Thanks to PNB’s mission to get butts-in-seats, their 20% off tickets were too good to pass up, and I ended up being able to see Tricolore in its last show.
We were up on the highest balcony, but we were in the second row. When the curtain opened, my eyes couldn’t adjust to how small the dancers were, and so it took a moment to see what was going on. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.
Three Movements by the (in)famous Benjamin Millepied was the first piece. PNB premiered the original work in 2008, commissioned by patrons of the Joyce Theater. PNB describes it as “urban chic.”
As another review said, while dazzling, it’s obviously the work of a fresh choreographer.
Set to Steve Reich’s Three Movements, a tense score that utilizing quick violin and piano notes, the lighting is very much about darkness. The way the column-like shadows are cast against the back curtain, along with the restless music, gives the impression of an eerie forest. The dancers, clad in almost pedestrian clothing in greys, whites, and subdued greens and blues, are in a thematic piece with no obvious storyline.
This piece was frustrating as a viewer. There were many moments that were visually pleasing, and all of the dancing was cranked up to an eleven in its quality. Nothing was poorly performed or executed.
Groups and duets would form, the ensemble would dance, and then scatter. The women were on pointe, and I’m not entirely sure why. When paired with the men, they were put into very traditional pas de deux formation, lady in front in an assisted arabesque or other such extension. However, these moments were short, and these ladies did a large amount of parallel walking, considering they were in their clunky pointe shoes. Another confusing moment was when the women would do a very subdued salsa basic as they stood in front of their male partners, on flat in their pointe shoes, not entirely on time but very against the tone of the music. I’m not entirely sure what that was all about.
There were many moments of visual interest. When the entire ensemble gathered onstage, they created what at first appeared to be a traditional kickline, but then every other dancer did a more intricate leg movement. The dancers would run off stage as others ran on, they would walk toward one another, they would move in interesting floor patterns. Un-obvious shapes would form and flow, and you would never quite know what was going to happen next.
The music builds up, and the dancers crank it up again, dancing faster and harder. Then, the columns of light overtake the dark curtain behind them, and they run upstage, and the piece is over.
It was a bit of a shock.
I wish I could see this one again. I felt like there were so many good moments, but none of them quite added up to make anything in particular. And I realize that it’s me saying this about Benjamin Millepied’s piece, but not everything produced by a great person is automatically great.
Apassionata had been the piece that PNB really pushed with its advertising material. I’d seen clips and photographs of this 2016 creation, also by Millepied, whereas I’d seen nothing of Three Movements. Apassionata was created for the Paris Opera Ballet, where Millepied just departed as artistic director.
With six dancers in bright blue, purple, and red costumes, they danced to a Beethoven sonata played by a singular pianist. This time, there was ample reason to be en pointe, and though the couples were color-coded, they did not stick with only each other.
The dancers frequently entered and exited the stage, which was lit with shapes of light – a large square, rectangles, and I think perhaps one hourglass-like triangle. The space outside of the light was entirely dark, save for the soft white scrim behind the columns of parted curtains.
At this Sunday matinee, one of the three women slipped and fell as the trio danced in a straight line across the stage. It looked like her shoe just slipped, and she went all the way down. It only took a second for her to get back up and rejoin the petite allegro with the other two, a feat I found almost more impressive than if she had just continued on with no error at all.
After a lively and lovely set of partnerings and solos and trios, with all combinations of the dancers moving together, one set was left while the others went offstage to change. Elizabeth Murphy, kind of a big deal, re-entered the stage wearing soft shoes, a vaguely transparent men’s button down over white spanks and top. She and her partner, also in white, and danced a sweet and gentle duet that culminated with a full on mouth kiss.
The other two couples entered, one pair in black and one pair in grey, and they danced with a bit more fire and less tenderness. Again, they were all just beautiful to watch, even if there was no narrative beyond the theme of love and the different types of relationships. The couples all swap partners and engage in unison at different points, and Millepied is a master at showing us a duet, a trio, then a solo, then an ensemble unison, without us as the audience realizing that any such change is happening at all. He is a master at smooth transitions.
This piece was called La Nuit S’Acheve when it premiered in Paris to excellent reviews. Millepied renamed the piece in honor of Beethoven, but one has to wonder if he did so for the prediction that American audiences would be more guarded against a piece of contemporary ballet with a French name.
(Pieces like Petite Mort keep their name, though the translation is a dirty euphemism that might cause more problems than leaving it in French).
Symphony in C is a Balanchine piece set to a symphony by Bizet. The audience was palpably excited when the curtain rose to reveal a corps of ballerinas in traditional white tutus. The drunk ladies sitting behind us audibly “oohed.”
It was….a Balanchine piece. The Father of American Ballet, the man who co-founded the New York City Ballet and molded American Ballet Theater, as well as “creating” dancers like Suzanne Ferrell and Gesley Kirkland, as well as inspiring countless eating disorders and perpetuating the whole “a dancer’s skin should be as crisp and bright as a freshly peeled apple” nonsense.
There was no story, nor was it an exact music visualization. With four movements, there were four soloists and a corps who moved with the music to each movement – allegros, adagios, and so on. The soloists wore tiaras, because why not?
Three male dancers occasionally partnered with their female soloists, clad in blue sparkly velvet that look like something Prince Siegfried would have worn on a casual swan-hunt outing. Aside from a few moments of endlessly high leaps, they didn’t have as large of parts as the ladies.
This piece had no story or theme; it was simply satisfying to watch each of the soloists, as well as the corps, move with such clean ballon. The final movement, which was really very short, was drool-worthy. The ENTIRE cast, along with some additional dancers, men and women, came onto the stage and performed a perfectly executed petite allegro together, in perfect perfect unison.
It was literally amazing. Something like that is physically difficult to perfect between two or three people, much less – thirty? Forty? It gave me goosebumps and got me excited about life again.
Symphony in C is a dancer’s piece. It serves to show off the excellent technique and prowess of the dancers, and without any rise in tension or a narrative to follow or a sense of something at stake, it doesn’t go over as well with the casual viewer, or so it would seem to this viewer, at least. Originally choreographed in 1948, this piece is important for a few reasons.
Jewels, one of Balanchine’s later pieces, was born from Symphony in C. While the dancers today are in all white, they were originally in different colors corresponding to black diamonds, emeralds, and pearls, each corresponding to a different movement of the piece. Not long after its original premier at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947, Balanchine switched the costumes and simplified the idea. Jewels would later be created in 1967.
The importance in Symphony in C also lies in the fact that it was created as American ballet was relatively young. There is no grand scenery like in Swan Lake, and there is no overriding narrative. It was one of the bridges that spanned between “classical” (though this piece is not classical in technique and utilizes asymmetry and sharper port de bras) and what is now contemporary. This piece has no narrative, either. It’s a dance that’s about dancing.
That was a relatively new idea at the time, and it’s an idea that’s still not entirely accepted today in regular, non-dance society. How many times have you gone to a performance with a non-dancer friend or family member who tried to figure out what the show was about?
Tricolore was not the most compelling show I’ve been to, but even if each individual piece didn’t satiate my choreographic wonderment, the dancing was so superb that it was easy to stop thinking about compositional theory and instead just focus on the dancing.
Class of the day(s): Ballet at PNB, Aerial at Versatile Arts