18 October 2008

Suzanne Farrell Ballet, 12 (matinee and evening) October 2008

This is just a repost of my review from Ballet Talk.
Permalink: http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=27990&view=findpost&p=234978


I apologise for the lateness of my report but the commitments of an academic-in-training is never done. Also food poisoning killed whatever was left of me for three days and that is never fun. I went to both programs on Sunday 12 October, the matinee of Liebeslieder Walzer/Ragtime/Episodes, and the night time curated performance of Balanchine's pas de deux. I don't have very much to say about the second program, so I've combined impressions from both into one post.

For those people looking for seating information, I've posted about it in this thread a few messages back. (ed permalink: http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=27990&view=findpost&p=234758)

Liebeslieder Walzer/Ragtime/Episodes
Sunday 12 October 2008 2:30 PM
Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center
Row C 23 (Left Balcony, four seats from the left end)

All three pieces on the afternoon program were new to me. I've seen Liebeslieder Walzer on video (including Karin von Aroldingen coaching pieces of it on Balanchine Lives!) but never from a stationary perspective. From a first outing perspective I think I would have preferred to see no other company. While the dancers seemed tentative at first they settled into the dances soon enough, especially in the pointe section. There were some lovely movements - the couple who danced the 'pushing' duet in a later segment lost themselves to the delirium of the dance. The woman spun away, reaching for something out of the confines of this particular ballroom. The man grabbed her hand at the last moment as if anchoring her to reality, it looked as if he reminded himself as well. All in all, the steps and the moods were there, but aside from flashes of insight the dancers were not yet comfortable enough to delineate distinct personalities among them. With Liebeslieder I wonder whether the dancers are distinct couples trying out different moods and fates while they associate, or whether they are anonymous projections of relationships, viewed at a remove. With the SFB I currently lean toward the latter. Part of it, I think, is simply dancers needing more time with this particular ballet. They do not yet look comfortable, as if waltzing was not yet firmly ingrained in their bodies.

All of that being said, here are my caveats, as have been mentioned by several posters and reviews already. It may have been a function of where I sat, but the male singers were overpowered by the women, especially at first. They sorted themselves out and performed admirably, but it was to the audience. The acoustics may be off but I wanted them to remain within that diegetic space, to preserve the illusion of unity between music and dance. Second, Jack's right about the chandelier - the sparkliness was even more distracting and provided a very clear 'ceiling' to the dance during the second part. I would rather not have souls fly up and hit themselves on a million and one shards of waterford crystal. Third, someone (was it you Jack?) mentioned the lighting change - the distinct impression of lights fading into the starry night in second section instead of an abrupt dimming of lights. It was so subtly done at first that I thought it was my eyesight. I think I really would have preferred an abrupt dimming to clearly cue the difference in moods.

But these are all staging caveats, the dancers danced beautifully. I would love to see what they can do in a year's time, or perhaps even five. It would be a lovely ballet to grow into.

The dance archeologist in me wonders what the first concert version of Ragtime looks like (with Diana Adams). This version with its demi-caratère gestures and the loose-limbed choreography can only connect in my mind to Farrell and her little eccentricities. Elizabeth Holowchuk did admirably, but she filled the Farrell mold - is it possible for her to exceed it? Actually the first thought I had when they began dancing was, "My God, it's Rubies with Suzanne Farrell!" But it wasn't, not quite, she was perhaps a less cynical jazz baby, before she had acquired quite the verve and edge of Rubies.

I went into Episodes completely cold, as I had seen only a recording of Kent in Episodes from the RM Productions. I must confess that I had to stifle giggling all through it. There were wickedly funny quotes from Agon (splits from the pas de deux, non linear canon work), what seemed to be the Rite of Spring (distorted plie work), and even tendu éffacés and écartés from what looked to be Theme and Variation in the Ricercata. The dancers, from both the SFB and Ballet Austin, had terrific energy and commitment in the performance of it, and the SFB dancers looked visibly more comfortable in this than in Liebeslieder. I did notice that the SFB dancers had sharper, more clearly delineated movements than those from Ballet Austin. The difference between whips and knives, perhaps?

Finally, I will add that the corp work in the Ricercata, both in canon and also in its echoing of the principals, reminded me strangely of Fokine's logic in his corp work in Les Sylphides. The orchestration in the 'style of Bach' did nothing to dissuade me of that impression.

Sunday 12 October 2008 8 PM
'The Balanchine Couple'
Orchestra Row S 123 (Center Orchestra on the Left Aisle)

I thought that this would be a good program to take a ballet neophyte to - and while Farrell's narration was great - the pas de deuxs were too disconnected from each other to make for good continuous watching. Watching Balanchine's work in excerpt always reminds me of how interlocked his choreography was - how do you begin to understand Apollo and Terpischore when there is no context of what came before or after?

