In New York, we see a lot of ballet of all shapes and sizes. Seeing two of the country’s laureled companies—Houston Ballet last week, and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet (through Oct 23), from DC—at the Joyce Theater, from a relatively close distance, raises issues that continually simmer on the back burner. Here are a few.
Proximity. Seeing Balanchine close up doesn’t seem to work as well as from a distance, as when watching New York City Ballet at Koch Theater. It’s like the veil of mystery drops, and the difficulty of what they’re doing is far more apparent. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, and can even be a choreographer’s goal—to reveal the intense physicality of dancing—as it did in Jorma Elo’s ONE/end/ONE, performed by Houston Ballet. At other times, the magnification of being human, shaking muscles, hands grappling, feet slipping, detracts from the illusion of perfection, as it did at times during the Farrell program. Which leads to…
Facial expression. When you’re dancing Balanchine, is there a proper facial expression? Of course it varies from dancer to dancer, and work to work, but at a given moment, faces on the same stage can range from blank to smiley. Personally, I find that forced smiles have the opposite of their intended effect, that is, grating and phony. And generally speaking, it’s the women who smile affectedly, presumably from a lifetime of subconscious training. But once in awhile, a dancer might smile because she’s having the time of her life, like Houston’s Karina Gonzalez here, and you can feel that.
Danger. Dancing is hard. Ballet is really, really hard. Ballet on pointe shoes is quadruply hard, not to mention dangerous. Falls are obviously never desirable, and often come not at the most difficult times but in simple steps such as walking quickly, when your guard is down and absolute concentration isn’t needed. Sure, they’re mortifying gaffes, but in a way they can demonstrate a certain level of abandon that can enhance the dramatic level of a performance. I also think we take for granted how much more difficult it is to dance on pointe than in soft shoes, like the difference between walking on ice versus asphalt. Ballerinas, you rock!
The Joyce continues its ballet roll next week, presenting Morphoses, newly revamped, sans Wheeldon, avec Luca Veggetti. And ABT resumes its fall rep season at the also revamped City Center from Nov 8-13, including Tharp’s incredibly dangerous, thrilling In the Upper Room and Paul Taylor’s meaty Depression-era dramatic showcase, Black Tuesday.