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 Post subject: Royal Ballet in Philadelphia
PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 10:56 pm 
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Location: Philadelphia
I'm not sure if this belongs in the Ballet in Europe forum, but since this took place at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, I figured I'd post it here. I just returned from the third evening of the Royal Ballet's performances here in Philadelphia (and yes, it is just after midnight EST)...what an experience!

I must say I've never been to an open-air ballet (the Mann Center is partially covered, but open to air...and performances are rain-or-shine); I've never been to a ballet where you can buy a cheeseburger or eat popcorn during the performance; I'm pretty sure I've never been to a ballet where audience members had shorts and hawaiian shirts on (along with others in evening wear); and most certainly I've never been to a "Swan Lake" where people were still conversing and finding their seats through the entire overture, beginning of the first act, and into the Act I Pas de Trois!

It's been over 30 years since the Royal Ballet has performed in Philadelphia, and I doubt this is the type of "welcome back" they anticipated. While the Mann Center provided a beautiful setting, with trees framing one side of the venue and the sun setting over the hill at the rear of the theater, I'm not sure the Mann audience was prepared for the ballet. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a dancer on the stage as the curtain rose after a lengthy overture and to see people STILL lingering in the aisles, wandering into their seats...let alone an orchestra member whose glorious music during the overture was being drowned out by audience conversation.

Once the audience was settled (which took an embarrassingly long time), and the ballet was in full swing, it was beautiful-- glorious sets, graceful dancers, etc...but sadly, the audience had a hard time settling down once again after the intermission between Acts I and II. Two warning bells were not enough to put everyone back in their seats by the time the curtain opened on the dancers.

Act II was glorious, and principals Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli were absoutely captivating. Then came an uncommonly long intermission between Acts II and III. Were they giving the audience more time to settle down? When Royal Ballet Director Monica Mason appeared before the curtain prior to the start of Act III, I was sort of expecting (and maybe partially hoping for) her to ask the audience to be seated and quiet prior to the start of the third Act...but her announcement was completely unexpected -- Tamara Rojo had injured herself and could not perform in Act III. Instead principal Roberta Marquez would perform Act III in her place, and Rojo would attempt to return for Act IV. The extended intermission was to allow Marquez and Bonelli to rehearse together, as they had never danced together before!!

I can't imagine having to dance Act III of "Swan Lake" with a brand new partner on LITERALLY a moment's notice, even if I were a seasoned principal dancer who had danced the role millions of times before. Marquez was impressive, but obviously the duality of the Odette/Odile role was eliminated, and the chemistry between the two principals was certainly not the same (which is obviously expected, since they were dancing for the first time together).

Rojo did return in Act IV, and the physician in me did my best to figure out her injury. Feet and ankles looked steady, arms and back as fluid as ever, but her extension was clearly lacking as compared with Act II. Had I not seen her performance in Act II, I might not have noticed an injury, but after witnessing a jaw-dropping, effortless extension initially, it was quite noticeable that her legs didn't have as much reach, and her arabesques didn't reach 90 degrees in the final Act.

The performance ended past 11pm (it had started just after 8pm, with the audience still milling about), and the audience was applauding enthusiastically for the third or fourth curtain when I decided it was time to head back to my car. My head is still spinning a bit from the whole experience.

A full review (with more comments on the dancing, rather than the circumstances) will follow soon, as soon as I'm able to collect and organize my thoughts!


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 5:55 am 
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Greetings

Thanks for the report! I would suggest that it is the Mann staff who are responsible for making sure people are seated before the performance starts and not letting in latecomers. Very unprofessional and a sign of poor organization and poor staff training, especially on day 3. You can understand being a bit chaotic on opening night, but by day 3 there are no excuses. Unfortunately, it's an example of the poor manners of audiences these days, particularly, I'm afraid, in the US.

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center has a similar set up, but I think they are pretty strict about people being seated in the actual ampitheatre prior to the performance starting. You can move around on the lawn and probably sneak into the last few rows of seats, but once the orchestra starts playing, they usually rope off the main aisles so you can't walk into the actual ampitheatre. They also benefit from a cadre of local ushers who are quite devoted to the center & the performing arts, and as such are kind, but firm about things like latecomers. It's not always perfectly quiet - kids do run around on the lawn and Mother Nature has chipped in with some ferocious thunderstorms - but there is certainly no late seating or drowning out of the orchestra (other than by rain!).

It may also help that there are big screens on the lawn, so people can be made to wait there and watch. Does the Mann have somethings similar?

