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January, 2004 - Nr. 1


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Homage to Balanchine


Elisabeth Kuehn

Ballet’s modern master

- late review -

 George Balanchine, ballet’s modern master of choreography, was recently celebrated by Heinz Spoerli’s Zürcher Ballett in their repersentation of a mixed program featuring "Rubies", from the Jewels cycle, Duo concertante and Theme and Variations. This celebration was no less a 100th birthday fest for Balanchine who lived from 1904-1983. He bean his career as a dancer and quickly became engaged in the US as a choreographer with his interpretations of classic ballets as well as new ballets, such as this particular mixed program. Rubies, Duo concertante and Theme and Variations cleverly weave Igor Stravinsky’s and Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s music; the latter only the Theme and Variations.

Jewels is a three cycle piece that embodies three particular stones: Emeralds with music by Gabriel Fauré, Rubies, the middle piece, with music by Stravinsky and Diamonds accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s music. The pieces, Rubies in particular, refer to no literary context. It is only Stravinsky’s music. The Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra provides the core to this neo-classical type piece. Of artistic interest was Alexey Botvinov’s beautifully artistic interpretation of Stravinsky’s score, aided brilliantly by Michael Christie and the Zürich Opera Orchestra. Rubies makes use of three different dance components: a duet, a soloist (prima ballerina) and the Corps de Ballet. The simple red backdrop against the red, ruby-encrusted costumes makes for a striking balance of modernism against classicism. The dancers, floating against the music, encompassed what is the essence of choreography for Stravinsky. "Choreography must find it’s own form from musical form and instinctively know how to proceed from each musical measure." – Stravinsky

Balanchine’s friendship and work with Stravisnky shows that the "element of dance is the dominant pulse in Stravinsky’s music; it is always noticeable and urgent and always convincing. One even feels the music in the pauses." With dance, Stravinsky shows a new range and spectrum to his music and concepts. With the music, he gives dance a specific voice and movement.

Duo Concertante embodies the meaning of the word ‘duo’ in two senses. First of all, it is a duet between man and woman dancing, as well as duet between pianist and violinist. Principal dancers Lara Radda and Stanislav Jermakov began their piece leaning on the grand piano set on stage right (audience’s left) while listening to Alexey Botvinov and violinist Ada Pesch. The two dancers then continued to answer the musicians in this short piece in five movements. The lyrical movements of the dancers and musicians were complemented in a way that each seemed that they had taken on each other’s role; dancers as musicians and musicians as dancers. The music is at first questioning then declamatory and open. The rhythm and melody shine through in this piece. The dancers and musicians were always weaving each others parts as the young woman and man would take time to listen to the piano and violin in order to contemplate their next move toward the music and each other.

"I don’t think that Tchaikovsky is romantic, but modern." – Balanchine

Between his first and second ballets, Swan Lake and Cinderella, Tchaikovsky wrote four Suites for Orchestra. They were not composed for dance, but, according to Balanchine, one thinks immediately of dance. In 1933, the choreographer started work on the ballet Mozartiana from the fourth orchestral suite. Theme and Variations is based on the last movement of the Suite Nr. 3 in G major. The blue hues of the costumes reflect the tone and orchestral colour of Tchaikovsky’s music. Michael Christie and the Zürich Opera Orchestra were able to offer the Corps de Ballet the necessary support within the ensemble pieces. Each was executed to as much lyrical ability to reflect the music. There were however, on occasion timing issues with some of the solo dancers. These were quickly overcome by ensemble performance which portrayed excellence in balance, line and musicality.

For more information on the Zürcher Ballet, visit www.opernhaus.ch/ballett.htm

Elizabeth Kuehn


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