DanceView Times, New York edition
Letter from New York
On Thursday, April 22, for one night only, New Jersey Ballet (NJB), directed by Carolyn Clark, in concert with The New Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey, will perform the evening-length staging, by Vitali Akhoundov—artistic director of the Russian Theatre Ballet GITIS, in Moscow—of Vladimir Bourmeister’s Esmeralda at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The staging will include the adagio from Marius Petipa’s choreography for the Pas de Six from Esmeralda, which fans of the Kirov may remember from its 1980’s performances in the U.S. with Altynai Asylmouratova and which NJB already has in its repertory in a staging by Leonid Koslov, who, with Eleanor d’Antuono and Edward Villella, serves NJB as an artistic advisor. Sets and some costumes have been borrowed from Russia; the Hunchback’s costume and Esmeralda’s tutu have been made in the U.S.
The New Philharmonic Orchestra will be conducted by Leon Hyman, who founded the organization in 1977. Mr. Hyman has also conducted the New York Philharmonic and the Columbia Symphony for Columbia Records, as well as the American Symphony, the Jerusalem Orchestra, numerous Broadway shows and operas, and the Joffrey Ballet on tours of the U.S. and abroad.
NJB’s unique performance of the Bourmeister work in Newark this
week will be followed by more performances of it in New Jersey theaters
later in the fall.
These three students spent pretty much the rest of their lives trying to answer that question. The college was Harvard. The era was the late 1920’s. The guys were Edward Warburg, John Walker, and Lincoln Kirstein.
Here’s a big question: Do any freshmen today, at any college in the U.S., sit around late at night trying to figure out how to become patrons of the arts?
The occasion for this wondering was a remarkable celebration on Saturday by the Town of Greenburgh, New York, of George Balanchine’s 1934 ballet, Serenade, which was given its world première in early June of that year for some 200 people on the back lawn of Woodlands, the Warburg mansion in Hartsdale, which now serves as part of the public Woodlands High School, in Greenburgh School District #7. The story of the late-night Harvard discussion was told by Warburg (1908-1992), himself, in an excerpt from a filmed interview with him made by Woodlands high school students in 1984. Warburg—supplemented by the remarks of Nancy Reynolds—gave the audience something of the Serenade performance, which actually were two performances. The first one was rained out as soon as the dancers lifted their outstretched arms on Tchaikovsky’s opening chords. The audience ran into the house for a buffet, provided by Warburg’s mother and father, Frieda and Felix, who had organized and underwritten the evening as a present to Edward who, when asked what he would like for his birthday, replied, “A ballet.” It was announced that the performance would take place the next evening, same time, same place, at which Mrs. Warburg exclaimed that the next day was Sunday, and how was enough food for a second buffet ever going to be purveyed on a Sunday? The Tudoresque mansion; the steeply raked bank of soft grass on which the audience sat; the shelf of grass, surrounded by woods, on which the platform was built where the dancers performed, all still exist and are commemorated by a small plaque, set in the ground, with a legend that notes the event. The platform would not have been very large, and it was instructive to watch a performance of Serenade—staged with sharp attention to detail by NYCB alumna Bettijane Sills for student dancers of the SUNY/Purchase conservatory program—in the similarly constrained auditorium of the high school’s nearby main building. Compressed in space, the ballet’s energy intensified; and seeing it at such close range, one was reminded of how thoroughly the theme of being a student permeates the choreography. Professional dancers in Serenade are thinner, stronger, perhaps more virtuosic, but they don’t have the look of complete commitment to a mortal challenge and mysterious process that dedicated students do. To truly see Serenade in its letter and its spirit, I think, one must see youngsters, with their entire lives and hopes before them, perform it. Only then do its most melancholy ironies, the retrospective elements that the choreographer built into the work, surge forth with stinging clarity.
The feelings of dancers are eternal. Their training has evolved and become more scientific, more effective. However, the conditions for them to project that training and those feelings exquisitely—the choreography and the patronage—no longer are available, to them or to us, the audience, outside the staging of older repertory. Sometimes, late at night, a balletomane is hit with the fact that it isn’t only youth that is tragically lost in time, but ballet, too.
The Purchase Dance Program, which is directed by Carol Walker and in which Sills teaches, is a conservatory program: many of its students intend to become professional dancers, although most of them go into either modern dance or ballet companies that feature crossover balleto-modern works. As one Purchase faculty member put it afterwards, at a reception, “The ballet dancers don’t intend to go into ballet companies when they graduate. They say, ‘I just want a job,’ dancing anything.”
I was very moved by their dancing, although another student performance of Serenade, on Thursday night, by dance students at Barnard College, almost brought me to tears.
The Barnard Dance program is not a conservatory program, for which students would audition. It is part of the college’s academic offerings and is open to any undergraduate with the desire to undertake it. This means that many of the dancers do not have the requisite bodies at all to make the vibrant geometries of Balanchine’s ballets. Some are thin; some are pudgy; some are decidedly overweight. And yet, thanks to the staging and coaching of visiting ballet professor Barbara Sandanato—former principal with The Pennsylvania Ballet (which had a beautiful production of Serenade vetted by Balanchine from the company’s earliest years) and herself a student of both Balanchine and Pennsylvania Ballet founder Barbara Weisberger (who, at eight, became the first child accepted at the nascent School of American Ballet)—these undergraduates put on a rendering of Serenade that caught one of its essential, and ineffable, elements: the discrepancy between being young and completely open to experience and being perceived in a frame, in a context, in which that youth and candor are treasured as tragically lost aspects of daily living.
Barnard’s Serenade was part of a program of extraordinary
choreography that also offered works by Martha Graham (the 1934 Celebration,
with live music, staged with a slight change at the end this time by Yuriko
Kikuchi), José Limón (the 1958 Chopin suite, Mazurkas,
also with live music: an astonishing and, in some ways, more compelling
antecedent to Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, made
a decade later), and Robert Battle (Battlefield from 2001, for
an army of Amazonian women, with fantastical grunge fantasy costumes by
A. Christina Giannini). I’m an adjunct teacher at the college, so
I can’t review the dancers individually; some of them are even my
students. I should like to note, though, that—just as the Woodlands
concert would not have happened without the burning imagination, dedication,
and love for Balanchine of art historian and Hartsdale resident Greta
Levart—the Barnard program is a magnificent tribute to the leadership,
imagination, energy, and Herculean perseverance and patience of former
Dance chairman, now department consultant, Janet Soares. At Woodlands,
Greta Levart’s first warm thank you was to Paul Feiner, the Greenburgh
Town Supervisor, who had never heard of George Balanchine before she approached
him with the idea for the evening, was open to being educated, and demonstrated
his enthusiasm with substantial resources and high morale.
Quotes for the Week:
“We all know
it was never about money with him.”
always been bored with just making money. I’ve wanted to do things,
“We have no
obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art.
of Greenburgh Celebrates Balanchine and Serenade
Miriam Bernabei (Director of Arts, Music & Special Programs,
(1935, the year of its NYC performances)
Photo; The premiere of Serenade, given June 10, 1934 on an outdoor platform at Felix Warburg's estate near White Plains, New York. This was George Balanchine's first American work and was originally made for students at the newly founded School of American Ballet. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
last updated on March 22, 2004