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Subject: "Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts" Archived thread - Read only
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Ann Williams

21-08-00, 07:30 AM (GMT)
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"Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts"
   Balanchine in Edinburgh: some thoughts

Overall, I thought NYCB's two Balanchine programmes in Edinburgh a triumph, though it has to be said that the Playhouse Theatre was not an ideal venue, the stage being too cramped to do full justice to Balanchine. I heard it said that the company had rejected the Festival Theatre - which has one of the largest stages in Europe - because it has fewer seats, but I don't know how valid this information is (it came from a waitress in a coffee shop).

I'll take the performances in strict order. Concerto Barocco to J S Bach's Concerto in D minor for violins and strings was completely new to me and my initial reaction was: formulaic Balanchine, seen this before. But then Nikolai Hubbe lifted Jenny Somogyi in a slow, soaring arc over the corps girls and my heart soared too. This ballet has many echoes of 'Apollo', not least the moment when the women concertina up behind Hubbe to do a heart-stopping backbend, like cards in a pack being thumbed backwards. Four Tempraments to a commissioned Hindemith score was so lusciously danced by the whole company that it's difficult to know whom to pick out, but Peter Boal's Melancholic variation was simply the most perfect piece of male dancing that I've seen for a long time, emotional yet elegantly controlled. Boal is a true stage aristocrat and his impending retirement will be a real loss for NYCB. Symphony in Three Movements to a Stravinsky score was also new to me and I was puzzled by it. There were many brilliant Balanchine set-pieces, but I couldn't make up my mind whether he was aiming for a jazz piece or a classical piece, and the ballet seemed to fall between these two stools. Tom Gold shone (unintentional pun!) in the curious turning jumps in the opening variation and was matched by the brilliant Abi Stafford, but Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto stole the show with their witty, strange duet of splayed knees and angled feet, which they danced with the solemnity they might have given to a Petipa pas-de-deux.

The next day's matinee saw Serenade, which never fails with me; I almost wouldn't notice if it was badly danced, and as danced by NYCB there was no danger of that. My only regret was that I couldn't tell which ballerina was Margaret Tracey and which was Kyra Nichols - I have long wanted to see both (I did manage to identify Helen Axopolous). As it happened, all three danced sublimely, particularly Axopolous, who has a wonderful, quiet stage authority. In the Tchaikovsky Pas-de-Deux which followed, Wendy Whelan, partnered by Peter Boal, surprised by suddenly falling, for no reason that I could spot. After that, she never seemed to recover completely, although she finished triumphantly with two fearless dives into Boal's arms (she's still too thin, though). Western Symphony to Hershey Kay music was delicious fun and beautifully danced by everyone, and Karinska's jewel-coloured, lace-frilled satin tutus for the women, with black tights and gloves, were simply gorgeous. Jennifer Ringer in the second movement adagio was the outright star as far as I'm concerned; her dancing has an amplitude and spaciousness that seems to recall another age. Her partner, Albert Evans, apart from his immaculate dancing, was a wickedly cheeky cowboy and showed growing stage confidence. In the first movement, Pascale van Kipnis was dancing splendidly, partnered by Nilas Martins, when she (and we) noticed that a looped frill on her skirt was dangling. She appeared to make it worse by twice grabbing at it causing it to loosen further until it was dangling half-way to the floor and it looked as if there was a danger that either she or Martins could catch their foot in it. We breathed again when she reappeared after her first exit with the runaway frill removed. Agon, to the Stravinsky score was faultlessly performed by all the dancers, especially by Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto in the testing pdd; she has no difficulty with anything here and this piece could have been written for her.

I'm going to digress here: both 'Agon' and 'Four Tempraments' are performed in the black 'swimming-suit' costumes for the women. I hate them. They don't flatter the women because they point up the basic shapelessness of their ballet-dancer bodies, and they are far too revealing, given the rather explicit leg-splits demanded by Balanchine's choreography (or 'wide-ons' as Lynn Seymour elegantly called such movement in her autobiography).

Symphony in C (Bizet) was the last Balanchine work in the programme, and here I was disappointed. It may have been that I was sitting too low down and couldn't see the patterns and it may have been that the Playhouse stage is simply too small for it. Whatever, the opening looked ragged and confused to me. Margaret Tracey was lovely in the Allegro first movement, but Wendy Whelan was unsuited to the second adagio movement, too remote and devoid of real feeling for the emotionally-charged music. Both Jennie Somogyi and Abi Stafford, in the third and fourth movements, I thought were technically fluid and musical dancers and showed real ballerina promise. ( I should say, in fairness, that whatever my reservations, the piece got tremendous roars from the audience).

