Tag Archives: human relationships

Jerome Robbins’s In the Night

10 May

As I familiarize myself with new surroundings I find myself overwhelmed with frustration in the unfamiliar and desperately seeking comfort in the uncomplicated.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle…life on the West Coast suits me well and I’m enjoying public transportation, interesting shops and even bewildering the residents of Queen Anne with my élan for grocery shopping.  However, I’m reminded of how difficult it can be to adjust to a new environment, like when I first arrived and forgot that I live on a hill now.  It was only after I had purchased a bag of potatoes and a bag of clementines (both of which were buy one get one free, making that four bags total plus the flour and sugar I had purchased as well) that I remembered such an influential detail.  Or how about on Tchaikovsky’s birthday when I drove around blasting the music from the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux about eighty-five million times in a row to celebrate my favorite musical score of his.  I started the day out as a badass thinking “Tchaik it out, bitches!” but the day progressed into agitation when on my way to IKEA, I somehow rendered myself incapable of finding the exit from the highway and ended up circling the shopping center like a vulture keen on carrion.  Except in my case, there is an element of frenzy that is better described as a hummingbird trying to sip from a flower in a hurricane.  Easy, boy.

The point is (or was, at some point in time) that regardless of how much I love Seattle, I’m still lacking in the familiarity and comfort that only comes with time…like chocolate milk and knowing-how-to-get-to-stores comfort.  It just so happened that a few days prior, I had borrowed some items from the glorious (and gnome obsessed) Seattle Public Library and among the borrowed media was the A-MAZING documentary Jerome Robbins: Something To Dance About.  Of course I had seen it when it aired on PBS, but when I found it in the library catalog, like any normal person I thought “absolutely!”  My favorite part of the documentary is of course the bits on Dances at a Gathering (that and the quote “There were only two things Lenny Bernstein feared—God and Jerome Robbins” which I misquoted in a blog entry long ago as Stephen Sondheim when it was in fact Arthur Laurent.  My apologies!).  Robbins had a deep love for Chopin’s music and that love was so pure that the choreography would of course match the integrity of the melodies.  So when Chopin waltzes and etudes induce a sense of comfort to the soul, so too will Robbins’s vision for them (and he was quite the tortured soul, so you know this Chopin stuff works).  Personally, I like to see choreographers have an enduring relationship with one composer’s music…like Balanchine/Stravinsky (or Tchaikovsky even) or Robbins/Chopin.

Rekindling my interest in Dances at a Gathering (I’m ready when you are, PNB), I wondered if my favorite Chopin Nocturne (Op.9, No.2 in E-flat major) was included in the selections for the score.  It isn’t.  However, it is included in another and perhaps slightly lesser known Robbins ballet to Chopin, In The Night.  I’m kind of ashamed to not have known of the existence of this ballet beforehand…but maybe someone else out there won’t know either and if by chance they have the tendency to know more ballets than I do, we can all mock them together.  Like Dances at a Gathering, In the Night has no narrative, but the latter is laden with a more defined theme beyond human emotions and relationships, narrowing the scope to look at the female psyche and relationships with men.  It’s much shorter than Dances at a Gathering, featuring four nocturnes, ending with the loveliest of them all, Op.9, No.2 in E-flat major.

There’s not much I can say about In the Night, because I think it’s relatively self-explanatory.  The cast features three couples with their own pas de deux to a nocturne, highlighting the women (as pas de deux most often do).  The video clips I’m going to post features dancers with the Paris Opera Ballet, with Clairemarie Osta/Benjamin Pech, Agnès Letestu/Stéphane Bullion, and Delphine Moussin/Nicolas le Riche.

