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Ballet Across America II at the Kennedy Center 15-20 June 2010

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(from Washington, DC) I think this is the place to talk about this.

Briefly, I'll say that I thought the first ballet, Houston Ballet's Artistic Director's Falling, was beautifully danced and had some substance, but had a highly variable relationship to its music, an early divertimento or serenade by Mozart, and was inconsequential; the second, Monumentum/Movements, a distinguished pair of ballets by George Balanchine, well suited its music throughout and got a generally apt performance by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, maybe sightly better the second evening, when it was much better received, incidentally, by a younger audience; and then North Carolina Dance Theatre offered Shindig, by its artistic director, Jean-Pierre Bonnefous, which was a big hit with the audience the first night but seemed so insubstantial I skipped it the second time.

Here's a link to a clip of the third item on the first program, North Carolina Dance Theater's Shindig:

(It was good to see TSFB's Momchil Mladenov recovered from the injury I saw him sustain in Minneapolis in March, too.)

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Not sure if this is the right spot but I followed various links-within-links to get here, so here goes. (What would be totally confusing and unwieldy would be to "split" the reviews into the company-specific fora...just my 5-cents.)


TSFB troupe did a very fine job last night [opening night] with these two ballets. I was most impressed with Natalia Magnicaballi's reserved abandon - quite Farrellesque.

The other two offerings of the night were also well performed. Welch's Falling, to a Mozart score, had some lovely movements by exceptional dancers, such as Melody Herrera. However, the hit of the night among most audience members was, without a doubt, NCDT's Shindig, closing the evening with a bang.

The brief post-performance chat featured Patricia McBride and Suzanne Farrell together on the stage once again (along with Bonnefoux, Welch and emcee Kim Kokich).


Jack, as much as we ballet lovers admire Balanchine's Stravinsky works, I'm afraid that there's much less appreciation among the public at large. For example, I heard snores in my 2nd Tier area during M/M. A group of high schoolers occupied the two rows directly behind us, so it was a young gang in my area. One of the young people exclaimed "Thank God - good music!" as a bluegrass tune was heard before curtain-up for Shindig. Then, as the curtain rose, there was huge applause...not just for the troupe on the stage but for the "relief" of finally hearing & seeing something that they could enjoy. Sad but true.

p.s. And "it ain't over" for Monumentum/Movements at the Kennedy Center by any stretch. Oh, no. M/M is scheduled not once but TWICE next season -- for the next TSFB regular run in the late-fall, then at NYCB's spring visit ('Balanchine Black-and-White' mini-festival). I suppose that Ms Farrell, as KennCen ballet programmer, is dispensing "M/M Overkill" castor oil. ( "It may not taste the best but it's good for you! You will swallow it and that's an order!") She is to be commended for trying...but I hope that nobody will be turned off ballet as a result. Newbies should want to BUY more tickets in the future, not run away. Oh well, the beauty of mixed-bill programs is that there's bound to be something for everyone.

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I do think this is the place, Natalia; notice that Helene had a thread going here on BAA I.

Anyway, I'm not clear on whether you were at the second night as well, because the person sitting next to me had been to both, and also thought, as I did, that M & M got a much better hand from the orchestra seats Wednesday evening than Tuesday, and it was a much younger audience, or at least, just looking around, we saw a lot more younger people. (I don't think Farrell thinks Balanchine's black and white ballet "is good for you" except in the best, spiritual sense; she serves the cause, and personally, I hope no one ever tries to persuade her to betray that cause by dumbing down her repertory. There's huge variety of good stuff.)

I've put in my scant notes from the short post-performance panel discussion Tuesday the 15th below, in Post #11, FWIW.

Edited by Jack Reed
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....not clear on whether you were at the second night as well,.....

Alas, I missed the 2nd night, Jack. Was watching La Danse on TV. Glad to read that M/M received a better ovation than at the opener.

Agreed on the importance of not dumbing down the repertoire. If pleasing the crowd were the only goal, then we'd have nothing but DON Q. As it is, DON Q shows up at least once every KennCen season (Bolshoi in 07, Mariinsky in 08, WashingtonBallet in the present season of 09/10...and were getting it again next season with the Cuban Ballet).

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Went to Program B's opener, last night. In direct contrast to Program A, I found the first ballet of the evening to be the more felicitous -- Ballet Memphis in Trey McIntyre's In Dreams, set to Roy Orbison's melancholic recordings. Quite simply, it had the winning formula: perfect movement to fit beautiful music. The five dancers moved with gusto and extreme musicality. The short black dresses on the women were just right for showing off the movement. Melancholic music did not equate moping; these dancers MOVE! I'd love to see more of this company...and all 16 of them, not just the five who performed here.

