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Program II: Upper Room, Liturgy, Agon, Faun


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MCB will be in the Kravis Center with this program this up-coming weekend, the 19th through the 21st, not in 2 weeks. I just didn't want you to miss it.

MCB has opened Program II in Miami. We don't get it here in West Palm Beach for another two weeks. Has anyone seen it so far? Or has plans to do so in Lauderdale or West Palm? What did you think? Or what do you anticipate?

Here's the Miami Herald review:


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MCB has now performed this program in Miami and West Palm, with Lauderdale coming up next weekend.

It would be great to hear your thoughts and impessions and possibly get a discussion going. Jack Reed? Justdoit?

I'll start out by saying that this is (for me) the single most exciting program -- and one of the best danced -- in 6 years of watching MCB faithfully. It's also been a year of amazing growth for many of the young dancers in the company. I'm no expert, but here are some the things that passed through my mind as I watched them:

The chance to see Agon 3 times, at the start of its 50th anniversary year, was a great gift. It was danced beautifully each night, though there seems to have been a softening of line, arms, wrists over the decades. Is that due to some kind of stylistic lapse, or are we just seeing things differently. Agon -- once a rather daring and somewhat alienating new experience -- is now a stunning, diamond-llike court ballet. Higihlights for me:

-- the amazing growth in the partnership of Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, in the pas de deux/ Guerra, who once appeared uncomfortable and sometimes showed the effort on his face, is now a moving and beautiful partner.

-- Patricia Delgado, stunning (and surprising to me) in the second cast pas de deux; she's made for this kind of role much more than for the "Faun" which she performed the night before

-- the elegance and serenity of Deanna Seay in the pas de trois, with her two sets of cavaliers: a remarkable Didier Bramaz (also wonderful in the Tharp) and Alexandre Dufaur in one cast, Marc Spielberger and 2nd year corps member Stephen Satterfield in another cast

Afternoon of a Faun is a ballet that really can't be spoiled. Each cast brings something else to it. Everything is connected by the beautiful music, and you can look for subtle differences, which say a great deal about the characters. Kronenberg (dreamy, serene) and Guerra have moved way beyond their performances 2 years ago; Haiyan Wu (ethereal, a little spacey, and not unlike Allegra Kent in the same role) also with Guerra made it almost a different ballet. I noticed that Wu now omits the little "oh!" expression that follows the kiss, which was the only jarring part of her performance 2 years ago.

© Wheeldon's Liturgy. A very nice program piece. Beautiful movement, some of it quite original. I did not find the "spiritual" suggestions that Villella mentioned in his curtain raisers, but Haiyian Wu made this a dance about ethereal-ness (a kind of spirit, I suppose) and the ability of some bodies to suggest that they are not bodies at all. On the other hand, Katia Carranza made it a dance about beautiful dancing in three dimensions. I'd love to have seen Wendy Whelan in this part. Albert Evans, who replaced Jock Soto in the original NYCB cast, taught the dancers in Miami. He did a great job, especially with new company member Daymel Sanchez (Cuban trained, and with a solid presence not unlike Soto's), who was the anchor -- strong, responsive, generous, restrained -- who presented the woman, supported her, echoed her, and allowed her to shine.

(d) Tharp's In the Upper Room. We already have a very informative thread on this ballet in general, with comments on different companies' and dancers' ways of doing it, including Miami's. Here's a link:


This was a revelation to me, and I am in awe of the cast who danced it each performance, with only a couple of replacements. The classical ""bomb squad" parts were the most interesting and got the most stage time. But the "stomper" sections -- especially the trio of Jeremy Cox, Alex Wong, and Daniel Baker -- and the two "china dogs" (Jennifer Kronenberg and Patricia Delgado). To see Kronenberg do the Agon pas de deux, followed by Faun, followed by this role -- all in one evening; all with stunning command of style and technique -- was unbelievable. What a dancer she is!

The Florida Classical Orchestra was good, I thought, handling difficult Stravinsky, hummable Debussy, and eerie, lyrical Part with aplomb. Juan Francisco La Manna is a conductor who is loyal to the music and responsive to the dancers. I heard none of those problems I remember from occasional NYCB performances -- and which I gather are continuing from time to time. The orchestra itself is a big improvement over the previous ensemble -- the one that was replaced with recorded music for several years.

