24 October 2009

Miami City Ballet, 4 October 2009, On Tour in Chicago

Miami City Ballet
Sunday 4 October 2009
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Center Orchestra, Row P

Symphony in Three Movements
Nothing quite compares with the shock and joy of seeing a new favorite for the first time.  

That said, the second look was pretty shocking and aweful as well. The dancers in all four pieces were more alert and energetic than the night before. The jumping in Valse Fantaisie and the level of energy in In the Upper Room ceased to look as labored as the night before. Catoya and Sarabia shed their reminders of Things Other Than Swans. This was an on-message performance throughout.

Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, as the program tells me, was a musical attempt to capture the maestro’s impressions of the Second World War. There are the odd moments of crashing chaos sandwiching the deadly quiet in which one sits in dread over what happens next.

Mr Villella and Ms Mauro at the Fireside Chat talked about the ‘generic’ (or perhaps simply general) images of war choreographed into the piece: that of the Home Front, the helicopter arms, etc. In the last review, I described the choreography using organic images (the sentient hedge, orbiting bodies), but in truth I also had no idea how to organize the anachronistic but highly persistent images of the Great War, courtesy of my fantastical love of Blackadder Goes Fourth.

The pale gleaming women of the Home Front reminded me of particularly sinister and organic barbed wire (its spikes the arms and baroque hands of the Balanchine-trained corp). Tricia Albertson’s jumping contest with Alex Wong became more competitive in the matinee: she challenged him head-on in both ability and athleticism. It wasn’t the lighter one-upmanship of the night before but a grimmer competition whose purpose is unknown.

The rhythmic trot, the precision formations strip the corp members of their respective genders – they are anonymous bodies, trying to trap and engage and out-maneuver each other’s units. This time the imagery of the Rubies women seemed more integrated into the action of the corp, pulsing into focus and then just as quickly disappeared, like reflections from popped foam bubbles. The cognitive dissonance is less when one prepares for it, but it is still disconcerting. Are they brief reminders of civilization amidst the chaos? Or perhaps is it an allusion to the spirit of woman as, or at, war? 

Someone once said that conflicts were in reality short and brutish things, most of the other time in war was spent in boredom, in anticipation and also in dread. As I watched the second movement, I kept thinking about life in the trenches, of bodies sitting still, contorting to climb over obstacles and other bodies. It is a moment of reflection in the stolen calm, in which life resumes in all its oddity. Kronenberg and Guerra in this performance was not as languorous (nor the observer as delirious) as the night before, the newly observed sharpness in their movements better accentuated the contrasts in the choreography.

Once again I short-change the third movement in my inability to call up a unifying image of its proceedings (an excellent excuse to see it yet again). Perhaps the most I can say is that if the first had directed my attention to the personalities of dancers or blocks of dancers, then the third forced me to look at the movements of the dancers in relation to each other. It was as if I were forced to view war from above like one would view a Busby Berkeley musical, where suddenly one could extract purpose and logic and even beauty from its purportedly senseless components.

The tragedy of war lies in its costs, regardless of the identity of the victor. Perhaps it was an accident of the close reading, but the image that I took away from the finale were the men, prone like corpses, staring out into nothing as the women erected trees of graveyard crosses behind them.

Valse Fantaisie 1953


“The three ballerinas, wearing headdresses reminiscent of Glinka's Russia, moved together in a perpetuum mobile, attended by the male dancer.” – From the Balanchine Foundation catalogue entry for the second Valse Fantaisie

I am rather ambivalent about the ‘modern’ costuming that every Balanchine ballet seems to have these days. On the one hand, I think it would have lent grandeur and a more overt sense of story (or at least structure) to the choreography; but on the other, the national costumes would have overwhelmed the choreography with notions of character.

The increased energy level improved the performance of this piece perhaps most of all. The night performance had dancers looking as if they were straining to jump and was very distracting. That had disappeared by the matinee and the dancers looked happy and free as they bounded all over the stage.

There is a clear structure to Valse fantaisie that at once evoked that of the grand pas de deux from Paquita (ensemble, male solo, female solo, female solo, pas de trois, etc) but also transcends it. The waltz rhythm is relentless, an ever-present pulse that sustains the action even as dancers stop, reset, find each other to dance in another configuration.

Perhaps the strongest impression that the piece made (besides the excellent dancing by all, including the late substitution for Jeanette Delgado, Sara Esty) were the number of Les Sylphides references that Mr Balanchine seemed to have snuck in. There were the sequence of one footed hops to pointe from the Mazurka and even the undulation of the arms.  

