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San Francisco Ballet in D.C. - Program 1

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I was there—a very enjoyable evening. Excellent program which showed off the dancers' classical style, which overall I thought very good. I was left feeling that I'd like to see more of the company, which is always a good sign.

Ballo della Regina was carefully and rather genteelly danced; I would have liked more oomph. However, the third soloist (I don't know her name), displayed the amplitude and attack of the Balanchine dancer. Lorena Feijoo was the ballerina, and if she didn't quite define the steps in Merrill Ashley's glittering, razor-sharp fashion, well, who can? She tackled what must be for her a difficult new style very well, although she still has a ways to go. In one passage, for instance, she had to run to the side of the stage, jump up on pointe, and run to her partner. Feijoo jumped to put a period to the first running sequence instead of doing it as the capital letter beginning the next, whereas Balanchine dancing is all about forward momentum—emphasize the upward. I wish she'd dressed her hair more classically than the fussy do with bangs, which made her look like a French soubrette. Her partner, Zachary Hench, was very impressive, offering strong support in the partnering sequences and solid dancing in the solos.

Seeing Dances at a Gathering performed by a company other than NYCB was an intriguing experience. And refreshing, as I haven't seen NYCB's version since the eighties, because the ballet had become so ossified there that I found it unwatchable. SFB restored the freshness. For the company, it's a wonderful opportunity to highlight their strong roster of principals and soloists. Most interesting to me was that the character of the ten roles remain essentially what they've always been at NYCB, despite the stories about Robbins reassigning dances to different dancers. The mauve girl is the lyrical one, and Julie Diana looked a great deal like Kay Mazzo (the original) without the defects that marred Mazzo's performances. Her obvious youth, however, gave the role an ingenue character that was quite different from what I'm used to seeing at NYCB (the nature of the ten roles remained pretty consistent throughout the cast changes). Yuan Yuan Tan was pink, and while she danced beautifully, she is definitely not the soubrette that Patty McBride was. These differences in the two main female roles disconcerted me, but they probably wouldn't bother someone who was seeing the ballet for the first time. Feijoo was perfectly cast as the green lady, the experienced one who takes things in good-humored stride. And here, her hairdo fit right in. Among the men, Gonzalo Garcia (brown) and Vadim Solomakha (green) were standouts. Garcia has Helgi Tomasson's old role, and presumably Tomasson rehearsed him. He has picked up on some of Tomasson's body language, but has not yet figured out a way to make something of his big opening solo. In Tomasson's performances, which are some of my most cherished ballet memories (I never saw Villella), he started out slowly, touching the ground, then began moving a little, increased the movement, became more excited about consuming the big open space, and finished in an exhilerating whirlwind of dancing. He seemed to be making up the dancing as he went along. I felt nothing of this in Garcia's performance, splendidly danced though it was. And at the end, when he has to touch the ground once again, he made much too much of it, a Significant Moment that was out of place in a ballet that only hints at meaning.

Closing the program, Mark Morris's Sandpaper Ballet (I have no idea what the title refers to), was a bit of a disappointment, although it is of course head and shoulders above most new choreography. It was better than Gong, Morris's last work for ABT (now being performed also by the Royal Ballet), but didn't reach the heavenly heights of Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes. A big work for 25 dancers, it treated the ensemble too much as a block-like unit and broke it off too jerkily, with some of the tick-tock quality that bothered me in Gong. And the uniform costumes—identically styled green unitards for the men and leotards with skirts for the women, all of which included gloves and dyed shoes with only the dancers' heads to break the monotony—were hard on the eyes, and made me feel like I was watching a horde of elves cavorting. But, leaving the theater, I saw some people dancing in imitation of the ballet, which is always a good sign.

All in all, I thought this was the most satisfying evening of ballet the KC has given us since the Kirov last winter. I'm looking forward to the second program.

