Haglund zipped down to Philly on Sunday for Pennsylvania Ballet’s final performance of the season, Balanchine and Beyond, a program of plotless, eclectic offerings from Hans van Manen, Trisha Brown, Jean-Piere Frohlich, and George Balanchine. The local Sunday matinee audience, while perhaps grayer than at other times of the week, was definitely composed of “regulars” who Haglund has come to recognize on his trips to beautiful, clean, bright, clean, friendly, clean Philly. Their support of the dancers is always hearty.
The Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen, probably best known in America for his Gross Fugue and Polish Pieces, idolized George Balanchine for his inventive abstract, plotless ballets and considered Balanchine to be a source of inspiration for his own choreography. The influence is apparent in Adagio Hammerklavier, his 1973 work set to Beethoven’s Adagio from Piano Sonata No 29, Op. 106, performed yesterday by Ana Calderon & Harrison Monaco, Adrianna De Svastich & Russell Ducker, and Misa Kasamatsu & Arian Molina Soca. The emphasis on geometric shapes – lovely right-angle arabesques, arms in supplemental and complementary angles, straight angle shapes formed by 120 degree leg extensions adjacent to the arm overhead – seemed to be the objective in this dance which often paused so that the positions could be observed. That meant that there was less in the way of actual movement and more attention to arriving at positions. Years ago, this type of emphasis was engaging and interesting in small doses, but it has worn out its welcome in current times with so many choreographers relying on position-to-position choreography instead of actually moving (aka dancing) around the entire stage. Yesterday, dancers sometimes curled up on the floor in the fetal position which we guess suggested something other than abstract/plotless, but we weren’t sure what.
Adagio Hammerklavier was performed to an unattributed recording of the Beethoven Adagio that bore the fuzziness of an old 33LP – obviously intended to be that way. But how much more interesting this dance would have been with the musicians playing live music on the corner of the stage.
Trisha Brown’s O zlozony / O composite, created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2004, was danced to recited poetry in Polish and a score by Laurie Anderson. It is the only choreography Brown ever made for a ballet company and is the first of her works to be performed in the U.S. by a ballet company. The dancers captured and emphasized her loose-limbed style, acrobatic elements, and engaging circular paths of movement. But, the synthesized result was more interesting when it was made in 2004 than a dozen years later when every choreographer is now doing the same thing.
There used to be a choir of strong voices who advocated that ballet should not rely on “modern dance” choreographers to save itself. These voices have perhaps tired in recent years, but it’s time to re-invigorate them. With one or two exceptions such as Taylor and Ailey, modern dance has never been able to save itself in this country, let alone save ballet. Modern dance choreography has never been able to fill large theaters, create frenzied demand for tickets, or attract sustainable amounts from donors. It does, however, attract ire from loyal ballet fans when it is substituted for ballet. So, if modern dance choreographers can’t save modern dance, why are there expectations that they can save ballet? There is an undying mistaken belief among ballet companies that because Baryshnikov was able to brilliantly incorporate works by Tharp, Morris and other modern dancemakers into the repertory of the company he directed, that it is the path to success for everyone. Ballet needs choreographers skilled in its own wide-ranging classical vocabulary to drive its path into the future. To suggest that the ballet vocabulary is too limited is akin to suggesting that the English language is too limited for poets to craft great work. It’s not that iambs, rhyme and meter are too limiting; it’s that today’s poets don’t have the skill or seriousness of purpose to use them to create something more important than greeting card gibberish or rap songs. (end of lecture)
Jean-Pierre Frohlich’s Varied Trio (in four) to music by Lou Harrison brought the mood up quite a bit as performed by Mayara Pineiro and Jermel Johnson. Typically neo-classical in form, the highlight of this brief work, which was originally made for NYCB MOVES a few summers ago, was the high energy solo work for Jermel. Mayara is an eye-catcher no matter what kind of steps she is dancing. We cannot wait to see them both in Le Corsaire next season.
Our main reason for the trip to Philly was to see Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. We were rewarded with a committed performance by both veteran and less experienced dancers who seemed hell-bent on doing this masterpiece justice. Ana Calderon and Etienne Diaz impressed with their articulation of the Third Theme. The apprentice Peter Weil made a big start on Melancholic; there is lots of everything to love that is brewing in this artist. Lillian Di Piazza and Craig Wasserman could have used a larger stage for their Sanguinic; they looked slightly contained. The four dangerous Sanguinistas used their pointes like weapons and were just terrific. Harrison Monaco’s Phlegmatic needed more definition but, still, it was so obvious that he possesses the skill set to be a phenomenal dancer.
The highlight of the day was veteran Amy Aldridge as Choleric. Hers was an outstanding performance no matter to whom it is compared. Calmly entering the back of the stage from the right, she burst into a whirl of pirouettes finishing to the knee with arms across the bowed head. Angry? Yeah – totally immersed in her anger and letting it have its way with her. Anger that felt good. Anger at the top of its game. Anger to admire but not get too close to. With piercing eyes, slicing limbs, a torso tight as banjo strings, this dancer stormed through the choreography with the velocity of a tornado – a really angry tornado. She seemed to heighten the already high energy on stage when the ensemble joined her for the Finale. What a terrific performance this was, and it brought the audience to its feet fairly quickly.
Our HH Pump Bump Award, an Angry Birds slingshot stiletto, is bestowed upon Amy Aldridge whose Choleric was among the most authoritatively danced that we have seen.