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Ballo del Teatro alla Scala

Balletto Novecento: Great choreography of the 20th Century

by Mary Ellen Hunt

June 18, 2005 -- Teatro degli Arcimboldi, Milan

Where the heck are we going? I thought, about thirty minutes into our shuttle ride through the suburbs of Milan toward the attractive but somewhat out of the way Teatro Arcimboldi.

Given the choice of taking the Metro plus a taxi, or the free shuttle bus that runs from the Piazza Duomo to the theater itself, we opted for the latter. "Very quick," we were assured.  "The bus ride is maybe ten minutes."   I had the faint sense that in an effort to lure audiences out to the sleek, modern opera house out in the Bicocca District, the box office was willing to stretch the truth a little.

Up until last December anyone who wanted to see either the opera or the ballet had a slog out to the Bicocca district in suburban Milan.  Now that its beautiful -- though smaller -- 18th century sister, the Teatro alla Scala, has reopened, we felt as though we'd been relegated to the boonies.

Nevertheless, location aside, a program of works by George Balanchine, Jirì Kyliàn and Maurice Béjart made for a nice tour of twentieth century masterpieces from the accomplished Ballo della Teatro alla Scala.  The Balanchine and Kyliàn works are particular favorites of mine, but on this particular evening, it was the Béjart work that gave us thrills.

We were fortunate to see Massimo Murru opposite Deborah Gismondi cast as the chosen pair in Béjart's loamy, "Le Sacre du Printemps."  The pair found an extraordinarily intimate tenderness amidst the roiling savagery of the groups around them.  Gismondi, who I hadn't seen since Sylvie Guillem's "Giselle" toured to New York, gave an impassioned performance, matched blow for blow by Murru's complex and intriguingly internal reading of the Chosen One.

The company's version of Kyliàn's "Symphony of Psalms" was less convincing.  "Symphony" is a difficult work to put over.  Even the NDT's own recent performance of this textured and rhythmically complex ballet was not cleanly enough executed to transmit the full effect of Kyliàn's patterns.  La Scala has the same dilemma, though Chiara Fiandra and Mick Zeni's accuracy is worth mentioning.  

Fiandra stood out also as one of the soloists in Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" which opened the evening.  Staged for the company by Patricia Neary, this particular performance looked remarkably unlike Balanchine.  Stylistically the company seems to have settled for a very upright, classically correct approach that has none of the stretch and reach that the style really requires to give it the 20th century twist on traditional ballet steps.  In the principal roles, Marta Romagna and Alessandro Grillo looked relaxed and comfortable, but especially for this Balanchine fan, comfortable is often not as fun as on the edge.

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