ballet Odyssey I'm on, having seen the wonderful Vishneva for the first time, in Ashton's The Dream with ABT, Nichols's lovely last (sniff) Mozartiana with NYCB, a bunch of satisfying youngsters at the SAB Workshops, including some amazing 10- to 14-year-olds dancing Sean Lavery's charming little Twinkliana and a vibrant Gounod Symphony (or 3/4 of it) by slightly older teens.

And you know what? At the rehearsal already, Bonnie Pickard and Runqiao Du blew it all away for me with a variably luminous, present, vital performance of Scotch Symphony, that was a lot like the old days in Balanchine's theatre, except maybe Farrell's orchestra was better and the demi (Shannon Parsley) was not quite the equal of Marnie Morris or Roma Sosenko (or maybe it's her brilliant red costume, formerly dark green, that makes it a little hard to apppreciate her fully because of its glare). And then in the evening, the marvelous rehearsal turned out to have been a wonderful harbinger for the steadily, miraculously achieved realization of this beautiful, dramatic, plotless ballet.

And then we had the Concierto de Mozart Adagio you can make out pretty well in the webcast, except of course this one was much more effective partly by being easier to see; Elisabeth Holowchuk and Momchil Mladenov continued pretty much at the same high level. Then after I had seen Bejart's love scene from Romeo and Juliet, which seems fully to flesh out Berlioz's wonderful score, some of the best music ever written for any purpose, I felt even more strongly that the corresponding scene from Martins's new setting of the difficult Prokofiev music, which had turned up on the Workshop program, was like little more than clear water thrown on warm rocks to evaporate into nothing, having nearly no effect to remember. By contrast, Bejart and Berlioz conjure up a great deal in a quarter hour; Ashley Hubbard and Matthew Prescott realized the whole stream of shifting modes and moods in this as a continuous flow, a journey through a microcosm, the world writ small.

The trouble with Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, some of us thought, is that the much-repeated theme threatened to repeat itself in our heads for days, but thinking back over the rest of the program to write about it may have saved me! It's a good time, and plainly ingenious; the show-within-a-show aspect being only one way the master keeps this bubbling along, and the cast's verve and Ron Matson's tempos supply much energy. Momchil Mladenov is perfectly cast as Morrosine, and Lisa Reneau makes the Strip Tease Girl live (even after she "dies"). (This program has five murders in it, including a couple of Capulets and Montagues.) But in my recent experience, the Thug* to beat is still Edward Villella.

Farrell speaks sometimes of Balanchine's ballets as "worlds". In her theatre, as in his, we experience them vividly, as though walking their ground and breathing their air, not as though looking out through a tour-bus window. (I'm thinking of the ABT Symphonie Concertante I saw with The Dream, for example of a world seen distantly.) We feel different from when we began our trip, refreshed, we've had some re-creation, we are restored to ourselves and better for it. Better than a vacation! And no jet lag!

*Gangster is the correct character title; Thug is a different character in this, who gets bumped off early. You'd think a Chicagoan like me would know the difference.

Edited by Jack Reed
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(from Washington, DC) koshka, I'll be very interested to read what happens in the Saturday afternoon movement class. I'd find out first-hand but I've been in much better shape, and that's the way I'd rather be for it.

TutuMaker, will internet access in Foggy Bottom be a problem? There is some public access around 24th Street. At L Street, the West Side Neighborhood Library is open Sunday from 1 to 5 and Monday from 9:30 to 9; and at 2400-D M Street, there's a FedEx-Kinko's, but that's $15/hr. (Okay, technically this is West End, not Foggy Bottom.) What's this about? With a screen name like TutuMaker, you could have an eye more like a dancer's than I do, and write better posts, and I'd like to read them.