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Thanks so much for your reports--

We had "two" casts of Dances at a Gathering here in SF last spring -- first cast was a fixed group, but second-cast changed like a rainbow from night to night... You might want to know that both Yuan-Yuan Tan (first-cast)and Julie Diana (second-cast) danced the mauve girl here -- pink was Lucia Lacarra or Joanna Berman, both of whom have left the company

Perhaps they will alternate in DC -- Diana seems to me more like the pink girl, in her temperament and musicality -- though she was heavenly in hte slow mazurka as the mauve girl, it was Tan who had the potential for tragedy that -- sorry, this is coming out so stilted, but the scherzo at the end of hte ballet calls for some sublime effects, and when those tremendous chords were struck, Tan was like a thunderbolt -- it was magnificent....

and if you liked Feijoo in green, wait till you see her in yellow.... and it might be worth it to go back if you hear that Maffre is going to do green, she seemed to have arrived from a French pastoral, her chin-line was 10 degrees higher than anything we'd seen so far and she seemed to take to this mazurka-land rather like Marlene Dietrich to being a dance-hall girl in hte WIld West-- she was je ne sais quoi in person, delightfully game for these strange rituals; I was totally disarmed......

We have not seen Feijoo in Ballo yet -- Loscavio made the role her own, and found levels of hilarity in it that Ashley bypassed.

it's fascinating to hear all this -- please keep posting, everybody

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Alexandra: what is OSHA?

That sounds like a fine program. I wish the SFB had danced some Balanchine and Robbins works when they came to Paris last season (they danced a Morris- Adam- Tomasson mixed bill). By the way, I remember the performances of "Dances at a gathering" by the NYCB I saw in Edinburgh in 2000,

it was surprising to notice that many reviews were negative about the ballet (and also the audience reaction was quite tepid).

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Hi, Estelle! OSHA is a government agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, that goes into offices and factories and fines the owners if there are fire hazards, or the equipment isn't working, or there's anything going on that could be dangerous for the workers.

The reaction of the Edinburgh audience is interesting -- it could be that it wasn't a good performance, but it could be, too, that some people find the ballet boring because it's "just dancing," and I think you have to really, really like classical ballet to like it. Otherwise, it's just, "Oh, god, how many more of these are there? 7 to go?"

I reread the interview Robbins did with Edwin Denby about "Dances" (It's in the Balanchine-Francis Mason book of the ballets) and he mentioned, referring to its very early days, that the dancers would read that this or that movement "meant" something, or evoked a particular image, and that became part of the ballet -- he didn't want that. So maybe, after 30 years, there are so many layers that have gotten ironed in, like oil stains, that the spontaneity is gone.

Ari, I haven''t seen "Dances" done by NYCB nearly as much as you have, but I have some of the same memories, and I was surprised to see Yuan Yuan Tan in the Patty McBride role, too. I was generally disappointed in the women. I liked Julie Diana, but I didn't think she was up to the level of the men. I thought Feijoo was too quirky for the Verdy role.

Paul, thank you for the info on casting in San Francisco. We are getting slightly different casts -- but Maffre is down for Green, and I am going.

There have been several injuries. Kristin Long was pulled last night from Prism (replaced in the first movement by Zahorian), and Vilanoba injured his calf again (it must be D.C.) and was replaced by Damian Smith in Prism and Zachary Hench in Serenade.

No one else went? Come on, guys. What did you think?

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Comments on Paul's comments on Dances and Ballo: (sorry to be off topic, if these take on a life of their own, I'll split off new threads and let the discussion on the performances proper continue unimpeded)

Interesting about Maffre as the Girl in Green. Maybe this is obvious to everyone but me, but it made me realize in the casting that she's more often than not foreign (Verdy, Kozlova) and if she's not foreign, she's "exotic" (Kent, Alexopoulos). It makes sense, the Girl in Green is the outsider; not in a sinister way, she's just "not from here".

You could read wit into what Balanchine had Ashley do, but Ashley's personality onstage was very direct and "what you see is what you get." Miranda Weese was witty in that role - the wittiness lay in her timing. (Actually, the one time I recall laughing out loud with delight at Weese's dancing was in Who Cares when she stopped in her variation (McBride's) on a razor-perfect in her timing. There's a delicious mischief to her.) In what way was Loscavio hilarious?

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oh Leigh, thank you for asking that question!!!

