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Mozart's "Requiem", "Swan Lake, Act II", City Ballet of San Diego, May 11, 2014


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The first time I saw City Ballet of San Diego was in 2006.  The performance was at a less than optimal venue with taped music.  The Company was small but the dancing was neat, clean, energetic and full of possibility.  Today, May 11, 2014, a mere eight years later, twenty-four strong dancers (plus apprentices and trainees) confidently took the stage of the classical Spreckels Theatre (the Company's performing home), with orchestra and chorus.   Eight years is a very short a time between the "then" and "now" but a quantum leap of progress.

 

Ana da Costa and Trystan Loucado danced Swan Lake, Act II, with a fine feeling for the nuances of finding love in an unexpected place.  Loucado was a handsome and strong Siegfried and da Costa's Odette responded.  The corps de ballet was smooth, supportive and added the depth necessary for the success of this ballet.  In the dance of the Three Big Swans the difficult gargouillades often are a bit muddied, but  Megan Jacobs, Kyndra Ricker, and Katie Spagnoletti,  made them clearly drawn and easily met the sweep of the music. 

 

In the 1980's Prima Ballerina Natalia Makarova danced the Grand Pas de Deux in Swan Lake at a much slower tempo than it was normally done and probably slower than the composer, Tchaikovsky, intended when one compares it to how it is performed without dance.   While it is not unusual to alter tempo when accompanying dance, still the will of the composer must also be respected. 

 

Makarova explained that she wanted to emphasize the beauty of the choreography and her preferment for the drawn out cantilena style.   She was beautiful to watch, but that slow tempo ravaged the music, robbing it of its life and immediacy.  The pas de deux as it was danced in today's performance leaned toward that "Makarova" tempo.  It does not take away from the success of the dancers, but from the heart throb of the music.

 

However, tempo revived and da Costa's batterie sparkled and when she came to a sudden stop in retiré en pointe - it was a wonderful punctuation of the moment.  In the several enchainements traveling diagonally downstage she finished with a beautifully placed arabesque held long enough to fully register but not too long to involve personal ego.  Brava for that.

 

When Von Rothbart, danced by Derek Lauer, appeared,  da Costa clearly showed how his presence and his curse upon her was a blow to both her body and her heart.  The emotional impact was clearly seen.  What was less clearly seen was the contrast between Von Rothbart's costume color and design and the color and design of the backdrop - it often blended in. 

 

Resident Choreographer Elizabeth Wistrich's world premiere of "Requiem" to Mozart's magnificent "Requiem Mass in D Minor" was a challenge well met by the choreographer, dancers, musicians and chorus.  The music is so overwhelmingly beautiful - poignant and lyrical - and one is so consumed with what one is hearing, it is difficult at first to open up to another layer of sensation - the music envisioned. 

 

The work is divided into twelve sections each with a costume change; tunics, unitards, simple flowing skirts of differing lengths mostly in various subdued shades of blue, grey, black and white with an occasional touch of color.  The back drop was black with a rounded (but not circular) opening raised a few steps up from the stage.  This gave the dancers opportunity to enter center stage as well as from the wings. 

 

Part of the design was the use of a scrim; sometimes completely lowered, occasionally halfway up and/or not used.  Although a scrim can add another dimension of space,  I have never liked the distance it increases from the dancers.  In any case, when lowered the bottom border of the scrim is solid and effectively cuts off or through the feet of the dancers from the line of sight of the audience especially those seated in the orchestra level.

 

The center stage entry was put to good use especially in the "Lacrimosa" which began with six men seated behind the opening and then with simple but effective movement gave vent to the emotion of this section of the Mass.  Geoff Gonzalez and Stephano Candreva then came forward and beautifully completed the mood.

 

Trystan Loucado in "Hostias" was the realized marvel of a man dancing; man, movement, music were of one piece flowing from line to line and shape to shape - an indelible moment.  This was very different than the usual choreographic fodder given to the male dancer of jumps and turns.  No, this was dancing as we dream of it.

 

More and more the men of the Company are in ascendency - taking the stage with power and confidence.   They are not  effacing the women - but taking their rightful place both with them and as a brotherhood group or as individuals. What a happy future that bodes! 

 

To be fair, I would have to name every dancer who took part in this major undertaking but let me at least name the principals I have not yet mentioned but very much appreciated.  Each  of them brings  unique qualities and yet still blends to one goal:  Ariana Samuelsson,  Erica Alvarado, Ryosuke Ogura. 

 

Kudos to the chorus and its soloists:  Kimberly Hendrix, Garrett Harris, Sharmay Musacchio and Michael Blinco.

 

Kudos to the orchestra and solo violinist (Swan Lake) under the leadership of John Nettles.

 

And to the two beautiful Borzois used in the opening scene of Swan Lake - a nice touch. 

 

As for the notes provided in the program......  For both ballets the notes could use the polish of a facile pen and/or a change of word sequence such as:  "The mass requiem" to "The Requiem Mass," etc.  Picky, I know.

