Cincinnati Ballet

Cincinnati and the Ballet Russe: "Reverance," "No Other," "Night Shadow," "Devil's Holiday," "Gaîté Parisienne," "Seventh Symphony"

Aronoff Center for the Arts,
Cincinnati, OH

October 18, 2002
By Leland Windreich

The Cincinnati Ballet celebrated its 40th anniversary in October with a tribute to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the company that brought a first glimpse of ballet to nearly 100 cities and towns in North America in 1938 and continued to enchant its new audiences until its demise in 1962. World War II deprived the Ballet Russe of its headquarters in Monte Carlo, and as the itinerant troupe criss-crossed the nation, it vastly influenced the development of ballet education and of regional companies in many of the cities it visited. As its personnel retired, to be replaced by new dancers trained in America, many settled in cities such as Houston, Tulsa, Los Angeles and Seattle where they offered new American ballet trainees continuity with their Russian origins.

The Liverpool-born Frederic Franklin, a charter member of the Monte Carlo troupe and now 88 years old, has had an association with the Cincinnati Ballet since 1974, staging for them the major ballet classics and serving for a time as Artistic Director. He returned this year to restore George Balanchine's 1946 ballet, Night Shadow and to recreate excerpts from earlier works in the Ballet Russe 1938-1939 repertory: Frederick Ashton's Devil's Holiday and Leonide Massine's Gaîté Parisienne and Seventh Symphony.

In addition to the ballet program, visitors to Cincinnati were treated to a splendid display of Ballet Russe memorabilia – books, playbills, press reports and local photographs – at the Cincinnati Public Library. At the Cincinnati Art Museum a magnificent exhibit of designs for Ballet Russe costumes and sets documented the artistic significance of the ballet, with examples of décors from 19 works designed by such painters as Salvador Dali, Pavel Tchelichev, Natalia Gontcharova, Christian Berard, and Eugene Berman. The Cincinnati-based Julius Fleischmann, a devout sponsor and mentor of the Ballet Russe company, had acquired the vast collection now housed permanently in the Museum.

Two new ballets by choreographers from the San Francisco Ballet opened the program at the Aronoff Center for the Arts on October 18. Julia Adam offered an ensemble piece called Reverance to snippets from the music of Erik Satie. Ten dancers at a ballet barre exercise in jerky, angular doll-like movements, each assertng a statement of individuality. Val Caniparoli created a glitzy, Las Vegas style pas de deux called No Other for the formidable Cuban ballerina, Lorna Feijóo and the Vaganova-trained Dmitri Trubchanov.

Franklin returned to the original 1946 production of Balanchine's Night Shadow, a ballet currently known as La Sonnambula in the repertories of companies all over the world. The fetid, almost surreal atmosphere of the first version, with its bizarre décor by Dorothea Tanning, has been replaced by a more piquant stage picture, with a borrowed set by James Morgan and florid costumes designed by Barbara Karinska for a production at the Kennedy Center.

The familiar narrative is intact: a poet intrudes at a ball, is attracted to the host's mistress, and is drawn into the milieu of the host's sleepwalking wife. When the mistress intercepts the couple, she warns the host of the tryst. He stabs the poet, who is carried off to the tower by the sleepwalker. In between the dramatic sequences are three remarkable ensemble dances for eight couples, guests at the ball, and a series of divertissements performed for the gathering: a pastoral pas de quatre, a Moorish pas de deux, a solo by a rubbery Harlequin, and a dance with hoops for four women. Franklin has called upon subsequent versions of the ballet for the Harlequin solo (originally danced by a woman) and has bypassed the more politically correct pas de deux by setting the Moorish duet on a black male dancer and his Japanese partner.

The Cincinnati dancers captured the style of the piece with the appropriate dark passions. Kristi Capps as the Sleepwalker and Trubchanov as the captivated poet performed the tense, tactile duet with sensitivity to all its nuances. Tricia Sundbeck as the vengeful Coquette and Valentine Liberatore as the baron hosting the party were convincingly arrogant and manipulative.

Frederick Ashton set Devil's Holiday on the Ballet Russe in the summer of 1939 while the company performed in London. The outbreak of World War II prevented them from showing it in Great Britain and so it had its world premiere in New York on October 26, danced by an exhausted cast arriving from a harrowing Atlantic crossing. Set to a score by Vincenzo Tommasini on themes of Paganini and performed in dazzling décors by Eugene Berman, it tells of a capricious visit to Venice by the Devil, who diverts the progress of a wedding by turning a beggar into a nobleman determined to woo the bride. Franklin danced the beggar, partnering Alexandra Danilova. Film fragments of the ballet shot from backstage at the Lyric Theatre in Chicago by Ann Barzel helped Franklin's extraordinary muscle memory in recreating a poignant pas de deux of great tenderness and a challenging solo depicting the rejection of the beggar. Cincinnati's Sundbeck and Truchanov interpreted Ashton's lovely duet with insight, and Andrey Kasatsky conveyed the angst depicted in the difficult male solo.

In a film clip projected on a scrim, Franklin told of the critical reaction to Leonide Massine's Gaîté Parisienne in three cities. Paris found it inappropriate for a classical ballet troupe, while London deemed it vulgar. "But over here," Franklin declared, "They ate it up." It became the most popular offering of the troupe, surviving the 24 years of the national tours. Franklin has restored the glorious pas de deux he performed as the Baron with Danilova as the Glove Seller for Cincinnati dancers Stephanie Roig and Zack Grubbs, both receptive to Franklin's contagious respect for the work's romantic style.

The scherzo movement of Massine's Seventh Symphony closed the program. Franklin had not danced in this segment of the ballet but had become familiar with it during performances on tours. In recent years he served as a guide to the matching of Massine's choreography from an early 16 mm film to a musical soundtrack, a project undertaken at the University of Rochester with the film archivist, John Mueller. Depicting the Gods cavorting in the airy reaches of Mount Olympus, dancers Mishic Marie Corn and Anthony Krutzkamp assumed roles originally taken by Igor Youskevitch and Alicia Markova, with an ensemble of 12 performing the buoyant figures and exquisite tableaux that had established Massine as a genius in his times.

In capturing the essence of one of the most creative periods in ballet history, the bright dancers of the Cincinnati Ballet proved that the vitality of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo continues to enchant audiences today and that the excellence of these early works has made them timeless.


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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