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"Thrill of Contact"


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I am not crazy about the marketing of the 2014-15 season, and the program names do not thrill me.

However, Whitney Jensen in the Cirio premiere "Fremd" [not a typo] does. Wow!!!!!! Talk about focus, stage presence & moving with intent... This dancer was phenomenal.

Backtrack... This was the Sunday 5/24 matinee.

Theme & Variations... How long have regional companies been presenting this? Boston does a pretty good job of it. Misa Kuranaga starts off showing us why she is a principal dancer... Beautiful arms, grace & aplomb despite the vertiginous tempo, throws off gargouillades as if they were nothing but charm and a smile. But as the ballet goes on, it appears Chroma's style has worn off on her and it drifts into this Balanchine piece... That beautiful penche framed and partnered by the bourreeing girls should not be an oversplit. Can we just set a rule that if there is a tutu, one should not do moves one would not do in a skirt? Please save it for 21st century leotard ballets or hiphop videos. But Kuranaga does give one a lot to love, as does the boyant Jeffrey Cirio. Everytime he floats I forgive the snapping changes of focus. It is a loss to the field that Baryshnikov does not coach the male principals in this ballet. Cirio has sparkling line and execution, but there is regal carriage to the speed of movements of the head that he could recieve a little coaching in. Let it be said that he did not drop Kuranagawa. The piece was delightful and the orchestra a pleasure to hear.

Next came the Cirio premiere "fremd". It starts off as if in a cave, Cirio on one half of the stage, two couples on the other. This piece might gain something from being watched from the balcony. From the orchestra it was difficult to see the floor was lit in different colors. One immediately thinks of McGregor and somewhat later that the choreographer perhaps wants to dance for NDT. One has to choose whether to watch the soloist or the couples. I had trouble getting past the similarities to other pieces to see the piece on its own credentials until Whitney Jenson took the stage... And then WOW!!! She owned the movement and the music. Paul Craig was her worthy foil. Thus tuned to see the music, I mean the movement, I enjoyed Emily Mistretta as well, but Whitney is someone to watch for.

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was hard on the eyes. The lighting, by the choreographer, was so stark and brilliant that the images burned into the eye, but unfortunately not as one would wish...I felt the lighting made the movement harder to see. I kept thinking of the youtube clips I've seen of the ballet and thinking the lighting had not seemed invasive there, and realized that of course on video the engineer/cameraman could close down the iris to a better exposure... So I watched the rest of the piece through squinted eyelashes and appreciated it much more. Yes,the clips are right... The turns in this piece are stunning... But I was a little disappointed, though not by the turning.. There was style drift here too... as if Balanchine hands were invading Forsythe. Had it been Agon's style invading, it would have been fine but it was something more flowery... As if the muscle memory for moving that quickly brought along a few artifacts from Balanchine's more traditional classical pieces.

The Concert was itself, fully a pleasure and refreshing at this time of year when it rains, butterflies flit and so many dance lovers are immersed in coaxing the next generation through perhaps under rehearsed recitals. Was Tanaquil Le Clercq the original hat lady? Who inspired the piano hugger? Did Allegra Kent ever perform this ballet!? It is a treasure, though I suspect younger generations do not understand about hats being de rigeur. It is good fun, perhaps not to repeat too often, but once every seven years or so? Next year the ballet turns 60. And who doesn't love Chopin? Played under the influence of Victor Borge by longtime BB accompanist Freda Locker. Every accompanist deserves the finale of this ballet.

I rather wished I had one of the umbrella's ealier in the day to protect me from underwatched children inthe balcony. Perhaps they would make a good souvenir item in the ballet's gift shop.

Boston Ballet. It isn't really fair to call it a regional company. They moved beyond that years ago and the proof was on the stage today. So glad to have had the opportunity to have sat in the audience and gotten picky over minor imperfections... It hones the edge of my understanding of these pieces and Boston Ballet's talents.

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Theme & Variations... How long have regional companies been presenting this?

A good question, to which I do not know an equally good answer. PNB has danced it a few times, starting in 1985. Francia Russell staged it, and has been involved in all the subsequent performances. It's a very faithful production, but it's a really tough ballet for the principal couple.

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was hard on the eyes. The lighting, by the choreographer, was so stark and brilliant that the images burned into the eye, but unfortunately not as one would wish...I felt the lighting made the movement harder to see. ... So I watched the rest of the piece through squinted eyelashes and appreciated it much more.

We've seen this recently, and I don't remember any trouble with the lighting. It's clinically bright, but I preferred that to the very moody darkness of In the Middle, where I had trouble picking out individuals dancing on the periphery.

The Concert was itself, fully a pleasure and refreshing at this time of year when it rains, butterflies flit and so many dance lovers are immersed in coaxing the next generation through perhaps under rehearsed recitals. Was Tanaquil Le Clercq the original hat lady? Who inspired the piano hugger? Did Allegra Kent ever perform this ballet!?