Valse fantaisie does not resemble Sylphides harmonically but there was the same choreographic integration of the corp and the soloist when the four dancers reunite for the finale. Instead of maintaining the distinction of rank, Mr Balanchine integrates the soloists into the corp (but then again, what kind of corp do four lead dancers make?), allowing them to emerge and melt back seamlessly into a moving tapestry.

As Jack noted, there were indeed some problems in the lighting, as the lighting began to dim even before the dancing was over! It wasn’t the most climactic of endings, but overall, still a lovely performance.  

Black Swan pas de deux

The small glitches in mannerisms had disappeared by the matinee performance. Sarabia, prince that he was, ditched the Theme and Variations quote. Catoya dropped the odd Don Quixote/generic Spanish epaulement that she did at the end of her fouett├ęs. The partnering seemed rougher than Saturday night, though the trick-y moments (which I am still not so fond of) - particularly the ending partner spin in which he takes his hands off - no longer looked as if Catoya was about to fall over while doing the rumba. 

Sarabia is, as I say again, elegant, but really the Black Swan pas de deux doesn’t give him much to do. In addition, I could not keep my eyes off of Catoya, who seemed to have drunk a million cups of seductive evil coffee before the matinee. While the amused detachment still remained, this time she casted her web more widely out to us, fascinating an admittedly primed audience with little more than presence. I particularly appreciated her balances that went on forever. I felt as if I were granted a glimpse into the essence of Odile, that of a potent distillation of intent and technique aimed at Siegfried with the sole purpose of getting him to say YES. It was particularly startling when, during one particularly balance, she suddenly turned her head to look at us, as if commanding us to devote the proper amount of attention and awe to her if we weren’t already, and believe me, we were!

Poor Siegfried didn’t stand a chance, and quite frankly, I didn’t feel sorry for him.  

I’ll leave off In the Upper Room as I have very little to add. I seemed to have lost track of Deanna Seay in the matinee performance. I don’t know how it happened, especially as I quite enjoyed her dancing as a stomper the night before. The smoke did not work as well as the night before, differing highly in quantity in quantity as well as location as the performance went on. The performers in the afternoon also seemed to have more trouble with the scenery – two or three got a bit tangled in the black fabric strips, but these are minor quibbles. Everyone danced their heads off (once again, Jeanette Delgado the stomping demon!) and the energy levels complemented the music (and the still convincing climax) much better. Jack noted that the two stompers at the end seemed to have jumped twice as high as they did the previous night, and they did!

Applause was not as sustained nor as loud as the previous night. There was a lot of it but not as much as the company deserved. For their next performances in a clime near me, I think I should invest in an amplifier, or perhaps an unobnoxious company of claquers to do what the city could not. 

06 October 2009

Miami City Ballet, 3 October 2009, On Tour in Chicago

Miami City Ballet in Chicago, Auditorium Theatre
3 October, 8 PM
Row P, Orchestra

Symphony in Three Movements/Valse Fantaisie (1953)/Black Swan/In the Upper Room

There’s a moment in the Vision scene in Sleeping Beauty when Aurora wafts through the Lilac Fairy’s attendants. They are arrayed in rows, suggesting paths, perhaps mazes. Perhaps it’s a foreshadowing of the thorns to come.

The image came back to me upon viewing Symphony in Three Movements for the first time. The curtain rises on a cascade of hair and legs. I was reminded of a slightly unruly hedge with ponytails and arms and legs enough for spikes. Their bodies, clad in white, gleamed (to borrow a phrase from Ms Farrell’s book) like bleached pebbles.  

There was a strong undertone of Rubies in the choreography. In fact the cognitive dissonance became so great at one point that I was forced to look down (alarming Jack in the process) to remind myself of its provenance. The jazz references grew more acute with references from what seemed to be the Charleston. Here was the ghost of McBride doing arabesques in profile, the corp of girls repeating the prancing jog of the boys in a rhythmic march, even the one brief glimpse of the tall girl, face briefly visible upside down. But always they were refracted images, seen in clusters, either in unison or in rounds, briefly glimpsed resemblances that receded into the mist.  

Particularly notable was Alex Wong in the first movement with his wonderfully soft and full-bodied leaps. Tricia Albertson repeats it after him, casually. Anything you can do, she seemed to say, well never mind about the height, here is a lesson on style!

