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Mariinsky/Balanchine

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I think of the Mariinsky as being possibly the most lyrically ethereal dance company in the world. I think of George Balanchine as one who translated this tradition into a more ‘modern’ realm — more high energy, intellectual content, etc. Yet alongside the Swan Lake duet adagio (slow, graceful, lyrical, dreamlike) which for me expresses the essence of ballet, I sometimes think of the Divertissement duet from George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For me, it’s perhaps the most beautiful and dreamlike of the Balanchine ‘adagios.’ A brief glimpse can be seen here as posted by the Vail Dance Festival.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyNwEg4EwKQ

Of interest is the connection between the works and George Balanchine and the Mariinsky. George Balanchine was educated as a dancer in its school. He then became ‘modern.’ Yet much of the timeless sensitivity that I love in the Mariinsky can also be found in the Balanchine ‘adagios.’

Some examples:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream — Divertissement duet

Symphony in C — duet

Diamonds

Serenade — adagio and duet

Theme and Variations — duet

Concerto Barocco — duet

Emeralds

Apollo — duet

 

Another that I find completely charming is the Sylvia Pas de Deux (duet). Here George Balanchine beautifully and brilliantly combines dreaminess with high energy virtuosity.

At a related topic, that can be seen here (starting July 29), some thoughts about the two July Mariinsky Apollos can be found interspersed with other discussion.

https://balletalert.invisionzone.com/topic/42914-2017-2018-season/?page=4&tab=comments#comment-404401

What, for me, the Mariinsky can and does bring to the Balanchine adagios is a sublime beauty. It can be different from literal Balanchine interpretations, but the spirit can be equally compelling.

Two of the most beautiful duets from Symphony in C that I’ve seen on video were performed by Svetlana Zakharova (no longer available) and Oxana Skorik. Allegra Kent’s was perhaps the definitive one.

Folks sometimes say that George Balanchine didn’t care about personal expression, which is one of the key points in Russian ballet, most evident with the Bolshoi. Yet when someone like Allegra Kent performed, personal expression was very evident. She didn’t ‘act’ but you could see her soulful depth in her face and in her dance. Suzanne Farrell transmitted an inner loveliness without any need for theatrical expression.

George Balanchine may not have used much theatrical expression, but he certainly used his connection with the soulfulness of the music, which is a language of deepest expression. Because of this, to say that he only cared about the steps would not seem fair at all. The ’steps,’ the motions all try to capture the enchantment of the music, which comes from the human heart.

As for sensitivity of the steps and motion, he apparently had a great concern. In this video, Maria Tallchief, in discussing Symphony in C, gives some fine insight (starting around 7:00, but interesting throughout).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWUqVSceakw

Related to the Mariinsky’s Apollo performances, Maria Tallchief gives some nice insights into this work, starting at the beginning of this video (both posted by the George  Balanchine Foundation).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYIYAHmR-2A

Another thing that is interesting to me is how George Balanchine might be able to carry adagio loveliness into apparently high energy allegro (fast motion). I would like to watch for this more carefully.

I’ve seen the Mariinsky perform several Balanchine works. The ones that I love for their dreamlike beauty are Symphony in C (duet), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Divertissement duet) and  Diamonds.  I’ll continue to watch with great interest how these and similar works are taken on and developed at the Mariinsky.

I’ll say once again that I think that the Mariinsky can take the lovely adagio aspects of George Balanchine and carry them into the area of sublime beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

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15 minutes ago, Buddy said:

... I sometimes think of the Divertissement duet from George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For me, it’s perhaps the most beautiful and dreamlike of the Balanchine ‘adagios.’

This pas, along with the gorgeous music, is one of the most beautiful duets I've ever seen by any choreographer. It's my favorite part of that ballet.

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57 minutes ago, ABT Fan said:

This pas [Divertissement duet from George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream], along with the gorgeous music, is one of the most beautiful duets I've ever seen by any choreographer. It's my favorite part of that ballet.

