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SFB: Dances At A Gathering & Elite Syncopations, 2-8 mat

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Two very different ballets, with two things in common: a piano and Muriel Maffre's phenomenal presence and sense of humor.

Dances At a Gathering is obviously a complex work, that probably becomes more and more interesting the more you see it. I wouldn't mind seeing it again; but, please, give me a different cast! I have never seen so many bored-looking dancers in one ballet as I saw in that performance. Particularly Vanessa Zahorian (mauve), who usually seems so happy to be dancing (and I'm usually so happy to see her...), and Julie Diana, a tiny little slip of a thing who seemed overwhelmed by the prominent pink role. Perhaps they would be happier if they had switched roles. Catherine Winfield in blue seemed just fine, not outstanding one way or the other. Ditto David Arce and Jaime Garcia Castilla, blue and brick respectively, although Castilla's cartwheel deserves a mention. These lackluster deliveries were balanced, thank heavens, by the assured presence of Damian Smith in purple, the subdued pyrotechnics of Gonzalo Garcia in brown, and the absolutely adorable Ruben Martin in green. I especially liked Maffre's wit and carefree-ness in green, and Kristin Long's presence, passion, and musicality in yellow/apricot/whatever. Her joy and elan, while immensely flattering on her, only highlighted the halfhearted (I *was* going to use a less family-friendly term, but...) delivery of the other women, Maffre excepted. Such was this performance of Dances At A Gathering: wonderful performances in half of the aspects, lackluster in the other half. Hot and cold, or really hot and lukewarm. Fascinating choreography. Interesting compilation of Chopin pieces. Choppy piano playing by Daniel Waite, who made many more blunders than I would excuse due to stage fright or whatever. Fabulous ballet. Not-so-fabulous performance. Sigh...

So, where was the energy that was missing from Dances At A Gathering? It was in Elite Syncopations. After trying to decide whether the costumes were hideous or hilarious, I went with the latter. How to describe them? Loud...80s redux from hell...unitards on acid...oy vey. But I like them. Hard to believe that this is a MacMillan ballet. I was afraid that the music would be canned, but there is live music, even though the orchestra pit is indeed empty, the musicians are there, on stage, with the pianist/conductor, all decked out in checkered clown-pants, glittery Vegas-like vests and crazy hats. The dances fit pretty well into this atmosphere, though the music seems rather quiet and understated by comparison! Katita Waldo was gorgeous in her Calliope Rag solo, as were the carnations on her head. I got my first glance at both of the new soloists, Pascal Molat and Sarah Van Patten, in this ballet as well. Van Patten is, thank goodness, not as awful as reviews had led me to fear. Actually, she is rather charming, pretty face, looks remarkably healthy. It's rather hard for me to predict, however, what she'd look like in a more traditional costume or ballet--as in, not wearing a bleached wig and lime-green tights and pointe shoes. She was partnered by Peter Brandenhoff in the Golden Hours. Yuan Yuan Tan...in my eyes this woman Can Do No Wrong. And she didn't. She nailed the "star" role, played it like a glamorous leading lady. Very admirable, I must say; I can't think of too many ballerinas who can look glamorous in a unitard with one star on each butt-cheek. And she wore a lovely hat too. Yuri Possokhov is perhaps too dignified to be wearing the striped cacaphony that was his costume, but I was too busy looking at Tan anyways.

If any ballerina could rival Tan, though, it's Muriel Maffre, the MVP of this matinee. She dominated poor James Sofranko in her peacock dress and floppy hat, in a little "lets make fun of tall ballerinas" piece that was oddly reminiscent of Western Symphony, but even more so. She wove her legs through his armpits with abandon, kicked over his head with ease, and graciously ended by sitting on her spread-eagled partner.

Did anyone else see this program?

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Leigh, I think Elite Syncopations is new for them this season. (I'm writing that without checking, and may well be wrong.)

