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April 30 and May 1-3, 2015 All-Balanchine program in Symphony Hall

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I'm just back from seeing the first show of the weekend - as Helene has posted in another thread, the cast list is here - from a bit too far, row 18, and the hour feels late, so just a few quick impressions:

The opening Allegro Brillante, while danced in tempos often too slow, nevertheless, overall, blew way the Carolina Ballet performance I saw by some coincidence several weeks ago. CB's ensemble lacked - well, ensemble, dancing in different times - though CB redeemed itself in the lead couple who turned up in the second and third shows there in Raleigh. BA's AB was organically coherent and effective tonight, from first note to last and from top to bottom, a listening organism responding to Tchaikovsky's score.

La Sonnambula, which followed, lacked much of the energy and tension it has received in other times and places - no one I've seen has entered from the base of that tower like Allegra Kent did - she came on like gangbusters; but tonight Natalia Magnicaballi evoked the otherworldliness of the Sleepwalker whose body the Poet can affect, turning her this way and that, but whose mind he cannot reach.

She was even more effective in the von Aroldingen role in Stravinsky Violin Concerto, replacing von Aroldingen's cool dispatch with a throw-away ease verging on spontaneity I found as effective in its slightly different way. I say "verging on" because Magnicballi's performance was clearly directed by what she heard at each instant. She showed us the music. It's another great role for her - she has many of them, as great dancers do. Tzu-Chia Huang, in Kay Mazzo's part, improved it - her dance, one where she is rarely apart from her partner, in contrast to Magnicaballi's duet (with Ilir Shtylla), where she rarely touches him, seemed also more grown from Stravinsky's music than from a dancer's frailty.

The music was all recorded, but that's no excuse in my experience for it being so roughly reproduced in Allegro Brillante and thin-sounding all evening in a time when we have had so much better sound in our living rooms for decades - granted, these auditoria are much larger spaces to fill with sound, but I've heard it done so well with speakers and amplifiers I've had to check the orchestra pit for live musicians!

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Recorded music? Oh, horrors! I think the only times I heard recorded music for Balanchine ballets were when they were performed at the Orpheum, not at Symphony Hall. Maybe that is rose-tinted memory, but, argh.

I so loved Huang in "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." It's a great role for her to end her career with the Company.

Many thanks, Jack.

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I'll say it again, I don't mind recorded music if it's done so well it fools my ear to thinking it's "live" - though if it's the same recording every time, the dancing may get automatic. (Some companies - and especially schools - rotate recordings.)

Speaking of retirement performances, I had thought originally the Sunday matinee was to mark Hartley's farewell, but it's Huang's. Either way, that old show-biz rule, "Leave 'em wanting more," applies.

This is looking like a nice little company.

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It's the recognized farewell for five dancers. The website says:

Join beloved Ballet Arizona dancers Paola Hartley and Astrit Zejnati as they celebrate their careers at this unique farewell performance. The special May 3rd presentation includes an excerpt from Mosaik. Don’t miss this opportunity to see these cherished dancers once more.

The way I read that suggested that the "Mozaik" excerpt was for Hartley and Zejnati, since the retirements/departures of Huang, Shtylla, and Mahowald Vagi hadn't been announced when it was posted on the website.

As much as I love Hartley, the cast of Magnicaballi-Shtylla-Huang-Zejnati is the strongest I've seen anywhere in a single cast.. However, Hartley will dance the Mazzo role in Sunday's season-ender, and Mozaik will give Huang a central role for her last performance:


  • Allegro Brillante, with Iovino
  • Stravinsky Violin Concerto, with Zejnati


  • Mozaik excerpt, with Huang
  • Poet, La Sonnambula, with Magniacaballi
  • Stravinsky Violin Concerto, with Hartley, who dances it twice with Zavarov tonight and tomorrow evening


  • Mozaik excerpt, with Zejnati
  • Coquette, La Sonnambula


  • Guest, La Sonnambula
  • Stravinsky Violin Concerto, with Mgnicaballi

Mahowald Vagi -- she's listed under each name in different ballets:

  • Couple, Allegro Brillante
  • Corps, Stravinsky Violin Concerto
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Saturday, May 2 2:00 Matinee

Allegro Brillante was made even more effective this afternoon by Paola Hartley's very, very good lead, though she seemed to have a few instant hitches early in the cadenza, like Arianni Martin did. Maybe this is part of the staging here, as though flow-through weren't so prized (as it is to me). It's the kind of instant which wouldn't be noticeable if the rest of these performances were less good than they are, and so I'm telling you I'm quibbling again. As with Martin, Hartley's dancing quickly seemed to come to itself, and then some. A pleasure, even from the eighteenth row again, and in spite of the substandard sound - I'm adapting, but BA's dancing is so good in this, it really deserves better sound so that that component is as clear: We need to see, not what they are dancing to, but what they are dancing.

Which it does get in La Sonnambula and Stravinsky Violin Concerto. This Sonnambula is the now-popular version which blunts a number of dramatic points that were sharper with Mr. B. (and are with TSFB). I think it matches the ABT video and so may derive from their source; and my worst complaint may be with the very ending, the "light in the sky" ending: We are "told" the Sleepwalker ascends the tower with the body of the Poet, then to leave us by going up in the sky and disappearing, while the Guests watch from the courtyard where their party has been. This is mysterious and vague.

Originally, a different set had an enclosed passageway over the arcade across the back, and we are told by the light of the Sleepwalker's candle being seen behind successive windows up there of her earlier approach, before she descends the tower, and her later withdrawal by the same route. Maybe it's not worth all these words, but to be told this way at the end that she is returning to her chambers with the body of the Poet is mysterious and horrible, as horrible as the murder.

Natalia Magnicaballi danced Aria I in Stravinsky Violin Concerto disdainfully, as though uninterested, this afternoon. If she was wonderfully understated in it Thursday - she knows not to push anything on us, I think, but rather to show and let what she shows speak for itself - she's gone farther - too far? - in trying it differently. (That may be part of the way her dancing never becomes stale or routine.)* I'm surprised to be saying it, but I was more satisfied watching Huang today, with Zejnati in the Martins role in Aria II, besting Mazzo, her role's originator, again. And I felt satisfied that Aria II carries this ballet along and deepens it, following Aria I, an aspect of it which hadn't come to me before.

Edited by Jack Reed
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