Guardian Angel, Chase Brock Experience, Three Movements, San Francisco Ballet, Cynthia Gregory, Doctor Atomic

(photo from ABT)

Blah! I had a very strange dream last night in which this one basically told me in his own sweet way that I need to calm down and not stress over blogging like a mad fiend. I have no idea why Angel Corella was on my mind since, although my favorite ballet company begins their City Center season tonight, he, for the second CC season in a row now, is not participating (likely to work on his own company, in Spain). Which is probably why he invaded my dreams — I’ll be missing him badly these next two weeks.

I do know why blogging like a crazed nutter was on my mind. I’m trying to juggle way too much. I’m like a rabbit on speed these days. While I love blogging about dance, sadly, it doesn’t pay and I need to spend less time writing ridiculously long reviews (which I don’t think people appreciate anyway) and more time on paying work (and on writing the two novels I’m currently working on simultaneously, as well as revising my first, and on legal CLE courses so I can keep my license). I honestly think I was less busy when I was practicing law full time.

So, in the interest of shorter reviews (there will be a couple of longer ones in other publications, and I’ll link when they’re up), here goes my last, insane, week:

1) Chase Brock Experience:

Went to this last night. Was supposed to see Danny Tidwell perform as a guest artist but he didn’t show, nor did Neil Haskell. Edwaard Liang did, and he and Elizabeth Parkinson (Tony-nominated star of Tharp / Billy Joel project, Movin’ Out, pictured above in John Bradley photo, taken from here) were, by far, the highlights. Parkinson, in specific, showed me how a great dancer can make any choreographer look good. Everything she did had meaning, even basic choreography (and Brock’s choreography is very basic) like rising to the balls of her feet. The way she went on releve was heavenly.

I hadn’t heard of Brock, but he’s a 25-year-old choreographer who makes theater, modern, and ballet (non-pointe) dances. His modern and ballet were lacking — choreography was very basic, very unoriginal. It was like he was a Larry Keigwin but without the ingeniousness, originality, and sophisticated sense of humor. He’s young though, and can learn a lot by watching other, more sophisticated artists.

2) Three Movements

This is an off-off-Broadway play on Theater Row I saw on Sunday, about the Balanchine, Tanaquil LeClerq, Suzanne Farrell true-story melodrama. The characters were given different names, but playwright Martin Zimmerman made clear it was based the Balanchine story.

First, I finally got to meet (NYTimes writer and now blogger) Claudia La Rocco, in the elevator of all places! Fun fun – -by far the best part of the afternoon, as well as hanging out with my ballroom friend, Mika.

If you’re not a balletomane, story is basically this: Balanchine, the Russian / American choreographer, could only work, and could only fall in love (non-sexually, as many contend he was a closeted gay man) with ballerinas who could be his muse. He often married his muses, but of course, no sex. He married his muses, then obsessed over their bodies, every little flaw, and starved them (in the documentary Ballets Russes, many of the dancers remember him taking food away from his wife Maria Tallchief, because she was too “fat” — ie: large-boned; their marriage lasted approximately 5 minutes, because Tallchief had a brain). Is it obvious yet how much I like Balanchine as a person?

So, he married Tanaquil LeClerq, up-and-coming ballerina extraordinaire, his main muse, and therefore star of all of his ballets. After driving her hard in rehearsal — the choreographer comes across here as completely impossible to please — she collapses, tragically stricken with polio, unable ever to walk again. I don’t know why more writers don’t focus on her — her story seems the most awful, the most pathetic, the most heart-wrenching. Because she can no longer be his muse, he falls out of love with her. He must look for a new one, which he finds in 18-year-old Suzanne Farrell. Of course he falls in love with her, dumps bedridden LeClerq, and proposes to Farrell (he’s 60, mind you, and is dumbfounded when she doesn’t accept). But Farrell is in love with a male ballet dancer in the troupe, Paul Mejia. In a jealous rage, Balanchine fires Mejia (yes, the man is a walking advertisement for the need for sexual harassment law), fires Farrell, and threatens she’ll never be anything without him, etc. etc.

It’s very hard to make Balanchine likeable. Here, I could tell there were many in the audience who knew nothing about him, judging by all the snickers and harrumphs when the actor (Mike Timoney) recited his more misogynistic fare (telling Farrell her tiny thighs were too fatΓ‚ — which the dancer recounts at the beginning of her autobiography, so it’s not untrue — and screaming at her later when she tries to leave him, telling her he didn’t teach her, but “created” her — the man had a major God complex, to put it mildly). To me, this play did nothing to make me feel any sympathy toward Balanchine whatsoever. Nor did I feel what it was about him that made his work genius. But, then, I already knew the story and had preconceived notions of how I’d feel upon seeing it dramatized. Perhaps someone who didn’t already know the story is a better judge here?

It’s no mystery why writers choose to re-tell this story. It makes for great drama. Of the fictionalized accounts I’ve read though, I like Adrienne Sharp’s the most, and recommend it, particularly if you don’t know the story (it’s a short story contained in this collection, all about dancers). She most softened Balanchine’s edges, making him human, vulnerable, and to some extent, even forgivable.

