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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
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,
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
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
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.)
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