Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sub-Par Performances

Yesterday afternoon and evening, Joshua and I went out and saw a couple of things. Our outing provided Josh with a respite from study, and gave both of us an opportunity to take advantage of a break in the weather, particularly welcome after this week’s winter storm.

Boston theater companies schedule Saturday matinees for 4:00 p.m., a time we find to be convenient. It allows us to catch a late-afternoon performance and an evening performance with a single trip downtown. We took advantage of this peculiarity of scheduling when my brother visited us in January, and we did the same yesterday.

One advantage of a 4:00 p.m. matinee is that we do not have much time to kill between a 4:00 p.m. matinee and an 8:00 p.m. evening performance. One disadvantage is that there is not enough time to have a decent meal between performances.

We first caught the 4:00 p.m. performance of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” at The Lyric Stage Company Of Boston.

“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” is the first play Josh and I have seen together a second time. In November 2006, we attended a performance of this 1955 Tennessee Williams play in German translation (“Die Katze Auf Dem Heissen Blechdach”) at The Thalia Theater in Hamburg. One of Germany’s most acclaimed stage actresses, Doreen Nixdorf, had played Maggie that night, and more than creditably.

The current Boston production is very poor. The stage presentation, the stage direction, the acting: all were amateur, precisely at the level of civic theater. I doubt we shall ever return to The Lyric Stage Company.

In January, we had attended a performance of “The Year Of Magical Thinking” at Lyric Stage Company. That performance had been very poor, too, but “The Year Of Magical Thinking” was a very weak play, with a very weak actress appearing in the only role. Josh and I, against our better judgment, had decided to give The Lyric Stage Company another chance.

We should not have bothered. Given that The Lyric Stage Company purports to be a professional troupe, the production of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” was acutely embarrassing. The production was so bad that the play—a very good one—positively rotted on the stage. Yesterday’s visit to The Lyric Stage Company Of Boston was our last.

Last night, we attended a performance of Boston Ballet’s presentation of George Balanchine’s full-length “Jewels”.

This was our second visit to Boston Ballet. In October, Josh and I had taken my parents to the company’s presentation of James Kudelka’s version of “Cinderella”, danced to the Prokofiev score, and we had enjoyed the performance immensely.

“Jewels” was a different matter. The dancers were simply not good enough to do justice to one of Balanchine’s most complex and most difficult creations. Nothing quite worked. The dancers attempted the steps, but not one of the dancers was a natural Balanchine dancer.

We had deliberately waited to catch a performance of “Jewels” at the end of its two-week run (we attended the next-to-last performance). Nonetheless, the dancers were still not settled into their roles. Principal dancers looked uncomfortable, even strained, and the corps had difficulty simply getting the steps down.

Balanchine’s choreography exposes dancers mercilessly. Bad backs, bad footwork, bad placement, bad upper-body carriage: all will be revealed in a Balanchine ballet—and all were revealed last night.

Much of the choreography comes across in a bad performance of “Jewels”, but much of the choreography is lost in a sub-par performance.

“Emeralds” is always difficult to bring off—yet “Emeralds”, oddly, was the one segment that worked last night, perhaps because the level of virtuosity demanded in “Emeralds” is not quite as high as in “Rubies” and “Diamonds”. Boston Ballet offered a very soft-focus “Emeralds”, but the singular uniqueness of this ballet in Balanchine’s work list somehow registered.

“Rubies” was not as fine. The dancing was not sharp or incisive, making “Rubies” look no different than any other Balanchine “Allegro” ballet. Six weeks ago, Josh and I had attended a performance of “Rubies” by Miami City Ballet, and the Miami “Rubies” had been dazzling. The Boston “Rubies” was flat. The male dancers were particularly unconvincing.

“Diamonds” was the biggest disappointment of the evening. One of Balanchine’s very greatest works, “Diamonds” made no effect at all last night. The ballet looked miscast and severely under-rehearsed. There was no specificity of phrasing and no grandeur. What should have been wave-after-wave of excitement in the final movement was nothing more than wave-after-wave of steps. Seeing the Boston performance, one would never guess that Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp could write of “Diamonds”:

If the entire imperial Russian inheritance of ballet were lost, "Diamonds" would still tell us of its essence.

That sentiment did not apply to the Boston Ballet performance of “Diamonds”. Last night’s “Diamonds” was more school pageant than grand evocation of the Czarist court.

The Balanchine Trust needs to loosen its requirements regarding the staging of Balanchine ballets. For one thing, the strict costume requirement—that original costumes be faithfully reproduced—is too rigid and should be abandoned. Madame Karinska was unquestionably a brilliant designer for ballet, but some of her costumes are dated. It is long past time, for instance, for her “Rubies” costumes to be retired. The men’s jackets look ridiculous and should be replaced at once. In fact, I think “Emeralds”, too, would benefit from a fresh approach to costuming. I have never believed that the “Emeralds” costuming suited the music or the choreography, and that impression was reaffirmed last night.

No comments:

Post a Comment