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 Post subject: San Francisco Ballet Program 4: Dybuk, Afternoon of a Faun,
PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2006 12:44 pm 
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Location: Where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars
San Francisco Ballet 73rd Repertory Season, Program 4, War Memorial Opera House, March 7, 2006

You get the forest and the trees in this staging by Jean-Pierre Frolich of Jerome Robbins, “Glass Pieces.” The “trees” (the three Rubric couples) emerge from the “forest” of movers who walk before they run, and then retreat into the background, as Muriel Maffre and Pierre-François Villanoba join forces to imbue this tapestry with its legend, and then return on bent knee chassées to steward the work through its finale.

At a recent reunion, Miriam Ellner eulogized the High School of Performing Arts’ former Graham technique teacher, David Wood, by reminding alumni of how he began his first class. He demanded that each student simply walk across the floor—not a stylized walk—just putting one foot in front of the other on the diagonal until you reach the opposite corner. Many of them, into their eighth year of dance training, had found this very difficult.

“Glass Pieces” opens to an Amsler Grid backdrop. If the viewer happens to suffer from macular degeneration, the dipping, rising and breaking up of the gridlines provide a benchmark of declining vision. But don’t reach for your opera glasses—you might miss something as everyone walks, however plainly or ungainly, to the pulsing repetitions of music by Philip Glass. There seem to be so many dancers walking that for all you know the setting is intended to be a subway station in Mexico City. They walk, crossing each other on David Wood’s diagonals, fighting self-consciousness, their spandex costumes, each a different send up of the physical culturist. Out of the perpetual motion come two dancers, Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun and Ruben Martín, dressed alike in yellow. The walkers recede as the couple in yellow stops walking, plots out the coordinates of a pas de deux to do and then folds back into the fol de rol. We see two more dancers dressed alike—in mauve—Elana Altman and Moises Martín. They break out, dance against the stream, and are joined by the reappearing couple in yellow. Again with the walking! Then comes a couple in mint green. They are joined by the mauve and yellow guys. Partners are traded and colors intermingled. We have a veritable palette, with colors emerging and mixing, washing up pastel out of the mêlée of walking dancers. The question has been, “How do you walk?” It changes to “How do you run?” You run low to the ground, knees bent, like silent guerilla fighters in a big hurry. Now that you know, the music stops. Blackout.

The bent knees carry over into the next segment, called “Facades.” The program omits the cedilla on the ç, and I must register my protest against any omission—intentional or otherwise, that serves to strip the French alphabet of its sibilance! Sibilant silhouettes appear, knees bent, against the bottom-lit backdrop. The profiled women turn to face the wings as they do a little tippin’ step, the kind of walk pre-teens do when they skulk into a room, hoping to be noticed by working on not being noticed. It looks be-boppy when danced against the Hannon-like repetitions of the music. Maffre is swept in en l’aire by Villanoba. She is dressed in a silver blue latex body suit, and Villanoba is wearing something in the brick red family. These colors distinguish them from the other dancers, and rightly so because their work registers on a different scale. As the background dancers vibrate and sway from one foot to the other, Maffre and Villanoba deliberate over long, sustained stretches and other counterpoints, creating a kind of dialogue with their silhouetted backup. Their held balances are stretched into a different dimension by the violin that accompanies them in a leit motif that blooms and overtakes the repetitions. This carries the piece into a whole new process initiated by the façadist couple. It is like watching the emergence of a very grave cinematic plot reversal, even as the sub plot continues underneath. These two dancers are well-paired shape shifters, giving us pure movement against the vibrating corps, who bend each time the featured couple stretches.

In the Akhnaten excerpt, a drum beat accompanies dancers running, then thrumming the stage in prances, as six men take the space and then more arrive. As they advance, retreat, and interpolate, it crescendos into a modernist extravaganza. I worried during an earlier piece, “Dybbuk” that the men were too ballet-balky in their ribs to launch the hold/release percussive movements that were required. Their work in "Glass Pieces" convinces me that there is no problem with the dancers: all that’s really required is better choreography. They are joined by the women’s corps. By the end, we are completely sold on Robbins, Glass, and every pair of coordinates on the grid that the dancers have anointed, reappointed, and marked with their stunning colorations.