That said, I thought Thursday's casting was a little against type, or something. The story keeps coming up: Dancer: "Mr. B, I don't think I'm ready for this role." Balanchine: "That's why you have to do it, dear, that's how you get ready for it." In Scotch, Pickard's partner was Mladenov, and his hand-to-hand supporting often shook; she seemed maybe a little unsettled compared to Wednesday night with Du. Otherwise their dancing together was excellent, smooth ascents and soft landings in lifts, and so on. Among the nuances of her performance, her looking into her partner's face in changing ways, now coolly with head slightly up, now challenging with head lightly lowered, etc., while not made much of, helped make her performance complete, as Patricia McBride's had been, although I didn't see any imitation (and don't particularly want to). I think both ballerinas found what they showed us in the part themselves. Mladenov's dancing was very fine, with some nice mime touches here and there.

Matthew Prescott came into Mozart, and there were some more shaky hand-to-hand grips. Elisabeth Holowchuk looked less happy this time in this unusual pas de deux: The choreographer who famously said, "Put a boy and girl on stage, it's already a story" here shows us more "story" than that. At one point, they even walk along hand in hand, smiling at each other. And I'll record here one of my reservations about the lighting in this ballet, which still has maybe the best of the program: It's simple, open and clear, uniform across the stage, and that's good; but toward the end, two measures into the violin cadenza on which Holowchuk has a long, interesting solo which we want to be able to see better, the lighting designer, Jeff Bruckerhoff, chooses to dim the lighting slightly, making it harder to see her instead. This fussing is all too common today.

Then in Romeo and Juliet, Runqiao Du, a very strong classicist in general and Pickard's superb partner last night, didn't have much of the extra something - characterization? - this needs, compared to Prescott last night.

But Katelyn Prominski, an announced sub for Lisa Reneau as the Strip Tease Girl in Slaughter, gave us a large and lush performance of this role. So if it was not quite up to the high standard of opening night, the program ended strong.

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I'll report on tomorrow's "movement" class later. The information indicates that no experience is necessary, but then specifies "leotard, tights, ballet slippers" as the attire, which suggests that it's likely to attract adults with at least some ballet experience.

I really liked the program as a whole. There were a few wobbly parts, but then Balanchine's choreography and partnering are often quite challenging. It's amazing to see very difficult choreography made to look easy, but I don't mind the occasional reminder that it's hard. There was indeed probably a bit more than the usual amount of wobbliness because of the cast substitutions and varied partnering casts.

but toward the end, two measures into the violin cadenza on which Holowchuk has a long, interesting solo which we want to be able to see better, the lighting designer, Jeff Bruckerhoff, chooses to dim the lighting slightly, making it harder to see her instead. This fussing is all too common today.

I have to disagree with Jack on this one--I thought this change in the light was quite beautiful. I was in the front row--maybe it was easier to see or appreciate from there.

I had never seen the Bejart Romeo and Juliet Scene d'Amour, and I thought it was beautifully done, though, as Jack said, perhaps the character was a bit underdeveloped on Du's side.

I haven't seen Slaughter on 10th Avenue enough times to remember that the danseur who appears at the very beginning never reappears, so I'm always a little disappointed when he doesn't. The piece is really fun and it was played to the hilt all around.

All in all, a great evening, and I'm looking forward to Sunday's program.

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Thanks for the reports, Jack and Koshka. Either of you go to today's "rehearsal ballet tea?" One of the "additional events" I'd been looking forward to in this engagement (before I had to cancel my trip) was the "Post-Performance Book Discussion" scheduled for tonight, with Suzanne and Martin Duberman discussing his recent biography of Kirstein. Although NYCB held two seminars devoted to Kirstein in May, Duberman was not a participant, which I thought rather odd.

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Oh I will post, just after I return home on Monday!

I am flying in on Saturday evening and out very early Monday. I am travelling light and do not want to bring my laptop. Nor do I want to spend time on-line while vistiting in DC. :FIREdevil:

I am so happy with all of the wonderful reviews and am very anxious to see both programs. I will take notes, so I do not forget the highlights.

