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17-21 November, 2010, Program A, Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theatre

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Balanchine's La Source is a lot more fun to watch than to try to figure out from the usual sources (no pun intended) describing its development over the years. This version had eight numbers, as five years ago: an adagio for the principals, Kendra Mitchell and Michael Cook; variations for him and for her; an ensemble for eight girls and a demi-soloist, Violetta Angelova; another adagio for the principals; two more variations, for him and for her; and a final ensemble, with a slow introduction and the Naila Waltz.

While I thought Mitchell had a lot going for her, several of us wanted a little more, a certain spark; Angelova and Renko seemed to possess that. And the corps was superb.

Both the choreography of Bejart's Sonate No. 5, and its music, the Bach piece for violin and continuo, are new to me. In her notes on the Kennedy Center web site, Farrell points out the classical (for Bejart) and solemn qualities of the work; that's the way it looked to me. The four performers, dancers Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook, violinist Corey Cerovsek and pianist Glenn Sales seemed more than secure, and I look forward to further acquaintance with this dance. On first encounter, relations of bodily movement and musical progression were too often unclear.

Jerome Robbins's In Memory of ... concluded, in a powerful performance of a ballet I don't much care for to music that has always seemed to me, frankly, a little cracked, Berg's Violin Concerto (subtitled In Memoriam of an Angel in the program). (Berg's opera, Wozzeck, sounds the same way to me, but as it presents the world of someone whose mind is cracked, I have no problem with that aspect of it.) Elisabeth Holowchuk gave the performance of the evening for me, looking completely natural in the part danced by Suzanne Farrell originally; Momchil Mladenov gave a realization of the Death-figure part apparently based on a fuller, deeper grasp of it than I remember Adam Luders giving originally.

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It seemed to me Thursday evening, in La Source, Kendra Mitchell doesn't really take away anything from her part; she shows it clearly, in a somewhat studied way, and so on, and that's something, complex as it is in the "French" manner, but she doesn't bring it a lot more than that, doesn't inhabit it, or bring it that spark of life the other dancers do to their roles, at least, not so far, and so, after a second viewing, from a better seat, I think the company looks very, very good overall, and dances "with the volume up," large, like Balanchine's New York City Ballet did.

La Source has long been a favorite of mine, and although J. Russel Sandifer lights it like three ballets, depending on what's going on - the women tend to get the more lurid mix of pink and lavender and maybe a bit of orange, while Matthew Renko, especially in his solo variations - which got good hands - gets a good, self-effacing, warm but strong light. (Violeta Angelova also got nice hands for her solos in the two ensembles.)

I felt I saw pretty well into Sonate No. 5 this time, losing my way a little only in the last movement. The relation of the movement to the music changes along the way, too; and although I don't really know Bejart's method, I suppose he may have begun at the beginning and found his way along to the end, and if I use that approach, maybe that's not so bad .

Initially, as the continuo instrument, here a piano, leads off, we see the man's movements correspond to it; momentarily, the violin takes up its part, and the woman moves with it. At some moments, the correspondence is literal; for example, a high note is "touched" in the air by a raised hand or foot; but mostly the dancers' movements are more deeply expressive in a way consonant with the music of that moment, much as though the music were telling them what to do, not unlike in Balanchine's work, but heard differently and expressed with a different "voice."

In the middle movements, the dancers are alone; the woman's arms move lyrically, expressively, willing the violin's melody into existence while marking off the piano's rhythmic figures with her points, for instance. (We recall that in Concerto Barocco the identification of dancers with instruments also changes and develops.)

In the last movement, Bach becomes surprisingly implicative, simply repeating the same eight-note figure alternately in higher and lower register while the violin plays in long, slow ascending and then descending steps, nothing more. What Bejart hears here in this meditative music - maybe what I should say is what he infers here - looks complex, and I look forward to getting on with this further next time.

It helps that Magnicaballi and Cook perform with calm detachment much of the time, matching the evenness of the music. They seem to have exactly the right tone.

In Memory of... makes a monumental closer for the program; Holowchuk and her two partners, first the companionate Cook and later the menacing and finally successful Death figure (although not so identified in the program) along with the corps of sixteen give this a strong performance, helped greatly by Jennifer Tipton's very effective lighting design, "recreated by Nicole Pearce."

As to Berg's music, it came to me this evening that "tortured" might be a better word for it than "cracked". Maybe what sounds like its "cracked"-ness to me is like something giving way under tortuous strain. And finally, Robbins tells his melodrama effectively enough to its background, though maybe cribbing from Balanchine in the woman's resurrection in the redemptive ending.

