No. 15,' 'Variations for Orchestra,' 'Tzigane,' 'Apollo'
November 7, 2003
-- Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles
Balanchine infamously claimed that he did not want his ballets preserved
for all of posterity, saying that they are creations and existences of
their moment. Whatever he might have really believed, Friday's performance
of his "Divertimento No. 15," "Variations for Orchestra,"
"Tzigane," and especially the full-length "Apollo"
showed that his ballets' dramatic and emotional reach stretches unimpeded
over time. Is it something intrinsic in the steps, or is it the care and
intimate knowledge and experience Suzanne Farrell brings to them?
The evening started with the eponymous "Divertimento No. 15,"
set to music by Mozart. It's one of those Balanchine ballets that seems
to be a distillation of a Petipa ballet with all the story stripped out
and only the pretty dancing bits left over. Though somewhat technically
ragged (the corps and arms and shoulders were not as precise as could
be), the dancers danced with enthusiasm and energy projecting the structure
and flow of the work clearly. Partnering was especially solid.
After an intermission came the amazingly creepy "Variations for Orchestra,"
set to post-tonal, serialistic Stravinsky -- nominally a solo piece, until
a lighting effect decides to take matters into her own hands. Bonnie Pickard
danced her difficult part with technical confidence, but perhaps without
the last degree of throwaway abandon one saw in Diana Vishneva's "Rubies"
two weeks ago. Everything was well-placed and in-control.
If you don't want to know the surprise in this piece, please skip to the
next paragraph. The really interesting part of this piece for me was Pickard's
uncredited partner. The soloist starts out dancing against a beige screen,
until a light behind the screen turns on and creates a shadow of the soloist
about 2 to 2.5 times her height, or so we think ...Slowly, I began to
notice that the shadow wasn't quite in synchronization with its supposed
source, until it becomes obvious that the shadow is being danced by someone
else behind the screen (how else could a shadow like that be projected?)
when it begins doing its own thing. There seems to be a struggle between
the real person and her shadow, as each tries to bend the other to her
own will with the shadow winning, and taking the last bow. It's a very
imaginative piece or choreography that deserves to be danced far more
often --- I found myself thinking over and over, "I didn't know you could
Following the heavy "Variations for Orchestra" came "Tzigane,"
a gypsy-based character dance set to music by Ravel. This piece was notable
to me for the great chemistry between the two leads, Natalia Magnicaballi
and Momchil Mladenov, in a story about a headstrong woman being pursued
by an ardent man who ultimately gets her after some effort (and bravura
dancing). Both lead dancers projected their characters well, with Magnicaballi
showing the steely, tough character of her dance, and both dancers very
believably falling for each other.
The full-length "Apollo" came after a second intermission. The
main changes are the addition of Apollo's birth scene, and a different
ascension to the heavens at the end. Both additions used a tall staircase,
whereas the normal Apollo is danced with only a chair and the Muses' instruments.
I'm not sure how more effective the full ballet is compared to the abbreviated
version. Apollo's birth, with his arms bound in cloth and basically doing
a bunny hop found the audience giggling, while the ending ascension scene
is a good, but equal, substitute to the normal ending --- both get grandeur
of the moment across equally well.
Still, such relatively minor details don't matter when this is the best
"Apollo" I have ever seen live or on tape. Ironically Dionysian
in character, this Apollo was dramatic, expressive, and anything but cool
and level-headed. Peter Boal danced Apollo with great energy and character
without descending into affectation. When he was young and stumbling around,
he was really young and really clumsy. When he came into his own power,
this dancer's dancer drew on his own magnificent, flawless technique to
show all of Apollo's power. When dealing with his Muses, Boal projected
a unique relationship with each Muse that I've not seen before --- usually
everyone else is kind of window-dressing because we all know Terpsichore
is the girl he picks. Jennier Fournier danced Calliope, Magnicaballi danced
Polyhymnia, and Chan Hon Goh danced Terpsichore, and they infused each
role with its own personality and relationship to Apollo.
I hope Suzanne Farrell will stage more Balanchine ballets, as this performance
shows that she has valuable, unique, and interesting insights into even
the most familiar Balanchine repertoire, and knows how to bring out all
of their dramatic potential.
Edited by Jeff.
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