writers on dancing


In Praise of Ruins

Seventh Symphony, Etc.
Cincinnati Ballet
Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
October 9, 2004 at 2 and 8 PM

By George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson

A dancer steps briskly between the music's pizzicato punctuations as if her pointes were dodging small, spiky waves to tap a pearl in the trough between each crest. She is open, full of joy and generous in sharing her feelings. Her mood infects her companions and us, their audience. This image from a Cincinnati Ballet performance of Leonide Massine's "The Seventh Symphony", to the Ludwig van Beethoven composition that Richard Wagner called the quintessence of the dance, should last long in memory. So should impressions of corps groupings that, like incoming tide and expectant beach, merge seamlessly only to separate again until the next embrace. Massine's "The 7th" is powerful and melodious. Looked at whole, it seems clear and bold. Taken apart, it appears complex and clever. Its dancing is diverse—neoclassical and modern, abstract and expressive, airy and weighty—yet it has the cohesion of an impulse sprung from a single source.

This 1938 ballet and its current production proved to be of interest to the general public. At its core, though, the entire enterprise was by and for romantics. Not the sort of romantics who revel in the remnants of repertories past and are afraid of restorers. Working in Cincinnati were people who strove to revive a dance work of former days based on authentic sources and scholarly research. Of course, they never had enough of either. Persist they did, nevertheless, to stage three-fourth of "The 7th". Their concern was not 1938 but today, retrieving a legacy for the here and now and for what may come in the future. Among these incorrigibles are Victoria Morgan, Frederic Franklin, Johanna Bernstein Wilt, John Mueller, Blair Gibeau, and Diana Vandergriff. Has anyone calculated how long and hard they worked to stage the three scenes of "The 7th" for just the three performances this October, plus the teaser two years ago of the 3d scene alone? Regrettably, there aren't any plans for further performances or even making a distributable electronic copy.

The revival's major source was the discovery by Prof. Mueller, a dance movie expert, of a silent rehearsal film from 1938 by the company which originally danced the piece, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Footage of the work's first three scenes or movements is legible; that of the fourth and final movement is not. So, missing in the current production is the ballet's climax and summation. Ms. Bernstein Wilt deciphered what she saw on screen and transferred it onto the Cincinnati dancers. Mr. Franklin, who starred in the original production and again in 1948 and '49 for this ballet's only previous revival (also by the Ballet Russe), coached and coordinated the dancing with Beethoven's music. Cincinnati's leads for realizing the Christian Berard scenery and costume designs from 1938 were, respectively, Mr. Gibeau and Ms. Vandergriff. Trad A. Burns planned the new lighting.

Movement 1 of "The 7th" is titled The Creation. It is a choreography of interweaving thematic streams that denote birth and illustrate behavior. Movement 2, The Earth, deals with evildoing and death. It is a lesson in weight mass and vector force with very effective use of corps groups differentiated by their motion motifs and also by the cuts and colors of their costuming. Movement 3, The Sky, is a festival of buoyancy and luminosity. Had we been able to see Movement 4, the major theme would have been Fire, a sizzling bacchanal followed by a world conflagration and possibly, as suggested in a pre-performance talk by critic Jack Anderson, hints of rebirth. Another pre-performance speaker, dance editor George Dorris, discussed why "The 7th" was controversial in 1938. There were objections then to using symphonic music for dance, an attitude few people have today. However, some opinions both then and now have held that Massine's particular way of using the music is flawed, especially his imposition on it of such themes as water, earth, air and fire, or his Jungian admixture of mythologies as different as those from Mount Sinai, the Mount of Olives, Mount Olympus and Valhalla. As mentioned by still another introductory speaker, Mr. Franklin, in conversation with Ms. Bernstein Wilt, one can take or leave the ballet's literary and psychophilosophic aspects. They are optional. The choreographer never discussed them with his dancers. Members of the original cast learned the names and designations of the characters they were portraying only on opening night, on seeing them in the printed program. Nor did Massine write elaborate program notes. Most likely, he wanted both the performers and the audience to experience "The 7th" as a symphony of moods.

It was impossible for Cincinnati Ballet to master "The 7th" in just three performances, no matter how many rehearsals had gone before. (It took the Joffrey Ballet two seasons to make full sense of Nijinsky's "Le Sacre du printemps" and the Kirov/Maryinsky just about as long to fulfill the new/old version of Petipa's "The Sleeping Beauty".) Individual performers who stood out for me were Erina Noda dodging so joyously in the Ether group of Movement 3 and Kristi Capps in Movement 2 as a powerful lead mourner, rather in the manner of German modernist Mary Wigman. The crucified Innocent in that section was too dead; from 1947/8, I remember him emanating more even though he lay perfectly still. Nor were there Gods this time comparable to the elegant Alicia Markova and noble Igor Youskevitch of yore. However, some of the Cincinnati dancers have made remarkable progress in two years. Aaron C. Thayer, who was an apprentice then and did minor roles, appeared stronger and taller this time, and had the chance at the matinee to dance the Youskevitch part. Striking about the company as a whole was that its members looked like they had been, and seemed to know that they had been, stretched by "The 7th" as artists.

Ms. Morgan, the Cincinnati Ballet's astute director, led up to "The 7th" by having three divertissements precede it. One of these diversions was new, one was a modernization of an early 20th Century dance, whereas the third was an excerpt from a 19th Century classic. Two newcomers to the company, Adiarys Almeida and Cervilio Miguel Amador, danced the classic excerpt, the pas de deux from "Don Quixote". Their Cuban training showed in that they made the most of bodies that are not highly linear, using the torso and spine to model themselves as three dimensional sculpture. Both young dancers displayed stamina, particularly in turns. She has charm and he bravado, yet this pair could stand refining.

In the modernization "U Too?", the company's chief ballet master Devon Carney based his choreography for five men on the Russian Sailors Dance from the Soviet ballet "The Red Poppy". Abstracting slightly both in regard to gesture and costuming from what had been an out-and-out character number, Carney brought the piece up to date while retaining its aspects of show-off and male bonding.

The new work and program opener "Chasing Squirrel" was funky. It took a punk look at such balletic facts of life as partnering manners and having the women stalk into the men's locker room. The jokes and style of the piece quickly became tiresome. Not having checked the printed program before the matinee, I was surprised at intermission to see the renowned Trey McIntyre credited as choreographer. His music was by the Kronos Quartet, several of the ensemble's Hispanic arrangements and some of them overdone. Apart from this piece, which was accompanied by a Chronos recording, the program had live orchestral music conducted by Carmon Deleone. Should Mr.Deleone have played the conclusion of Beethoven's music for "The 7th" despite the lost choreography?
Volume 2, No. 38
October 11, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by George Jackson


DanceView Times

What's On This Week
Index of Reviews
Index of Writers

Back Issues
About Us

Sister Sites:
Ballet Alert! Online
Ballet Talk
Ballet Blogs


Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Christopher Correa
Clare Croft
Nancy Dalva
Rita Felciano
Marc Haegeman
George Jackson
Gia Kourlas
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexander Meinertz
Tehreema Mitha
Gay Morris
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish
John Percival
Susan Reiter
Jane Simpson
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Lisa Traiger
Meital Waibsnaider

Kathrine Sorley Walker
Leigh Witchel



DanceView is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good read.  Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe today!

DanceView is published quarterly (January, April, July and October) in Washington, D.C. Address all correspondence to:

P.O. Box 34435
Washington, D.C. 20043
last updated on October 4, 2004