Thursday, January 15, 2009

All Balanchine + Coppelia

Getting myself to the ballet on Saturday was a bit of a comedy of errors. I was planning to head out early so I could buy a ticket and then head over to Barnes & Noble for a bit (I have a gift certificate). Thanks to that plan, while I didn't make it to the bookstore, I did manage to get to Lincoln Center on time.

The problems started when I decided that I wanted to bring Nancy Goldner's Balanchine Variations with me so I could re-read her essay on The Four Temperaments during the subway ride. (As a sidenote, if the world were a perfect place someone would offer Goldner an exorbitant sum of money to write about many more Balanchine ballets, because her book is wonderful but I wish it were three times the length.) Unfortunately, during the bedbug invasion I became thoroughly paranoid about my books getting infested--it does happen!--so I heat treated all of them and put them in ziploc bags. But they don't all fit on my bookshelf to begin with and the bags are slippery so I can't stack them on top of the shelf like I used to. Thus there are piles of books all over the apartment. Unsurprisingly, it took a while to find Goldner's book--behind the kitchen table, shoved up next to the shelf the plants live on. It was in a ziploc with a biography of Henning Kronstam, so I was clearly employing some kind of logic in my bug-addled state.

Anyway, then I went to get on the subway and the F & V weren't running in either direction due to a "police action." So I had to walk a ways to get the D in the--admittedly minimal--snow and while wearing not terribly practical shoes. I eventually got there and got my ticket with just enough time to look over the program before the start so it was all fine.

I'm not sure how I feel about Chaconne. I enjoyed Maria Kowroski--she's such a beautiful dancer--but didn't particularly like Marcovici as her partner. I wanted him to be smoother and more expansive so he would be a better match for her. For the most part though, the ballet just seemed perfectly lovely but no more and no less than that.

The Four Temperaments though, I loved. And to go back to the Goldner book, reading such a clear-eyed exploration of the work is something that's so helpful to a person like me who has very little technical knowledge because it gives me things to look for and focus on. So much writing about ballet is flowery and metaphor-filled and I get that, because dance is hard to describe in writing (I certainly can't do it well), but it doesn't help me much. Goldner's descriptions are so concrete that it's easy for me to know what she's talking about. Here, for example, she writes about the three initial duets:
Whereas the drama in the last four parts resides in its play on emotive qualities, the first part is most dramatic for its play with the academy. The knee, for example, is all but invisible in textbook ballet. It is prominent in The Four Ts from the start, when both of the dancers in the first duet move with one knee on the ground. It's just one step they take, but its slight awkwardness brings what could be a transitional move into high relief. Placing a woman on pointe with a bent knee is even more unorthodox, since the very point of dancing on pointe is to create a streamlined image. Balanchine develops the bent-knee motif as the three duets progress, starting with big ronds de jambe, moving to pirouettes, and finally to pirouettes in which the woman plunks her foot on top of her supporting bent knee.
Well I can understand and appreciate that. It gave me something to look for, and think about, while watching. Later, she writes about the roles of the temperaments themselves. Here too, she's clear without being either fussy or authoritarian. Of Melancholic, she writes:
His main problem is that he can't get anywhere, can't get out of his own body. And when he's not thwarting himself, the ensemble of six women does the job for him.
I like that idea. I liked watching the Melancholic variation and considering the ways in which he is stuck, and incapable of forward progress. It's not that I particularly want someone to tell me what to think about particular ballets. I don't, because that would be boring. But I do like to be given things to think about. That provides me with an entry point of sorts into these non-narrative ballets.

Vienna Waltzes I liked, but I think it would be possible for me to like it more. I thought I would after the first section with Sara Mearns, who is one of my favorite New York City Ballet dancers among those I've seen and seemed perfect for the role. And I enjoyed the second waltz and the polka as well. But the Merry Widow section didn't particularly work for me. And then came the last section, which was thrilling once the ensemble was dancing--although I think the mirrors probably create a more dramatic effect for those below the fourth ring--but not so much before that. The solo sections with Darci Kistler didn't seem fully realized. So there was kind of a dip there for me.

All in all though, it was one of those days when I left the theater happy to have been there and seen the show, which is always a good feeling to have.

I also went to Coppelia (on Tuesday) and it was cute enough--Megan Fairchild makes a perfect little pretend-doll; the peasants are, as is usually the case in ballet, very happy--but I had a headache by the third act and was mostly just ready to go home. (This week has been a long one for me because I've been feeling generally not good.) Teresa Reichlen was beautiful as Dawn. And, in a somewhat related plus, it meant I missed watching the Sabres lose to the Red Wings. That was definitely a good thing.

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