Pictured above: Frederic Franklin with Jon and me at a Cincinnati Ballet event
October 13, 2010
Triumph of History
The Ballet Russe came back to life last weekend
Review By Kathy Valin
October 23, 2002
October 18 & 19, Cincinnati Ballet’s Artistic Director Victoria Morgan orchestrated an extremely satisfying program, meticulous in detail and sweeping in scope. The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Festival, also a celebration of the company’s fortieth anniversary, mixed two contemporary world premiere ballets with George Balanchine’s La Sonnambula and three historic recreations from the era of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
The company used projected film and video to salute its history and its longtime association with Frederic Franklin (principal and ballet master for Ballet Russe from 1938-1960), now Artistic Director Emeritus.
Far from being a bland listing of accomplishments, the well-edited sequences were interwoven with the programming. Several times as the stage-sized screen was lifted, live dancers below cunningly appeared in the same choreographic moments just depicted, eliciting gasps of delight and applause from the audience, as though a giant gift had just been unwrapped.
Carmon DeLeone and the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra provided excellent live music throughout, melodic, dynamic and ever-sensitive to the dancers. The culmination, of course, was an onstage appearance by the spry Mr. Franklin, now 88, lovingly known to all as “Freddie.”
The haunting “Gnossienne No. 3″ by Erik Satie anchored Julia Adam’s “Reverence,” an enactment of a poignant farewell. After a ballet class, it’s traditional for the dancers to acknowledge each other and their teacher with “reverence,” a slow, choreographed bow. In “Reverence,” ten dancers in black-and-white practice clothes one by one take their place at a barre running diagonally across the stage, to accompaniment offstage by pianist James Hart. They plié and rélevé smartly, on the beat, like piano keys being depressed and released. Feet flex and hips turn in and out. They eventually leave the barre to group, ungroup, meet in pairs, in trios or dance alone, in and out of abbreviated costumes. Finally (another day?) one by one they re-enter, leave their skirts in a heap on the floor, and it’s class at the barre again. One dancer steps back into her skirt, and slowly walks offstage as the others ripple in a stiff port de bras as a goodbye.
Lisa Pinkham’s lighting design sculpted the dancers’ sleekness and musculature. The contrast between the often languid, limpid music and the tilted, stiff, two-dimensional thrust of their positions (women were on pointe) seemed to create a vocabulary that told a history, a playing out of events personal and professional.
Andrey Kasatsky showed off clean open arcs in ronde de jambes. Dawn Kelly’s solo was pristine; Jay Goodlett’s dancing was shaped and supple. Kristi Capps’ character walked off stage, presumably to a new career as a witty choreographer with a heart.
Val Caniparoli’s “No Other” was a glamorous Fred and Ginger fantasy set to a lush South Sea-flavored theme by Richard Rogers for Victory at Sea. A bare-shouldered Lorena Feijoo and elegant Dimitri Trubchanov filled in the rapturous blanks. The amazing Feijoo is a crazy marvel of a dancer, flexible and full of fire, whom we saw too little of in this program. The long-legged Trubchanov is an attentive partner who can also move in his own right — his jumps and air turns are fearless.
Caniparoli’s choreography has musicality, and lets his dancers express their rapture brilliantly in physical partnership with sweeping diagonals, drags on pointe, and majestic ronde de jambes out of multiple turns. He has the lift vocabulary down cold. My favorite was a spiraling shoulder lift with (I think) a vertical toss into a spectacular split-sized battement by Feijoo, held for a moment triumphantly and insouciantly by this stunner of a dancer, who flirts outrageously with the audience as well as her partner.
Trubchanov also figured large in La Sonnambula, as a Poet whose entry into the intrigues of whirling social world ends badly for him. Guided by Franklin, this version of the ballet is said to have impressions of Balanchine’s original version. Patterns and ranks of couples at a masked ball give way to entertaining divertissements. Mishic Marie Corn, Cheryl Sullivan, Kasatsky and Trubchanov as country folk gave lots of brio and beats. A Moorish tale let Erina Noda turn in circles while flipping a back attitude, while Jay Goodlett put on his best Eastern airs. The injured Michael Wardlaw as Harlequin was replaced by Benjamin Wardell in gold-and-white diamond patterns with a mask and ruff around his neck. He tossed himself about like a giant rag doll, falling loose-limbed, like Jack Haley’s Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, in amazing acrobatic sets with somersaults into splits and a back handstand. Wardell is a good physical comedian who drew laughs when he “hurt” his back and reassembled himself, zipping into a tight fifth position. His final springing series of leaps and headfirst dive offstage were energetic as a jack-in-the-box.