As I have nothing substantive to say about, this portion is broken up into random impressions:

Apollo: See above for my complaint about context. Apollon Musagète is my favorite Balanchine ballet for its simplicity of both dance and orchestration. I'd love to see what sort of an Apollo Runqiao Du is in a complete ballet. After seeing him in Liebeslieder and this I have in mind him as a Martins type - he of the quiet controlled majesty. All right, perhaps Martin's majesty was a bit less controlled. smile.gif

La Sonnambula: I've only seen the recording of Baryshnikov and Ferri in this, so I don't have a fair comparison of it. Kirk Henning was a suitably yearning poet, perhaps too curious or attracted for his own good. Magnicaballi was a beautiful Sleepwalker - her controlled dancing created a lovely and menacing contrast with the lush and (I thought) rather insipid orchestration.

The Unanswered Question: Hands down, my favorite pas de deux de six of the evening. I love Ives, and Holowchuk's disquieting performance was wonderful. There looked to be a few technical difficulties when the men moved her about, but it didn't break the atmosphere. Cook's dancing read very clearly on the stage against the dim lighting, but its sharpness also lent it a bit too much theatricality.

La Valse: I told Jack that Maurice Ravel is one of my favorite composers. I love Dear Maurice precisely for his sense of orchestration - that one or two acidic notes in a lush chord that subtly throws my harmonic universe out of alignment. Death's appearance was sudden and dramatic (this being the revised version from the 70s), but I am of the opinion that if danced with suitable aplomb then his presence is not needed until the final scene in the ball room, the menace should have been telegraphed alone by the tension inherent in both the music and dancing. That said, I have nothing substantial to say, except that I'd love to see a full La Valse from SFB.

(I've just realized that I had more to say than previously envisioned. Whoops.)

Agon: I asked Jack if Agon was a contest between the dancers and the music, or whether it was a contest _between_ the dancers. He said Yes. In my limited experience I've never gotten the sense of the second part from a performance. It could be dancer proficiency or any number of things, but this performance put some of that menace, that sense of competition between the man and the woman, back in. Is he guiding her or is she being presented with a challenge that she cannot win? Moreover, did she provoke him to it?

Meditation: ... After the last few pas de deux, Meditation felt surprisingly conventional. It was quite a shock, really.

Pas de deux mauresque: Not the greatest of works, but it was a great display of range. It was character dancing à la Balanchine and a charmingly sinuous one, In a Manner Other than Coffee.

Diamonds Pas de deux: Seeing this done in a Swan Lake esque classical tutu (instead of a powderpuff) just reminds me all the more powerfully that Diamonds is _not_ Swan Lake. Magnicaballi and Mladenov gave a good performance but she was slightly off her legs (tired perhaps?). It wasn't as majestic nor as mystically ecstatic as it could have been. I think I'd love to see Magnicaballi in Emeralds. Mladenov slipped off the radar (sorry!) as I spent most of it trying to figure out what she was doing with the role.

Stars and Stripes: Pickard and Cook gave a spirited performance of the pas de deux (but alas, no full company finale!). They've both got the idea of it, but I don't think that either of them quite had the legs for this sort of dancing. Pickard at the end especially looked tired (perhaps concerned?) through the split jumps. Both of them played it straight. While the pas can be too campy, I remember seeing a recording of Hayden in her delight and perhaps even amusement at the things that her legs were doing (look at them go!). Of course, in this I could be a little biased, as my own private nickname for Liberty Bell is Tweety Bird.

The Balanchine Couple is a lovely program, but it simply whets the appetite for _more_, for complete renditions of each of these ballets from the company. At moments I did question Farrell's casting, especially in the Stars and Stripes, but for the majority of it her choices worked well and gave _distinct_ performances in the pas. It is this very distinctness that I would like to see more of in Liebeslieder.

A lovely day of visual overload and then it was back to academia. I look forward to seeing them again in fifteen months or so.

I may have more to say in the future but I think for now this is it.

02 October 2008

Your Improbable Heroine

Even though I've been interested in dance for as far as I can remember, I've only seriously watched ballet for the last two to three years. My interest in Balanchine is even more recent, as only recently have I acquired any level of access to writings and media on his work. Only recently have I felt confident enough to make observations beyond the most banal and superficial, and even now it's in a limited context.

One of my earliest memories of cable television was of a (probably) Soviet gymnast going from arabesque (they call it a scale) into a front walkover. In retrospect I probably thought, 'oh what lovely line', but I was only four or five, so I probably thought 'ooh pretty' and left it there. Then in secondary school and university I got into figure skating and both artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. However, frequent scoring changes affect the execution and conception of the sports, and as placement was never my original motivation for following the sport, I am now only an occasional spectator. I danced when I was younger, and now I have gone back to it, except now I hold no illusions over my inabilities. But that's all right, they can dance and I'll pretend to do so, killing swans and massacring washing machines in my wake.

I go to ballet, watch them, and occasionally put on a video simply to listen to the interaction of music and toe shoes. I've had good guides thus far in helping me pick out well-made, well-performed performances. All this has only served to deepen my obsession, but that's okay, it's still legal.

All of the preceding has basically set this blog up as a repository of my occasional cleverness.