Balanchine - Neumeier - Robbins: Vienna State Ballet, March 22nd, 2018
An evening and four Ballets – a variety of styles and points of views by just mentioning these three names – George Balanchine, John Neumeier and Jerome Robbin. Yes!
It is not easy to write about “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” without remembering “Balustrade”, its first version which premièred in New York in 1941 with Tamara Toumanova, Tatiana Leskova (who was my teacher) and conducted by Stravinsky himself! When Mr. B. returned to the score three decades later (its “Première” was in 1972), he could no longer remember his original choreography. But he was not at all disturbed by the loss: “What I did then was for then” The new choreography follows the score directly: An opening “Toccata” and a final “Capriccio” enclose two central “Arias,” which form contrasting pas de deux for two different couples.
Needless to say that perhaps one of the most interesting facts about “Concerto” is that a Ballet that had all that kind of paraphernalia of sets and costumes (“Balustrade”; its tittle surely dropped a certain hint about it!) could have been turned into one of Mr. B’s plotless and MOST avant-garde works ever!
Liudmilla Konovalova, a dancer I usually do not associate much to Mr. B’s work, gave a beautiful reading of a role that was originally created by Kay Mazzo, a dancer she somehow resembles. She was partnered by Mihail Sosnovschi, another dancer whose body type is not “Balanchine”, but that has that peculiar stamina that is required in such works. Both brilliant and looking, beautifully, very thin!
It is very difficult to recreate a role that was especially made for such a “tigress” like Karin von Aroldingen, the German dancer (she passed away last January in New York) that Mr. B. always turned to when he was creating his most daring pieces (When his experiments were at their most unpredictable, Balanchine knew he could turn to Ms. von Aroldingen!). Although she was not dancing this role for the first time, my impression of Ketevan Papava at the beginning of the evening, was one of uncertainty, as if she was missing better preparation, somehow lacking Mr. B.’s precise heads in a more natural – and not extremely studied - way. Style. This is a rare quality in his dance. Even though technically demanding, it portrays a certain “lightness” that is nearly inhuman. But we are talking here about extreme dance quality in a very sophisticated way of physical interpretation. And it is not “only that”. It is another language of Dance. During the “second part” she was much more at ease and gave a beautiful performance.
Needless to say that Eno Peçi was in his element again. Mr. Peçi is one of those rare dancers that sometimes remind me, in a very positive way, of a chameleon. His extreme versatility – that was to be proven again during this evening – is something to remember!
Strong members of the Corps de Ballet and their continuous professionality like shown by Fiona McGee, Sveva Gargulio, Anita Manolova, Marat Davletshin, Richard Szabó, Dumitru Taran and Jaimy van Overeem contributed immensely to this evening’s “start”.
Jumping immediately to “Theme and Variations”, I have to remember Gelsey Kirkland in a performance which I was lucky enough to watch. Her first “big entrance”: entering upstage in the exact middle. Mr. B. also managed to bring Miss Kirkland out of balance during that certain performance but that is not the crucial point: I remember times when dancers from the ABT would not even dare to think about dancing the NYC-Ballet’s repertoire. Nowadays Balanchine is danced everywhere but what most companies forget is that it is NOT about mastering Mr. B’s work technically but entering its “state of mind”, its “philosophy”. This “nearly spiritual” preparation is more than imperative in trying to understand Balanchine. Of course I was delighted by Masayu Kimoto’s jumps, batteries and (the never ending) secure pirouettes in combination to tours en l’air (which nearly stole the show) but, to be very frank, it did not impress me as much as his wife’s rendition. Yes, it was the way Kiyoka Hashimoto used her hands that delighted me most. It was the nearest thing to Balanchine during both ballets last evening.
Special mention to some of the members of the Corps like Elena Bottaro, Adele Fiocchi, Gala Jovanovic (on which Kiyoka Hashimoto could really rely on for her balance), Leonardo Basílio, Andrey Teterin, Igor Milos, Kamil Pavelka.