A word about the non-Balanchine content of NYCB's Edinburgh progamme - I enjoyed Peter Martins' 'Fearful Symmetries' and Robbins 'Dances at a Gathering' despite the critics sniping at both. 'Dances at a Gathering' was too long by about 20 minutes, but how lovely it was! It was positively Ashtonian in its lyricism and its choreography aptly reflected the Chopin piano pieces. (It was hardly believable that the same choreographer was responsible for streetwise dancing of 'West Side Story'). The dancers all looked good in the wistful and witty pieces; once again Peter Boal stood out, as did the lovely Yvonne Boree - a future star if ever I saw one.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts Estelle 21-08-00 1
     Fearful Symmetries Stephanie Wragg 21-08-00 2
         RE: Fearful Symmetries meunier 21-08-00 4
             What about.. Stephanie Wragg 23-08-00 8
     RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts meunier 21-08-00 3
         RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts Trog Woolley 21-08-00 5
             RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts eugene Merrett 21-08-00 6
         RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts Richard J 22-08-00 7
  RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts Jane S 23-08-00 9

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21-08-00, 09:37 AM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts"
In response to message #0
   Ann, we agree on nearly everything (I definitely didn't like "Fearful symmetries").

About "Serenade": Kyra Nichols was the one who danced the Waltzing pas de deux with Charles Askegard, and who was the main soloist at the end (carried by three men). Their photos are available on the NYCB web site (www.nycballet.com), it might help you recognize her. What a moving dancer- I had found her far more moving than Yvonne Borree as the girl in pink in "Dances at a gathering".

About the theater: I saw the "Agon"- "Symphony in C"- "Dances
at a gathering" twice, once from the front balcony, and once from the stalls, and it definitely looked *much* better from the balcony. The sight lines from the stalls really aren't good,
and all the perspective is flattened...

"Stage aristocrat" is the right term for Peter Boal. He would manage to look interesting just by walking on stage.

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Stephanie Wragg

21-08-00, 11:28 AM (GMT)
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2. "Fearful Symmetries"
In response to message #1
   Thanks for the NYCB thoughts.

I am now confused, could there be two ballets with the same name??? Isn't there a Fearful Symmetries by that Ashley Page person in the RB repertoire?

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21-08-00, 11:53 AM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Fearful Symmetries"
In response to message #2
   LAST EDITED ON 21-08-00 AT 11:56 AM (GMT)

Yes, Stephanie, there is. The Page Fearful Symmetries came later. The Adams music (not for the first or last time, I should note) was commissioned by Peter Martins at NYCB specifically for his ballet, much as he commissioned the Torke music for the Forsyte Ballet -- Herman Sherman -- the one that Adam Cooper and Sylvie did with the Royal Ballet and Wendy and the miraculous Albert Evans now do at NYCB - although, if memory serves in its original performance in the second Diamond Project - it was Damien and Kyra. It was, at that time, quite a different ballet, however. No see-throughs, from the breast/skirt perspective -- just dance. Funny - and alougth I like the new costumes -- something for everyone, so to speak -- I perferred the initial foray in terms of the choreography. A personal thing, perhaps.

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Stephanie Wragg

23-08-00, 12:47 PM (GMT)
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8. "What about.."
In response to message #4
   Thanks for the information. It puts my mind at ease although I still don't want to see either pieces. I am not a fan of Martins choreography nor of Page's....

I wish I could get to see NYCB...the closest I get physically is Saratoga Springs but in January....You seem up to date on the dancers: is Darci Kistler still dancing? She should be as was only 16 when made principal in the early 80's,but I believe she was quite injury-prone?

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21-08-00, 11:47 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts"
In response to message #1
   LAST EDITED ON 21-08-00 AT 12:11 PM (GMT)

Just a brief note to say how refreshing it was to see dance again for dance's sake -- always a great boon when Balanchine enters the fray -- and to be able to say both hello and goodbye to so many talents. Moreover, it was wonderfull to see full houses thrill at Balanchine's ethic, and to share in the joy of so many new recruits. It was wonderful to see so many people coming back after their inital helping. Who says so-called 'triple bills' don't sell. How I wanted to show them Brahams-Schoenberg or 1st and 2nd Part Inventions. Perhaps at some point in the future. I sat (or rather stood at the back to keep my legs' circulation flowing) for the final three performances, and was delighted with the happy looks of joy which spread across so many faces. This, and the packed houses for the Kirov's Jewels, indicates a sea change, I hope, in future programming, be it with guest or national companies when facing UK audiences. Quality will out. It need not ALWAYS be Swans, Dolls or Sylphs. It was delightful to hear so many personal stories being created out of the music itself -- as seen in through the dance -- as I walked around during the intervals. Balanchine would have been happy I think.