Yes, I agree with you completely, ABT Fan. As I mentioned, I consider it to be on a level with Swan Lake. It can be seen on dvd beautifully performed by Louise Nadeau of the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

If anyone knows of any more George Balanchine adagio sections that they really like, I'd be glad to hear about them and look at them if possible.

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2 hours ago, Buddy said:

George Balanchine may not have used much theatrical expression, but he certainly used his connection with the soulfulness of the music, which is a language of deepest expression. Because of this, to say that he only cared about the steps would not seem fair at all. The ’steps,’ the motions all try to capture the enchantment of the music, which comes from the human heart.

Yes to this. I've always understood "just the steps, dear" to mean not that the dance has no meaning, emotion, drama, individual expression — but rather that those elements come through in the steps themselves, as choreographed, rather than in theatrical trappings and actorly embellishments.

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1 hour ago, nanushka said:

Yes to this. I've always understood "just the steps, dear" to mean not that the dance has no meaning, emotion, drama, individual expression — but rather that those elements come through in the steps themselves, as choreographed, rather than in theatrical trappings and actorly embellishments.

Edward Villella in an interview said that he felt that "just the steps, dear" was aimed at a particularly loved dancer who may have been overdoing it at the time and should not be taken too seriously.

Nanushka, I'm glad that you added "meaning, emotion, drama, individual expression" to describe dance. I mainly mentioned the music, but I think that you are right in adding what you did. It seems that the music was very important, but not everything. Situations, identities and stories can be implied if not stated. Room can be left for personal interpretation. This is maybe something else of importance -- room left for interpretation. I think that he did this. And all the things that you mentioned can be found in 'pure' dance simply because human beings are creating and performing it.

And famously stated by George Balanchine: 

"Music is often adjectived as being too abstract. This is a vague and dangerous use of words and as unclear to me as when my ballets are described this way. Neither a symphony nor a fugue nor a sonata ever strikes me as being abstract. It is very real to me, very concrete, though ‘storyless.’ But storyless is not abstract. Two dancers on stage are enough for a story; for me, they are already a story in themselves."

(Thanks for finding this -- http://www.princeton.edu/~artspol/WP46-Steichen.pdf)

I would add, so is the dance 'already a story in itself.'

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1 hour ago, Buddy said:

And all the things that you mentioned can be found in 'pure' dance simply because human beings are creating and performing it.

Absolutely.

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14 hours ago, ABT Fan said:

This pas, along with the gorgeous music, is one of the most beautiful duets I've ever seen by any choreographer. It's my favorite part of that ballet.

My favourite part of that ballet also - just sublime, and I have seen many pairs of dancers in it but possibly my favourite was Osmolkina (with Stepin.). For theatrical beauty, the very last scene of the ballet is hard to beat with Puck on his swing and the magical fireflies flickering !  So lovely! 

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8 hours ago, MadameP said:

My favourite part of that ballet [A Midsummer Night's Dream] also - just sublime, and I have seen many pairs of dancers in it but possibly my favourite was Osmolkina (with Stepin.). For theatrical beauty, the very last scene of the ballet is hard to beat with Puck on his swing and the magical fireflies flickering !  So lovely! 

I would love to see Yekaterina Osmolkina in this, MadameP. I’ve seen Oxana Skorik twice and liked her very much. Since you mentioned Puck, I always have to say that ABT’s Herman Cornejo was probably untouchable.

I believe that it’s Viktoria Tereshkina that I’ve seen in Symphony in C and she did just fine.

The Mariinsky performed Jewels at the 2017 Festival and I wrote that I’d never seen George Balanchine performed more beautifully. Even Rubies along with its high energy had a lovely quality that I thought worked very well. In Diamonds Yekaterina Chebykina was perhaps the best that I’ve seen her partnered very well by Xander Parish. Interestingly, she danced the most purely classical that I’ve seen her do and it worked very well.

