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"Giselle" (Program III), Broward CPA, 3/ 5-7/04


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#1 Jack Reed

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Posted 06 March 2004 - 09:21 AM

(from Ft. Lauderdale) Friday evening at the Broward Center for Performing Arts: I've sometimes seen in Deanna Seay's dancing more deliberateness and carefulness than I think is best in Balanchine, but as Giselle these qualities lead us right into her characterisation of a girl with a delicate constitution - in contrast to her more robust friends - who nevertheless would rather dance than anything in this world. And so we believe in her character from the beginning, and as Act I continues she develops Giselle's innocence through clear gesture and expression. They also set me up for the series of turns she did at the end of the waltz scene, which were beautifully finished and full - the more impressive for being less expected - and which turned out to point to an impressive, brilliant but brief solo later in Act One. Nothing predictable or routine here!

And I've seen some wild "mad scenes", but wildness is not Seay's way; her way is to show telling detail after telling detail, and this somewhat understated characterisation - recalling how we may sometimes be led in "real life" to realize someone's mind is leaving this world and there's nothing we can do to bring them back to us - was all the more moving for it. Superb.

Mary Carmen Catoya was delicately lovely in the Peasant pas de deux, with her fine partner, Renato Penteado. Is this the same Catoya who raised her reputed killer role in "Ballo della Regina" to the level of even smoothness, "as though effort weren't involved" as a friend put it, on her debut last Fall, and then began giving it some modulation and color in her second outing in it two days later, in between romping through the "Stars and Stripes" pas de deux, swinging her shoulders and smiling at us as she strutted downstage at one point? Nothing predictable here, either.

Andrea Spiridonakos established early in her first solo that Myrtha is in charge of Act II through the commanding qualities of strength and power in her dancing, long before we see the facts of gesture and movement in her role that tell us of her dominance. Seay's characteristic soft clarity enhanced her role of an incorporeal spirit; her lighter-than-air jumps and lifts could only be those of something not quite entirely in this world. Her partner, Carlos Guerra, substituting for Isanusi Garcia-Rodriguez, deserves a lot of credit for the constancy of this illusion as well as for his own expressive dancing.

Chief among my few quibbles with this performance was Yann Trividic's Hilarion, which seemed to me to be more often sketched than realised, and a few scenic effects, such as the bright little flashing lights high in the set at the beginning of Act II which said "lightning" instead of "supernatural" to me.

But overall? "Very effective" I suggested to someone as we were leaving at the end. She shook her head. "Is that putting it too mildly?" She nodded, and smiled. In his introductory remarks, Villella had said they had waited until they had the resources to put on Giselle, until they were ready. I'd say they're more than ready.

#2 Jack Reed

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Posted 07 March 2004 - 07:04 PM

Sunday Matinee: If we remember that this is their last season, what we learn early in Act I from Iliana Lopez and Franklin Gamero as Giselle and Albrecht is that it takes years of experience to show us the exuberance of youth; if we don't remember, we watch their flirtatious circling the stage and counting the flower petals, and so on, and we think, Oh to be young again! They continue through the act to bring their characters vividly to life, Gamero bringing an unaffected royal elegance to his gestures I hadn't seen earlier this weekend, and Lopez bringing her continuously convincing portrayal to its plot climax in the mad scene with some effective novel details, for example by executing some sequences as though she were crippled, making her crippled state of mind all the more pitiable.

Carlos Guerra, as Hilarion, was even more convincing than Bruce Thornton last night, and either Nancy Raffa's Berthe was more clear, especially where she tells the Wilis legend, than previously, or, in a better seat, I tuned into it better. And in the Peasant pas de deux, Katia Carranza was more than equal to the role's demands, dancing with bouyant charm and complemented by Mikhail Ilyin's sharp and clear variations, but she had the disadvantage, for me, of performing the role only a couple of days after Catoya did.

Callie Manning, as Myrtha, exerted her authority over Act II more gradually than Andrea Spiridonakos had, but aside from that, her dancing was also a pleasure to watch. And Lopez and Gamero continued their realisations of their roles through showing the subtle truths you see in photographic portraits, with details lit and shaded the better to be seen, and nothing blank, smeared, or retouched.

The previous two performances had their Albrechts on their knees, sobbing into their bouquets of lillies, at the final curtain, and I thought this all too human for the scale of the tragedy; I wanted something more. This afternoon, after just a bit of this, Gamero let his lillies cascade down his chest as he raised his face and his arms to the heavens in supplication, and I felt satisfied that the drama had ended on the appropriate scale.

