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2012 Chicago Dancing Festival

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Wednesday 22nd August 2012 "Dancing East & West of Chicago"

Auditorium Theater

"Rubies" (Balanchine/Stravinsky) members of Ballet Arizona

Sharp, clear and neat, if not quite as vital as Ballet Chicago's rendition in the Harris Theater in May, or so it seemed; I was in the center of row W for this, the best seats (right in front of me) being held for donors to the Festival. (Fair enough, but sitting in row M in the Harris could only have helped make the goings-on more "present" there.) Well coached, it seemed to ask mainly for more energy.

Regardless of some remoteness, I can be sure that the principals, Jillian Barrel and Nayon Iovino, were well matched but that Iovino was no match for Matthew Renko's amplitude nor Barrell for Elisabeth Holowchuk's animation in the BC performances. Kenna Draxton, with Renko and Holowchuk a sometime member of TSFB, was effective in the demi-soloist or "tall girl" role.

Part of the overall problem, such as it was in this very creditable performance, was some slackness of tempo in the second movement, as well as a spot or two where either some events were simply left out or I blanked for a moment.

On the other hand, one little event usually made blank in "Rubies" today nearly re-emerged: In the second part of the first pas de cinq, where the demi-soloist is manipulated by her four partners while facing upstage late in the first movement, she leans downstage from the waist and looks out at us with her face upside-down, a startling instant when it happens, as it did (but too briefly) here. Often now, we just get the dancer's back and the back of her head here, to no effect at all.

The program lists the corps of twelve (eight girls and four boys) in unisex fashion; the Auditorium sound system distorted loud passages, as it did all evening.

Two Became Three (Alexander Ekman/?) Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia from Giordano Dance Chicago

Descent (Brian Brooks/Adam Crystal) Brian Brooks Moving Company

Both these items seemed to me pretty minor matters because of the incorporation - which looked like intrusion - of extrinsic themes or reference, the everyday, especially the gaggy first one, with one dancer wired so we could hear his scripted commentary on the action, and commonplace clothing and dim "contemporary" lighting, as though nothing specially worth our attention were going on, though the second, a New York import, was distinguished by some finesse in production values which said "Downtown" to me. Sometimes less is less.

Sleeping Beauty pas de deux Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo of San Francisco Ballet

Another high point (in spite of some more roughness from the sound system), and much better than just pretty - some real grandeur here, and in spite of carefulness possibly owing to what early on appeared to be a slippery spot awkwardly placed upstage audience right - right where a lot of diagonals got underway.

Then, after intermission,

Afternoon of a Faun (Robbins/Debussy) Lesley Rausch and Seth Orza of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Whether the distance sapped some power from this or some was lacking at the source, but a good, creditable if not really memorable performance. Also some favorite moments of coordination between the music and the dance didn't eventuate, though in all fairness I can't say for sure where the problem lay.

For example, part way through, he holds her horizontally, crosswise of the stage, and she changes her pose slightly, abruptly, on a triangle note, a soft sound; but I couldn't even hear the triangle, and Rausch's movement lacked that percussive sudden-ness it can get.

(I wish performances of this ballet would include among the credits in the program the line we always got at NYCB in the old days: "The Place: A Room with a Mirror". Omitting that denies at least some of the audience the pleasure of discovering, part way through, where that mirror is.)

Chronicle (Graham/Riegger) a dozen women of the Martha Graham Dance Company

This half-hour dance, in three parts, "was Martha Graham's response to the menace of fascism in Europe during the early 1930's," according to the note in the program.

I didn't get that from the stage; and while I wondered sometimes whether the performance might be being given by dancers who began their training in ballet, owing to a certain lightness much of the time which seemed not entirely in keeping with some deliberateness of the sculptural, even monumental, movement, posing, and formations. (One of the exceptions, where the corps, in black, had more of the weight and impact I felt it needed, came early in Section II, Steps in the Street, possibly the subsection called Devastation, and again in III, Prelude to Action.)

But leaving quibbles behind, and taking in this dance more as design, made with bodily movement to rhythmic sound, I enjoyed it as varying but consistent spectacle, less "about" anything extrinsic, and helped along too by Graham's somber dresses and an uncredited construction, like a stylized, wide stump, center stage, for solo movement.

As it happened, I didn't get the half-hour duration of this from the stage either; from there, it seemed more like it made its way along in twenty minutes (but my watch said otherwise). So, a long, drawn-out ending for the well-constructed program? Not at all, a satisfying finale, very effective, making a sustained impression not least in its scale and ambition. With some weight, but without ever becoming heavy.