Why was the Mann chosen anyway? Are the regular theatres in Philly not large enought?

As to the injury - this is far from the first time in recent years the Royal Ballet has had mid-performance injuries, so they are probably more used to switching partners than most.

Kate


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 9:28 am 
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Usually the front of house staff give clearance to backstage for the performance to start. Normally not until everyone is seated does a show get permission to start hence why sometimes shows go up late. Would it be that clearance was given depsite the fact that lots of people hadn't been seated?

I don't recall many occasions where principles have been changed mid performace due to injury. There's only two occasions in the last few years I can think of so it's not really a regular occurence at the RB.

I personally really like this production of Swan Lake. Admittedly it was the first version of the ballet I had ever seen so I had no preconceived ideas but I really love the theatricality of it. Over here in London the sets are generally despised but I love the gothic nature of Act3, I find it wonderfully dark and the ending sends shivers up my spine. It seems more dramatic and scary than purer productions and this, for me, is a plus.

My personal favourite Odette/Odile is Zenaida Yanowsky who has beautiful lines and a tall, ever expressive body. I love how she portrays these two roles. Despite being the poster girl for Swan Lake here in London I was surprised that she wasn't scheduled to perform on this tour.

I just wondered what the rest of the dancing was like because on another forum it didn't sound too great. Any views would be appreciated. :)


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 1:03 pm 
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Location: Canada
Greetings
I can think of at least three mid performance injuries at Royal Ballet - two women, one man. Royal Ballet does a lot of full length productions, and doesn't have a huge array of principals (at least when you factor in suitable partners, injuries etc.), so some principals end up doing quite a bit in a short run. Thus, I'm not shocked that they have quite a few injuries. As it is, they're already down Alina Cojucaru, who missed the tour because of an injury.

As to Yanowsky - normally the Royal Ballet has to import Kenneth Greve from the Royal Danish Ballet to partner her. I suspect between family obligations during school holidays, RDB summer engagements, choreographic projects and wanting a little free time, he was not available. Thus there probably wasn't a feasible partner for her.

Yes, the front of house staff (house manager) should give the OK to start the show, but if the staff is poorly trained and/or the individual ushers aren't trained to stop seating people when the orchestra begins, you have problems.

I had one disasterous evening in NYC theatre where ushers seated people during performances, seated people with comps in empty seats and then when the ticket holders for those seats showed up mid performance, left them to stand in aisles whilst seating issues were sorted out. All this chaos meant that my view - and that of countless others - was heavily disrupted, no small problem for anyone, but a mighty big problem when you are trying to review the performance! In the end, it meant that several pieces had to be omitted from my review. I made my feelings about the situation quite clear to the house manager during intermission, and I've not been back to that theatre since.

Kate


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 6:47 pm 
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Location: Philadelphia
To follow up on the replies...

Certainly there was some sort of breakdown in the system, whether it be clearance from the front housestaff to backstage for things to begin, or simply poor crowd control by the Mann staff, and sadly, poor etiquette by the audience as well. When the Prince entered, a smattering of applause by the few who could see him (I certainly missed it, as there were people still standing in front of me) did signal to the people who were standing and talking that SOMETHING was happening on stage, but that didn't really hurry people into their seats at all.

It's unfortunate for the performers, and I'm fairly certain that the conductor, who received applause from possibly 3 people who realized he had entered, could easily hear that the crowd was still up and about before he raised his baton to begin the overture, but he probably had no choice but to start. There had already been an announcement given by the president of the Mann, welcoming the company back, and still people weren't quiet and seated.

Other than that, I did enjoy this production...after ABT's double von Rothbarts and PAB's modernization of SW in Wheeldon's new version, this was a refreshing return to a classical version. I've written a rather lengthy review for an upcoming issue of the magazine, but excerpts of my comments on the dancing are below:

The audience was not fully settled until partially into the Act I Pas de Trois, danced by Laura Morera, Deirdre Chapman, and Yohei Sasaki. The women were as lively and dainty as the orchestra’s beautiful music, dancing with ease and lightness. However, Sasaki stole the spotlight with his powerful leaps, landing clean double-tours with authority, in a tight fifth position. He wavered slightly on his pirouettes, never fully finding his center, but proved he was better in the air than on the ground by rousing cheers from the now quieted crowd with his impressively athletic grand jetes en tournant.