“Dybbuk” is long, and layered in the lexicon of the mystical Hebrew Kabala tradition. This is very much in vogue among those who react to violations in the rationalist realm by turning to obscurantism. I am not at home on this mystical plane, and am feeling somewhat rebellious. Pleasantly, the music has many textures, with shofar-like horns and violins going easy on the schmaltz to better serve the choreography. It begins with the incantations of two male voices, as spines twist around the music. We get regulation raised arms, with hands that meet in claps, "spirit"-driven bent knee runs, held, droop-burdened walks and similar tailings left by Diasporaic men, led by Gonzalo Garcia. The women, led by Sarah Van Patten, are busy being haimische angels. Van Patten’s facility improves with each succeeding week in the season. She suffuses her work with warmth here, as the angel of angels, in a white bell-sleeved costume—as sweetly triangular as a hamen tachen, someone with whom you’d love to celebrate Purim. And on it goes, with men in white in fourth on the floor in splayed-ribbed backbends, the angel babes rocking from side to side, and men and women marching en relevé—after all, who can ever really relax while waiting for the inevitable jack boot on the stair? Kabala symbols appear stage right on a screened backdrop. Garcia’s conversion is evidenced in lunges and leaps and possessed, if contemporary, cabrioles. As the dancers in white start to assume the primitive shapes of cave drawings, a male dancer with red fringe on his white sleeves runs through the composition like a stray thread. Could the red be the blood of the lamb? Egads! Is he the Dybbuk? As the women halt their arm movements to the punctuation of a bell sounding, the overall motion becomes less disjunctive. They civilize the piece—such nice Jewish girls! Little dramas unfold and disappear and there is a pas de deux with Garcia and Van Patten, where they show that they’ve finally got the spirit, skipping and twining, and then the music slows and their explorations end on the floor with him on top. There is no way out of the torment of this patriarchal labyrinth—even as a b’rucha (blessing) is intoned and in the end, Van Patten finds herself as alone on the stage as Dorothy was when she awoke from her dream of Wizards, Lions, Tin Men and Ruby Slippers.

It was my first Jerome Robbins “Afternoon of a Faun,” and like “Glass Pieces,” it could just as well be a painting that has moving parts. The set within a set is a ballet studio that is actually a three-dimensional diorama, drawn in perspective, and placed somewhere where night has fallen. The gray walls and ceiling admit the indigoing evening through a skylight, windows and a door. It is starkly riveting. Ruben Martín lies on his back on the floor in front of the studio’s mirror, and we, the audience constitute that mirror. He stretches a leg and rolls over randomly into those half-nervous, half-deliberate stretches and explorations that dancers do before class begins—studying their flaws, their strengths, while hoping that whatever extra effort they make here will reward them during class. He is shirtless, wearing black tights, which contrast with the pastel gray set: in other words, a perfect adornment. Just as you were thinking that he is perfection, Yuan Yuan Tan steps out of the evening and into the studio, dressed in a powder blue belted tunic and tights, her dark hair unloosed and streaming about her. She gives us big ballonés and then stops where he is. They stare at the mirror (us) together. She goes to the barre and takes a grand plié in second, and then rises. He lifts her and she raises and extends her leg into developpé á la séconde, and then moves into arabesque. What seemed so stark just after twilight is becoming more complex in the shank of the evening. As she returns to the barre for a long cambré back, he runs his hand slowly down the length of her hair. She bourrées away to the other side of the stage and each dancer is now stationed on opposite sides of the studio now, pinioning and defining the space between them. They lunge deeply toward one another. He lifts and turns her parallel to the floor, as she stretches her long body stage left and right into something unattainable for the vast majority of humanity. This is portraiture within a landscape. It is the phenomenon of their partnership that is reflected back to them in the mirror (that is us), and she watches him in that same mirror as he kisses her. Then she brings her hand to the place on her face he has kissed, and disappears, hand to face, out the door and back into the night. This “Afternoon” explores an inclusive, declarative narcissism. If you are prepared by other versions for a particular kind of stroking, you will find this kind to be its opposite: selfless, with its self love split generously in two, well, three ways if you count how it forges a fourth dimension by taking it from the context of the studio into the theater, where the audience is the mirror. It is a lovely homage to what it means to let go of the studio and move onto the stage—where art is made in the crucible of its audience.