Ballet Arizona's large-scaled Diversions, set to Britten and choreographed by company AD Ib Andersen, should have been the hit of the night but was hampered by a too-slow rendition of the score by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra...something that was still bothering Andersen one hour later during the post-performance discussion. I would love to see this ballet performed in the appropriate tempo some day, as it displays the work of a sensitive choreographer who is not of the post-Balanchine cookie-cutter variety. The haunting pas de deux by the leading couple -- sorry, don't have my Playbill for names! -- was a highlight. The costumes were gorgeous, with a modified 'tutu-like' leotard with feathery ruffled skirt for the ladies and hand-painted bird's feathers at the hipline of the men's tights. The entire piece made me think of birds or floating angels.

Alas, the evening ended on a downer. Pacific NW Ballet's dancers are far too talented for the monotonous and cliche-filled triffle served up by choreographer Benjamin Millepied, to Stephen Reich's dull, repetitive music. [sorry, Mr. Reich - you're no Phillip Glass.] The ballet 3 Movements is only 15-16 minutes long...but even one movement would have been too long! Let me guess -- Millepied is being mentored by Peter Martins. Even the 'streetwear' costumes were blah. The saving grace was Carla Korbes -- a beautiful presence, generous in her movements.

One more program -- one more night, tonight. Maybe the Joffrey, Aspen Santa Fe and Tulsa ballets can pull us back up to the quality of the two 'hits' of the run so far -- Shindig and In Dreams?

p.s. Only two of the three ADs appeared in last night's post-performance chat. PNWB's Peter Boal was the no-show. The moderator announced that he suffered some sort of injury back home and was unable to join his troupe in DC.

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Natalia, so glad you enjoyed Anderson's piece. Compared to others of his, though, I thought it lacking, and the costumes reminded me of birds, too -- emus! With the small "tutu," and shaped bodice, they were flattering, though, don't you think? The pas de deux struck me, as well, as the strongest part of the piece -- lyrical, intimate, and an exploration of the long lines of the two dancers. Much as I appreciated it, however, I would have liked Anderson to allow Mr. Clarke to move -- as I recall, his part consists almost entirey of partnering of a difficult sort, manipulating Ms. Huang though space, outside of classical shapes, but with him constrained in a small space and rooted to the floor.

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AZ Native, it's Andersen not Anderson. The playbill at the Kennedy Center happened to make the same mistake.

Anywho, BAZ dancers are having a grand old time here and loving the opportunity we have been given. I think it is opening a lot of eyes about what is going on in the southwest.

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I just read Alastair Macaulay's 14 June review of your Balanchine program, and I got the same feeling from that.

Ballet Across America panel discussion, Tuesday evening, 15 June, Opera House, Kennedy Center; thus this brief discussion happened right after the first performance of Program I, and so it's out of sequence in this thread, but I hope these bits I caught of it will be of some interest anyway:

Kim Kokich, moderator, with Jean-Pierre Bonnefous, Patricia McBride, Suzanne Farrell, and Stanton Welch seated left to right downstage

K K: Is there an American style of dancing? J-P B: It has energy and joy, but there are many kinds. P McB: Each company has its own style. Its choreographer maintains his style. S F: America is young and ballet is young. America was colonized by people from many countries... S W: America is diverse, like Europe.

Q from audience: Where does a choreographer get his inspiration? J-P B: From the bluegrass. The rhythm is fun. S W: He might begin with a story and look for the music.

Q: Who were the Balanchine ballets [Monumentum and Movements] choreographed on? S F: On Diana Adams... They have a similar pristine quality, [corresponding] to the starkness of Stravinsky. There's similarity, but contrast. The opposite sides of the energy coin.

Q: Is it more thrilling to dance or to choreograph? S F: It's easier to be a dancer. P McB: You're more nervous for your dancers. [it may have been here that Farrell and McBride began to hold hands]

Q: The diversity of styles was impressive tonight. How did you choose what to bring? J-P B: We were asked for videos and the Kennedy Center chose.

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I'll have Program C report up soon. Went to the opener on Friday night but have been away all weekend long. I really enjoyed it all...even Por Vos Muero, although I'm no Nacho Duato fan. It really helps to see modern dance pieces on ballet bodies. (ha-ha) More anon.

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I'll look forward to reading it, Natalia!

Did anyone else go? There were a lot of people there -- more comments would be appreciated!

There are three reviews up on danceviewtimes. Here are the links:

Program I (George Jackson):


Program 2 (George Jackson):


Program 3 (Alexandra Tomalonis)


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I found this comment

"Q: The diversity of styles was impressive tonight. How did you choose what to bring? J-P B: We were asked for videos and the Kennedy Center chose."

