Here’s a link to my latest feature for the New York Times, a preview of the upcoming Flamenco Festival, with some background on Rocío Molina, Israel Galván, Eva Yerbabuena, Karime Amaya, Jesús Carmona and others.
Flamenco is in constant flux, a fact that is reflected by this year’s festival, which includes “the balleticized classicism of Carlos Rodríguez…the showy, jocular style of the veteran Antonio Canales…the irresistible virtuosity of Jesús Carmona” and the explosive force of Karime Amaya, as well as performances by Israel Galván, Eva Yerbabuena, and Rocío Molina.
For the most bang for your buck, go to the gala. If you’re looking for something really on the edge, try Galván’s “La Curva.” And if you’re looking for an very intimate, personal, quirky show, try Rocío Molina’s “Afectos.”
I’ve been intrigued by the name Jordi Savall ever since hearing that it was he who played the viola da gamba in the 1991 movie Tous les Matins du Monde, in which Gérard Dépardieu played the part of the eighteenth-century musician Marin Marais. Mr. Savall’s interpretation of pieces by François Couperin, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and Marais is what I remember most about that film. (Well that, and Mr. Dépardieu’s comical attempts to mime playing an instrument.)
The Barcelona-born Savall, one of the leaders of the early-music movement, is a prolific performer who plays over 140 concerts each year. He is also a visiting artist at Juilliard, where he works with the period-instrument ensemble Julliard415. (The name of the group comes from a particular pitch used for Baroque music.) The other night (Feb. 24), he brought the group to the Baryshnikov Arts Center, in a program of seventeenth-century incidental music on Shakespearean themes. The musicians were joined by second-year students from the drama department, who acted out short scenes from The Winter’s Tale, Macbeth, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music was by Robert Johnson (1583-1633), Matthew Locke (1621-77), and Henry Purcell (1659-95).
Savall played the vielle—a viola-sized instrument that is held vertically between the knees rather than horizontally at the shoulder—in the first part of the evening, with music by Johnson. After that, he acted as conductor. (Yes, I was a little bit disappointed he didn’t play more.) None of the music had the plaintive quality he is famous for, but he drew a notably singing, sweet quality from his instrument. There was liveliness in the orchestra’s playing—it had swing. The players swayed and danced in their seats, visibly enjoying the music. My eye (and ear) was repeatedly struck by the melodious brio and variety of sound qualities produced by the concertmaster, the German-Argentine violinist Manfredo Kraemer. His playing was sometimes sweet, sometimes rough and fiddle-like.
Especially in the Johnson and Locke pieces, it was clear how close concert music was at the time to the dances of the court. The rhythms are dance-rhythms, strong and clear; it is the rock-and-roll of the time. The percussion—various tambourines and drums—plays a central role, with contrasting sounds (tapping, rasping, clattering, booming) and strong rhythmic shifts. The pieces included Scottish dances, a courante, a gaillard.
It was also clear how musicians of this period loved to evoke sounds in nature, and play with effects like the echo. In a section of the Locke, two musicians retired to a point outside of the theatre, responding to their counterparts onstage in a gentle conversation. In another, the recorders mimicked the fluttering of birdsong.
The fledgling actors acquitted themselves well. It’s interesting, as an outsider to dramatic training, to note that that the expectation, even for American actors, is that Shakespeare should be performed with a British accent. Perhaps the feeling is that it suits the meters and rhymes of the text. It does add a certain stagey feeling to the proceedings. Even so, the actors’ accents were convincing, the words were clear, and the situations were precisely evoked. I particularly enjoyed the argument between Titania and Oberon (played by Paton Ashbrook and David Corenswet), and the contortions of Caliban, played by Matt Malloy (I believe).
And it was fun to see how much one of the actors, Patrick Graves, was enjoying the music as he awaited his turn on the stage, bobbing his head along to the tune, just as I was.
American Ballet Theatre announced today that for it’s seventy-fifth anniversary season (in 2015) the company will unveil a new staging of Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, with designs by Richard Hudson inspired by the Léon Bakst designs for the Ballets Russes. It will replace the recent Gelsey Kirlkand staging, which was marred by a frankly ghastly sorbet-colored palette and languid pacing. Hudson did the Beidermeier-inspired sets and costumes for Ratmansky’s Nutcracker as well as those for the Royal Danish Ballet’s recent La Bayadère (set in colonial India).
Last week I caught a single performance of Coppélia at New York City Ballet, with Sterling Hyltin in the role of Swanilda and Gonzalo García as her wayward beau, Frantz. It’s easy to see why this comic ballet has remained in the repertory for so long. Délibes’ music is enchanting from start to finish, and consistently danceable. The little pause at the top of the phrase in the “wheat dance”—during which the girls listen to an ear of grain to test whether their boyfriends love them—is so lilting, so charming, and, as an added bonus, gives the dancers a perfect opportunity to perch, ever-so-gracefully, in a balance. And who can resist the rousing mazurka? (If only the NYCB dancers were a bit more lusty in their execution of this folk dance. In their ribbons and boots, they look like very well-mannered and slightly embarrassed kids.)