(I can picture Weese in that variation -- in fact, I'm seeing her in that balance where she swivels from arabesque to second and back to arabesque, and she's smiling to see how easy that was and much time she's got left.... I don't know if that's what she did, but I sure can picture it)

Loscavio, loscavio!!! I have not gotten over the loss of Loscavio, and it's been 5 years now that she's gone--

but I can still see her in ballo --

it's hard to say what makes a person hilarious, but it's maybe got most to do with an attitude towards difficulty that makes reality look pale by comparison to what you can IMAGINE doing right now --

images that are still bright in my mind -- Loscavio in a LONG sous-sus (like 5-6-7-8) like an exclamation point, as if she's saying "just turn me loose!!" and then she attacks that variation -- it's little develloppes with diamond-bright facettings, just quick a deflection to effacee arabesque and then pas de bouree back to sous-sus, another quick facetting and back -- her foot would some up to sur le coup de pied like a cat's tongue licking the leg -- sorry that sounds a little weird, but you know what it's like when feet are delicious, she was SO on top of things, her legs seemed miles away, and to have minds of their own.... that's a vaudeville tap-dancer's game, I've seen TOmmy TUne do it -- but then of course his legs ARE miles away, Loscavio didn't make such an obvious game of it, just suggested that, but she could play like that....

in the assemble turns to pointe she sliced into them like a hungry man into a steak, and phrased the whole manege of htem like one sweep -- which argues fantastic strength, but I can imagine a dancer doing it who was MERELY strong, and that wasn't the way she did it at all, for her it was fun and it was funny....

The kinds of effects Ashley made -- in that line of little balances after the pique turns to arabesque, where she cut the steps so pretty, like Waterford, and showed a pointe in places where nobody else would have seen an opportunity to create a pose, Loscavio just danced through it as if this phrase was not a big deal, and then would just make you gsp with the way she'd inflect a moment you'd never noticed before -- but the effects did not feel premeditated, the opposite, it was her sponteaneity that was so exhilarating -- it was like she'd JUST NOW discovered some more time, some more play in a phrase and "well, look at THAT" ..... another thing I remember about her performance was the way she could make you feel the difference between dancing underneath yourself and when it's time to travel -- there's a manege of saute failli pas de chats where the pas de chats go to a little pose croise, that comes after an intense jewelry-box kind of thing, where it was almost like that French mime, what's his name, that can make you feel he's stuck in a glass box -- not that she seemed confined during the passage that was all such tight footwork, but you could almost see the invisible window slide down when she looked up and thought. oh, let's move out -- it was like a whole new idea had just struck her, a total reconception of the space --

wait, no, that phrase is from Who cares? (she's been dancing on a dime and then makes tracks) -- but that's another good example, of how her dance imagination just dazzled you -- and anybody who's got a tape of "Dinner with BAlanchine" can check it out, and see if you see what I mean, for she did the WHo Cares? blue girl ("My one and only") on that show, and it gives an idea of what her timing was like, though there's not the magic you could get from seeing her in 3D eat up a huge space.... and the way she could just FLASH (the camera cutting in and out evens that away....):):cool:imagine

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Loscavio danced Ballo once here in NY a number of years ago, and people are still talking about it! It was so joyful and carefree and fresh. She was softer than Ashley, though technically assured (even though she took a spill), and see seemed like one of those dancers who have an audience eating out of her hand just by stepping out on the stage. I didn't see her very much, but I can believe San Francisco misses her.

As for Dances at a Gathering in Edinborough, I understand that people who had seen the Royal Ballet dance it in the 1970s were particularly disappointed. I think the current cast, with some exceptions, just doesn't jell the way it used to, and it does seem a bit long--and it was a ballet I absolutely loved and saw over and over again.

I am glad to hear that San Francisco did a good job, and I think Maffre would be wonderful in green! My first girl in green, though, was Lynn Seymour, and she is impossible to forget, good as some others have been.

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Loscavio was, as everyone says, wonderful. Like a sprig of lilac, with a quality of self-delight that made you smile just looking at her. That she could do those steps was just a delightful bonus.

I did wonder if the ballet loses something if it's not being danced by a tall girl? Was Ashley's height and strength an important part of the original effect?

