International Festival of Balanchine
Festivals like these are useful to take a pulse of how well Balanchine ballets are being preserved thirty five years after his death. Not just at his home company, or some offshoot companies (Miami City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet) but around the world. The Royal, Joffrey, Mariinsky, Paris Opera Ballet, and the like do not dance Balanchine consistently and are not trained in the company style. I saw the first three programs.
Program I: Serenade (Miami City Ballet)/Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (Mariinsky)/Tarantella (Royal Ballet)/Symphony in C (NYCB)
Program II: Apollo (Mariinsky)/Concerto Barocco (NYCB)/Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (Royal Ballet)/Divertimento #15 (San Francisco Ballet)
Program III: Scotch Symphony (San Francisco Ballet)/Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (Mariinsky)/Midsummer's Night Dream Pas de Deux (Paris Opera Ballet)/Four Temperaments (Joffrey Ballet)
|Symphony in C, photo @ Andrea Mohin|
In fact, as much as I'd like to say that NYCB showed the rest of the world How It's Done the two performances they gave were not representative of the company at their best. As I mentioned Symphony in C suffered from spacing issues as well as an unusually tense, brittle adagio from Sara Mearns. She took a stumble early in the adagio and never regained her confidence. That famous developpé balance to penchée sequence was shaky. Anthony Huxley and Ashley Bouder probably gave the strongest performances -- both of them flew like cannonballs in the third movement. Concerto Barocco was also very average. Maria Kowroski, Abi Stafford and Russell Janzen gave a careful and correct performance but it didn't take you to a new plane.
|Tereshkina and Kim in a grand but not very idiomatic Tchai pas|
|O'Sullivan and Sambé, photo @ Andrea Mohin|
O'Sullivan and Sambé oddly gave the most scrupulous performances of the festival. (I say odd because I don't usually associate Royal Ballet with dancing Balanchine). Their Tarantella was a bit slower than I'm used to seeing but it was cute and all the steps were there and done well. O'Sullivan even did those deep squatting pliés that many non-Balanchine-trained dancers struggle with. Their Tschaikovsky Pas was maybe the finest dancing I saw the entire festival: all the steps were there (both big and small), and so was the spirit, the musicality, the charm. And yes, they did do the big leaping fishdives (something Tereshkina/Kim also eschewed).
|Miami City Ballet's Serenade|
Even worse was San Francisco Ballet's grim Divertimento #15. The men (Benjamin Freemantle, Angelo Greco, and Lonnie Weeks) were fine -- elegant and unassuming cavalier types. The women however were a real let-down. Balanchine designed this ballet on five magnificent Ballerinas (Diana Adams, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Tanaquil LeClercq, and Patricia Wilde). The five San Francisco ballerinas were the definition of forgettable. They didn't do anything particularly wrong, but their was no personality to their dancing. It was like tasting matzo crackers without any sauce. And can none of the women do bourrées? This was painfully apparent in the sublime adagio when ideally all five women glide seamlessly on and offstage. It's not so smooth when their bourrées are so bumpy, awkward, and effortful. Two of the girls also slipped and fell. Balanchine should never be so small-scale.
|SFB in Scotch Symphony|
|Comparing sunbursts: the Mariinsky sunburst (bottom right) looks .... weird|
|Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez in Sanguinic. Why is she smiling?|
There was no performance that was actually unacceptable except the Paris Opera Ballet's Midsummer's Night Dream Pas de Deux. On paper this seems like a good fit for the POB -- it's one of Balanchine's most classical pieces, and the POB has always prided themselves on their austere if slightly constipated classicism. Uh, not anymore? Because Sae-Eun Park and Hugo Marchand gave the single most graceless, ugly performance of this pas that I've ever seen. This pas's hallmark is the way the cavalier gently glides the female into different arm positions and the pas ends with that famous face forward dive that's an expression of trust. Marchand jerked Park around from position to position as if this were Mayerling, and Park seemed to think she was dancing Agon (the other piece the POB is scheduled to perform). All sharp angles and sudden attack. The constant grimace on her face didn't help. Their was zero lyricism and poetry. It was horrific. (Edit: I have since watched a video of Sae-Eun Park dance this pas de deux with Karl Paquette and it is MUCH better than the performance I saw. So I'm willing to chalk this up to a bad day.)
But Balanchine knew that after his death his ballets would continue to be danced by other companies, and they would change and evolve. That was a price he was willing to pay so his ballets could belong to the whole world. As he said, "I don't have a past. I have a continuous present. The past is part of the present, just as the future is. We exist in time." And so this festival is the continuous present of his ballets, where the excellent, the good, the mediocre, the bizarre, and the just plain awful co-exist all at once.