Balanchine’s Petipa

13 May

Last night I attended Balanchine’s Petipa, a lecture presented by Doug Fullington (Education Programs Manager) with demonstrations by principals and soloists with the company.  Tuesday’s performance served as the dress rehearsal, as the lecture will actually be a part of Works & Process at the Guggenheim, 7:30 on May 14th and 15th (for ticket information, check out the Guggenheim’s website).  The presentation takes a look at characteristics in Balanchine’s choreography and influences from Petipa, noting similar structures and vocabulary between classical and neoclassical choreography.  Most of the information was familiar to me, but it was an excellent crash course in ballet evolution for Guggenheim visitors who have not studied ballet academically.  In fact, my academic study of ballet was probably somewhat of a hindrance because I have an awful tendency to check out if the information isn’t new, which is exacerbated by the fact that I’ve always been feeble when it comes to lecture-based learning.  Thank Billy Elliot for the visuals!

First, I have to say that the studio was approximately eighty-five million degrees so I was sweating like crazy, but I’m glad to know PNB likes to crank up the heat…I’m pretty sure purgatory is a cold studio.  The allure of PNB’s toasty warmth was one of a few reasons that’s really making me want to get my dilapidated behind back to the barre—the sooner the better.  At any rate, the evening began with a galop from Petipa’s The Awakening of Flora, paired with a variation from Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.  That was the format of the evening; one classical, one Balanchine, with the classical variations having been reconstructed from Stepanov notation.  What I noticed immediately from the first set of variations was how well the dancers were able to switch between the classical and neoclassical aesthetic; there was a marked difference in the way they used their arms, with the overextended wrists Balanchine so famously favored in his style (or technique…I know this is a touchy subject for a lot of people).  While I knew about the difference in arms, what was impressive about it was their ability to switch so quickly between the two, suggesting a heightened awareness and control of line.

While a diverse set of excerpts were presented, the highlight for me was the pas de deux from Balanchine’s Apollo, danced by Carla Körbes as Terpsichore and Seth Orza in the title role.  Körbes is a vision; she has this wonderful sweetness, like a honey-colored aura to her dancing.  She hails from Porto Alegre, Brazil, which apparently means “Joyous Harbour” so with that as your hometown and a childhood spent in Brazilian sunshine, how could one not have a sunny disposition?  Anywho, I really enjoyed the softness with which she moved, which can be a difficult quality to bring to Balanchine choreography that sometimes asks for athletic maneuvers; not just anyone can kick back into an enormous, full split penchée and make it look like slicing butter, quickly pulling the leg back to casually step into the next move.

Orza was wonderful as Apollo as well, but shined later in the evening, receiving the biggest applause for his Raymonda variation, with Balanchine choreography (as opposed to Petipa, who also choreographed a Raymonda).  The variation features an arsenal of jumps in succession for a good minute or more, ending with a line of brisé volé travelling in a diagonal (you can see what brisé volé looks like here, at the very beginning).  In the words of a teacher I once had, brisé volé “is a beast.”  It takes an incredible amount of energy to bound from foot to foot, beating the legs in the air and pushing the legs forward (or backward).  I think in my prime I could have done like two…now, surely more like half of one and then wheezing for air.  That being said, it’s one of my favorite steps and there’s something about it that makes me itch to don the shoes and go to class.  Orza’s brisé volé were positively electrifying; the trick is to maintain control of the upper body as if the flurry of feet isn’t happening underneath.  He also had really interesting movement of the arms as he did them, almost presenting his hand with a circular flourish rather than the up-down motion other schools of ballet will teach.  I liked the added dimension though; it gives the step an eye-catching shape.

It’s a fantastic night of dancing for balletomanes who want to get about as close and personal as one could get—you can even hear the heavy breathing of the dancers (which reminded me I need to breathe more when I dance.  It may sound silly, but I often forget to).  Highly recommended, even if you already know the differences between Balanchine and Petipa.  If that’s the case, then the solution is to bring an entourage of friends who may not know the different nuances in style.

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One Response to “Balanchine’s Petipa”

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  1. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2011-2012 Season Tidbits « You Dance Funny, So Does Me - February 2, 2011

    […] Divertimento will be a premiere for the company).  I saw excerpts of Apollo when PNB did their ‘Balanchine’s Petipa’ lecture demonstration (which is where I fell in love with the dancing of Carla Körbes), and am […]

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