Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Savion Glover: SoLo iN TiME

I try not to miss Savion Glover's performances when he comes to DC: his amazing musicality and skill never cease to awe me. He is a creative, improvisational performer who transforms himself into a musical instrument; or rather, into the whole percussive orchestra, and totally loses himself in his craft, seemingly paying no attention to the audience, and allowing us to witness a process of music- and dance-making, a process that seems private and intimate despite the sometimes deafening over-amplified volume.
Glover and guitarist Gabriel Hermida don't so much react to as anticipate each other's moves. Eyes locked, they let fly a contest of ricocheting rhythms: Hermida's rapid strums blur his hands, his picks flash light. In answer, Glover chugs across the miked stage before a jittering, shivering foot slows into steamy shot-blasts. The back-and-forth accelerates like a runaway train.
Singer, T., Glover mixes soul, speed, and some flamenco, Boston Globe, January 31, 2011
Savion Glover performs at Strathmore
(Washington Post photo)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Abram Yusfin (1926—2011)

Абрам Григорьевич Юсфин (23 октября 1926—15 февраля 2011)
Abram Yusfin (October 23, 1926—February 15, 2011)

We are all orphans now.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Giselle: Lopatkina 2011/Mezentseva 1979

Uliana Lopatkina
(Photo N. Razina)
Giselle is my favorite ballet. I first saw it on December 4, 1979 at the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Theatre in Leningrad, with incomparable Galina Mezentseva in the title role, and I remember that performance as vividly as if it were yesterday. The story of betrayal, forgiveness, defying authority, and love transcending the vengeful nature of death, the story expressed purely by means of dance and music shook me to the core. This year, the Mariinsky Ballet performed Giselle at the Kennedy Center, and I went to see it, with Uliana Lopatkina in the title role.

I was struck this time by how laconic this ballet really is: there are no endless repetitions or lengthy, slowly building culminations—each emotional high point is made only once.

Another thing that I have always felt but couldn't quite formulate was how musically strong the score is. There many examples of that: the way innocent dancing melodies get distorted in the madness scene, mirroring the heroine's unsettled mind, and then they re-emerge as a shadow of  former selves in the second act; or Adam's unerring choice of a solo instrument, like a forlorn sound of oboe when Albrecht comes to Giselle's grave, or a hauntingly serene viola solo accompanying the Second Act's Pas de Deux.

Choreographically, it was enormously gratifying to see that the foundation and pride of the Mariinsky—corps de ballet—are still the best in the world: the technique is impeccable, and the uniformity and the synchronicity is the marvel to behold.
Photo by Susan Biddle for The Washington Post Photo by Susan Biddle for The Washington Post

Interestingly, in her 2005 interview, Lopatkina mentioned Mezentseva:
Q. I remember you said once that your favorite ballerinas are Galina Ulanova, Yekaterina Maximova and Galina Mezentseva. Of course, Mezentseva was the only one you had the chance to see on stage. Your choice isn’t surprising, but I'd like to know what you personally appreciate about these ballerinas?
A. They all had different personalities. Ulanova was sincere, she astonished balet-goers with her utter fidelity to human feelings. Maximova had exceptional physique and moved very beautifully. And Mezentseva—oh, she was serene, she was a queen, she had poise, beautiful lines and a profound dramatism. She cast a spell effortlessly. The strongest impression anyone has made on me was Mezentseva with her Dying Swan.
Dissanayake, N. Interview with Ulyana Lopatkina. Ballet Magazine, Jun/Jul, 2005
Thanks to the YouTube's magic, we can now compare two performances separated by 30 years. In the current staging, the madness scene seems to have been slightly abridged. As far as Albrecht's part is concerned, I am not sure if it has been simplified choreographically or Zaklinsky back then was simply technically stronger than Korsuntsev now. Overall, today's performance, crystalline, beautiful, and choreographically pure as it was, seemed not as emotionally charged and dramatic as the one I saw 30 years back. (The recordings below are from 1983, after Mezentseva recovered from the devastating achilles tendon rupture in the early 1980s. I saw her in 1979, before the injury.)

Conceptually remarkable in this staging—and Sarah Kaufman made this point in her review—was the reversal of the balance of power in the first and second acts: in the first act, Albrecht is strong, while Giselle is growing weaker; in the second, she is growing stronger as he is weakening.

Kaufman, S., Mariinsky's ‘Giselle’: Less is more, Washington Post, February 10, 2011

Uliana Lopatkina
(Photo N. Razina)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mark Morris Dance Group at Mason

Mark Morris Dance Group's newest work, “Petrichor,”
a name that refers to the scent of rain on dry earth,
is as physical as it is light.
(Photo Tracy A. Woodward, Washington Post)
I asked my good acquaintance at the George Mason University, the one with whom we went to the Garth Fagan Dance performance last April, for the tickets to the Mark Morris Dance Group. He got the tickets for the Friday performance. Imagine my surprise when I saw none other than Mark Morris himself with his coterie making their way to take the seats in a row right in front of ours. The program featured two new pieces (2008 and 2010) before the intermission, and two older pieces (1999 and 1990) after.