Le Clercq was in the original cast, in 1956, but I don't know what role she danced. I can certainly imagine Kent in the part, but don't know if she danced it.

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In the original cast listing for "The Concert" on the Robbins Foundation site-- it was not alphabetical -- LeClercq was listed first, as befits the lead:

http://jeromerobbins.org/rights_trust/view/The-Concert-Or-The-Perils-of-Everybody

The usual suspects for doing early stagings of Balanchine during Balanchine's lifetime are Boston Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet, as Balanchine was famously generous and supportive to E. Virginia Williams and Barbara Weisberger, and the companies founded or continued by Balanchine alumni: San Francisco Ballet-- Lew Christensen in the 50's-70's and Helgi Tomasson from 1985 -- and PNB -- Russell and Stowell from 1977-2005, after Janet Reed and Melissa Hayden. Later possibilities are Kansas City Ballet -- Todd Bolender from 1980-1995 -- Miami City Ballet -- Edward Villella from 1986-2012 -- and Ballet Arizona -- Ib Andersen from 2000. It's in the rep of all of these companies except Kansas City Ballet, but only PNB lists the date of the company premiere. I saw BA do Theme in 2004, but I don't know if it was the company premiere.

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Just a few comments. Theme & Variations has been performed by Boston before. Last time was 2010. Coaching at that point was Merrill Ashley. This time around it was done in house with Margaret Tracey and Russell Kaiser. Cirio was the only male to do the Baryshnikov double tour/pirouette combination. All others cut it short. About "fremd," it was not Cirio himself dancing as the soloist. That was Altan Dugaara, who for me was a standout, along with Jensen, and Cirio's sister, Lia, with Paulo Arrais. I thought the pas de deux they danced was stunning. As for "Vertiginous," this is my least favorite Forsythe piece. There was a lot of intermingling of casts. Friday night's cast with Cirio, Akiba, Cirio, Jensen and Elsbree was danced with the most clarity.

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As for "Vertiginous," this is my least favorite Forsythe piece.

Why is that, if I may ask? We saw it here earlier in the season, and I was very interested in its approach to classical virtuosity.

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Why is that, if I may ask? We saw it here earlier in the season, and I was very interested in its approach to classical virtuosity.

For me, it has a tendency to be danced sloppily because it is so fast. Also, Forsythe choreographed it in a week or so, apparently, and I feel that when I see it danced. (He did a Skype rehearsal with Boston and was changing things as they rehearsed. Yikes!) The dancers who seemed to fare the best in this piece were those who were either versed in Balanchine (ability to articulate even in fast movement) and those who were natural turners. There are just other pieces of his that I feel have more depth and end up being more visually pleasing. I agree about his approach. I just dislike this one, although I have to say, as I did above that certain casts fared better. Love this little write-up on him. I have never seen, "one flat thing reproduced," but hope to at some point. I know that PNB has done that one.

http://www.contemporary-dance.org/william-forsythe.html

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For me, it has a tendency to be danced sloppily because it is so fast. Also, Forsythe choreographed it in a week or so, apparently, and I feel that when I see it danced. (He did a Skype rehearsal with Boston and was changing things as they rehearsed. Yikes!) The dancers who seemed to fare the best in this piece were those who were either versed in Balanchine (ability to articulate even in fast movement) and those who were natural turners. There are just other pieces of his that I feel have more depth and end up being more visually pleasing. I agree about his approach. I just dislike this one, although I have to say, as I did above that certain casts fared better. Love this little write-up on him. I have never seen, "one flat thing reproduced," but hope to at some point. I know that PNB has done that one.

http://www.contemporary-dance.org/william-forsythe.html

I agree about Vertiginous Thrill (though I liked the program overall) My issue was really that it didn't seem to have much to say about the Schubert. It was fun to see the dancers move so fast, and the Friday night cast was very good at that, but fast movement isn't really enough to make a work interesting. It was not nearly as resonant and memorable as The Second Detail.

I loved fremd both times I saw it - I'd like to see the company perform it again in the coming seasons - and I really enjoyed Theme and Variations - one of my favorite Balanchines. I liked the Concert a lot, but on seeing it a second time with some friends, I really noticed how much disturbing sexism there is - even misogyny - that hasn't been dealt with at all in the 60 years since the ballet was first staged. The audience guffawed heartily when the short dancer knocked the ballerina unconscious and dragged her body offstage, which to me was the low point of the evening.

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It's interesting that Forsythe was changing things given that it is hardly a new piece... Was he changing steps or aspects of steps

I'll have to ask a few of the dancers I know who were in the piece. Swanilda - thank you for mentioning what you did about "The Concert." I always hesitate to say anything about it. It's such an iconic piece, and very representative of 1956 when it was choreographed. The audience loved it. However, I did find it somewhat disturbing in places, and I felt in the minority feeling the way I did.

