featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Dispatch, 9-4: Symphonies by the Sintra Sea
A "Giselle" from Portugal; Beethoven from Leipzig & Uwe Scholz

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

SINTRA, Portugal -- Situated in the verdant hills between the Atlantic Ocean and Lisbon, Sintra is known for its spectacular palaces and quintas (mansions), some of which date back centuries, and its agreeable, Bay Area-like climate which alone draws city-dwellers and vacationers in droves. In the summer, the town hosts the Sintra Festival, comprising a number of music and dance events. This year's "ballet evenings," chosen by artistic director Armando Jorge, included the Ballet de Opera de Novosibirsk (Russia), Tulsa Ballet (U.S.), Companhia Nacional de Bailado (Portugal), and Leipziger Ballet (Germany), the latter two of which I watched on July 28 and August 2, respectively. The dance was presented for the first time at the Centro Cultural Olga Cadaval, a newly-renovated mid-sized theater adjacent to the Museu de Arte Moderna, whose excellent contemporary collection was open for viewing during intermissions. While the Sintra Festival is not yet mandatory on cultural outpost calendars along the lines of Kassel/Documenta, this venue move, in combination with the high quality of the companies invited, certainly brings it a step closer.

In previous years, the dance events were presented at a magnificent outdoor facility, on the lawn of the Palacio de Seteais, now a hotel. While Seteais must have provided an unbelievably beautiful plein air setting for such ballets as "Swan Lake" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream," (see Darrah Carr's review of the 2001 performance of the latter), Centro Cadaval can accommodate far more elaborate production values, including set elements and lighting schemes. And while the cool evening air is excellent for a brisk walk or a good night's sleep, an indoor, climate-controlled environment is far more conducive to focusing on the dance at hand. Cadaval is also used for some musical events, which also take place at other historical settings such as at the National Palaces in Sintra and in Queluz, which is often referred to as Portugal's Versailles.

Companhia Nacional de Bailado presented "Giselle," by Theophile Gautier and Vernoy de St. Georges, choreographed by Georges Garcia after Petipa, Coralli, and Perrot, to a score by Adolphe Adam. The July 28 performance featured Ana Lacerda as Giselle and Fernando Duarte as Albrecht. Lacerda received her training at the professional school of CNB, and her excellent technique reflects well the company's high caliber. She is crisp and bright in quick phrases. Even in pointe shoes, her feet are as pliable as a horse's muzzle, keeping in contact with the ground as long as possible before a degage. Lacerda was radiant throughout her performance, even while reversing her playful signature theme in her descent into madness.

Duarte has a narrow lower body and fine feet, but he is also a confident, strong-lifting partner. In a sequence toward the finale, Lacerda first performed a quick jump with an arched back. She then repeated the jump with Duarte assisting her, soaring into the air as if filled with helium. Duarte showed us similarly airy, high battements to finish front battus. His demonstrated commanding control in very solid attitude position, which completed a difficult turn sequence. One weakness he displayed was a tendency to let his extended leg in arabesque sag.

This juicy role of Myrtha demands a strong dancer both technically, to sort out all the fundamentals she's dealt; and in character, as leader of the Wilis. Myrtha was danced by Isabel Galrica in the performance I caught, and she fit the bill all around. Galrica seemed to be nailed to the stage in pique arabesques, indicative of the perfect balance she showed throughout the performance. In the physical lexicon of ballet, epaulement organically encroaches on the acting's turf; a precise combination of head, neck, shoulder and arm positions can completely change a look, an emotion, or a character. Galrica displayed lovely epaulement in upstage arabesques croises, always keeping her free leg at a pleasing, low angle. In that one move alone, she conveyed sensibility, dignity, and leadership.

The corps worked confidently and mostly in unison, each member projecting his or her personality without dominating the group. The smaller groups, such as a quartet of four men, even appeared to be having fun. The veiled Wilis evoked chills upon their entrance, and their collective attempt to summon the spirit of Giselle by fanning their arms at her grave was quietly moving. Their timing in the chugs was a hairbreadth late, though they seemed to be trained to perform it timed as such and were largely together.

Set and costume designer Antonio Lagarto updated Giselle's village to modern standards of poverty with corrugated, A-framed hutches. The nobility wore outlandish gear that made them appear foppish and ridiculous. The costumes for the townsfolk were updates of the Giselle classics: fuchsia and orange skirts with geometric patterns for the women, and celadon tights and boots for the men. These hints of modernism served to update this classic, still remaining faithful to its old bones.

Since 1991, the Leipzig Ballet has been under the direction of choreographer Uwe Scholz, whose path to that post was impressively dotted with stops at Stuttgart Ballet and at the Zurich Opera House. Scholz's dedication to the music is obvious from the titles of his work: the company performed Scholz's "7th Symphonie" in four movements to Beethoven's masterwork by the same title, and "8th Symphonie (Adagio)" to Bruckner.