(from Jack Reed's description of a post-show discussion) very interesting, in light of the comments that have been made about repertory choice. I'm wondering, now, what the mechanism was for the last festival (where PNB, my hometown company, caught some flack for dancing Nacho Duato's "Jardi Tancat")

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Alexandra is so right in her DanceViewTimes report about this "ballet" festival having very little true ballet. They should have titled it "Dance Across America." Although I enjoyed Program C -- and much of the other two programs this past week-- there was a dearth of classical ballet on display. Last Friday, for Program C's opening, many in the audience expressed surprise during the 2nd intermission, wondering if we'd see a pointe shoe that night. (We did; the women in the 3rd and final work used pointe shoes.)

I found Program C to be very enjoyable from a 'movement to music' perspective. I was especially surprised that I enjoyed the first two works -- Elo's Red Sweet for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Duato's Por Vos Muero for Tulsa Ballet -- as both are more 'modern dance' than true ballet. And I loved Liang's Age of Innocence for the Joffrey despite the dopey costumes for the men!

Jorma Elo's Red Sweet, set to Vivaldi and Biber, showed-off the honed physiques and musicality of the Aspen Santa Fe troupe. I call it Sliced Even Sharper -- very similar movement to Elo's well-known Vivaldi opus for NYCB, even more-to-the-point and satisfying. A lot of the exiting/entering moves and lifts are taken straight from the NYCB work but are more effective now because only the dancer's faces and limbs are bright, beautifully contrasted against all-black background and the dark-toned leotards with bare legs. Also in contrast to the black background and costumes, the floor was a brightly-lit fuschia. Many in the audience complained that the women were not on pointe. ("Aren't we supposed to see ballet tonight?") However, I could have sworn that the women were on pointe, as they danced almost on the tips of their toes throughout. Truly extraordinary and it must have been very difficult to maintain pointe-like positions without pointe shoes. I loved the clever exits that had the dancers appearing to be swimmers -- the 'wavy legs' movements that we see in other Elo works.

I went into Nacho Duato's Por Vos Muero expecting to hate it. I took No-Doze as prep. I warned my husband not to expect much. I had already seen this work on DVD by the originators, Duato's National Dance Company of Spain. I was prepared for chunky, weighted-down dancers moving to boring 15th-C Spanish madrigals, interspersed by pretentious poetry readings. It was a delightful surprise to see this work performed by lighter, ballet-trained dancers of the Tulsa Ballet, who brought sunshine to the piece. OK, I still dislike the work but I was able to appreciate the balletic gifts of the Tulsa dancers and, hopefully, their next visit to Washington, DC, will see them dancing true classical ballet.

Balletic relief came in the form of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago dancing Edwaard Liang's gorgeous Age of Innocence, which deals with manners and feelings among men and women 100-200 years ago and, as such, hearkens to Lilac Garden or even the corps in Sonambula. [Too bad that the men in the ballroom were stupidly outfitted in white short-shorts.] There was much to love about Liang's steps to the beautiful Phillip Glass score BUT the piece de resistance was the final pas de deux, exquisitely danced by Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels. I could watch that pas de deux -- and this entire ballet, in fact -- forever and ever. It is the essence of what I love in the art. A clever movement in which he quickly flips her and she ends up "perching" on his back will live on in my mind for some time. Bravi!

All three troupes were equally and warmly cheered by the night's very lively audience -- liveliest of the three nights that I attended.

p.s. The post-performance chat and Q&A was the longest and liveliest tonight. The Tulsa Ballet's director - Marcello Angellini- was a particular hoot with his candid comments about costumes. :mad:

p.s.s. It's hard and probably unfair to pick favorites among the nine ballets and troupes on view during the festival but I'll have to select Joffrey-Age of Innocence, while my husband sticks firmly with North Carolina's Shindig.

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Oof -- I think I had opposite reactions to Program B than Natalia. I sadly did not enjoy In Dreams much -- I was actually wondering why they brought it? For a program like this, I should want to call my friends in the Memphis area and tell them to see this company... but when the piece finished, I wasn't sure of what the dancers could do. I also felt that there was not that much cohesion; choreography should be more than putting steps to music.

On the flipside, I enjoyed PNB's work -- as a program note, the costuming was apparently done by (suggested by?) Isabella Boylston (sp?) of ABT! It wasn't the Best.Thing.Ever., but I did find it enjoyable and it gave me a good sense of the dancers. Maybe I liked it because I couldn't keep my eyes of Korbes...

I'm with Natalia on Ballet Arizona for the most part... still not sure of what I thought about the half-tutu hip ruffles for the women.....

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