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 Post subject: Royal Ballet: Dances at a Gathering and The Dream
PostPosted: Tue May 20, 2008 3:04 pm 
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Alastair Macaulay reviews the Royal Ballet's May 2008 production of Jerome Robbins' "Dances at a Gathering" and Frederick Ashton's "The Dream" in the New York Times:

NY Times

Mark Monahan in The Telegraph:

The Telegraph

Sarah Frater in the Evening Standard:

Evening Standard

Debra Crane in The Times:

The Times

Judith Mackrell in The Guardian:

The Guardian


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PostPosted: Thu May 22, 2008 3:32 am 
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I find it ominous that more than one reviewer seems to think the ballet over-long and accuses it of dragging. The RB Dances at a Gathering that I remember from decades ago seemed to pass in the blinking of an eye and left you with a sense of sadness that it had to end at all, so is this yet another work beyond the capabilities of the present company?

I'm going to see this later in the run and will report back.


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PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 3:33 am 
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Totally agree with Cassandra. I never saw the Royal Ballet's golden age cast, but was lucky to see the Paris Opera Ballet one when it first opened in Paris. I remember a work that seemed to flow so effortlessly that when the end came, one longed to see it again!! It was one of those perfectly timed ballets and the end brought tears to your eyes...

Dances at a Gathering is not any ballet. It used to mark the golden age of ballet companies and, during Robbins's time, it was only danced by the Royal at its prime and the POB at its prime (and NYCB, obviously!)

Atmospheric ballets have suffered incredibly in the last decade. Even the NYCB when I saw them in Edinburgh years ago seemed unable to bring Dances at a Gathering to life...

Will be seeing the ballet soon and will review it then.


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PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2008 4:50 pm 
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The Times' David Dougill seems to have liked "Dances" a bit better:

The Times

as does Luke Jennings in The Guardian:

The Guardian


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 Post subject: The age of lead.
PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 5:22 am 
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I feel I can’t let the Luke Jennings review go without comment as I very strongly disagree with just about every word he wrote. I went to see Dances at a Gathering last night and although a couple of the dancers were good individually, this is meant to be an ensemble work and the sense of comradeship that permeated the original RB cast isn’t present now at all. It was a very careless reconstruction too as one pas de deux that I remember from the original was actually missing: there can be no excuse for that. Jerome Robbins must be turning in his grave.

Jennings begins his review by ludicrously asking:

Quote:
Who needs Rudolf Nureyev?


Well, actually we all do. Rudolf Nureyev did more for the art of ballet than any single dancer since Anna Pavlova and without a charismatic figure such as Nureyev to galvanize the world’s artistically uneducated public, ballet is going to be utterly destroyed by the relentless onslaught of ‘popular culture’

Just what is this critic’s problem with Russian male dancers anyway? I remember that last year he wrote a vile unjustified attack on Nikolai Tsiskaridze too. Is it Russians he despises or just excellence?

Quote:
…the great mistake is to think that the golden age was always then, when in truth it's always now.


Oh yeah? Funny that, now I would have said it was that period some years back when the world had choreographers, when Ashton, Cranko and MacMillan produced work regularly as clockwork at Covent Garden and over the other side of the pond Messrs Balanchine and Robbins were doing the same. No, this is not an age of gold it is an age of lead.


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 2:27 am 
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Thank you Cassandra for your defence of Rudolf Nureyev... Sometimes I feel the ballet world, especially here, has forgotten what Nureyev stood for and what his contribution was. To this day I miss him. I miss the fact that there was somebody who loved ballet and dedicated his life to make this art unique...

As for Dances at a Gathering, well, full review will follow after I see another cast, so far all I can say is that I am still in the process of recovery from having the musical numbers altered last night. Why was the Scherzo rushed in before two numbers that were slotted in afterwards and thus deprived the ballet from its dramatic climax??

