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BCSC 2009 Spring Repertory, at Athenaeum Theatre

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The program tells us the first ballet in Ballet Chicago Studio Company's Spring show, Bach 1041, is made to Bach's Violin concerto in a, BWV 1041, and we might expect white costumes and class-room movement, but the curtain goes up on a stage occupied by sixteen girls and four boys costumed in Patricia Blair's designs in differing shades of lavender and white (boys' tights) in front of a backdrop flooded with rosy lavender light. It looks like late Romanticism, and the performance of the music exposes without exaggeration the emotional intensity in it, especially in the slow second movement, and in keeping with the contemporary style of the title, movement emerges from the classical flow and then merges back into it which reflects this too: At one of the peak moments, a girl, supporting herself by the armpits on her partner's arms extended forward, lowers her head and bends her knees asymmetrically, as though a little crumpled under the emotional load; or at another, she may "fall" back into his hands in a fall extended in time just enough, a hair's breadth, to rouse a bit of concern in the viewer, falls of some weight and tension, then, rather than made light and "puffy" through shortness. (This latter detail was subtly and confidently shown by Catarina Scarabottolo with the capable Bobby Briscoe.) Daniel Duell, the choreographer, shows in this dance for the occasion of a Spring demonstration program, that he is less a follower of Balanchine than a disciple; not imitating the master's style, he emulates his principles, and makes his dance not by surface imitation but from within, by listening, and hearing.

Coppelia Wedding Celebration, a five-movement suite to some of Delibes's intoxicating piquant score heard in another dynamic performance, brings in a welcome change of mood. After an opening ensemble, the second number, "Waltz of the Hours," to the well-known excerpt, featured Maeva Esteban, in an enlivened setting of twenty-four girls, in lighter-than-air jumps. "Dawn" brought in a corps of seven more girls to set the scene for Eliza Kalcheva in some turns in attitude, with the working foot behind her seemingly drawing her around her axis. Slightly bent as it was, it looked just a little precarious at first but then I saw as it continued completely under control how it reflects a certain sweet and gentle insouciance we hear in music that evokes a time still free of the cares of the day. "Prayer", with its subdued corps of smaller girls, became a humble invocation led by Catarina Scarabottolo's quiet movements. (In an apparently different "dialect" from the other numbers, this one may have been largely the work of Patricia Blair, listed second as choreographer after Daniel Duell.) Concluding the engaging suite was another enemble, with another taste of Ms. Esteban's lovely featherlight jumps and some passages for her quick, clean feet too.

After intermission, quite other matters entirely; with a brief number, "Giggling Rapids" from Mr. Duell's Ellington Suite. I don't understand the title, but never mind, the music stays just on the classy side of strut and swagger, and Mr. Briscoe, Jake Laub, and Hamilton Nieh were confidently manly and moving large, in costumes by Kathy Niekrasz with bowlers and vests.*

There followed immediately Alice Gleaning, a new... ballet? "dance piece"? by Ted Seymour, to fragments by Mozart, Reich, Shankar, and a longer segment by Nikolas Lund, which was more than an occasion for Meava Esteban's fascinating and strongly continuous dancing through a variety of tempos and movement scales, although that alone was reason enough for me to see it, and then after another intermission, Balanchine's Rubies, the ballet that hooked me on ballet years ago, and which was just a little tame compared to the original-cast performances which did that hooking. Even so, it put to shame some I've seen since those days by Cincinnati Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet, although not necessarily Miami City Ballet! I'm going to leave this here for now and head off to the remaining performance at 3:00 PM.

*Whoops! They wore black slacks and suspenders, blue-gray shirts, and back derbys. Nothing like posting before everyone to make you realize your mistake when you see the show again!

Edited by Jack Reed
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(I tried to add this to Jack's initial thread but was unable.)

[This is part of a longer piece that I am writing about Rubies, but that's not done and my grading and this review is...]

