Tag Archives: jiří kylián

She’s Just a Small Town Girl

27 May

A staging of Giselle is like a family recipe for apple pie—sweet, simple, and familiar.  However, there are of course unique touches that make each production distinct, and probably the most recent one to have been filmed for a DVD release is the Dutch National Ballet’s staging, with additional choreography by Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamente.  This was filmed in February of 2009, with Anna Tsygankova in the title role and Jozef Varga as Albrecht.  Admittedly, I knew very little about the ‘Het Nationale Ballet,’ though I’m sure 99% of people who have ever procrastinated by watching ballet videos on YouTube have of course seen that short video clip of Sofiane Sylve (now with San Francisco Ballet) performing some of the most spectacular pirouettes ever, in William Forsythe’s Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and the coda from The Nutcracker.  I don’t have to post it…but here you go (at least, for those readers who actually have lives and honestly haven’t seen this before):

I really wish both of these performances were on DVD…you can see Marcelo Gomes was her partner in Nutcracker for a split second at the very end, and he simply isn’t filmed enough and I love, no, LOVE what I’ve seen of Vertiginous (it’s to the Finale of Schubert’s Symphony no.9 in C! Hi, amazing!).

At any rate, it’s possible that the company simply hasn’t had a lot of exposure to international audiences, as DVDs are fairly new for them, having only released a handful thus far: Sleeping Beauty (2004), Giselle (2009), and most recently a recording of Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quichot (2011) in addition to Hans van Manen Festival and Hans van Manen: Nederlands Dans Theater, HET Nationale Ballet, which obviously feature works by Hans van Manen, a famous Dutch choreographer who really ought to have more recognition outside of Europe.  Both NDT and the Het have been in the news as of late though, due to funding cuts proposed by the Dutch government, as much as 26% for the Het, which is a huge blow, and even worse is cutting 50% for Nederlands Dans Theatre, Jiří Kylián’s contemporary dance company.  It’s devastating for both companies for different reasons…an insult to downgrade NDT to a “regional company” when his choreography is seen worldwide (Pacific Northwest Ballet included!), and for Dutch National Ballet, a diminishment of status as one of the top international ballet companies.  The Dutch National Ballet has eighty dancers, which is just under a top tier company like American Ballet Theater boasting just over ninety, and the effort to release these films has them just on the edge to gain more notoriety. Hup hup, Holland! Get it together and support the legacy of your arts…they are far greater than you may know! (Petitions for the NDT and Het can be found here and here, respectively, and I encourage you to show your support!).

I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the Dutch National Ballet’s production of Giselle, and that they deserve every ounce of support available, not only to help them preserve what they have, but also to push them further into the international spotlight.  I would even say that while different, the quality of it is on par with the Royal Ballet. They’re certainly not lacking in talent and I definitely got a sense of their company’s identity throughout their Giselle…they prize exceptionally clean technique, squareness in the pelvis and torso, a lot of emphasis on épaulement, and some of the most marvelously articulate feet I’ve ever seen.  It’s clear in their choice of technique that they train a lot of “rolling” through the feet. A dancer can either spring up onto pointe, or roll through every little joint and muscle to get there, and perhaps harder (and often neglected) is rolling down, which requires incredible resistance in order to not plunk down onto your heels.  Though both techniques are acceptable, rolling does make pointe work much softer.  The Russians that train Vaganova technique favor springing, so they don’t often exhibit as much control in that minute but important transition.  What I found interesting was that distinguishing demi-pointe and full pointe was further exhibited when any of the dancers did what’s called a ‘tombé piqué en dehors’ (or more colloquially, a ‘step-over turn’ or ‘lame duck’). A popular technique is to fall in the tombé into a demi-plié, but the Dutch keep their heels up and step onto demi-pointe. Not all of the dancers were entirely comfortable with this, but the effect is very smooth, and the award for best feet definitely goes to Michele Jimenez and her delightful solo in the Peasant Pas de Quatre…she’s ridiculously good.