It was my first time seeing Hyltin in the role of Swanilda. She is a natural comedienne, with big eyes and a long, girlish face that she is not loath to scrunch up into funny expressions. Unlike many ballerinas, she’s not overly attached to the idea of looking beautiful at all times, no matter what the situation. She’s terribly light on her toes; her jumps have a wonderful sparkle. With her extraordinarily linear frame, she can create marvelous angles with her elbows and knees, handy when dancing the role of a girl imitating a doll. But she can also be soft, lyrical, even sexy (as in Rubies and Stravinsky Violin Concerto). Her Swanilda is playful and sweet, without the edge some dancers bring to the role. (I remember thinking Natalia Osipova was screaming at the audience when she danced it.) Meanwhile, García’s Frantz is a handsome, seductive dolt, warm and easy to forgive. And he’s so pretty that one is reminded that this role was once danced by a woman, en travesti.
For the first two acts of his 1974 production, Balanchine enlisted Alexandra Danilova, a famously mischievous Swanilda, to help him create a version close to the one she had danced for many years. But he remade the final act, replacing the allegorical dances (dawn, prayer, the hours) with more abstract solos and ensembles. These are lovely, but I do miss the notion of each dance representing a particular idea, which one hears clearly in the music. The dances for the dolls in the second act, too, are somewhat uninspired, though Austin Bachman managed to make a vivid impression as the melancholy acrobat.
But the best thing about Balanchine’s third act is the fact that the corps de ballet is replaced by twenty-four adorable little girls from the School of American Ballet, a garland of perfect Petipa ballerinas in miniature.
Last night, the dance historian Doug Fullington, of Pacific Northwest Ballet, gave an excellent presentation at Works and Process, shedding light on the original choreography of three nineteenth-century “exotic” ballets: Le Corsaire, Le Roi Candaule, and La Bayadère. Eight dancers traveled with him, as did two excellent musicians from the PNB orchestra: the Concertmaster Michael Jinsoo Lim and Associate Concertmaster Brittany Boulding. As would have been customary in a nineteenth-century rehearsal, the dancers were accompanied by two violinists, with one executing the melodic line and the other a reduced version of the orchestration. Fullington has studied Stepanov notation (the language in which ballets were recorded at the Imperial theatres at the end of the nineteenth century), and so was able to glean information from documents kept in the Harvard Theatre Collection, such as a notated solo for Nikiya in La Bayadère, as performed by Anna Pavlova. (As he pointed out, though, the notations often describe only the legs, the directions, and the stage patterns, so some creative input is often required.) Among other things, the solo was performed at a much brisker tempo than it is now. Another notable aspect of most of the dances was the great variety of petitallegro steps, beaten jumps, coupés, fast, brisk, skimming glides, buoyant turns.
The dancers were excellent, and game. Seth Orza, one of two men, danced with his usual air of seriousness and self-deprecating gallantry. Liora Neuville’s fluid, musical arms were especially lovely. Of course, bodies and ballet technique have changed quite a bit in the last century-and-a-half. No current dancer can approximate the qualities of a Pavlova or a Karsavina (and probably wouldn’t want to). In fact, when Fullington showed period photographs from these ballets, the audience tittered. Those dancers have almost nothing in common with the hyper-athletic, streamlined, racehorse physiques we see today. (But what personality!) We have only a limited idea of how they moved—there is very little film footage of Pavlova, for example. But, in the spirit of authenticity, leg extensions were kept low, arms rounded, eyes modest. It’s amazing just how much detail one can see in such an intimate setting.
The one thing I missed was a discussion of the “exotic” elements of the ballets: the sources of inspiration, the imagery, the unique attraction the 19th century had for the “Orient,” and the ways in which these themes were treated in the realm of character dance.
You can watch the entire session here:
For more information, here are Fullington’s informative background notes: Petipa Exotique
New York City Ballet is performing an all-French program this week, with ballets by Liam Scarlett (Acheron), Jerome Robbins (Aftenoon of a Faun), and Balanchine (Walpurgisnacht Ballet and La Valse). Here’s my review for DanceTabs.
And a short excerpt: “Two of the works on the program (Afternoon of a Faun and La Valse) were created for the ballerina Tanaquil LeClercq, Balanchine’s third wife, struck with Polio at the age of twenty-seven, and now the subject of a moving documentary, Afternoon of a Faun. LeClercq’s dramatic intelligence, sense of chic, and air of knowingness – she was half-French, born in Paris – hover over the evening.”
Zachary Catazaro, of New York City Ballet, about whom I wrote here, has been promoted to soloist. It’s welcome news. With his dark good looks, ardent partnering, and expansive sweep, he brings an adult, Romantic quality to the stage. He was wonderful recently in Diamonds, alongside Sara Mearns (not an easy partner), and quietly compelling in Dances at a Gathering. He still has a way to go in terms of polish—though he has a marvelous jump—but hopefully the promotion will give him the push he needs.