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MCB Program III. Episodes, TPDD, W.S Story Suite,

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This was one of the most boring "ballet" evenings I've ever witnessed. Given, I don't "get" the sort of choreos like "Episodes". I hated the whole thing...the atonal music, the floor rolling, the, to me, nothingness to infinity...and yes, I read all about its history, Graham, Taylor, etc, etc. I guess I just approached it with the same curiosity I approached Duchamp's "Fountain"..("Oh, ok...so this is what it was, ok...the times, the significance...oh, ok...next..let's finally get to Rubens' Maria de Medici series...")

Tchai.PDD was the blandest I've seen it in recent years. Cerdeiro is NOT up to this type of technical challenge-(I think he better stays in the "Episodes" territory)- , and Arja looked totally underwhelmed.

Wet Side Story Suite. I don't even know where to start. I think this is the first time I saw a ballet company doing a musical and singing-(and bad singing, on top of everything...).

Lopez is good at PR. She organized a post performance gala, and so all the rich Miamian socialites-(normally absent from ballet performances)-were there exhibiting their minks in 75 degrees Miami and having their pics taken by local media. Lourdes herself was stunning in a red carpet form fitting strapless red dress with a huge bow on her back. She spent time onstage pre performance acknowledging some rich Cuban sponsoring family. And she did so both in English and in Spanish. Smart woman, I think.

Behind me there was an old couple in formal tuxedo and black gown attire, and the guy was very happy with West Side..."Oh, I love Brodway!", he said to his wife...

In between all this 80's barefoot Duato and now this Brodway, I don't even know what to think. To better explain, I'll quote a FB exchange on the subject...

-"What a caricature of a ballet program...MCB is in the verge of becoming a sad hybrid of a company. Bad singing, barefooted choreo...little exposure to the grand XIX Century core. Just very sad, BUT the house was happy and revenue was collected so I guess that's all that matters"

-"I did not attend...MCB loosing its "ballet...

-"It was so awkward...it looked to me like a modern dance company attempting at some classical stuff-(the boring "Episodes" and the bland TchaiPDD"

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Sorry for your "down" evening, Cristian. Though interpretive stuff sometimes helps, I never get much out of ballet histories, though, myself. "Important" is invisible to me.

You can't see history, only see and hear what's now; I mean what's happening in front of you, not what somebody thinks is current fashion. (We're seeing plenty of that at ballet programs.) Art comes from somewhere within the artist, I think, not from trying to follow others, "outside" influences, but if an "old" work - you mention Rubens - can be set before us, and we can appreciate it, we are having the experience of it now. So how old is it? The first time, it may be new to us.

Or sometimes an artist will absorb and "recycle" the old but make something fresh. New to everybody. Okay, now I'm rambling so much, I'm not sure myself what I'm saying.

Anyway, as for the gala crowd, there's something to be said for people having a good time and kicking in some cash - though it sounds like it was other people, enjoying their show. Not part of my civilization. Feeling alienated from the rest of the audience hardly improves the experience, as I recall.

Thanks for your report.

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It takes one to know one, Cristian. I enjoy running into you too, but it looks like it'll be next season - from what you've just said about Program III, you'll not be braving Miami's notorious traffic to see it again in Broward this coming weekend, and as I complain elsewhere - not at too great length I hope - I'll not be braving all that Minkus for this season's Program IV. Enjoy Don Q, Cristian! I wish you good casting, as the Delgados and Catoya are back, and the men seem to be on their feet as well.

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Thanks, Jack...and let me keep going on now, because I was really frustrated that night.

Why is this company reducing so visibly its percentage of balletic works in favor of those works by either contemporary troupes and now by Broadway..? What's next...maybe "Spring Awakening" or maybe "Cats"...?-(to stay in the classics..)

This program's whole 50 %-(the one publicly announced)-was not ballet-(WST).Last program, same thing. The emphasis here and there, in the media and so on was based in Duato's thing. On top of everything, they decide to pair here the bad singing-(because it was BAD)-with this "Episodes"-(ok...maybe many of you NY'rs love it, it is in the bones of City Ballet, there are fond memories of it in the past and so on and so forth, but then, remember that you also have all the other great balletic stuff going on across the plaza, so it is not as if this is the only option...the only ballet to enjoy...which is my case here.).

