Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Once again, the Royal Ballet's Insight Evening team had brought together an enriching and spectacular evening in the Clore Studio. The program had some of the top A-listers from the industry to share with us their knowledge, experience and contribution to the 3 works from the Mixed Bill, namely, Stravinsky Violin Concerto (Balanchine, 1972), Voluntaries (Tetley, 1973) and Sinfonietta (Kylián, 1978)

This evening's program commenced with Jane Pritchard's valuable presentation of some indept information to each of the pieces. She began by listing the similarities of the three pieces. Made in the 70s, these works borrowed the classical vocabulary and the contemporary technique, specifically the use of the upper body. In addition, they are well crafted by the choreographers geometrically in both aspects, individually in the dancer's body, and also spatially on the vast stage. Lastly, all three choreographers' works are based hugely on the musical score, written by Stravinsky, Poulenc and Janáček, respectively. Pritchard continued to give a more comprehensive thought to the 3 works individually.

Violin Concerto by Stravinsky was a piece that George Balanchine is familiar with. The latter once used it for his choreography in 1941; unfortunately, it did not receive much positive response. In 1972 Balanchine used the music once again for Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which was exceptionally meaningful to him. It was significantly to commemorate the 1 year death anniversary of the composer. Much later into the evening, répétiteur, Bart Cook, rehearsed Leanne Benjamin in various part of this piece. Leanne Benjamin, principal dancer, who was called up for the Insight Evening at the last minute, was accompanied by concert master, Vasko Vassilev on the violin and Henry Roche on the piano. Benjamin began rehearsing the opening of the piece, followed by the female sequence from the middle of the piece. The first sequence, was coquettish, playful and captivating. Cook stressed that Balanchine's neoclassical works are different from the classics, when it comes to placement and interpretation. "There's no rules", Cook said. Benjamin responded, "Just like Macmillan's." Cook agreed. There is no hard and fast rules, it is like 'trading styles' for the dancer. The next segment Benjamin rehearsed, was a sequence danced by 3 other female dancers, and it was sleek, sharp, full of speed with a slavic flavor. It was wonderful to watch the professionalism in Benjamin, at her quick ability to transform styles, amend corrections, and to comprehend and tackle Stravinsky's complicating music tempi. The following sequence from the piece that was performed tonight was a duet, performed by Benjamin and Cook. Cook emphasised that this duet was inspired by Stravinsky's relation with his wife, Vera. Motifs from the duet, are direct interpretation of gestures and meanings of a woman's dependency on her man. There were some beautiful moments in the duet, it was emotionally engaging for the dancers, the musicians and the audience. Cook, stood in for Johan Kobborg for the duet, which was performed a couple of times in the evening, was exhausted. However, one can see that twinkle in his eyes, for he was enjoying revisiting the piece in his body again. And indeed, it was lovely to watch one of the dancer, who was invited by Balanchine, himself, to join his company in 1971, and performed in this very same repertoire. Concert master, Vasko Vassilev, added that it was different to play the same music for the ballet than without. He continued that it was definitely different to see movements made to the music. He claimed that, learning from Cook's elaboration on the piece, furthered his understanding and interpretation for the score. Balanchine regarded that this ballet was his most 'well-crafted ballet' he has done. Personally, I am speechless, and captivated by the beauty and the genius.

Pritchard described Voluntaries as a ballet of 7 sections without a break in between. It explores spiritual themes such as life and death, in addition, sharing contrast meanings, such as light-heartedness and sorrow. The piece has a tortured begining, and a sense of freedom in the end. She stressed that this work is challenging for the corp de ballet. She further explained that, similar to Stravinsky Violin Concerto as a memorial piece, Voluntaries is a piece Tetley worked as a tribute to the late John Cranko. With Tetley's familarity of Cranko's style, along with his personal dance background, I believe it will be exhilarating.

Sinfonietta was a much later piece, as compared to the other two which were made consecutively. Kylián worked with his 14 dancers on a tight dateline in 1978. Pritchard explained that there may be certain resemblance to Tetley's Voluntaries; partly due to the fact that Kylián used to work with Cranko, Tetley and Stuttgart Ballet. Both Pritchard and répétiteur, Rosyln Anderson, emphasized the essence of flight in the work. First artists, Gemma Bond and Kenta Kura, worked together with pianist, Tim Qualtrough for the rehearsal of Sinfonietta. Anderson shared some of her personal experience as one of the pioneering dancers to Sinfonietta. She rehearsed Bond and Kura's duet (which would be performed alongside another couple). The quality of the movement were stunning. Bond demonstrated dynamism in her positions. For instance, when she was in an arabesque position, there was an invisible energy that continued to electrify her position to extend to longer lines and greater length. Anderson instructed the use of contraction technique in the upper body, making it more supple, giving the movement a more luscious quality. The combination of clean, distinct lines in the limbs, and softness in the body was like ying and yang, coming together yet repelling at the same time. Anderson was demonstrating some simple gesture in the arms, for one, it was magnificient to watch for with such simple gesture, she maneuvered with grace and charisma.

The evening was close to an end. I was pleased that tonight's Insight Evening was not just a learning experience for the audience, but also the dancers, the musicians and the fellow répétiteurs. I would assume this is one of the ways to share and educate the dance culture to the masses. Jane Pritchard ended her presentation with a phrase, which I cannot agree more. It is "dancing about the music and making the music visible". After tonight's event, I developed a different anticipation for the Mixed Bill, I can't wait to see the dancers make the music of Stravinsky, Poulenc and Janáček come alive.


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