I was unaware that the rehearsal today was open. I hope someone will report on this too!

A HUGE thank you to Jack and koshka!

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A HUGE thank you to Jack and koshka!

Yes, thanks a lot folks!

Koshka, when I took Farrell's class a few years ago many of the participants had clearly had some ballet training. I had had very little, but we all had fun.

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(from Washington, DC) No fair, koshka! From the first row you can see with the stage lights practically out!

Program B began its run tonight (Friday 8th June) with a fine cast. Inevitably I compared Mozartiana with the one I saw Saturday afternoon in New York. Bonnie Pickard was more expansive than Kyra Nichols had been, although Nichols had other virtues, like greater serenity, and I'm glad to have seen both. (Pickard's later variations, numbers 5 and 7 in the last movement, I think, were a little slow though beautifully spun out.) Jared Redick made his first appearance this season, I think, as Pickard's partner, and suffered some by comparison with Philip Neal's clarity, although the matter of conscientiousness was not out of the picture with Neal as it was with the two ballerinas, who simply made the ballet their own, but both men appeared to be all their partners needed. But Kirk Henning gave a more satisfying performance of the Gigue than NYCB's Tom Gold, approaching a full realization of it in contrast to Gold's conscientiousness and frequent heaviness.

Romeo and Juliet got another superb realization by Ashley Hubbard and Matthew Prescott, and then after the pause the company premiere of Divertimento Brilliante from Glinkiana; I think Mr. B once refered to Glinka as "our [Russian] Mozart" and the relative, Mozartean simple, direct clarity of this little pas de deux, danced exactly this way by Shannon Parsley and Momchil Mladenov, was refreshing after the richness of the Bejart excerpt.

The program ended with Slaughter, in which Kirk Henning turned out to be a much better tapper than Kurt Froman had been, and projected some of the mime details more clearly too; Elisabeth Holowchuk as the Strip Tease Girl was less effective up on the runway than on the floor, but I believe this was her debut, and she may fill in her part later on.

The hour is late, so after reporting that I thought the orchestra was generally even better than in previous programs, with the conspicuous exception of the end of the violin cadenza in the fourth movement of Mozartiana, which went out of tune, I'll let the words of a woman in the row behind me, spoken as she prepared to leave, sum matters up: "I liked them all. Usually there's one I specially like or don't like, but I liked 'em all."

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Here's what I have from tonight's short discussion with Martin Duberman & Suzanne Farrell on Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine, before I crash in bed. If you can't figure out the initials, ask:

Compare LK and GB? MD: Like fire and ice. K was on fire inside, he couldn't ever be satisfied.

K's artistic contributions to the SAB and NYCB? MD: In the first few years he made suggestions about designers etc. After that B consulted him rarely. Ballet Caravan (about two dozen dancers) emphasized "American" dancing. K felt B was contemptuous of him sometimes.

SF: He went around and made sure everything was done so we wouldn't worry where our toe shoes would come from and could concentrate on dancing. Now I have my own company I appreciate what he did. Would any of you like to be a LK? There's no college course that teaches that.

MD, what qualified you to write about LK? I became a balletomane in the 50s. We have some common background: Both our fathers were poor and made the money in the family; we're both Jewish and gay. There's always more than one biography; no one person can empathise completely with such a large subject. I got to read what he wrote.

SF: Reading LK was difficult. I always have a dictionary beside me. His writing was simple and complex, powerful. It always supported B. I don't know why I'm here except L gave me this outfit after the Don Quixote premiere.

MD: LK ws a terrifying figure at the NY State Theatre. The formidable exterior protected a sensitive soul. He wanted nothing in return for what he did, often helping people in such a way they didn't know who had done it. In writing the book I grew to love the man.

