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Don Quixote Spring 2018


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I'll never forget Kirkland's performance in Sonnambula with ABT -- which I found remarkable.

Oddly, in the "old days" (70's/80's) I actually preferred Theme and Variations with ABT to NYCB, because I hated the sets and costumes NYCB used (they have changed, but the last time I saw NYCB dance Tchaikovsky Suite Number III--with Megan Fairchild a few years back--I still disliked the T&V sets/costumes though I guess I found them less heinous).  I also enjoyed and still enjoy seeing Theme and Variations outside the context of Tchaikovsky Suite Number III. For my taste, as a single unit, Theme and Variations is a perfect Ballet; Tchaikovsky Suite Number III...an interesting but imperfect frame for it that does change the way T&V "works." (I also don't think I have ever been entirely persuaded by the way the NYCB ensemble dances the polonaise in the finale.)

It may be the case--almost certainly is--that ABT has gotten worse in the ballet over time--still over the years, I have seen fine principal performances--Murphy's debut and also Corella's (dancing with Mckerrow) which were both well worth seeing. And though I missed it, I never read anything but raves for the young Herrera's performance in the ballet. I last saw the company dance Theme and Variations when it was revived with Semionova and it was certainly a flawed performance -- weaker than the others I had seen -- but I wouldn't have said a disgraceful one.  Overall I think I would regret it if ABT were simply to give up on Theme and Variations which is part of their history. And it makes sense for them to revive Balanchine works not danced or not danced much by NYCB...and since NYCB doesn't dance Symphonie Concertante, I am pleased to see that revived. I also recall seeing a young Herrera in Symphonie Concerante--a wonderful performance with Ashley Tuttle as the other lead.

Too much looking to the past? Maybe. But ABT reconnecting with some of that past might not be a bad thing...if they can do it.

Edited by Drew
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I love Kirkland's T&V performance. And I should add that I did see ABT do a decent T&V with Michele Wiles and David Hallberg (???) maybe 15 years ago. I'm talking their recent Balanchine performances which really IMO were a disgrace. I loved Veronika Part and enjoyed Mozartiana because it was her farewell but objectively speaking she and Blaine Hoven got almost none of the quick footwork and wit of the work. Yes her Preghiera was lovely but in the Theme and Variations portion neither of them could keep up with Balanchine's steps.

 

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8 minutes ago, canbelto said:

... but objectively speaking she and Blaine Hoven got almost none of the quick footwork and wit of the work. Yes her Preghiera was lovely but in the Theme and Variations portion neither of them could keep up with Balanchine's steps.

I have to say, “almost none,” “disgrace,” and “unmitigated disaster” just seem like pretty extreme hyperbole to me. I’m thinking of what those words and phrases actually mean. Just my opinion, but there it is.

Edited by nanushka
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2 minutes ago, nanushka said:

I have to say, “almost none,” “disgrace,” and “unmitigated disaster” just seem like pretty extreme hyperbole to me. I’m thinking of what those words and phrases actually mean. Just my opinion, but there it is.

I don't think it's hyperbole. They are objectively terrible in neoclassical ballet. This isn't a knock against the dancers. I just think they looked like a fish out of water, as much as, say, NYCB would look if they ever danced Kenneth MacMillan's Manon or Makarova's La Bayadere or Cranko's Onegin.

I mean think about it this way. I love Stella Abrera. I think Stella's an absolutely beautiful dancer. But could you ever in a million years imagine Stella dancing Agon? 

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I've seen very bad performances of Ballo and Mozartiana at ABT. I don't think they can devote the rehearsal time needed to pull off those works. The last Theme I saw at ABT was Veyette guesting, he was still in great shape and brought his A game, with Boylston who was a replacement and had issues. There are several ladies at NYCB who sail through the piece. My opinion is that ABT should leave NYCB rep alone. They have a rich rep to mine with Tudor, DeMille, Ashton, Ailey etc. Symphonie Concerante isn't done by NYCB and is doing double duty by being the ABT piece at the City Center Balanchine shows.

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It wasn't always this bad.

This is a decent performance by Paloma Herrera of Stars and Stripes:

 

This is horrible and I say this as a fan of Boylston and Simkin:

 

This is what the ballet should look like:

 

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53 minutes ago, canbelto said:

 I love Stella Abrera. I think Stella's an absolutely beautiful dancer. But could you ever in a million years imagine Stella dancing Agon? 

What an image, canbelto! My brain is short-circuiting as I try to picture it. 

Thanks for the videos. That’s very instructive. Boylston is not lacking in incredible technique, but the video with Tiler is just completely different. 

