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Balanchine Celeb #1 (Joffrey is THE HIT!)

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Just raced back from the exciting opening night of the "Balanchine Celebration" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

This is written in a quick-highlights style. Just want to provide the initial scoop!

MOZARTIANA - Bolshoi Ballet

Lovely, emotional performance by Nina Ananiashvili in the opening "Preghiara" (prayer) She was not quite as effective in the 'Tema e Variazione' pdd but lovely in the phrasing of her solos. (Sorry guys--I have the film of Farrell imprinted in my brain & it's hard to erase. Farrell staged this Bolshoi production, incidentally.) The male soloists were Dmitri Belogolovtsev ('98 Jackson silver medalist) in the demi-caractere '1700s-style' Gigue; and noble Sergei Filin as the more classical danseur in the Tema e Variazione. Both Bolshoi male principals were as good as I've ever seen them. Non-acting becomes them, as both are beautiful 'lightweight' abstract dancers. Filin was a particular revelation, so light & airy in his dancing but not much of an actor, as we saw earlier this year in Romeo & Don Q. Belogolovtsev was also liberated in his style--Cast Spartacus to the Inferno, please!

Delightful ensemble of four Russian young ladies and four American little girls. Unfortunately, the port-de-bras of the latter betrayed their origin.

Costuming note (for Juliet!): Is it my imagination or does the Bolshoi version of the female lead's costume differ from that of the original NYCB version? Nina's has black glitter on the bodice, a little extra 'prima-donna razzmatazz'? As for her hair, I am certain of the difference. Nina wore a Renaissance-style upsweep-do held in place with glittery netting, not unlike the hairdo of Juliet in McMillan's "Romeo & Juliet." Where are the ringlets at the back of the neck, which are so distinctive of the Mozart-era style & which Farrell & all NYCB ballerinas have worn? That Renaissance hairstyle was out of place, IMO.

A big plus: NONE of the usual "Nina Affectations"-- the famous "Five Facial Expressions" -- were in evidence during her bows. Rather, she was very natural. Brava!

RUBIES - Miami City Ballet

Dog-gone it, the Kirov does this better. Honestly! (Just saw 'The K' in London about a couple of months ago.) I base this mainly on the two lead principals tonight, who were, IMO, totally bland & a bit too "stocky-proportioned' for my tastes. Sadly, the male is my "Favourite Jester of All Times," POB's Eric Quillere. The ballerina is Jennifer Kronenberg. No Vishneva she! (Neither is she McBride, Whelan, Watts, etc., etc.) *However, this lapse was more than compensated by the second female lead, the drop-dead-gorgeous, long-limbed & scintillating Sally Ann Isaacks.

The Miami ensemble was wonderfully synchronized & energetic...dare I say, better than those folks up north? But even Miami was not QUITE as perfectly in unison as The K! wink.gif

SQUARE DANCE - Joffrey Ballet

Heeee-hawww!!!! I think I've died & gone to heaven! I have lived to see the 1957 original version of this ballet, square-dance caller, on-stage fiddlers, and all. Yes, a caller stands on the side & recites--sometimes improvises--the most clever rhymes, perfectly matched by the solo couple and ensemble AND the lilting tunes by Vivaldi & Coralli. Amazing, eh? But it works.

NYCB regulars, you must RUN--don't walk--to DC to try to see this amazing performance during the next two nights. Otherwise, I strongly suggest that you get hold of the Joffrey Ballet-Chicago's schedule to see it for yourselves.

Loudest 'bravos' of the night went to the fabulous caller, John Oldfield, who is not quite as old as the crusty Elisha Keeler from the 1950s (a legendary performance that exists on film, in private collections).

Among the dancers, the highest accolades--not just in this ballet but for the entire night--go to a REAL FIND, the long-limbed & perfectly-musical Tracy Julias in the lead female role. Rmember her name; she is magnificent. Almost as impressive was Willy Shives, the lead male (whose slow Sarabande solo was an anachronism to this staging, as Mr. B created it in the non-caller version of 1976).

Funny aside: I shudder to think what rhymes we'll get tomorrow. It's easy to set rhymes to "Here comes Tracy - her legs look lazy" or "Look at Will - what a thrill." Tomorrow's lead cast have first names of "Leticia" & "Calvin"...will it be "Look at Cal - he's our pal"?