Having said that, I was enjoying the performance until that moment. Granted, this is not the RB's Golden Age cast (yes! there was a golden age!!! And some of us learnt to love this ballet by looking at THOSE photographs) but each generation will always perform a work like this in their own particular way, that is the nature of the performing arts... What that means, in case we had forgotten, is that we live at a time when magic, depth and emotions are scarce... so it is no surprise that the new RB performs the piece with more giggles than depth. It works in some sections, I am not against different interpretations... But it ruined the end. The Scherzo, that wonderful dramatic moment in the piece that should lead to the end, was performed with smiles from most of the dancers... what were they listening to? Was it the same music that I was hearing? Call it nostalgia, it may well be and very happy to admit it, but the middle section of that Scherzo, as I remember it with Monique Loudieres and Kader Belarbi (Laurent Hilaire at other performances) was MAGIC. There is more to love than coy smiles... there is much more than that... and I remember the moment when that crushing chord signalling the return of the opening theme had you in tears when Loudieres broke the line of that wonderful atittude of hers... Something was coming... tragedy, the end of dreams, a war, a storm... maybe the simple end of the section... the urgency of the end of the ballet, of an age. Whatever it was, it was magic and it was deep, beyond the smiling conventions of being "in love". Maybe we have just lost that.

As for some of the reviews posted... I think a copy of Balanchine's book of ballets with that wonderfully long interview to Robbins about his work is in order for some of the critics. And lest we forget, Sibley in Barbara Newman's Reflections of a Ballerina gave some insights into the work that, for me, remain outstanding.


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 Post subject: An insult to Jerome Robbins
PostPosted: Tue Jun 03, 2008 7:28 am 
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In last Sunday's Express the best part of a page is given over to recent RB performances under the heading "Marquez's Dream job" with a large picture of Roberta Marquez as Titiania and Bennet Gartside as Bottom in The Dream. Very annoyingly it isn't available on line.

Most of the review, by Jeffery Taylor concerns Romeo and Juliet and The Dream. Two paragraphs are written about Dances at a Gathering, so I will quote both in full.

Quote:
American Jerome Robbins's 1969 Dances at a Gathering is pastel-clad against a sunny cyclorama but remains irredeemably a dated throwback to a between-the-wars balletic whimsy - a genre against which MacMillan fiercely rebelled at the Royal Ballet with raw human relationship works such as Romeo and Juliet in 1965.

Dances at a Gathering has achieved a holy cow status among the cognoscenti, perhaps due to a childhood fondness for ballet as sweet innocence, compliant, hand-holding girls and jolly japes from the chaps. The dancers do a superb job, Leanne Benjamin adds more intellect and style, perhaps, than Robbins intended, John Kobborg is sheer quality and Lauren Cuthbertson looks out of place, but the work is as dead as the dodo. All I can say is grow up.


Now exactly where is this critic coming from? Is he new to the ballet and seeing it for the first time? Or are we dealing with yet another RB apologist trying to make us believe that the ineffectiveness of the current dancers in this work is due to the ballet being damaged goods? To compare the subtlety of Robbins to the often crude cynicism of MacMillan tells us quite a bit about the writer’s personal tastes but he does he have to insult the more educated elements of the audience with his request for them to “grow up”?


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2008 9:52 am 
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Royal Ballet
Double Bill: Dances at a Gathering and The Dream
Royal Opera House, London
Monday 9 June 2008



The Royal Ballet presented a revival of Jerome Robbins’s masterpiece “Dances at a Gathering”. The work, while Robbins was alive, used to be a landmark that celebrated a company’s Golden Age. The Royal Ballet had it in its repertoire during the Nureyev, Sibley, Dowell, Wall, Mason, Seymour… generation and Paris Opera Ballet performed it right after Nureyev’s departure as director of the company, when Loudiéres, Platel, Guérin, Hilaire, Legris, Lormeau… were étoiles of the company.

“Dances at a Gathering” is no ordinary ballet. It requires ten artists, rather than ten dancers. It tells no story, but it deals with those things that only dance can do… feelings, human relationships as they come and go. In a way, “Dances” celebrates life as few ballets do. And, lest we forget, it celebrates dance and dancers as even fewer ballets do.