#3 Justdoit

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Posted 08 March 2004 - 02:02 PM

I was able to see MCB's two matinee performances of Giselle this past weekend at BCPA. At Saturday's matinee, I found Katia Carranza and husband Luis Serrano's performances to be outstanding. Katia played her part well as the innocent, naive 15 year old Giselle. Her dancing conveyed the bouyancy of youth necessary in Act I. In fact about half-way through Act I the thought came to me that I was watching Miami City Ballet doing Giselle! I actually prefer their Balanchine rep and think of them as a neo-classical company and attend their performances to see their mixed bills. For me to see them do a classical ballet from the romantic period, and forget who was performing must be a testimony to their obvious flexibility of style.

Saturday's matinee Peasant Pas standout, Kenta Shimizu, was an obvious audience favorite with his powerful attack, turns and jumps. His pas partner, Kristen Kramer, performed her part in true classical style, understated, light and controlled.

At Sunday's matinee we saw the final Giselle of MCB's run with Illiana Lopez and husband Franklin Gamero in the lead roles. This would also be the last time the two would be performing the ballet before retiring at the end of this season. Their interpretation was spot on, as Jack Reed said in his last post, "it takes years of experience to show us the exuberance of youth." That is exactly what Lopez did. From the moment she stepped on stage she maintained her character's youthful innocence in not only her portrayal but her dancing.

It is difficult to believe that these two outstanding dancers will be ending their performing careers in only a few more months. Their performances rightfully brought a standing ovation and, rare at MCB, several curtain calls.

#4 Jack Reed

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Posted 10 March 2004 - 02:55 PM

(From Naples, Florida) Thanks, Justdoit. I wish I had been there Saturday afternoon. To update the old saying, "Plan ahead (but not too far ahead)."

Saturday evening: As soon as Mary Carmen Catoya came out and danced her first circle at the beginning of Act I, we knew her Giselle was going to be very different from Deanna Seay's: The circle alternates traveling and jumping, and Seay had made them distinct from each other; while Catoya, letting them flow into and out of one another, just skimmed the stage, as though it were not necessary for support but merely a point of reference, just something she touched now and then at her own whim, and as though gravity were merely something she could acknowledge or disregard at will, too. And this phenomenal quality of dancing would continue through the evening with a delicacy that showed us a girl who lived to dance yet whose nature was delicate and fragile.

Early in the mad scene, Seay had gone upstage and stood with her arms around her head, palms outward, just as Berthe had done when she told the story of the Wilis, giving the drama a "Greek" resonance: What was foretold dreadfully, would now happen horribly. But Catoya's scene, while intense, proceded along more conventional lines - she stood upstage and held her head - so that Catoya's tragedy was not so heavy, not so dark, but finally, as this fragile, aerial creature lay broken and lifeless on the ground, as moving in its own way, as a descent from such amazing lightness.

In Act II, some of Catoya's tempos seemed very slow, for example, the violin solo when she danced around Albrecht, who is on one knee, but here as everywhere, she danced with complete security. And the slow tempos were only possible because MCB performed this program to music played by the Florida Classical Orchestra, ably conducted by Clotilde Otranto, who generally enlivened the score, and not to recorded music as in many recent programs. (Program IV will also be performed with an orchestra, we're told.) Catoya's partner was the superb Mikhail Ilyin, who focused the role of Albrecht a little better than Carlos Guerra had, and Bruce Thornton's Hilarion was a continuous, cumulative portrayal, at times even sinister. Andrea Spiridonakos repeated her performance as Myrtha, never going dead; even if she's not moving, she has presence without upstaging anyone. In the Peasant pas de deux, Tricia Albertson gave a large, clear performance although without equalling Catoya's, with Renato Penteado again, who seemed even better this time.

I was told MCB has three more casts for this ballet. When Villella said he waited until he had the resources to present Giselle, he refered to the costs of production but also to dancers. He certainly has the dancers now.

#5 nysusan

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Posted 16 March 2004 - 11:13 AM

My combination family/ballet weekend in Ft. Lauderdale was lots of fun. I was able to catch 3 casts in Giselle on Friday & Saturday night & the Sunday matinee. It was so heartwarming to see Edward Villella address his audience before each performance - not from up on the stage but standing at the front of the orchestra leaning against the pit, patiently explaining the story of Giselle and answering audience questions. This was the first time Iíve seen MCB and I think heís done a wonderful job with the company, I enjoyed all the performances immensely.

This is a solid production of Giselle, though not without a few minor problems. The scenery looked a bit crowded on the stage but the biggest problem for me was the orchestration. I know that MCB usually performs to recorded music and having an orchestra to accompany them is a very big step forward, still I thought the score sounded pretty thin. On Friday night, they also sounded like they were playing at a very slow tempo. This coupled with Seayís very fragile & inward looking Giselle really made the first act drag for me. I also think the dancers were having difficulty integrating the mime with some of the musical cues, especially Trividicís Hilarion. For instance, he knocked on Giselleís door before I heard the sound of knocking, and mimed hearing the hunting partyís approach before we heard the horn. This all combined to make the score sound very old fashioned and melodramatic to me, but things improved greatly in the second act and in subsequent performances.