Bach Suite III is not one of my favourite Neumeier’s work – perhaps because of the use of Bach’s orchestral Suite #3, which has been so often played… I, frankly, sometimes do not understand John Neumeier’s “diversity”. I see no parallels in pieces like “Josef’s Legend”, “La Dame aux Camelias”, “Streetcar named Desire”, “Magnificat”, “Pavillon” and so on… as if they would not be from the same choreographer! I wish someone could talk more to me about his work.
Choreographically speaking I consider the three (or four) couples as the most important part of the artistry of this piece. Obviously Miss Yakovleva and Mr. Lazik did a very good job as the “principals” but the flow of motion (and emotion) is much stronger within the three (or four) couples than within the principals, whose choreography tends to be much more ecstatic. I still wonder why certain pieces are still included in it and have never been thought over again – like the very difficult part to the principal male dancer in which his partner holds herself around his waist and he has to stand up. A remembrance of a liturgical figure? Unnecessary task that nearly threw Mr. Lazik off balance yesterday… I must add that I do not believe in choreographies that force dancers to make a grand plié in the first position, all alone, facing the audience. A mean thing - and a not very becoming one...
To the couples: there is this not really a defined position of the “fourth” couple. They “drift” between the three couples and the state of being a soloist pair on their own right. I honestly never quite understood that. But Mr. Szabó and especially Miss Fogo, were in full command of their performances – although there should be a bit work on Mr. Szabó's facial expressions – a fact that I have already observed in other ballets - which reveal sometimes a certain tension. Miss Fogo, on the contrary, has a very natural way all the time.
Special praise to the three couples danced by Ioanna Avraam/Leonardo Basílio (always surprising me with his quick progress as a dancer), Alice Firenze/Dumitru Taran (always stronger since his “come-back” after his injury) and Anita Manolova/Francesco Costa (that is beginning to develop a more sensitive form of displaying emotions on stage).
The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody): It had been quite a long time since I had last seen it. I had forgotten the fun and joy that this short piece of work represents. Before going to the Opera I read for a while about it and was touched to remember that it was choreographed by Robins in 1956 (just a year before West Side Story) for Tanaquil LeClercq, Balanchine’s last wife, exactly in the same year in which she was struck with Polio. A sad story.
Somehow the intention of transforming this piece in a sort of “Tour de Force” for a Ballerina – for Miss LeClercq (and to display her versatility) is not diminished with Miss Yakovleva’s casting – as some have feared (a fact that I did not understand: Miss Yakovleva has already danced this role, quite successfully some years ago - for me there was no question about that).
The whole cast, composed of extremely good professionals bring Robbins’ humour (a man who was known to have very little of it) to shine: Arne Vandervelde, great Igor Milos, delightful Fiona McGee, Gabor Oberegger, Elena Bottaro, Marie Breuilles, Sveva Gargiullo, Alaia Rogers-Maman (enjoying her “feathers” and looking lovely), Nicola Barbarossa, Marat Davletschin, Trevor Hayden, Kamil Pavelka, Zsolt Törok and Jaimy van Overeem (looking younger every day). All of them excellent professionals!
But, no question about it, the three main dancers (The Ballerina, the husband and his wife) played with imense humour and wit by delicious Maria Yakovleva, Eno Peçi and Franziska Wallner-Hollinek bring to life these beautiful, mad characters! A real joy!
One of the funniest moments in Dance ever: as the wife, standing upstage in the center, decides to come to the front and is run over by all the other dancers and discovered lying on the floor, knocked out and quite comatose as the scene “opens”.
Show Stopper: the six dancers to Chopin's Valse E-Minor no. 14. But that is a known fact!
Last but not least: the lovely Holly Hines’ costumes, inspired by the great Irene Sharaff’s ones (Irene Sharaff, one of Hollywood’s – yes, Hollywood - Top designers!) and the brilliant Maestro Igor Zapravdin’s not only masterly interpretations of Chopin but Stage persona at its wittiest! A joy!
A delicious and extremely enjoyable evening! A must, if I may say so!