Archive for ballet

Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, February 17, 2012 [Review]

Posted in Dance, Modern, Reviews with tags , , on February 21, 2012 by Nell

 Guide: Modern Dance in America

I had the pleasure of seeing Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the national ballet company of Monaco, perform a program of two long works, Altro Canto and Opus 40, at the Joyce Theater in New York City. Both works were created by the company’s director since the early 1990s, Jean-Christophe Maillot.

Maillot’s vocabulary is far from traditional ballet (although slippers and pointe shoes were worn by the dancers), and the dancers moved in ways that are highly unconventional: they dragged each other around the stage by the wrists, they stepped on each others backs, their limbs were sometimes extremely fluid or limp (creating an impression of passivity), and they often made extreme concave or convex shapes with their torsos (bringing to mind the contraction and release technique of Martha Graham). The movements were also often acrobatic in nature: in Altro Canto, the lead female dancer was off of the ground for several minutes, being lifted by and diving into groups forward and backward like a highly controlled crowd-surfer (one of my favorite sequences). All of this was pursued in a highly graceful manner, however, and was far from raw or violent (unlike the movement of choreographer Pina Bausch, whose work I watched just two days after this performance).

Les Ballets de Monte Carlo performing "Opus 40"

While I found this to be a compelling evening of dance that explored a range of movements and feelings in a way that felt original and sometimes unexpected, the pieces seemed to lack a cohesive structural flow. Strings of movements at times felt arbitrarily varied, and I found it difficult to detect a clear direction or an internal formal logic from moment-to-moment. At the end of a piece, I felt that I hadn’t been taken on a journey but rather spent time wandering between different facets of one place. There was a clear structural device in Opus 40: at the end of every music/dance segment, the dancers of the next segment—typically costumed in a different color scheme—would wander onto the stage, interrupting the ending of the current segment before the transition of focus occurred.

Altro Canto utilized a score of excerpted segments of Baroque music (recorded—no live music here), especially sacred music by Monteverdi, and sought to respond to the atmosphere of the music in a number of ways. Echoes often occur in the music—a solo violin line is repeated by an offstage violinist—and this was at times referred to onstage, with a duo of lead dancers downstage and and an echoing set of dancers upstage. Two singers would also sometimes be represented by two dancers, for example.

"Altro Canto"

In "Altro Canto," the minimal golden lighting was intended to evoke candlelight (Maillot explained in the program that he associated candlelight with sacred music performed in cathedrals).

Generally, I felt that the dance was not always connected to or subordinated by the spirit of the music but it utilized the music when it pleased. The mood and vocabulary of the dancing did not change drastically in Opus 40, a selection of music by the avante-garde composer/vocalist Meredith Monk—stylistically extremely different from Baroque sacred music—so the dance’s connection to the music seemed to have more to do with pacing and phrasing than style.

The costuming played a large part on the visual impact of the pieces: in Altro Canto, half of both the men and women wore corsets and pants, and the other half wore tank tops and extremely poofy skirts—all gold-colored. The gender ambiguity of the costuming was intended to evoke the duality of masculine/feminine identity.

In Opus 40, the dancers were clothed in bright colors. Maillot’s program note refers to the piece as a return to childhood. While this aspect of the piece didn’t resonate with me, as the piece felt very adult and introspective, the color scheme was an effective allusion to playfulness and purity in simplicity.

A Very Brief History of Ballet

Posted in Dance with tags , , , on January 29, 2012 by Nell

To give context for the Modern dancers and choreographers I’m surveying (see previous posts), I’m gathering some information about the history of ballet—which was perceived as the antithesis to Modern dance, until choreographers began synthesizing the two streams in the latter half of the 20th century. This division has broken down over the last few decades, and many major ballet companies perform works by “Modern” choreographers such as William Forsythe and Mark Morris.

  • Ballet was derived from the dance of Italian courts during the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries). It spread to the French court of Catherine de Medici.
  • Classical ballet as we know it was created in the court of King Louis XIV (who also patronized Lully, Couperin, Moliere, Racine, et al), who himself was a dancer. Dance was an important part of French opera (notably the operas of Lully), and it was an outgrowth of opera performances that ballet was formally established. (View a film recreating dance in the court of Louis XIV.) Louis XIV founded the Academie Royale de Danse (the Paris Opera Ballet) in 1661, which created and codified standards for ballet technique and pedagogy. In the 1680s it was headed by Pierre Beauchamp, who codified the five positions of the feet. The Paris Opera Ballet, a component of the Paris Opera, became the first professional ballet company during the 1670s and ’80s.
  • The Royal Danish Ballet and the Imperial Ballet of the Russian Empire were founded in the 1740s, and ballet in Denmark and Russia, as well as Italy, grew as ballet declined in popularity in France after the mid-1800s.
  • Romantic ballet in the 19th century saw the introduction of pointework (dancing en pointe, with pointed shoes) and the tutu. Russia became the leader in ballet during this time, giving rise to the famous ballets of Tchaikovsky in the 1870s-90s. (Example: Swan Lake, 1876.)
  • Around 1907, ballet was re-introduced to France and re-invigorated in Paris, notably by the Russian company Ballets Russes and its innovative producer Sergei Diaghilev who was responsible for the avante garde ballets of Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky (choreographer). (Example: The Rite of Spring, 1913.) The vibrancy of Russian ballet in Paris increased ballet’s influence in the USA and other non-European countries.
  • George Balanchine, a Russian-born composer who moved to the States in the 1920s, is known for creating neoclassical ballet: a genre that bridged traditional and contemporary style and influenced Modern choreographers. (Example: Apollo, 1928.) He founded the New York City Ballet in 1948.
  • Postmodern dance in the 1970s and ’80s saw the emergence of conscious synthesis between ballet and Modern styles. Collaborations between ballet dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov and Modern choreographer Twyla Tharp, such as Push Comes to Shove (1976), are particularly notable.

See this Wikipedia article for more on these topics.