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Subject: "NYCB in Edinburgh, 17 & 19 August" Archived thread - Read only
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Lynette H

23-08-00, 03:49 PM (GMT)
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"NYCB in Edinburgh, 17 & 19 August"
   Itís been an extraordinary ballet summer: not one but two separate Kirov seasons , and then NYCB making a rare visit to the UK. The Edinburgh Festival has had some very interesting dance programming over the last few years - Mark Morris was a great favourite, NDT very regular visitors too. Some visitors come to great acclaim, like Merce Cunningham, but play to less than packed houses. The audience at the Playhouse for NYCB was the biggest Iíve ever seen in Edinburgh: it was packed, and this is a real achievement for such a huge venue when so much else is going on every night in all the different Festivals. Quite what the organisers do to top this next year, Iím not sure.

I caught two performances - Agon / Dances at a Gathering / Symphony in C on the Thursday, and Serenade / Tchaikovsky pas de deux / Fearful Symmetries / Western Symphony on the Saturday afternoon.

Iím overwhelmingly glad Iíve got see NYCB at last, and I was awed by the standard of the male dancers in particular - there were just so many of them who were outstanding. Iíd seen some of the NYCB principals when small groups toured over here in previous summers: but the sheer size of the company, and the depth of its strength was a delightful surprise.

Having said that, there were some surprisingly uneven moments in the performances I saw. Agon was terrific: I think Wendy Whelanís legs should be classified as offensive weapons. I enjoyed the tension and coiled energy between her and Soto in the pas de deux: but oddly, my favourite moment was a beautifully courtly and elegant bow from Peter Boal at the end of a solo, reminding that the music is based on formal dances.

But after this strong beginning, Dances at a Gathering was a puzzle. I had looked forward to seeing some of Robbins work - very little has been seen in the UK in the recent past. SFB brought The Cage with them on their visit last year, and the Royal has recently done The Concert. I wouldnít have guessed that Dances at a Gathering had been made by the same person. Ten dancers in pastels pair off, split up, pair off with some one else with no sign of regret or any other motivation, and so on, for an hour to simple piano accompaniment. Most of the women simpered uncontrollably and seemed unbelievably twee. Maria Kowroski, who had looked so sleek and dominant in Agon was almost completely unrecognisable. By far the most interesting dancer was Helene Axelopoulos, who looked as if she was in quite a different, mysterious and moody ballet. Perhaps she was: perhaps this was like watching Ashton performed as slapstick rather than as genuine wit, and all the perfume gone. Technically the dancers looked extremely strong, but I couldnít work out what effect they were aiming for, and it was a very long hour indeed.

I looked forward to Symphony in C, and the principals in this were a great pleasure. (Whelan in the second movement in particular). The stage is not really as deep as one would like and the finale looked crowded. But I was very surprised at the dancing of the corps: they just didnít look like a corps. Their differences in timing, and of hand and arm positions were very striking - it did look disappointingly messy.

But itís obvious that they can get it gloriously right as well, because Serenade two days later was a joy. Just gorgeous. In contrast to C, the women seemed to find a mysterious unity of purpose and movement. Serenade has been performed by BRB and the Royal: though it was familiar, there was something about the presentation of this work which made it seem very clean and clear, as if things were suddenly coming into sharp focus. Axelopoulos, Nicols and Margaret Tracey were the leads.

Fearful Symmetries was an odd experience: the music was later used by Ashley Page of the Royal for probably his most successful and popular ballet, after Peter Martins had already created this work. The music was familiar, the steps werenít. Again, the NYCB dancers were fabulous: the material they were working with began to be somewhat repetitive after a while. But they did look as if they really enjoyed this piece, and went at it with blazing energy and commitment: they seemed much more at home in this than in Dances at a Gathering or even Symphony in C.

Western Symphony was a wildly popular closer. Iím pleased they brought this over, because itís difficult to imagine a British company doing a cowboy ballet ! This was just enormous fun, and itís good to be reminded that Balanchine knew how to party. And yet more amazing dancers appeared - Jennifer Ringer, who has great poise and tremendous balances teased a bashful (but still athletic) Albert Evans.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia (BRBís orchestra) played very well throughout. Andrea Quinn, who seemed very much at home in the repertoire, conducted some items: she will be joining NYCB next season.

