The many meanings of the word ‘yearning’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary include: the object of an intense desire or compassion, the action of that intense desire or compassion, and the braying of hounds in the hunt. Additionally, a poetic use of the term described the great bulge of a ship’s wind filled sheets as “yearning sails.” Of the three pieces on the Boston Conservatory’s Spring Dance Concert, it is clear that “Dances for Isadora,” choreographed by Jose Limon, and “Dark Elegies,” choreographed by Antony Tudor, meet the first two aspects of ‘yearning.’ The work, however, that both playfully meets the term’s third use and that opened the Concert was “Galleria,” choreographed by Michael Uthoff.’ Commissioned and premiered by the Conservatory, the work takes its title from the mega-mall in Houston, Texas or perhaps its replications in St. Louis, Missouri- where Uthoff now lives and works- or again in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts. In any case, Uthoff’s “Galleria,” which is set on five male and six female dancers, uses the lexicon of ballet to picture the tails up excitement of shoppers yearning after the scent of sales.
Certainly, the bright D Major key of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #5, along with the colorful motley of the ladies’ costumes, the vivid shirts of the male dancers and/or blouses worn also by the musicians, and the unabashed enjoyment the dancers find in each other’s company, particularly in the Second Movement pas de deux, contribute to the bright smile of “Galleria.” Happy and breathless too, as the work features rapid comings and goings, continuous textural exchanges of dancers, and a plethora- but never over done-of turns and jumps and combinations of them. And Uthoff too on opening night, regaled in a pin stripped blazer and subtle polka dot tie smiled with “Galleria.”
Where pianist Karolina Rojahn provided the sparkle in “Galleria’s” grin, so too pianist Rasa Vitkauskaite provided the deepening turbulence in “Dances for Isadora’s” torment. In five solos Limon looms the threads of Isadora Duncan’s public and private life together. All in minor keys and with increasing agitation, the six piano pieces by Chopin inform four of the “Dances” five sections (#5 is in silence) titled, Primavera, Maenade, Niobe, and La Patrie, with interpretative content. The very thing Duncan was about. Neatly and subtly too, the costumes, an airy light yellow-green for Primavera, a wine-dark red chiton for Maenade, a mournful drape for Niobe, and a bright red gaudiness of La Petrie certainly match the music’s agitated moods, but also reflect the tension of the tritone shaped wedge plotted in the keys of the pieces. (The keys progress, for example, from c minor to f# minor, then quickly returns to c minor.) The sudden silence of the Scarf Dance emphasizes the now frowzy and frowzily costumed Maenade’s isolation. Here Duncan’s relationship with gravity turns from surrender to struggle. And in this key of dark silence, the emptiness of her yearning’s wasted reach becomes palpable. Isadora the Maenade, whose life can be seen as a celebration of Dionysus ended as such celebrations do with a sacrifice- hers; and when brought to pass by her signature scarf, her death and life became, as Nietzsche might say, a source of tragedy.
If one replaces ‘yearning’ to describe the humans in “Galleria’s” shopping chase with “singing’ then “Dark Elegies” on a more serious note both sounds and pictures the three aspects of ‘yearning’ cited above. Rucker’s lyrics for “Kindertotenlieder identifies the object. Gustav Mahler’s setting, particularly his combined use of instrumental color (to depict, for example, the struggle of light over darkness), dynamic makings, and descriptive motifs such as the ‘sigh’ and the ‘inferno,’ sonically incarnates the action. And in a powerful gestalt Tudor’s choreography sings it all. “To mean is to sing,” wrote Wittgenstein, and one can hear Tudor agreeing but paraphrasing him and saying, “Yes, to mean is to dance.” And this prompts a reminder of Donald Mahler’s words on the subject of the lady’s solo in the Fourth Song that hers, “Is not a symbol of feeling; it is the feeling.” Leaping now, consider that “Dark Elegies” pictures how persons from the realm envisioned by Wittgenstein or Tudor, where one’s language means by singing or dancing (where meaning never stops short of its composed fact), create art or view the world. From this perspective, the structure of “Dark Elegies” in all of its aspects (think “strophic” spacing, repeated lines of 'verse,' moves that rhyme, effaced accompaniment, and the composition’s calling attention to particular words/gestures, etc) shows a lyrical rather than a ritual activity. In this sense, one feels that words that define ritual such as solemn, ceremonial, devotional (of a religious sort), routine (of a tiresome sort), and sacrifice (of a murderous sort) hardly fit indeed do a disservice to the contemplative and perhaps didactic, “Dark Elegies.”
“They got it!” became a joyous refrain to the performances of “Dark Elegies.” One heard it countless times from the many Tudor veterans that served, for example, with the National Ballet of Canada, American Ballet Theatre, and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet as well as from those that studied with Tudor at Julliard. “They got it,” each said about the casts, orchestra, and guest baritone, David Kravitz. “They got it.” “They got it.” “They got it.”