(all photos from the play, by Jacquelyn TerHar, above, Erin Fogarty as Farrell, Mike Timoney as Balanchine)

(Timoney, and Maria Portman Kelly as LeClerc)

(ditto from above)

The play runs through October 26th and tix are $18.

3) San Francisco Ballet

(photo Andrea Mohin, NYTimes)

Went back for more on Saturday, and loved them again. Dancer-wise, they are one of the best companies in the world. Everyone, down to the most recently-hired corps member, is just flawless. Standing out to me again were the same ones as before — Lorena Feijoo, Davit Karapetyan, Pascal Molat (their bravura dancer), and the newbie Cuban guy Taras Domitro — probably because I was looking for them; they also had main roles though.

As far as the dances go, my favorites (I saw two out of three programs) were Concerto Grosso and On a Theme of Paganini, both by the company’s artistic director, Helgi Tomasson; Ibsen’s House, by Val Caniparoli, whose work I’d never seen before; and Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. Sir Alastair did not like anything on that list besides the last and, though I disagree with him, I can see his point. Tomasson’s choreography is very basic, very classical ballet, nothing out of the traditional vocabulary, and nothing like the richness, the variety, the suspenseful development, and the engrossing intricacies of Balanchine. Seeing the Balanchine next to Tomasson makes you realize Balanchine’s genius (the way a play about him likely never could).

But what I like about Tomasson is that he knows how near-perfect his dancers are, and he showcases that to maximum, brilliant, spectacular effect. Concerto Grosso is basically a male ballet class, beginning with simple tendus, all the way up to the super-advanced ginormous leaps, barrell turns, and twisty, impossible-looking corkscrew jumps. These men are such excellence personified, I could sit there and watch that ballet repeat all day long. In fact, I recommend to anyone seriously trying to learn ballet to see this company, and watch very closely. The dancers are not only perfectly precise, every movement perfectly, fully executed, but they somehow add so much character and passion to every little thing they do. Even non-story ballets grow to have little narratives with this lot.

Which is why I liked Ibsen too. This is not so much a rendition of any of Ibsen’s plays as a kind of an expressionistic work of Ibsen’s universe. Women wearing richly hued fabrics in 19th Century designs, dance in solo, in units, and with their men, all of their stories fraught with drama, with anger, conflict, love. I didn’t know what exactly was going on in each little segment, and I don’t think the choreographer meant for you to, but watching the dancers lament, cherish, struggle both internally (which, brilliantly, could be read on both face in movement of the body, particularly with Feijoo) and with each other, was deeply engaging. And made me want to read up on my Ibsen!

Philip has some more great pictures of the company on his blog, here and here.

4) Cynthia Gregory at Barnes & Noble

On Friday night, I went to see the legendary ballerina give a talk with writer Joel Lobenthal at the B&N at Lincoln Center, basically to promote her new DVD, of her dancing with equally legendary Fernando Bujones (now deceased). We saw some clips of that DVD, particularly of her dancing Strindberg’s Miss Julie (had no idea there was a ballet made from that play!) and excerpts of her dancing Sleeping Beauty. She was a truly gorgeous dancer, moved with a great deal of emotion and purpose and fluidity, and with her size, seemed to devour the stage (kind of like a Veronika Part). And she was very dramatic, very expressive — would have been my kind of dancer, and I can see why Apollinaire loves her. Apollinaire’s also right about Bujones: he does resemble my favorite!

Gregory has a sweet, very charming personality. She talked about dancing with Bujones, and her various other partners, including Erik Bruhn, and Nureyev, whom she characterizes (unlike many who’ve worked with him) as very sweet and mild-tempered, albeit passionate, and said she was thinking of writing a book about all of her male partners — she danced with basically everyone who was anyone in the 70s and 80s. She was greatly encouraged to do so (write the book, that is) by the crowd (which pretty much packed the reading room).
One thing I found interesting, she said Bruhn taught her how to make up words to her movements and her miming gestures, which helped a great deal with her acting. Brilliant, Erik Bruhn! So, inside, she was singing words to herself while dancing. I think all dancers should do this, so they know what they’re trying to do, all the better to show us.

She talked about what she learned from other female dancers of her day, Carla Fracci (how to imbue her roles with humanity), Natalia Makarova (making the most of slow, dramatic developpes), how she coaches today, what it was like to work with big choreographers like Ashton, Tudor, and Balanchine (only worked with the latter once), traveling with the company, and just her life in general. She also mentioned she’s taken up painting and there will be a showing of her work in December at the Vartali Salon (yes her hair salon!), in NY.

5) Doctor Atomic

(photo, Suzanne DeChillo, NYTimes)

I saw this opera at the beginning of last week at the Met. It tells the true story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his work in creating the world’s first atomic bomb, which we of course dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during WWII. The opera takes place before we bombed Japan, though, in July 1945 when Oppenheimer and his crew were testing it in New Mexico. It deals with the different personalities involved — Oppenheimer and his wife, his co-workers, the demanding military man who oversaw production — and each person’s internal conflicts and power struggles with the others.

