Houston's "Falling", Farrell's "Monumentum" & "Movements", North Carolina's "Shindig"
Ballet Across America II #1
Opera House, Kennedy Center
June 15, 2010
by George Jackson
copyright 2010 by George Jackson
What ballet companies across America have in common was one of the questions asked during opening night's post-performance discussion with artistic directors. Assembled on stage were Houston Ballet's Stanton Welch (an Australian), North Carolina Dance Theatre's Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux (French) and Patricia McBride, and Suzanne Farrell of her own company. Kim Kokich (Kasimir K's daughter, Alexandra Danilova's godchild, and a critic and former dancer) was the moderator. Apart from Bonnefoux's reference to American energy, the four panelists pretty much stressed differences among their companies, particularly regional differences. It struck me that not one of the four ballets on the program had a set or props to demarcate "place". One was aware instead, subtly or directly, of space. This awareness depended not only on the lighting design but, too, on steps. Much of the dancing was step-based, although George Balanchine's "Monumentum pro Gesualdo" and his "Movements for Piano and Orchestra" also showed other choreographic building blocks. All three companies performed boldly.
Welch's "Falling" must have been both easy and difficult to make. Its music, early Mozart, flows along neatly, yet one divertimento instead of two would have sufficed. There are five couples and, despite a few digressions, each pretty much stays a pair. Welch succeeds in giving every duo a somewhat distinct character but the ballet isn't about falling in love. That seems to have happened before each twosome made its entrance. Falls, but also risings, lifts, and balances occur with embroidery throughout for the feet and sometimes for the hands.The choreographic invention is only mildly gimmicky and so is splitting the stage into bright and darker sides. Nothing, however, becomes memorable, not even the slow walks. Houston's couples were eminently presentable: Melody Herrera and Ian Casady, Kelly Myernick and Connor Walsh, Elise Judson and Joseph Walsh, Amy Fote and Peter Franc; I was particularly taken by the noble pair, Nao Kusuzaki and Christopher Coomer.
Bonnefoux's "Shindig" is candy for the North Carolina men, and not just because they get to wear blue jeans. Only one of the women, Alessandra Ball, has the chance to show off as much as the males in this piece of old fashioned balletic Americana. Step sequences start out in square-dance vernacular but quickly give way to classroom stunts. How did the bluegrass sound fit into an otherwise classical evening of music? Surprisingly well - with Stravinsky's atonality which came beforehand being a help. The Greasy Beans group of musicians looked at home on stage with the dancers. Straightforward fun, "Shindig" outlasted its welcome just a little.
Balanchine's two ballets were terse, seemed over in no time, yet made an impact that lingered. Although "Monumentum" and "Movements" weren't made to be danced together, it is almost impossible now to think of separating them. Their movement stops are as effective as their steps. Form - the shapes of groupings - persists past the steps that built it. There's a memorable diagonal involving all 16 dancers of "Monumentum". Not only is this line ingeniously assembled, but its dissolution too is deft so that the process becomes a conflicted pleasure.
In the music Balanchine chose, Stravinsky wasn't only making a monument for Gesualdo but also for Arnold Schoenberg. He used Schoenberg's expressive technique to suggest tense feelings and nugget concepts. Balanchine, too, in this paired choreography makes the dancing subject to both expressivity and thought. Visually black and white ("Monumentum") or white with black ("Movements"), with more weight in the former, there is in the latter more resolution and an infinity of space - unending like the spreading sky.
Farrell's dancers this time didn't look like dutiful students doing homework. The ensembles moved and lingered wholeheartedly and with flourish. Momchil Mladenov partnered Natalia Magnicaballi in "Monumentum" and Michael Cook was her especially fleet and ardent suitor in "Movements".
Photos: (From top)
Houston Ballet's Nao Kusuzaki and Christopher Coomer in Stanton Welch's "Falling." Photo: Amitava Sarkar
(No photo available for the Suzanne Farrell Ballet)
NC Dance Theatre in Shindig. Photo: Jeff Cravotta.