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Another example: 

By 2014 Paloma Herrera had completely lost the ability to do Tchai pas de deux as she plods her way through this 10 minute gala piece:

Compare to this:

 

But it doesn't even have to be NYCB. I think for example that this version is way more "true" to the choreography even if it's not Balanchine style either:

 

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How would one know from the Boylston Simkin video that their performances weren't more a function of inadequate rehearsal time, than their being not suited to the choreography? 

For instance, would one ever see a similarly inadequate performance of of ANYTHING from companies like Royal Ballet, POB Mariinsky, etc, which put great resources into rehearsals and training? 

Edited by Just an Observer
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10 hours ago, Drew said:

I'll never forget Kirkland's performance in Sonnambula with ABT -- which I found remarkable.

It's so sad we have no footage of her performances. I have just one memory of her in the theater in this ballet: At the very end, Ferri is able to carry the Poet several steps backwards before disappearing into that doorway. When Kirkland did the ballet, she stood in the doorway, the Poet was placed in her arms and she quickly disappeared, unable, apparently, to walk even a few steps. 

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11 hours ago, canbelto said:

I don't think it's hyperbole.

At the very least it would seem to be hyperbole to say that a performance of Mozartiana is an "unmitigated disaster" if you also say that the Preghiera was "lovely." That's not what "unmitigated" means. (To say that Part and Hoven, however ill-suited to Balanchine they may be, "got almost none" of the 4th movement quick footwork seems similarly an exaggeration. As a side note, I believe Hoven has actually had some training in Balanchine, or at least one of his primary teachers was a Balanchine dancer; I don't recall the exact details at the moment.)

I'm not disagreeing that ABT is not a great company for dancing Balanchine (and of course I wouldn't suggest that Stella should be dancing Agon). I'm disagreeing with some of the (in my opinion) extreme language, and about just how extremely bad they are.

Edited by nanushka
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I found ABT's Mozartiana way less offenssive than NYCB's godforsaken "Swan Lake"😂

Jokes aside, Chase Finlay and Sara Mearns performed one of the worst Mozartiana I've seen some time ago so the "not honoring the original choreo" does apply to the NYCB dancers as well. 

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11 minutes ago, alexL said:

Jokes aside, Chase Finlay and Sara Mearns performed one of the worst Mozartiana I've seen some time ago so the "not honoring the original choreo" does apply to the NYCB dancers as well. 

Oh man, I’m still trying to forget that. 

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6 hours ago, California said:

It's so sad we have no footage of her performances. I have just one memory of her in the theater in this ballet: At the very end, Ferri is able to carry the Poet several steps backwards before disappearing into that doorway. When Kirkland did the ballet, she stood in the doorway, the Poet was placed in her arms and she quickly disappeared, unable, apparently, to walk even a few steps. 

I've never seen the ballet live, so I'm curious -- do ballerinas generally handle that last sequence differently, depending on their ability to carry a male dancer? The way Ferri carries Baryshnikov is quite remarkable, and you can also see her carrying him up the tower (unless there are body doubles or some other sort of theater magic at play...the video is blurry so I can't tell). I wonder if Kirkland just walked up the tower alone.

 

Edited by fondoffouettes
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19 minutes ago, fondoffouettes said:

I've never seen the ballet live, so I'm curious -- do ballerinas generally handle that last sequence differently, depending on their ability to carry a male dancer? The way Ferri carries Baryshnikov is quite remarkable, and you can also see her carrying him up the tower (unless there are body doubles or some other sort of theater magic at play...the video is blurry so I can't tell). I wonder if Kirkland just walked up the tower alone.

It's been decades since I saw it in the theater, but I don't remember having the impression that the ballerina did more than get through that doorway. There's enough of a set blocking the view to enable a double with a dummy do the steps. Ferri is pretty amazing, but even she has a slight steadying of her feet when they place him on her outstretched arms. But I do remember thinking: good thing they came up with a solution for Kirkland to just stand in the door with him and then disappear.

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I've seen the ballet with five different ballerinas.

My memories:

Yvonne Borree - just got the poet through the doorway

Wendy - carried the poet offstage or at least out of view

Sterling Hyltin - carried the poet offstage or out of view

Tiler Peck - carried the poet offstage or out of view

Claire Kretzschmar - carried the poet offstage or out of view

As for ABT dancing Balanchine here are the things they repeatedly miss:

1) The speedy footwork. To use an example Preghiera is 5 minutes of the ballet. Theme and Variations and the coda is about half the ballet. If ABT stars are being called to the carpet for not being able to do 32 fouettes (30 seconds of the ballet) is it acceptable that they can't keep up with the speedy footwork of half a ballet? To me that's not acceptable. Blaine Hoven did study with Melissa Hayden but he's been with ABT since 2003. Balanchine is not something that can be learned overnight.