The first pas de deux has dancers in dreamy periwinkle costumes, featuring movement that almost looks like it’s flowing in slow motion—it’s snail paced, even for an adagio.  It’s romantic without being overly intimate (they don’t even fully embrace until well into two-thirds of the dance) but it has its moments of tenderness, moments apart and even a moment of “fiery passion.”  It’s this subtle roller coaster ride that makes the pas de deux so real, even to someone who may have never seen a Jerome Robbins ballet or even any ballet for that matter.  It’s no stretch of the imagination to see it as an actual relationship because it comes as naturally as breathing does.  In fact the very end of this first pas de deux features a lift where the male dancer takes a little spin while the woman pulls in and then extends her leg and the effect is literally like inhaling and exhaling.  This is easily my favorite pas de deux of the three for its sheer reflexive nature.  Not to mention there’s this wonderful segment towards the end where both the man and woman bourée backwards (for the term unsavvy, that’s when a dancer rises onto relevé or pointe, taking microscopic steps and in this case, scuttle backwards.  The effect is…floatacious).  Not only is it captivating as they shrink away, but because this is a step men generally don’t do, this serves as proof that men should still learn and practice it.  Your calves will thank you later!

I.  Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, Op.27, No.1 (Osta/Pech)

In contrast to the freedom and romanticism of the first pas de deux, the second is stoic, calculated and in my opinion a little abrasive (relationships like that always make me uncomfortable).  It’s so stark that I can’t imagine how people can be happy like that and juxtaposed against the free-spiritedness of the first pas de deux it seems downright cruel…but it’s a relationship nonetheless and one that seems to endure.  I suppose some people want what they would consider regality and class but the restrictiveness makes me die a little on the inside.  There is one moment, where coming down from a lift you see the woman’s foot quiver in anticipation and THAT friends, is the extent of any emotional outburst, subdued as it is.  She is very much in love, but she is a woman that has to hide her desire in this rather cold courtship.

II. Nocturne in F-Minor, Op.55, No.1 (Letestu/Bullion)

The third pas de deux is the epitome of the “love-hate” relationship.  It’s argumentative, volatile and certifiably nuts.  She’s mad at him, she loves him, she leaves him, she takes him back…it’s a hot mess (an elegantly choreographed hot mess) and I constantly wanted to yank her bodice up.  You can see in the way he pulls her around on the stage that this is far from a healthy relationship and yet I think we can all say we know a girl like this.  Or you’ve seen enough episodes of Sex and the City to equate her to Carrie Bradshaw (you remember the obviously Sylphide inspired dress Sarah Jessica Parker wore to the 2004 Tonys…that bodice needed to be yanked up too).  At any rate I have to say that I was very drawn to Delphine Moussin in this performance, because of the way she used her hands.  Ballet teachers are always saying “energy through the fingertips” and with precision, Moussin shows us why.

III. Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op.55, No.2 (Moussin/le Riche)

The finale has all three couples and emphasizes that while women have individual wants and needs in their relationships, these emotions all come from the same place.  There is a moment when the three couples gather in the center of the stage, breaking off into new pairs as if in a social setting but interestingly enough the only male/female pair is periwinkle woman with angry man from movement III, and their inability to connect prompts a quick return to their original loves.  The style of the choreography seemed to coincide with that of the first pas de deux, which leads me to believe Robbins saw that relationship as the one with the most potential for longevity, which is further supported by the fact that as they exit the stage, periwinkle couple exit stage right while the other two stage left, which sets them apart.  This may be excessive postulating on my part, but if we weren’t allowed to derive meaning from it, it wouldn’t be dance.

IV. Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 (entire cast)

So enjoy this beautiful, nerve calming dance and more importantly, enjoy that feeling of unbridled introspection…not every dance offers that luxury.

The Human Aquarium

10 Dec

I’ve had this lingering Ashton after taste for a while, even though I haven’t watched an Ashton work in weeks.  For whatever reason, it’s fresh in my mind and despite the fact that I’m anxious to watch the DVD of his The Tales of Beatrix Potter that I just got from the library, I was getting the feeling that watching another Ashton work would drive me insane.  Nothing wrong with his ballets (obviously), but I need variety to survive.  For me it’s not the spice of life; it’s the chocolate chips to my cookie.  Life is worthless without variety.