Because I am tired and hungry — I started this post nearly 4 hours ago — I’m just going to refer you to Anthony Tommasini’s review for description, to scenes of the opera on the Times website, to the Met’s mini-site, and to Alex Ross’s blog where you can listen to one of the best arias in the work.

As I said before, I don’t have a lot of opera-going experience, but I liked this and think it’s definitely worth waiting in line for one of those $30 tickets, as I did. In particular, I liked: the sets — the mobile art-work suggesting pieces of debris hanging from the ceiling, the enormous bomb itself (anatomically correct, as the artist worked from a model), the cubicle-d office the physicists worked in, the posters of the actual people involved posted at times over the cubicle holes in place of their bodies, the gorgeous Native American katchina-like statues that at one point stand atop the the cubicles in warning; some of the choreographed movement — at one point singers are contorted in their cubicles, limbs askew, doing a prolonged handstand, their legs and feet bent awkwardly, shoved up against one side — in synecdoche of the effects of the blast; the libretto, comprised of actual documents from that period, writings and speeches of Oppenheimer, and the poetry of Baudelaire, John Donne, and Muriel Rukeyser, beloved by Oppenheimer; and of course the John Adams score itself, creating the whole atmosphere of horror, conflict, fear, and at the end, right before the blast, the drums just beat through your body — I was actually shaking — and this is followed by the voice of a Japanese woman searching for loved ones, for water, asking for help. The whole thing is spectacular, chilling, haunting.

Okay, I don’t know how well I obeyed, Angel, but it’s time to stop, time for my poached eggs & croissant πŸ™‚


  1. Yay! Congrats on finishing this entry. πŸ™‚ I felt like I just went on a whirlwind dance tour along with you. I know that blogging doesn’t pay, but how can you not?? It takes an average of at least 3 hours for me to write a full review (I love reading your full reviews by the way!! Not to pressure you or anything but sometimes your account is all that’s available to read.) Blogging definitely goes up and down – there are periods when it’s really fun and it’s so worth it, but others, not so much. Just give it time and try to take a little bit of pressure off of yourself – especially if Angel is appearing in your dreams! πŸ˜‰

    So glad to see Elizabeth Parkinson back! I loved her in Movin’ Out, and she is amazing.

  2. Thanks so much, Jolene! I love reading your blog too πŸ™‚ I’m also glad to know it takes you as long as me to write these reviews. People who’ve never tried it don’t understand how hard it is to write about dance, about something so inherently visual, particularly for a general audience. I mean, first, I have to think about the performance, then write something that is hopefully not cliche, then consult a thesaurus so as not to say “beautiful” or “compelling” 10,000 times (words that don’t mean a whole lot when you think about it anyway), then find pictures, then upload the pictures, then figure out useful links for the viewer, then spell-check everything ad nauseam, including all the dancers’, photographers’ and choreographers’ names — sometimes a lot of fun if you have 20-letter foreign names, and then polish and proofread. And oftentimes, I do a bunch of research before the whole process — if it’s a dance that I haven’t seen before but has been around for a while, I see what others have said in the past. I also go through the press packet, though I usually don’t have time to read every single thing. I have so much more admiration for critics now. But, also, we actually do more than they do: we don’t have word count limitations so we’re expected to write 20,000 word essays, and we do our own copy editing. I love dance, but think I’m going to have to limit myself to one or two reviews a week and the rest of the time post pictures and little blurbs. I’m wordy as it is though… can you tell??!

    I love Parkinson too! I don’t think I actually saw her in Movin’ Out — saw someone else, but I saw her dance something small with Jose Carreno once — they were both guest performers with some other small company, Pericles or something like that, for their benefit. She blew me away then and again last night.

    Anyway, thanks again for the nice words of support πŸ™‚

  3. Just fyi, Angel Corella is currently touring Castile y Leon with Corella Ballet. You can find details about the tour at, along with some wonderful photo galleries. Right now they are doing a rep program, plus an educational program in the local schools, but their grand premiere of “La Bayadere,” at the Royal Theatre in Madrid, sold out weeks in advance and was enthusiastically received. Angel’s status with ABT continues to be, as it has been for the past two seasons, that of a guest principal. He has no plans to leave ABT entirely, but will only be dancing with them during the Met season. We’re all looking forward to a US tour for Corella Ballet, because he’s put together a very solid, energetic young company.

  4. Thanks so much for the info, Karen. I’m very excited for his company to tour the US, and I know a great many others feel the same!

  5. I tend to do research before seeing a dance performance that I’ve never seen before, although never too much. I think a dance should stand on its own merit, without pages of program notes that are necessary for your comprehension of the piece. But I know some people who like to enjoy shows on the fly, and enjoy it for what it is.

    The dancers in Movin’ Out made it so worth it. Elizabeth Parkinson was an absolute dream. It’s hard to imagine the show without her dancers, with Selya too. Anyways, I love when you blog about more unknown non-Balanchine choreographers – aside from being jealous about all the dance that occurs in NY, I’ve never heard of Chase Brock before but will be on the lookout for him if he ever brings his stuff to SF. He has a Broadway background! Pretty cool.

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