2) The constant changes in center of gravity. This can be seen in the Boylston clip of Stars and Stripes. The constant changes between working leg/supporting leg in those pirouettes are something she clearly is not used to.

3) Disappearing into the choreography. This is a huge Balanchine ethos. Not that you can't project, but that at certain points you're supposed to simply disappear into the choreography. I saw a Symphony in C where in the sublime second movement Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes were ... Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes. When done right you're not really even supposed to be able to see who is dancing during that moment.

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Thanks for the analysis, canbelto. I'd like to underline your #3, disappearing into the choreography. In the Stars and Stripes videos, Tiler Peck comes across as far, far more disciplined and committed than Isabella Boylston. As you point out in the video of Tchai pdd with the Paris Opera Ballet, it works despite the lack of Balanchine style; this is because they are so committed and absorbed in the choreography, not trying to make some kind of individual statement. 

"Disappearing into the choreography" and presentation are something  that I feel ABT needs to focus on generally, not just in Balanchine works. I've made this comparison before, but this spring I was so struck by Pennsylvania Ballet’s committed swan corps, totally putting to shame the ABT corps which simply does not give off the same seriousness of purpose. The toreadors I saw last week did not look like toreadors at all (exception: Patrick Frenette). I notice this strikingly with the children of both schools; even the youngest ones from SAB (such as the Polichenelles in Nut) seem to have more gravitas than the JKO kids (seen recently in Harlequinade). I know "gravitas" is a strong word to apply to young children, but I swear, they're doing something at SAB to instill a sense of pride, graciousness, and sophisticated presentation in the kids from the youngest ages, and of course this is reflected in the dancers they become. 

Edited by cobweb
Misplaced apostrophe
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3 minutes ago, canbelto said:

As for ABT dancing Balanchine here are the things they repeatedly miss...

Canbelto, I find what you wrote after the above to be a much more nuanced, more precise, and therefore more useful (to me) formulation of your broader claims.

That said, I do have a few further thoughts:

On your point #1, I personally don't think it makes sense to say that a particular dancer should never be cast in a particular role simply because he or she cannot successfully perform 30 seconds of the role's traditional choreography. That said, even if I were to make such a claim, arguing that other company dancers should be given those opportunities instead, that claim seems to me quite different from saying that an entire company has no business dancing a particular choreographer's works and that their attempts to do so are disgraceful. (To say that Dancer A should get the part instead of Dancer B makes a certain sense, since casting is basically zero sum. To say that Company A should get to perform a ballet but Company B should not is a very different sort of claim.)

Many on this board (including you yourself, I believe) have argued that ABT is no longer a "world-class" or "top-tier" company. Given that, I personally don't see anything terribly wrong with a second-tier company doing their best to do justice to some very difficult ballets — ballets that, in my opinion, can hold up and give pleasure even when imperfectly realized. I will always advocate a company such as NYCB continuing to adhere as closely as possible to the traditions of Balanchine style. As long as such companies are playing that (in my mind) essential role, I don't see anything terribly wrong with other companies also showing what they can do with the material or what can be made from the material. Balanchine's choreography is not scripture. So long as there is strong maintenance of the Balanchine tradition (and I do think it could be much stronger!), I don't see anything terribly wrong with other companies performing the material as well.

Maybe it doesn't make good sense for ABT to perform certain canonical Balanchine works right across the plaza from Balanchine's own company, particularly when their performances fall within the same general season as NYCB performances of the very same works. Maybe ABT's resources would be better focused on material that's more at home in their idiom. Such claims seem rather different from saying that ABT has no business performing Balanchine at all or that their attempts are disgraceful.

Finally, I have some qualms about statements such as these, in the context of an argument against ABT's performing Balanchine's works:

Quote

When done right you're not really even supposed to be able to see who is dancing during that moment.

Besides being an extreme statement of a probably unreachable Platonic ideal, in the context of such an argument this suggests that if that "right" way of performing exactly as one is "supposed to" cannot be achieved, that the performance should not occur at all. Again, I'm all for maintaining the Balanchine tradition, but such rigid adherence to performance ideals seems unnecessarily limiting to me. Is it so terrible to occasionally see these great works performed in different idioms? I don't think so.

I'm in favor of ABT continuing to season their repertoire with occasional Balanchine works, even if those performances are flawed, since their doing so means that I and others have even more opportunities to see those works performed live onstage.