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... Then after I had seen Bejart's love scene from Romeo and Juliet, which seems fully to flesh out Berlioz's wonderful score, some of the best music ever written for any purpose, I felt even more strongly that the corresponding scene from Martins's new setting of the difficult Prokofiev music, which had turned up on the Workshop program, was like little more than clear water thrown on warm rocks to evaporate into nothing, having nearly no effect to remember. By contrast, Bejart and Berlioz conjure up a great deal in a quarter hour; Ashley Hubbard and Matthew Prescott realized the whole stream of shifting modes and moods in this as a continuous flow, a journey through a microcosm, the world writ small...

Thanks to all for these glowing reports. I'm especially glad that Mr. Bejart's association with Suzanne is being honored. I am forever grateful that he brought her to us during the unhappy time. Their time together also was important to the art of ballet in another way. Just reading the long Time Out interview with Alessandra Ferri. The ONLY reference to a ballerina's influence on her career was of Suzanne:

When I was in the school in Milan at La Scala, we had a lot of Maurice Béjart. He came with his company a lot, and I remember that one of the things that I first saw was one of his ballets with Suzanne Farrell. I was plucked very early for the theatrical side of dance...
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"LK was a terrifying figure at the NY State Theater." I certainly felt that way, but he held no terrors for my cheerful wife. On those occasions when we sat in the first ring, she would invariably cross the aisle before the performance to wish him a good evening, while I cowered in my seat behind my program. He always reciprocated her wishes. One evening toward the end of Lincoln's regular attendance, the young man with whom he normally sat sought us out at intermission and said to Alice, "Thank you for paying attention to Mr. K."

Thanks for your reports, Jack

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carbro, I hate to tell you that's a bad guess; it was exactly to do with what she had on, as she made plain by touching her clothing as she spoke. I might have included that, but I was fading at the time I posted, sorry.

I did get to both rehearsal-teas (interesting concept, that), and because they were open rehearsals, which anyone could buy a ticket to, I think I'm not breaking any of our rules by describing one particular moment I will cherish, about Farrell herself:

She doesn't perform on stage any more but she still certainly cuts a fine figure: She strolled down the cross aisle after an intermission, chestnut hair, cream colored sport coat, dark slacks, erect, slim, with a little black and dark grey poodle on a taut leash. Very chic, I thought. In keeping with the standards of honesty and accuracy we maintain here at BT, I have to admit I'm prejudiced, but I just thought she looked terrific.

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First about the class on Saturday:

I thought it was fantastic and will eagerly sign up if it's offered again.

There were 40 in the class, with a _very_ wide range of ballet experience from practically none to a lot. I would put about half the class in the category of "fewer than 10 ballet classes last year". It was held in the upstairs rehearsal room, which is big and has a good floor and mirrors but is otherwise quite ugly, with no windows and an industrial look.

It was a fairly standard ballet class, albeit at a basic level with relatively simple combinations. I think there was something that everyone could take from the class.

Now about Sunday night's performance:

First up was Mozartiana. The principals were terrific--energetic and yet precise. I was not particularly taken with the young dancers--they were cute and their entrance and poses were very elegant and polished, but some of the later choreography struck me as under-rehearsed.

Next was the Scene d'Amour. Somehow it didn't capture me as much this time, although I still enjoyed it. Du still struck me as too rigid at times.

Divertimento Brilliante was, alas, the weak point. Mladenov danced unevenly--at some times pure elegance and at other times unbecoming awkwardness. Parsley,likewise, had an uneven performance: the allegro portions were sharp and sparkly, but the adagio partnering was weak. It was not clear if they were under-rehearsed or if one or the other of them (or both) was having an off night.

Slaughter was just as fun the second time around (and I was still disappointed to see no more of Mladenov after the prologue), although Katelyn Prominski (Thursday night) was a much more outgoing Striptease Dancer, at least to my eye.

One problem with the production is that the at least one of the people sitting near the gangster (who sits in the audience and is spotlit at times), an older lady, seemed to be bothered by the spotlight. Considering that there were a fair number of empty seats tonight, I think the ushers should have warned people in the neighboring seats and should have offered to reseat them if desired.

