Thank you, Basheva, I've had a wondeful time out here.
A few more thoughts after a night’s reflection …
Dancers from the New York City Ballet
“A Celebration of Dance”
Lensic Theater, Santa Fe
The limitations of a small company tour notwithstanding these performances were really (in the Gaeadea’s rating system), “5 Smiley” affairs.
I still shudder remembering evenings of “Stars of the [*fill in blank*]” type shows. These evenings were completely hyperglycemic, carb rush affairs where one’s head is hammered into jelly by a seeming endless succession of pas de deux —Sleeping Beauty pdd, White Swan pdd, Black Swan pdd, Nutcracker pdd, etc etc etc. One wonders if careful scholarship can trace Isadora Duncan’s and Martha Graham’s sweeping rejection of the dans d’Ecole directly to one too many of these evenings.
But, naturally, with a small company and budgetary constraints, something must be left behind. Even if this company brought neither orchestra nor sets nor fancy costumes, what they did bring was more important – intelligent programming.
The evening began with Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante.” This ballet is the evening’s nod to the world of the Imperial Russian Court ballet. It is the world of elegant white tutus that look a little uncomfortable, brittle if brilliant pointe work, and hierarchical ensemble choreography. “Allegro” is also the closest the evening comes to offering what in balletic terms might be the set piece battle – its there in the concerto’s formally organized structure of introduction-melody-development-cadenza-coda, etc.
Balanchine shows why the third concerto is so neglected – it takes a particularly well polished glamour to shine. I was looking forward to Alexandra Ansanelli, but was not sorry to see Wendy Whelan substituted. She smoothed over some of the flintier passages (such as the little diagonal run on pointe that always seems like a lame studio combination) while maintaining the attack that says, “This is why I’m here!” Jared Angle’s partnering looked less secure than what I’ve seen on the State Theater stage; moreover, Balanchine allows the cavalier few chances to shine. The supporting ensemble looked like they might have been back in NYC—that is to say, somewhat grim and determined. They were Glenn Keenan, Abi Stafford, Janie Taylor, Jennifer Tinsley, Jason Fowler, Stephen Hanna, Sebastien Marcovici, and Jonathan Stafford.
“In the Night”
Music—4 Nocturnes by Chopin; Chor—Jerome Robbins; Costumes—Anthony Dowell; Lighting—Jennifer Tipton (executed Perry Silvey).
“In the Night” was clearly the most inspired programming choice. Set to 4 of Chopin’s very beautiful Nocturnes, “Night” solves very niftily the live vs. canned music dilemma of the touring group. Full company tours have enough difficulty arranging suitable orchestral accompaniment much less touring units. Taped music is the reality for most small companies.
Though I would rather see D of NYCB to taped music than not at all, at first I couldn’t help feel … oh, a sense of innocence lost, I suppose … In a perfect universe, Wendy Whelan would never have to dance to taped music. Chris Tucker’s immortal words from a recent Jacky Chan movie came to mind – “Nothing but silk touches this skin …”
However, if music is the heart of dance, then this “In the Night” had a living, beating heart – in its live music by pianist, Nancy McDill. Her playing was warm and assured, reflecting the performance onstage.
“In the Night” is one of my favorite ballets in the sub-genre of chamber music ballets. If the piano concerto form of “Allegro” claims the public dimension and the declamatory voice, the chamber form aspires to nothing less than the personal and its vocative mode is lyric. Its time is interior time measured not by public and social events but by heart beats and private glances.
Choreographed a year after “Dances at a Gathering,” critics have suggested that “In the Night” is its sequel – the youthful camaraderie and flirtations of “Dances” replaced by the mature romance and struggles of an adult love. The boys and girls of “Dances” seem carefree and classless by their simple costumes, the suggestion of an outdoors space in which they gather, the choreography’s care not to seem formally structured.