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The music is so overwhelmingly beautiful - poignant and lyrical - and one is so consumed with what one is hearing, it is difficult at first to open up to another layer of sensation - the music envisioned. 

Sheila:  First of all, let me say that sounds like quite a show - lucky lady!  Next of all, it brings up the mixed-up reaction I have to the use of liturgical music for dance, nicely captured in that quotation from your review.  It's an odd reaction, and I don't expect everyone to share it.  And in the two such works that I know best, I find myself more conflicted about MacMillan's Gloria for which I doubt Poulenc ever expected liturgical use of his composition than I do about his Requiem, where Faure certainly anticipated liturgical use.  I cannot in logic say why.  All of that said, I think I'd get quite a kick about being in the chorus for a performance of this Mozart Requiem, provided I could see what was happening.  

 

And then there's the notion I have about one day wanting to see a choreographer's reaction to setting Tomas Tallis' 40-part motet, Spem in alium, with a dancer working to each polyphonic line.......

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Sheila:  First of all, let me say that sounds like quite a show - lucky lady!  Next of all, it brings up the mixed-up reaction I have to the use of liturgical music for dance, nicely captured in that quotation from your review.  It's an odd reaction, and I don't expect everyone to share it.  And in the two such works that I know best, I find myself more conflicted about MacMillan's Gloria for which I doubt Poulenc ever expected liturgical use of his composition than I do about his Requiem, where Faure certainly anticipated liturgical use.  I cannot in logic say why.  All of that said, I think I'd get quite a kick about being in the chorus for a performance of this Mozart Requiem, provided I could see what was happening.  

 

And then there's the notion I have about one day wanting to see a choreographer's reaction to setting Tomas Tallis' 40-part motet, Spem in alium, with a dancer working to each polyphonic line.......

 

 

If I am understanding you correctly, Ian, it is the use of sacred music which was not originally intended for dance is what you find disturbing.

 

 

Frankly, I hadn't considered the factor of the appropriateness of the use of liturgical music not intended for dance.  The music is surely  sacred to many and thus using it for a purpose for which it was not originally intended might indeed be a problem.  I hadn''t thought about it in that way.

 

I was only considering the overpowering beauty of the music and how just listening to it takes up (for me, at least) all the room in my head.  When I am asked to add another sense, such as sight, it takes a while to make room for this additional input.  

 

However, especially in the Lacrimosa and Hostias the dance contributed to the overall emotional impact.  In no case was the dancing unseemly - no hint of sexual contact or intent.  The program notes said:  "The choreography depicts different emotions in each of the sections, rather than the literal staging of the text." 

 

I was only thinking about the difficculty when a choreographer approaches music of such beauty and/or power it is a gamble and a challenge.  Paul Taylor, in my opinion, met the challenge in using Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, as did Kylian using Mozart's 23rd  piano concerto.  On the other hand, I thought the dancing to Acis and Galatea a real distraction.  But, in none of those examples was  sacredness  a factor. 

 

I am trying to consider if I would be offended or put off if dance were added to music that is sacred to me.  I don't think I would be offended if the dance was not offensive.  And, this would include costuming.

 

In the ballet which I reviewed above the costuming was at times fairly minimal (shorts for men in one section) - but i am sure - positive - that no offense was meant.  This is not a company which wants to use shock or dismay as a means to garner attention.  In fact, having seen its programs and talked to the directors - though keeping my distance as a critic - the last thing they would want would do is to offend their audience.

 

I have to say the audience was very appreciative and I neither heard nor saw any negative reaction.

 

But it is something new to think about. 

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Another opinion.....

 

I asked Mr. Anjuli Bai - to whom the music is sacred - if he found its use for dance offensive and I was answered with an emphatic "No."  

 

He very much enjoyed the performance.  

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Just to be clear, my feelings have never been that the use is offensive - far from it.  I think my personal problem is that I've known the Latin texts for some 60 years now and I find it odd to match those familiar words to movement, and I can't quite blank out the text when I hear them sung, particularly if I also happen to be familiar with the tenor line of the musical setting.  All of which said, I would be delighted to see this setting of Mozart set to dance and I can see how its pulse and contrasting dynamics could work extremely well for a talented choreographer.

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Ian, Northern Ballet performed a work around 10 years ago to Mozart's Requiem (called Requiem!! and choreographed by Birgit Scherzer).  My friend and I absolutely adored it and, as a result, I bought a recording of the music.  I then realised that some of it had been re-ordered and some small sections of the music were repeated. 

 

As a matter of interest, would the adaptation of the music offended you even more?

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Janet:  The Sussmayr completion of Mozart's Requiem is the version with which we are most familiar nowadays.  There are, however, several alternative versions on record - just the bits that Mozart is known to have written; 'improvements' on Sussmayr's work by others who feel they can do better; with a different 'Amen' at the close of the Dies Irae now thought to be what Mozart intended; and probably others that don't immediately come to mind.  Having acquired several brace of such alternatives over the years, I doubt I'd be concerned about the adaptation you mention - and I'm delighted to hear of another dance version.

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