Ballet Nut! THANK YOU!!!!! The company did Dances here, with a slightly different cast, but I also thought it was too dull. I wrote that it looked as though it had been rehearsed by OSHA -- the part where the women throw themselves at the men that looks wonderfully daring at NYCB looked like a tea party in the SFB production.

I'm so happy to read a long review of SFB here -- I hope it will bring out the rest of you Lurkers!!!

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[board Host Canape tray at the ready, glass and spoon for making announcement at hand. . .]


Yoohoo? San Franciscans? San Franciscans?

The New Yorkers are awfully noisy about what they've been seeing. The Londoners, Parisians, Muscovites and Petersburgers are chattering away.

You wouldn't want people to think that you weren't going, or even worse, had nothing to say, now would you?

[Continues to pass out yummy Board Host canapes. . .]

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OK, fine, pull me out of my hole.

I agree with most of what was said above. I saw approximately the same cast, but my opinions differ on two points.

I did not like Maffre as the green girl. She did not to my taste flirt enough, show enough joy. She was too serene.

I also didn't like Yuan Yuan. Especially in her solo. I think she is not understanding the music or the atmosphere, or something...She seems too much of a "creature" to pull off a role that is very human and feminine.

Everyone else was great.

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I went back to see second casts in "Dances at a Gathering" and "Elite Syncopations." Agreed with LMC Tech that Maffre isn't chatty enough as Green. But the big revelation to me was Pascal Molat, a French soloist in his first year with the company. He made an impeccable Brown Man. I knew he had technical polish to spare after seeing him in the gala, but his easy dramatic capabilities came as a pleasant shock. He just seemed to be enjoying himself and enjoying dancing with the other performers, just as Robbins would have wanted. And the moment when he touched the ground--he let it resonate, but didn't get melodramatic about it. He's incredible. I'd be surprised if he didn't get promoted to principal quickly.

Also, after seeing Tan give a dull performance as the bowler-hatted girl in "Elite Syncopations," I want to give Julie Diana her due. She's tiny and utterly non-intimidating, but she worked that role as hard as she could. She deserves respect for vamping it to her max.

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Thanks Rachel and LMCTech -- I hope that one of your New Years Resolutions (both of you!) was posting on performances.

I wasn't there for these performances, but I did see "Dances at a Gathering" here and had liked Maffre as the woman in Green. (The other was Feijoo, who I thought a bit too desperate, the kind of woman who babbles helplessly at a cocktail party, and while the men have to be polite in her presence, they can't wait to run away.) I thought Maffre was subtle, and self-confident enough (her character's self-confidence) that she thought it odd to lose two men in one evening, but nothing to get upset about.

I'm surprised that "Elite Syncopations" went over -- but then, I never liked it, even in its first cast with the Royal, so the fact that I thought it would appear dated can be totally dismissed :D

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Alexandra, your description of Feijoo and Maffre's interpretations are spot-on. I see a case to be made for each of them.

As for "Elite," I think the music makes it, so pleasant and nicely performed by the orchestra and perfectly miked. An acquaintance of mine complained about the costumes--she said she couldn't focus on the choreography. But the choreography itself isn't anything to write home about--it really doesn't show any special insight into ragtime as a musical form.

Where is Paul Parish when you need him? He's been watching this company for so long and writes about it so vibrantly--you hear that, Paul?

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Well, golly, you guys -- Rachel!!

I don't know where to start --

It's easier to talk about Helgi's new piece, on program 3 but I'll maybe post on that later...

I saw this program twice, and was very moved by Dances at a gathering..... I took a friend who learned ballet in China, where as a child the first few years she actually studied from books, with no teachers.... She rose to become a people's artist, and is now teaching, a BEAUTIFUL dancer. I say all that because her response was very important to me -- she had never seen Dances at a Gathering before. It was all I could have hoped for. She was like staggered by Robbins' invention..... the tenderness, the playfulness, the reverence, even.... the heel clicks, the bows, the reverences of every sort that come up over and over again in the dances, how pure the sentiment of fellow-feeling is, and how omnipresent -- and when it's NOT, as in the dance for the 2 boys (brown and purple) how that only heightens the sense of an idyll, a danced utopia....

