10 July 2014

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, 8 & 9 (matinee) November 2013: Program B, Duo concertant (2/3)

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

When done well, Duo Concertant looks almost spontaneous. What do I know, this is only my first and second live viewing of it, and my initial contact was with a dizzying Germany recording that was more endurance challenge than a watchable historical document.

Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook danced both performances. Over the years, Magnicaballi has occasionally looked frightened, complacent, adjective, etc etc etc. Whatever she does, she is always reacting in the moment, pushing against the choreography to see what she can get away with. In Duo, she reminded me of a child arranging her limbs this way and that in a summery backyard, seeing (and laughing at) what shapes and angles she can contort herself into while rolling around in the grass.

Cook has matured considerably since I first saw him in 2008, but I was surprised to see premeditation in his dancing. It wasn't flat and it would not have bothered me had I seen only one performance, but there was a creeping sameness in his performance of each piece over multiple performances. Would I buy multiple tickets to see Farrell or d'Amboise dance the same way or emote in the same places (yes, yes, I mean not emoting, Mr B) every night? There is considerably more in a story ballet on which to hang one's eyes and opinions, but Duo is small and depends on the ability of its dancers to be interesting. I could excuse my complaints on insufficient caffeination, but I also saw it in Mozartiana when he took the male lead in the evening performances on Wednesday and Saturday. 

I'll return to the theme of spontaneity here and note that I couldn't tell and can't remember if Magnicaballi emoted or danced the same way twelve hours apart. She would be deadly if this were a superpower. Clark Kent should study up to better maintain his disguise.

Anyway, over the years, I have thought that the familiarity and comfort of Cook and Magnicaballi's partnership eliminates the tension inherent in some of Balanchine works. I first noticed (and complained) about this when I saw them in Movements/Monumentum (a series of performances for which I have notes but never managed to write about). Friendliness is not necessarily a detriment, but Balanchine's men and women never seem to share the same purpose in movement, or even the willingness to achieve the same goal. This is more apparent as we ascend the ladder of abstraction, as the spareness of music, staging, even the leotards, amplify that conflict. Fortunately, the chirpy Stravinsky music in Duo can be interpreted as "play" and we got to see two highly capable principal dancers romp about while flirting on stage, a diluted conflict (of sorts) that take advantage of their mutual feelings.

I spent Friday's performance thinking that the action looked flat. This is pretty odd given that I was in center orchestra, to the right of center, in my preferred flocking area.  In my first years watching ballet, I saw whatever I could afford in student seats or whatever the box office couldn't sell to other chumps. In the case of ABT's Swan Lake in 2004, I never saw any of Gillian Murphy's 32 fouettés. Fortunately I didn't know that they were supposed to be there until later in the week and was only confused by the sudden burst of applause at an empty stage. In this case, my seat was excellent, the dancing was excellent and my interest was academic.

I migrated left, past the center line, into an unoccupied seat at the matinée, . The perspective change was minor but the action didn't look so uncomfortably squashed anymore. The dancers didn't suddenly dance better, but the change in perspective made them look better.

If the current staging was as Balanchine wanted it, then my hypothesis is that we weren't supposed to look at Duo straight on. This is a sneak peek of a interaction between the music and the dance, where  the dancers are dancing (regardless of where they're projecting their smiles) for the musicians. It's also possible that I don't particularly like Duo.

Last and very least my mental Duo ends before Movement 5, the Dithyramb. Movement 5 is an exercise in stagecraft, a love story rendered in stark German Expressionist lighting. But it, like all the cascading hair in the revised Serenade, laboriously tumbles into Ham territory and make me long desperately for the Intermission.