'Concerto Grosso,' 'Polyphonia,' 'Elite Syncopations'
October 10, 2003
-- Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Set to Tschaikovsky's third and unfinished piano concerto, “Allegro”
is shorter and smaller than its majestic cousin, “Tschaikovsky Concerto
No. 2.” “Allegro's” ambitions seem smaller. Tiaras, glitter, and ballerina
sheen prefigure in both, but only “Concerto No. 2” really retains the
grandeur of the Russian imperial heritage. If “Concerto No. 2” concentrates
the Imperial Russian balletic art, then “Allegro” distills it – making
it curiously bland.
But, a distilled art is still a worthy one. Think of those ice cold flavored
vodkas which I hear sometimes start a Russian feast. As the principal
couple, Lorena Feijoo and Zachary Hench polish “Allegro's” considerable
technical glories. Feijoo is blazing hot – the heat of vodka as it rumbles
down the throat. Hench is believable as the Siegried-Desiree-Nutcracker
Cavalier the male danseur part invokes. But, the real pleasure is in the
supporting cast of soloists and corps. The purity of their line and technique
is the best way to show off the company. They are Elana Altman, Emily
Halpin, Sara Van Patten, Courtney Wright, David Arce, Brett Bauer, Chidozie
Nzerem, and Kirill Zaretskiy.
Maestro Tomasson's choreography has received mixed reviews over the years.
I myself like the more chamber sized pieces. Elizabeth Loscavio in “Tuning
Game” and “Yuan Yuan Tan” in “Nana's Lied” are precious memories while
“Haffner Symphony” and “Criss Cross” less so. It's like if you wanted
to see Tomasson's understanding of the deep structure of the balletic
theater, you only had his restagings of the Big Ballets – “Swan Lake,”
“Giselle,” “Romeo and Juliet.” Now, “Concerto Grosso” changes all that.
The theater of “Concerto Grosso” is simple – a tastefully restrained backdrop
and five male dancers in monochrome tights: Pascal Molat, Garrett Anderson,
Rory Hohenstein, Jaime Garcia Castilla, and Hansuke Yamamoto. They leap.
They turn. They gambol and wabe: the pleasures of male allegro. Pure and
unadulterated. Presented as solos and an occasional duo, the vocabulary
looks like quotations straight from the classroom floor. But no class,
I'm willing to bet, ever came close to outshining “Concerto Grosso.”
Perhaps I've just been insensitive to the fortunes of male dancing, always
somewhat lost amid the clamor for ballerina fetishism, but maybe I'm not
alone. I think somewhere Balanchine said, “Put 16 girls on stage and you
have the world … put 16 boys on stage and you have nothing…”
One of the pleasures of a work like “Concerto Grosso” is, I think, Tomasson
proving Balanchine wrong. Tomasson has risen to the challenge laid out
by Petipa and Cecchetti in the “Bluebird” pas de deux on the one hand,
and by Petipa, Chabukiani, and Nureyev in the “Corsaire” pas de deux on
the other – how to showcase masculine virtuosity without the bestiary
of the nursery or the bestiality of the menagerie.
The answer is simplicity itself: the baroque concerto by Francesco Geminiani
“after Corelli” provides the formal restraint to prevent the ballet from
indulging in excesses of mere manly virtuosity. Not that there's anything
wrong with indulging in a little San Francisco Ballet eye candy. David
Finn's lighting is careful to sculpt pecs, abs, gluts, and etc underneath
Sandra Woodall's costumes of matching tights and muscle shirts.
After the intermission, Christopher Wheeldon's “Polyphonia” begins unpromisingly
with four pairs of dancers dancing with their shadows. Is it possible
for anybody to dance with their shadows after Astaire's tribute to Bill
“Bojangles” Robinson? However, soon Wheeldon's choreography follows the
delicate traces of the score, a compilation of works for solo piano by
Ligeti is a good choice for a choreographer who has said, as Wheeldon
has, that he needs to work with new music. Cage, Cunningham, even Gorecki
would seem almost self-indulgent. I wish I had seen “Polyphonia” before
“Continuum.” Its overall effect is refined and sophisticated in a quiet,
pleasing way without the occasional discordant movements in “Continuum.”
My favorite passage is a delicate pas de deux for Julie Diana and Ruben
Martin to a Satie-like composition (is it the “Hopp ide tisztan, from
Three Wedding Dances”?).
The other couples are: Katita Waldo and Yuri Possokhov; Lorena Feijoo
and Gonzalo Garcia; and Kristin Long and Guennadi Nedviguine
About the ragtime America so amusingly evoked by Kenneth MacMillan in
this ballet, the question must arise: is this what the British thought
of America in 1974 (the year “Elite Syncopations” premiered in London)?
Why not? Don't Americans think of the British world primarily in terms
of Jane Austen, Merchant & Ivory, and Richard Attenborough? “The Bridge
on the River Kwai,” “Emma,” and “The English Patient”? If that's the case,
I suppose "Elite" only serves us right.
The world of “Elite Syncopations” conjures a world of back alley dance
halls, glamorous molls, cigarette smoking hoodlums, dance marathons, mismatched
lovers, and, of course ... the disco globe. But this is no ordinary ragtime
New Orleans. “Elite Syncopations” is Storyville by Toontown. It would
take a Tom Wolfe to describe the fantastic costumes by Ian Spurling which
practically make the show: it's the kandy kolored, tangerine-flake streamlined
I love the surprise when the curtain rises to reveal the stage sans wings
and backdrop. With a little oo-la-la flair, pairs of girls dance cheek
to cheek. If it isn't exactly a scene from the "Girls Gone Wild" video,
it isn't exactly the world of Gatsby, O. Henry, or Taft either. The men
arrive and they get down to the earnest business of honky-tonkin' ragtime
style. Standouts are Stephen Legate, Rory Hohenstein, Pascal Molat, and
James Sofranko in a comical men's pas de quatre (“Hot-House Rag”) that
seems part George M. Cohan and part Gene Kelly. Katita Waldo is a charmer
in “Calliope Rag.”
Julie Diana, looking particularly scrumptious in her white unitard with
cherry stripes and Ruby Keeler bowler hat, twirls a cane and plays homage
to the music hall tradition in “Stop Time Rag.” But, the audience favorite
is the comically mismatched tall girl and short guy pas de deux “The Alaska
Rag” for Muriel Maffre and James Sofranko. The mis-choreography practically
begs for analytical comment – does Bergson have a theory to go with “The
Final note: In contrast to the somewhat varied fortunes of the orchestra
under the valiant Andrew Mogrelia, the band for “Elite Syncopations” supported
the dancing ably under Michael McGraw in a flower cap, playing both a
regular and a special rinky-tink piano.
Edited by Holly Messitt
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