It has been stated that Peter Boal is to retire. He has not set a date. There is still hope to see more performances whilst he is at the height of his considerable artistry. Helene however will retire at the end of the NYCB winter season. She will be missed, but leaves with the audiences begging for more, which is as it should be. Kyra, even in face of diminished technical force, balances all with the enhancement of her personal wealth of musical emulsion: radiant. More than a few tears flowed in the balcony as she was held ahigh at the end of Serenade. Many tales had been told indeed.

Wonderful work I thought in all the leotard ballets. I certainly think that the cleanliness of line offered by these handsome dance clothes lets the music speak through the dance for itself. This is a music ethic - pure and simple. Dance is a tool. No need to spend five minutes 'ohhhing' the scenery. The immediacy of the musical line is enhanced immediately. To see Wendy and Jock, be it in Symphony in Three Movements or in Agon was to see the music itself. Let there be no mistake, these were great artists at work; instruments of the music. Personally, and I adore the woman, I agree that Wendy is mis-cast in Symphony in C 2nd Movement and, in large measure, the Tsch. Pas. There is no one better in The Cage than Wendy, there is no one better in my book in Opus 19 than Wendy and Peter - they make it their own (and here there would be plenty of argument in NYC) much as Suzanne and Robbie LaFosse did for me in In G Major - but not all dancers are ideal for all roles. Certainly, I would not like to see Wendy again in Diamonds. Rubies - Yes. Diamonds - No. Rubies is right for Wendy: Her fire is extreme and it is the joy - the innate inteligence of her musical extremity - a genius married with Stravinsky - we all thrilled at in both Agon and Symphony in 3 Movements.

I would rather have seen Maria in the Tsch. Pas. How this girl -- who I well remember in her first NYCB performance as a replacement as the Siren in Prodigal Son, being pulled from SAB as a young teenager -- has come on in considerable leaps and bounds. Her performance in the pas de trois in Agon was breath-taking -- Talk about balance -- the Rose Adagio with its elaborate preparation but a doodle on this front -- and her succulently saucy Girl in Green in the final performance of Dances at a Gathering was nothing short of delight personified. No wonder Ben Millipied looked so capitivated.

A note of thanks to James Fayette (recently married to the beautiful new principal, Jenifer Ringer). His partnering in Serenade; in Dances at a Gathering; indeed in all in which he performed was a lesson to each and all. How refreshing to see Jeny Ringer back. How wonderful to see her take her rightful place as a principal and to pour out that enchanting musicality with such simple grace. I well remember chatting a number of times with her up on the Fourth Ring while she was studyiny for her degree in Psychology at Fordham while still dancing in the corps. Such a lovely girl. Then she disappeared. She was gone from the Company for such a long time. Now we are all the richer that she is back to increase our own relish.

A note of thanks to Albert Evans for being -- well, --- Albert Evans with his full, loose liquidity. Here's praying that more new work is created for him -- perhaps a Red Devils 2!!

A note of thanks to Philip Neal for his quiet grace and beautiful footwork. It is rare that you see as long an adagio line be able to execute such fine detail in petit allegro. His is a quiet rapture that sings steadily on the legato line. He was well matched with Peter Boal in the Robbins. How I would love to see his Chaconne with Kyra again.

A special welcome to such new delights as were offered by Adam Henrickson and Abi Stafford. Future potential is definitely among those ranks - uneven as they may sometimes be. It is the talent which so often will stick out. It is through the mistakes that the potential for breaking of new barriers will be seen. Given the deluge of rain outside the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh, the rays of sun within that promise held all that much more NYCB promise.

I was disappointed with some of the executions. I have seen much better performances of Western Symphony than here - although I thought Pascale and Nilas handled the rigours of the first movement well. One forgets how fiendishly difficult from a classical perspective this piece is. How I longed for that exhilerating last movement I once saw with Monique Meunier and Zelensky -- his teeth fully revealed in the broadest of broad joy-filled smiles at the prospect of 'acting' a cowboy. He was obviously in second heaven, much as he had been in Stars and Stripes. Often I have felt in the recent Kirov performances that his considerable powers were, on occasion, misapplied. The Edinburgh Duo Concertant was a mere shadow I thought. I well remember seeing Yvonne -- such a lovely person -- whilst she was still in the corps first do it (so to speak) with Baryshnikov. Here the shape was too often fuzzy in face of the sting of the Stravinsky for me. It needed the some of the tang she brings to her delightful performance in Balanchine's exquisite Harlequinade.

If one thing stood out for me throughout all the NYCB performances however, -- and it was right and just that it should be so -- it was the playing the RB Sinfonetta. It was a joy to listen to the music, -- and, golly, what music. The RB Sinfonetta made the considerable music-making on the stage all the more respectful of the great (and few not so great, but fun) works at hand in and of themselves. How I longed to hear them play other pieces from the vast NYCB repertory.

