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Ballet and dance reviews from New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.


 Volume 2, Number 9  March 1,  2004            The weekly online supplement to DanceView magazine

Letter from New York

1 March 2004.
Copyright © 2004 by Mindy Aloff

Anyone interested in the art of directing a dance company would benefit from seeing the Disney movie Miracle, about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team—a group of young amateurs who, coached by a genius named Herb Brooks, came from apparently nowhere to fight their way to the top, en route beating the “unbeatable” Soviets in the semifinals, ultimately winning the gold medal, and thereby proving themselves heroes and agents of momentary yet profound joy to a country demoralized by economic recession, the hostage crisis in the Middle East, the sky-high cost of fossil fuel, and other assorted woes.
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read past Letters

A Bevy of Beauties at New York City Ballet

A Veteran and a Raw Talent

The Sleeping Beauty
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
February 24, 28, 2004

by Mindy Aloff

copyright 2004 by Mindy  Aloff
published 1 March 2004

This week, reviewing NYCB’s production of The Sleeping Beauty on his Saturday WQXR-FM radio spot (6 p.m.), Francis Mason observed that when Margot Fonteyn took New York by storm with her Aurora in The Royal Ballet’s production at the Old Met in 1949, she had already been dancing the role for ten years. It’s a point well taken. As Boris Lermontov observes in The Red Shoes, one cannot produce a rabbit from a hat if there is not already a rabbit in the hat. On the other hand, Ninette de Valois was producing an Aurora who, by a number of accounts, had the right sensibility and temperament for the role from the beginning.
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Heart and Soul

The Sleeping Beauty
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
February 18, 29, 2004

by Mary Cargill
copyright 2004 by Mary Cargill
published 1 March 2004

If, as Walter Pater wrote, “all art constantly aspires to the condition of music”, then it seems that all Balanchine’s ballets aspire to the condition of The Sleeping Beauty, so it was fitting that the New York City Ballet performed it as the final offering of its Balanchine Heritage season. Peter Martins’ Beauty is not perfect, but it has many beautiful elements. However, it was set before the Kirov revived as much of the 1890 original as they could reconstruct. Their version, as close as this world will probably ever come to seeing the ballet that transfixed Balanchine, has a luxurious expansiveness, a rich variety, and a moral seriousness that later versions, however fine, lack.
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Hamburg Ballet:
John Neumeier's Nijinsky

Nijinsky—Lost in the Chaos

Hamburg Ballet
Opera House, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
February 25, 2004

Clare Croft
copyright © 2004 by Clare Croft
published 26 February 2004

Vaslav Nijinsky is a ballet icon. His ballets and life story have cemented his place in dance history. But with iconic status sometimes comes a flattening of character, and John Neumeier’s depiction of the famous dancer in the evening length Nijinsky has fallen into this trap. Neumeier devotes most of his two-and-half-hour ballet to placing Nijinsky’s inner landscape onstage, creating a swirl of impossible-to-digest dance that presents Nijinsky as a one-dimensional figure, lost in the swirl. The man who created the first truly modern ballets and passed through two complicated relationships, first with impresario Serge Diaghilev, then later his wife Romola, appears the same throughout Neumeier’s ballet. Though the relationships were, in fact, very different, Neumeier's depictions are not. The lack of subtle character development was even more striking after having seen Norman Allen's "Nijsinky's Last Dance" at the Kennedy Center this past fall.
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Nijinsky: Madness and Metaphor

Hamburg Ballet
Opera House, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, D.C.
February 26 and February 28 (evening), 2004

by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright © 2004 by Alexandra Tomalonis
published 1 March 2004

It’s not often one gets to see identical twins take on a leading role. John Neumeier provided just such an opportunity by casting Jirí and Otto Bubenícek as Nijinsky in his evening-length work of that name. In this case, curiosity was well-rewarded: there were not only differences, but each man had contrasting strengths. (I must state that my comparison is from viewing the two only in this one role in this season, and that I’m trusting that each twin danced at his announced performance. The two also alternated as Nijinsky in the Faun, each playing Faun to his brother's Nijinsky.)  J. Bubenícek, who danced the role opening night, has a stronger technique; O. Bubenícek’s, at the Saturday evening performance, danced with more plasticity and more expression.
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Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes

Hamburg Ballet
Opera House, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, D.C.
February 25 and February 28 (matinee), 2004

by George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson
published 1 March 2004

The conception is sweeping. Call it symphonic or cinematic, there is cohesive movement at the core of John Neumeier's Nijinsky. It has an effect, it makes a splash, Act 1 more so because it never stops. Transitions are part of the continuum. Choreography, characterizations and narrative are fused inextricably.