And talking about West Side Story. Why so purposely expose something this dancers lack, which is voice, instead of further dig the very vast world of the art form, a rich territory which its foundations are still partially uncovered by this company..? And what an ill fitted cast! Jeremy Cox as Riff is the most ridiculous thing I've seen onstage for years. Cox, and Chase Swatosh as Tony, and the rest of the "gang"-(Sean Breeden, Dunlap, Marshall et al)-looked as if they haven't even witnessed a street fight during their entire lives! MCB's men are better fitted to be called "boys". They are all too boyish and delicate looking to be convincing in this roles. The only one that looked the part was Reyneris Reyes as Bernardo.

A couple of times there were voices off singing to their dancing-(as with Tony's solo). I don't know if this is supposed to be like that, but listening to an out of tune voice while another person is onstage and knowing that this is supposed to be done at the same time by the same actor wasn't pretty.

Another take from FB.

"When I saw this at NYCB I was really peeved. Those ballet dancers cannot do Broadway acting or attitude well. They immediately look silly"

Ok...I deleted almost the other 50 % of this...rambling, because I realize this is what I'm doing...rambling.

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The problem is that American ballet companies are probably struggling to survive and having to program hodge podge shows that include modern dance. You can't really blame the ballet companies. This culture prefers pop stuff. Classical music stations have a hard time surviving in most areas. Regional opera companies have to program the bread and butter operas (Rigoletto, Butterfly, Boheme, Carmen) over and over and throw in ONE rarity occasionally (that usually doesn't sell well). This is a pop culture country. I think New York is an exception, because you have so many people from all over concentrated in one city, so NY can have a huge opera company and two main ballet companies and then a lot of smaller troupes and touring companies and everything sells well.

But in most parts of the country people simply don't care about classical music, ballet, or opera. There are always SOME people in each area but not enough. You also have music in general de-valued (some schools no longer have any music education program at all). You have to have exposure to see value in it, and there is very little exposure to classical music, ballet or opera for the average American.

Even gay men who have always loved the classical arts in the past are changing. Not sure why. Most gays my age and younger only know Madonna and Beyonce and any number of singers who can't sing. I know Madonna's older stuff but I have no idea what Beyonce sings. I used to read Perez Hilton daily simply to know the names of current pop culture so I could hold a conversation with other human beings, but I have given that up now that I am working and so busy. I have no clue who any current pop singer or any new actors are, and I really don't care. I have discovered that your life goes on when you have no clue who the current stars of anything are. I come home and put on ballet videos and watch them. My free time is so limited. I do not want to eat it up with junk culture. There is no fighting this. People here are much more interested in watching reality tv and listening to pop music (if you can even call it music). You have to find your own way to find pleasure. Ballet is never going to be the most popular art form. So go on trips and resort to videos both commercial and otherwise.

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I've just had a look at a little of the famous film of West Side Story, many pieces of which are on You-know-where, and I think that brokenwing may have a point, at least about the original. These guys are acting out roles they'll never grow into, with luck - I mean that they'll straighten out, not that they'll get killed off - this is an awful truth about urban gangs, I guess, nobody wants the fight (except maybe a few lunatics fomenting it) but everybody gets caught up in it, and the contrast between acting tough and being vulnerable could add dimension to this fantasy world which draws upon timeless reality. (The PR for this won't let us forget Shakespeare's play, itself referring to an old story.)

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Believe me, Jack-(and I don't know what brokenwing's post was, because it is now deleted)...this was not a case of "vulnerability adding dimension to fantasy world and drowning upon timeless reality"....this was plainly a case of wrong casting...these roles are not for these boys-(with the exception of Reyes perhaps). They were simply out of their league. And I'm sorry, MCB fans and/or dancers if any of you is reading this, but...not every male ballet dancer can pull out masculine roles with the same level of credibility as, let's say, Carlos Acosta or Reyneris Reyes. It is what it is, and if wrongly done, then it is a travesty.

I would had love to see your impression, Jack, at seeing Jeremy Cox playing tough onstage...it was hard to digest. The last time I saw him dancing was in a backstage gala where he and Wong did a very good impersonation of Beyonce's "Single Ladies". He was better then.

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(I rarely quote a post I'm replying to, but now I think I will try to make a habit of quoting the specific phrases I have in mind!)