I guess you have to lose your live music -- and then recover it after a few years of canned (and canned-sounding) music -- to realize how important the pit musicians and a sensitve conductor are. :)

By the way, here's a link (thanks to nysusan) to an entry on thewinger. It's by alex wong and discusses the preparation for this MCB program. It also has some photos: http://thewinger.com/words/category/alex

And, while I'm at it, here's Mark Lynch's review of the Friday night performance in the Palm Beach Daily News )"the shiny sheet").


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Thoughts after watching the opening night's performance in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Friday, 26th January:

This company can be relied on to bring life to anything it performs, but, that said, I've seen more vital performances of Agon than this one, which struck me as a little more soft and smooth than it can be. A few years ago, I saw a performance of the central pas de deux by some of Suzanne Farrell's dancers at the Kennedy Center which had the luminousity of fresh creation; Farrell is credited in the program with the original staging of MCB's Agon, but I wonder how long it's been since she's seen this. (This current staging is credited to Joan Latham.) Nothing really egregious here - this is MCB after all - but a more or less continual oddness of emphasis, or absence of convincingly "right" emphasis, although Jennifer Kronenberg brought her own intelligence to enlarging her role in the pas de deux, ably partnered by Carlos Guerra, and there were also, along the way, many fine moments to admire, such as the balances in arabesque (facing front) in the second pas de trois Deanna Seay took in such quiet while her two partners busily switched sides in front of her that you thought she could stay like that all evening.

And I suppose it was actually the same Jennifer Kronenberg whom we saw right after intermission, again with Guerra, in Afternoon of a Faun, but - as bart points out, what a transformation! Here the reduction of the stage space by the original set - originally described in the program at NYCB as "A Room With A Mirror," I believe, letting the audience have the joy of discovering that we are looking into the room through the mirror, but not this time - was partly responsible for Kronenberg's apparent largeness (largeness with lightness), but mostly it was the calmly expansive dancing she brings to this. But here too I thought the effect was a bit subdued, even by comparison with memories of Kronenberg's performances of Faun in previous seasons. (Sure, maybe it was me.)

Liturgy I thought looked fine, and Wu and Sanchez looked very fine in it, all the way through, which is more than I can say for some recent choreography I've seen in the last several years, but although this pas de deux lacks any big mistake like putting a big obstacle in the performance space, like Mr. Wheeldon did in Scenes de Ballet, which I saw again last June, it also seems to me vacant of musical motivation, again in contrast to Scenes de Ballet, although I didn't sense any real conflict with Part's score either.

Okay, so Part was a less happy choice than Stravinsky; almost everything Stravinsky wrote seems choreographable to me, until some of the last works, and with Scenes he was obviously thinking of that application. Consistent with its musical near irrelevance, the dancing looks like it goes on after the music stops and the curtain comes down. Watching it, I was reminded of the criticisms I've read of the pointlessness of much new choreography to be seen in the House of Martins (hardly the House of Balanchine any more, on the evidence) in New York, where Wheeldon was until lately house choreographer.

In the Upper Room, oh my, didn't quite transport me to that exalted state, although it was, the first time through, a very short forty minutes, I'm happy to say. With a separate discussion thread for this ballet, I'll just say here that where to look was initially (and again finally) a problem for me until Catoya's presence on stage materialized in my consciousness, and then the problem was solved. For about forty seconds, anyway. And much later, Seay, in her solo entrance in silence downstage audience right, in her red leotard with matching pleated skirt, and then in her dancing well into the music, where we hear a piano for the first time, looked so just right to me, I thought that that part had been made on her. And finally, it looked to me as though the physical difficulty of this ballet, like the report of the death of Mark Twain, might have been exaggerated. After taking applause at the end, the unflagging Jennifer Kronenberg loped offstage in a big, slow-motion run, as though she were ready for more.

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(from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida) A few more random comments:

On Saturday afternoon, the 27th, Allynne Noelle, listed as a corps member in the printed program, gave the Agon pas de deux, no less, some of the glow of creation I've wanted in the whole ballet, a lovely debut; that it was a debut may have accounted for the glow of freshness, and her superb partner, Daymel Sanchez, also officially a corps member, undoubtedly contributed. (As I remember Guerra from Friday evening, he was on that occasion a little tense by comparison.) They were fully prepared, nothing tentative or partially indicated here, and although loveliness is maybe not exactly right for Agon, the ballet got a boost from this, not to imply that Jennifer Kronenberg had left a lot of room for improvement, because she hadn't. So it was a nice surprise to see, not to mention what we can infer about its contribution to Noelle's and Sanchez's growth.