Letís hope we donít have to wait ten years until NYCBís next visit.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: NYCB in Edinburgh, 17 & 19 August Richard J 28-08-00 1
     Dancing in Robbins' ballets Stephanie Wragg 28-08-00 2
  Edinburgh Review Bruce Madmin 28-08-00 3
     RE: Edinburgh Review Bruce Wall 28-08-00 4
         RE: Edinburgh Review Ann Williams 28-08-00 5

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Richard J

28-08-00, 12:48 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: NYCB in Edinburgh, 17 & 19 August"
In response to message #0
   Yes, NYCB should return to the UK, and soon! It was heartening to see a full house in a large theatre for pure dance works, often using 20th century scores. UK programmers please note, and please do something about the balance in your schedules.

Regarding performances of work by Robbins in the UK, I remember reading about BRB's efforts to get permission to perform "The Cage" about four years ago. At that time, nothing by Robbins had been seen in the UK for a number of years. When JR said "yes" to BRB, there was a sting in the tail; they were allowed to tour his work around the UK, but could not perform it in London. What had gone wrong? Does anyone know?

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Stephanie Wragg

28-08-00, 01:40 PM (GMT)
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2. "Dancing in Robbins' ballets"
In response to message #1
   Regarding the comments on the Robbins piece, I am reminded of a comment by an American critic (unfortunately I can't remember who it was) regarding NYCB dancers performing in Robbins's works.

The comment addressed the fact that dancers very at ease and effective in the Balanchine repertoire all of sudden performed the Robbins repertoire as though they were dancing the choreography of some god i.e. the dancers became very self-counscious and very serious. I found this a bit difficult to understand until I saw a 'Dance in America' broadcast, devoted to Robbins, that combined Antique Epigraphs with Fancy Free. The latter was a joy to watch whereas the first was a bit tedious to watch. Although the music and choreography were fantastic, the female cast seemed to be dancing on eggshells, as though a wrong step would ensure dismissal. It's a bit difficult to put in word, you have to see it.

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Bruce Madmin

28-08-00, 07:32 PM (GMT)
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3. "Edinburgh Review"
In response to message #0
   finally got to put it all down! Now off to see what the others put

A trip to Edinburgh proved a very rewarding experience this year and many more fans than normal seemed to make the pilgrimage.

We all know why - on show were some of the slickest, most athletic, toughest and fastest performers you could wish to see. As I revelled in one glorious piece after another, I couldn't feel anything other than immensely privileged to be there - the Lady Boys of Bangkok know how to put on a slick show, that's for sure....

Lady Boys of Bangkok
Quite why so many of us find it interesting to see others change themselves so comprehensively I can't begin to fathom... and probably don't want to. But popular it is and the Meadows Theatre Big Top was full to capacity and the bar doing well as everybody seemed to be consuming bottled lager by the gallon. The show is a cabaret in which the girls strut and mime to great original recordings that most of us know and enjoy. The costumes are lavish in the extreme - nothing cheap or tatty here. So if the designs, music and vocals are guaranteed, what of the girls? Amazing one has to say. For most of them you would never know, which I suppose is the highest accolade they would seek. And being nosy you do try and look for tell-tale signs that all is not right - the odd bump in the wrong place etc. The best could join any cabaret dance troop or catwalk and nobody would be the wiser.

Attitude plays its part as well and one of the best performers was paradoxically the least convincing girl/woman on a physical level. But she was mentally a woman and had the audience eating out of her hands.
Here was the living, if odd, embodiment of the words "we can all be absolutely anything we want".

After an overdose of what can seem a slightly puritanical and serious New York City Ballet (NYCB) it was great to unwind and enjoy the simple pleasures of great music and uncomplicated slick dance in anything but reverent silence. Balanchine, who knew more than a bit about cabaret and shows, would have loved it I'm sure.

New York City Ballet

NYCB brought three programmes from their large repertoire - for the most part Balanchine works. This was his company, more than any other, and while there is debate about how well they are currently looking after his works NYCB are still the mother company and one likes to think that they carry/dance definitive versions of what are now well-travelled ballets in the repertoire of many companies. While many works would have been seen elsewhere there were inevitably new nuggets to be discovered by many of us.

Plots were not really Balanchine's thing - or rather not plot in the way you would traditionally imagine. However there are often undercurrents in his ballets and people see what they want or not.

Sets and Costumes
At first thought sets were not much in Balanchine's bag either - certainly not in the majority of works that most people know. He was much more into the simple back cloth and leotard, possibly with the extravagance of a little flowing pelmet for a skirt. But all this makes the impact of a set and grander costumes the greater and there was something of a cheer at the wild west sets and bar-room cowboy costumes of Karinska.

