Another Friday ballet, rather than Saturday.
I don’t know if I’ve explained before, but we subscribe to the Washington Ballet, and we’ve got a Kennedy Center ballet subscription as well. And when the Washington Ballet danced in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center, all was well. They would never schedule a Washington Ballet event in the Eisenhower Theater at the same time as another ballet program in the Opera House.
But now they’re rehabbing refurbishing remodeling whatever the Ike Theater, so Washington Ballet is dancing elsewhere. And they’re having to coordinate with Shakespeare Theatre productions and whatnot, so they don’t care so much about the Kennedy Center ballet schedule. And so twice this year we’ve got tickets to two different ballets on the same Saturday night. So we opt to swap the Kennedy Center tickets for another night, since we have to coordinate with Becky regarding the Washington Ballet. So that’s why we’re here at the Kennedy Center on a Friday night.
And it’s New York City Ballet with a program called Four Voices. (It’s program #2 of the two that they’re doing this visit. Program #1 is called Balanchine and Robbins. As if our program didn’t contain Balanchine or Robbins. It does, but I guess it’s four voices since it adds Wheeldon and Martins.)
Up first is Carousel (A Dance), music composed by Richard Rodgers and arranged by William David Brohn, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. I like the music, the two songs Carousel Waltz and If I Love You, since I know Carousel Waltz so well from the beginning bit from Dire Straits Tunnel of Love off of Making Movies. (Although if pressed I probably would have said that the borrowed bit was from Richard Strauss. But there I’m probably confusing Richard Strauss with Johann Strauss.)
This particular dance, in any case, is just simply charming as all get out. As noted, the music is an orchestral arrangement of the two songs; it’s not just a simple reading of one after the other. And so the looping thereof back and forth, coming in and out, works quite well of course with the carousel image. The choreography is a bit obvious with the corps forming a big ring and going round. But when the guys lift up their partners, who in turn move the brass poles they’ve been handed up and down, and it all gets so explicitly carousel-like, well, I gotta grin in delight and just go with it.
Next is Zakousky, with music by four dead Russian composers, choreography by Peter Martins, who’s sitting right over there. He’s the artistic director, so no surprise. The dance is just two dancers, Yvonne Bourree and Benjamin Millepied, pas-de-deux-ing and whatnot, all pretty uninspiring. There are a lot of lifts that are kinda half-hearted halfway up lifts, like he’s trying to get her up high but never makes it. They stay with the timing, however, so there’s not like any time where he could have gotten her up there. So it’s all by design. But why? Why these tepid unsatisfying lifts?
Towards the end he shoots her way the hell up there, so clearly he’s able to do it. So it remains a mystery as to why there were those weird lifts. The music runs the whole range, from pure delight from our man Tchaikovsky, and even Prokofiev, to the demonic irritations of Rachmaninoff, and on to Stravinsky sounding like he’s trying to kill us.
There’s one terrifying moment where Yvonne Bourree is doing some solo combination, moving upstage left, and she falls. Just completely wipes out. You know how disappointing it is in figure skating when they fall? It’s a surprise and you’re saddened by it, but you do see it all the time. You don’t see it in ballet, certainly not in the pros anyway. And it’s a ghastly shock.
She just gets up, though, and jumps right back in, somehow able to get back in step with the music. I have enough trouble staying on the beats when everything goes perfectly well. But after a fall? Yikes. So I therefore hold her in so much greater esteem, for falling. Weird, huh?
After the first intermission we come back to Agon, music by Stravinsky again, choreography by Balanchine himself. I expect to enjoy this one the most – hey, it’s Balanchine right? – but again with the Stravinsky madness. At least it’s got the legendary Wendy Whelan, another one of those dancers whom I imagine to be like 9 feet tall. Only she’s really so much smaller in person. Not frail exactly, but … delicate. But muscle-y too. And lovely.
Last up, after another intermission and where we see our very own ballet mistress Miss Jessica out in the lobby, is The Concert (or the Perils of Everybody), music by Chopin, choreography by Jerome Robbins. It’s a totally comedic farce, something you don’t see a lot in ballet.
There’s a lot of business involving the dancers as audience to a piano recital, silliness with chairs and such. The best joke here is when Stirling Hyltin plays this utterly enthusiastic concert-goer, sidling her chair right up to and fairly hugging the piano. And when the musical chairs begins with patrons being in the wrong seat, at one point someone literally pulls the chair out from under her, but she doesn’t even notice, still just sits there clinging to the piano.
Unfortunately there’s also a weird violence-against-women-as-comedy vibe going on too. The other two sort of main characters are a man and woman, I assume a married couple, the husband of which couple chases after Stirling Hyltin a lot. After failing to catch her, he pulls out some bat or stick or something and bashes her over the head with it, able then to drag her offstage. This is apparently supposed to be funny. Later he sneaks up behind his wife, brandishing a knife. He stabs her repeatedly, but alas to no effect. He then tests the knife on himself, of course doing himself grave harm. But, again, beating and stabbing women – funny or not funny?
The wife part of the couple we at first take to be Likolani Brown, next to whose parents we used to sit before they moved their seats over to the other side of the opera house. They’re trying to be make their way closer to the middle. We haven’t seen them in a while, nor do we see them tonight since they’re Saturday night folks. Like we usually are. But this probably can’t be Likolani Brown, since it’s somewhat of a featured role in this piece, and she’s listed in the corps.
The one truly hysterical section of this act comes when six ballerinas dance a more traditional piece, as if part of an actual corps de ballet or something. It’s totally real and funny when one of them is always off or behind or doing the reverse of what she’s supposed to be doing. Having myself been in a ballet recital or two where I have only a dim idea of what I’m supposed to be doing, and I end up just looking at Dawn or someone else for cues as to what the next likely movement is going to be, I can certainly relate. I am howling and crying with laughter.