24 March 2010

Suzanne Farrell Ballet, 6 March 2010

(My notes for the evening's program are less precise. For some reason, I was given a program to the Mariinsky Opera's production of War and Peace and not to the ballet, so I have no idea of the substitutions, particularly as the distance of my seat made it difficult to see faces. Please correct me if I am wrong, horribly or otherwise.)

Haieff/Faun/Midsummer/Apollo
6 March 2010, 7:30 PM
Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center
Orchestra X107

While I consider Row R in the Eisenhower Theater a perfect fit in height and distance from the dancers, Row X was also acceptably wonderful. The overhanging promenade compressed my view of the stage, but the additional rise at X made it easier to observe spatial depth between different layers of choreography.

Haieff Divertimento, on its own merits, is not a strong opening to the evening's program. For that matter, it is not particularly a masterpiece. The music meanders in subtle undulations, the choreography seems to squeeze unfinished segments of familiar ballets together, and the ending comes as a bit of surprise (what, already? what happened?). I think at intermission I mentioned to Jack that it seemed like a doodle, albeit one that we gladly pay to see!

Four couples in minty turquoise frame a lone cavalier in white as he tries to fill a couple's role by himself. It's an interesting conceit - man without woman trying to fill the place of two, but he doesn't quite know what is missing. Henning looked uncertain in this opening section, and I wasn't sure whether this was due to personal choice or choreography but am inclined to think the latter.

The two dance an idiosyncratic duet, replete with pawing motions of the feet, lightbulb hands from Apollo, and a whole section that seemed lifted from 4Ts. Holowchuk's solo was beautifully soft, that is, what I could discern of it in the mid-to-late evening lighting. The finale would have worked more effectively had I a better idea of what solo contribution Woman (or at least Holowchuck) brought to this gathering. Henning seemed genuinely startled when his girl spun away from him and jet├ęd off for parts and peoples unknown. Don't go, he seemed to say, I know what I'm missing now.

Faun was danced by Michael Cook and Natalia Magnicaballi this evening. The changed partnership presented a completely different character than the Mladenov/Magnicaballi pairing at the matinee. Cook was a youthful Faun, still searching out and testing the boundaries of his domain. Unlike this afternoon, Magnicaballi entered quietly, almost apprehensively, in anticipation of the strange unfinished creature that she would find within.

The entire performance projected a youthful innocence about their fascination with the mirrors that suggested that, with time and experience, their narcissism may yet be mastered by their mutual attraction to each other. After the duet and kiss, the Girl exits quietly while Cook's Faun lingers over the experience - they need time and distance to think, but who knows what will happen when we're no longer looking?

Repetition inevitably entails comparison. Cook is a shorter, stockier Faun than Mladenov, and must work harder to achieve clarity in shapes that his technique or inexperience does not yet allow. There could also be more modulation to delineate highs and lows in his performance. Cook draws our attention to the Faun's thinking, his hesitation in deciding how to approach the Girl (or whether he should at all), that Mladenov's near-electric affinity to Magnicaballi obscures.

Another beautiful performance from Angelova and Seymour in the Act II pas de deux. Once again I am prevented from saying more due to the murky lighting.

There was a moment in Apollon Musagete when I chanced to look around and realised that the theater was completely silent for perhaps the first time that evening. What a moment to remember.

The Muses (K Draxton as Calliope, V Angelova as Polyhymnia, N Magnicaballi as Terpischore) gave very musical performances, though there seemed to be some disagreement (sometimes within the same solo) as to whether their depictions should be naturalistic or impressionistic. Draxton in particular seemed indecisive about the source from which her words emanated. Magnicaballi was a very sensitive but subdued Terpsichore, submerging herself in the music. The woman herself was less substantial in character. Angelova ran into a bit of danger in the triple pirouettes to arabesque - she went valiantly after triples but did not always finish cleanly - but her phrasing impressed once again. She took a horrific belly-flop to the floor in Coda - unfortunately amplified by microphones placed in the strings - and looked disoriented as she picked herself up slowly, but rejoined her fellow dancers and finished without a noticeable difference in the quality of her performance.

This was Michael Cook's debut as Apollo and it was clear that he has an idea of how to develop the character. However, he needs to work harder to define levels and shapes with his body. His Apollo in infancy was youthful and wild, and he wasn't able convey character development to a point where either of these qualities were mastered. The Muses give him obeisance but it was clear that their submission was somewhat voluntary. He is called to ascend Mount Olympus, but taking his rightful place will be a challenge. I look forward to seeing what he does with Apollo in the future.

After the performance, Jack remarked that Apollo was 'not bad' for twenty-four year old choreographer. I think I replied that it wasn't a bad effort for a choreographer of any age. Overall, a most satisfactory ballet weekend in DC.