A note on Karinska
Karinska was Balanchine's costumier - put like that it sounds desperately mundane, which was not at all the case.

Like him, she was born in Russia and managed to leave in 1924 by subterfuge, though they did not know each other at that time. By way of Brussels, Paris, London (where she worked with Beaton for example and produced costumes for many ballet productions in the mid 1930's) she finally arrived in New York in 1939. Here she regularly costumed Balanchine's ballets though it was only in 1963, when NYCB had the money, that she was taken on full time. Until then she had been working on Broadway shows, operas and private commissions as well. Indeed back in the 1930's she was talked of like Chanel.

Karinska seemed to have understood bodies and fabric like few do - there are many references to her costumes fitting superbly and dancers feeling uplifted by the mere wearing of them. They look good on the move and yet never seem to hamper that movement. And her costumes are always of the utmost quality, with luxury detail. Originally she worked with designers but grew to become the complete designer/costumier... and she knew it: "I sew for girls and boys who make my costumes dance; their bodies deserve my cloths."

If you love Jewels ( or the constituent parts: Diamonds, Emeralds, Rubies which are sometimes danced separably) then it's Karinska you have to thank for such visual magnificence. I for one think of her designs and sewing ethic as needing to be preserved every bit as much as the ballets.

Alas there were no Jewels in Edinburgh but Serenade, Western Symphony, Symphony in C and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux were all hers and none would be the same without her greatness.

The NYCB dances
I'll just try to cover the highlights here, starting with the first night and going through to the last of the three programmes that made up a run. There are many other reviews available and so I don't aim for this to be particularly comprehensive (what a get out!)

Soto and Whelan got the big pdd and they do things that bring new meaning to it - it is more of a contest in their hands than any others' and there is a tangible plotting, picking of wits and love in there.

Soto, nearing the end of career, remains a powerful dancer and you can almost smell the pheromones from 50 yards

Whelan was like a Ferrari - she actually skidded in a supported pirouette such was the speed of it all - I swear I saw dust and rubber! For those into cars a Ferrari is not really the correct marque for her - more a Lotus - incredibly light, pared down - something striped right out and where the engineering is apparent. Whelan is a one off and should be designated a Ballet Site of Special Scientific Interest (BSSSI)

Kowroski is the relatively new girl and a young Principal. She is a stately, fast dancer if that is not too much of a contradiction. Incredible legs - so long and yet perfectly and spookily controlled - and a distant attitude that makes you hunger for more. Boal was ever the attentive partner and drew much praise in all he danced in.

A note on the NYCB corps
The only thing that disappointed in the opening Agon was the corps who seemed a bit jaded... indeed the most notable thing about the run was the variability of the corps at times. I was talking about this with Bruce Wall who mentioned that Balanchine did not particularly want a corps that was necessarily all together (hope I have not misquoted you Bruce). I also recall Anthony Dowell once saying that he wanted a corps full of distinctive dancers with character.

I'm afraid I just can't really understand a view that wants corps members to be different. Surely the corps derives its power from unity with the result being the greater than the sum of the parts. Every inaccuracy or disturbance merely robs the corps of its power. The Kirov understand this and their corps thrills like no other. In their case it's not just about drill and precision but even having dancers of the same height. And it works.

Perhaps it's because in the 'West' we value individualism much more and in any event dancers naturally want to present something of themselves. But working in the corps is not about individuals and who said ballet was ever fair and democratic anyway!

Dances at a Gathering
I was really looking forward to this, many fans talking with affection about the RB version in the 1970s. For me it proved a major disappointment. Very major.

There seemed nothing but endless swooping duets to Chopin piano Mazurkas, Waltzes and Etudes. After about 5 pieces I was ready for the end - it seemed to have run its course and I would just have put it down as lacklustre. By 10 pieces I was ready to slit my wrists with the tedium of it all. And there were so many false endings. After an hour we got to the 14th and final piece. I think I would put this down Almost at the Bejart "Mr C" end of tedium in the extreme.

Symphony in C
Horrid corps work - most folks were saying how poor they seemed. Wendy Whelan and Charles Askegard were sharp however - he was constantly noteworthy in many pieces. Nilas Martins (the boss's son), looked less happy and has not found the NYCB threatening look/manner. He also needs to get his hair cut I thought.

