Program A: Mozartiana, Episodes, Romeo and Juliet
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Thursday, 7 November 2013
Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center
Orchestra Left, S3
Everything was a little off-kilter in Mozartiana tonight, as if the energy hoarded for last night had bursted at a few seams. We were left with some interestingly conceived dancing that didn’t seem to belong to the same ballet.
Natalia Magnicaballi has a luscious rubato and uses it intelligently. While I liked Ogden yesterday, she anticipates the music too much and that occasionally comes off as a lack of confidence. Magnicaballi allows her phrasing to flow through the music, never hurrying her movement for the sake of the next beat. Part of that power comes in her calm upper body, extending her head, back and arms so that the movement always feels completed to its full potential.
Perhaps it’s part of Magnicaballi’s emploi, but there’s always a sense of fragility in her dancing. Today it colors the Preghiera (as it did in the Riccercata yesterday) as tragedy. It was not an invocation as yesterday, asking divinity to use her as instrument; it was instead a sacrifice and she was the courtly victim, Andromeda on the rocks as appeasement or intercession.
There was a new cast of girlish attendants, attendants to the doomed bride. These girls are older than yesterday’s cast, and there is not enough physical contrast between them and the womanly attendants, nor between them and Magnicaballi.
It was yet another interpretation from the four (or five) that I have seen, and I was looking forward to how that theme would be developed. Unfortunately, the Gigue happened.
Kirk Henning has elongated limbs that seemed more suited to the geometry of petit allegro. While still not quite satisfactory, it was an improvement over Grosh. However, his usual musical intelligence seemed to have failed him today. This was a frolic worthy of the Soviet clown out of Swan Lake. I won’t say that he simpered, but the uncomplicated cheeriness made the fine music insubstantial. It did not follow what has come before and made me wonder whether I had sleepwalked into a different ballet between movements. Once again, as with Grosh, he was most effective while standing still in the Menuet. His leave-taking was flirtatious and seemed oddly inappropriate for a courtly jester, whose dreams of dignity exists only on my soapbox.
Again, not much to say about the Menuet. Once one sees the shepherdess curls, one cannot unsee them.
In the Theme et Variations, Magnicaballi gave a command performance of the solo variations. It was a masterclass in phrasing. Again, like Ogden, the execution seemed spontaneous and yet endlessly complex.
Pavel Gurevich is Magnicaballi’s cavalier today. While the two are long-limbed and seem physically suited, their dancing was less harmonious than what was promised by their promenade. Gurevich moves well for his size and build, but his upper body lurches oddly upward when jumping. The partnering looked curiously underrehearsed. Their spacing was off, and there were a few parts in which he looked like he was manhandling Magnicaballi in the partnering.There was one turn en attitude in which I could only focus on his hand gripped around her wrist, while her hand trembled above like an autumn leaf. Magnicaballi looked visibly off-center after the pas de deux, and all but staggered off the stage. It was more than a little disastrous, and the whole thing made me think longingly of Momchil Mladenov, one of Magnicaballi’s former partners of a similar build, since retired from the company.
The Finale was an uncomplicated relief. Henning and the girlish attendants came together in joy, Gurevich and Magnicaballi tried to remember the distance between their respective limbs, and the whole thing came to a triumphantly relieved end.
Allan Lewis conducted the orchestra. As with last night, it was a finely textured rendering, marred only by the clarinetist, who seemed to have forgotten his fingers. The reed also seemed suspect in the higher notes. The lighting changes were more noticeable than tonight. I started to squint during the pas de deux and realized that my eyesight was not in error. It is a modern intrusion and was unappreciated. Also as with last night, I tried very very hard to ignore the flouncy flounces on Magnicaballi’s gown. It was easier today with all of the other bewildering things that were happening simultaneously.
I mentioned last night that black-and-whites are hard for me to digest. Unlike the gentleman sitting next to me, I cannot follow the tone rows without sheet music. I spent most of yesterday’s performance sorting the bodies on stage so that I can match the action to the music. It’s a cheat, of course, but repetition and a perverse appreciation for arbitrary musicality yields enough amusements to make the endeavor equitable.
Last night I ranted on the opacity that is Episodes. Episodes of what indeed. My growing suspicion, planted last night, that these were episodes of episodes. In other words, it’s a sequence of events that loop back upon themselves in reference. It is much like the Four Temperaments, except the repetition is not both melodic and choreographic. Instead, it is only choreographic, integrating thematic ideas and the choreographic conventions that came before in tighter and more enclosed rounds.