But I've seen more of the film, now, and some of the tough-guy stuff does come off, and yet, so much of it is plainly organized choreography. And some of it just clanks along, to develop the plot situation, like Hollywood does sometimes.

But you may get your wish - I'll see at least one or two performances next weekend in Broward. (Cox was one of the three memorable Prodigals in my experience, but he was probably coached by one of the other two - his old boss, Villella. If he didn't equal Villella, he did convince.)

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Some comments on the Broward performances - anybody who wants to go on talking about the ones in Arsht, please feel free. (The Broward performance dates are on Friday the 21st and Saturday the 22nd at 8:00 and Saturday and Sunday the 23rd at 2:00.)

This afternoon the hit of the weekend so far for me was Mary Carmen Catoya in Tchiakovsky pas de Deux, with the excellent Renato Penteado. You know how with some dancers, or some ballets, what you see is what you get? With Catoya, you get so much more than that. Quick and clear, then stopping time and starting it again - momentum is not involved here, this is unbelievable but you're seeing it, and it's all deployed to show you her dance; she herself never shows off - though there is sometimes a hint of "This is fun!" as befits this dance. As for Penteado, the right partner - so clear I can fix my gaze on her and see him, too, peripherally.

I've just re-read this and it's inadequate, but I'll leave it here. Maybe I'll think of something better when, God willing, I see them again tomorrow. (And if God is not willing? I'm reminded of that old phrase that applies, when you have experienced something really fine, "Now I can die happy!")

(I texted a friend in NYC who remembers Catoya from MCB's week there in January 2009 and she replied, "She's a joy to watch!")

One aspect of Episodes to comment on is the authenticity of the "restored" male solo, originally danced by Paul Taylor, "Variations, Op. 30." rg believes there's no recording of this choreography, and I trust that. I have seen only two still images, one in a photographer's studio, a dubious genre, but another in B. H. Haggin's Ballet Chronicle which, typically of Haggin, is a performance photo. Both times, both images have flashed by in the course of things, for what that's worth. And the second number, "Five Pieces, Op. Op. 10" was more authentically lit here than when TSFB presented Episodes at the Kennedy Center last November: Here, much of the stage was quite dark, except for an area of variable size where the dancers were moving; there, the surrounding stage area remained dimly lit, which diffused one's attention.

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I'll add that of the two dancers who perform the "Variations, Op. 30," Jovani Furlan, in both evening casts, was more effective than Eric Trope this afternoon (substituting for Neil Marshall, who took over for Chase Swatosh in "Five Pieces, Op.10", with Maya Collins, which they repeated this evening in place of Christie Sciturro and Swatosh.)

Furlan fills out, inhabits, the movement, and phrases it, so that it is becoming something - a thing, one thing - I can begin to remember; with Trope, it looked more indefinite and formless, and I looked in vain for the images I'd seen published, but with Furlan, I had already spotted on first viewing some repetition, like the image in Haggin's book, which is followed, a couple of counts after the second time it goes by, by the "studio" image I posted a link to. Indeed, there are a lot of repeated poses and short sequences in this dance, possibly corresponding to repeated music phrases, which I'm not hearing. (I prefer to prepare to see a new dance by becoming familiar with the music first, but I didn't manage to this time.) As to the "fly in a glass of milk" quality Balanchine was supposed to have referred to, this seems only sometimes apt. (Maybe it depends on the particular fly?)

I might add that whichever dancer solos gets a big hand; for that matter, West Side Story Suite got people to their feet Friday night, and there were exclamations of "Wasn't that marvelous!" behind me, but it looked like so half-baked in concept to me (not to mention the failed lip-synching) I skipped it both times today, especially since I wanted just some quiet time this afternoon to savor Catoya and Penteado's extraordinary performance of "Tchai Pas."

This evening, that little showpiece was performed again by Nathalia Arja and Renan Cerdeiro, and it made the young woman sitting next to me happy to the point of giggles, especially the coda, where in the "fish dives" the two made Arja look like she might weigh ten pounds. Hearing the giggles, I remembered the story of Balanchine explaining what ballet was for: "It makes people happy." It sure did my neighbor, and Arja displayed many virtues in it, but hers remained a small performance even without contrast with Catoya's magical powers. (The young lady, with pre-professional ballet experience herself, was surprised to hear from me that Balanchine had made both Episodes and Tchaikovsky pas de deux.)