The Dutch certainly prefer a more sophisticated Giselle with a rustic feel.  While other productions are quaint, borderline hammy, or even a little too moony, this Giselle is toned down, mature, and very elegant.  Tsygankova found a great balance of portraying a character that is shy and naïve, but with a little more woman to her rather than young girl.  Her mad scene was extremely convincing, and there were a lot of moments before that where gestures cautiously alluded to her heart condition (this one is not a suicide Giselle, or one that dies solely of a broken heart).  I loved her in Act II, where she favored good placement instead of hiked up her hips for higher extensions.  For example, in the short adagio before the iconic pas de deux, Giselle performs a simple arabesque penché with her arms gently crossed in front of her, and Tsygankova really stays over her supporting leg, taking care not to hyper-extend her knee and “sit back” in her penché.  By keeping her pelvis square and her back even, her leg does not go to 180°, but the line between her back and leg was just perfect.

Not Act II, but a lovely variation from Anna Tsygankova:

Vargas is a fantastic Albrecht, electing to portray a version that requires some sympathy, rather than the lusty cad often seen in other stagings. In an interview that’s part of the additional features, Varga discusses why he doesn’t think of Albrecht as a bad person—he’s someone that is caught between love and obligations due to social status.  Albrecht is also a victim of his own naïveté, a sort of “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” situation where he sees these jovial villagers but doesn’t fully understand what the life of a peasant entails.  Logically speaking, I like this because in other productions one has to wonder if the impetus for Albrecht’s remorse is simply a sense of responsibility over a girl’s death, due to his promiscuity.  Varga’s Albrecht was truly in love with Giselle, and feels regret that he never had a chance to explain the truth himself. With strong acting skills and technical brilliance, Varga just looks so natural and calm. I really like his arabesque line, and also during his Albrecht variation, there’s a double attitude turn en dehors, quite possibly one of the most heinous steps in all of ballet…there’s no other way to describe it than difficult, because the whole time your leg just wants to fly away from you.

Exceptional soloists in the Peasant Pas de Quatre…I already mentioned Jimenez, and the others were Maia Makhateli, Mathieu Gremillet, and Arthur Shesterikov (Gremillet did a double tour in his variation where he landed in a perfect fifth and didn’t budge…my jaw dropped—no shifting feet or bouncing out of it!).  The corps de ballet was also superb throughout, an utter joy to watch but one of the things that really made this production was Igone de Jongh’s Myrtha—absolutely steely presence and this was one area where clarity in her épaulement really accentuated the character.  The Dutch épaulement (or perhaps Beaujean and Bustamente’s choreography) really finds interesting facings, and it’s another aspect of training that is sometimes neglected, and in some cases considered a lost art.  In fact, a lot of what the Dutch do in terms of épaulement, working through the feet, square hips, and even the body types of the dancers seemed more of a throwback to Romantic era ballet.  The only beanpole was Jan Zerer as Hilarion, who I really enjoyed watching in Act I, but something was off in Act II…I could see the desperation and fear, but there just wasn’t enough oomph for me. Though it’s unfair for me to say this, my current theory is that his height worked against him a bit because when you have that much more to work with, you have to be all the more expressive.

Peasant Pas de Quatre

Overall, the Dutch National Ballet does a very well balanced Giselle, emotional without being melodramatic and sophisticated is really the best way I can describe it. The only thing I honestly didn’t like was Bathilde’s costume, a monstrous blue and ivory striped dress (you may have caught a glimpse of it in the Peasant Pas) that I was incredibly resistant to.  Sometimes I like to see the thirty-two entrechat six for Albrecht in Act II (though I swear it’s usually more like twenty-four, if that) although Varga does two diagonals of brisés travelling forward followed by ten entrechat six, which I felt made sense because the diagonal of brisés heads straight towards Myrtha, kind of like a “Myrtha™ tractor beam” that’s pulling him in, which emphasizes her control over him and the “forcing him to dance to his death” thing.  There is an additional variation for Albrecht in Act I though, which is an interesting touch and kind of plays on his desire to have the same freedom as the peasants in the village, or perhaps that he thinks he can so easily live amongst them, when the truth is forgetting obligations doesn’t mean that they go away.

