writers on dancing


Ounce of Truth

"Stravinsky Evening"
Compagnia Aterballetto
Center for the Arts, George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia, USA
Saturday, November 5, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

Maurio Bigonzetti, Aterballetto's artistic director and chief choreographer, spoke of Igor Stravinsky warmly, as if the great composer had been a family friend. In his pre-performance chat, Bigonzetti told the audience that he had grown up with Stravinsky's ballet scores because his father loved that music and it often filled their home. Relating this circumstance, Bigonzetti made clear his admiration for not just the composer but also the choreographers with whom Stravinsky had worked—Fokine, Nijinska and Balanchine. Bigonzetti demonstrated insight into the evening's double bill of Stravinsky ballets, "Les Noces" and "Petrouchka", in a program note he had written with his dramaturg, Nicola Lusuardi. They point out that such a bill is "a combination not to be taken for granted". Although both ballets were made in the Diaghilev period and draw on Russian folk traditions and, yes, both deal with love that is intense, close to violence and yet limited, they are profoundly different works. "Petrouchka" has narrative flow about a "personage" whereas "Les Noces" is expression abstracted, as allegorical as in an "immobile icon". Why then re-set,  re-choreograph the two ballets, why not leave "Petrouchka " in its Benois/Fokine version and "Les Noces" in that of Gontcharova/Nijinska? Bigonzetti's answer: to make them new, to re-make them for a new day.

"Les Noces" came first on this program. The stage picture respected the strong "iconic" stylization and black/white coloration of the original. Two rows of dancers faced a central row of tables, all rows front to back. The dancers were semi-seated on metal frame, pew-like chairs. The tables, too, had metal frames. Movement erupted from the rows of dancers: first one man, then another, then four and eventually more. Women joined in. Much of the action was on the tabletops. It was forceful action, contorting the bodies, yet under strong control. The choreography differentiated women from men. Female bodies, in dresses, were more pliant than those of the thrusting males clad in trousers and simple tops. There were solo figures, even a couple of male/female duets, yet no individuals fully emerged from the group.

How does Bigonzetti's choreography and the work of his designers (set by Fabrizio Montecchi, costumes by Kristopher Millar and Lois Swandale, lighting by Carlo Cerri) renew the original? Pictorially, the late industrial-age, utilitarian stage is respectful of Gontcharova's folk cubist designs in terms of austerity. The decorativeness Gontcharova also deployed for the original is hinted at in this production's dresses. It culminates when the chairs, L-shaped in profile, are turned upside down at the ballet's end and hung over the edge of the tables to swing like an array of bells. This parallels the bell sounds in Stravinsky's score. Yet, the music isn't presented pure. Bigonzetti alters it by adding percussion (the sound of the chairs as they are rocked back and forth by dancers seated in them) and by surprising moments of silence. Unlike some concept choreographers, Bigonzetti doesn't stint on movement. There's plenty of it. Like the designs, it suits a late 20th Century urban environment. His use on occasion of a woman's arched foot as a hand is chilling. Other inventions, too, are eye catching. What does not happen is a cumulative effect. Unlike the Nijinska choreography, which has a time-lapse effect, Bigonzetti's doesn't build. It is, indeed and alas, "immobile". Time does not grow from the individual passages. No sense of inevitability emerges. Only that array of bells at the end signals that something has happened.

"Petrouchka", by the same team, transposes the tale of three very human puppets from a Russian holiday fairground ca. 1830 to a clothing store's sale day ca. 1980. The "hero", Petrouchka, becomes a shoplifter. The Moor and the Ballerina become mannequins. These changes make the plot seem less credible than the original. The absence of the Charlatan figure (some of his activity is assumed by a quartet of the store's security guards) removes all sense of mystery. The choreography, though, does drive the narrative. It refers to some of Fokine's movement for the principal characters but with more distortion, gives the crowd a rush hour pace and jive maneuvers, and the guards some Keystone cop antics and Robocop brutality. There's a true climax, and the clothing on the metal-frame racks (although minor compared to Benois' designs) is colorful.  

What has Bigonzetti achieved with his renewals? In "Les Noces" a curio that leaves one puzzled, and in "Petrouchka" a trivialization. Jerome Robbins also made a version of "Les Noces". He had not seen Nijinska's, but when he did, he called his own superfluous. He was being unduly harsh on himself. I think the groom and bride's consummation as staged by Robbins added a truth that's not in the original. He showed us the sex act as first and foremost a duty. Just changing a work of art without gaining an ounce of truth isn't a sufficient excuse.

Bigonzetti told us that Aterballetto's dancers are classically trained, but the fine points of ballet didn't show in this program. Certainly the cast was strong, sinewy and suitably grotesque for the choreographer's vision of the world as updated to yesterday. In "Petrouchka", tall Ina Broeckx was the Ballerina, and Thibaut Cherradi and Valerio Longo the almost interchangeable Petrouchka and Moor. In "Les Noces", Macha Daudel and Roberto Zamorano, and Ashen Ataljanc and Walter Matteini danced the duos.     

Volume 3, No. 41
November 7, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson



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last updated on November 7, 2005