At intermission today, I mentioned that the whole thing reminds me of PDQ Bach’s Art of the Ground Round (Opus 3.19/pound). That was a tour de force of parody upon the convention of the round (think row, row, row your boat). The idea of rounds is something that keeps popping up in this piece, and the whole thing makes me wonder whether Balanchine has constructed one hell of a joke.
Symphony, Movement 1, is a masterclass on rounds. The opening tableau is even vaguely circular, as are the opening arm isolations. The dancing starts with simple rounds, in which one couple does a movement, the next couple replicates two beats later, repeat until finished.
The dancers then start a second round, escalating the complexity as dancers find rules to play with. First, the corp chooses to replicate the main couple in the same direction, in the next round they choose to replicate in contrast. Then the corp decides that moving in unison among themselves is boring and that they should move in tight contrast to each other even as they are still moving in counterpoint to the leads.
The pairs then get tired of each other, and suddenly it’s time for rounds with genders. First it’s straightforward rounds with men and women, but then for added complexity, the lead man and woman extract themselves to create two more layers of moving bodies. I felt like a giant game of choreographic Twister and I was a little cross-eyed, trying to keep score.
Valerie Tellmann and Matthew Renko were the leads today. Both the music and the dancing were more confident when compared to yesterday, which also made it easier to keep track of the action.
Webern is difficult, and the dancing can be obscure. I heard one audience member behind me muttering in dismay. She was advised to “try to take a nap, if she could”. Disappointment is to be expected, but I wish it didn’t have to be so loud during the dancing.
Jordyn Richter and Ted Seymour were the leads again in Five Pieces today. At first glance, they seem like anecdotes that seem to to have nothing to do with rounds, but they provide thematic material for integration later.
I labeled these as “episodes of unreadyness” in my head. The woman and the man are never in the same physical or mental place. Richter plays it straight. Her acrobatic antics are tools to befuddle poor Ted even further. He wants to look up, she looks down. He looks for her, she hides behind him, legs in the air creating the ballet equivalent of bunny ears (antlers!). Ted wisely does not overact, letting the absurdity of the choreography enhance his guileless expression.
Concerto, the third movement, puts elements of the first two movements to work. The dancers start in a simple round, but as they escalate in difficulty as in movement 1, the lead couple incorporates the juxtaposition of purpose seen in movement two into their dancing.
Michael Cook and Elisabeth Holowchuk danced again today (Holowchuk substituting for the scheduled Paola Hartley). I hadn’t particularly liked his dancing with Magnicaballi, as their reciprocal comfort often looks like complacency, but he’s working out quite well with Holowchuk, who seems to to have an adversarial relationship with him on stage.
The last movement of Concerto made me laugh, as it was literally a round of women surrounding Cook. Just to make sure that we haven’t missed it, we also start with Holowchuck tightly encircling Cook with all the limbs she could find. It’s got to be some sort of a joke, but the final choreography for Cook is that of a man desperately looking for a way out of a round.
Last night, the preceding contrast of bodies stood in counterpoint to the physical homogeneity of Riccercata. Tonight, the preceding fugue of choreography was startling when we arrive at the conventional choreographic voicing of the Riccercata, an orchestration of Bach’s Fugue in 6 voices from Musical Offering (BWV 1079). Webern’s orchestration adds instrumental texture even as it preserves the (dare I say) conventional harmonics of Baroque music. It was a weird return to normalcy after the stringent compositions that preceded it. (I felt the audience members behind me stir in interest, and then in appreciation. Nicely done, Mr B.)
Six groups of dancers, five corp groups and the lead couple, represent the six moving voices, though the lead couple retains the singing melody at all times. It is a moving tableau of bodies, exploring permutations on a motif. Heather Ogden and Ian Grosh were the lead couple tonight. She was majestic in contrast to Magnicaballi’s restrained melancholy, and Ian Grosh found the dignity and simplicity in movement that should have gone into Mozartiana. When they finally bade the curtains to go down, Ogden gestured with authority, imbuing her hands with weight. Here endeth the masterclass, they say.
I don’t have anything to add to last night’s observations about Mejia’s Romeo and Juliet. Holowchuk and Henning make it work despite the choreography, though they were less spontaneous in performance tonight. Despite some sour flourishes by the french horn, Tchaikovsky got another elegant performance, its floridity sufficiently subdued to keep it on this side of parody.