At the end of the first movement, the corp formed a giant pinwheel as Kronenberg pirouetted her way through the criss-crossing ranks. I was sitting too low to see the pattern, but there was a wonderful sense of changing depth even when viewed it straight on. I especially appreciated the Company's clarity in movement. There was a suggestion of great physicality without it looking difficult or fussy which I loved. 

I had not thought to associate the pas de deux in second movement (echoes of Gailliard in the instrumentation!) with stillness. Space, in the absence of the corp, acts as both ornamentation and the ultimate barrier, the deep blue of the backdrop added depth to the movements even as it limited them to their bodies.

In fact the second movement seemed like a meditation on containment, motions and bodies caught up in orbit around each other. We see the motif repeated in the hands, around the bodies, and even how the dancers moved in relation to each other (was this a binary system or a planet with a satellite?).  

Kronenberg and Guerra were deliberate in their partnering – nothing hurried or affected – serenely allowing the movements to bring out their innate sensuousness. Echoing the first movement, Guerra and Kronenberg alternating with each other as they delineated the circular space around their bodies in lazy breaststroke motions (‘helicopter arms’, as Mr Balanchine called them).  

If Sleeping Beauty’s hedge were alive, I thought it might look something like the third movement, terrifyingly beautiful as it grew and moved in near-sentience. In this case, the woman was the hedge, mesmeric and prickly.

After that, I found myself rather weak in the knees! In fact I was in such a daze that I don’t quite remember what happened in Valse Fantaisie (1953), some twenty minutes later. I can report that Sara Esty replaced Jeanette Delgado and that I thought “Apollo with his three Muses, at a (Russian) social?” but beyond that and an image of Les Sylphides that I will come back to in my post about Sunday, it is a blur of waltz music. 

I located some of that lost composure for the Black Swan pas de deux, danced by Rolando Sarabia and Mary Carmen Catoya. I found myself wondering what a full length Swan Lake from the two of them may look like. Rolando Sarabia has lovely carriage and gorgeous air positions, and his Siegfried knew it. 

There is a stillness about Catoya that had a very lovely effect on her dancing (I lost moments speculating on her Emeralds). Her Odile did not deal in superfluities – she allowed Siegfriend to project his own desire onto her, maintaining an amused remoteness throughout. After all, the boy was ready to fall in love, unnecessary motions would have been overkill. However, she seemed to be a bit off of her legs at the night performance, her balances came off fairly well but her pirouettes did not look secure.

It may have been shock at seeing something non-Balanchine after such a feast, but I thought the warhorse was crammed too full of tricks, and the discomfort kept me from enjoying it as much as previously. The partnering looked off that night as well, and Catoya looked like she was about to fall onto the floor when Sarabia took away his hands during the last partnered pirouettes. I should also add that the Russianness became jarring when Sarabia launched into what seemed to be one of the male solos from Theme and variations with a series of double tours en l’air – pirouette in the middle of the coda.

I’ve only seen In the Upper Room through video, and I must admit that I don’t particularly enjoy it. Video flattens the stage and this is one piece that loses much more than average in a recording. Seeing it live restores some of the excitement and depth to the choreography that had been missing.

However, that being said, it’s still not one of my favorites (or even preferred) upon a live viewing. There are figure skating references, yoga references, all sorts of movement ideas thrown in there for an interesting soup, but appreciating the athleticism of dancers can become a bit tedious when the pacing lags and the choreography does not develop toward any unifying idea. The bombers and the stompers dance, occupy the same space, share each other’s clothes, but the choreography is sealed off against each other. They coexist but they do not interact. It became extremely noticeable in the last section, as the music tried to build toward a heart-pounding (and unsubtle) climax that the choreography was simply unable to match.

That being said, I did enjoy watching dancers enjoying themselves. Most of the dancers looked a bit lethargic in the beginning, but woke up (the transition was rather obvious) as they threw more energy and attitude as time went on, but they still looked a bit too much like ballet dancers. One notable exception from the very beginning was Jeanette Delgado, whom my eyes gravitated back to time and again, though she was replaced (I'm told) after two sections by another stomper due to injury. She had a wonderful way of throwing herself into the choreography. Her body radiated tension, as if trying to contain anarchy within its limits as it fought to get out everywhere.

[A few minor edits due to late at night stupidity and for optimistically thinking I could go it along without my program or my notes. Corrections were primarily for grammar and clarity save for a more major one correcting Ms Kronenberg's name. My apologies, Ms Kronenberg, I shan't do it again!