The first act's story is simpler. It starts with the opening of Vaclav Nijinsky's last public performance and goes back in time to the course of his early life and his career—he was, of course, the new 20th Century's god of the dance. In the second act, seams show. There were pauses that had no apparent purpose, there were ebbs in the work's surging tide. The real world at war intruded in an alien way, not fully fusing with Nijinsky's extreme choreography, his madness and his brother's demented state. And, more at one performance than another, the insanity of Nijinsky's last dance was an anticlimax after the brother's explosion.
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An Acrobatic Showcase

Choreographers Showcase
[produced by the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission]
Dance Theatre
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
University of Maryland
February 28, 2004

by Tehreema Mitha
copyright 2004 by Tehreema Mitha
published 1 March 2004

Programs like 21st Annual Choreographers Showcase are usually a good opportunity to see a variety of companies and styles. But if I had been told that one person had choreographed this whole show and that it was presented by just one company, I would have believed it. There was an amazing uniformity to the language used to create the pieces, an even keel that ran throughout the whole evening.
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Wheeldon's Rush:  Fresh and Familiar

Rush, Grosse Fugue, and Valses Poeticos, imaginal disk
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco,  California
February 24 , 2004

by Rita Felciano
Copyright © 2004 by Rita Felciano
published 1 March 2004

Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush, the center piece of San Francisco Ballet’s third program surprised with its freshness and conventionality.

If you live in a Northern climate, you will understand the contradiction. There are days in late March or early April when Spring is just around the corner. The air has a blustery quality to it and feels fresh; breezes are almost, but not quite balmy. It’s an experience you go through year after year, and yet the experience is new every time. That’s how Rush felt.

Wheeldon chose for his third SFB commission a lovely little score by Bohuslav Martinu, the Sinfonietta La Jolla for Chamber Orchestra and Piano. Even though written relatively late in the composer’s life, it had a vernal quality about it which no doubt contributed to Rush’s atmosphere.
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Tomasson's Seven for Eight: Stainless Steel and Angelic Grace

Paquite, Seven for Eight, Le Carnival des Animaux
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco,  California
February 24 , 2004

by Paul Parish
Copyright © 2004 by Paul Parish
published 1 March 2004

It often seems to me that we've arrived in the dance world at a stage very like that which succeeded the great age of Elizabethan drama—after Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson, what follows is a generation that's hyper-aware of what's been done, and the gifted among them, the Fletchers and the Websters spend their wits making madder mad scenes, more villainous villains, elaborating self-consciously on the affective devices that made King Lear so involving, so upsetting it made grown men cry.

Similarly in the wake of the heroic generation (Balanchine, Graham, Ashton, Limon, name your favorites), we get dances that live in the suburbs of the masterpieces they created. It's nobody's fault—it's just where we are in the cycle. Today the technique has flowered to the point where the practitioners are so adept they are almost in advance of what the idea-folk can ask of them.

So you hear that Helgi Tomasson is going to make a ballet to Bach, what do you expect? Well, it won't have the organic, fated quality of Concerto Barocco, the structure will not make form reveal function—but I expect that the dancers will move o that music with a grace bordering on the angelic.
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A Firebird in Portland

White Nights
Oregon Ballet Theatre
Keller Auditorium,
Portland, Oregon
February 28, 2004

by Rita Felciano
Copyright © 2004 by Rita Felciano
published 1 March 2004

Oregon Ballet Theatre is in good hands. With two world premieres— Adin by new Artistic Director Christopher Stowell and Firebird by budding choreographer and San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancer Yuri Possokhov—and Serenade, coached by the superb Francia Russell, the twenty-two member ensemble presented an evening of refined classical dancing that promised much for the future. Six of these dancers are new this season.

In his Firebird, which uses Stravinsky’s reduced 1945 version of the score, Possokhov has gone back to the folk tale at the heart of the narrative. A simple youth with a noble heart, here called Ivan, (Paul de Strooper) sets out on a quest and encounters two magical creatures, a glittering, golden firebird (Yuka Iino) and a beautiful girl (Tracy Taylor). After defeating the ogre Kaschei (Kester Cotton), Ivan has to choose between enchantment and reality. He makes the right decision, and the two live happily ever after.
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Suburban/Urban Dance

Moscow Festival Ballet
Marin Community Center Veterans Memorial Auditorium,
San Rafael, CA
February 21, 2004
"Zen, if you don't mind"
Scott Wells and Dancers
848 Community Space,
San Francisco, California
February 19, 2004

by Paul Parish
Copyright ©2004 by Paul Parish
published 2  February 2004

San Francisco Bay is shaped like a wasp; San Francisco is at the waist, facing Berkeley and Oakland to the east (the Bay Bridge crosses that waist like a belt). It is a large bay - San Jose lies at the tail of the wasp, some 50 miles south of the waist. Another bridge goes across the neck of the wasp to San Rafael, county seat of Marin County, where Frank Lloyd Wright's marvelous complex of civic buildings include a handsome blue and gold auditorium where the weekend of February 21 the Moscow Festival Ballet won the hearts of about a thousand prosperous suburbanites with a generous, clear, satisfying production of Rostislav Zakharov's venerable Cinderella.
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Batsheva: Breaking Down Walls