STARS & STRIPES - Miami City Ballet

Great ensemble & fantastic 'secondary soloists, batton-twirling Paige Fulleton, Ms. Isaacks (again) AND--especially--Cuba's Luis Serrano. Luis was the 1998 Jackson IBC bronze medalist, right behind silver-medalist Belogolovtsev of the Bolshoi, whom we saw tonight in "Mozartiana." Alas, once again the Miami lead couple was off-par. Although both are quite muscular & can be dynamic, Ileana Lopez & Franklin Gamero tonight lacked that 'extra oomph' that I've seen in the McBrides, Whelans & Ashleys (and D'Amboises, Vilellas & Woetzels) of this world. It is hard to describe but it was simply missing. Besides, the choreography was somewhat watered down for those two, missing a lift here or there, not quite spliting legs 180-degrees, timing a bit late.

I loved the loudly-sequined All-American vest of conductor Akira Endo, when he came out for his bows. On the other hand, a "boo" for the solo trumpeteer, who truly botched the fugue at the start of the Liberty Bell pdd...must be a guest from NYCB's orchestra. (Sorry--couldn't resist!)

Bummer of the evening: IT WASN'T A REAL AMERICAN FLAG THAT WAS SHOWN AT THE END OF THIS BALLET! Instead, we get a fakey projection. They can't even syncronize the red-and-white stripes with the rectangle of white stars against navy-blue! The rectangle of stars remains in-situ as the stripes continue to move. Gee wiz...get me to NY, please, where a true flag made out of cloth is dramatically unfurled at the end of this ballet!

Minor glitches aside, it was a de-lightful evening at the ballet. - Jeannie

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited September 13, 2000).]

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Jeannie, thanks for your wonderful report. What good programming to be able to see 3 companies - Bolshoi, Miami, and Joffrey - in one evening. I am interested to hear that the Kirov does Rubies better than Miami City Ballet, and I wish I could see the Joffrey in Square Dance. (I last saw this ballet danced by NYCB in the late 1980s led by Kyra Nichols.)

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Jeannie, I'm personally very grateful for your having let us in on the opening night performance. Of course, it pleases me to find out that the Bolshoi and Miami danced well, but (old school tie and all that) the good news of Joffrey makes my heart swell and my eyes tear up! Thank you!

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In this morning's Washington Post, S. Kaufman's review also terms the Joffrey's "Square Dance" the "highlight" of the evening. As I waited in line at the taxi stand in front of the Kennedy Center, ALL the 'buzz' was about "Square Dance." A young lady beside me, who was a tourist from North Carolina & had never seen this level of ballet before but knew all about real square dancing, kept saying breathlessly, "that was genius, that was genius!"

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Jeannie, thanks for your review. That Balanchine festival sounds really interesting.

Could someone explain to me what a square dance exactly is (who is the caller, what are the "rhymes"), and how it is used in that ballet? All what I've ever seen from that ballet is the male solo danced by Manuel Legris in the "Balanchine Celebration" video, and I think that it probably is the solo from 1976 you mentioned.

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Estelle, I'll try my best to explain. smile.gif

Square Dancing is a North American type of folk-derived social dance, most likely stemming from Irish or Scottish social dances. (Experts, please help me!) It is taught to probably every US student in elementary school physical education classes. They are lots of fun & not-so-hard to do (but very hard to do smoothly & in unison).

It is danced usually by clusters comprised of four couples, forming a "square" & facing each other at the start. They have to listen to a "caller" to get their moves. For example, almost every square dance commences with the caller calling out "Bow to your partner. Bow to your corner." After initial bows, promenades (four couples follow each other in circular pattersn), and such, the dance becomes progressively complex, so that the four couples are forming intricate star patterns and such. [For "Square Dance" ballet, it is a great advantage to sit a bit up in the balconies, so that one can enjoy the patterns formed by the dancers. The Joffrey dancers were EXEMPLARY in their unison...such as when all of the corps ladies formed star patterns. This is unison of the very highest order.]

Toe-tapping country music plays in the background--usually a banjo and/or violin (fiddle). The caller gives instructions throughout the dance, in time to the music. The REALLY GREAT callers--such as the guys in the ballet--give instructions as a sort of funny poetry, making sentences rhyme. For example: "Allemand left, with the old left hand - spin your partner, ain't it grand?" Silly, funny stuff. But it takes real skill to give instructions & improvise. Now, imagine, in this ballet, a caller doing this relating to ballet steps (he doesn't really try to call out every step..."entrechat here - entrechat there - entrechat around the square!") Vivaldi--not American country music--in the background. WOW! You have to see & hear it to believe it. I feel truly priviledged to have been there last night to see this unique melange-work of art.

