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Report, 3-12: Works in Progress
Passing on Balanchine, Generation to Generation, Gesture to Gesture
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2004 Susan Yung
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NEW YORK -- Works &
Process at the Guggenheim presented Balanchine: The Middle Years
Sunday and Monday, in another installment of its series on Balanchine's
legacy featuring coaching sessions and performances. Maria Tallchief
coached Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Patricia Barker in two
variations from "Firebird." Tallchief recounted how Balanchine,
instead of trying to explain the technical breakdown of an arm gesture
to elicit the desired effect might simply extend his arm and say
"There you are," or peek under an arm in high fifth to say "Here
I am." To achieve the proper head angle, he'd suggest that Tallchief
pretend she was turning her head to receive a kiss on the cheek
from her father.
It was humbling to watch
Barker, who's physically imposing -- tall and limby, with the exaggerated
lines of hyperextended knees and highly arched feet -- being reprimanded
by the role's muse, who danced in the 1949 premiere. Tallchief in
particular focused on Barker's hands, key details in the complete
characterization of the role, admonishing Barker not to flatten
out her fingers like a pancake, or flop them down.
Melissa Hayden coached
American Ballet Theatre principals Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes
in excerpts of "Donizetti Variations," from 1961. Hayden, who created
the lead woman's role, marvelled that "everything by Balanchine
was so easy, because it was natural." Of "Symphony in C," Hayden
said that at the time she wasn't used to doing ballets based on
steps rather than stories. To aid her interpretation, she played
the role of "hostess with the mostest," which seemed to work. Noted
for her quicksilver allegro, she mused on her one, single act performed
with Erik Bruhn: "To die for." And she recalled telling Jacques
d'Amboise not to touch her while partnering her in turns, as it
would impede her pirouettes.
Hayden told Murphy and
Gomes to make their entrance "like a circus," acknowledging the
festive atmosphere of the piece. She corrected their rushed tempo,
and told Gomes to "make it a surprise" when he caught Murphy's arm
as she crossed the stage to him, which he did immediately. The dancers
laughed as Hayden told how Mr. B had set an entire variation on
her without music, and how she had muttered under her breath, "Good
luck to me," later performing it to precisely matching music.
Credit goes to the dancers
for agreeing to participate in these sessions. Undoubtedly it is
a privilege to work with role-originating ballerinas, but the dancers'
faults are subject to public exposure. Barker managed through her
performance, but she looked admittedly deflated after Tallchief
corrected her hands for the nth time. Still, Barker has a lyrical
line and great authority onstage, and has the tools to master the
role. Murphy and Gomes fared better in their lighter roles requiring
less committed acting. Gomes's physical gifts abound, but his confident
epaulement and facial expressions, which he always presents to the
audience, are key to his commanding presence. Murphy is a technical
wiz with great balance, casually and routinely completing four pirouettes
to finish her variation. She flickered through a clever tempo sequence
of petit allegro, and pulled against Gomes in a daring diagonal
Nancy Reynolds moderated,
and Nancy McDill provided piano accompaniment.
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