Posts Tagged ‘Apollo’

Ten Things I Hate About Balanchine’s Apollo

August 13, 2014

It has to be said: I’ve had it with “Apollo!” Of all of the Balanchine or Ballets Russes productions to get revived, this popular number is the golden turd in the swimming pool of ballet. As I sat through yet another performance last Friday (prior to watching the Mariinski perform Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream), I started listing out the reasons why I hate it so, and given my lack of time to review the actual performances I’ve been seeing, I’ve decided I’m going to share this instead.

1. The props! My God, the props! Has NOBODY ever seen the Brady Bunch episode where Marcia has to do the modern dance WITHOUT the scarf? GET RID OF THE PROPS!
2. The way they get rid of the props! It’s a little funny in The Firebird when the sleeping princesses toss their golden apples off stage, but the sloppy way the props are handled in this piece just makes me want to scream. DON’T GET RID OF THE PROPS!
3. The mime! The horrible horrible mime! HI I AM THE MUSE OF SPOKEN WORD AND I’M GOING TO BE REALLY REALLY OBVIOUS WITH MY HANDS. Olivia Newton John in Xanadu has more subtlety than these muses.
4. The way the women are so utterly and completely trivial in this work. They look beautiful but they’re just window dressing.
5. The way this ballet allows every arrogant ballet dancer to portray himself as LIKE UNTO A GOD with absolutely no sense of irony. Not that Carlos didn’t make it work but mostly I have to roll my eyes.
6. Has anyone noticed how revoltingly the women fawn and coo over Apollo? Does anyone think that maybe, just maybe, there was a little bit of Balanchine in this role? Isn’t it gross? I imagine him handing out bulimia and anorexia to them in exchange for their pathetic props, and feeling smug because it was for their own good.
7. The birth scene! Both ridiculous and inaccurate! How is it someone giving birth could be so COY?
8. It’s almost the only ballet where a woman OPENS HER LEGS toward the audience, and she’s doing it from eight feet above the stage. Ew! I am particularly grossed out by this position as it makes me feel like I’m at a gynecological appointment.
9. The goofy, herky-jerky choreography, almost like Picasso had a hand in figuring out how to move people around. Why don’t people just go around with HELLO IT’S THE TWENTIES stamped on their foreheads?
10. The guitar strumming scene. I love laughing about Apollo as a member of The Who but it’s just too ridiculous to tolerate.

Is that enough? CAN WE KILL THIS BALLET? I would suggest we replace it for all time with either Les Noces or Concerto DSCH, which has the incredible good luck to be new, fun, and generally awesome. NO MORE APOLLO. JUST SAY NO TO APOLLO!

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Review – Carlos Acosta – Apollo and Other Works (Faun, New Apollo, Suite of Dances, Apollo) – Sadler’s Wells

December 3, 2009

Last night’s Carlos Acosta show was the weakest solo outing this Royal Ballet star has had to date. I can understand that over the course of the three years since I have been watching him that his body might be changing and he might no longer be capable of the spectacular leaps and spins of the Spartacus solos; but this show even avoided the imaginative programming that was the saving grace of his similarly sold-out summer Coliseum performance, leaving us with cold leftovers for dinner.

What we did get was an “Apollo” he performed as part of another Acosta highlights evening some three years ago that showed off his strengths (his incredible partnering skills make him the ideal Balanchine male lead) as well as his torso (in a skimpy toga). We also got a perfectly danced Robbin’s “Afternoon of a Faun,” in which he stretched gorgeously and, as near as I can tell, identically to the way he did this piece with Royal Ballet two years ago. Do these ballets show him as a sexy guy? Yes. Did they push him as a dancer? I think not.

The third work*, Robbin’s “Suite of Dances,” just seemed, again, a lazy choice. It was performed to a butchered Bach’s cello suite in which the playing got so insufferably bad at the end my friend thought the cellist had snapped a string: please fire Natalie Chen now. The first of the suites was joyful and an incredible chance to see musical perfection expressed by the human body; but as the piece wore on, with time filled by skipping and booty-shaking, I began to wonder just what this was doing in the middle of what I was expecting to be a male dance spectacular. Surrounded by two fiery works, it would have been fine; but given that most of what he did was pose, lift, and stretch in both of the other pieces, “Dances” was an utter letdown and basically represented what was wrong with the evening.