The whole was greater than the sum of its parts that night -- I can't even remember who danced the girl in pink - I could look it up, but... she was fine. The three girls were wonderful. The boy in green and the girl in mauve were wonderful, in the slow sad mazurka with the battements lentes -- heartbreaking.

The point really was the ensemble.... The outstanding dancers were Kristin Long in yellow and Hansuke Yamomoto in brick, and it's appropriate for them to bring the mood up that high....

Elite Syncopations fits really well with it on a double bill -- both are character ballets, to piano music that has an idea about dancing (i.e., Chopin and Joplin have ideas about dancing) -- and yet they're so DIFFERENT, in tone, attitude, spirit, the on so refined, the other so raffish. Elite went over wonderfully in SF, which is still not that far from its own Barbary Coast days.

If you've never seen Elite Syncopations, it's a comedy of atmosphere; with no more story than DatG; its references are not to Mazurkas but t o Pigeon Wing and other rag-time dances, and a preposterous plastique of its own -- with lots of steps that turn in after things have already gotten going. At one point the corps is doing grands jetes sideways with their legs totally turned in, like flapping wings -- they're hilarious, I left the building trying to do them.

The variation mentioned above that Lorena Feijoo and Katita Waldo did on alternating nights is sure-fire, an absolutely fantastic character dance, that involves demi-detournees to b-plus with the butt stuck out.... Pardon my language, but the dance itself is intentionally rude in just that way, the character is as brassy as Mae West.....

Both casts of Elite had wonderful moments -- though I don't think the ballerina's role (Merle Park was famous in it) was a success. Julie Diana worked very hard but didn't make it interesting; I agree that Yuan Yuan Tan was spot-on in it, but I kept finding that I wasn't watching her but was completely waiting to see how her partner, Yuri Possokhov, would upstage her. He was playing it like a bored businessman out with his vain wife -- she'd kick her leg up to 180 degrees, and he'd roll his eyes ("there she goes again') -- he was simply fabulous, and he got his effects by doing almost nothing, and actually by making you wait -- for he didn't react like this every time -- it's a gesture we all recognize, the shoulders are set like concrete, the neck is pulled back, like a turtle's when he's trying to retract his head into the shell; the Trockadero who played Taglioni did something like that, and the effect was Trockadero-level uproarious, at least to me; he got HUGE applause at the bows.

And the tall girl-short boy duet was just as funny as everybody has said -- it's marvellously constructed, so that at the end of the dance, after he's ducked under her battements and she's tried to jump over him but gotten stuck and fallen on top of him, on the last beat of the music, his knee goes out and the heap collapses utterly..... Both casts did it well, though Maffre and Sofranko were tops -- Actually, Sofranko (a corps boy, one of Harkarvy's from Juilliard I gather) is a wonderful dancer -- he's always vivid, clear, clean, and sweet, you always notice him -- but this was his first big break -- and long before the duet he was doing wonderful solo bits. His plastique comes from the athletes in Les Biches -- torso contracted, legs making turned-in coupes, arms making biceps, hands making fists -- and he's a little darling live wire... Wonderful part, wonderful performance.

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This is probably off topic, but I am one of those tiresome people who feel that if you didn't see Lynn Seymour as the Girl in Green, you have missed so much! She was so very funny, flirtacious and fussy, and then all of a sudden so still, when walking with one of the boys. And then a burst of I don't care at the end. And that little wave of her arms at the end--she wasn't needy at all.

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Seymour was tops.... a really complex person, simultaneously old and young, whimsical and thoughtful, ardent and shy, playful -- she had a way of dragging her feet, she dug her toe in and held back and let herself go at the same time.....