Edited by Jack Reed
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A couple more morning-after thoughts. Part of the effectiveness of In Memory of... is in its costuming, by Holly Hynes, "inspired by original designs by Dain Marcus," according to the program. In the first scene, the men wear trousers and polo shirts in various near-pastel solid colors, each different, the shirts and trousers complementing each other, not matching; the women wear filmy skirts*, swirling and moving nicely, in similar colors with the same overall scheme as the men. Holowchuk wears a filmy pale pink dress throughout; indeed, she is scarcely off-stage long enough to change costumes, and her "change" is an internal one expressed in movement anyway, the more effectively shown because everyone else in the last scene is in white.

And the backdrop by David Mitchell, "courtesy of New York City Ballet," is in mottled earth tones.

And both Sonate No. 5 and In Memory of... are company premieres.

*dresses, actually.

Edited by Jack Reed
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Sarah Kaufman's review of this program is up on the Washington Post web site, based on Wednesday's performance, but as in past seasons with this troupe, more performances improve the performances. In La Source Saturday evening, Angelova's buoyancy was not quite believable, but we had many opportunities to see it as part of her generally enlivening the demi role, and Renko's execution of the delightfully tricky sequences in his variations became more focused and crisper; both got appreciation from the audience, but there was even better to hear: Except for a few square phrases at the beginning, the music already flowed better Thursday night than Wednesday, and Saturday's rendition from the pit became quite tasty, I'd say. So if not completely risen, this little souffle of a ballet had become more delectable.

Sonate No. 5's relations between its music and its movement elude me in the fourth section; maybe this is just a free fantasia on Bejart's part, to time marked off by his musical collaborator here. I don't dislike this ballet at all, and I don't think the early sections are so formulaic as some of my friends seems to: Hearing what the music says and finding movement which "hears" that is not a mechanical thing, in my experience, but an enlarging one.

That experience has been more fortunate than Kaufman's. She says she has never loved Bejart's work (past tense) so that this ballet was something new to her. I'm glad for her, art at its best changes you, but thanks to Farrell and her illustrious "soul mate" - as she writes of Balanchine sometimes - I already had made very happy acquaintance with Bejart's Le Sacre du Printemps, which I had read that Balanchine admired, and Bejart's Romeo et Juliet, the "Scene d'Amour" from which Farrell's troupe presented not long ago.

(I'd also seen things like his Salome, to the "Dance of the Seven Veils," yet, where Patrick Dupond did air turns in a black kilt and the head of John the Baptist came in on a silver plater at the end, so I think I know where Kaufman is coming from!)

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Over on danceviewtimes, Alexandra has a review of this program, and George Jackson has one of the other. Alexandra writes that

All three ballets need a ballerina. No, a Ballerina, a Farrell, or at least a dancer who approaches her in authority and mystery and risk taking. We've come to believe that great ballets, well-constructed ballets, can exist on their own, that they're dancer proof, but that's not true. This program showed us the works (and for that I am very grateful) but they are as yet uninhabited. What was so wondrous about Farrell's first program here some years back, with the Washington Ballet supporting a collection of principals from a variety of companies, was that Farrell inspired extraordinary dancing from some of these artists. I never saw Susan Jaffe dance so confidently, so beautifully, before or since; Maria Calegari's dancing also rose to a new level. Peter Boal and, to a slightly lesser extent, Chan Hon Goh, revitalized the troupe a few years back. Stars need great ballets to dance, but the ballets need the stars too.

I miss the days of imported stars too. But the current company has dancers (Holowchuk, Angelova, Cook, Mladenov and Henning) that I’m always eager to see, and to my far less experienced and discerning eyes Natalia Magnacaballi has earned the ballerina label and had authority to spare in any number of things since she joined in ‘99, including Sonate No. 5 on this program, and Monumentum/Movements and Eight by Adler on the other this weekend.

A woman I talked to yesterday remembers crying at the premiere of In Memory Of . . . at NYCB in 1985, with Farrell, Luders and Duell. I was moved yesterday not just by the tragedy and images of community, but by the fine acting of all three leads (Holowchuk, Mladenov, Cook).

As to Berg's music, it came to me this evening that "tortured" might be a better word for it than "cracked". Maybe what sounds like its "cracked"-ness to me is like something giving way under tortuous strain.

I enjoyed this music. My well-mannered wife, sitting on the aisle with me, said she seriously considered slipping out of the theater!

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As to Berg's music, it came to me this evening that "tortured" might be a better word for it than "cracked". Maybe what sounds like its "cracked"-ness to me is like something giving way under tortuous strain.

I enjoyed this music. My well-mannered wife, sitting on the aisle with me, said she seriously considered slipping out of the theater!

All reactions to music or dance or really any of the arts are to some degree legitimate even if some of them (or none of them) are exactly objective, but 'something giving way under tortuous strain' would be something music (or dance too, for that matter) could legitimately be doing. A lot of artistic expression is about collapse, breakdown and failure, of course. Those are components of tragedy, which does not 'succeed'.

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