Throughout Act I the corps was festive, dressed in earthy browns, greens, and yellows with streaks of color added with ribbons. The men’s corps was particularly spirited, dancing with the reckless abandon of party-goers. Alastair Marriott as the Tutor added humor with his antics with two young girls (ballet students from the local area). Prince Siegfried, danced by Federico Bonelli with regal poise, showed both youthful energy in the celebration as well as boyish gloom at the prospect of marrying.

The crowd was delayed in settling down again at the start of Act II, and nearly missed the first glimpse of the sinister Gary Avis (An Evil Spirit Later Von Rothbart) peering out of the shadows as the Prince and his friends hunted in the woods. However, the first entrance of Odette, danced by Tamara Rojo, completely captivated the audience. Rojo’s incredible balance and control in prolonged poses in arabesque contrasted remarkably with her fluttering bourrees that showed her fragility. Her wonderfully expressive arms told the tale of her curse, while her incredible extension (especially in penchee) was absolutely breathtaking.

With Bonelli’s long, graceful lines the pair was deliberate, smooth, and romantic in their tender pas de deux. His strength and steady partnering peaked at the end of the act, as he lifted Rojo with outstretched arms, completely unwavering as he carried her upstage.

The women’s corps led by the Two Swans (Chapman and Isabel McMeekan) was simply lovely, dancing with graceful fluidity. The large corps transitioned seamlessly between neat formations, with the smoothness of swans gliding on water. Cygnets Bethany Keating, Hikaru Kobayashi, Iohna Loots, and Natasha Oughtred danced in tight, near-perfect synchrony; their only divergence was in the final tilts of their heads before breaking away from each other.

There was a lengthy intermission between Acts II and III, and when Royal Ballet Director Monica Mason took the microphone just before the start of the third act, part of me wondered whether she would personally ask the audience to be seated and quiet before the dancers began this time. Instead, she announced that Rojo had injured herself and would be replaced by principal Patricia Marquez, who had spent the extra minutes of the intermission rehearsing with Bonelli, with whom she had never danced before.

Thus, Act III seemed a blur in anticipation of seeing the new principal perform. The Princesses (Victoria Hewitt, Kobayashi, Kristen McNally, Sian Murphy, Samantha Raine, and Gemma Sykes), all draped in gold, were uniformly graceful and elegant in their futile attempts to win Prince Siegfried’s attention. The flamenco-flavored Spanish Dance featured Christina Arestis, Francesca Filpi, Kenta Kura, and Joshua Tuifua who danced with passion and spice. The heel-clicking Czardas were led by Chapman and Jonathan Howells, with a steady start and a romping finish.

By far the most vivacious performers were Morera and Ricardo Cervera in the Neapolitan, dancing with an infectious energy that revived the crowd. The Mazurka was danced by Tara Bhavnani, Celisa Diuana, Cindy Jourdain, Laura McCulloch, Bennet Gartside, Ryoichi Hirano, Vito Mazzeo, and Johannes Stepanek with much vigor.

Finally, Marquez as Odile began the Black Swan Pas de Deux, and wowed the audience with equally impressive balance and control, but with slightly less length and stretch to her extension as Rojo. Alluring and seductive, she mesmerized the Prince, and leading off with a triple pirouette, completed twenty-eight crisp, controlled fouettes.

Bonelli was equally impressive, effortlessly soaring across the stage with airy grand jetes and double tours. His open fouettes were quick and perfectly centered in a rock solid core. Yet, while he passionately declared his love for the Black Swan, he still seemed to dance with just a bit of reserve that made me wish he would toss away the royal posture and dance with complete abandon.

Rojo returned in the final act, seemingly intact except for a slightly less reach in her extension, which likely would have gone unnoticed, had we not witnessed her capabilities in the second act. Again, her chemistry with Bonelli was apparent, and Prince Siegfried, now overcome with emotion, performed without restraint. This version ends with both Odette and Siegfried hurling themselves off the rocks upstage, presumably to their death, but they reappear floating on a white vessel in the distant mists at the end.

Despite the unanticipated drama of the evening, Royal Ballet’s performance was exciting and inspiring, and the audience’s thunderous applause continued past 11:00pm as the dancers took multiple well-deserved bows. Hopefully far less than three decades will pass before the company’s next return to Philadelphia, and hopefully the sponsoring venue will be more prepared to host them appropriately.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2007 2:12 pm 
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Location: Seattle, WA, USA
Hi, Lori. You are correct that the choice of forum corresponds to the continent where the performance is given (not the continent where the company resides). Ballet is the Americas is the correct choice for the Mann Center. Thank you for the detailed performance notes!


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