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The problem with a mediocre performance is, that if you are a member of the general public, you may forgo spending discretionary income and time on another performance of , at best, that particular work ever again, and at worst , any other  work by a given choreographer , company etc.  The Boylston/Simkin “unfortunate” performance has now been removed by the user, but it was instructive in how important casting mistakes and lack of coaching is.   I would rather see Ballanchine at ABT than a lot of the works in the autumn season, but then ABT needs dedicated coaching. 

Edited by Mazurka
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20 minutes ago, Mazurka said:

The problem with a mediocre performance is, that if you are a member of the general public, you may forgo spending discretionary income on another performance of , at best, that particular work ever again, and at worst , any other  work by a given choreographer , company etc.

Having seen some of ABT's performances of Theme and VariationsMozartianaTchai Pas, and others, I have a hard time believing that those audience members who didn't possess the seasoned eye to see the specific ways those performances differed from the Balanchinean ideal would have nonetheless been quite so turned off by the mediocrity of those performances. (Those who did possess such a seasoned eye would of course have known that what they were seeing was not the best that could be made of the material.) I've known novice friends who have attended such performances, and they've come away wanting to see more. Like Shakespeare performed by a second-tier but still passably decent acting troupe, Balanchine holds up. His best works are that good, even if every step isn't there. (One friend in particular started talking again the other night about the excitement of a Tchai Pas from last year with — I believe — Murphy and Whiteside.)

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Reading all these posts I am struck mostly by Canbelto’s point #3 about disappearing into the choreography. This point articulates for me why I love Balanchine danced by NYCB. The ballerina loses her separate identity in the expression of the role. That creates for me a transformative experience. That’s where the magic happens. All the more so when with a partner the pas de deux transcends the steps and the partnership becomes art. Ballerinas who become transformed by Balanchine and lose themselves include, for me, Sterling Hyltin, Maria Kowroski,  Tiler Peck, Megan Fairchild, and Sarah Mearns. How lucky we are to have these exemplars of Balanchine artistry dancing today. 

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1 hour ago, nanushka said:

Besides being an extreme statement of a probably unreachable Platonic ideal, in the context of such an argument this suggests that if that "right" way of performing exactly as one is "supposed to" cannot be achieved, that the performance should not occur at all. Again, I'm all for maintaining the Balanchine tradition, but such rigid adherence to performance ideals seems unnecessarily limiting to me. Is it so terrible to occasionally see these great works performed in different idioms? I don't think so.

I'm in favor of ABT continuing to season their repertoire with occasional Balanchine works, even if those performances are flawed, since their doing so means that I and others have even more opportunities to see those works performed live onstage.

"Disappearing into the choreography" is maybe a Platonic ideal but this does not mean that I'll only accept that video of Suzanne Farrell and Ib Andersen in Mozartiana or even NYCB and other Balanchine-trained companies dancing Balanchine.

I'll also add that "disappearing into the choreography" is not just Balanchine. For instance in this year's Harlequinade I found that Ratmansky was able to coach the ABT dancers to disappear into the choreography. There was very little audience-facing mugging.  The results were absolutely beautiful.  I also saw the Bolshoi do Spartacus a few years ago and despite the campiness of much of the ballet I had the time of my life. And the reason was the way the Bolshoi dancers threw themselves into every goose step, every thundering diagonal, every athletic lift, the whole company disappeared into the choreography and there was nothing the audience could do except get swept along into the world of Soviet supermen.

With the right amount of coaching, training, and rehearsal many non-Balanchine-based companies can get close enough to this ideal. A good example would be when I saw the Bolshoi dance Diamonds. Did they dance it the way NYCB dances it? Absolutely not. However, their 32 diamonds and the main couple of Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin did indeed disappear into the choreography, so that I was not really conscious at that moment that I was watching Smirnova and Chudin and the Bolshoi. I was just watching "Diamonds." 

Here's a performance of Tarantella. Ratmansky does NOT have Balanchine in his bones. But he does have the spirit, the seriousness of purpose, so that he too disappears into the choreography.

 

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17 hours ago, Josette said:

Oh dear, I was warned but I watched The Boylston video. She does plod her way through. 

I am a Boylston fan, but that was horrible. Not surprised it has been yanked from YouTube now.  I it’s especially bad when you watch Tiler’s first, who is amazing.  NYCB also posted a small snippet of Megan Fairchild today, which was also fantastic. 

 

As as I don’t get to see as much NYCB as I would like, I’m not picky about seeing other companies perform Balanchine.  And while I agree that the Boylston/Simkin Stars and Stripes wasn’t very good, their performance helps highlight just how difficult the choreography is.  

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