Tina Leblanc and Joan Boada pair up for “Other Dances.” There is an onstage piano, and Michael McGraw plays the “other” Chopin. Leblanc is light, fast and assiduous in her interpretation of the piece. Boada is not turned out enough to “let it go” in all the indicated contemporary directions. Instead, he pushes too hard from almost turned in preparations. It’s just not his thing. The piece was originally set on Mikhail Baryshikov and Natalia Makarova, and my best guess is that it was meant as a deeply felt personal statement that only those two dancers could fully interpret. Makarova has said that it was her favorite contemporary piece to dance because it fit like a glove. Perhaps it will be best remembered as a charming accessory for those two dancers.


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 Post subject: Rachel Howard's review in the SF Chronicle
PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 1:50 pm 
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I agree completely with what Ms. Howard says about Yuan Yuan Tan.

Quote:
San Francisco Ballet hasn't quite nailed exquisite 'Afternoon of a Faun' in program of Robbins dances

Rachel Howard, Special to The Chronicle

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Tending the heritage of Jerome Robbins has always been a deeply personal project for San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson; it's also a mission that stretches the company to its fullest. In San Francisco as well as at New York City Ballet, Robbins is the essential counterpoint to that more dominant 21st century ballet genius, George Balanchine. Where Balanchine was crystalline and grand, Robbins, who died in 1998, was humanist and intimate. The most touching of his ballets push dancers to move with seeming spontaneity, to abandon all artifice, to dance as much for one another as for the audience. And though nothing onstage Tuesday could match the watershed moment that was San Francisco Ballet's first "Dances at a Gathering" in 2002, the company is growing beautifully in his works.

Two fresh acquisitions are offered on this latest all-Robbins program, which runs only through Sunday.


more...


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2006 2:06 pm 
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Saw the performance on Tuesday. A few impressions.

Dybbuk: I really like this ballet. I know many last year didn't like it at all and I've heard the dancers complain about it too. It is contemplative and precise. I love the incorporation of Jewish folk dance into the men's dances. Sarah van Patten was sublime. She seems to have a real emotional understanding of the characters she dances. I envy those who saw her dance "Faun".

Afternoon of a Faun: Ruben Martin was quite good. Innocent and sexy at the same time. He lacked great presence, but that may come as he gets more comfortable. Yuan Yuan Tan has a reputation as an Ice Queen onstage and that hindered her performance here. Her lines and technique are impeccable but she's too cold. I didn't feel there was any emotional connection for her. Ruben was trying, but he was being shut out. She's also too thin and her feet look even more enormous when she's too thin.

Other Dances: The choreography looks hard. I wish Joanna Berman was dancing this. The musicality wasn't there with Joan and Tina dancing it. Technically lovely and Tina was almost there, but I just didn't see the musical "marker" that should have been there. Mike McGraw was amazing as usual.

Glass Pieces: It's dated. But I wonder if it's just the comstumes. If they weren't required to wear 80's aerobics outfits, maybe I wouldn't have been so distracted by them. Elana Altman, Ommi, and Muriel Maffre looked great. Especially Muriel. She looked healthier than she has recently.

Overall a great evening. I much prefer Robbins to Balanchine. I find Mr. B to be too clinical at times and too repetitive. I find Robbins more musical, lyrical and human.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 2:20 am 
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Who wouldn't want to see Joanna Berman dancing in another Robbins/Chopin ballet? Now that the company has acquired "Dances at a Gathering," "In the Night," and "Other Dances," will they want to program an entire show to these ballets?

Robbins' "The Dybbuk" is difficult. More complete program notes would help -- it's not that we of the audience are stupid, but we do the best we can with what we have.