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Yes - but.

Part of the joy of watching Ashley was the Goddess of the Hunt quality she had - a big woman who could move like an arrow. But the first person who revived the ballet for me after two decades of different casts was Miranda Weese, and she didn't reproduce any of Ashley's effects of scale (she's not tall). What she substituted was wit.

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I think Ashley's size, and clarity, and POWER made a big difference. I expect to see that in Ballo. (Loscavio, at her debut, anyway, was a Princess, not a Queen, but that was ok, because you knew she was on her way to Queenhood.) I remember Ashley's dancing as so clear that you could see each step, frozen in space, like a flash card. She was dancing so fast, and yet she wasn't rushed. It was her coronation ballet.

Neither woman here (Feijoo and Zahorian) had that clarity or speed, and for me it mattered. Both were a couple of beats behind the music in the second solo, and so those POW! BOOM! jumps into the music were off. Sunday night, Torrado danced the man's part, and I liked him a lot. He didn't nail it; the leg dragged in the turning jumps, but he was very musical, and I'm a sucker for that in a man :) SFB has some wonderful big men -- even the shorter men look BIG on stage.

Watching SFB, I always think that there, but for the stupidity of the Danish government, could be the Royal Danish Ballet today (perhaps without HT's productions of the classics :) ). Tomasson nearly took over the RDB when Kronstam resigned as director in 1985; they thought for the better part of a year that he WOULD take it over, but then they couldn't come to terms on salary and union regulations. It's a difficult company to govern.

Tomasson was trained by Danish teachers and danced in Copenhagen (though not at the RDB, which at that time was closed to foreigners) in the 1960s. He has Danish sensibilities, and you can see it in the dancing, especially of the men. They almost have epaulement; their arms cross their bodies -- down, over, up, then out -- drawing your eye to the line of the leg and continuing the flow of the dancing to the music in three dimensions, which you NEVER see any more. The beats are splendid, as are the jumps and the small footwork. They aim for, and usually achieve, crisp landings and positions. The modesty of presentation -- no grins, no flopping hair, no wrist flicking -- is admirable. And they look like adults, even the very young. You don't have a sense of kids dancing Broadway, but young artists dancing ballet. All that I admire, and it's very much like Danish dancing of two decades ago. (And all this is living proof that it is possible to go back; or, more accurately, to hold the line and not let something that's good erode.)

Perhaps the women are in the Danish mode, too. They seem to be either waifs or merry little things. I like Sherri LeBlanc a lot -- I think I'm in the minority here on this -- but she's ALIVE ON STAGE and I always give 10 points for that. She was one of the girls in Blue in "Dances" (Katita Waldo danced the role in the second cast) and both of them were the ones you noticed. Which, since the girl in Blue has the least to do is probably not the impression that ballet should give. Unlike the men, the women look small on stage to me -- small in presentation, in scale, not in size. That's the downside of Danish-style ballet.

"Dances" was very controversial here. There were lots of grumbles from those who remembered the first City Ballet performances more clearly than I. Not strong enough, not City Ballet level, too emotional, and, most importantly, too pallid, not daring enough. I can see all those points, especially the lack of daring, but I still think the company let me see the ballet -- my threshold these days -- and they GOT the ballet, and there were some lovely moments in it. I agree with Ari, as I noted above, that Tan is no Patty McBride -- completely different type -- but she draws your eye, in her quiet way. The pas de deux with the man in Purple (Possokhov) was the emotional high point of "Dances." It made sense that it was the last big pas de deux -- they'd been avoiding each other, yet they were drawn to each other. You knew they'd have to dance together. There's a sense of melancholy in both dancers in nearly everything I've seen them do, and that's what drew them to each other. And they got too close, one word or gesture too much, and she pulled back. It was the most conversational of the duets, and very beautiful. It almost made up for the fact that, as a whole, this "Dances" doesn't have any edginess.