Look at this great dancer with his spectacular form, unusual background, and remarkable ability to pack a house. I would expect choreographers would be fighting to create original work for him, but I saw nothing of the sort** in this extremely short program (finished at about 9:15PM), and he didn’t even give us the pleasure of pulling from his Ballet Nacional de Cuba experiences to round out the show and broaden our horizons. Carlos, if you can’t do Spartacus or the “Dance of the Golden Idol” anymore – and based on your summer show I think that’s not yet true – can you at least spare some effort show us something new***?

*Performed in the middle of the show, mind you, but certainly third in terms of quality.

**Yes, there was one original work but Adam Hougland’s “Young Apollo” wasn’t even danced by Acosta. I don’t mind him not dancing in everything but I’d think he’d take on the new piece for himself.

***Rather than just showing off your body. Yeah, you’re built, I get it, but seriously, it’s getting to be a bit of a joke that I go to see a Carlos Acosta show and it’s like Chippendales with classical music.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009. The show is sold out but it’s not really worth getting bothered about if you can’t get a ticket – if you’ve been before, you’ve already seen it all.)

Review – Tribute to Diaghilev – “International Stars” and Royal Ballet members at Royal Opera House

June 8, 2009

The Sunday “Tribute to Diaghilev” event at the Royal Opera House seemed a bit of a mystery to me, best summarized as “Flashy Russian Dancers” and “Flashy Russian Ballet!” rather than “Some Particular Company” doing “Any Ballet, Really.” I had no idea what was going to happen. Were there going to be speeches? Was it a way of promoting Russian culture? Was everything going to go Fa Lun Gung and leave me sneaking out the back between sets? I couldn’t tell, but since I love flashy Russian ballet and flashy Russian dancers (and really wanted to flesh out some more of my Diaghilev knowledge – so much that I’ve only ever seen photos of still!), I decided to go ahead and fork out for the rather expensive privilege of attending this show.

God knows why the tickets were so high – not a single set came with the dancers (leaving poor Petrushka fighting to escape from an invisible prison), the orchestra was provided by the Royal Ballet, and based on the pathetic handling of curtain calls (Bow on the stage! No, come in front of the curtain!) and props (I’ve never seen the “Apollo’s Lute” variation of Les Sylphides before) it was clear they hadn’t bothered with a dress rehearsal to work out the kinks beforehand. That left us with the Diaghilev tribute element – thankfully limited to one short burst of film that was maybe 5 minutes long and sloppily narrated – and the dancing, which consisted of gorgeous ones and twos of people doing “K-Tel’s Power Duets and Solos Snippets a la Ballet Russes,” fully costumed, no holds barred and no silly plot to tire them out or get in the way of the dancing. In short, there was lots of great dancing, which was what I came for, but the snippets were so short I found them a bit difficult to digest. On the other hand, wow, dancers just doing the memorable highlights while they’re all fresh, ZOWIE! It was a format I was comletely unused to (since for me a night of shorts usually means no more than 4 ballets, not 15), but once I’d mentally adjusted to it as a taster of ballets I didn’t know performed by people who were going to rock my socks off, I was good.

As for the program, mystery as it was, here it is reproduced to the best of my typing abilities (after the first, assume by Mikhail Fokine unless I say otherwise, * for dancers not in RB, bold for new shows for me):

Scheherazade (by Fokine, danced by Uliana Lopatkina*, Igor Zelensky*), Daphnis and Chloe (by Ashton, danced by Natasha Oughtred, Federico Bonelli), Petrushka (danced by Dmitri Gruzdyev), La Chatte (by Ashton, danced by Alexandra Ansanelli), Giselle (danced by Mathilde Froustey*, Mathias Heyman* – not originally in program), Tamar (by Smoriginas, danced by Irma Nioradze*, Ilya Kuznetsov – ditto), Le Spectre de la Rose (danced by Yevgenia Obraztsova*, Dmitri Gudanov*), interval, Apollo (by Balanchine, danced by Maria Kowroski*, Igor Zelenski*), Les Sylphides (danced by Tamara Rojo, David Makhateli), Le Tricorne (by Myassin, danced by Dmitri Gudanov*), The Firebird (danced by Irma Nioradze*, Ilya Kuznetsov*), Les Biches (by Nijinska, danced by Mara Galeazzi, Bennet Gartside), Swan Lake (by Petipa, danced by Marianela Nunez, Thiago Soares), Le Carnaval (danced by Yevgenia Obraztsova*, Andrei Batalov*) and The Dying Swan (danced by Uliana Lopatkina*) Oddly not included was “The Rite of Spring,” a damned shame as I’d like to see how it was originally done.