But hte thing about talking about particular dacners -- though that is SO tempting, and God knows, I'm grateful to you all for mentinoing Delia Peters, -- could somebody please try to characterize her as a dancer -- I have no picture of her in my mind at all, if Glebb loved her she must have been something....

well, after all that, what I love most about this ballet is how the ENSEMBLE takes you into an ideal world, a place where Poles and Russians and Jews don't fear and hate each other, where the movement wells up from a common pool of rhythms and postures and little brushes and tilts and turning-in and turning-out that makes a common lore and a common heritage, an ETHOS like that in the family of any mixd marriage where the children must try to reconcile the traditions of the parents -- which will make it forever relevant.... the peaceable kingdom that Chopin was in love with and lamenting and hte whole of Europe came under the spell of in 1848 has a lot in common with that one in 1968 that so many people thought we could actually bring about if we just hoped hard enough..... That's not ALL there is to it, but it is what makes it a great work, in the company of Wordwsworth's Immortality Ode.... It's already there in the music, what's miraculous is how approproate the dances are to the music, and how much they actually add to music htat was already so great ....

It's the "place for us" that Robbins so often made dances about... and into this mix I guess should go the reconciliation of hetero- and homo-sexuality --it's there in a powerfully sublimated way, nothing direct, but it's pervasive......

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Oh cargill, I can only imagine Lynn Seymour as the Girl in Green. I'm sure she was divine. Her Natalia Petrovna was perfection. I had the great fortune to watch her teach "Five Brahms Waltz in the Manner of Isadora Duncan".

Paul Parish, I can't tell you that much about Delia Peters, but she was perfection as the wife in "The Concert". Edward Gorey must have based his illustrations of dancers on her.

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Delia Peters was for years a "workhorse" of the corps de ballet, until someone in the public or the company discovered her quick wit, great attractiveness, and organizational abilities. At one point, while she was still in the corps a New York critic dubbed her the NYCB Corps de Ballerina. She was everybody's favorite at benefits as a sort of hostess with the mostest, and backed all of this up with good dancing, too.

She is currently an attorney specializing in performing arts law.

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Who but Mr. Parish would find a way to make "Dances at a Gathering" a statement about global politics? ;) It makes good sense, though. Clearly, the work succeeds when it exudes a utopian harmony. I just never expanded its meaning beyond the 10 dancers on stage at any given time.

Yes, Mel, Delia was a workhorse. Many people will be surprised (alarmed :eek: !) that she never gained soloist status. Neither tall nor short, neither dark nor fair, she exuded intelligence, warmth and musicality and seemed capable of an infinite range of roles. As versatile a ballet dancer as I've seen -- completely unpigeonholable.

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I'm another Delia Peters fan. I remember her as having a droll wit, which she used only when appropriate, and then sparingly, but the implication, the possibliity of it, was in everything she danced. The "top corps" of that generation, of which Peters was a part, was full of individuals -- not characters, but dancers whom, one could imagine, led interesting lives.

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Originally posted by Alexandra

The "top corps"  of that generation, of which Peters was a part  . . .  

I would say she stood atop the "top corps" -- not of "that" generation, but of "those," as photos reveal her as a member of three generations of the corps, about one and a half of which were in my time.:(

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Sigh. By "top corps" I mean the top level of the corps. While Peters, or anyone, might have been in the corps for three generations (? a dancer generation is usually 10 years. I don't think she was in the corps for 30 years, but I haven't looked it up) they're not at the top level -- top on the pay scale, or the group of dancers in the mid and late 1970s that Balanchine used as demisoloists or corpyhees.

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Alexandra, when you speak of Delia and her "droll wit," it reminds me we had a wonderful principal at SFB who retired last season after having her first child--Julia Adam, now choreographing. Probably nothing like Delia, but such a comedian! SFB really could have used her in "Elite Syncopations." There is no woman in the company right now to match her sense of humor.

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Another word about Delia — in addition to lending her subtle wit to character parts (and Glebb, she will always be the perfect Wife in the The Concert for me, too), she was a lovely classicist. She danced the first (Victoria Simon) variation in Raymonda Variations beautifully.

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