Oh-- I should note that there is no calling during the very slow parts of the ballet, the pas de deux and that 1976 solo that you have on the video. In fact, I breathed a small sigh of relief when, as the pas de deux was about to commence, I saw the caller make an exit into the wings! - Jeannie

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited September 13, 2000).]

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Jeannie, thanks a lot for the explanation! smile.gif

From what you wrote, it seems to have some common points with "Western symphony" (that I appreciated very much in Edinburgh): some mixture of American traditions or stereotypes and classical ballet... and it works!

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I think the origins of square dancing are country dances-to-court dances-and back to country dances again. The idea of patterned dances wsa very much a part of French court ballet -- the seats were along the sides, and raked, like bleachers, so they were looking down at the dancers and jumping didn't count for much smile.gif

Estelle, a lot of the words are corruptions of French terms. I.e., "dotsey doe" is derived from dos-a-dos.

Does "allemand left, allemand right" refer to turning? Turning steps were identified with Germany for a long time (I think that's why pirouettes were considered vulgar by the French for so long), and "allemand" is close to the French word for Germany.

I think this is in Repertory in Review, but Balanchine didn't want the caller to use ballet terms -- hence "make your feet go wickety-wack" instead of "entrechat."

(I think the interpolation of the Bart Cook solo into this version is a big mistake. It sticks out like a sore thumb and breaks up the rhythm of the dance. Sorry. I couldn't resist smile.gif )

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited September 13, 2000).]

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Alexandra - Perhaps the Joffrey added the 1976 solo to provide a second break to the caller (& to allow audience hearts to resume normal beating)? The two breaks seem evenly spaced. First break (the pdd) after big ensemble opening; second break (during the 1976 solo) after the "mini-group" dances & before the ensemble ending. Yeah, it did seem a bit odd, but it didn't bother me.

I'm trying hard to remember what we did when "allemanding." It begins with a hand extension; hence, "allemand with the ol' left hand" (or "ol' right hand"). I believe that the boy & girl face each other, extend & join whichever hand is called, and walk around in a circle...clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on which hand is joined. OK--I remember: "Allemand left with the ol' left hand, then swing your partner." So the allemand is most likely the extension of hands prior to swinging round in a circle. [Yeah, we even did it in Puerto Rico, believe it or not, between flamenco & Filipino 'stick dancing.'] - Jeannie

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited September 13, 2000).]

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The solo works beautifully in the 1976 version, but sticking an introspective, solitary solo in the middle of such a public, social ballet just doesn't work. I would imagine that's part of the reason why Balanchine dropped the caller in 1976. (I'll bet the original caller didn't need another break smile.gif )

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I guess it's inevitable that when different people go to the same performance, they respond differently...

For me, and the people around me, MCB stole the show. Although "Mozartiana" is one of my top favorite ballets (along with "Agon", not incidentally later in the Clebration schedule), I thought "Rubies" got a better performance overall than "Mozartiana" did, with a vitality that seemed to come naturally, although I can certainly understand Jeannie's reservations about some of the principals, having first come to this ballet by seeing its original cast several times. I do think "Mozartiana", which I have seen many times, beginning with its second performance ever, is harder to do at best effect, and that the Bolshoi contingent was very creditable.

But while Sarah Kaufman says in today's Washington Post that the Joffery's [oddly hybrid] "Square Dance" was the high point for her, for one who finds Balanchine's power in the relation of bodily expression to musical expression, the caller's distractions made it the low point. The two movements without the caller were much more enjoyable for me. And for many of my neighbors in the audience. But I was glad to learn how much the person on the taxi line got out of it! As I said at the start...

And I had some reservations about Lopez and Gamero, too. They're strong, secure dancers, but they tend to emphasise pose more than follow-through, and so I was pleasantly surprised by Lopez in the adagio for having more flow than I had expected. But overall I had a better time with the "Square Dance" at SAB this June.

Encountering Edward Villella in the foyer after the program,I offered him the opinion of many of us in my part of the audience, and he said something to the effect that "Dancing isn't all with the feet,some of it is in here" (touching his temple) "and our dancers submit to that".

I had never before experienced more than one company on one program, and considering the expense, especially of touring, I thought that less dancing from each meant that money was being wasted, and part of the reason PNB dropped out was that they didn't want the expense if they were only going to do a few ballets, but a free-lance dance writer I talked with reassured me that companies brought fewer dancers for less work so that the cost was in proportion. Does anybody have anything to add to this aspect side of the discussion?