I did not see the old Royal Ballet production, though there are enough photographs to give testimony of what the work looked like in those days. I did manage to see the Paris Opera Ballet in the early nineties and what I saw was one of those works that defies reason, logic and that transcends deep into the mind of the viewer. Yes, Robbins created a ballet about human relationships, about how these relationships come and go and yet how much they can mean at a specific time and place.

“Dances” was a manifesto for Robbins, and it was a manifesto on the importance of friendship and love and the sense of connection between people. And even though the ballet was created in some sort of randomly order, the final result had such intrinsic logic in it that it was hard to believe the choreographer had not had it planned from beginning to end from scratch. Such is the nature of life, such is the nature of art. It happens. And once it happens it seems illogical to think how or why, great art defies such categories and questions.

I saw two performances with two different casts in the present revival. They were both terribly disappointing and, I’m sorry to say, far from the artistic standards one should expect from the Royal Ballet company. In the first performance it seems a mistake from one of the dancers prompted a rearrangement of the music that completely destroyed the work. In the second performance, and I was told it was not the only one, a main pas de deux was taken out.

If only for that, the Royal Ballet company should really think about what they can and what they cannot perform at present. If a ballet is beyond their competency, perhaps it would be better if they did not perform it. After all, “Dances” is part of their history and if they cannot celebrate and acknowledge this any more in the way they should, perhaps they should be more honest with themselves and their audiences.

The quality of the performances was so poor in so many instances that it was hard to believe this was the work that, not so long ago, was unanimously hailed as a masterpiece.

Granted, a work should adapt to new times and dancers. In this respect, “Dances” managed to do that. But, on the other hand, what it showed was that our times and dancers are not very deep in their understanding of what they are doing… and that their coaches are failing to pass on to them the meaning of what they are supposed to be doing.

Friendship is not just giggling. Love is not just coy smiles. There is a depth in those emotions that was missing in both performances I saw. And that wonderful sense of connection, of meeting and parting... and meeting again... and, at the very end, in pure Sondheim style, "I'm still here", that moment in which the dancers simply return to the stage as an affirmation of life and its everchanging stages.

There were moments when one wondered if the dancers were listening to the same music as the audience. Why were they all smiling in the “Scherzo”? Couldn’t they hear the restlessness of the piece, the urgency that it brings?

I have little to say about what I saw because it goes beyond my comprehension that this company was allowed to present the ballet like this. I will refer to Robbins’s words, something that seem to have been forgotten when dancing or reviewing this piece, apparently. They come from Balanchine’s Festival of Ballets, from a very long interview originally published in “Ballet Review”.

Robbins said this:

“… I suppose that vast sky, it is almost like nature changing on you. You’re a little worried about what is going to happen next, it doesn’t matter if it goes up or down. It’s just that it changes. Everything changes.”

“… the end of the piece had to come out of the scherzo, that very restless piece which ends with them all sort of whoosh running out –disappearing like cinders falling out into the night, and it couldn’t end there, either. That’s not the end of it, that’s not how I feel about these people –that they went whoosh and disappeared. They are still here and they still move like dancers. They are a community. (…) They may have felt a threat, but they don’t panic, they stay.

(…) So coming back after the scherzo to the stage and the floor that we dance on, and putting your hand on it –if it’s the earth or a ballet dancer’s relationship to a wood floor- that somehow is the ending I knew I had to get to somewhere.”

I would recommend that interview for anybody interested in the work. It explains Robbins’s ideals and ideas. It does not explain the work, but it gives so many cues as to what it was meant to be.

It was a really sad revival.

On a happier note, the revival of “The Dream” was a much better occasion. Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson gave really intelligent, mature and layered interpretations to their roles. It made justice to Ashton’s work and it reminded you of what a genius Ashton was when dealing with narrative pieces… in fact, was it a coincidence that both Ashton and Robbins, around the same year, decided to celebrate friendship in two of their landmark works? Well, unfortunately both works have suffered terribly in the last few years. “Enigma Variations” has had very poor performances and so has “Dances at a Gathering”… it may be a sign of the times we live in.


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