So friends, I highly recommend it, and if you get a chance to watch it (or you already have, live too!) I would love to hear your thoughts and see if you had the same positive reaction to it as I did…occasionally, I need confirmation that I’m not crazy. Meanwhile, check out some Act II highlights while you’re at it:

Pacific Northwest Ballet: ‘Director’s Choice’ Review

3 Oct

Welcome to October, and the beginning of what I shall deem “Reader Appreciation Month.”  As far as I’ve planned (which truthfully isn’t that far in advance) I’m dedicating every entry I write this month to faithful and friendly readers.  I’ve been inspired by a few suggestions of what readers have said they would like to see and have actually begun the process of doing the necessary thinking and research—it’s pretty exciting for me.  However, to kick off the festivities I shall be doing a review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s October 2nd performance of their season opener, “Director’s Choice,” which includes works by Jiří Kylián, Nacho Duato and Jerome Robbins.  I dedicate this entry to Karena, who tolerated me in class, taught me things I needed to know, continues to encourage my potentially unhealthy obsession with ballet and simply told me that she wanted to hear my thoughts on the show.

First of all, I have to say it’s been months since Coppélia and I’ve been dying without live performances.  Dying.  So I was really looking forward to this.  It was also a night of firsts for me, as I’ve never seen Kylián, Duato or Robbins ballets live before.  I have seen the film version of Petite Mort (performed by the Nederlands Dance Theatre), and actually this is one of the first dances I ever saw, way back in the heyday of my introductory ballet classes, so I have a particular affection for it.  While I wasn’t as familiar with dance vocabulary at the time (as in, I knew virtually nothing) I remember falling in love with the piece and more specifically the mood of it.  The whole dance is washed in beautiful golden tones and has the most cleverly devised choreography.  Now having seen it live, I see with a new perspective how Kylián can take movements that should look (and feel) awkward like bent elbows, turned in legs, flexed feet etc. but give them a musical place and flow that makes them just as graceful as any romantic ballet step.  What’s more, it’s the way in which he manipulates those movements with classical lines that creates a visual feast for the eyes.  What I found most fascinating was his use of symmetry—symmetry down the middle of a single body or mirrored lines that were formed between two dancers.  The symmetry was not just vertical either, but horizontal, on varying angles and crisscrossing that created a kaleidoscopic effect—even if you turned your head just a little bit the shapes would take on a new life.

I was a little nervous for PNB because they started the dance a little jittery tonight.  Towards the beginning of the dance the male dancers pull a gigantic piece of billowing fabric from the back of the stage to the front and when they run to the back of the stage again, it’s as if the smoke clears to reveal a group of female dancers lying on the floor.  Unfortunately, a couple of the dancers were a little late and I could see them hurriedly laying down which may seem like I’m nitpicking a detail, but you have to understand that Petite Mort is Kylián’s spell—which can easily be broken.  In that sense, his choreography is so fragile because timing is paramount.  However, such is the nature of live performance and the whole fabric thing is repeated a second time in the dance and they pulled it off flawlessly.  I enjoyed the rest of the piece immensely and it is so gratifying to have seen it on living, breathing people.  That being said, I think the film version is still excellent, and can’t stress how much you should watch it, like right now:

After Petite Mort came Kylián’s Sechs Tänzes, which is speaking my language…a ballet comedy if you will, and I have to say that I was impressed.  Dancing a lot of Balanchine can make one…I hate to say wooden, but perhaps a little frigid just because of the nature of the Balanchine repertory.  However, PNB assembled a great lineup of comical dancers that delivered a wonderfully lighthearted performance, matching note for note with Mozart’s Six German Dances.  The piece is absolutely ridiculous—in the good way.  From the powdered wigs to the bubbles at the end, the audience was clearly into the humor and of course you know I was.  In many ways I identified with this piece quite a bit on a personal level and feel that it somehow legitimizes my whimsical nature and the way in which I live my life.  So many thanks PNB for your performance of Sechs Tänzes on this fine evening was a real treat.