I’ll digress for a moment from my adagio-centric self and ask what can the Mariinsky do with the more high energy stuff? They could possibly give it all to Yekaterina Kondaurova, but I don’t know how many dancers she can be at one time. Someone like Alexander Sergeev has shown fine ability, Xander Parish could do well and every now and then one of the other men shows unexpectedly fine adaptability.

Back to Adagio. Two ‘Mariinsky transplants’ have shown remarkable ability. Olga Smirnova is already famous for her Diamonds and the very young Alyona Kovalyova is right behind her. And as I mentioned, Svetlana Zakharova, whom I’ll always consider at least part Mariinsky, danced the most beautiful Symphony in C duet that I’ve seen on video.   

 

Edited by Buddy

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Just for a contrasting look here is a very quick glimpse of the Miami City Ballet (founded by Edward Villella) in Ballet Imperial. No adagio here, almost wild at times, and yet surprisingly for an adagio lover (me), a company that I’ve always liked very much. Quite different from the Mariinsky or in fact probably the New York City Ballet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1BLVi7T5pU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDGyknVVzLI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6r3CO1v_Lc

(posted by MCB)

Edited by Buddy

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Back to the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Divertissement duet. At the Mariinsky I’ve seen it performed beautifully twice by Oxana Skorik.

I’ve also had a chance to see a video of it performed by Allegra Kent partnered by Jacques d'Amboise. What a revelation this was. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It perhaps shows them and George Balanchine at their finest.

The poetry and vocabulary of motion are remarkable. The way that strong, hard edge geometric lines, shapes and motion are combined with dreamlike flow and expression is poetically masterful. This is particularly noticeable in Allegra Kent. It’s ‘pure’ dance and invention at its most expressively beautiful.

Edward Villella (founder of the Miami City Ballet) said that the highpoint of his career was his appearance at the Mariinsky (Tarantella??) during George Balanchine’s return to Russia when the audience went crazy with applause and curtains calls (and encore performing??). This is one reason why I’ve mentioned that I’d really like to see the MCB perform at the Mariinsky, certainly true when Edward was the Director and perhaps still. I’ve had little chance to see it since. I did see several of it’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and I have to say that in addition to its high energy prowess the young  Jennifer Lauren was absolutely lovely in the Divertissement duet.

So what about the Mariinsky? Well once again I’ll say that it can take such graceful and dreamlike things as the Divertissement duet to places of otherworldly beauty that they’ve never been before. Not pure Balanchine intent, perhaps, but Remarkable.

Edited by Buddy
grammar corrections

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In Winter/Spring 1986 there were 2.25 casts for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at NYCB:  Calegari/Andersen (Titania and Oberon) and Ashley/Lavery or Luders (Act II Divertissement) in one cast, and Kistler/Horiuchi and Watts/Soto in the other.  The Calegari/Andersen cast was broadcast on PBS, and while Andersen is one of my favorite dancers ever, and any chance to see him and Luders on film is something for which I am grateful, the big miss was not getting the Watts and Soto Divertissement on film.  It's not the type of role that is usually associated with her, but she was stellar in it, and both times I got to see them dance it are among my favorite live performances.

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1 hour ago, Helene said:

In Winter/Spring 1986 there were 2.25 casts for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at NYCB:  Calegari/Andersen (Titania and Oberon) and Ashley/Lavery or Luders (Act II Divertissement) in one cast, and Kistler/Horiuchi and Watts/Soto in the other.  The Calegari/Andersen cast was broadcast on PBS, and while Andersen is one of my favorite dancers ever, and any chance to see him and Luders on film is something for which I am grateful, the big miss was not getting the Watts and Soto Divertissement on film.  It's not the type of role that is usually associated with her, but she was stellar in it, and both times I got to see them dance it are among my favorite live performances.

Helene, would you say that when you saw these that they resembled my description, 'a remarkable combinations of 'abstract' motion/expression and flowing grace,' at all ?  Or what did most impress you ? The more recent performances that I've seen seem to be pure flow, which is wonderful but not quite the same.