Perhaps these will be future joys to come to UK shores? One can only pray, -- Balanchine taught the last century to dance, much as Petipa had instructed the previous, as has recently been witnessed by the Kirov. We must be thankful for that which we have received. Their work knows no border.

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Trog Woolley

21-08-00, 12:18 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts"
In response to message #3
   I did the Mon, Tue, Wed nights. I felt the progam started
strongly (Agon), ended stongly (Western Symphony) and had
a bit of a week centre (Fearful Symmetries).
At the end of the three nights I was a bit Balachined out;
I needed to see a ballet with a story (so I took myself along
to see Snow White, and very good it was too!)
I would have liked a bigger program (book), with better pix
and biogs of the dancers. I don't know much about the NYCB
personel and I am always interested in dancers careers.
Generally a positive showing, very well danced and (for me in
any case) the highlight of the Festival.
It was described last night on Channel 4 as "very heterosexual"
and "orgasmic"!

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eugene Merrett

21-08-00, 04:42 PM (GMT)
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6. "RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts"
In response to message #5
   I was rather disappointed with Seranade on Saturday. It looked rather ragged. I think it was due to the rather shallow stage as some dancer appeared to be on a collision course with the back screen. When I saw it in New York last year I thought it was absolutly glorious. I am afraid I did not feel the same way on Saturday.

I rather liked Fearful Symetries - in fact it was the first Martins ballet I have liked.

Wendy Whelan is a bit miscast in Tchaikovksy pdd. She is too powerful and strong for such a romantic ballet. But her speed and control were great to watch.

Western Symphony is a delightfull bit of fluff with energy and charm. It also has a superb orchestration of charming cowboys songs by Hersey Kays. It was a lot of fun and was danced with the vivacity and energy only the NYCB can do!

But the highlight was Agon. This is a superb artwork which combines great music and dance into a unified artwork. The performance was really stunning.

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Richard J

22-08-00, 12:41 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts"
In response to message #3
>How refreshing it was to
>see dance for dance's
>sake. Moreover, it was
>wonderful to see full houses
>thrill at Balanchine's ethic.
> Who says so-called 'triple
>bills' don't sell.

> This, and the packed
>houses for the Kirov's Jewels,
>indicates a sea change, I
>hope, in future programming, be
>it with guest or national
>companies when facing UK audiences.
>It need not ALWAYS be
>Swans, Dolls or Sylphs.
>Wonderful work I thought in all
>the leotard ballets. I
>certainly think that the cleanliness
>of line offered by these
>handsome dance clothes lets the
>music speak through the dance
>for itself. This is
>a music ethic - pure
>and simple. The immediacy
>of the musical line is
>enhanced immediately.

>If one thing stood out for
>me throughout all the NYCB
>performances however, it was the playing the
>RB Sinfonetta.

My thoughts entirely. I had seen some of the work before, in the days when we in Bristol had visits from BRB. The Arts Council then decided to send them elsewhere and give us ENB instead, so we are now restricted to 'Deane's Delight', being a chocolate box selection of any two from a few (mainly) 19th century classics per season. This 'bums on seats' attitude to programming is taking us backwards; there seems to be a view that UK audiences only want story stuff, with new examples of the genre often being danced to undemanding saccharine-laden pastiche "ballet music". Do we as a nation really have such a sweet tooth? BRB work gallantly to build audiences for something different; would that others did the same. At least the contemporary dance scene is more inclined to branch out a bit and be rather more enterprising in its musical associations.

Let's hope that the NYCB success has given UK programmers a shot in the arm (or a kick up the backside). If there were a greater awareness of the aesthetic demonstrated in Edinburgh, then we wouldn't have seen some of the BBC2 'Edinburgh Review' team on Sunday floundering around as they did. However, they might have been helped if the programme had been more informative. Cramming everything into one booklet didn't help; a separate publication for each selection of repertoire would have given space for more helpful notes. The programme for Handel's 'Alcina' (at the Festival Theatre) was produced in the same format, but was much more informative.

Thank you for mentioning the standard of orchestral playing - ballet performances are too frequently accompanied by sub-standard playing (though it has to be said that the players must be turned off by some of the repertoire they have to repeat ad infinitum in UK ballet theatres; no wonder they call on deps.!).

Regarding the difficult sight-lines from the stalls in the Playhouse - I am sure this theatre used to be a cinema, which would explain why the stalls are comparatively 'flat'. Nevertheless, it was worth every (slightly uncomfortable) minute!

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Jane S

23-08-00, 10:28 PM (GMT)
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9. "RE: Blanchine in Edinburgh;: Some thoughts"
In response to message #0
   On a completely frivolous note, anyone with Netscape should try the "What's Related" button - mention of Edinburgh has turned the usual list of dance sites into sites about golf holidays in Scotland.

And more seriously, if you liked Peter Boal take a look at the photo on Leigh Witchel's site at


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