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Spring Repertory - "Classical Twist" at Athenaeum 5/21-23/10

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A few hasty random impressions about Friday evening's opening performance:

Divertimento No. 15 delighted me right away with lovely costumes (credited to Frida Bromberg) much like the Karinska originals, with white and yellow tutus on the principal women, white with pale blue ornaments on the corps girls, and blue jackets and yellow tights on the men. I've seen this ballet less "classically" dressed, and I've seen it in less helpful scenery: Here there was just a blank cyclorama upstage, and we concentrated on the dancing, the choreography scrupulously realized for the most part, crystalline animation, a delight from first note to last.

The changing acoustic of the recorded music evidenced Daniel Duell's usual care with assembling movements from a range of sources, so each number had good accompaniment; in particular, Ashley Johnson's tempos in the Sixth Variation were unforgiving, but she needed no forgiveness.

Ted Seymour's new suite, A Pulse Stolen, looked shapeless to me (although that doesn't mean it doesn't have any shape). The sound track is credited to Project, Chopin, MUM, and Max Richter; the Chopin fragment gets repeated. (Maybe something else does.) The main interest in it for me was in the impressive ability of the dancers to hold it together through showing each pose and move within continuous flow; they nearly always looked good in it, and having just been made on them, I suppose, the performance looked a little more immediate and present than did Divertimento No. 15, which sometimes had an air of studiousness about it, I felt.

Jumping ahead to Who Cares?, or 12/17 of it anyway, before I jump into traffic to get to the "family matinee", I just want to credit Abigail Simon with lighting up the theater in "The Man I Love" and "Fascinatin' Rhythm". More when I can.

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Following Pulse Stolen came a revival of Mono No Aware, with choreography by Daniel Duell for the first three numbers and by Patricia Blair for the final one; men predominate with three to five in the different numbers, and one woman after the first one. The men are dressed in below-the-knee black pants and red cummerbunds, bare above; suggesting oriental martial artists, perhaps? As does Duell's choreography, and his music by Philip Glass, is aptly pared down. At first.

When the lone woman enters, in the second number, Glass adds some jazzy percussion, which suits the air -- never more than that -- of excited tension of a more personal kind in these episodes. Especially statuesque Mayra Maris (Friday night) but also Simone Kerr (Saturday afternoon), both tall, erect, were quite striking in this from their first moment onstage. This is an interesting ballet, with some minimalist inclinations except for choreographic imagination, of which there was just enough, within bounds, though; always appropriate, it looks as though dance and music have much the same motivation.

Earlier on Saturday we had got a premiere of Ted Seymour's Bach Suite, to four movements of one of the suites for orchestra, for three "big girls" (a soloist and two demis, actually) and six littler ones. Attractive enough, it looked to me as though Seymour were less interested in this music than in his assemblage for A Pulse Stolen, or in what this cast could do with it.

(It was followed by the second rendition of Mono No Aware, the one with Kerr.)

The first half of the program was concluded with a classroom-demonstsration item with competition; we were the judges, voting by means of questionnaires in our programs. The activities on stage proceeded from balances on pointe through more overtly spectacular material, including some tours en l'air in which guest performer Matthew Renko demonstrated the trick of raising his supporting foot without any other change and putting it down again as he turned. But although the later material was more developed and obviously offered greater possibilities to a good choreographer, I was struck right at first by Brittany Hurst's ability to move along on pointe, take a balance without warning and stop her motion as though by throwing a switch, then throwing the switch again and resuming her movement, all as though no momentum were involved, but rather an optical trick instead.

Saturday afternoon brought Ashley Johnson into Simon's role (McBride's, originally) in Who Cares?, but it looked as though the quickness and clarity that stood her so well in Divertimento No. 15 might have been some handicap in these numbers; Simon had not been by any means careless, but carried it into brilliance, and Johnson, careful of her moves, was -- coming after Simon last night -- less illuminating. But I expect they'll each get another performance of it. J. P. Tenuta had shared the principal male role with Seymour Friday night, but this afternoon he took on the whole role. He's solidly built and does it all, but more pliability is what the role needs, I think.

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In brief, Saturday evening's Divert was "tingly" to an experienced dance person (not myself). I thought the whole evening was more fully performed. Balanchine of this high quality is rare in Chicago, IMO. And the middle items were more satisfying, too.

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