I'd also like to take this chance to add the Dream Scene duet from Don Quixote to my list of George Balanchine's lyrically beautiful 'adagios,' once again noting that this is the sort of thing that has the potential for being Mariinsky dream material.

Added: In the Allegra Kent/ Jacques d'Amboise Divertissement duet, the tableau background of ballerinas in tutus, legs slightly crossed or feet just touching, especially on the staircase, all attention riveted to the Divertissement couple, is one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen.

Edited by Buddy
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I've watched again and again the Gelsey Kirkland Midsummer PDD (with d'Amboise) on YouTube. Magical.

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Significantly, to judge from the publication dates in 2011 and 2008, these three clips (five posts above) are of MCB while Villella was still running it!  And I would say, having seen hundreds of performances of NYCB while Balanchine was still running it, and just beyond, from 1973 into 1986, that your use of the word "probably" is well advised, Buddy.  To my eyes, both these "Balanchine" companies are less likable recently than when they danced for their respective founders.  Villella's company gave me much the same satisfactions as Balanchine's had; and these clips of it are very satisfying too.   Like the videos of Balanchine's company made when he was supervising it, and shortly after his death.

Many other good points here too.  It's good to try to catch experience in words that fit - you get the experience stronger when they do fit - and important to keep Balanchine's words in context - sometimes the context of a particular dancer, yes, and sometimes more in general.  I don't think he wanted theatricality - usually - but he wanted the dance to be inhabited.  That's partly why he chose who he chose to dance in the first place and to revive a ballet later.

But this thread is mainly about the Mariinsky's Balanchine, and, to be truthful, right now I can't remember seeing any, on screen or, here in Chicago where I still live, on stage.  (My limited experience leads me to think that authenticity in Balanchine performance is in decline.)  

Edited by Jack Reed

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44 minutes ago, Jack Reed said:

I don't think he wanted theatricality - usually - but he wanted the dance to be inhabited.  That's partly why he chose who he chose to dance in the first place and to revive a ballet later.

 

Very well put, Jack. I look at Allegra Kent and although the video quality can get pretty fuzzy, she overflows with personal, non-acting expression. I would think that George Balanchine might have said to another dancer, 'cool it down somewhat,' but he knew what a gem he had in her and left her alone, even created for this side of her. He said at the end of her career when she was only occasionally around, that he 'kept her on the payroll because if she only danced once a year that would justify it.' This is one instance that I've noticed when he let personal expression go the limit. No 'just the steps' here.

As for the Mariinsky, I prefer not to post unofficial video clips, but I think that I could find some beauties. In some instances the direct Balanchine references might not be what they could be, but the Mariinsky 'magic' totally compensates for this. I would cite video performances by Oxana Skorik and by two of the 'Mariinsky transplants,' Olga Smirnova and Alyona Kovalyova for starters. I would also go back to Ulyana Lopatkina and Zhanna Ayupova. I believe that I may have read comments criticizing them for not understanding or acceptably interpreting George Balanchine and I've seen instances where I've felt some of that also, but in the same performance by Ulyana Lopatkina where I felt this might be the case I also noticed her one of a kind 'magic' and this was more than enough. When I mention Zhanna Ayupova's exceptional performing I'm referring to her Calliope (Apollo) rather than her Emeralds. Usually I love a smile, but she seems to enter into the sublime with a more serious facial expression. Not Balanchinesque, perhaps, in Apollo, but poetically exceptional. 

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3 hours ago, Buddy said:

Helene, would you say that when you saw these that they resembled my description, 'a remarkable combinations of 'abstract' motion/expression and flowing grace,' at all ?  Or what did most impress you ? The more recent performances that I've seen seem to be pure flow, which is wonderful but not quite the same.

It was as if Watts internalized what Balanchine and Williams had taught her -- maybe Williams more than Balanchine -- synthesized it with the best of who she was, and expressed it as pure gold.  That's the best I can do.