And as it happened, this program illustrated what makes something "great": It needs to be worth returning to, long after its first appearance, achieving this way a kind of existence outside its time, for those willing to journey outside theirs for a while and visit its world. As though to make the point, the dates the dances were made were given in the program: 1967 (Rubies), 2011 (Two Became Three), not actually listed in the program but Google found out for me, 2011 (Descent), 1890 (Sleeping Beauty), 1953 (Afternoon of a Faun), and 1936 (Chronicle).

Another view, along with some images, and some credits I've incorporated above, is posted in the Rogue Ballerina blog.

Considering the great dances on view for the money - none! - one has to add that the Festival represents excellent value. (The Festival's founders and artistic directors, Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke, did appear very briefly to make a joke about their captive audience and to remind us - or it - that some must contribute that others may attend without charge.)

Edited by Jack Reed
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Attended several of the CDF events, which seem to feature topnotch dancers from excellent companies.

Ballet Arizona: I was impressed by Jillian Barrell as the 'Rubies' ballerina; she has considerable poise and finish,

and I assume that her relative coolness is her choice, which goes well with the score, actually.

Nothing on earth is worse than a Heather Watts turning 'Rubies' into a porn show.

Kenna Draxton was assured and sexy as the soloist; she made many moments sharp and clear,

and the exit with plies in second was good.

SF Ballet: Sofiane Sylve is a magnificent dancer (more about that later); however, Aurora is not ideal for her long,

elegant, legs-for-days body, and this rather trite choreography of the wedding pas de deux

does not match her expansive temperament. Vito Mazzeo, as he was on Saturday, was an estimable partner.

PNB: Seth Orza is completely wrong for the Faun; although Lesley Rausch is usually wonderful, the wrong partner hampered

her performance considerably. Orza is miscast; why on earth not Jonathan Porretta or the incredible James Moore?

The Graham piece 'Chronicle' was extremely interesting. As is well known, the Graham company has been through

the esthetic, artistic, and emotional equivalent of Hurricane Katrina several different times, and I do not think what we see now bears any resemblance

to what Graham had in mind. The movement vocabulary could be seen relatively clearly; the subtexts, the actuality,

were utterly absent, sadly. these dancers do not understand the past, the Thirties, or even Graham technique from that period.

The Saturday performance had a wide variety of ballets and modern dances--

Houston Ballet danced Mark Morris' 'Drink To Me Only...', which is a lovely ballet to a fascinating score (sadly massacred by pianist

Katherine Burkwall-Ciscon, who literally omits any difficulty she finds too great in pieces literally called Etudes and who is incapable of

producing decent articulation or any tone whatsoever) but probably not ideal for a gala-type program as it is long, rather serious,

and has a slow and profound ending. An outdoor summer potpourri-type audience gets restive even in a performance as good as

that of Houston Ballet here.

SFBallet: 'Continuum' (Christopher Wheeldon), with Sylve and Matteo, was the best thing on the program. I had expected to give that

designation to Ana Sophia Scheller in the Don Q pas de deux, which I was eagerly anticipating (more on that anon), but Sylve was

so lithe, so stretched, so ravishing (it is impossible to believe she is pushing forty, if not there) in every moment that she appeared

to have had the pas de deux choreographed on her.

NYCB: Don Q pas de deux (how bizarre is it to write THAT? lol)

Well, Gonzalo Garcia may be okay in certain Balanchine roles, although I'm not even sure about this, but a bravura exhibition pas de deux

is utterly out of his depth and beyond his capabilities. I thought of nothing but Vasiliev, Baryshnikov, Villella, Bissell, etc, as Garcia

danced one inadequate step after another. This pas de deux calls for, in the words of Kirkland, 'a spectacular arsenal of technical fireworks',

and Garcia possesses none of them: not the jetes, not the barrel turns, not the multiple a la seconde pirouettes.

This, of course, affected the usually superb Scheller a bit. She is a magnificent turner, a very fine jumper, but as this role reveals

sustained balances are her Achilles' heel. She did improve as the ballet went along, but these kind of balances are not something she

often has to deal with in the NYCB repertory....

Scheller did ALL double fouettes for the first half of the coda set, then alternating single-doubles, which is impressively difficult and rare.

I theorized that she has worked on the doubles for the turning role in My One and Only. :-)

Scheller also really WORKED her fan, which was both hilarious and charming; she doesn't get to do that much at NYCB!

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