Of the various short performances, my very favorite was Andrea Ansanelli (retiring? No!) in “La Chatte,” a sweet little bonbon of a dance that was just perfect from start to finish. Wearing a cute (but not face obliterating) mask with white ears and a feathered dress, Ansanelli groomed, preened, stretched, flirted, did impossible things with her legs, clawed the furniture, and pirouetted off after a mouse. I thought it was just lovely – perhaps not the most technically challenging of the night but very memorable.

My second favorite (and winner of the “shows I’d like to see in full” award, though perhaps this is all there is to it) was “Le Spectre de la Rose,” a piece originally choreographed for Nijinski. The costume, a pink half-body leotard with flowers on the shoulders, head, and here and there was both androgynous and very male and just distractingly sexy. I could only imagine Edwardian matrons swooning in their chair at this piece. Who would have thought that this would be the spirit hiding within a rose? (Fortunately I’ll get to see it again when English National Ballet do their own Diaghilev performance at Sadler’s Wells – I can’t wait!)

The third best moment was … well, gosh, not the Russians, and not even Fokine! No, it was hometown company members Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares rocking out with Odile’s duet with Prince Siegfried, in which she confirms her hold over him and her utter triumph over her rival (with a thrusting down of her arms at the very end – it just seems to say, “You’re cursed forever!” in my books). It is a very Russian moment, the bit of the ballet with the thirty-two fouettés en tournant (I didn’t count) that basically provides the unimaginative with a chance to evaluate ballerinas in the same way sopranos would be measured against the Queen of the Night’s high F – not a moment that really determines artistry but something measurable and, for many, memorable. I would imagine in the pure Russian style that this would be a dancer’s whole performance, making this tiny bit so memorable, with but Nunez we had the entire character of Odile there, the entire story accompanying her in a cloud. She was so sharp, so smooth, so seductive … so vicious, and Soares was just so the drugged-out-on-promises-of-sex aristocrat I always see Siegfried as in this scene (I always wind up hating him for being so ignorant and easily led astray) – BRRR there was clearly no need to import talent to this stage. Of course, I had the advantage of knowing this story just a little bit too well. AHEM.

Among the rest, I enjoyed Schehezade (once again, full of sex, perhaps this was how Diaghilev sold ballet to the masses?), with its costumes looking fresh out of a James Bond movie and athletic moves for Igor Zelensky (including a leap with a spin and a back kick – I wonder if it has a name?); Le Tricorne, a sort of Spanish flamenco/bullfighter thing that had Dmitri Gudanov practically leaping from a kneeling position into a high kick, very strong and impressive; and the pretty, pretty Le Carnaval, which had a Neapolitan couple (as I saw it) playing catch with each others hearts, Yevgenia Obraztsova and Andrei Batalov completely inhabiting their characters. My husband loved Ulyana Lopatkina’s Dying Swan, but she had so much elbow on display I couldn’t focus on her dancing (in short, she was so very thin I found it distracting); and Dmitri Gruzdyev was a strong Petrushka, giving me a chance to see the dance I may have ignored before but suffering from a lack of context.

None of the others were horrible, though I found Tamar boring and couldn’t help but laugh at Apollo (it’s the lute, it just looks ridiculous). It was a very good evening and my appetite is whetted for more. Too bad dance always looks so awful on the screen – I’d really like to see these works done in full!

(This show was a one time only performance that took place on Sunday, June 7th, 2009.)

* are people who aren’t in the Royal Ballet – I think. They are listed in the original cast list.

Review – Michael Clark Stravinsky Project – Barbican Theatre

November 8, 2007

The Michael Clark Stravinsky Project is really worth writing about, and not just because the foolish 7:45 start time contributed painfully to my midnight end time and braindeadness today. I was pretty excited about seeing a show that had three Stravinsky pieces in it (despite being so far up in the theater I expected to see a colony of bats lodged above us), since he’s one of my favorite composers. The chosen pieces were “Apollo” (not very exciting musically in my book), “Rite of Spring” (need I say more), and “Les Noces,” which as it turns out is pretty good even though it started out reminding me of the stimmtspiele stuff we saw with Pierrot Lunaire that about turned me off having singing at a dance performance ever again. And hey, the program “warned” that the evening contained nudity, which in my mind is always a positive thing in an arts performance, especially if we’re talking dance.