Captivating Rhythms

Presented by the Ballet Chicago Studio Company

Sunday 17 Mary 2009, 3 PM matinée

Athenaeum Theater, Chicago

Somewhere in Orchestra Row N

I unfortunately missed the first act presentation of Bach 1041 and Coppelia. However, two-thirds of a performance is still better than none at all, especially when preceded by a traffic jam that lasted for nearly an hour. And so, having established this fact, I'll move onto the second and in strict numerical order, the third.

The excerpt from Ellington Suite (chor Duell) was unfortunately too short for me to form much of an opinion. The choreography was suitably jazzy for the 'giggling rapids' - Ellington's counterpoint to babbling brooks? - and it showed off the male trio to good effect. The piece began a bit sluggishly, but the dancers seemed to wake up little by little, possibly in preparation for Rubies.

Alice Gleaning (chor Ted Seymour) is a world premiere featuring Ballet Chicago student Maeva Esteban. The piece begins with a corp of women dancing in unison to Mozart while a girl (Olivia Schmit) fiddles with her shoe on the floor. The choreography corresponds simply to the melodic line as background dissonance builds, until Maeva is drawn out into another space, in which she, joined later by the corp, is free to play with motifs, repetitions, and variations in a more modern milieu first to the words and music of Ravi Shankar, then to music by Nikolas Lund (and Steve Reich at some point – please feel free to correct me).

This piece showcased Maeva's energy and attack, and she shifted between ballet and modern technique effortlessly. Jack tells me that Maeva had very beautiful ballon in her jumps as well (in Coppelia), and we agreed that she would do equally well in a ballet or a modern company.

The marriage of modern and ballet is always fraught with interpretation – one which I couldn't resist, apparently. Maeva is drawn out of the melodic simplicity of ballet to take off her shoes, to join in this new free performing medium that can have layers and repetitions. Is it a rejection of the simplicity of classical ballet? Is it an opinion on the limitations of ballet? Is it a commentary on modern dance being the rejection of ballet? I'll stop now before it turns into the Spam sketch. Beans are off.

My primary purpose for this trip was Rubies, which I had never seen live. These performances were set by Sandra Jennings, and several male dancers who have performed elsewhere told me that it was perhaps the most balletic Rubies that they have done.

Seeing it live puts back the sheer velocity and depth that had been missing from video. While watching, I was often reminded of the mental image I had when listening to Capriccio for the first time, that of cartoon heroes on a merry chase, opening and closing doors while everyone's paths crossed and uncrossed until they were tied into a large ball, arms and legs sticking out randomly.

I commented to Jack that these performances still had the 'new car smell' – it was clear to see that the company loved to dance it and they attacked it with immense energy. You could almost hear the skidmarks as the company and the choreography chased after each other. Marvelous.

Olivia Schmit was a cool tall girl, staring the audience down in with a measured glare. She reminded me of a huntress, brushing off captivity by her cavaliers because they were incapable of keeping her. I wanted more animation – at times the stare looked blank and it looked very odd against her dancing.

Margaret Severin-Hansen and Gabor Kapin were the guest couple. Severin-Hansen is rather short – and at first I thought their proportions were a bit mismatched – but she danced big, showing off the lines and levels of the pas de deux with panache. Kapin was a sandy haired king of the pack, but I thought his solo needed more attack – he looked more self-satisfied than charming or delighted at his bag of tricks. As he swung her around in a series of several lifts, the tight velocity reminded me of partnered lifts from the lindy hop – she seemed to love it, winding him more tightly with every move.

At the end of the pas de deux, tho' he had swung her around and danced and flirted, it was clear that Severin-Hansen had the upper hand – he was mesmerized by the illusion she had dropped in his palm. Odile won this round.

After the performance, I grinned foolishly at Jack for a full five minutes and had to restrain myself from asking for several encores. A good first viewing, I'd say.

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(from New York, NY) It's taken longer than I thought to get back to this, and even though emilienne has posted on this part of the program, and very ably, here goes with, inevitably, a slightly different but compatible point of view, written before I saw emilienne's:

I think the reason Sid Smith, in the Chicago Tribune, called Alice Gleaning a mishmash is that it doesn't have much organic structure, if you will, but proceeds from one thing to another through smooth if abitrary transitions. At least on the surface.