Concerto Baroccov
This opened up the next programme and again I found myself thinking the corps looked rather out of it and un-together. But this may just be my lack of appreciation of the NYCB way and a bias from seeing the Kirov corps.

Duo Concertant
Yvonne Borree and Nilas Martins. I saw them dance this last year in New York and it was the hit of the trip for me. Alas in Edinburgh it did not look quite so special. Somehow the authority that I saw in Martins last year was gone and even Borree looked to have slowed up some. Or perhaps I've speeded up.

The Four Temperaments
One of the earlier Balanchine pieces (1946) and a geometric and threatening look. Peter Boal and Albert Evans lead this out with style. Evans is particularly flamboyant and hard to ignore as he brings his magnetism to bear on all. The 4 soloists/corps members dancing with him were absolutely stunning too: all together and really emphasising the choreography.

Symphony in three Movements
Another great leotard ballet with Whelan and Soto welcomed again in the pdd. By now I'm starting to flag a bit though - Balanchined out.

A mighty fusion of choreography, music and design that raises the spirits. I can't think of it as twee or anything other than great and moving dance and an elegy to the female form. That it was the first Balanchine piece ever choreographed in America, and for students, always amazes me. The corps were in good form again, all moving as one etc.

I think the NYCB production is a little different from the RB version - slightly different numbers at times. Balanchine was always tinkering and 'our' Apollo is different as well.

Fearful Symmetries
This was choreographed by Peter Martins (the company's Artistic Director or in NYCB terminology Ballet Master in Chief) to a specially commissioned score by the minimalist composer John Adams. Adams excelled himself - the music is compulsive, driven and exciting and it's hard to imagine anybody not responding too it. Martins does a reasonable job on the choreography but Ashley Page's later version for the Royal Ballet is far edgier and uses the music better I think.

Miranda Weese and Jock Soto looked good, but Benjamin Millepied really stood out here with his speed, attack and commitment. The company also looked particularly bright in this - perhaps pleased to be doing something different for once.

And I have to mention the costumes (by Steven Rubin) in various shades of pink and red. To complement them the backdrop was the darkest red moire. All gorgeous

Tchaikovsky Pas de deux
Whelan moved well but does not look right for something so poetic and classical. And her costume, which looks so good on most dancers, merely exacerbated the 'ill at ease' look of it. Boal was the consummate partner.

Western Symphony
I'd never seen this before and it proved a fun audience-pleaser after so many rather more cerebral and serious works. The Karinska costumes positively glow with affection.

Western Symphony is led out by 3 couples (3 movements) and based is on 'normal' ballet made western and fun. The backdrop is of Wild West townscape - painted like Facade. And there are bar girls, hodowns, horse riding analogies but all under cover of rigourous ballet technique. Albert Evans won us all over as the cowboy torn every which way in chasing a girl.

It was a terrific end - without it one would still have had an enjoyable time but to see a new piece of Balanchine and love it for its difference is a great thing indeed.

Did it work?
Yes. One of the world's great companies and, odd moans about the corps aside, anybody making the trip to Edinburgh should have been well pleased. To see NYCB and the Kirov in the same week is a marvellous thing - I only hope that the companies continue to remain so different.

As for Edinburgh there is Nederlands Dans Theatre, in all its guises (1, 2 and 3) still to look forward to. Best to make the most of because the organisers say that dance will be given slightly less priority in the future. Sad, but their feeling is that they brought important companies to the UK at a time when London venues were being redeveloped and with Sadler's Wells, teh Royal Opera House and (soon) The Coliseum, back on line London will be more the catalyst. Lets hope the theory works.

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Bruce Wall

28-08-00, 09:30 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Edinburgh Review"
In response to message #3
   Dear Bruce,

As always good to read you!!

As to the NYCB corps. It is quite true that Balanchine liked the differences. It was those same differences which showed him future possibilities from which he was so brilliantly to coax and coherse us all in the introduction of yet a new form of 'seeing music', certainly in many cases unique scores which we might not so easily have been greeted unto. Funny, but I seem to remember the corps as, on occasion, being far more unruly at his time, than it is now. Or was it because the principals were more vitally detailed in their unique personal flavours. My class is cloudy on that issue. Still, the corps, like the dancers who make them up and ballet masters/mistresses who shape them, must and do blessedly change.