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1 hour ago, Helene said:

It was as if Watts internalized what Balanchine and Williams had taught her -- maybe Williams more than Balanchine -- synthesized it with the best of who she was, and expressed it as pure gold.  That's the best I can do.

Helene, thanks for your response. All I can say is that sometimes the artists are brilliant. It’s that simple.

Jack, in regard to Balanchine performances when he was there and your 100s of NYCB viewings compared to my maybe twenty I feel humbled, but I’ll preserver for a moment. The subtleties, nuances, invention, constant progression of expressive and meaningful moments….of this particular work back then are extraordinary. Based on nothing but a very out of focus video, which fortunately does show body expression well enough if not facial, I would simply say that George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Divertissement duet with Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Amboise succeeds in carrying Shakespeare into the cosmos.

 

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I’d like to pursue this somewhat further because this Midsummer Night’s Dream duet performance with Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Amboise fascinates and enchants me. If someone were asked to summarize the most elevated and best feelings that exist in Shakespeare (and his art form) and create a dance, this would be a result. On top of that, Allegra Kent and Jacques d'Amboise's performance is amazing !

I’m not a real Shakespeare fan, but I do feel the genius and sensitivity. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite. And yet, interestingly, for me, this duet transcends this particular work and encompasses the most elevated of all of Shakespeare. I believe that George Balanchine memorized this work as a child. In this duet, for me, it seems that he did not interpret the work, but rather created a summary of a lifetime of reflection on all of Shakespeare.

In any case, I’m Wowed !

Could the Mariinsky, or anyone else, again truly touch on this moment in time? I’d be surprised. But an art group such as the Mariinsky could touch the spirit.

Added: This Work, This Performance -- A Remarkable Statement of Love, Ideal Beauty and Transcending.

 

 

Edited by Buddy
last sentence, first paragraph, added

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On 8/26/2018 at 3:23 PM, Helene said:

... the big miss was not getting the Watts and Soto Divertissement on film.  It's not the type of role that is usually associated with her, but she was stellar in it ...

You are absolutely right on both counts! Fortunately, one of the Watts / Soto performances was taped for archival purposes, and it's available for viewing on site at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

NYPLPA also has video of Watts performing the Divertissement with Sean Lavery  in 1982 and 1985. 

Watts was simply superb in the role. I can honestly say that no other ballerina's performance of it has moved me more than hers did. 

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I thank you as well, Kathleen O'Connell, for the information. I will be in NYC in January and will definitely watch Watts in this. 

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On 8/26/2018 at 2:37 PM, Jack Reed said:

I don't think he wanted theatricality - usually - but he wanted the dance to be inhabited.  That's partly why he chose who he chose to dance in the first place and to revive a ballet later.

 

Thanks once again, Jack, for this very fine description.

When I get wound up in something I tend to do just that.

This Divertissement duet from George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Allegra Kent and Jacques d’Amboise continues to enchant me more than ever.

All I have to go on is a video clip in ‘blur-vision.’ Maybe it’s just as well. Hopefully this performance really did happen as it seems. I mentioned before, that at least the motion is clear if not the facial expression.

So what does this have to do with the Mariinsky? I’ll get to that.

Here’s some more about how George Balanchine created identity as related by Edward Villella in a recent interview posted at Ballet Alert. Thank you, Canbelto.  It’s a point of view shared by other Balanchine dancers that I’ve read quotes from.

“The first time I worked with Balanchine he was choreographing Square Dance. So I'm looking, and I'm like where do I get this from? Then I start to watch him, because in demonstrating a single gesture Balanchine gave you what he was interested in. He wasn't articulating and verbalizing them. He was physicalizing them. All I did was watch him. And every once in a while he said one or two words and I mixed those words with the visual. And it was perfect.

