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Pennsylvania Ballet

Kirk Peterson's "Dancing with Monet" & Margo Sappington's "Rodin, Mis en Vie"

Merriam Theater, Philadelphia, PA

June 18, 2002
By S. E. Arnold


Titled Rodin, Mis en Vie after the work choreographed by Margo Sappington, the art inspired concert given by the Pennsylvania Ballet at the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia also featured the world premier of Dancing with Monet (Gathering at Argenteuil) choreographed by Kirk Peterson.

Set to nine piano pieces by Debussy and played live by Martha Koeneman, the five couples of Dancing with Monet costumed in formal attire, powdery pastel colors for the five ladies and light gray trousers, white shirts and comber buns or gray double-buttoned vests for the gentlemen, stroll amicably about the stage at curtain rise. Although set-less, the music, costumes, and the centering of the work on the pas de deux suggest that Dancing with Monet exposes what the other guests are doing during the action of Tudor's Lilac Garden. However, the vague motivation or theatricality delivered by some of the dancers in Dancing with Monet weakened one's understanding of the romantic relationship each pas examined. Nevertheless, the choreography, which was hardly impressionistic and clearly ballet told the couple's stories.

The numerous turns within turns and the oft times contrapuntal motion of the first pas, for example, suggested a relationship suffering turbulence. Yet, once through the troubled air, the four pas de deux that followed traced a progression or rather a maturation of loving relationships. From the first 'getting to know you' phase danced to a piece titled Passepied and on to the ultimate unqualified commitment of the centerpiece pas danced to Clair de lune. In this pas, long phrases cadenced on an embrace that gently melted in demi plie and the male-eclipsing lifts embodied rapture rather than mere display. And, if love is not everything, then Peterson shows in Deux arabesques No. 2, a dance for three ladies, and in Mazurka, a mazurka in fact for three men, that friendship is. Moreover, it is the theme of friendship and community reflected in the work's 'follow the leader' or 'call and answer' structure that connects the Gathering at Argenteuil of the title, Dancing with Monet, to Monet.

Rodin, Mis en Vie follows and sharply contrasts with the musicality, mood, and vocabulary of Dancing with Monet. The liver spotted earth toned costumes, for example, emphasize if not completely reveal the dancer's bodies. This erasure of social context combines with the bare feet, the movement lexicon i.e. weighted, twisted, and awkward like the sculptures each dancer means to depict, and the in-your-face orchestral score, composed by Michael Kamen, to create a piece of intemperate rawness.

Although Rodin, which is nearly twice the length of Dancing with Monet, follows an episodic structure, its episodes, unlike those of Dancing with Monet, make direct reference to and means to animate twelve or thirteen (depending on how one counts Adam and Eve i.e. as a group or as individuals) sculptures of Rodin. Moreover, it features a cast of 25. Additionally and consistent with Rodin's interest in the human body, the eponymous dance work highlights the capacities, i.e. strength, sinuosity, etc. no matter what the strain or effort, of each dancer.

Ironically, because the piece ends with dancers either frozen into ornaments of or thrown through the Gates of Hell, the rather Manichean rhetorical intent of Rodin, Mis en Vie seemingly condemns dancers, and every one else, for having bodies. And, the music supports this condemnation. For example, one observes certain conventions, in western culture, in the use of vocal or organ music to signify spiritual epiphany. Although rich in sounds that seemed at once familiar and new, i.e. muted trumpets sounding a figure reminiscent of a similar figure in Pictures at an Exhibition or the snake charming solo for English Horn in the Adam and Eve section, Kamen's score lacks or avoids the 'vocal connection' to spirituality. That absents holds rather than releases the spirit embodied within either stone or person. And, if one were to muse that in the world of Rodin, Mis en Vie sound stood for materiality and sight for spirituality, then the sound of Rodin completely overwhelmed its sight.

 

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Edited by Malcolm.


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