‘Seeking Velocity,’ ‘Just You And Me,’ ‘Carmen’
Blue is the color of the cursed
by S.E. Arnold
November 12-14, 2004 -- Proctor and Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center, Cininnati, Ohio
“Seeking Velocity,” the title of the new work choreographed by Cincinnati Ballet artistic director, Victoria Morgan, evokes an image of flight. One imagines, for example, the thunderous crescendo of a sleek and sharply tapered form lightly adorned with wings and tail streaking down a runway seeking the velocity of flight. Its growing speed spurning its heaviness. Light. Lighter. Lightest. Airborne. And like a “home sick angel” the bright craft flashes upward seeking, one dreams, the Light.
The light of “Seeking Velocity” radiates from the clear respect Morgan has for the art of ballet. Set to Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings, op. 20, the choreography for this three movement work weaves the lexicon of ballet into, with, and around the music in way that set one at ease and allows the work’s seamless blend of humor -- the bright colors and goofiness of its Dr. Zeus costumes, for example -- and its seriousness of intent to draw one into its world. Additionally, the steady crescendo of dancers showcased the individual and ensemble capacities of the Cincinnati Ballet – from its use of two males and then two females in the fast first movement, a pas de deux with a supporting group of four males for the adagio of the second movement, and a male duo with a supporting group of six ladies for the fast final movement and the entire cast for the finale, in which Mendelssohn cites the melody for the words, “for He shall reign forever and ever,” from Handel’s Messiah.
The center movement of the work, however, stands out and both casts in the adagio pas, couples Janessa Touchet with Dimitri Trubchanov and Tricia Sundbeck with Benjamin Wardell, tempered the movement’s melancholy mood with the elegance, skill, and verve. The pas included the ballerina walking in the palms (a la Tetley’s “Embrace Tiger” and “Return to Mountain”) of the male chorus. Additionally, there were moments through out “Seeking Velocity” where the dancing figures glowed as if lit from within. That Rembrandt-like illumination, which waxed and waned with the flow of the music and choreography confirmed like some divine punctuation, one thinks, the choices of steps, their ordering into phrases, the spatial relationships of the bodies on stage, and of where and how the sound meets the motion made by Morgan. The lighting, designed by Trad A. Burns, deftly showed one the values in and of Morgan’s work. Clearly a visible partner in the program’s artistic enterprise, the lighting designs created by Burns in turn explained, meaning made obvious, the detail in the works by Devon Carney, ballet master to the Cincinnati Ballet, and Kirk Peterson, choreographer in residence, with equal efficacy.
Set to music by David J. Mathews, Paul Oakenfold, Ben Watkins and Gocoo, Carney’s “Just You And Me” is as the title tells a pas de deux. Mixing the seemingly jointless elasticity of modern dance with danse d’ecole, including ‘oh, wow’ bravura turns native to pointe work, the drama inherent in this mix along with the work’s driving rhythms combined to make a real crowd pleaser, from the projection of huge hard edged ever changing geometrical shapes, the couple’s adversarial stance back to back, distant spatial relationships, and the glaring regard each visits upon the other.
Illustrating that “melancholy is the nurse of frenzy” (Taming of the Shrew (Induction, scene 2, line 128)); the heavyhearted lightheaded Don Jose seeking a just-you-and-me bond rushed a sleek and sharply tapered casting of metal into the fiery light of that wanted bond; and the bright Carmen of that seeking darkened. Darkened as the lighting often did from vivid red for Carmen to livid blue for Don Jose. In fact, one fancied that the lighting functioned as a term in the logic of music and gesture informing Peterson’s “Carmen.”
Erupting from Shchedrin’s reworking of themes from Bizet’s opera, the first sounding of the familiar ‘fate’ theme charged Don Jose’s first solo. And Peterson’s Tudoresque sense of gesture and its motivation and its fusion with music showed that Don Jose arrived with a troubled history; and that he saw the world as blue. Blue is the color of the cursed. Don Jose is as Carmen foresaw -- her curse. Don Jose is blue. Yet, every moment of the ballet wants, perhaps the way Don Jose wanted, to describe so as to figure out Carmen.
The dramatic contrast between the introduction’s mysterious moment of revelation when Carmen divined her fate in a scrying bowl and the explosive beginning of the first scene pictured the turbulence of Carmen’s being. Yet, she like the weather whic defies prediction; the sudden change from tempestuous and fearless fighter in her confrontation with Alicia to the soft seductiveness of a sultry summer day when arrested for that brawl by Don Jose. Moreover, the tenderness of Carmen’s pas with Don Jose provided the stable air for the courting hawk-like display of passion in her pas with the matador, Lucas. And, Lucas like Carmen, in contrast to the all too human expectations of Don Jose, appeared content with the promise of the moment.
However, as Carmen’s scrying and Don Jose’s dance with the Gypsy Fortune Tellers showed, moments whether hurricane wild as Carmen’s fight with Alicia or as fair weather stable as the Dragoon’s trio are nevertheless ruled by some scowling blue providence. And, Don Jose defeated by his want to bind Carmen to him solved the problem of his desire by stabbing her. Dead, Carmen at last became a thing he could in fact hold.
In spite of the narrative’s heaviness, under the baton of Carmon DeLeone, the orchestra of strings with an awesome array of percussion, soared. And lifted by the thermals of the music’s effusive good humor, for it is a fun score to play, rather than the heat of the story’s self-destructive passion, the dancers of the Cincinnati Ballet took to the choreography like birds to the air.
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