23 March 2010

Suzanne Farrell Ballet, 6 March 2010 (matinee)

These are my 'official' reviews for BalletTalk. I will supplement them with less official impressions as time allows.

Donizetti/Faun/Midsummer/Agon
6 March 2010, 1:30 PM
Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center
Orchestra R109

I would like to gibber incoherently for a moment at the truly excellent quality of dancing by the company. These dancers seem genuinely happy to be dancing, and that joy permeated their performance and made their steps glow.

Donizetti Variations is a piece that, were I to hear it too many times, would likely incite me to shoot my stereo system. On a faint acquaintance, however, it is merely relentlessly happy and looks as if the Paquita grand pas de deux had been transplanted into Act One of Giselle. The May Queen (Kendra Mitchell) welcomed us to view her courtiers (romanticised peasants all) as they showed off their fine ankles and calves in various permutations of humanity.

Mitchell's May Queen was content to let her court frolic, but her courtiers knew that they celebrated at her sufferance. For those slightly unclear, one good solo soon settled who was boss. In comparison, Michael Cook's performance was less authoritative. The technical demands of his solo looked as if they had defeated him, but his determination to _finish_ reminded me of Albrecht amidst the Willis. The trumpet joke, as Jack noted, was muted, but it worked out fairly well once the audience figured out what was going on.

There's nothing quite like a beautiful set of muscles rippling into awareness as the Faun began his exercises for the day. Mladenov, substituting for Henning, capitalized on his height in every languid stretch and pose, creating stark shapes that resonated in afterimages long after the performance ended. This Faun was clearly and comfortably the ruler of his little domain, but it was clear that he wanted (or anticipated) something unexpected to break up the monotony.

Mirroring Mladenov's anticipation, Magnicaballi carried herself like an unfurled flag. I thought she nearly vibrated with suppressed excitement as she entered the studio, subtly shifting the Faun's fascination from his reflection to the awareness of something 'other' (and similarly beautiful) in those mirrors. Their awareness of each other was like a physical entity keeping them in orbit around each other, which in turn seemed to diminish the initial impact of meeting each other's eyes due to its inevitability. Instead, the real shock was reserved for the moment that they managed to break their study of each other, back to a less complicated admiration of their reflections together. When the Girl finally flees, it seemed like an affirmation, of both rejecting the complication and intensity of being together. Instead the Faun goes back to sleep, content with a faint memory of the girl and the dangerous temptation of kissing.

Violeta Angelova and Ted Seymour substituted for the Act II pas de deux from Midsummer. The choreography is unexpectedly delicate despite the difficult partnering, and seemed to show (with greater feats of trust in each other) that the dancers' affections and destinies are intertwined. I would like to say more, but unfortunately was defeated by the lighting, with whom I was in unwitting competition.

Agon, already difficult musically, was more than a little off in my only viewing this weekend. The trumpet was ahead in the music in spots and the woodwinds' tuning seemed wholly discordant instead of merely dissonant. The first pas de quatre opened with a short definition of open and closed positions and needed greater clarity from synchronisation. Overall the corp gave a very competent performance. The choreography flowed organically though I think some of the shapes (amidst the confusion of limbs) could be, again, better defined.

In the first Pas de Trois, Michael Cook danced on the edge of restraint. If this were a contest then he definitely won in energy but not refinement against Holowchuk and Brandt. In fact this was a recurring theme throughout the two performances that I saw - that he had the _idea_ of execution, but that his performance of it wasn't as clear as his energy alone would allow.

Violeta Angelova shone in the second pas de trois. Her Bransle Gay flowed languidly from one position from another, achieving impossibly etched positions and sharp angles without becoming staccato in her phrasing. The juxtaposition was a great reading of the choreography and marks it as a performance to remember.

Mladenov and Magnicaballi are well-matched in essentials, both being long of limbs and bursting with dance intelligence. They did not dance the pas de deux as a competition in brute strength and flexibility (and given the advances in training over the past fifty years, nor should they), but instead treated it as an challenge in projecting ambiguity. Who dictates the moves? Who decides what comes next?

The pas began as a simple contest between Mladenov and Magnicaballi in asserting dominance, with Magnicaballi willingly - even gladly - losing. But as Magnicaballi is bent into a back attitude against Mladenov's shoulder, she bends just a bit further and presses into his face. Mladenov flinched, as if realizing (with more than a little apprehension) that perhaps his victory had not been as clear-cut nor as desirable as he had thought.

10 February 2010

Speaking in analogy works much better in class than when explaining ballets

A little earlier, while buying Kennedy Center tickets...:

"The story? Apollo is born. He discovers how awesome rock music is. He picks a chief groupie, and then they all get stoned and ascend to a higher plane of consciousness!"