Being in the funk that I was, I decided to take my first step into the world of Wayne McGregor, resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet.  Back when I went to see Manon at the beginning of the summer, his work Chroma was featured as a part of a triple bill that the Royal Ballet was also touring.  Between the two I chose Manon because of Carlos Acosta, but the playbill for the Royal Ballet featured a photo from Chroma and the image is kind of burned into the recesses of me brain.  Since then, I’ve categorized Chroma as “the one that got away,” because I had the opportunity to see it, but neither the knowledge nor the money.  Accordingly (and because my life hates me), it still eludes me because McGregor ballets haven’t been released on DVD as far as I know, but Infra, another one of his works is available in full on YouTube.  Okay, so maybe life doesn’t hate me after all.

After watching a brief interview with McGregor in a video by the Royal Opera House (who maintain an excellent presence on YouTube, Twitter and now iTunes), I had a sinking feeling I was in trouble.  His piece is about “inferences” and “human relationships” and I hate to say it, but I get a little annoyed when choreographers say that their dances are about “human relationships,” because that is the vaguest answer in the entire world.  I don’t have a problem with viewing a dance as a work of art and deciding for myself what I get out of the piece, but when I hear “human relationships” I can’t help but lose a sense of…something.  I can’t put my finger on it, but somehow dances inspired by human relationships fall into a certain abyss in my mind.  It’s not that I didn’t see or that I don’t understand human relationships in Infra, I just don’t see them the way McGregor does.  As usual, I blame the Aries in me…we don’t like to beat around the bush and inferences are often seen as a waste of time when one can head butt the source.  Crude, but true.

What I found interesting about Infra was that it has a lot of itsy-bitsy movements and explored the body in different ways, and although the dancers rely on their grounding in ballet technique, the overall piece lacked shapes.  To me, a leg extension or arabesque has a certain shape and a resulting aura, which was completely deconstructed and thus absent in Infra.  I’m fascinated by McGregor’s ability to create ballet without shapes, when those very shapes are what I typically see, almost as if his choreography is the absence of whatever it is that defines the art to my eyes.  Fascinating and a little disconcerting, because it almost felt overloaded with little detailed movements.  It’s kind of like staring at a tapestry and trying to count each individually woven stitch, thus losing sight of the bigger picture.  However, in Infra there really is no bigger picture, and only a few subtle changes of mood to inform us that there is a sense of passing time in the piece.  But maybe the point is we should take the time to stare at the stitches in a tapestry from time to time, just to see what’s there.  There’s a moment in Infra where a bunch of people are walking across the stage and one dancer (I don’t know who…I’m still unfamiliar with who’s who in the Royal Ballet.  I only recognized Edward Watson, who is pretty hard to miss!), breaks down and is grief-stricken.  Nobody knows why she’s crying, and the people on stage certainly don’t give a damn, but that’s one of those details that is lost when we don’t take the time to look.

Another interesting moment was one section in the middle where there are a few rectangular spotlights on the stage, neatly arranged in a row with each rectangle containing a duo of a male and female dancer, doing their own phrases of movement which occasionally coincided with another couple’s.  It reminded me of looking at an office building at night, and seeing people at work in the windows, and judging by the fact that during the credits an office building with workers in windows, I think that’s what’s being inferred (Aha!  I got an inference!  Victory!).  The whole piece has a pedestrian quality to it, obviously because of the backdrop with the LED figures walking on a street.  The piece’s structure reminded me of Cunningham’s Biped, although the color (literally and figuratively) of each piece was different.  Biped was more multi-dimensional while Infra, although not really a narrative was linear…ish.  Obviously the effect was different as well, as I was getting this “human aquarium” vibe from Infra.  Like, you’re watching and you can see people/fish communicating with each other, doing things, or being on their own and you can only “infer” what they might be saying.  Sometimes when I go to an aquarium I like to make up a conversation between the fish, like “hey, those fins make you look fat” but that wasn’t appropriate for this piece.

At any rate, I’m a little ambivalent with Infra.  I could see beauty in it, but it wasn’t a beauty that moved me or produces some intense reaction to it.  After I sort of gave in to just letting myself experience it, without looking for anything in particular it had a sort of soothing quality that aquariums have.  And sometimes I like to brainlessly stare at aquariums with no purpose.

Without further ado, Infra (in three parts), for your viewing pleasure (or not…it’s nobody’s fault if you don’t like it):