The "Glass Pieces" does seem dated but I think it's the costuming as LMCtech has said. However, I feel that its energy and faith in sheer dancerly spectacle are not mislaid.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 10:22 am 
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I tried to like Dybbuk. I really tried. But I think there is a reason it did not have success. Frankly, it's boring. And too long (the two are connected, a ballet that engages is never too long). It had its moments, but they were few. All the skill of the dancers could not make something of a work that just did not give them enough material. Some bits reminded me of West Side Story, another Robbins/Bernstein collaboration, but what works on the streets of New York does not work in synagogue. The ballet was not quite a story ballet and not quite an abstract ballet and just ended up being confusing. The men's costumes were ghastly; the caftans worn by Hasidic men are hardly fashionable but they have a certain dignity born of long tradition which the transparent dresses - I really can't call them anything else - lacked. And women don't wear Hasidic caftans at all, but did in this ballet. I understand the Robbins/Tomasson connection but there are so many good Robbins ballets, reviving a substandard one is just not necessary.
Fortunately the rest of the program did not disappoint. If Dybbuk was too long, Afternoon of a Faun was too short. Pierre-Francois Vilanoba stretches, admiring himself in the imaginary mirror. Such a handsome hunk of dancer I am! Then laughs at himself, mugging for the mirror. Rachel Viselli tiptoes in. She wants him to notice her, but does not want him to know that she wants him to notice her. They seem to be alternating between awareness of the mirror, and what they are supposed to be doing, working, and awareness of each other, where the mirror is forgotten. It could have been twice as long ans still engaged.
Other Dances also worked. Yuan Yuan Tan was more lighthearted than I've seen her at other times. Others have noted her remote quality, which is perfect for Swan Lake but not always appropriate; in this ballet she gave me the impression she was smiling, although I could not really see her features. My first look at Darvit Karpetyan. He is about the opposite of Baryshnikov in appearance; tall, lanky and dark. Amazing sky-high leaps. I doubt if Tan & Karpetyan looked like Makharova and Baryshnikov but they made the ballet theirs. The final PDD was especially stirring and got everyone cheering. And the music was terrific.
Glass Pieces is a very urban ballet, more New York than San Francisco. I've been on BART and NY subways during rush hour. BART does not come close. The first scene really did look like a NY subway with everyone dashing to and fro. Of course they will ignore people dancing in their midst; they are New Yorkers, always in a hurry, and used to odd behavior. It doesn't get a second glance. The scene does not really end, it just stops. When you exit the subway, the madness hasn't ended, it is still going on but you are no longer part of it. The second part of the ballet was really two sets of music. The rhythm had the women in an endless assembly line. They have gotten off the subway but they are not going to enjoy themselves or just veg out; they are rushing home for women's second job. Meanwhile, Muriel Maffre and Vilanoba dance to the melody. They are outside time, outside daily life. Perhaps they are the dream of the women rushing home to cook, clean, do laundry? The third part again recalled West Side Story but with better effect than Dybbuk. I did not see it as harvest (sorry, know it was supposed to be but I can only say what I saw). What I saw were two groups of tough young urban men facing off and when the women entered, mincing in short skirts, it was "here comes trouble". Rather than a rumble, they faced off in dance, a much better idea. The third part did not seem as connected to the first two but worked because the urban theme unified the ballet.
I have been able to attend 3 programs this year and after each I ask myself what ballets in the program I would pay to see again. In this program everything but Dybbuk.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 2:07 pm 
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I totally disagree about engaging ballets never being too long. Dances at a Gathering is about 10 minutes too long. It's a beautiful engaging ballet, but Balanchine's suggestion to make it longer diluted it and simply made it too long. Most ballets are too long.

I saw the last movement of "Glass Pieces" as very tribal without any hint of West Side Story. The dancers looked like they were having a good time. It's nice to see the corps dancing their hearts out instead of posing in the back.

To defend the costumes in Dybbuk... Dance costumes are rarely acurate representations of actual clothes. That's what movies and opera are for. If those men had been in fully accuarte Hassidic wear we would never be able to see their bodies. The women are in similar representation dress to symbolize their belonging to the community in opposition to the posessed woman and her lover. And as a juxtaposition of their support of her in the previous movement. I like the suggestion of a story. Why does a ballet either have to be abstract or literal? Why can't there be a grey area like the one often present in modern dance? The choreographic craft of this ballet, the actual steps are interesting and sound and THAT is what makes this ballet revivable.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 2:49 pm 
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Well, LMCTech, looks like we just disagree. Which is fine. Aesthetics don't have a "right" or "wrong"; it is what appeals. All I can say is what appeals to me and what doesn't. I would not say everyone has to agree.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 9:05 pm 
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I like "Dybbuk" much better the second time around. It's still not my favorite Robbins work but there was enough stylistic artistry in it that grabbed my attention for the most part. Sarah van Patten and Gonzalo Garcia were a pleasure to watch in their covertly sensual performances.

