Stuttgart Ballet

'the seventh blue,' 'Cindys Gift,' 'Seventh Symphony'

by Toba Singer

March 25, 2003 -- Robert & Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, Davis, CA

In a mixed program including three pieces--“The Seventh Blue” by Christian Spuck, “Cindy’s Gift,” by Douglas Lee, and “Seventh Symphony,” by Uwe Scholz -- the post-Cranko company looks very young and homogenous-looking, with dancers of medium height, and sensually flexible and articulated bodies. In the context of these three selections, they seem able to partner each other affably and interchangeably, as one is apt to expect from an ensemble company.

In the opening of “the seventh blue,” the ensemble faces the backdrop, and a coupé fired off by one of the women signals a rapid flow of traffic across the stage of dancers wearing various dye lots of indigo camisoles (the women) and jumpsuits (the men). When the dust settles, three couples remain. We see meaty juxtapositions and gyro kinetic reaches that describe the kind of adage where each dancer is handing off his or her weight to a partner with an unhurried and stately pacing. In the center and acting as a kind of mobile armature for the triad, is principal dancer, Elena Tentshikowa.

A white panel shifts out of the darkness to showcase a solo -- gentle, but definitive, as light comes up white around Bridget Breiner. A partner joins her for a pas de deux and then another and another as the focus shifts just slightly past the panel back into the darkness. The cavalcade of male partners poses the question of how many will she have and what will they do? As that tension increases, what is revealed is unshowy, but deft choreography that seems to embroider the music into a tapestry of dancing shadow and light. Though there is a rustic quality to the men’s dancing, it never loses its gallantry. A chorus line of men and women spread across the darkened stage, hips slung out, arms akimbo, much like the cover of the “Chorus Line” original cast album. A piercing male whistle, followed by a loud male “HEY!” initiate breakouts by dancers in threes and then fours. And then, oops, an odd dancer runs out in a perfectly timed comic flourish to challenge the otherwise equilateral geometry. This must be the seventh blue!

The piece ends as the dancers reassemble in their chorus positions and then as the lights go down, run forward to the very edge of the proscenium. Very effective and gives us a nice refreshing ending. One of the men is a little off the music, and another seems to be learning as he goes along, but overall, the dancers are having fun and the piece is danced fluently.

In “Cindy’s Gift,” a dancer dressed in a peach camisole appears lifeless as a mannequin draped across a kind of roundhouse revolving platform, stage left. As she jumps off to perform solo work, six corps members dressed in aquamarine appear stage right. A North American woman’s voice is heard relating a retrospective story about the solo dancer, Oihane Herrero’s, character. Apparently, the inspiration for this piece came from a random conversation the choreographer found himself in with a stranger. He asked if he could record her words so that he could set this work to them.

The voiceover has a suburbanite “Far From Heaven” alienated quality -- as if the woman relating the tale (Is she Cindy -- or is the dancer?) sounds like she thinks she’s supposed to care and indeed wants to care about the character -- who we guess is her daughter -- but somehow doesn’t have enough of a sense of her own importance to attach value to her daughter’s life -- if this is actually her daughter’s life she is describing. The edginess in her delivery suggests that the daughter’s life is going to come to a terrible and premature end, and so we pass the time nervously (or impatiently) waiting for the melodrama to resolve. This makes it not a little hard to focus on what our eyes see instead of what our ears hear. The tribulations of Herrero are matched by an Acrobats-of-God-derivative series of counterpunctal combinations by the corps dancers. Eventually, they find their way over to the other side of the stage and lift a couple over the head of the tragic figure of Herrero.

The evening’s closer, “Seventh Symphony” takes its name from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, to which it is set. Bright white and yellow light illuminate the entire stage. There is a backdrop that consists of a pair of asymmetrical parabolic hillocks rendered in childlike, finger paint-like broad strokes in primary colors. The dancers wear white, accented with one, maybe two perpendicular black lines. Again, this piece begins with the dancers’ backs to the audience and there is a promising opening with a sort of figurehead lift followed by runs. It feels lofty, as if something great is about to be launched. The lines of the lines that proceed across the stage are stunning, showing a nice use of arms, even if at times the corps is a tad off the music.

As it goes along however, there is the feeling that this was a piece that started innocently enough as a grand allegro exercise in the studio, but was never really elaborated for the stage. When repetitions by female dancers in splits on the floor dragged along the stage reached the number four, a little voice in my head said to me “They’re ba-ack,” and then I whispered it to the person seated to my left.

The trite, bathing beauty poses, with the lights coming up on the upbeat whether or not the dancers strike the pose on time, was too crude to be construed as camp. It needs more ballon or élan or some other French word ending with the letter “n” connoting aerodynamic. Technically, aside from those numerous dragging splits, the challenges are few and could be met by the dancers in Level Five at San Francisco Ballet School. In the adage, there is a movement choreographed for each beat, marked for example by a slow passé up and down the leg, followed by a low developpé and some en rondes -- possibly the lowest extensions on record. This combined with an absence of theatricality has the effect of making the dancers look like snap-on tools set to music.

A nice moment in the piece occurs when a female dancer bourrées back toward the wings as the two female dancers she leaves behind do synchronized grand pliés en face. The difficult pressage lift where a dancer is carried out perfectly perpendicular is impressive, but comes out of nowhere and to nowhere it returns (and then comes out again and once again.) Then, in contradiction to the adage where every beat has a step, there lush music where the dancers stand unmoving or moved around a circle of white light holding hands like during my old Brownie Scout campfires. All that was missing were the marshmallows.

Gorgeous dancers. If only Cranko could have stepped out of that circle of light; alive and well and living in Stuttgart!

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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