writers on dancing


Bringing Back Fokine

Works & Process
American Ballet Theatre & Michel Fokine
Guggenheim Museum
February 27, 2005

by Mary Cargill
copyright ©2005 by Mary Cargill

The great, and neglected, choreographer, Michel Fokine was the focus of the latest in the Guggenheim Museum’s intimate and illuminating Works & Process series focusing on the Fokine productions American Ballet Theatre is giving this spring. It was hosted by John Meehan, an affable and assured MC, and included brief discussions by Kirk Peterson and Frederic Franklni, and performances by some of ABT’s dancers. The evening had an ease and grace, though of course if was far too short—the audience could have listened to Franklin’s reminiscences for much longer. The balance between anecdote, history, and performance was perfect, and there was something for newcomers as well as seasoned ballet goers.

Peterson emphasized the revolutionary quality of Fokine’s choreography, showing how his variations ended so differently than the presentational flourish of Petipa; in “Les Sylphides”, for example, the ballerina runs offstage. He said that for forty years “Les Sylphides” opened ABT’s season, because it was the first ballet that ABT did. Since the evening was so successful, Lucia Chase considered it a lucky charm! Fokine had set it for ABT, and Peterson learned it from Dimitri Romanoff, who had in turn learned it from Fokine; apparently Fokine left it up to the dancer to determine if he were Chopin himself, or a poet searching for an illusion, but the dancer must be in his own world, oblivious of the audience.

The live dancing was interspersed with historical films; we saw the incredible Fonteyn in the Firebird pas de deux, with her flashing arms and magical eyes. There was a brief glimpse of Pavlova’s “The Dying Swan”; Franklin remembered seeing her dance it in 1931, and has never seen her like. All the liquid, flowing arms in the world can’t replace her magic.

Franklin also talked about dancing the Moor in “Petrouchka”, saying he used to be black, shiny, and lumbering. The panel talked a bit about the importance of character for Fokine, that his choreography was all based on the story. Meehan said that dancers now don’t really understand demi-caractère or character dancing, that they are not taught it, and that it was too bad. Of course, dancing these wonderful ballets is a start!

The evening included a generous sampling of dances. It is certainly not fair to review these, given the circumstances—small space, no sets, unromantic lighting, no orchestra. But the dancers, in costume and makeup, danced as if they were at the Met, albeit a bit more carefully. It was especially gratifying to see some younger dancers get an opportunity, especially the luminous Zhong-jing Fang in the Prelude to “Les Sylphides”, with her boneless quality and lustrous eyes. Danny Tidwell had a go at the Spectre, though without a window and the jump, and he was magnificent, a powerful lower body combined with graceful, tendrilly arms. Isaac Stappas, who had danced Bottom so memorably in Ashton’s “The Dream”, performed a bit of the Moor’s dance from “Petrouchka”. Unfortunately, today’s conventions mean that his dark shiny makeup has been toned down to a Florida tan, but he got the lumbering quality. And Marcelo Gomes, with Stella Abrera in the pas de deux from “Les Sylphides” was, as Mrs. Malaprop would say, “The very pineapple of perfection.” And so was the entire evening.

Volume 3, No. 10
March 7, 2005

copyright ©2005 Mary Cargill


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Robert Greskovic reviews two new DVDs of Fonteyn dancing "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella"

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last updated on March 7, 2005