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Aside from "Variations, Op. 30," no, not particularly hard. My usual way, looking for how the dance corresponds - sometimes by contrast - to the music, or looking for how the choreographer hears his music, served me fairly well. If I had had more familiarity with the music for the solo, that might have "worked" better, too, but as it was, I was still trying to find my way in it, surprised by all the repeated material, for example. Maybe if I relaxed a little more?

My artist friend had her best time with that, chuckling at the aptness of Balanchine's metaphor for it, "a fly in a glass of milk," and with "Concerto Op. 24," possibly because of its more clearly demonstrated structure - the energetic outer movements more populated, for example, by contrast with the quieter, middle one, a pas de deux, and her least enjoyment, in Episodes, with "Five Pieces. Op. 10," though she could imagine in other circumstances and different renditions how it could have more of the dry humor it still had some of for me.

An example of the correspondence by contrast I meant happened a few times in "Symphony Op. 21," where the music "froze" when a note was held, while the dancers broke into a greater degree of animation, resuming their previous rate as the music took up its activity again. And I thought Eric Trope's performance of that solo again today fitted the "fly" metaphor a little better than Furlan's more powerfully shaped and phrased one. Not to say Trope's was "better," though.

She also had a good time with Tchaikovsky pas de deux, where she was about as delighted as I was by how wonderfully Catoya showed the dance, just brought it into existence I would say, with ease and some pride and joy, and without much in the way of physical restraints, and she was impressed by the exuberant energy of Penteado's spectacular dancing of his variation and in the coda. (Personally, their dancing in yesterday's matinee pleased me even more.)

Okay, was this supposed to be how I liked Episodes? I'll try to get more into that later.

But in West Side Story Suite both my friend and I had a sense of movers of great ability who might have had something better to show us in making use of those abilities. I agreed with Jean-Pierre Frohlich's remark on the soundtrack of the introductory advertisement - a film clip shown before the performance began - that these dancers can dance better than Broadway dancers, though I think Broadway dancers have the advantage of dancing their way much longer, while these ballet dancers are just coming to it.

(Years ago, NYCB mounted Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free and Interplay while he was on hand, and ABT revived their productions, which in the case of Interplay was rather different. I saw all four, and found the ABT ones more effective. One had a sense of deep authenticity with them. Since making them for ABT in the 40's, Robbins had moved on, making more balletic dances for NYCB, notably Dances at a Gathering. Maybe he had moved on without realizing it himself. WSSS looked more balletic to me, and less effective than the few sequences, both fighting and dancing, I've had a chance to see, very early in the 1961 film, West Side Story.)

Edited by Jack Reed
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(Years ago, NYCB mounted Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free and Interplay while he was on hand, and ABT revived their productions, which in the case of Interplay was rather different. I saw all four, and found the ABT ones more effective. One had a sense of deep authenticity with them. Since making them for ABT in the 40's, Robbins had moved on, making more balletic dances for NYCB, notably Dances at a Gathering. Maybe he had moved on without realizing it himself. WSSS looked more balletic to me, and less effective than the few sequences, both fighting and dancing, I've had a chance to see, very early in the 1961 film, West Side Story.)

I saw some of those performances, and had a similar reaction. While the NYCB dancers seemed more technically skilled at the time, the performances at ABT had a more grounded quality, with the dance action supporting a more natural dramatic approach. This was, for me, particularly true when it came to turning -- the dancers at NYCB were doing some really beautiful pirouettes, but I felt the dancers at ABT were spinning as their characters.

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While the NYCB dancers seemed more technically skilled at the time, the performances at ABT had a more grounded quality, with the dance action supporting a more natural dramatic approach. This was, for me, particularly true when it came to turning -- the dancers at NYCB were doing some really beautiful pirouettes, but I felt the dancers at ABT were spinning as their characters.

That puts my thought well, though I don't remember turns specifically; whatever they did was inhabited by their characters. (The sailors did turn a lot, but not so much turning in Interplay, I believe.)

Cristian, you're in south Florida. How are you and Art Deco architecture? Just a thought about you and modernism, abstraction, all of that. Just wondering.

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Arriving late to this thread. I'm about to see Program III this weekend. West Side Story should be lots of fun, and it will be great to see the Delgados and Jeremy Cox back on stage. But I confess that I am looking forward most to the revival of Episodes.