Deca Dance
Batsheva Dance Company
America Dancing, Kennedy Center
Eisenhower Theater
Washington, D.C.
Feb. 26-27, 2004

by Lisa Traiger
copyright 2004 by Lisa Traiger
published 1 March 2004

Ohad Naharin likes to line up his dancers across the front of the stage letting them spout off tightly packed phrases of movement, sequentially or, to increase the effect, all at once. This is how his Deca Dance opens and the formation returns in different costumes with different movement over the course of the evening. It's as if Naharin wants to break down that invisible but necessary barrier between performer and audience. And then he does.
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Dance with Texture—and a Heart

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence
Dance Place
Washington, D.C.
February 29, 2004

by Clare Croft
copyright © 2004 by Clare Croft
published 1 March 2004

Ron Brown’s choreography displays the best of a postmodern approach—diverse fusion of movements --while still embracing the capital letter ideals of Modernism, Truth and Beauty. Watching Brown’s company Evidence in their Sunday night performance at Dance Place, particularly in “Come Ye” a work that received its Washington premiere on Thursday at George Mason University, I felt I was watching a choreographer borne of the postmodern generation dismiss the relativist, flat-line tendencies that make so much of today’s choreography look the same. In Come Ye, a celebration of singer Nina Simone, Brown and his dancers (he performed with the company) defer to something bigger and higher than themselves. Repeatedly, they raise their arms, hands balled into fists, and arch their chests upward, embracing the air and at times each other with a reverent, almost sacred quality. But, this call to something beyond the stage does not have the dated air of the twentieth century classics because Brown’s seamless fusion of West African, modern and club dance solidly ties the universal to contemporary everyday life.
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Kid Stuff

If You Go Down To the Woods Today
Cas Public
New Victory Theater
New York, NY
February 28, 2004

by Susan Reiter
copyright 2004 by Susan Reiter
published 23 February 2004

Performances such as this, which are designed for what's called the "family audience," are certainly best evaluated by attending with a child of the appropriate age. This 45-minute offering by the Montreal-based troupe Cas Public seems aimed at the eight-and-under set, and I did not have such a companion along whose reaction to gage. The matinee audience was loaded with kids who seemed eager and attentive, and laughed at the appropriate places. From an adult perspective, the piece was heavy on the talk and limited in its movement interest.
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Zoltan Nagy

C. Voltaire
Making Dances / Taking Chances Series
Robert & Arlene Kogod Theatre
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
The University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
Saturday, February 28, 2004

by George Jackson
copyright 2004 by George Jackson
published 1 March 2004

Before the performance proper began, a tiny toy tank attracted attention. Around in a circle it rolled, making a whirring noise. Other paraphernalia apparent right away were four strings suspended from the ceiling, four stools to each of which a reproduction of a famous portrait of a woman was attached and, standing in a niche, a statue of the Madonna and Christ child that was a little larger than life. The floor of the space (the Kogod is a black box theater) had a layer of brown wood chips.
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Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Clare Croft
Nancy Dalva
Rita Felciano
Lynn Garafola
Alison Garcia
Marc Haegeman
George Jackson
Gia Kourlas
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Jean Battey Lewis
Alexander Meinertz
Tehreema Mitha
Gay Morris
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish
Susan Reiter
Jane Simpson
Alexandra Tomalonis(Editor)
Lisa Traiger
Meital Waibsnaider

Leigh Witchel


The Winter issue of Danceview is out!

Nancy Dalva:
The Long Goodbye
NYCB’s Opening Night

Marc Haegeman:
A Conversation with Laurent Hilaire
Etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet

Mary Cargil:l
Old Stories/New Ballets
Ballet Nacional de Cuba and American Ballet Theatre at City Center

Leigh Witchel:
Interpreters Archive and
Works in Process, Part 6:
Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow Coaching; Maria Tallchief and Frederic Franklin

Mary Cargill:
New York Report
Dance Theatre of Harlem, ABT Studio
Company, New York Theatre Ballet,
SAB Workshop

Jane Simpson:
London Report
Jonathan Burrows, Martha Graham, National Ballet of China, Birmingham
Royal Ballet, The Royal Ballet

Rita Felciano:
Bay Area Report
Hubbard Street, Alonzo King’s Lines, Oakland Ballet, Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company, AXIS Dance Company

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