20 May 2011

Ballet Chicago Studio Company, 15 May 2011: A Balanchine Celebration

Serenade/Rubies/Who Cares?
15 May 2011, 3 PM
Athenaeum Theater
Orchestra Row K Seat 9

I think I like watching Serenade with students, or at least young dancers, best of all. When the curtain first opens, one can spot the little gestures of nervousness, small disagreements about where to arrive in the beat, heads in disharmony, etc etc. What I love about this work is that in the most satisfying performances, we can observe the dancers lose their self-consciousness and their nervousness in the escalating music and choreography until they are wholly absorbed in movement.

A few particulars:

The "Russian" couple (an always impressive Hamilton Nieh and Ellen Green, BC alumna) partnered well, but it wasn't always clear whether Ellen Green was dancing for her partner or for the audience. That outward projection of self was jarring after the mesmeric rush of corp bodies before it. I couldn't take my eyes off of Rachel Seeholzer's beautifully expansive dancing but was struck by her determinedly neutral (and sometimes almost pained) expression. She has a delightful smile in Who Cares?, performed later, and I wonder if there could be some acceptable medium between the two, particularly as expression (even in a Balanchine work) is an integral part of one's performance.

I think there was too much artifice in the lighting design in Serenade (and really throughout the performance). At times it was uncomfortably murky and at others it deflated the theatrical tension by calling our attention to particular dancers. Who matters? Why not let the audience determine that through the dancing on stage? This was unnecessarily heavy-handed stagecraft.

Rubies started off rather slowly, and I was actually concerned that the corp had run out of energy since Serenade. Jane Morgan is a coltish demi-soloist and shows promise in the role, but dances small without encouragement. Fortunately everyone got a shot of adrenaline from Matthew Renko in the Villella role. Unlike Villella, who rules with charisma and attack, this guy rules because his kung fu reigns supreme. Woe betide the man who tries to challenge him in a dance-off, because he'll never keep up. Rachel Jambois in the soloist role danced with wit and humor, does not quite hold her own when standing still. I've always read McBride's pose as compelling the audience to pay attention to _her_ even when Villella is dancing, Jambois tells us to look at Renko.

After seeing Who Cares?, I can honestly say that I've now met the nicest bunch of New Yorkers. This was a gentle performance, but one danced with dedication and humor. Ellen Green was more effective here than in Serenade, though she does not yet smoulder in stillness as the role has potential for. Seeholzer was delighted in the jumping girl solo and Morgan danced clearly but has room to project more effectively. Ballet Chicago wisely united the cavalier roles for one danseuse (as was originally performed at NYCB), and in the process magnified the Apollon imagery for at least this one observer.