I missed the 1959 performances, the ones which were joined to a very different work by Martha Graham. I suspect I saw Episodes during its first revival, a year or so after that. It's said that Balanchine tailored each "episode" to suit the style and strengths of each principal lady. I once knew those 1959 principals very well, so it occurred to me that it might be interesting to compare that group with another group of dancer's I've come to know well -- MCB's first and second casts.

The listings below follow this format: NYCB first cast, 1959 -- MCB first cast, 2014 -- MCB second cast.

Symphony Violette Verdy, Jonathan Watts // Tricia Albertson and Didier Bramaz // Emily Bromberg, Jovani Furlan

Five Pieces Diana Adams, Jacques d'Amboise // Christie Sciturro, Chase Swatosh // Maya Collins, Neil Marshall

Concerto Allegra Kent, Nicholas Magallanes // Patricia Delgado, Renato Penteado // Nathalia Arja/ Renan Cerdeiro

Variations Paul Taylor // Jovani Furlan // Eric Trope

Ricercata in Six Voices Melissa Hayden, Francisco Moncion // Jennifer Kronenberg, Reyneris Reyes // Sarah McCahill, Ariel Rose

Adams/Sciturro -- long legs, beautiful line, a sense of gravitas -- makes a lot of sense. Delgado/Kent and Kronenberg/Hayden strike me somehow as right, but I will have to wait to see why I felt that way. Albertson/Bromberg don't recall Verdy to me, but each is a strong neoclassical dancer in the Agon, Four Temperaments mode.

I'm also impressed at the opportunities Lopez continues to make for lower-ranked dancers, some of them quite young. For example: Jovani Furlan (new to the corps de ballet) and Eric Trope (still an apprentice) in the Paul Taylor role. And, among the more experienced corps members: Christie Sciturro, Maya Collins, Neil Marshall, Chase Swatosh, Ariel Rose,.

The chance to see Episodes is a rare privilege, it seems to me. I have lots of questions: Will the separate parts somehow cohere into a whole? Will the orchestra do justice to the Webern? Is the Paul Taylor solo as astonishing as we remember it? Will I be able to see something of the 1959 dancers in the current casting? Is the ballet interesting mainly as an artifact, or is it strong enough to take on renewed life in 2014?

Can't wait until tomorrow.

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I actually thought I would not like this program, but I enjoyed it for the most part. After seeing it, I think it was smart to program a crowd pleaser like Westside Story after Episodes. Lourdes Lopez knows what she's doing. To get us to eat our spinach she offers a puff pastry at the end of the meal.

I was totally unfamiliar with Episodes but read about it, and it sounded like it started as an interesting experiment with Martha Graham. It is very modern so the type of ballet that we know we "should" see. Lourdes Lopez even says this show was designed to show that ballet is not just tiaras and tutus, that it is a living art form (I am paraphrasing her comments in the program). For me it was like eating spinach (or sweet potatoes). Although I respected Balanchine's inventiveness and the dancers' ability to bring life to Webern's modern music I really only liked the final movement which included the most beautiful ballet movements (probably because the music for the final movement was an arrangement of Bach's music so the music was more beautiful also). Maybe repeated viewings would help me enjoy the whole thing more.

For me Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux is an example of what draws most of us to ballet in the beginning. It is such a gorgeous work that stresses the beauty of ballet and shows Balanchine's roots in classical ballet in Russia. Yet there are slight changes and tiny modern touches that make it a very Balanchine piece at the same time. I felt Arja and Cerdeiro Danced well especially in the coda, although I recently saw this same piece danced by two more seasoned and polished dancers. Little things like the awkward linking of arms as Arja is assisted in turns near the end of the adagio betrayed that they are young dancers, incredible dancers, nevertheless. I also feel this piece requires an almost Russian-style imperial body carriage at least when they first enter.

Westside Story Suite was the piece I was actually dreading. I thought I would hate it as a junky pop ballet, but it was hard not to be swept up by the exuberance the dancers brought to the work. Jeanette Delgado was terrific as Anita. As much as I love and prefer Russian classical ballet with tutus I have to admit that a Russian dancer would not be able to dance Anita with that type of brio and that style. This type of pop ballet is probably where American dancers excell. I doubt this will ever be one of my favorite works, but it was fun, and the audience loved it.

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