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I'm not much of a critic and I hadn't meant to post, but thinking about the performances again was so stirring that here a few thoughts:

We saw both Saturday programs, my wife and I; we really treasure this company, the Little Company that Could, I think someone called them, and we cheer them on. Pickard was in her element in Scotch, radiant and ethereal, completely confident and secure in the drops. To my mind, she was perfection, and Runqiao Du is always ardent and noble.

Mozartiana was more of a stretch, and after the Preghiera the technical challenges did look like challenges sometimes. I thought there was a spot or too when she was off the music. But she was no less moving for it; she had the spirit of the ballet. In Divertimento Brilliante, Shannon Parsely, the other redhead and our favorite among the women, gave us much more pleasure than she did the critics. She looked a little heavy in the tutu, but she was quick when she had to be. And we've seen her enough to know that her "pasted on smile" (LaRocca's words) at least, was for real. The choreography to the Glinka, and in the evening to the Mozart, was the sort of perfect and perfectly understated Balanchine classicism that makes your heart soar.

The Bejart is kitsch, but the two young lovers, Hubbard and Prescott were so adorable I didn't care. Slaughter got two differing performances. As the striptease girl Elizabeth Holowchuk at the matinee vamped with great freedom and great sexy glee. Lisa Reneau in the evening was just as much in character but sometimes looked awkward on the floor, and couldn't match Holowchuk's abandon. As the Hoofer, Kirk Henning was a delight at both performances, drawing laughs for example as he momentarily lost rythminic complexity in his taps after receiving the warning note. But his matinee solo lacked characterization. By the evening the blank look was gone and he showed the proper fear and desperation in his face and in his voice, even leaping over the dead Big Boss with greater determination.

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Here is my attempt:

The first program I saw opened with Scotch Symphony. The dancing was crisp, clean and technically precise by both the corps and the soloists. As the dance progressed and the speed of the footwork increased, there was never any indication of sloppiness that frequently goes along with fast footwork. The only wobble I saw was on the part of Bonnie Pickard while being supported by Momchil Mladenov. Her arm was visibly shaking as if from tension or fatigue. She did also seem to hold tension in her face, but there were fleeting facial displays of sheer joy. If she had been able to completely release that tension, her performance would have been perfect! In fact, a little girl sitting behind me asked the adult accompanying her asked, “What is wrong with her face?” It was distracting up close, maybe not so much further back? Although this was a difficult piece for the corps, they executed it flawlessly. This was very impressive considering the intricacies of the steps. Their timing was spot on, and their lines were straight. Additionally the costuming was great. It is very difficult to precisely fit a rotating group of dancers and sometimes you just do the best you can. Each dancer looked as if the costumes were made just for them. Not one gape or wrinkle to be seen. Kudos to wardrobe! I disagreed with the choice of bright red (with a trace of orange) for the costume for Gina Artese. I think I would have picked a richer, darker red, but that again is my own personal preference! The bright red just seemed jarring. The pale pink for the female corps (Violeta Angelova, Amy Brandt, Morgan Davison, Kristen Gallagher, Kara Genevieve, Elisabeth Halowchuk, Katelyn Prominski and Lisa Reneau) was beautiful. The male corps dancers (Daniel Benavides, Joseph Bunn, Ian Grosh, James Reed Hague, Kurt Henning, Andrew Kaminski, Benjamin Lester, and Keelan Whitmore) were also costumed with great care and it really showed. Sometimes I am distracted by costumes, and start watching the costume and not the dancer. In those cases, I would have to criticize the wardrobe department. Their job is to enhance the dancer, not to over power, but to aid in moving the ballet forward. The wardrobe department really nailed this entire collection of dances!