It took a while for me to get used to Yuan Yuan Tan in "Afternoon of a Faun," after years of watching Darci Kistler's long blond mane in the role at NYCB. But Tan does have an air of superiority and detachment that in a way makes her interpretation more close to the spirit of the story.

Tina LeBlanc and Joan Boada tickled me in "Other Dances." I hope they perform this again next season -- I have a feeling they'll be able to take it to a new level by then.

Some may take it odd but I feel SFB's performances of "Glass Pieces" are generally more satisfying than NYCB's, partially because of the orchestra but also because it seems like SFB dancers have more fun in it -- they're actually attacking it instead of walking through it. Muriel Maffre and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba were exotic in the slow movement.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2006 12:29 pm 
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crandc, I love disagreements about aesthetics. That's what makes the discussions interesting.

Azlan, interesting observance about Tan in "Faun". I hadn't thought of the original but was thinking more of the seeming intentions of Robbins when I said I didn't like her performance because of it's coldness. You have a good point though. Najinski's nymph was quite remote.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 14, 2006 1:45 pm 
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LMCtech wrote:
I totally disagree about engaging ballets never being too long. Dances at a Gathering is about 10 minutes too long. It's a beautiful engaging ballet, but Balanchine's suggestion to make it longer diluted it and simply made it too long. Most ballets are too long.
If you find it too long, that means it's no longer engaging you. For me, Dances at a Gathering is engaging for it's entire length. It even makes me want to see more. Dybbuk, on the other hand, doesn't engage me at all, so even if it were 2 minutes long, it would be too long.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 15, 2006 2:15 am 
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Okay, it was just a matter of time before somebody posted in this quote attributed to Doris Humphrey:

Quote:
All dances are too long.
Some dances are more too long than others.


Also, Arlene Croce agrees with LMCtech in saying that "Dances at a Gathering" is about 10 minutes too long. But, Croce also says that it's not the same 10 minutes each time.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:46 pm 
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Robbins’ Wondrous Works
San Francisco Ballet’s All Robbins Program
Saturday, March 11, 2006 – 8:00 p.m.
War Memorial Opera House

by Dean Speer

What a treat to get to see a number of significant ballets by Jerome Robbins all compressed into one show! Not only do we get to enjoy a chronological range of his output but also to experience the spectrum of his artistic vision.

These works went from the small and intimate 1953 “Afternoon of a Faun” to his 1983 full-company work “Glass Pieces.” The in-between years were represented by the Kabbalah-laden “Dybbuk” of 1974 and the showcase duet of 1976, “Other Dances.”

Probably the strangest of the half dozen or so of Robbins balletic fare I’ve seen over the years, “Dybbuk” can sometimes border on the inscrutable and is a cross between the Gothic, Jewish legend, and “The Exorcist.” I’m a firm believer in what I believe to be a holy and divine saying as it pertains to visual art forms: “If I can’t see it, it’s not there!” Now that I’m keying in a review and really studying the program notes and casting insert, I see that movement four is subtitled, “The quest for secret powers.” Who would have known?! If a piece needs program notes to explain itself, then somehow in my lexicon, it hasn’t been entirely successful. Sure, I can agree to the value of notes to amplify or to give background, but those of us lurking in the audience shouldn’t have to have score cards to keep track of what’s supposed to be going on.

Okay, so there I said it. Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I think this bears analyzing. I believe one of the challenges that Robbins faced when working and re-working it is that he’s made a dance with 10 sections or scenes don’t always seem to exactly relate to each other in a logical flow. Kind of a musical review structure but with ballet vocabulary. Now you may think that I’m dumping all over poor, deceased Mr. Robbins, yet it may surprise you that I also like the piece. It’s just not your “father’s Oldsmobile” kind of ballet and we have to be prepared for something a little different.

