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Balanchine Then and Now lec-dem

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There's been a tweak in the upcoming lecture-demonstration -- the program has been expanded to include several of Balanchine's works, but the gist is the same. Here are the details.


Monday, April 2

5:30-7:00 PM

The Phelps Center

Tickets $20 available online at www.pnb.org, in person at the PNB Box Office, or by calling 206.441.2424.

Founding Artistic Director Francia Russell and Artistic Director Peter Boal join PNB dancers to discuss ballets by George Balanchine that the great choreographer changed over time. This lecture-demonstration will include film excerpts as well as performances of excerpts from Agon, The Four Temperaments, Square Dance, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.

No idea what film they'll be showing, but between the two of the Russell and Boal know a multitude of versions of these works -- it should be a fascinating discussion.

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Some fast notes about the lecture-demonstration -- this one will probably be going to the Guggenheim next year (2012-13 season) but might shift its focus so that it mostly talks about Apollo. There’s certainly enough to discuss just with that ballet, but we got a bigger selection of works, and some great back and forth with Peter Boal and Francia Russell.

In their opening remarks they both spoke about the periods they were most familiar with, which is where they draw their knowledge of the style and repertory when they work as stagers. Most people currently staging Balanchine work with the version (or ‘vintage,’ as Violette Verdy apparently calls it) that they performed -- at some point in the future, that may change, but right now that seems to be the case..

Boal was hired into NYCB right around the same time as Balanchine’s death and spoke about the changes that happened as the Trust took on the responsibility of administering rights to the repertory -- for a period after the death “It got a little dicey, because no one was wrong.” As he described the Trust and their work, it’s an analog to the Academie Francaise, it maintains traditions and adjudicates changes.

The first demonstrations were from the Melancholic section of 4 Ts -- Benjamin Griffiths performed a section of the work as taught by Francia Russell (who learned it from Richard Rapp) -- chest very open in the back arches, very plush sense of stillness in opening arabesque, flexible without a lot of reverb. Matthew Renko danced the same as he learned it from Peter Boal (who said that Balanchine had made changes in it for Bart Cook, who had “a body like Hephaestus”). There were some very telling differences, in accent (many more sharp moments), in phrasing (asymmetry). They each danced separately, and then they did it simultaneously, which just blew us away.

Then they did a short clip from the finale, pre and post changes for Dance in America. I know this work has been parsed and reparsed by all kind of critics and scholars, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel, but again, the more recent version was bigger and twistier, and an antiphonal sequence was recast -- speculation that it would have been hard to follow in the televised version.

Apollo was the next work discussed -- I wouldn’t be able to say concretely, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was the work that Balanchine tinkered with the most during his career (if only because it’s one of the oldest). Big slide show of old designs -- Boal’s comment was that the ballet has “gotten nakeder over time.” He spoke very clearly about the relationship between Apollo’s first stumbling steps in the birth scene and his more abstracted stumbles and falls in the first big solo. Maria Chapman and Lesley Rausch were the demonstrators, (Terpsichore and Polyhymnia respectively)

Griffiths demonstrated the “new” male solo from Square Dance, and did a lovely job, as he did when it was performed a couple years ago. He’s got a lovely, plush plie which lets him modulate his flow very effectively -- a beautiful sense of sustainment.

Griffiths, Chapman and Rausch were the demonstrators for the first pas de trois from Agon. My notetaking was pretty skimpy here -- I was having such a wonderful time watching that I lost track of my pen. One of the distinctions that Russell pointed out here were changes at the end of the section for the two women -- the original version was slightly more rhythmically eccentric -- the newer version “demonstrates the nine” (makes it much more overt) at the end.

The demonstrations closed with excerpts from the Tchaikovsky pas de deux, which has had multiple versions for many different performers over the course of its life. As a showcase work, the changes seem to be more about the individual performers, and less about an overarching idea related to the choreography.

Most of the film clips during the lecture came from the PBS documentary about Balanchine, and some of the other Great Performances material -- I think most of us are already familiar with them, but they illustrated the points being made.

Russell worked with Balanchine for many years, and it’s always wonderful to hear her talk about those experiences. One of the most touching moments in the lecture was actually not about the topic at hand, but was when she described watching him doodling on a notepad while he was on the phone -- he left the drawing on her desk when he was finished with the call, and she had it framed. She showed it at the end of the program -- a pencil study of a pair of baroque wings -- it was a lovely end to a very juicy evening.

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The first demonstrations were from the Melancholic section of 4 Ts ... There were some very telling differences, in accent (many more sharp moments), in phrasing (asymmetry).

Beth Genné, visiting scholar at San Francisco Ballet, showed an image she had gotten from a conference in Russia in 2004 that demonstrated a striking similarity between figure in one of the opening parts of the 4Ts to one in a dance Balanchine composed for Young Ballet in St Petersburg. It's where the woman reclines on the man's back at a 60 degree angle.

She said this fertile part of Balanchine's apprenticeship and early career is just being taken account of in the United States - though there are some good references to it in Elizabeth Souritz' book Soviet Choreography in the 1920s.

But the "body like Hepahestus" comment puzzles me.

It puzzled me too but then I looked at examples of sculptures and Hephaistus has long strong flexible arms that look as if they could have a wide arc of travel.

Thanks for the report!

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somewhere Balanchine is on record regarding the 'plastique' and 'tone' of Melanhcolic, as recalling, in most admiring terms, the wonders of the role's original interpreter William Dollar: "like rubber" Mr. B. was said to have said...

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