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Flash Review 1, 9-9:
To Mr. B, with Love
DTH Breathes Life into Balanchine
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider
Well, it happened again.
A Balanchine ballet which, in previous viewings, didn't quite speak
to me became, when enacted by the soulful and spirited men and women
of Dance Theatre of Harlem, infused with warmth, heart, and meaning,
at no expense to the geometry. The first time was "Serenade" which,
in full orchestra no less, I found impenetrable at City Ballet;
danced to taped music by DTH, the story was suddenly revealed, a
real journey undertaken. The second was last night, viewing a ballet
that previously had been, to my mind anyway, one just to be gotten
through: "The Four Temperaments." Temperament, indeed! Oddly, the
story ballet du jour at City Center in last night's opening of DTH's
program B, the second act of "Creole Giselle," played strangely
This would usually be
the time where I give you the general line on the ballet at hand
but, well, since I've never quite grasped Four T's, as it's affectionately
referred to by critics more affectionate about it than moi, let's
just go to Balanchine. In his "Stories of the Great Ballets," edited
by Francis Mason, Mr. B says this 1946 gem is subtitled "A Dance
Ballet without Plot." Well, er, okay, that would seem to expose
my observation of above as just so much lunacy, so let's continue
on: The Four T's, Balanchine writes, "is an expression in dance
and music of the ancient notion that the human organism is made
up of four different humors, or temperaments. Each one of us possesses
these four humors, but in different degrees, and it is from the
dominance of one of them that the four physical and psychological
types - melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric - were
Ah, there it is! "An
expression in dance and music." Even an abstract ballet -- acutely
so in the case of Balanchine -- is, even if not expressing a narrative,
still expressing the music. Giving it humanity. This quality is
what I frequently find lacking in New York City Ballet's excursions
Of course, pristine execution
is still paramount, and Bethania Gomes got things going last night
in a finely articulate mode. She had the angles, but at the same
time was anything but cold, making regular eye contact with the
audience. Leslie Cardona, dancing opposite Mark Burns in the second
theme, was more robust than Gomes; not quite so perfectly clean,
but radiantly effervescent. Some dancers just project good ol' fashion
healthy brio on stage, and Cardona is one of them. Truly one of
the under-sung heroines of DTH! And Don Bellamy, once the most dynamic
male at the putatively modern Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater,
proved himself quite adept at neo-classical ballet.
Where the story really
kicked in, and I became transported, was with the appearance of
Kevin Thomas -- first sorrowfully, poignantly alone, later guided
by Lynda Sing and Paunika Jones, and still later with this main
trio stalked by four long-legged women: Leanne Codrington, Christiane
Cristo, Ebony Haswell, and Amanda Fitzgerald. Balanchine describes
this section as "Melancholic," but Thomas didn't take the obvious
route (facile facial angst) to achieve this effect. His poignancy
was expressed through his limbs -- as when, for example, he simply
folded one leg over another as he sat, alone, upstage center. Thomas
in repose. Until, that is, Sing and Paunika converged to provide
As for Ms. Kellye A.
Saunders, dancing "Sanguinic" opposite Kip Sturm, well now! If there's
a prima ballerina at DTH right now, Saunders is definitely she.
I've seen her now as the rape victim in Michael Smuin's "Song for
Dead Warriors," as Giselle, and in this "abstract" role, and each
time she's someone else. The soul of fore-ordained tragedy in the
first; ethereal but also human as Giselle; and, in Four T's, bringing
downright joy to abstract ballet. These Balanchine abstract ballets
are often danced with neutral countenance, the assumption being,
I suppose, that Balanchine wanted the focus on the body and didn't
want facial expressiveness that might detract. But Saunders uses
an Evelyn Cisneros-like sense of welcoming us to make us a partner
in this musical expedition. Looking at her feet, and then at us,
a knowing smile on her face, she seems to say, "How about that?
Pretty neat, huh. Watch this! And wait 'til you see this one." It's
that ideal of the difference between, "Watch me dancing," and "Watch
this dance." That sense of welcome was all I needed to bring me
into the ballet, and see its humanity. Music is, after all, made
with inanimate objects; humans dancing it can give it life.
Indeed, my dancer companion
for DTH's opening night Wednesday -- see Flash
Review 1, 9-7: Dance Theatre of America -- made a good point.
In some ways, she said, DTH is our leading truly American company.
She was referring, among other things, to its open-ness.
My friend was also wowed
by the corps in "Creole Giselle" on opening night, and I think would
have been again last night: Those chugs in arabesque were synchronized
and, more, seemed to express the sheer zombieness of the women.
And I noticed yet another indication that this corps is first-rate:
Even frozen in a semi-circle, the way it framed the main players
was as it should be: a vivid tableau, with not a one just watching
the action. No dead wood there! I thought of Stanislavski's dictum:
"There are no small parts, only small actors." These actor/dancers
are huge, making for one grand, harrowing picture.
queen last night was not so frightening. On opening night, I commented
that the direction of Frederic Franklin was evident in the characterizations
and the mime. (Franklin staged and directed this version, from a
scenario by Arthur Mitchell and Carl Michel, with choreography faithful
to the 1841 Jean Coralli/Jules Perrot original.) Last night, however,
Leanne Codrington was miscast as Myrta, Queen of the Wilis; not
even good miming choreography can make up for undeveloped acting
skills. Codrington's commands to Kip Sturm's Albert Monet-Cloutier
(Albrecht) to dance himself to death, and her refusal to yield to
Giselle's intercessions, seemed less like imperial prerogative than
the petulant tantrums of a child. I, for one, was not scared, and
it would have taken just too much suspension of disbelief to believe
that Sturm was.
Indeed, Sturm's acting,
naturally dramatic on Wednesday, was less effective last night,
existing as it did in a vacuum. Caroline Rocher's Giselle, well...Hmmm.
Let me first say that I love this dancer: Last year, her first as
a full member of the company, Rocher's Siren in Balanchine's "Prodigal
Son" eclipsed every other ballerina I've seen in the role, and we're
talking about some biggies (including City Ballet's Maria Kowroski
in her debut in the role, and Helene Alexopoulos); the coaching
hand of Suzanne Farrell was evident. As well, as I noted in Flash
Review 5-26: I Have a Dream, Rocher lit a fire under the butt
of the suave Damien Woetzel last spring, appearing opposite him
in DTH/NYCB's joint production of "Slaughter on 10th Avenue."
Here, well.... Rocher
seems not quite ready for Giselle. The lightness of the heroine
after she has become a wili seems to elude her, and a clear characterization
seems to elude me. This usually electrifyingly charismatic but young
dancer, close enough to the age of her character, perhaps does not
have the life experience yet to convey tragic dimension.
Last night's program
concluded with Robert Garland's "Return." For more on the DTH season,
please visit the company's
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