It’s also a showcase for the dancers. Robbins throws in lots of allegro steps – jumps, sharp jètés from static positions. The male trio, aka “messengers,” of Jaime Garcia Castille, James Sofranko, and Matthew Stewart was a particularly nice and kinetically satisfying movement. Gonzalo Garcia and Yuan Yuan Tan were the lead couple. Tan’s role was that of the one possessed and Garcia’s part was a showcase for his considerable male ballet talent.

It’s been noted elsewhere that Robbins fussed and tinkered with this ballet over the years, and was never completely satisfied with it, partly blaming the music. I believe Bernstein’s score to be a good one and with production elements by some of the de rigeur greats of the time – Rouben Ter-Arutunian for scenic design, and lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

His reinterpretation of “Afternoon of a Faun” is like looking into a glass globe where we have intimate glimpses into the sometimes hothouse ballet world – a world of mirrors, reflections, and the hot burnishing of dancers and their craft. From the moment the prone Moises Martin lifted his leg and flexed his foot, we knew we were in for a treat. When Sarah Van Patten trots in en pointe from the left upstage wing and enters the white clad “studio,” the center of this balletic universe visibly shifts. One hallmark of this work is that the dancers never really make eye contact and stay abstractly distant yet partner each other. When the male breaks this spell by turning his head and tentatively giving her a kiss on the check, she retreats back to her mirror gazing and soon exits, leaving the “Faun” to reflect.

“Faun” is a perfect ballet miniature and it was great seeing it again after last viewing it many years ago at New York City Ballet

While I had seen many photographs of “Other Dances,” I had not seen it before. This pièce d’occasion was first made on two greats – Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov for a gala in 1976 to some Chopin mazurkas and waltzes. It was a joy and great fun to watch. My only reservations would be that the “turning” male solo where Baryshnikov got cutesy with a fake “I’m so dizzy” just doesn’t hold up. I also found myself thinking that male dancers are better these days than 30 years ago and are eager to do more than the Misha vocabulary of steps . Joan Boada was great and did his best with the material, but again I found myself being embarrassed for him during the cutesy stuff. Fortunately, both Robbins and Makarova had the good sense and taste to not devolve into “sell,” and the material for the female is quite delightful. Tina LeBlanc was a bright powerhouse, punching out steps with easy élan.

“Glass Pieces” ranks first among works I’ve seen to “minimalist” compositions, and here Robbins really shows his mastery of the choreographic and presentational craft. He gives us a snapshot of people on city streets by having it begin with a woman coming in from downstage right who strides purposefully in, heading to the up-left corner from which a man pops out with the same purposeful stride and soon, the stage is filled with people busy about their business.

In the second movement, “Facade,” Muriel Maffre and Pierre-François Vilanoba find each other for an extended pas de deux. Their respective strengths play off of each other and I enjoy how Maffre makes use of every inch of her beautiful gams – more than just a lovely développé, she unfurls her limbs with an awareness that says, “I know what I’m doing and how it expresses and shows the intent of the dance.” All the SFB Company men are very strong and among the best, Vilanoba being a leader among the pack.

Movement three, “Akhnaten,” returns to the motif of striding and the piece ends just at the right time; Robbins knowing when to conclude and not extending beyond what he had to say choreographically.

The SFB Orchestra was led by Gary Sheldon and the Chopin for “Other Dances” was played by pianist Michael McGraw.

All-Robbins, all terrific ballets, and all balm for my eyes.

_________________
Dean Speer
ballet@u.washington.edu


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2006 3:46 pm 
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Quote:
My only reservations would be that the “turning” male solo where Baryshnikov got cutesy with a fake “I’m so dizzy” just doesn’t hold up.

Not only does it not hold up, I never liked it to begin with.


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 8:49 am 
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As a note of interest, NYCB has announded that it will be reviving 'Dybbuk' for the next Winter Season (Jan-Feb 2007), and also doing a Robbins Festival in 2008, the 10th anniversary of his death.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/04/arts/ ... ted=1&_r=1

Kate


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