In a genre where it is common for a program to not even list composers, it is a refreshing anomaly that Scholz is so solicitous of the music that the dance takes if not the backseat, at least shotgun. In "7th Symphonie," most of the time he illustrated the music with movement, so if there was a high note, you might have seen a lift, or a movement canon paired with a musical canon. The choreography became predictable after a bit, particularly as the music reprised. There were moments of surprising juxtaposition, however, where expectations where overturned, revealing a surprise or two.

A startlingly effective example came at the beginning of the second movement, which starts with a slow, pulsing string melody. At a glacial pace, Sibylle Naundorf pulled her leg into a passe in eight counts, lowered her foot in the next eight, and -- in the space, vacuum, really, of a breath -- flicked through a turn into a low arabesque which she hit with remarkable stillness; she was partnered by Christoph Boehm. During a monumental passage of music full of major power chord grandeur, the dancers stood in a semi-circle gazing at the light onstage, as if in hypnotic reverence to the composer/deity. The most rewarding moments came when the music -- so purely emotional -- was tested by physical restraint. These fleeting moments also raised questions about how music, such an essentially abstract form, can cause such intense pathos to the point of a visceral reaction. I'm not just referring to music played at a high volume, or with a catchy rhythm, but to the magical juxtaposition of notes in certain intervals which tap emotions like keys play notes on a piano.

For the most part though, the choreography was fairly literal and somewhat slavish to Beethoven. A weakness of this process, particularly with a composer whose oeuvre is so well-known, is that each viewer has some preconceptions about how it should be danced. It's similar to making a film of a famous book, such as "Lord of the Rings" -- it's so risky because there's a good chance its vision will clash with purists' visions. Whether one or all of the Sintra audience had any inkling of how ballet to that symphony should look is up for debate, but it's a good bet that once the familiar music began to play, thoughts were formed in agreement with, or in reaction to, the dance being performed onstage.

Roser Munoz starred in the first and fourth movements, with Sven Koehler and Vincent Gros as respective partners. Her energy was contagious as long as it flowed, conveyed through a lively gaze and quicksilver motion. However, in the challenging fourth movement, following a grand jete with almost no preparation and a repeated chain of several developpes, Munoz looked more like a gymnast after an exhausting routine, dropping any attempt to smile at the audience. (It's not that she should have smiled, but that seemed to be her preferred mode of performing.) She regained her energy in time for a tricky high ronde de jambe en l'air from front, through second, and into a back attitude. The third movement featured a charming opening allegro section first executed by Giovanni Di Palma, than Yuichiro Yokozeki, whose dartiness was better suited to the demanding, rapid sequence.

Scholz also designed the striking set and costumes for "7th Symphonie," sleek white jobs with dashes of color to match the Morris Louis-inspired backdrop.

Bruckner's "8th Symphonie" implied more of a story. In the performance I saw, it hinged on an intense, sustained performance by Kiyoko Kimura and Christoph Boehm, although its length diminished the overall dramatic impact. Kimura, passing through a manner of suffering and sickness via rebirth, transformed from closed and easily wounded (flinching to the touch) into a bold, open, redeemed optimist. Her acting was superb, with her face gradually changing at each emotional stage, and her arms and hands were eloquent. Boehm was called on to dead lift her countless times, with one unending, sustained perpendicular press, but in addition to his brute strength, he was an able emotional counterpart.

Scholz dealt with Bruckner more impressionistically than Beethoven, as if liberated from obeying the score so precisely. He employed bold visual metaphors: For instance, projected clouds darkening to black as Kimura seemed to pass from life. When the music suddenly segued into major chords, Kimura shaped a cross with Boehm, who dragged her upstage, his arms forming the crosspiece, both bathed in a milky light. Like this piece as a whole, her death scene -- while intensely powerful -- was a shade too long.

While Cadaval Centre made a strong impression as an attractive venue, one major technical flaw was moderately serious, particularly for CNB. which performed earlier in the schedule. The stage floor was not sound-deadened adequately -- each footfall resounded with a hollow thud more worthy of Dumbo landing than Giselle. It was especially bad during solos, even moreso for the women in pointe shoes. At least in the ensemble sections, the thuds took on a parallel identity as a percussion section, sort of enhancing the underlying dance rhythms. Some measures were taken to correct the condition prior to Leipzig's run, when it was indeed less noticeable.

Despite such concerns, the Sintra Festival has the ingredients to add up to a cultural destination. A major asset is the geographical and stylistic variety of the dance companies chosen, and their high levels of technical competence. Combine that with the inherent appeal of the area, with its fascinating monuments and enviable climate, and you have a serious contender, waiting in the wings for the big show.

(Editor's Note: Travel and lodging provided by the Portuguese national Tourist Office and Sintra Quorum.)

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home