30 June 2014

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, 8 & 9 (matinee) November 2013: Program B, Pas de Dix (1/3)

Nothing spectacular comes out of a retrospective five months late, but myopia will ensure that I condense my impressions into slightly more manageable chunks of writing. If that isn't victory, then at least it's slightly more digestible.

The real reason is that I can't seem to finish this review and might as well post what I have before I see the company again.

Program B: Pas de dix/Duo Concertant/Tempi de Valse/Agon
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center
Washington DC

Friday, 8 November 2013
Orchestra S105

Saturday, 9 November 2013, 1:30 PM matinee
Orchestra Q106

Pas de dix is Balanchine's first attempt at condensing sections of Raymonda into a pure dance suite. It is oddly traditional, and I like it better than Raymonda Variations, though that affinity is mostly due to the imperial choreography rather than the Balanchinean veneer.

Heather Ogden and Pavel Gurevich led both the Friday night and the Saturday matinee cast. Her dancing is not demi-caractère as the proper story ballet would demand. The neo-classical editing instead reframes the dancing as a celebration of the many (alluring) facets of Ogden herself. She has a cheery vitality but does not let that descend into bland wholesomeness, which had been my objection upon first seeing her years ago with the company. She has since complicated the wholesomeness with serenity.

Though they were visibly tired during the second performance, the couple also danced better. Ogden seemed less self-conscious, letting her back and arms deepen further into the shapes that the choreography suggests. Gurevich in turn manhandled his partner less. I was aghast at his partnering  of Magnicaballi in Mozartiana and was slightly less (but still plenty!) aghast at the Friday performance. By Saturday matinee they seemed to have finally worked the kinks, or at least Ogden's arm was less willow-in-the-wind and more young-slender-sapling. To be fair, he is an elegant dancer and has a beautiful line, but technique problems, such as hunched shoulders during jumps and continued partnering issues, keep him memorable in the wrong ways.

Music in triple speed made for beautiful music but left the dancers hanging on for dear life. The corp gamely took on the tripping — or is it ripping — melody, but at speed their mazurka looked an particularly mypotic Impressionist rendering. I spent it appreciatively contemplating Gurevich's heel clicks. His foundational Russian training shines when the sternum goes up and the legs go down, presenting the man in all his noble aspects in one lean and unbending line. The eight-person corp tried, but the clicks lurched and wobbled like Barbies being stood up on their tiny high heels.

These performances omitted the corp men's variation but retained the women's solos. Valerie Tellmann did the first solo and I'm don't know who did the second (perhaps Amy Brandt?). I liked the second dancer's willingness to play with phrasing but overall wanted to find some heads to bash together. I wish Balanchine could have been clearer when he told some dancer to "just do the steps". The steps are not "done" until the dancer understand the spatial requirement associated with each step. Petit allegro shouldn't be done in a four by four box when the stage is at least three times bigger! One might as well busk for quarters.

On the subject of Balanchine, I would like to turn for a moment to "Balanchine the Ham". He glued on the finale, originally meant to be an ending mazurka for the corp, onto the grand pas coda as an extended encore for the cast. It's pretty sneaky: the false ending elicits applause, and the energetic epilogue layers the audience's applause into the soundtrack, like studio audiences at the end credits of the Dick van Dyke Show.

I complain a lot about dubious stagecrafting. It's a disappointingly predictable part of my chosen hobby. Unfortunately my desire to stop has never overcome the dubious decisions that I see on stage. Are the lights supposed to dim inside the ballroom during the women's solos? Is the dimming ballroom meant to encourage people to go home, or did these women go outside for some air and high stepping? And while dancing should follow music, it doesn't mean that the conducting should blow through the dramatic pauses as if they don't exist. A modest pause would do, but instead Ogden had to lurch awkwardly from one musical phrase into another in her solo. Twice.

My grumbling continues in the next installment, Duo concertant.

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