By contrast, the costumes of “In the Night” are inflected by class and the choreography seems lightly mannered. Rachel Rutherford is particularly beautiful in her tutu of flowing violet tulle. With the clean lines of their waistcoats, ruffled shirts, and aristocratic cravats, Sebastien Marcovici and James Fayette seem like all the amiable young men who marry all the deserving younger sisters in a Dickensian universe. Charles Askegard drew the hussar’s role in the first Opus 55 Nocturne (Robbins-o-manes, don’t hesitate to correct me on details – the Program Notes didn’t specify which nocturnes).
However, maybe its just me, but I imagine these dancers show us some ineffable nocturnal enchantment just a few minutes beyond the event horizon of Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Walzer” – that is, just a few minutes beyond the end of the Brahms. Its as if we followed them out onto the carefully groomed grounds of a palatial manor. It’s wrong to see a Dickensian world which is urban; perhaps Austenian or Meridithean would be better.
Perhaps, my favorite moment is the one in the last Nocturne, the Opus 9, I believe, when first the women, then the men first see and acknowledge each other. A nod, a little bow at the waist. For a moment, it seems as if the women are going to talk -- about garden parties, perhaps, or the men about horses; but, in the lyric universe of this ballet, the intrusion of the real is tenuous and the ballet ends with each couples swept back up into their private reveries. Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard in the 2nd nocturne had eyes only for each other. Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette in the 3rd nocturne played the coquette and the hapless swain but with that subtext that spells the spell of love underneath all.
“Who Cares?” (Excerpts)
Music—Gershwin Songbook orchestrated by Hershey Kay (9 songs); chor—Balanchine; Costumes—Ben Benson
The D from NYCB presented roughly the second half of the complete “Who Cares?” from “The Man I Love” to the final “I Got Rhythm” (roughly what is covered in the excellent Balanchine Celebration video). Again, inspired programming wins as this suite of dances provides chances for brilliant solo variations and some romantic duets. Yet, the suite is unified by the Gershwin score and by Balanchine’s insistence on classical movement rather than upon reliance on non-balletic dance forms that the music might suggest.
Especially enjoyable were Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard in “Who Cares?” substituting for Wendy Whelan and James Fayette. Kowroski infuses in her dancing a soloists’s hunger with a principal’s confidence, though one notices that she is looking younger than ever (and, this despite sharing the stage with such babies as Abi Stafford and Glenn Keenan).
Speaking of Keenan who danced “My One and Only,” it was suggested of Tina Leblanc in the “Rubies” seen as part of San Francisco Ballet’s “Jewels,” “not enough hip action.” This could have applied here as well. But, her technique seemed clean and fresh. In a sense, the soloist variations for “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” also seemed as if Janie Taylor (Friday) or Abi Stafford (Saturday) could use a little of the local chili peppers (to—as the immortal Emeril says, “kick it up a notch!”). Both dancers seemed too young for this role as if they got down pat the steps and the gestures but not exactly how to put the “oomph” in there. Or, how to put the “scorch” in “scorch your butt.”
Nikolaj Hubbe’s “Liza” showed plenty of show biz pizzazz. In fact, maybe a little too much … as if he was in danger of forgetting that this is ballet and not, in fact, a show number. But, with the way Balanchine gives the soloist what looks like a soft shoe number and some parts that beg for hamming, who could blame him?
The duets, “The Man I Love” for Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette and “Embraceable You” for Jennifer Tinsley and Jared Angle (Friday) or Rachel Rutherford and Jason Fowler (Saturday), really anchored this abridged “Who Cares?” While Kowroski’s and Askegard’s “Who Cares?” really was the pinnacle. But, all in all this was a very enjoyable performance—one that does credit to the full “Who Cares?” I still remember seeing by the full company in New York a while back.
A final note about the Lensic Theater. It’s a cozy but plush theater located at the western end of San Francisco just a few blocks from the Plaza. It’s small, looks as if it seats less than 1500—for southern California audiences, about the size of the Irvine Barclay or the Alex in Glendale. The house looked completely sold and the audience enthusiastic.
<small>[ 10-14-2002, 09:58: Message edited by: Jeff ]</small>