BWW Reviews: American Ballet Theater
Balanchine and Massine on the same program on February 20, 2014? I can't remember that last time I saw that. I wonder if the two would approve. But there is one fundamental difference separating the two choreographers. Balanchine, even 30 years after his death, is still in the forefront of modern ballet choreography, and most of Massine's ballets have fallen into oblivion. To be honest, the only Massine ballets I have seen prior to this were Parade and The Three Cornered Hat, both of which I enjoyed. I'd like to see The Good Natured Ladies, Le Beau Danube, La Boutique Fantasque, Rouge et Noir, Choreartium and Les Présages one of these days, but the chances are very slim. As the old saying goes, keep dreaming.
There is, however, one thing binding them forever: Serge Diaghilev, one of the 20th century's great impresarios with an eye for spotting and nurturing talent. Without Diaghilev, I wonder if we would ever have had a Balanchine or even a memory of Massine. Thank you, Mr. Diaghilev. Almost 90 years after your death, your influence still reverberates throughout the dance world. There are not many people who can lay claim to that!
Balanchine's Theme and Variations, choreographed to the final movement of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major, Op. 55, was originally presented by ABT in 1947, when the company asked him to create a work reminiscent of the wedding scene in The Sleeping Beauty. Balanchine responded with a ballet that celebrated and manifested the grand Petipa style with a cast requiring a ballerina, a danseur noble, soloists, and a corps de ballet. It makes crushing demands on the ballerina and danseur. Like a great Mozart aria, everything is exposed; there is no place to hide. You can't fudge. If you're an opera fan, you remember Maria Callas saying that she did not like singing Mozart because the music was not dramatic. I beg to differ. She couldn't sing Mozart because she lacked the technique. The same applies to Theme and Variations.
The cast did, for the most part, rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, James Whiteside, in the danseur noble role, could not master his part, one of the most fiendishly difficult in the ballet canon. His partnering also lacked what I would call panache. It did not show nobility, rather someone striving to reach that exalted station. He looked like a good partner, but one that still needed coaching and repeated performing to conquer the demands of this killer role.
Polina Seminova in the ballerina's role was a much better choice for the ballet. She did not look like a Bolshoi ballerina dancing Balanchine. While she had to work for the speed of the steps a few times, she succeeded beautifully. Here's one dancer I would like to see in other Balanchine roles. She has the talent, not to mention the stamina for other Balanchine parts. Who knows?
Balanchine's Duo Concertant seems to have dropped in from another universe. Set to an Igor Stravinsky composition for violin and piano it was originally dedicated to violinist Samuel Dushkin, who also premiered Stravinsky's Violin Concerto and Ravel's orchestral version of his Tzigane, both of which entered New York City Ballet's repertoire for Balanchine ballets.
The ballet is quiet and meditative. The curtain rises on two dancers standing still and listening quietly to the violinist and pianist. Then they begin to dance. It's nothing spectacular, just two people enjoying what they are hearing and putting the quiet steps into motion. At the end of the ballet the lights darken and all you see are dancers' hands reaching out to each other. While not a pyrotechnic pleaser like Theme and Variations, it casts a sweet and reflective glow on the audience. You can make up any story you'd like and apply it to what you've seen.