Practically every production of “The Nutcracker” aims to be traditional and unique. Achieving both is, of course, an impossible ambition and Cincinnati Ballet’s version by Victoria Morgan is no exception. Among America’s regional ballet troupes, the Cincinnati Ballet became prominent in the early 2000s with a program from the days of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. It was performed impressively. Morgan, the company’s artistic director at the time, remains in command. Her ““Nuts””, however isn’t of comparable caliber. Moreover, the Cincinnati company has changed. Currently it lists three principal dancers (all of them men), four senior soloists (three of them women), four soloists (two and two), 10 corps dancers, two “new” dancers plus three apprentices. Even discounting the grown-up party guests (some perhaps from Cincinnati Ballet’s second company) and children (DC area locals), the company’s usable total count, though, appears to be be more than 26 because ballet master Ogulcan Borova as the magician Drosselmeyer and Sophie Rose Beadie (from the second company) as the ballet’s protagonist Clara, are not listed among the permanent dancers. Segregating newcomers to the company into a category of their own until they have acclimated seems novel. Does any other ballet troupe use that ploy?
Photo: Cincinnati Ballet's Chisako Oga as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cervilio Miguel Amaso as her Cavalier.
The detailed scenario Edwin Aparicio wrote for “Salvador” is the story of his life. Aparicio was born in Salvador, but this work’s title also refers to what gave him a goal – dance, and flamenco in particular, which he considers his savior. The culmination of flamenco is footwork – volleys of stamping, tapping, tacking, treading that can be infinitely varied but are not inherently narrative. Aparicio depicted his adventures sometimes realistically, with endearing simplicity, and sometimes allegorically, the poetry of which spilled over into two, very extended climaxes of footwork.
Photo: Jose Vinas (as the young Protagonist) and chorus in Edwin Aparicio’s “Salvador”. Photo by Steve Johnson.
The modernist notion that every dancer and each dance student should be a choreographer too is still unusual in ballet. Given the risk of commissioning new work even from esteemed choreographers, the Washington Ballet presented eight new pieces by, mostly, professionals best known for skills other than making dances. Three of the choreographers are dancers in the Washington Ballet’s principal company and five are diverse former dancers who have turned to teaching. Performing the premiers were the dozen members of Washington Ballet’s second or Studio Company, seventeen members of its Trainees Program and eight of its Professional Trainees Program, the nine juniors and eight seniors of Washington Ballet @ theArc’s Performance Ensemble, and seventeen classmates from Howard University’s Dance Arts Program. In charge of this showcase was Victor Barbee, associate director of Washington Ballet’s still new artistic regime. Perhaps two of the eight new works will have a significant after life – not a bad ratio.
Police terminology is often applied to the art of portraiture – capturing truths that are elusive in life and arresting transient moments. That is the traditional view, but not the only one any more. Wander through the National Portrait Gallery’s current exhibit “The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today” and you will see images that hide a subject’s personality by presenting the individual’s features as a mask. Of course, that too is a sort of truth. Other portraits, even some executed in conventional media such as paint and canvas or pencil and paper, change as you approach them or transform the longer you look. Dance is adept at marking all sorts of alterations, at displaying the innumerable types of impermanence afflicting people, and it manages this along a time line. Burgess, whose latest choreography is based on the Portrait Gallery’s exhibit, seems aware of the options and chose to pursue some of them. “Margin” contains probing portraiture but also, quite pointedly, uses bodies to be the picture’s frame.
Scads of cinders but scarce a diamond in Christopher Wheeldon’s version of “Cinderella”. In this retelling of the folk fairy tale, the world is as nasty but not as well made as in Alexei Ratmansky’s staging (2002 for the Maryinsky). The story was re-raked for Wheeldon by Craig Lucas, and originally presented by Dutch National Ballet in 2012. San Francisco Ballet acquired it a year later. It turns out that Lucas’s libretto complicates rather than enhances the story’s moral. Wheeldon tackled staging the dances with what seems haste, as if he couldn’t wait to be finished – especially Act 1 is replete with signs of his impatience. The best choreography is contained in Act 2. The final Act 3’s dances have unfulfilled promise. Audience response at Kennedy Center was maximum for the production’s spectacle, special effects such as a gigantic tree’s swarming foliage, the raising and lowering of a constellation of chandeliers, and panoramas of cloud drift. In the title role, opening night’s Maria Kochetkova showed, for the first time in my experience, a grown up woman’s warmth and wisdom.
Maria Kochetkova and dancers of the San Francisco Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's "Cinderella."
Just before departing to perform overseas, Dakshina – Daniel Phoenix Singh’s small company that explores both Indiadance and modern-dance – organized a weekend of performances by diverse groups and individual artists trained in South Asian traditions. Of the two Saturday events I caught, one was a free studio demonstration by small squads of young women who clarified technical aspects such as anatomic turn-out and different types of body stances. The demonstration’s final example, by the elegantly refined Vyjayanthi Vadrevu, featured runs on stretched heels. The other presentation was a theatrical solo of a sort not uncommon in India that, due to its length, comes to seem like an act of self sacrifice. This particular dance, by Indira Kadambi, lasted just 70 minutes.
This company pulled off the finishes to its three pieces of George Balanchine choreography by dancing as if there were no tomorrows. Passages of group action and assembly throughout the program blazed. The spirit of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet possessed those on stage and spread to the public. It is no secret that the company is on death row. Next season (2017/18) will be its last ever. Suzanne Farrell plans to work on other projects and undoubtedly so will most of the individual dancers. Balanchine’s ballets can be seen around the globe. So why be sentimental? Singularity! An example of Farrell’s insightful stagings with her pickup family of artists is “Gounod Symphony”, her repertory’s latest rarity.
The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Gounod Symphony, choreography by George Balanchine. Principal dancers Natalia Magnicaballi and Michael Cook (center) with the ensemble. Choreography (c) The George Balanchine. Photo (c) Paul Kolnik.
Making sense of what one sees on stage involves options. Is the author of what happens trying to create a whole world or telling just one tale or is the intent to shape patterns? In the instance of choreographer Tim Rushton’s “Black Diamond”, I set out resisting the temptations he offered to explore an alternate universe or follow a story line. There was no way to do either without imposing my own imagination on his. So, what was Rushton up to designing action?
Danish Dance Theatre in Tim Ruston's Black Diamond. Photo by Soren Meisner.
The cast more than the choreography makes Dance Theatre of Harlem a ballet company. While all three pieces on the program called for such things as anatomic turn-out and the women wearing toe shoes, two of the works required alien accents in pronouncing the classical step vocabulary. Particularly in the first item, “Front Porch” by Ulysses Dove (1947 – 1996), the language of ballet seemed suffused. The dancers’ bodies moved not as if they were made of flesh and blood, muscle and tendon, but like memorial statuary, like marble entities just woken from their everlasting stance in order to dance.
Anthony Javier Savoy and Lindsey Croop. Photo by Rachel Neville.jpg
On its current visit to the USA the Cullberg Ballet from Sweden wasn’t scheduled to perform in Washington, DC. However, the Embassy of Sweden’s cultural counselor Linda Zachrison persuaded three of the company’s members –artistic director Gabriel Smeets and two dancers - to detour for an event: the presentation of a solo and a discussion. The dance was choreographed by Brazil’s Cristian Duarte to a sound score by his countryman Tom Monteiro. Comments on it and about the Cullbergbaletten’s current aesthetic came from the company’s three representatives and the audience.
Samuel Draper in “Glow”. Cullberg Press Photo by Urban Joren. .