After the first intermission, Adagio from Concierto de Mozart began. Elisabeth Holowchuk was more than competently partnered by Matthew Prescott. I recall thinking that they gave the impression that they truly enjoyed what they were doing. It was pleasant to see a couple that appeared to be a team, with both partners contributing equally to the success of the dance. It was evident to me that Ms. Holowchuk was always cognizant of contributing to the effort, rather than expecting Mr. Prescott to do all the work without her assistance. Again the footwork was precise and both dancers’ technique was pure and crisp. There seemed constant eye contact between the dancers. I really doubt that Ms. Holowchuk will remain in the corps much longer. If I were a betting woman, I would wager that she will be moved up the hierarchy very soon! Her performances seem not only consistent and dependable, but also quite entrancing. The violin was beautiful and was like icing on a cake. The costumes were of a light blue that is difficult to use well. Again wardrobe got it right! I especially liked the petal skirt of the tutu. I enjoy simplicity with few sparkles. These costumes were just that.

Following a brief pause, Scène d’amour from Romeo and Juliet was performed. This was my favorite from both shows. Others can call it “noodleing.” I would respond that they just don’t “get” Béjart! Maybe one must be a Baby Boomer to fully appreciate it? From the rise of the curtain with Runqiao Du waltzing with his imaginary Juliet, to the fall of the curtain, I was hooked. Ashley Hubbard portrayed a teen-age girl with believable ease. She relayed at times a feeling of joy that I have never seen on stage by any dancer previously. Her face beamed as her ponytail bounced as she moved across the stage. Ms. Hubbard also expressed distress and grief with equal effect. Mr. Du was also impressive. He too displayed the emotions Romeo experienced with ease. None looked forced. His dancing was technically pure and precise. The corps (Daniel Benavides, Joseph Bunn, Kurt Froman, Ian Grosh, Ken Guan, James Reed Hague, Kirk Henning, Andrew Kaminski, Benjamin Lester, Neil Marshall and Keelan Whitmore) performed well with no one dancer standing out from the group, which is precisely as it should be! The costumes while basic were again perfect for this piece, as was the simple moon on the drop. Dressing the soloists in white was perfect. The two subtle dark colors for the corps got the job done without being overbearing. I am partial to boots on men. Again, the men wore boots but their presence was perfectly subtle. Once again great job! The evening performance had the same cast, with the same result, which demonstrated to me the consistency of these dancers.

Closing the afternoon performance was Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. In this performance, Katelyn Prominski danced the role of the Strip Tease Girl. I believe her performance on the stage on the stage was subdued on purpose. This was when she was at work, simply doing her job. When she dances on the floor in front of the bar, with pure abandon, she is dancing simply for her own joy. Her costume is at first an innocent pale pink and then she changes into a black dress. Katelyn was superb! Elisabeth Holowchuk danced this role in the evening performance. She was capable, but Katelyn owned this role! Kirk Henning danced the Hoofer in the afternoon and Kurt Froman performed in the evening. Kirk was a technically superior tapper, but Kurt dripped with charisma. I enjoyed watching them both equally. They just were quite different, neither better than the other. Benjamin Lester played the role of the Big Boss; Daniel Benavides and Joseph Bunn played Bartenders; Neil Marshal was the Thug; Momchil Mladenov was Morrosine, premier danseur noble; Jared Redick, Ken Guan and Ian Grosh were Policemen; and James Reed Hague, Andrew Kaminski, Matthew Prescott and Keelan Whitmore made up the male corps. These dancers were the same for both matinee and evening shows. The female corps for the afternoon was made up of Emily Erin Adams, Gina Artese, Morgan Davison, Kara Genevieve and Vanessa Woods. For the evening, the dancers were Emily Erin Adams, Violeta Angelova, Gina Artese, Amy Brandt, Kristen Gallagher and Vanessa Woods. There was so much activity on stage at times, even seeing this piece twice I feel as if I have missed parts. After being served tastes of Balanchine and Béjart, this was dessert!

My sincere apologies for taking so long to post this. The simple explanation is the sheer craziness of my work and travel schedule.

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