Monday, October 27, 2008

American Ballet Theatre, Sun Oct. 25th

I knew there would be plenty of kids at a Sunday matinee but man were the little darlings behind me rambunctious. It was good that there were lots of empty seats so they could move around instead of going stir crazy I think. Because they were not so well behaved. Hopefully they enjoyed their ballet experience though.

Anyway, I thought it was a nice program. I like "Baker's Dozen," which feels kind of like a jazz age garden party. I almost imagine that I'd like it better if the dancers were a bit looser limbed and relaxed seeming, but it's so enjoyable to watch anyway. It just gives me a pleasant feeling.

And I liked "Theme and Variations" a great deal as well. I was disappointed to see that Gillian Murphy--who is one of my favorite ABT dancers--wasn't going to be dancing, but I still enjoyed the ballet with Yuriko Kajiya dancing. And now that I've seen the ballet I understand what people mean when they say it's a gloss on "Sleeping Beauty." The chandeliers and costumes and those tiaras are kind of awful though. I mean, that pink? Not good.

Along with "Baker's Dozen" the other ballet this afternoon that I'd seen before was "Leaves are Fading." And I've been reading about Tudor lately so it was fun to see something I've read about. In her Tudor biography, "Undimmed Lustre," Muriel Topaz wrote quite a bit about the design for the ballet--the set designer was trained in Chinese landscape painting where different strokes represent different leaves. The backdrop was painted with a "five-stroke pattern" which is what gives it that abstract leafy look. I thought it was neat to know that.

Even better, Topaz quotes from Tudor's writing about the ballet. First about his inspiration:
After watching a performance of "Dances at a Gathering" [Robbins/Chopin], not for the first time, and being overpowered by all of its qualities, I found myself telling Mr. Robbins what a wonderful piece it was, and confessing that I also would like to bring about a ballet like that. And he simple said, "Why don't you?" The challenge rankled, hovered in the background never quite taking hold but equally never letting go. Then the music arrived--I discovered the chamber music of Dvorak. The sense of belonging was immediate...
He also wrote about what I guess I would describe as the tone of the ballet:
From the first entrance of the jeunes filles en fleur with the perfumes and freshness of spring in the air, expanding their lungs and stretching their muscles and their emotional responses, we move through a series of dances until at the last exit we are left with the bittersweet memories engendered by fragrant old rose petals. Every pas de deux should have its share of exaltation and exultation, and carry the presentiments of it being "too good to last."
I think it's interesting to think about "Leaves are Fading" at the same time as "Dances at a Gathering" because even though they both clearly traffic in nostalgia, "Leaves" seems to me to be the one more likely to slip into saccharine monotony. The delicate, gentle feeling of the ballet is what makes it lovely, but also, it seems to me, what puts it at risk. I love the way Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes dance this ballet and they, along with the beautiful Veronika Part, kept me interested.

To end on an unfortunate negative note, the one new ballet of the evening, "Citizen" by Lauri Stallings, was also the one new work I didn't like. Although I didn't hate it either. I have to admit, that even before the Stallings ballet started I was thinking black thoughts just because I'd looked at the program notes. I mean, for fuck's sake, what's so scary about capital letters? I can't think of a single reason not to use proper capitalization in ballet program notes that's not highly obnoxious. I found myself thing the description of the ballet was pretentious tripe but that might just be because I was so annoyed by the lack of capital letters.

So I'll give Citizen this: The actual ballet irritated me far less than the program notes. The costumes were quite interesting (Tonya Plank describes them in detail in her post on the ballet) and I also liked the music and the sound of falling rain at the beginning and end. Some of the effects also worked--the falling glitter--while others didn't. The lights coming up, for example, and the people coming onstage (a group that included a couple dancers in Baker's Dozen costume) just confused things.

In her review Tonya talks about how the dancers seemed to be yearning for, and struggling toward a human connection. I love that interpretation and I think that there were moments when that yearning did come through and I found them quite touching. I would need to see it again to write more accurately, I think but the one that sticks in my mind in my mind most is the point when two of the women--Devon Teuscher and Melissa Thomas in the cast I saw--dance slowly together. It reminded me of nothing so much as this old Edison video, despite the fact that the Stallings ballet is set in what seems to me to be a very modern, urban seeming world:

And because I found it to be moving at times, because I felt like there really was supposed to be a point and that the ballet was quite humanistic and concerned with people, as opposed to shapes or abstraction, I was particularly disappointed by the fact that I didn't like it. But I just don't think the parts come together to form a cohesive whole. I'm left with the frustrating feeling that it's a ballet that has genuine potential and pieces that could be developed into something that works in its entirety. But right now it doesn't.


tonya said...

Haha, I remember those notes in the playbill now. I'd forgotten about them. Yeah, it irritated me to. And the critic sitting next to me said, "oh, geez, an entire paragraph on your process? Who does that?" as if it was totally pretentious. (This critic is a former choreographer) She should have just left those notes out! They didn't add anything anyway...

Meg said...

Well, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought it was obnoxious. You're right, it would have been better to just leave the notes out in this case. Or be less vague and gibberish-y about what she was trying to do. One or the other!