Now I was on a high after that and Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat was a real buzz kill.  I have to be honest in that I didn’t feel that the piece really matched the occasion, if that makes sense.  It’s something I could see being much more interesting to me in a small studio theater, up close in a performance where I expect modern dance but it really sticks out in a ballet company’s repertory.  Apparently it’s a “fan favorite” amongst PNB patrons, which I have a hard time believing…although tonight’s cast was stacked with principals so maybe I’m missing something after all.  As earthy as the residents of this city are though, I’m unable to convince that Jardí Tancat is something people would want to see over and over again. Don’t get me wrong…it was really well danced and the movement quality was there but problems for me ranged from limited use of the stage and just bland choreography.  I don’t know what the logic is behind it, but what I do know is that this proves Seattle is in desperate, and I mean DESPERATE need of Tudor and MacMillan ballets.  It’s not that Tudor or MacMillan ever choreographed anything of the same nature, but I think the level of sophistication they achieved in their works is what Jardí Tancat seeks and for me, fails to achieve.  Duato does have works that I absolutely adore, and he can waltz into the Mikhailovsky and be all “none of you have ever danced” but quite frankly, all I can say is when I win the lottery, I’m donating a huge chunk to PNB’s “Tudor/MacMillan Fund.”  Actually, make that “ATM” for “Ashton/Tudor/MacMillan Fund.”

Meanwhile, the night closed with Jerome Robbins’s Glass Pieces, which thankfully proved to be the highlight of the evening.  It’s a piece that sort of describes an urban hustle to minimalist music by Philip Glass, with dancers dressed in color against a stark, white graph paper backdrop.  It’s divided into three sections, each of which focused on a particular grouping, though there were many bodies on stage.  For example the first, Rubric, points out three different couples who I wish I could name but because I sit far up in the balcony I can’t see too much in terms of facial characteristics so I’ll by the colored unitards they were wearing, which I shall describe as Gold, Sunburn and Spring.  Springman had the biggest jumps but it was Sunburnman who I thought displayed this effortless, effortless, positively effortless technique.  The way he did his grand battements was too easy—it’s like when my friend Magelachachka (and yes, I do call her that to her face) would say at barre: “lifting your leg up takes…so much work.”  I know it’s cliché, but Sunburnman was born to dance because work doesn’t describe him at all.  As three couples they had wonderful interactions aided by Robbins’s extraordinary choreography.  What I love about Robbins’s ballets is that he selects the most appropriate movements and is very reserved when it comes to the big, flashy, bravura steps.  There’s a real sense of contrast and a love for transitional steps that you don’t always see (though this is more apparent in the last section).

The second section focused on a single couple, dressed in scarlet and gray (Go Bucks!), featuring the divine Miss Carla Körbes, who I could recognize.  I’m telling you, this woman moves like a goddess of the clouds.  I lost count of how many times I got chills during her pas de deux with fellow principal Batkhurel Bold, because she has a lyricism that can’t be taught.  Credit must also be given to Bold as well because despite one’s own talents, beautiful dancing in a lift can’t be achieved if you can’t trust the one holding you up.  It’s interesting because the pas de deux is not romantic at all, but they still have chemistry in their partnership.  What’s also interesting is that because it’s not romantic, there has to be a certain intangibility to it while maintaining a lyrical quality.  I think it’s actually quite a complex “role” in that it’s not a role at all but requires a similar sensitivity in the technique.  Miss Körbes is a revelation and as PNB looks to really expand their repertory this season by doing a shockingly small amount of Balanchine and doing a romantic ballet with Giselle, I’m predicting that she will be the superstar Giselle come June 2011.  Although to be fair, I’m pretty sure a lot of people are thinking the same thing…

At any rate, the third section featured the corps de ballet, in a truly kaleidoscopic interpretation of the organized chaos that is a developed infrastructure.  While not explicitly dancing as vehicles or machines, I think systematized, linear movements that gave the feel of advanced technology and economic prosperity achieved the effect.  The end had the dancers turning in all kinds of directions, weaving in and out of each other like clockwork and despite its frenetic appearance it was never haphazard…always meticulously placed to contribute to the bigger picture like the pieces in a mosaic.  I thought it was flawless (minus a mini-spill a dancer in orange tights took…which I only noticed because I have freakish hawk eye vision for uncharacteristic movement.  He actually recovered remarkably well) and despite never being a Philip Glass fan (not a hater, but not a fan) I really came to appreciate his score.  Normally I like a melody, with a beginning, middle and end but his music was symbiotic with the dancing…they were meant for each other.

I had a great time…and did I mention how awesome it is to be seeing live dance again?  I would recommend that you go, but chances are if you’re in Seattle and you read this blog, you go to all of PNB’s shows anyway and if you wait for my reviews you’re giving me more credit than one should give.  There is but one more show in like…eleven hours.  Have fun with that.