But after the short, early sections have passed before us and we have settled into the long solo by Esteban (with apparently and more vigorous unrelated corps movement in dimmer light in back), the early sections, with two girls seated and fussing with their shoes, etc., seem to have served, for me anyway, as a kind of set-up for this. If they had not been performed, I would not have been adjusted to this range of sound and movement, nor would I have been wondering, Where is this going, if anywhere? Into that impressive long solo, that's where. Introduced to it this way, I saw it better.

Could have been worse. (Yes, that's faint praise.) The selected-improvisational substance this dance suite appeared to be made from suggests that it may be different the next time we see it. (If that's not a contradiction in terms right there.) This time, though, it looked like somebody was paying some attention to the sound track right along the way. More than Merce's dances usually do, for example.

Rubies and I, as I have said, go back a long way together. Knowing the Stravinsky Capriccio seemingly note-by-note and phrase-by-phrase, I was "set up" for the McBride-Villella performance I saw around 1968, where it was vividly clear that all these dancers also knew my minor favorite intimately and were just happy as anything to dance to it and with each other.

Margaret Severin-Hansen and Gabor Kapin, who have danced this before, didn't reach that level, but they made the playfully affectionate and mutually-challenging aspects of the constantly-surprising pas de deux go crisply. They looked a lively couple and then some; that they are a couple off-stage, too, may have helped.

Demi-soloist Olivia Schmit's dancing keeps coming to mind for its fullness and attack nicely combined with a certain blase' quality, a certain, "Oh, yeah, it's what I do." Not to say she ever looked uninterested or uncaring! And there was just enough dramatic involvement, just enough acknowledgement, one by one, of her four partners near the end of the first movement.

She and they (and Sandra Jennings, who staged it) even restored a favorite detail among the series of startling events in that whole last section of the first movement: The pas de cinq consists of the girl performing a series of arabesques, "partnered" by four boys, each one holding one of her wrists or ankles; half way through this, Stravinsky interrupts the proceedings with a repeat of the opening fanfare, and the corps, as though realizing something pretty unusual is going on here, regroups upstage to our left to get a better view of what comes next. The arabesque sequence resumes, continuing through one where the girl calmly regards us with her face upside down, to me a startling thing to glimpse for the moment it takes place, and which has disappeared from some other productions.

Rubies is if anything a high-energy ballet, and if I would fault this production for anything, it would be that it was too "held-in"; it has to be, though, because the Athenaeum stage isn't that big, and if the dancers had let themselves out as the ballet deserved, somebody would have got hurt. And some lines across the stage needed a little curving to get them in. So it needed more space. And that said, it needed more performances!

Which it might get, inasmuch as BCSC made its own costumes rather than borrow them. We have another thread about the "Roman" "skirt" on everybody; I hadn't thought of it before, but there's something here about why this same design looks fine on both the girls and the boys. We expect skirts on girls, but these skirts make the boys a little into gladiators. There's nothing effeminate about the design. They sparkled from sequins or something on the strips of cloth, and the top hems of the girls' leotards were nicely trimmed out in sparkling "jewels". Credit for these goes to Vicki Mariner "after Karinska" and the rest of "The Guild of the Golden Needle - Wardrobe Committee", a group of eighteen women, more than half as many names as the thirty-three on the cast list, including eight guest artists. This represents some investment, for four performances. So, hats off to everybody for giving Chicago this good a look at Rubies!

Sad to say, I have my usual complaint about the program's lighting, this time Margaret Nelson's, which conformed too closely to the usual practice nowadays of tending to upstage the performances with frequent lighting changes. I much prefer that the space be lit appropriately and then the performance take place in that space. That used to be the norm, and it showed performances to their best advantage, without distraction.

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(I tried to add this to Jack's initial thread but was unable.)

Moderator's note: Sorry, emilienne. I don't know why you had the problem. I was able to merge the threads, so it's all the same in the end.

Seeing something through some one else's eyes is one thing BT is about, to me.

Absolutely! And for those of us who weren't there, it's good to get multiple pairs of eyes. Thanks to you both!

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