A few of my own personal theories as to my original stated theory:-

(a) Balanchine viewed his corps and, indeed, his work from very specific viewpoints. He created them in a studio, and proceeded to watch them from his place in the wings. Given his genius, he knew how to work the medium. His dances for television, weren't just filmed, he created them anew for a different media. As to the corps, I would imagine he was looking for different things than most of us and - as a result --

(b) Balanchine became known for taking great risks with his dancers. The interest in possibilities again. Where trust was earnt it was returned. Famously, segments of certain ballets (and here I immediately think of Oberon's variations
created for/by Villella in Balanchine's dream), were in large part the sole property of the dancers who created them. If they didn't suit another, they would be changed. Why does 'We are Family' keep playing over in my head. Not a very catchy tune. But then Balanchine did a (not very good) ballet to the theme song for PAN AM, prior to it going out of business. (Not that I think his ballet played any part in that long established organisations downfall.) It was not unknown, and the tradition holds today, for many in their early NYCB corps years to be given significant soloist roles. They fought/fight for them. The competitive edge of this company, much like the city it represents, is visceral. Much as in Agon, one tastes the hunger. This philiosophy would be true, I think, of all native (SAB) schooled NYCB principals, which, with the exception of Hubbe, I think must include them all. Helene will be sadly missed, but it must be said, Helene knows how to 'eat stage'.

Swings and Roundabouts. A few years ago, the natterers were on about the fact that there were no future ballerinas at NYCB. Merrill Ashley was leaving, Stephanie Saland (one of my favourites) had just left, Nicole had left - what was one to do? -- What would happen post Kyra. Today that situation looks strong: Krowoski, Ringer, Meunier, Anasaneli (sp?) show that there are potential 'ballerinas' (indeed 'Balanchine ballerinas) aplenty amongst those ranks. Blessedly, they will have Wendy to guide in the rightly praised courage of her own convictions. Balanchine would be rightly proud, I think. With the successes and, yes, with the discrepencies. Moreover, A few years ago, the men were seen as the forbidding NYCB strong suit. Now the tables turn: What though happens when Boal, Woetzel, Soto (and I must personally include LaFosse here) leave? Much more dangerous, to my mind, was the loss of Stanley Williams and, beyond, the loss of Luders from his parterning work with the company. Albert is a strong card, without question, but is given almost entirely repertory to dance which was created for and uniquely suits him. He needs/deserves a Balanchine. But then, which hungry talented dancer doesn't. Not all have the guts to demand, the eyes to say 'it's not good enough' and the courage to (to borrow a phrase from Shaw - Act II, Mrs. Warren's Profession - ) 'get up, look for the circumstances they want and if they can't find them, make them.' I don't, I fear, see the incredible strength in the NYCB mens' ranks which was present ten years ago, but that may just be the period; the between. Between Luders and Soto in their teaching. Teaching is key. But the repertory within which to tone the skills must be preserved in its detail. Detail is key. I think that Fayette is a talent worth watching closely, and Jared H. I don't fear, however, as so many of the previously named talents are teaching at the school; What are they teaching: They are teaching the detail, which was taught to them.

Indeed, why can we be having such detailed discussions on these forums about a company which has only appeared for one week after eleven years? Exactly, I think, because Balanchine finished his job; he defined his own legacy; which SAB {'my key' he said) continues to enchance the prescribed detial, no doubt pushing it in new extremes, with the Trust acting as arbitrator for the outside world where Martins and co. simply cannot abound. It must for NYCB must have new work if it is to live at all.

In short, and comparatively speaking, NYCB is in good health -- certainly better when you compare it to the state of certain other repertories which are sadly in a state of current decline, with imminent erasure of detail on the horison. Detail, is the extremity at hand. When asked for guidance, Balanchine told one dancer: 'don't muddy it'. An eye for their unique choreographic detail is a characteristic which all great choreographers, e.g., Ashton, Balanchine, Petipa, Tudor, Robbins, share. How many, however, have gone the full length and protected that detail - their own mortality - for the future? How many have finished the job? Without the tools, future entities can't hope to accomplish the job.

We are nearing twenty years since Balanchine's death. His ballets are danced differently; they have to be. The detail is the glue. Will it still be binding in 30? I believe it will.

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Ann Williams

28-08-00, 11:07 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Edinburgh Review"
In response to message #4
   What an absorbing and illuminating posting, Bruce. Thank you. You obviously know a great deal about NYCB. I hope it isn't intrusive to ask what your relationship with the company is? More than just a casual fan, I'd guess!

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