I felt we'd seen the company plain, the way it wanted to present itself, for the first time in several season. Recently they'd been filling a festival role for the Kennedy Center -- an all-Robbins program for the Great Choreographers year; the bring-whatever-Balanchine-you-have-in-your-rep-this-season for the Balanchine Celebration. But this time, there were no restrictions. I think when you see the company in what it can do best -- small ballets that have good parts for soloists, who are generally very well-cast -- it is very impressive. But it has a ballerina problem -- several people mentioned that they missed Lacarra, or someone of her level. Tan and Maffre and Feijoo are exotics and they need a general, all purpose ballerina (and will have one in a few years in Zahorian, I think). And the corps isn't ABT or NYCB level.

That said, I'd be quite happy to see them for more weeks, every year. The repertory is more balanced than most (see their full season schedule over on the American Ballet Companies forum). Tomasson has a very honorable history of encouraging new choreography, but he knows what to keep and what to discard. They still do mixed programs; the repertory isn't all crowdpleasing full lengths. What he's been able to accomplish in under 20 years is amazing.

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We saw the final two performances Sunday, and I can report that if Balanchine ballets are, as has been claimed, dancer-proof, Dances at a Gathering is little-old-lady-snoring-a-couple-of-seats-over-proof. I guess she was really just breathing very heavily in her sleep, but it was terribly distracting for awhile there, with only that solo piano for competition. But this was my wife’s first time seeing this ballet (and I’d been excited for her), and she was beaming in the end anyhow. The dancers in the central roles, Julie Diana, Yuan Yuan Tan, Gonzalo Garcia and Peter Brandenhoff stood out for us, Diana above all. We enjoyed Yuri Possohov in the evening, but thought Brandenhoff was very fine as well.

The first time I’d seen this – probably winter 1991 – at NYCB I’d been transported. The second time – ’95? ’98? – it dragged. I’ve since learned that ’91 is no one’s idea of a great year for NYCB, and I’m not perceptive enough to know if my reaction the second time was due to overly high expectations or poor casting or performance, or what. Anyhow, this time I thought there was a world there, and I didn't last time.

During the sideways lift where she scissors her legs, Yuan Yuan Tan did not reproduce the very fast and then slowly closing, taffy pull effect that someone in Repertory in Review credits Patricia McBride with. But I remember first seeing her in a pas de deux in about ’98, and while she was sweet back then, she was commanding, or something approaching it, on Sunday.

Lorena Feeijo and all the soloists were charming and confident in Ballo Della Regina. Feeijo didn’t dazzle, and while I didn’t expect her to, the ballet made less of an impression than I remembered it doing. I love the grand coda here. But I prefer the ballerina in white rather than pink, and even though we were in row O, which is just about perfect for me, I kept wishing she wouldn’t move so far downstage. Also, watching the video version again, I notice that Ricky Weiss has an ease in his solos that Zachary Hench didn’t achieve, exciting as he was.

As for the Morris work, we’d once turned off The Hard Nut on television, and few of photos of his stuff have interested me. I remember one writer’s commenting on how his work makes no distiction between men and women, and I not surprised at the opinion that this flattened and neutered the ballets (I paraphrase, probably crudely). But we were very pleasantly surprised at Sandpaper Ballet, and stayed to watch it the second time even though we’d talked, when I bought the tickets, of leaving after Dances in the evening in order to get home to Charlottesville at a reasonable hour.

Watching this ballet, we couldn’t quite catch the tone at first – was it simply silly and lighthearted, or did it want to be taken seriously in parts? I guess we were taking *it* too seriously, because it won us over quickly. The costumes were reminiscent of Cunningham’s Beach Birds (a piece I like a lot, and I suppose Cunningham very often doesn’t distinguish between men and women either, but that doesn’t bother me) as did some of the movement, like the low port de bras used when a line of dancers filed across the back of the stage. And I loved the greens of the costumes, although the fingers of the gloves extended past the fingertips a little, so that the hands didn’t look quite human. But with the entire 25-member ensemble in front of the rich, saturated, and changing color of the backdrops, the overall picture was gorgeous. Color can always get to me. And then they danced, after all, and they’re beautiful dancers.

During the floor pas de deux, Diana wore a grave, reflective expression in the afternoon, whereas LeBlanc (?) grinned in the evening. I think the moment called for gravity, or at least langour.