Meanwhile, I thank Jeannie for her thoroughness and look forward to more comments on the Celebration.

[This message has been edited by Jack Reed (edited September 13, 2000).]

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Indeed, Leigh. I don't have my program handy but I believe that I saw Victoria Simon's name as stager for this piece. I'll correct this, if need be, when I get home. [Missing the show so I hope that somebody out there will tell us what words rhyme with "Letitia" and "Calvin"!]

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Victoria Simon was the stager for this "Square Dance". And Alexandra, the allemand was a turning figure "about as close as you're going to get to your partner in 18th century dancing". It is done in opposition with the partners facing one another, then simultaneously, both place one arm to the side and the other behind the back, then take hands and walk a turn about a point. You do the figure hip-to-hip, facing opposite directions. Or hip-to-pannier, depending on how your partner is dressed underneath.

English Country Dancing did indeed undergo a sea change when it crossed over to France, and became confounded with the "contra-danse" an existing form there. Newly made elegant, it crossed the channel again, and the dance of the seventeenth-century working classes became the dance of the eighteenth-century aristocrat.

A trivia question for 18th-century dance fans: What did George Washington have in common with today's dancers?

ANS: When the dancing got tough, Big George walked the figures and marked the harder steps with his hands.

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I heard that "allemand right/left" is a corruption of "a la main droite/gauche" or whatever the correct French is (it's been a long time since high school!). They also yell out "promenade", which I think is derived from French too. A lot of fun!

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Whether the caller cried "uncle" when confronted with advanced rhyme choices, or for another reason, the cast scheduled to dance in "Square Dance" tonight did NOT dance; first cast repeated.

I hope someone else went tonight who can provide a full report.

A NOTE TO THE KENNEDY CENTER STAGEHANDS if anyone is reading this. Yes, when you move boxes around, or play catch with the props, or whatever you were doing last night during "Square Dance," the audience CAN HEAR YOU!!!!!!

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I wonder if there's a story behind the staging. If I had to venture I guess, it would be that the Joffrey wanted the version closest to the one they did originally (the '57 version which was in their rep in the early 60's). The Balanchine trust stagers tend to set the final version of the ballets. I wonder if Simon just set the '76 version and then the company did it with a caller?

Here's one question - in the coda to the pas, when the man does a series of repeated fast "corkscrew" promenades with the woman, does she open into arabesque, or stay in sous-sus fifth? Opening into arabesque would indicate the earlier version, if I recall correctly.


Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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Well, we can bet all we want, but Glebb will know smile.gif

I only saw the old Square Dance once, with Dance Theatre of Harlem here about 10 years ago, so I couldn't tell you. My memory of Square Dance II, though (which I saw on the Ken Cen stage several times when NYCB used to come here regularly), was that it was very opened up -- the space was different; not so, well, tight and square. (The band doesn't take up that much space.)

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Jeannie, I thought the flag at the end of "Square Dance" was a projection, too, and I thought, why? Is it a little cheaper? That was opening night, when I was in a box, but last night I was near the middle of row Z in the orchestra seats, from where it was pretty obvious it was a cloth backdrop, and the blue star field that comes down from the flies on the left had a hem in the lower edge with a bar or something in it to hold it straight and flat, so it was not the computer-generated video I thought I was looking at on Tuesday.

(For those not familiar with this ballet, about a minute before the end, with everybody on stage, the orchestra takes up Sousa's "Stars and Stripes" march theme again, and a backdrop the entire width of the stage, showing the red and white stripes of the American flag, starts to ascend from the stage; as the stripes reach the top of the back, a blue field with a small number of big star-shaped cut-outs descends on the left until the top of it is just even with the top of the back. In my years watching Mr. B's company in the NY State Theatre, we usually could see the stripes moving up through the cut-outs. So, it's not a "real" flag, but a representation.

I liked your observations about costume differences with the authentic version you know from video, but did you have any ideas about the back of Filin's vest? It's a dull green, versus the lavender Ib Andersen wore. I don't know about costume epochs, but that lavender always has had the effect of "unblank" versus the usually blank effect of a dancer's back compared to their front, and I miss its compensation.

I must say that more than the flag backdrop looked different to me Wednesday: The whole program seemed better, better directed toward me. Maybe it was being more central rather than not having the altitude. I was more one with what was going on on stage, even in "Square Dance", where I strained hard to hear the music through the calls.