A hoop dance (recreated and reinserted) was another fabulous artifact, danced by Erin Ginn, Staisha Grosch, Dawn Kelly and Janessa Touchet, who is a dancer to keep track of.
The famous sleepwalking scene — Kristi Capps was the candle-carrying somnambulist — doesn’t fit neatly into the plot for me, but the idea exemplified of a compliant vision slipping away like a smoke ring from the poet came through strongly. Capps maintained the proper aloof demeanor, a filmy cipher skimming along in endless bourrée. When Trubchanov links his arms passionately around her, and falls to the ground in a backbend of supplication, she simply steps out of his grasp, as though she had no more substance than a puff of smoke.
Is the powerful resolution — jealous Coquette, angry Host, mortally wounded poet, horrified guests — of this ballet forced? It comes dangerously close to melodrama, but the dancers played the pun straight, dropping the lifeless poet slowly into the arms of his “vision,” who forthwith removes him from their frivolous society.
The major highlights of the evening were the three concluding pieces. The hard-working Tricia Sundbeck (also the Coquette previously) and Trubchanov (in a role originated by Franklin) made a good couple in Frederick Ashton’s Devil’s Holiday, carving themselves into exquisite poses, with much tender touching of palms, and cheek-to-hand motifs. Her dancing is natural and precise, her arms float effortlessly, a lovely final moment has her enfolded by his arm. Of special note was Kasatsky’s dancing (also a replication of the original Franklin role, glimpsed in archival footage and video of a coaching session in the Cincinnati Ballet studios). The juxtaposition added a depth of authentic appreciation for a difficult knee fall. The softness of repeated falls from air turns to the ground was also wonderful to see.
The pas de deux ”Waltz” from Lèonide Massine’s Gaíté Parisienne, also benefited from the film lead-in, in which Franklin discussed his long partnership with Alexandra Danilova. Stephanie Roig and Zack Grubbs magically brought the dance to life with their enthusiasm. Roig is coltish, with long, long legs. Grubbs supported her well, giving her the confidence to fall into a backbend and extend a flashing foot from a near vertical hitch-kick repeatedly in a long diagonal.
The Third Movement (“The Sky”) from Massine’s The Seventh Symphony received a wonderful treatment from the dancers and the musicians, who luxuriated in Beethoven’s high energy score and the notion of a frolicking Olympian interlude.
Once again prefaced by archival film and anecdotal video commentary from Franklin — who described the original work as being scoffed at in London and Paris but “here (the USA) they ate it up!” — Third Movement evoked the excitement of the original one-night stands by the Ballet Russe. How amazing it must have been for Americans to get such a treat as an introduction to ballet dancing. Recovered meticulously from film footage by Cincinnati Ballet’s ballet mistress Johanna Bernstein-Wilt, with additional coaching from Franklin, the piece overflowed with throbbing life.
Joyful Matisse-like dancers leaped and twirled and intertwined in amazing patterns, only to pause in frieze-like effects as soloists Mishic Marie Corn and Anthony Krutzkamp glided along to the slower, more majestic theme. Corn especially gave glorious depth and confidence to her characterization, for all the world like a Princess Grace on Parnassus. Krutzkamp is an amazingly talented young dancer, putting on the nonchalance and nobility of a god with effortless control. As Ether, Erina Noda barely seemed to touch the ground. Tours de force abounded from Gregory Schoenwolf, Goodlett and Wardell, and the eight women had brio to burn.
A standing audience and long, sustained applause greeted the slight figure of Frederic Franklin when he made his appearance alone on stage, after an onscreen montage of his dance career — so far! He quickly gestured for other cast members to join him and, standing among them, hands crossed in front of his chest, accepted the homage due him.
