Ballet in New York
It’s not for nothing one thinks of Mallarmé, here was a crise de ballet one hardly was aware even existed.
The grammatical perfection of Kevin McKenzie’s choreography in Swan Lake, a continuous diction with nothing thrown away, has restored the pre-eminence to dance even in a Tchaikovsky ballet. This is the rightful position, so that the actual inventions in the pit are heard correctly as for the first time.
The corps de ballet becomes more interesting than many a soloist. The slight divergences of rhythm, which Nureyev brilliantly accounted for as broken rhythms in Cinderella, are not perceived as inattention to the music but as endless natural varieties revealed by equal attentiveness to the choreography. In general, giving the dancers so much to do makes their work so much the more worthy of interest. Each step leads to the next, with a perfect finish of phrase initiating a new one, all in all generating a more rapid discourse.
Because this is most expressive, most succinct, it gives a more strenuous style of dancing an appearance of gesticulation, yet it is more demanding than most.
The scenic design is good enough for Hollywood, without exceeding the period, and so are the costumes. This frees the design of the choreographer to express itself alone, and so serve the drama.
There is no relation to Balanchine visible in the work, except that he labored incessantly to create a grammatical awareness in the larger sense as well as the minutest, and here at last is a visible grammar revealing the utmost expressiveness. Yet all this applies only to the corps and the leading female dancers, the male leads (except the villain’s great variation) having been left unadorned by the precision of McKenzie’s analysis.
Much disparagement was given the performances during the Balanchine centenary, principally on the grounds that much was lost since the debuts of the ballets. Now, precisely the opposite is true, the strain and heroism of the first dancers have become the ease and wonderment of dancers to whom the ballets are second nature. This is a first-rate development, it hardly need be said, except in New York, it would seem.
You get the idea from the recent Bolshoi film of Scheherazade. Overall, the outlines of the work become clear, and a great sense is derived of what a dramatic masterpiece it is, and the trio of dancing girls is evidently one of Fokine’s greatest inspirations. Nevertheless, the style is new to these dancers, and a diminishment of the work is apparent (the Bolshoi’s Firebird is similarly impressionistic, with the steps and décor and the “speaking” quality of Stravinsky’s score eked out cinematically). Do I mock Balanchine’s own productions? I do not, ‘twas ever thus.
Furthermore, the real point of the critics’ disapprobation can be found in a certain weakness among the male dancers, I should say.