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For me, it has a tendency to be danced sloppily because it is so fast. Also, Forsythe choreographed it in a week or so, apparently, and I feel that when I see it danced. (He did a Skype rehearsal with Boston and was changing things as they rehearsed. Yikes!) The dancers who seemed to fare the best in this piece were those who were either versed in Balanchine (ability to articulate even in fast movement) and those who were natural turners. There are just other pieces of his that I feel have more depth and end up being more visually pleasing. I agree about his approach. I just dislike this one, although I have to say, as I did above that certain casts fared better. Love this little write-up on him. I have never seen, "one flat thing reproduced," but hope to at some point. I know that PNB has done that one.

http://www.contemporary-dance.org/william-forsythe.html

Perhaps we just got lucky here, but it felt very crispy with the casts I saw -- they were all working at top speed, but it didn't feel too fast for them Whether it was faster than I could follow on a first viewing is a different question -- I was happy to see it more than once. He was in residence here for about a week, and did quite a lot of coaching, including a public session where he did alter some of the choreography to fit the individual (Peter Boal had mentioned earlier in the session that Balanchine would sometimes alter the choreography to suit the dancer and to get the overall effect he was after)

I'll have to ask a few of the dancers I know who were in the piece. Swanilda - thank you for mentioning what you did about "The Concert." I always hesitate to say anything about it. It's such an iconic piece, and very representative of 1956 when it was choreographed. The audience loved it. However, I did find it somewhat disturbing in places, and I felt in the minority feeling the way I did.

Just as some works from the past make us uncomfortable because of their racial references (as in the discussion of Petrouchka elsewhere on BA), there are some works that reflect a dated perspective on male/female relations. Some humor is very time-sensitive, and I think there are several elements of The Concert that really reflect a mid-20th c mindset.

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Perhaps we just got lucky here, but it felt very crispy with the casts I saw -- they were all working at top speed, but it didn't feel too fast for them Whether it was faster than I could follow on a first viewing is a different question -- I was happy to see it more than once. He was in residence here for about a week, and did quite a lot of coaching, including a public session where he did alter some of the choreography to fit the individual (Peter Boal had mentioned earlier in the session that Balanchine would sometimes alter the choreography to suit the dancer and to get the overall effect he was after)

Yes, I don't believe it is uncommon for a choreographer to change things to suit a particular dancer. But I do believe it has to be difficult after you have learned the ballet and been rehearsing it, to have it suddenly changed. But I am sure the dancers are used to those things. I, too, was glad to see it more than once, as I enjoyed it a bit better with further casts.

Just as some works from the past make us uncomfortable because of their racial references (as in the discussion of Petrouchka elsewhere on BA), there are some works that reflect a dated perspective on male/female relations. Some humor is very time-sensitive, and I think there are several elements of The Concert that really reflect a mid-20th c mindset.

Yes, very true. I feel the same way about the "handbag scene" in Robbins' Fancy Free.
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I think I have posted this elsewhere on BA. Below is an article by Evan McKie discussing "breathtaking" ballets. He mentioned Vertiginous. I also loved this quote from Hallberg on Theme & Variations:

When I ask David more about ABT's "cardio repertoire" he offers up Balanchine's Theme & Variations as something that "never becomes less stressful or excruciatingly painful" as the years go on. Theme has been a staple at ABT since it was created there in 1947. Though the ballet is only 20 minutes, Baryshnikov was famously quoted saying, "If you can do a good Theme and Variations, you can do a good anything." For the female lead the ballet is a dizzying display of hard-boiled technique; for the male there are combinations that David suggests are the most demanding feats in the classical idiom. "I am so tired by the end of the marathon that the last thing I want is to have someone sitting on my shoulder," David says of the famous last pose when the curtain goes down. "No disrespect to any of the ladies, but I never get a ballerina down from a lift quicker than I do after Theme."



Interesting that both Theme & Vertiginous were on the same bill, and four out of the six principals who danced the leads in Theme, also danced Vertiginous, some in the same shows.

http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/June-2010/Literally-Breathtaking

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Interesting that both Theme & Vertiginous were on the same bill, and four out of the six principals who danced the leads in Theme, also danced Vertiginous, some in the same shows.

That is craziness. Either of those works is exhausting in itself. At least two PNB dancers said in Q&A's that there is no breathing room in "Vertiginous."

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Re uncomfortable reactions to older works from other times.

Yes, very true. I feel the same way about the "handbag scene" in Robbins' Fancy Free.

Oh, you put your finger on another one of mine! I imagine that it's a huge challenge for the dancers, especially the woman -- how far do you let it go?

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Re uncomfortable reactions to older works from other times.

Oh, you put your finger on another one of mine! I imagine that it's a huge challenge for the dancers, especially the woman -- how far do you let it go?

Yes! The handbag scene is so uncomfortable. And, much as with the Concert (and I imagine Petrushka though I have not seen it live) the laughter feels coercive. It's very difficult not to laugh when other people are.

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