There was the announced cast change in "Stars and Stripes", and although Mary Carmen Catoya looked less secure than LOpez had, she did more choreography I believe, and that made a better time of it! And her partner Luis Serrano was fine (Arnold Quintane having taken over his role in Third Campaign).

In defense of Quillere in Rubies, I think anyone trying to fill Villella's slippers has a thankless task on his hands -or feet- although, as I said elsewhere in connection with the SAB workshop, I think, I did once see a remarkable surprise in this role.

And while I will certainly try to see the Kirov do Rubies if I get a chance, I don't think unison corps dancing is where Balanchine is at, sorry. (More on this on one of the ballet book threads where I write about Suki Schorrer's new book on Balanchine Technique,for sale or browsing in the Kennedy Center foyer, incidentally.)

Thanks again for your post, Jeannie. It's the kind of thought-stimulating writingIlook for, even if I don't agree exactly with everything.

(Want to discuss ballet in person while I'm in Washington? Anyone else? My e-mail is jckdrd@netscape.net)

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Quick notes,probably very few on "steps"....

Square Dance: I thought the caller was annoying. Broke visual and aural concentration.

Bad miking was also annoying. You would think that a major house would be able to hang a mike without all sorts of backwash....

I didn't mind the male solo as much as I minded the caller...however, I happen to really like that solo and am always happy to see it performed.

Dancing was very, very good--male soloist was not especially interesting. I thought he looked like a trim Bob's Big Boy ad (mass appeal, but essentially dull.) Others looked very, very good--I was so happy to see Joffrey back and in good form!

Mozartiana suffered from bad/sloppy translation of essentially interesting costume design, except for the lead male dancer--I was happy to see the demise of that awful magenta New Orleans bordello vest. I was also sorry to see the rendition of the gigue costume in matte black (usually the pants are in a dull satin) so the subtlety of his leg movement was completely lost against the marley from above. (Straight on, it may have been better.)

Ananiashvili was very, very interesting to watch in this--I kept wondering how the coaching sessions between her and S. Farrell went....

I am coming to believe that a mature artist is necessary for this role...she had beautifully articulated lower body movements and it made me notice several things I'd never taken especial notice of before, choreographically. (You all know that there are many things I miss--I make no apologies as I will NEVER attain the level of knowledge of choreography that many of you have!!) I was sorry that they missed the final pose in the pdd, but.....

Filin was magnificent. Clean, clean, clean. Wonderful footwork. I haven't seen this so well danced in some time.

Wish they'd brought down SAB students for the children. Or gotten young Kirov Acad. girls, who do have beautiful port de bras, even at a young age....


Corps work was great, and S. Isaacks was WONDERFUL in this. I have to say that I was not impressed by the lead couple--it looked like miscasting . She was not sharply faceted enough for me and he just didn't project....anything. Technically, there was nothing wrong, just no fireworks or even a hint of sexiness.....I kept wishing for Miranda Weese (Yes, Leigh, I did!!!)

Stars and Stripes showed again the very strong female corps. Nothing against the men, but this is essentially a "puffy" role, and doesn't require a lot more than twirling in unison. (Although someone does need to coach them on marching onstage...)

Costuming had some welcome twists: Liberty Belle and El Capitan finally had matching colours (teal bodice and tights, vs. teal bodice and blue tights). Now the corps women got the royal blue skirts...and I was not at all unhappy not to see all that turquoise net take a rest...)The lead couple did not have a lot of pizzazz...I think it needs a leeeetle bit of humour in there; they danced it pretty much straight, with no edge in it.

And yes, you would think, in the nation's capital, that they could have dredged up a flag that did not have the stripes running through the stars. The side curtains looked like something from Camelot.....

I know, my idiosyncratic viewing.....but I really, really enjoyed myself last night.

[This message has been edited by Juliet (edited September 14, 2000).]

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Thanks, Jack, for your observations & the great detailed report on last night, which I missed.

Back to that flag - There was some sort of projection-play there. Didn't you notice, during the bows, that a superimposed projection of star-clusters was shining on the flag? It was like a multi-layered light show. Maybe there was some white projection cloth on which the red-and-white stripes, plus the superimposed star-cluster was shown? Whatever--it looked plain phoney from the first row of 2nd Tier.

I tried to keep my eyes on the conductor's wild vest. Now THAT was a showstopper!

- Jeannie (p.s. - Saw your quick report later, Juliet. Great stuff! This is fun, isn't it? wink.gif Toodles!)

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited September 15, 2000).]

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