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June 13, 2005

Three days - Four performances (Scènes de Ballet)

I saw Birmingham Royal in four performances of their Stravinsky program. It's an extreme way to get to know Scènes de Ballet, but it works. On Saturday matinee, (Nao Sakuma's performance, which was the best) I spent the time scribbling a synopsis of the ballet as it was performed, so I could get a sense of how Ashton conceived it. Stravinsky did his own programming as he composed, and Richard Buckle wrote an original synopsis when Ashton first planned the ballet. Ashton followed neither. What he made was a complete formal classical ballet - all the parts are there: entries and variations for the leads, pas de deux, group dances, coda. But like Symphonic Variations it's done without pauses so it feels like an organic unit and is harder to pick apart - hence the synopsis.

BRB is an interesting contrast to London's company. It's smaller, and thinner at the top because of that - Robert Parker danced at every performance I saw, for instance. But it's also more cohesive. They are well rehearsed - it shows in their performances of The Rite of Spring as well as Scènes de Ballet. The épaulement in Scènes was all there, but it felt under their skin, rather than as if they dutifully knew to tilt their heads on count 5. They also danced like there were no small parts. I recall the grumbling of the Joffrey dancers when they danced Rite.

I'm heading to Heathrow and home tonight so there'll be fuller reports of the travels a bit later.

I enclose my synopsis of Scènes de Ballet in an extended entry. Luckily there's better documentation - it was a synopsis like this written in the margins of Marie Rambert's musical score that formed the backbone of the Hodson-Archer reconstruction of The Rite of Spring.

Scènes de Ballet

Abbreviations for the stage -

U = Upstage (towards the back from the audience)
D = Downstage
SL = Stage Left (The left side of the stage if you were on it looking into the audience)
SR = Stage Right.

Cast -

Lead couple
4 demi-soloist men
12 women

Opening - Male soloist in center with men in clasping each other pairs on diagonal (DSR to USL?). He begins with entrechats, it becomes a dance for all of them.

Women enter to do a female quartet from USR on the diagonal.

All women enter in lines of four (nodding to the wings)

Four men reenter. Brief turning solo for one woman from the corps.

Group dance for men & women.

Forms a square facing to the diagonal USL with the men scattered irregularly through the lines. The men leave on that diagonal.

The women do a group dance in lines of four of nodding and bourrées that push USR

They form three lines of four across the stage. The men enter across the side SL in Sissones, then the ballerina enters for the first time. She dances a brief solo (lots of fast pointe work)

Processional. The section ends with her held aloft as the lead man reenters.

The women are in a line in the back and do piqué emboîtes (reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty) forward. The men leave except the lead man.

As the ballerina does partnered bourrées side to side, it is echoed by the female corps, who disperse to the side of the stage in two groups of six (one USR and one DSL).

The four men reenter on the free diagonal (USL-DSR) for a jumping quartet - grand jetés going forward, tour jetés entrelacés, rond de jambs en l'air and relevé arabesques traveling back.

This happens twice with a female jumping duet (one woman from each group) that echoes the men's steps in between.

Females dance in a circle (two circles of six) changements traveling into circle and out.

Ballerina reenters with all men for big dance to main trumpet solo reminiscent of Rose Adagio.

The men form a shallow V, lead man at center-center. The ballerina goes down line from SR to SL doing a different partnering move with each, then partnered en dehors pirouettes where one man begins and another comes in to finish.

Allegro section for ballerina and men that begins with partnered back cabrioles.

The corps forms a circle, the leads travel in opposite directions round it and again the ballerina partners with each of the four men (who are at 2, 4, 8 and 10 o'clock approximately) She is carried off by her partner and the corps does a dance in lines facing front, (lines front to back rather than side to side) two lines of three women, a line of four men, and another two lines of three women.

They do a dance starting with side to side arabesques and the SR women leave after the first combination leaving 6 women and four men continuing. Then the other six women leave

The four men dance as four corners of a square.

The male lead enters for the solo of double tours.

Turns into a male quintet, beginning with pas de basques.

The man does a second solo, with split leaps to both sides (this is the second "Burmese tiger pit" for the man after the tours.)

The ballerina reenters for a solo that begins with snakelike port de bras and leads to another pas de deux, during this, three women appear behind in USR arches of the viaduct.

After the pas de deux all the women reenter "creeping" hunched over and on their pointes.

The men reenter.

Group coda.

Music slows for an apotheosis. The side to side bourrées from before grow to side to side partnered grand jetés.

The ballerina and her partner remain at the back while the corps dances (partnered turns and shoulder sits with four women & the men) and then come forward for her final glorification; a arabesque penchée (after a turn?) and a final "Beauty" supported arabesque with open arms held out above shoulder level in expansive triumph.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at June 13, 2005 3:23 AM

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Hi Leigh,

I'm curious to hear a little more about Sakuma --whose performance you commented as being the best. How is she, in comparison to someone like Yoshida?


Posted by: Terry at July 6, 2005 12:06 PM

She's more expansive than Yoshida in Scenes de Ballet (Yoshida is a bit too doll-like in Scenes, but far better in my viewing in Symphonic). Sakuma was very warm in the role, and very womanly.

My article on the performances will be in the next issue of Dance Now, and I talk a bit more about Sakuma there.

Posted by: Leigh Witchel at July 6, 2005 12:55 PM

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