Sunday 6 May Matinee
Harris Theater, Chicago, IL
Balanchinean first nights seem to invite overbearing scrutiny. I plead in part excessive caffeination while trapped on a slowly moving train, but the other half of the argument is that first performances of Balanchine works often resemble dress rehearsals (I'm paraphrasing from someone, but whom?) and the dancers often haven't fully worked out how to relate to the audience. Perhaps the strategy for greater commercial success and/or artistic acceptance for me (insert laugh here) is to post the second night's review first, then post my initial querulousness when no one is looking*.
There's a moment in Barocco's Second Movement when the cavalier carries the First Violin across the stage on, her legs surging into the air like waves. The corps mirrors their journey in waves of bodies, surging and subsiding, to the opposite shore; it intensifies the impression of distance, and brought strongly to mind the Act II Panorama from Sleeping Beauty. The closeness of the camera, along with the forced narrative that it imposes on the proceedings (which may or may not be in sympathies with the choreographer's intentions), really cannot not prepare a viewer. This was my favorite discovery of the night.
Courtney Wright Anderson continues her excellent dancing. She is generally very 'correct' in her Balanchine performance, but I think recorded music make dancers complacent. In this case, Anderson finishes her choreography before the music does and then poses until the music catches up. I still don't see much awareness of Ted Seymour. I did wonder whether the choreography (or just my very finicky aesthetics) could support such an interpretation. After all, Seymour is not given an instrument but is an auxiliary of the First Violin; his function is to help her in developing the singing lines in the Second Movement. However, I ultimately don't find unawareness interesting to look at. While the partners moved together beautifully, they were ships passing in the night emotionally, even despite Seymour's careful attention and increased security in the lifts.
Ellen Green continues to perplex me. She obviously has the idea of the choreography (as I had mentioned, the shifting of the weight), but she sticks out stylistically and musically, especially against the other two soloists. I've admired quite a few Danish men in the Balanchine repertoire but have not had that pleasure for the women. Is this endemic to the current company or just a quirk of the dancer?
The curtain began to come down before dancers got into position in the final tableau, cutting off any suggestion of expansiveness in space that the dancers' open arms would suggest. I have already noted previous problems with the lighting, but allowing the house to determine when the dance ends instead of the reverse seemed like a serious misjudgment.
A drive-by perusing of Wikipedia tells me that Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra was begun on Christmas Day, 1928, with the Third Movement begun first. Some call it wit, but Your Critic finds it to be the musical equivalent of laughing gas. Mr Stravinsky's tossing off epigrams on champagne and I'm giggly on the effervescence alone.
That said, I would recommend that dancers warm-up to the Third Movement before attempting to perform Rubies on stage, so that they can firmly fix the humor and wit and fun in their minds before going on for the whole thing. Holowchuk on Saturday night visibly perked up during the Third Movement, as if she had finally stopped worrying over the choreography and decided to have a little, which carried marvelously into the Sunday matinee. While Holowchuk initially couldn't figure out how to make some of the posing work, her dancing gave us some elegant mischief. She isn't quite the lady who goes slumming with the local bad boy (Renko was too wholesome looking for that!), but I can easily see her dazzling the catering staff into doing her bidding, possibly to create a manmade river of champagne in the salon. And if she and the hostess convinces everyone to dive in and take a swim, so much the better.
Matthew Renko's energy was better focused than on opening night. He still appears too wholesome, but I think that looking the paragon suits him, especially in getting out of scrapes that his devilish energy gets him into. Who, me? says he as he runs away, while the women shake their heads in fond exasperation. His troupe of men were noticeably sharper in their marching precision today, trailing behind him in admiration and emulation.
After an excellent Saturday performance, Jane Morgan needed half a movement to get into character Sunday, as if our hostess had just woken up and hadn't quite got her face on before going downstairs. But a cup of coffee later and her amused worldliness was back in force. As with Saturday night, her shaky adagio technique drew attention to itself instead of keeping our attention on the character. But then again, it is a nervewracking sequence of slowly unfurling arabesques after an already difficult movement. The hostess exits, slightly disheveled by the fun she's orchestrated, but golly, even that is rather fetching.
My karma likes to bludgeon me with whichever ballet I don't particularly care for until I capitulate into at least detached appreciation. The candidate for my recent reconsideration has been the excerpted Who Cares?, courtesy of Ballet Chicago. To be honest, the work is pleasing mostly due to its musical familiarity, but it can rather trying to sit through, especially as a program closer, for someone not raised in Americana,. To paraphrase from Miss Austen, too much of Who Cares? is rather too light and bright and sparkling. The corps looks thrilled to be dancing on stage and seemed like such nice hardworking cityfolk in their variations. In general, the work wants shade, which the soloist choreography provides much too late in the sequencing.
I didn't see much difference in the soloist work between the Saturday night and Sunday matinee performances. Ted Seymour was his usual excellent self*** and I wish that I could see him in more roles to stress test that thoughtful musicality. Susan Belles seemed more in control of her nerves/legs today and built on her previous performance. The other two soloists (Ellen Green and Robyn Wallace) were technically secure but intellectually perplexing. Who are these women, and what is this man to them? These dancers have not yet found the narrative within their dancing to engage us emotionally.
*The other option for fame and fortune, that of writing stream of consciousness commentary to endless after-Petipas à la Russe by third-rate touring companies, make me long for a lobotomy.
**Case in point, Union Jack. I'll invite the Wrath of Karma and mention it if it means that I get to see it live, at least once.
*** Excellence is not boring, but finding new ways of describing it can be.