I’d never heard of Leroy Anderson. My wife remembered his stuff from paying in high school band. We never listen to that sort of thing at home, but it was a treat to hear it from a live orchestra, and it was pleasant contrast to Verdi and Chopin. We decided that someone in the orchestra must have been using a real typewriter, perhaps amplified, in “The Typewriter.”

And did I notice a bit of unisex casting here? I could swear that the dancer who deliberately fell while moving left to right in front of the ensemble late in the ballet was a man in the afternoon and afternoon in the evening. And as further evidence that a) I’m losing my mind – my wife’s opinion – or B) Morris really lets the company have fun with this one, did the woman with an upraised arm in the front row at the end of the first song stand stage right in the afternoon and stage left in the evening?

The dancer who ran off to get the conductor during the bows then took up a position in the back of the ensemble, continuing one of the running jokes in the piece. I was waiting for the conductor to do the same!

In the evening from the first balcony, Vanessa Zahorian seemed less sharp and on the music in Ballo, but I was expecting that in a second cast, and I was rooting for her.

Finally, we were very impressed with the overall level of the company’s technique. Which is to say that we never felt like we were watching a “regional,” 2nd tier company. We never wondered, except in Ballo, where it’s part of the fun, if a dancer was going to get through a step.

And little old ladies who can’t stay awake are easy to forgive. Mothers who come with babies (1995, Suzannne Farrell Stages Balanchine) are not.

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Ah, Delia Peters. She's a lawyer now, I'm told (by one of her clients :) )

And thank you for posting, kfw. I'm glad I didn't imagine that the house was full, or nearly full, at the performances I attended :)

I didn't write much about "Sandpaper Ballet." I was interested in your comments -- you got more out of it than I did :) I've liked some of the other works Morris has done for ballet companies (and usually like what he does for his own company) but, perhaps I'd heard so much about this one -- everyone loves it, surefire hit, etc -- I was disappointed. I thought the jokes were tired, and the vocabulary limited. I don't see a point to burying a dozen or so good soloists in what's essentially a work for a corps de ballet. I got very different reports of audience reaction -- where I was sitting opening night, there were very few laughs. I wondered whether people realized it was supposed to be funny. The person I was with had the same reaction. But others, sitting elsewhere, said that everyone around them was chuckling madly all the way through. I didn't get the visual effects you describe either -- but that may have been because I was sitting very close. It was just GREEN GREEN GREEN -- no, Giannina. Not that kind of Green! What you write sounds much more interesting, and often happens when one is farther from the stage.

I'd forgotten to write something about Tan and Maffre -- it speaks to their ability, but also to Tomasson's taste as a director. Both have phenomenal extensions. The legs fly up as though they're weightless. And, as a teacher friend of mine (who's no fan of the Extreme Extensions of certain Head-Kicking Ballerinas either) said, "And so it's not an issue, just a beautiful extension of their natural line." The extensions are so high, light, quick and natural that they don't seem like a trick, and the leg floats back down before you're quite sure you saw it go that high. Another example of how technical "advances" can look like art, or not, depending on the way they're danced.

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Like Farrell in the old footage from the Midsummer Night's Dream film shown in "Elusive Muse." The leg sweeps up and down, up and down in one swift fluid movement and you sit there thinking, "Did she just do that? Did I just see that?" (I can only imagine what it looked like to the audiences of 1966.)

Those Sandpaper Ballet costumes gave me a headache when I sat up close. Others are crazy about them, so I thought it was me. But then I am not a big Mizrahi fan and kind of wish Morris wouldn't use him so much. Those costumes he did for the revival of "The Women" probably had Adrian turning in his grave like a cement mixer.

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It's probably no accident that they're pretty much the same shade of green that Mizrahi dressed hte swamp-nymph Platee in for Morris's staging of the Rameau opera-burlesque of hte same name, though poor Platee looked rather like Margaret Dumont with her pearls and lorgnette -- she also had green fingers that extended into little suction cups, which she'd wiggle at us when the mood struck her, and green flippers with which she did fan kicks when everybody else was doing fan kicks.....

I think the costumes are hilarious, but I can't begin to say why..... so's the ballet.....

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