“Now there are four dancers in charge. You can imagine the responsibility that was thrown at them. They never knew Balanchine, they don't know what he was like, what he was about, how in one or two words he gave you a concise understanding of an entire role.”

https://www.pointemagazine.com/peter-frame-death-2600748699.html?utm_campaign=RebelMouse&socialux=facebook&share_id=3898074&utm_medium=social&utm_content=Pointe&utm_source=facebook

For me, someone had a remarkable feel for Shakespeare or the world that he created from. If it wasn’t George Balanchine then perhaps Allegra Kent or Jacques d’Amboise encountered some of this in school. I can see how George Balanchine could have transmitted the initial mood or imagery. I can also see how Allegra Kent and Jacques d’Amboise could have carried the ball from there or George Balanchine could have been monitoring every motion. In any case someone handled it brilliantly.

A primary image that I have is that each dancer is capsulizing the best in characters from Shakespeare. An ‘exalted’ level of Shakespeare. Allegra Kent is central but Jacques d’Amboise frames her beautifully adding context, imagery and feeling.

And this is only one layer. Invention and beauty of pure motion is perhaps one of many more.

It’s a magnificent dreamworld. One of the most compelling and beautiful that I’ve seen on a stage.

The Mariinsky? Can it recreate this? It’s so special that I’m not sure that anyone can. What the Mariinsky can do is make it remarkably beautiful, in its own way, like no other.

 

  

 

 

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I would like to continue here, because much of the discussion is about the "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Divertissement Duet. As I mentioned at the Mariinsky 2019-20 topic, Oxana Skorik did her most recent performance of this and it's on a video clip. It's perhaps George Balanchine's most poetically beautiful work. In my previous post above I got into my feelings about the Allegra Kent and Jacques d’Amboise interpretation, which I consider perhaps the finest that I've seen. Even in the video's blurry condition, it's probably worth studying by anybody attempting this dance. If I were to describe my feelings now they would be about the same. I would add that after seeing several Allegra Kent interviews on the internet she certainly researched the backgrounds of some of the works that she performed. I do sense this in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." I have no idea if Jacques d’Amboise did the same, but I can't imagine a better interpretation.

Although Oxana Skorik seems to be attempting more dramatic and expressive interpretations in all her performances since her return from maternity leave, her lyrical loveliness, perhaps the best today, is what most captivates me. When most in evidence, it works extremely well in this latest performance.

If I can get into the realm of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, two other Mariinsky related video clips continue to enchantment me. One is Zhanna Ayupova's Calliope from " Apollo" and the other is Olga Voloboueva's second duet from Jerome Robbins "In The Night." She was a former Mariinsky dancer who then carried on her career in the US and seems to have a very fine combination of both Russian and American styles.

Added thought:

I once wrote here that in the "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Divertissement Duet with Allegra Kent and Jacques d’Amboise I liked the combination of the stronger geometric moves with the dreamlike flow. I feel more now that I really like the dreamlike flow most with expression being an extension of this. The absolutely lovely music sets the aura. This is also where the Mariinsky should excel.

 

Edited by Buddy
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Distill the finest beauty from Oxana Skorik’s recent performance of and the video of Allegra Kent’s and Jacques d’Amboise’s "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Divertissement Duet and you have perhaps some of the most beautiful artistic and poetic expression to be experienced.

As I see and feel it, ethereal loveliness of motion is the essence of all ballet. Oxana Skorik’s performance is perhaps most about this fineness, this pure beauty of motion. It’s of the air.

Allegra Kent’s and Jacques d’Amboise’s performance is also based on and constructed from this, but then takes flight into human expression. It’s an elevated dream world constructed on body language and artistic ideal. Their ending with her rising and falling into a supported recline is perhaps one the most beautiful sequences in all of dance. It’s all magnificent poetry.

 

Edited by Buddy
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On 11/15/2019 at 6:14 PM, Buddy said:

I would like to continue here, because much of the discussion is about the "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Divertissement Duet. ... It's perhaps George Balanchine's most poetically beautiful work.

Oh yes!

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