All of the dancers did a good job, and I agree with most of Jack Reedís & Justdoitís impressions, but for me the undisputed highlight of the weekend was Mary Carmen Catoya. She and Renato Penteado were great in the peasant pas on Friday. Her penchee was beautiful and the way she hit & momentarily froze her balances was perfectly suited to the presentational nature of this pas de deux. I was a little concerned that her style might be too showy for the title role, but I couldnít have been more wrong. I thought she and Mikhail Ilyian presented the most complete performance of the three I saw, and the most emotionally engaging. Her first act was wonderful, she was a charming and vivacious Giselle Ė shy at first, and delicate, but ultimately a very normal peasant girl who wasnít going to let her physical ailment keep her from the joy of life. It was easy to see why Albrecht and Hilarion were both in love with her. Her balances were still stunning but this time she let the music flow through them and stretched them just long enough, never so long that it distracted from her characterization. Her mad scene was very well acted and her dancing in the 2nd act managed to be both otherworldly and emotionally grounded. There was still a lot of woman left in her wili.

When I saw Sundayís casting I was thrilled that I would get a chance to see Iliana Lopez and Franklin Gamero. I wasnít disappointed, they are both extraordinary artists and Lopez was certainly the best technician of the 3 Giselles I saw (i.e. both Seay and Catoya had trouble with the hops on point in the first act solo). Lopezís dancing was very elegant and nuanced, she is obviously a world class ballerina however I didnít love her in this role. This is certainly a matter of individual taste but I thought her style of dancing in the first act was far too grand, IMO she carried herself more like a princess than a peasant and I didnít feel any vulnerability in her Giselle. I kept watching her and admiring her dancing but I found myself wishing I could see her Aurora instead of believing in her as an innocent, unworldly peasant girl. When we got to the second act it was a whole different story. She and Gamero presented a sublime portrait of love and forgiveness. Her dancing was very soft and ethereal with gorgeous flowing arms.

Giselle is a very difficult ballet to master, and requires a different approach from the neoclassical repertory. I think MCB has shown that they are ready for it and as they gain experience in the romantic style they will continue to grow into it. I was very impressed with this company and will definitely try to schedule my future family visits to coordinate with their performances. Next time I hope to get a chance to see one of their mixed bills.

#6 Jack Reed

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Posted 24 March 2004 - 02:15 PM

Thanks for your take on MCB's "Giselle", nysusan, I got a lot out of reading your post! It brought it back again for more enjoyment. I'll take your word for it about Seay's tempos. Subjectively, I hadn't realized. Maybe I was absorbed by what she was doing in that extra time.

I won't dispute what you say about Catoya. If I had to choose - I'd like to be able to choose among videos of the three performances I saw, how's that for a fantasy? But I might well choose Catoya's.
But I don't have to choose, and as it happens, I was glad to see three such different ones, after thinking, when I ordered the tickets, This isn't Balanchine, am I going to get bored? But there are reasons "Giselle" has survived.

#7 nysusan

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Posted 28 March 2004 - 04:49 PM

Hi Jack, I really enjoyed my weekend with MCB, and I donít want you to think that I didnít like Seayís performance.

I thought her dancing was lovely, and I think the slow tempos may have been due as much to the conductorís preference as anything else. I just felt that the slow tempo of the orchestra combined with the delicacy of her dancing and the awkwardness of some of the mime made the staging seem a little forced. I didnít notice it in the next 2 performances, so perhaps the conductor made some adjustments ( or maybe my ear adjusted).

Anyway, Iím looking forward to catching one of their programs next season, but this time I think Iíll try to see them in Miami.

#8 Jack Reed

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Posted 28 March 2004 - 06:43 PM

I'm glad to read of your enjoyment of the weekend, nysusan. What you say about Seay might be your response to what strikes me as some deliberateness. We're all different, and so, we respond differently to the same things, but one of the things that pleases me about talking with people and reading their posts, etc., is that I can usually recognise what I saw in what they say and get a little different slant on it and get more out of it than I would on my own. That's one of the great things about these forums!

Seeing them in Ft. Lauderdale may have some advantages, BTW: They perform four times over the weekend, instead of three times, as in Miami Beach, and maybe their Ft. Lauderdale performances show the benefit of their experience in Miami, where everything premieres. I've yet to travel north with them, so this is mostly just a theory, although my overall experience does include seeing performances come into better focus after the first few. Maybe yours does too. Just a thought.

Extending this thinking, West Palm Beach would be an even better place: Five performances, and more experience. Hmm...


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