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Susan Jones, or, the Art of the Ballet Mistress

Susan Jones cooaching "Paquita."
Susan Jones cooaching “Paquita.”

Here’s my interview with Susan Jones, a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre in charge of the corps de ballet. Jones joined ABT in 1970 and stayed for nine years. In that time, she danced every corps role in the rep, plus Lizzie in Fall River Legend, Cowgirl in Rodeo, and a few other choice parts that suited her dramatic side. She quickly showed a skill for remembering steps, which became handy when working with Twyla Tharp on Push Comes to Shove. Baryshnikov made her a ballet mistress, and she never left. This fall, she is re-staging Tharp’s Bach Partita, which hasn’t been done for almost thirty years.

The Spell of “Dances at a Gathering,” and other things

Tiler Peck and Joaquín de Luz in Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Tiler Peck and Joaquín de Luz in Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

For DanceTabs, I reviewed two programs at NYCB, “Just for Fun” (Carnival of the Animals, Jeu de Cartes, and The Four Seasons), and “Tradition and Innovation” (Vespro, Duo Concertant, and Dances at a Gathering). Yes, the company has taken to “naming” its programs, and also to grouping them by theme, which I often find to be problematic–too much of a good thing, not enough contrast. But still, serendipity happens. The seasons’ single performance of Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” turned out to be one of the freshest renditions I’ve seen in a long time. Tiler Peck, in particular, was ravishing as the “girl in pink” (see photo above).

Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carnival of the Animals,” which the company hasn’t done for a while, turned out to be a be a bit of a disappointment. It’s flat, and tries too hard to be funny (without succeeding). But there are some lovely images, like this one, of a mermaid, danced here by the beautiful Lauren Lovette.

Lauren Lovette in Carnival of the Animals, by Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Lauren Lovette in Carnival of the Animals, by Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Back to Basics–Balanchine “Black and White” at NYCB

Sterling Hyltin in "Symphony in Three Movements." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Sterling Hyltin in “Symphony in Three Movements.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

New York City Ballet went back to basics this week with its “Black and White” program. All Balanchine, all modernist ballets performed in pared-down leotards and tights: The Four Temperaments, Episodes, Duo Concertant, and Symphony in Three Movements. Here’s my review of the evening for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt: “The program, a compilation of modernist ballets set to music by Webern, Hindemith, and Stravinsky that span three decades (1946-1972), is a kind of compendium of the choreographer’s most radical, game-changing esthetic. Its distinctive mix of courtliness, mystery, and eroticism still surprises. Not to mention its musical intelligence, which can make sense of a work as impenetrable – and as seemingly undanceable – as Anton Webern’s pointillist Opus 21 symphony.”

The “Black and White” program repeats on Sept. 28, Oct. 1, Oct. 4, and Oct. 13.

The Return of Sylvia

Margot Fonteyn in Sylvia in 1952. Felix Fontayn, Royal Opera House Archive
Margot Fonteyn in Sylvia in 1952. Felix Fontayn, Royal Opera House Archive

ABT is performing Frederick Ashton’s pseudo-classical fantasy “Sylvia” this week. It’s a marvelous ballet, taken on its own terms. Full of stylish detail, tender scenes, and ravishing music, it is also completely silly and over-the-top, with more than a whiff of the music-hall.

Here’s my review of the June 26 cast, which included Roberto Bolle and Polina Semionova. And a little excerpt:

“The designs are intentionally old-fashioned, quaint, many-layered, full of drapery and chiaroscuri that turn the stage into a lavish popup book. The first tableau, a sylvan glade with a stony outcrop, reveals a little bridge in the background and a three-tiered fountain topped by a statue of Eros. The statue later turns out – surprise! – to be a dancer slathered in white body paint. The second act takes place in a kind of orientalist fantasy-land, Cairo by way of the the Moulin Rouge.”

Ashton in Love: “A Month in the Country” at ABT (for DanceTabs)

Hee Seo and David Hallberg in Ashton's "A Month in the Country." Photo by Marty Sol.
Hee Seo and David Hallberg in Ashton’s “A Month in the Country.” Photo by Marty Sohl.

This week, between Cranko’s “Onegin” and the rip-roaring “Don Quixote,” American Ballet Theatre performed a triple bill including Ashton’s late ballet “A Month in the Country.”  I saw two casts, with Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in one, and Hee Seo and David Hallberg in the other. Here’s a link to my review for DanceTabs .

And a short excerpt:

“In forty-five minutes and with the assistance of Chopin (and, indirectly, of Mozart), Ashton has taken the heart of the Turgenev play and turned it into a series of tender miniatures. With great skill, wit, and love, he sews them together (with ribbons) into a portrait of a sentimental married woman experiencing pangs of longing for a young man, but also of her comfortable little world and the emotions that turn it topsy turvy. Russia, by way of the Cotswolds.”

Interview with Valerie Barnes (for DanceTabs)

I recently sat down with Valerie Taylor Barnes, wife of the late critic Clive Barnes and founder of the Clive Barnes Foundation, rewarding what she calls “that mysterious thing called artistry.” She is incredibly gracious, funny, and full of stories. You can read the interview here.

Here she is, talking about Frederick Ashton:

“I loved all his work. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, absolutely lovely. He was very, very sensitive. I never knew him to lose his temper, with all the trials and tribulations; he was always just terrific, with a great sense of humor. I learned, well, I suppose everything I knew about the theatre from him. He was very open and generous with everything. His way of choreographing was wonderful because he would ask us to join in. He would say: ‘Just do a step to that,’ and even if he didn’t use it, you felt like you were partaking in what was going on. It kept everybody interested. I think everybody loved him. He was an amazing man.”