Where con­tem­po­rary meets clas­sic

For ‘Tchaikovsky in Bal­let,’ ACE reaches to the 1890s with rev­e­la­tory re­sults.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Lewis Se­gal cal­en­dar@la­times.com

High above down­town Los An­ge­les, in a cav­ernous room with al­most as many mir­rors as win­dows, the dancers of Amer­i­can Con­tem­po­rary Bal­let and seven valiant mu­si­cians used short pieces to ex­plore one of the most pro­found themes in hu­man cul­ture: the in­flu­ence of the past on the present.

Nearly ev­ery com­pany that dances 19th cen­tury bal­lets uses edited, re­vised, hand-me-down edi­tions — what lit­er­ary schol­ars would call cor­rupt texts. In con­trast, ACB’s “Tchaikovsky in Bal­let” be­gan with au­then­tic Mar­ius Petipa chore­og­ra­phy: six Pro­logue so­los from “The Sleep­ing Beauty” (1890) as re­con­structed from an­tique dance no­ta­tion by Doug Fulling­ton. The fresh­ness, in­tel­li­gence and stylis­tic unity of this suite im­me­di­ately es­tab­lished the cred­i­bil­ity of the pro­gram and the dancers’ skill, with An­abel Alpert per­haps earn­ing pride of place in the flut­tery “Ca­nari” vari­a­tion. (“Tchaikovsky,” which opened Thurs­day, closed Sun­day.)

The heart of open­ing night came in two sets of “Nutcracker” per­for­mances — one re­con­structed by Fulling­ton from Lev Ivanov’s orig­i­nal 1892 chore­og­ra­phy, the other restaged by Zip­pora Karz from Ge­orge Balan­chine’s bril­liant 1954 re­make. That’s right: two Su­gar Plum Fairies, two Cava­liers, two ap­proaches to the same mu­sic. Balan­chine wasn’t al­ways the win­ner: At close range, his ada­gio some­times looked over­loaded com­pared with the pu­rity and flow of the Ivanov. But his debt to Ivanov re­mained con­sis­tently ev­i­dent in danc­ing that made the his­tor­i­cal switch from clas­si­cal to neo­clas­si­cal an ex­cit­ing jux­ta­po­si­tion of styles.

Shelby Whal­lon and David Morse em­pha­sized el­e­gance and mu­si­cal­ity in the Ivanov, and Cara Hansvick and Mate Szentes went for bold at­tacks and glit­ter­ing tech­nique in the Balan­chine. And be­cause the ge­nius is truly in the de­tails, it was en­light­en­ing to hear the dancers speak of such niceties as bent knees and curled arms in a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion af­ter­ward.

The “Nutcracker” per­for­mances also in­cluded Fulling­ton’s star­tling dis­cov­ery in the no­ta­tion ar­chives: a charm­ing dance for eight women per­formed to the mu­sic that nor­mally ac­com­pa­nies the one and only male solo in the bal­let, the Act 2 Taran­tella. It was re­port­edly in­tended for the Su­gar Plum Fairy’s ret­inue but hadn’t been danced any­where in more than a cen­tury un­til Thurs­day. A real find — and a mystery.

Amer­i­can Con­tem­po­rary Bal­let also show­cased tra­di­tional bal­let pan­tomime with an in­tense per­for­mance by Morse and Emily Smith of the first lake­side meet­ing of Siegfried and Odette in “Swan Lake” (1895). Fi­nally Hansvick, Szentes and Whal­lon re­turned to demon­strate their ver­sa­til­ity by show­ing us how Balan­chine trans­formed and ab­stracted the treat­ment of women in Ro­man­tic bal­let into state­ments of al­most su­per­nat­u­ral seren­ity.

In­deed, Karz’s stag­ing of ex­cerpts from “Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3” (1970) and “Mozartiana” (1981) re­vealed that com­pany artis­tic di­rec­tor Lin­coln Jones isn’t con­tent with merely ed­u­cat­ing the South­land bal­let au­di­ence, pay­ing trib­ute to Tchaikovsky and restor­ing much abused old mas­ter­pieces. He wants to send us all home dream­ing of meet­ing our se­cret, life­long fan­tasy-part­ners down by the lake or deep in the woods.

It may seem un­likely, but Ro­man­ti­cism is clearly in flower on Flower Street.

Art Less­man The Ge­orge Balan­chine Trust

AMER­I­CAN Con­tem­po­rary Bal­let’s Cara Hansvick and Mate Szentes in Balan­chine ver­sion of “Nutcracker.”

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