Praise of Ruins
Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
October 9, 2004 at 2 and 8 PM
© 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
©2004 by George Jackson
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Kathrine Sorley Walker
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