Katia Carranza turned up in Liturgy, and part of the viewing seats flanking the tech man in the middle of the main floor turned into a cheering section at the end. Carranza deserved every bit of it! I thought it might have been a debut but it was her third performance of this, and she infused it with dimension. If the piece still seems to me to lack its own motivation, such dancing rewards my paying attention to it anyway.

(I have no quarrel with Villella's pre-performance comment that Wheeldon is the best ballet choreographer working today; but I take it as a comment on the sad state of affairs we have there, and I haven't seen, or heard about, anything of his to compare with what Merce, Taylor, or Tharp can still do, but of course they're old enough to be Wheeldon's parents, or grandparents.)

In the Upper Room was given by a mostly different cast in which Callie Manning happily caught my eye. She's one of those dancers who goes about the stage as though there were nothing special about dancing while making it all especially clear with the crispness of her flowing movement.

Saturday evening, Agon seemed to me nearly to come back to itself, and even the orchestra, which has been having some difficulty playing parts of this, such as right after the pas de deux, got its act pretty well together, and tempos were better, which helped a lot. Or am I adapting to these performances? Anyway, I was well impressed with Patricia Delgado's performance of the pas de deux with Guerra; compared with what I can remember of her past roles, this was a step or two up, if not yet quite to the level of cool dispatch starting to simmer with energy in places at the same time, that Kronenberg achieves with this.

And so it went: Faun featured the estimable Carranza, whom I thought made more of the many moments than Wu's merely light and delicate performance, even if, again, she didn't reach Kronenberg's level in this. (Kronenberg seems to be able completely to inhabit several dissimilar roles in the course of an evening as easily as I might change shirts.)

The evening concluded with repeat performances of Liturgy and in the Upper Room with Friday night's casts. At least I think it was a repeat of Room, because there was a whole section in it I thought I hadn't seen before, which another part of my mind tells me is, um, very unlikely. With its faults and weaknesses, In the Upper Room nevertheless fascinates that way.

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It's good to have your comments again, Jack.

This company can be relied on to bring life to anything it performs, but, that said, I've seen more vital performances of Agon] than this one, which struck me as a little more soft and smooth than it can be.
I agree, and I was somewhat aghast to find the word "lovely" coming to mind when I saw this. I wonder what explains it. I also wonders whether this doesn't happen inevitably to peformances of works that were originally edgy, angular, and unexpected. Does it have to do with the dancers? The stagers? The audience's eye becoming more accepting and accustomed, so that we SEE things as smoother and softer?

This could deserve a thread of its own.

Or ... how about an Agon festival, in which a number of major companies that already have it in rep each danced the ballet, allowing us to compare how they handle it technically, musically, and stylistically? (I'd want at least 2 casts from each company.) Maybe we could do it as a marathon, with everyone performing on a single day. :thanks::wink:

I'm glad you also liked Patricia Delgado in the Agon pas de deux, and I'm sorry I missed Allyne Noelle and Daymel Sanchez. Sanchez, whom I saw in Liturgy, stirkes me as having the kind of strong physical presence and weight that the other male principals in the company lack. Someone for the Jock Soto roles. It makes him a very valuable addition -- for balance -- and it's good that Villella is giving him opportunities. I'm glad he has been encouraged to tamp down hyper-masculine one-dimensiality that he brought to each of his "comic" Gamaches in the recent run of Don Q. I'll bet that Sanchez did a good job with the part of Agon in which the man lies in various positions on the floor, supporting the ballerina's balances with an upright arm. These were distractingly tentative when done by Guerra.

You were lucky to see different casts in the Tharp. I'm delightd to hear that Callie Manning stood out. (Am I right in assuming this was one of the parts on pointe?) She is often cast in things that require coolness and control -- though often with an element of dry wit -- and it must be fun to watch her letting go and pulling out all the stops.

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This company can be relied on to bring life to anything it performs, but, that said, I've seen more vital performances of Agon] than this one, which struck me as a little more soft and smooth than it can be.
I agree, and I was somewhat aghast to find the word "lovely" coming to mind when I saw this. I wonder what explains it. I also wonders whether this doesn't happen inevitably to peformances of works that were originally edgy, angular, and unexpected. Does it have to do with the dancers? The stagers? The audience's eye becoming more accepting and accustomed, so that we SEE things as smoother and softer?

This could deserve a thread of its own.