This promise was not entirely carried out, though the costuming was actually quite interesting. Dancers in rubber skirts? Dancers in body stockings with shiny bits wrapped around their bodies in interesting patterns? I liked this part. However, I was quite taken aback by the dancers wearing toliet seats on their shoulder with their heads protruding from the center. What really was this about? Was the “Rite of Spring” (called “Mmmmm” as a dance performance) really all about people who really needed to go to the bathroom? Is that why they were grabbing their crotches? Or was it all just some “I’m a wacky modern choreographer” silliness? I couldn’t really tell, and the ending, with either a Hitler or a Charlie Chaplin character dancing a long solo, left me mystified, or, rather, eager for some interval ice cream.

Anyway, the movement (isn’t this about the movement, ultimately?) was quite good. The “Apollo” piece (“O”) really seemed a tribute to the Balanchine choreography, only with Apollo in a mirrored box, on his back, doing a little duet with his reflection. “The Rite of Spring” let me down a bit, for while the movement was interesting (Michael Clark can really do partnering – his dancers seemed to float in the air at time!), it just couldn’t keep up with the power of the music. During the most dramatic bit, there just seemed to be a little bit of tweedling on stage, but what I expected to see was something really, really powerful. I admit the fact it was performed (musically) on two pianos also didn’t help.

The final bit was “Les Noces” (“I do” for Clark), which to me seemed to be about the sexual desire of brides and, well, you know, the couples. There was a very interesting bit where the women dancers stood up and, with their hands pulling between their legs, dragged the male dancers off stage one by one. Despite the fact this was my favorite piece, the costuming proved aggravating, at first because it was so distracting I had to tell myself to NOT look at it (the shiny things on the dancers noses and the queue-like bald head prostheses on their heads were utterly bizarre), but then later because the colors of the body stockings were off from the dancer’s own skin tones. This only really made me nuts for the Asian (Chinese/Japanese or such, though apparently New Zealandese) guy, who got a BROWN body stocking. It was so off. Admittedly it match one of the female dancers, but it just drove me crazy because everyone else was almost perfectly matched and this just looked … like they were trying to make him look like something he’s not. And the end look of the woman coming out totally wrapped up in some kind of knitted outfit with a big curved knitted cap over the top – well, she just looked like she was wearing a giant willie warmer, and I wouldn’t put it beyond the choreographer to have done that deliberately. Oh, those crazy Scottish choreographers!

Anyway, though it was a good night, I would have preferred to just see two pieces (they were all quite meaty, so it wouldn’t have been like I would have felt cheated) and got home a little earlier. Tonight is Aida, and I sure hope it’s compelling because I am going to be worn out.

(This review is for a performance on November 7th, 2007.)

Review – Mixed Rep Stravinsky Program (Apollo, Firebird, Rite of Spring) – Pacific Northwest Ballet

February 15, 2005

(This mini-review migrated from another blog.)

The ballet tonight was outstanding. You can’t go wrong with Stravinsky. Kent tried, and made a sappy mush of “The Firebird” (please, how can they possibly consider excising the passion between the Prince and the Firebird a good idea?). I noted, as usual, the scene set in hell was far more interesting than the rest of the ballet, especially the goody-goody bit at the end. “Apollo” was a well-executed Balanchine museum-piece, quite enjoyable despite its age and delightful in the way it showed Kent’s style as the watered-down, derivative excuse for choreography that it is. The various pas de quatre with Apollo and the muses were delightful, and really showed the continuity in his style over the decades.

Ah, but the “Rite of Spring.” I suspect I’ve never seen this done as a dance before, and not heard it live, either; the almost sub-audible rumble of the drums at one point was unfamiliar and made me think I’ve been listening to inferior recordings. My hair stood a bit on end from the first sinister notes of the oboe, and the tension continued throughout the piece. When the “victim” was hoisted from the stage in the final moment as if being crucified, a man to my right shouted, “Yes!” and his unrehearsed enthusiasm matched my own. What an incredible work of choreography: go Glen Tetley! I’d see it again if it were possible.

(This review is for a performance that took place on February 15th, 2005.)