30 September 2014

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, 9 November 2013 (evening): Program A, the Costumed Complaint

As promised in my last entry, here is (more) whinging about costuming. For actual performance impressions, scroll to the end and read my meager conclusions.

Program A: Mozartiana/Episodes/Romeo&Juliet
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center
Washington DC

Saturday, 9 November 2013, 7:30 PM Evening Performance
Orchestra U120

As I remarked to someone recently, I never knew that I had such a wellspring of vitriol for poor stagecraft. Of course, I once stopped a period movie because one of the actresses wore a dress without sleeves (infuriatingly inaccurate unless you were Russian and several decades later), so perhaps it wasn't that unexpected.

Balanchine created Mozartiana for the Tchaikovsky festival. Both the NYCB and the Balanchine Trust tells me that both composer and choreographer pay homage to Mozart in it. The music is texturally lighter than most of Tchaikovsky's usual chamber output, and both casting and costuming evokes an earlier European sensibility rather than the Franco-Russian hodgepodge of the late 19th Century.

The closest historical analogue for lead ballerina's costume is the robe à la anglaise, featuring a narrow bodice and a very full pleated skirt in a bell shape. The Eisenhower Theater exhibits TSFB costumes, including one of the original Mozartiana ballerina costumes with its bodice rendered in  black velvet bodice with long narrow sleeves ending at the wrist. I could complain (slightly) that more accurate sleeves should end at the elbow with frilled or lace-trimmed sleeves from one's chemise, but it is a better example of the aforementioned robe than the revision, which has moved those needed frills to the neckline, flapping like a string of flags on a naval ship. While Ter-Arutunian's original costumes were also sleeveless and had lace at the necklines (a design copied by most other companies mounting this piece), the results are restrained, appropriately boudoir rather than vulgar.

N Magnicaballi in Mozartiana. Image taken from but not linked from the Kennedy Center.

Ian Grosh (and unnamed female performer) in Mozartiana. Image taken from DanceTabs, sorry!
Once again, poor Ian Grosh gets the brunt of my exasperation with his sartorially anachronistic jester.  Slashed sleeves and hip-length garment equals doublet, which fell out of fashion over a century before the women's costumes in this ballet. Louis XIV certainly contributed to its decline by codifying court dress that included nothing of the sort.

When I watch a ballet, I expect all of the parts to work in harmony in supporting the illusion that the dancers create. In this case, it was like watching Esmeralda shaking it at court with Flouncy Shakespeare. The illusion is broken, and I cannot simply excuse the disjunctions because the costumes are "pretty enough".  

Anyway, onto impressions. 

Heather Ogden continued to be amazing. The expansive dancing on Wednesday night looked like a mere dress rehearsal compared to the lush textures and shapes that she leaned into tonight. She was an earthbound spirit, dancing to create a path between worlds. I would have been more awed, except I was highly caffeinated and my nerves too deadened to summon that particular emotion. The marathon performances seemed to have got to her a little as well, as she lost her legs during the final pirouettes and fell into her closing pose. Michael Cook also improved, handling his ballerina and the choreography with more confidence than his earlier outing. 

The other parts, Grosh and the four attendant ballerinas, proceeded on course and I remained unmoved. My complaints about the Jester (Grosh and everyone else) is a general complaint about the transmission of choreography, or rather the prioritization of what to teach. In contrast, I treat choreography of the four attendant ballerinas like I do the first movement of Diamonds, as an exercise in patience before more interesting stuff happens. This performance was better than Thursday's exercise in incoherence, but the ending movement (Theme and Variations) did not exceed its choreography and ended tonally as one of "general revelry" rather than of celebration.

As to Episodes, I've posted my conspiracy theories and have all but stood on my head trying to find my way in. Looking at it has increased my understanding of the other black-and-white Balanchines, but neither the choreography or the music is as coherent or as interesting as those pieces. It's not a doodle like Haieff Variations, but it is definitely not a masterpiece either. 

I don't have much to say about Episodes during this performance besides that it was tautly danced. in the Ricerata, Natalia Magnicaballi and Pavel Gurevich made the choreography personal but did not dip into tragedy as they had done on Wednesday. However, the lighting technicians seem to have thrown subtlety right out of the window in the second movement (Five Pieces). Jordyn Richter and Ted Seymour were now fluorescent under the harsh full lighting, making them hard to look at directly. Whether a result of audience complaints or emanating from "artistic improvements", the changes sucked.

Making stink bombs out of expired eggs (or would readers prefer lemonade out of lemons), the slightly enhanced look did put Richter and Seymour's attempt at a pas de deux strongly in mind when I watched Agon again recently. Whereas Agon is a courtly competition between dancers, the juxtaposition of purpose in Five Pieces seems to suggest that the competition hasn't even started. Seymour was game, wrangling with a passive-aggressive Richter who seemed to prefer that the competition will never happen. She was always a hair too far from his hands, crouched down when he points up, hiding behind his back and making rude gestures with her legs, in general plotting sabotage by attrition against an oblivious nice guy. 

I don't have anything new to add to my impressions of Romeo & Juliet. There is only so much that commitment can do to mitigate ineffective choreography. At its best, the dancers helped me to ignore the unmusical choreography. At its worst, I was incredulous that this was actually happening.

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