I have to agree with the critic:
Maybe it's the anniversary—a big one, 30 years—that lent the Mark Morris Dance Group a surprising and almost sentimental sweetness. For in its performances this past weekend at George Mason University, as part of a celebratory tour marking the survival milestone, one quality emerged over and over: charm.
Morris has created his share of drier, cooler and cerebral works, but on view Friday were four beautifully juicy ones. "Petrichor," his newest, formed the dazzling centerpiece. In creating it, Morris turned to the women of his company. Several of his veteran male dancers had retired, and their replacements needed time to come up to speed on the repertoire. Born of necessity, Morris's first all-female work carries the fresh tang of inspiration.
Kaufman, S., In Mark Morris Dance Group's anniversary tour, girlpower enchants with grace, Washington Post, February 7, 2011.

I was surprised to learn that Mark Morris Dance Group has a strong connection with suburban Washington:
Today, among the troupe's 18 dancers, four are local. […] That's a sizable chunk of suburban Washington in Morris's company, which tours internationally and is one of the busiest in the country. Dance positions of any sort—ballet, modern or other forms—are exceedingly hard to come by: The service organization Dance/USA reports that in 2009, there were 4,500 dancers in performing-arts companies.
(In troupes like Morris's, with budgets of $3 million and up, Dance/USA counts just 1,329 dancers. Those in the top modern-dance companies can make about $35,000 a year.)
This area may be reputed for the overblown egos of its political elite, but its creative capita—at least in dance—is of a quieter sort. Workaholics rule the studios. And more than that, if we can go by the success that these dancers have had with Morris, those who develop an ego-less air stand out, paradoxically, to choreographers looking for versatile performers that they can groom to their liking.
Kaufman, S., Local dancers are winning plum jobs with the famed Mark Morris Dance Group, Washington Post, January 28, 2011.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Joshua Bell at Strathmore

On January 26th there supposed to be a performance by Joshua Bell at Strathmore. It was snowing in the afternoon but the performance was not canceled. I took the Metro and got to the Strathmore station surprisingly quickly, even though the Metro had problems the whole day and seemed to have been on its last legs, even more so than usual.

The foyer of the Hall was surprisingly dim. I checked in my coat at the dark cloak room (staff there used flashlights) and went towards the Hall. An usher tore off the stub of my ticket and let me in. As I grabbed a sandwich and a glass of wine (long line, dark counter, cash only, credit card processing line down) and sat down reading the Program, the Hall staff members hurried passed us yelling, “No power in the Hall, performance canceled 15 min ago, Joshua Bell in the lobby!” The small crowd, bewildered, streamed back to the entrance, and—lo and behold—there, in almost complete darkness, backed into the corner of the lobby near the cloakroom Joshua Bell whipped out his Stradivarius and proceeded to play his own variations on “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

He then said apologetically that he'd love to play at the Hall but the regulations forbid him to do so when there is no electricity, so the concert will have to be rescheduled. Having finished playing, he indulged the autograph collectors—a consolation prize, I guess…

And the day before president of this country, in his “State of the Union” address was talking about the enduring optimism and the “sputnik moment.” Yeah, right—when two inches of snow shut the capital of the great superpower down and the modern performance venue doesn't have a backup electric system. A “sputnik moment” indeed. And our tea party friends keep dutifully droning on their mantras, insisting that no investment in the infrastructure is necessary… What a ship of fools! By the way, in my 27 years of living in Leningrad, I don't remember a single concert being canceled because of the weather, and we routinely had up to three yards of snow lying around for five winter months, and the −15F° temperatures. Go figure… They talk about optimism? It seems to be entirely unwarranted. Better read "Decline and Fall..."

The Reliable Source, Violinist Joshua Bell rewards snowy fans with impromptu performance, Washington Post, January 27, 2011.
Scott Simon, Violinist Joshua Bell Plays On The Street Again, NPR Weekend Edition Saturday, January 29, 2011.
 The concert was indeed rescheduled, and took place exactly one week later, on February 2, 2011. The highlight of the evening, undoubtedly, was rarely performed Schubert's Fantasy in C. What struck me about Bell's playing was the tonal unity of his playing: rather than contrasting the timbres of playing in the low and high registers, he has achieved a remarkable consistency of sound. This reminded me of two kinds of dramatic sopranos: some, like Callas, seem to have several juxtaposing voices in one; others, like Sutherland, maintain consistency of tone throughout their wide diapason. Bell's violin playing definitely belongs to the latter school.
Robert Battey, Music review: Another memorable visit by violinist Joshua Bell, Washington Post, February 3, 2011.