This topic seems closely related to the current thread, "Changing productions over time/ Aurora with Alzheimers?"
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Here's a review of the Ft. Lauderdale opening, from Guillermo Perez of the Sun Sentinel. Perez seems to be to be the ballet critic down here who is most attuned to what is actually going on onstage.


His comments on Liturgy express some of the ambivalence I felt about this piece:

In this choreographic company, New York City Ballet wunderkind Christopher Wheeldon's Liturgy seemed somewhat underwhelming. Somber yet mannered, to flavor-du-jour music by Arvo Pärt, this pas de deux still fanned the faith in neoclassicism's ability to glorify the body as Haiyan Wu -- from the flick of a wrist to finicky pointework -- exquisitely articulated a demanding language in partnership with adroit Daymel Sánchez.
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Actually, bart, if I got the identifications right, Manning took over Kronenberg's role; she/they are "stompers". On the other hand I think your description of Manning fits Kronenberg pretty well too as far as it goes, and there's more room for dry wit in Room than in a lot of ballet.

I agree that Perez's remarks in the review you link to are telling, but don't you think Jordan Levin's writing in the Herald generally stands up under comparison with what you see?

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Reading reviews always provokes my memory of a performance and tweaks my thoughts about it. In that sense, I'm grateful for just about every review.

Following your question about Jordan Levin, I went back to her Carnival Center review. It's interesting to read that she is a former dancer. It's also interesting to compare what she has to say about "Liturgy" to what Perez wrote. Here's Levin's take on it:

Liturgy, the first piece that MCB has danced by famed choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, had a softer kind of power. It also showed that Wheeldon, the darling of the ballet world, deserves his reputation. A pas de deux set to an achingly lovely score by Arvo Part (with Bogumilla Zgraja playing a masterful violin solo), Liturgy seems like a private romantic ritual, with its own strange magic. Haiyan Wu and Daymel Sanchez danced it beautifully. Different as they are -- she's tiny and delicate, he's tall, with a gentle power -- they were perfectly attuned, as if breathing with the same set of lungs. When Sanchez caught Haiyan in mid-leap, so she stretched, changed legs, dancing on air, the theater seemed to catch its breath.
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I've been going through my visual memories of these Agons, while watching the 1996 Dance in America video of NYCB's Balanchine Celebration.

Villella's casting choices in Agon are very interesting when compared with the NYCB casts. Comparing them helped me to understand a little better qualities that make certain dancers stand out for me on stage, no matter who else is there with them.

For me, the only truly mesmerising male dancer at NYCB in the 90s was Peter Boal. Truly unique. In the video he leads the first pas de trois, and it is impossible to take your eyes from him as he progresses with complete fluidity and commitment through every nuance of every movement. Feet, arms, twists, extensions. Nothing fudged or wasted. Villella cast Jeremy Cox and Alex Wong, 2 MCB male dancers who have amazingly similar qualities, and who also capture my eye whenever they are on stage. When it comes to "movement," Cox and Wong are the MCB men I look at with most concentration.

Wendy Whelan, another dancer who would hold my eye even as the ninth swan from the left, leads the second pas de trois for NYCB. Deanna Seay did all three performances I saw for MCB . Seay has shorter legs and a longer torso than Whelen, which gives the impression that she is not as tall. But she has similar steeliness (the rapier kind -- she is extremely flexible as well). And every movement is very very clear. I would like to have seen Albertson in the role, too. She share's Whelan's fascinating, angular, but not classically pretty look.

In the pas de deux, as I watched Darcey Bussell (a big favorite of mine) move her long, strong, plush, beauitfully sculpted legs, I kep visuallizing Jennifer Kronenberg. Kronenberg lack's Busssell's sheer power, but is very much in the same style.

Interesting stuff, comparing different performances. I wish I had a video of MCB's Agon, so that I could "test" whether these comparisons are objective, or merely figments of my imagination.

Maybe the prosaic conclusion of all this is: one tends to like dancers who are "like" dancers one likes. :flowers:

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(Kronenberg seems to be able completely to inhabit several dissimilar roles in the course of an evening as easily as I might change shirts.)
I was just re-visiting the reviews of last season's programs and was struck by Jack's comment. Right on, Jack! I wonder what Kronenberg will be cast in this coming season. I have fantasies of seeing her in all three parts of Jewels, coming up in November. (Not on the same night, of course). It would be a fascinating experiment. :sweatingbullets:
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