A ballet from six decades ago comes back to life
Interview By Kathy Valin
October 17, 2002
The first taste I get of the Cincinnati Ballet’s delightfully upbeat Third Movement from choreographer Léonide Massine’s 1938 piece, Seventh Symphony — with a splendid rollicking, majestic score courtesy Ludwig van Beethoven — is in rehearsal. Mishic Marie Corn and Anthony Krutzkamp, playing mythic gods, are thoughtfully and meticulously being coached by Johanna Bernstein-Wilt, a petite pony-tailed figure in blue Capri sweats and black jazz sneakers. They’re shadowed by second cast dancers, Stephanie Roig and Luciano Lazzarotto. In the festive season opener this weekend, Massine’s ballet is one of three important historical excerpts from the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo era on the program.
Third Movement is unique among the ballets because of Bernstein-Wilt’s work with it. Guided by a 16-mm film more than 50 years old, coached and encouraged by legendary dance eminence Fredric Franklin, she’s lovingly transferred the ballet to Cincinnati Ballet’s dancers.
“It’s very special, the joy I see in those (original) dancers,” Bernstein-Wilt says as we watch the black-and-white video version, digitally cleaned up and accompanied by a piano score. (For the public performance, they’ll be dancing to a full orchestra.) “It was originally a silent movie. Freddie helped put the music on top … which must have been painstakingly time-consuming.”
A former dancer, Bernstein-Wilt retired to become ballet mistress of Cincinnati Ballet. “That was right after (Artistic Director) Richard Collins was killed in an automobile accident. I’d been asked to be assistant ballet mistress. When we came back in that ’91 season and he was no longer here, it just happened that I was running rehearsals. Nigel (Burgoyne, Collins’ successor) and I were kind of holding down the fort. I was happy dancing, but I saw the need. I already felt fulfilled — like I had ‘done’ it (dancing), and I had just gotten married. So I took the full-time job when it was offered.
“I enjoy what I do better now. There’s much more satisfaction in having a sense of the ‘big picture’ that we are presenting ‘out there.’ “
Bernstein-Wilt avers she didn’t really know what she was getting into when she agreed to add the re-creation to her already full schedule of teaching, coaching and running rehearsals.
“I’m used to studying a video and ‘turning it around’ to get the steps,” she emphasizes. “But this was just spending hours of cueing backward and forward, trying to a get a sense to fill in — at one point there’s a momentary ‘white-out.’ It was sort of like studying for an exam. I had to write it all down like you would take notes, with a shorthand — not a form of dance notation, it’s my own scratching I developed over the years.”
Another challenge was to accurately shape her cast (two principals as “gods,” one soloist, three additional men and eight women) into the spirit of the ballet, subtitled “The Sky.”
“We all have spent hours,” she says. “I’ve asked them to study the video. The freedom and expression is what I keep imposing on our own dancers. In the Ballet Russe film, it seems to me there is never a ‘pose.’ There is always emoting and moving with the music.
“The way we are trained now is to be all together and in a straight line. So I want to get the freedom, the feeling, but still make it look like a piece that’s technically clean.”
The dancing itself, she finds, might be old, but it’s still difficult.
“It’s amazing, it’s so hard,” Bernstein-Wilt says. “It sounds trite, but you sort of just have to copy what you see, to get that essence.”
By Oct. 11, when I return for yet another full-cast run-through in an afternoon rehearsal, Third Movement is definitely coalescing. The ritual begins with Bernstein-Wilt giving out notes and diplomatic comments — here a note for a dancer not to take such a strict fifth position, there “Can you make your arms keep moving?” or, after the dancers respond, her rewarding “I’ll buy that one!”
Watching over it all, an attentive Freddie Franklin — nattily attired in a yellow pullover, belted khakis and soft moccasins — occasionally jumps in to tweak a timing or silhouette. When the music cues up, the familiar kettle-drum boom seems to pull the dancers into the spirit of the music. They whirl, jump, skip, intertwine. A majestic slow theme finds Lazzarotto lifting Roig straight up and turning her, spiraling, down.
Then it’s back to more breakneck presto moves for all.
“Speed is the challenge,” Franklin confides. “It takes time and work. Today technique has undergone such a change — we weren’t as well equipped. Today they’re something else.”
A breathless Erina Noda runs over for a critique from Franklin. He beams: “You were brilliant! Keep doing it. You can do it, you see! Phenomenal! There’s nothing to worry about. Nothing. Oh, no way.”