"PacificNorthwest Ballet—New York Season Preview"
Works and Process
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
New York, NY
September 10, 2012
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2012 by Carol Pardo
What did Balanchine want? Why did he want it and when? The question of the ur-text of his ballets, and revisions to that text, has been a flash point among those who love Balanchine’s work since the choreographer’s death in 1983. Balanchine’s reaction, quoted by Peter Boal, director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the genial commentator in command of this issue of Works and Process, was "I can change [my ballets] if I want to." Excerpts from "Apollo", "Agon" and "The Four Temperaments", and "Tchaikovsky pas de deux," gsiven in full, performed by PNB dancers (Maria Chapman, Benjamin Griffiths, Carla Körbes, Seth Orza, Lesley Rausch and Matthew Renko) provided incontrovertible evidence that change them he did.
The reasons for Balanchine’s emendations, to the extent that we can divine them, varied. Diaghilev demanded that Terpsichore’s solo be cut after the premiere of "Apollo". (It was quickly reinstated.) Fifty years later Balanchine himself took an axe to the ballet, chopping off Apollo’s birth, his ascent to Mount Olympus and his first solo. (As before, the solo was quickly reinstated.) But carefully chosen excerpts danced in the intimacy of the Peter J. Lewis Theater, meant that the micro told more than the macro. A phrase in Terpsichore’s solo is now done on flat feet with one repeat on pointe. Diana Adams did it all on pointe until the final pose which, in both versions, ends with the ballerina flatfooted, legs crossed at the ankle. Did Balanchine change it to shift a musical accent or because no one quite looked like Adams on pointe, with legs like a sabre cut from a glacier? We’ll never know.
The reasons for changes to the ‘Gaillard’ in "Agon" are easier to fathom. People may hum the score now, but in 1957, it was a tough nut to crack for dancers and audience alike. The hand claps, that propel the two women forward seem canonical now but were added to keep everyone on track. A more surprising change, again made to see the music more clearly, is the final pose of the dance. Currently the women drop to one knee and their arms semaphore the final nine beats of the section with all the cool, slightly mannered elegance of the top paid glove model of 1957. An earlier version had the same counts but less emphatically stated, the difference between modelling leather with contrasting stitching at all the seams and black velvet.
Television was the culprit or the catalyst for changes made to ‘Melancholic’ in "The Four Temperaments’. Balanchine may also have changed ‘Melancholic" to show off, and take advantage of, the qualities of a particular dancer, here Bart Cook who combined poetry and daring, stretch and rebounding to give new life to this variation. First Benjamin Griffiths then Matthew Renko danced a version of the solo. The first thing one noticed about the pre-"Dance in America" version was how flat it looked; beautiful, classically pure but wedded to the proscenium plane (and frame). On a television screen this version risks looking less than full-bodied executed by a paper doll, the dancing less than full-bodied. The two men returned to dance the versions side by side, a wonderful opportunity to compare and contrast in three dimensions and real time. Side by side the sculptural fluidity of the later version was easier to see and more surprising, as were changes in the dancer’s entrance, and even the direction of the body. We risk taking all of this as given when watching the ballet as a whole.
The solos in the bravura "Tchaikovsky pas de deux" are, according to Boal, the most revised Balanchine off all, changed—sometimes entirely—to suit each dancer. To confirm that, we were treated to the montage from "Dance in American" which showed a mash-up of Jacques d’Amboise, Melissa Hayden, Patricia McBride and Mikhail Baryshnikov. In the last thirty years, the man’s solo has veered even further from Balanchine, seemingly remade by each dancer to suit himself. To end the show, all six PNB divvied up the ballet, with Carla Körbes coming face to face with a Steinway during the final (unaltered) fish dives.
Conversations and controversies about Balanchine’s texts and intentions will certainly continue. But this program shows that while steps matter, so too, does citing the source of those steps. Eqaually important is how the steps, whatever the version, are performed: in the moment with commitment, joy, musicality and rhythmic acuity, as these six dancers (and their director) proved.