Posts Tagged ‘Tchaikovsky’

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Who were the women who inspired George Balanchine’s Jewels?

September 27, 2010

Guest writer: Sarah Meals, marketing manager

There are mixed reports on what exactly inspired George Balanchine to choreograph his three-act abstract ballet Jewels.  Some texts say he admired the famous Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry firm, and the gemstones were the actual inspiration for the movement.  Other texts say the ballet had nothing to do with jewels; the dancers were just dressed like gems by way of Karinska’s famous costumes.  Regardless, most reports confirm that Balanchine was equally inspired by his musical selections (Fauré, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky) and three ballerinas whom he adored:  Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride, and perhaps most of all, Suzanne Farrell.

Violette Verdy was a French ballerina who danced with New York City Ballet from 1958 to 1977.  Verdy was an unusual addition to New York City Ballet due to her idiosyncratic way of accenting the music, a trait which may not have appealed to Balanchine.  However, within two years of joining the company, Balanchine created six roles especially for her.  Her moody, soul-searching spirit was perfect for the first soloist role in Emeralds, which required extended legato dance phrases.  After retiring from the stage, Verdy held brief directorship stints at Paris Opéra Ballet and Boston Ballet before becoming a guest teacher and choreographer.

Patricia McBride danced with New York City Ballet from 1959 to 1989 and became one of its most beloved stars.  McBride never quite fit the conventional image of a Balanchine ballerina, but she sailed through some of Balanchine’s most difficult classical ballets, such as Theme and Variations.  Balanchine choreographed the lead role of Rubies on her, showcasing her ability to dance breathtakingly complex choreography with a teasing, lighthearted smile.  Her huge eyes endeared her to New York City Ballet audiences.  She is perhaps best known for creating the role of Swanilda in Balanchine’s version of Coppélia.

Suzanne Farrell is one of the most highly regarded American ballerinas of the 20th century.  She joined New York City Ballet in 1961, eventually working her way up to principal status, until she retired in 1989.  Farrell took a brief 5-year leave of absence from New York City Ballet (1970-1975) when she married fellow dancer Paul Mejia, which strained her relationship with Balanchine.

Balanchine referred to Farrell as his “Stradivarius.”  She was one of the Balanchine’s greatest muses, and he created countless works on her.  The Diamonds pas de deux showed off Farrell’s limitless capacities for classical dancing and reflected Balanchine’s reverence for her.  Ms. Farrell now runs her own dance company, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which performs at the Kennedy Center.  She was one of five recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2005.

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Report from New York’s Fall for Dance Festival

September 24, 2008

Guest writer: Andrew Edmonson, director of marketing and public relations

The Lone Star State took center stage on Tuesday night at Fall for Dance, New York’s most popular dance festival which officially launches the new arts season in Manhattan.  Houston Ballet was one of five companies featured on the fourth program of Fall for Dance, running September 17-27 at the City Center in Manhattan.

Houston Ballet principal dancers Connor Walsh and Sara Webb sailed effortlessly through George Balanchine’s demanding classical showpiece Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, eliciting a roar of approval and rousing cheers from the sell-out crowd.

Sara caught the eye of Wendy Perron, editor in chief of Dance Magazine, the leading trade publication for ballet, who was beguiled by Sara’s authoritative presence and sparkling interpretation.

Immediately following Sara and Connor were Houston native Ayman Harper and HSPVA grad Mario Zambrano, who charmed the audience with their comic modern dance duet The New 45, choreographed by Richard Siegal for his company Richard Siegal/The Bakery.

Both the programming and the audience were incredibly eclectic at Fall for Dance.  Tuesday night’s concert opened with an excerpt from Cold Dagger, performed by China’s cutting-edge modern dance troupe, BeijingDance/LDTX. 

In the second part of the program, Taiwanese dancer Fang-Yi Sheu of LAFA & Artists Dance Company  held the audience spellbound with only a table as partner in an excerpt from Single Room, a modern dance solo dramatizing a woman’s loneliness in a relationship in which Ms. Sheu writhed sensuously and mysteriously.  Single Room was choreographed by Bulareyaung Pagarlava.

And an ensemble of eleven male hula dancers in grass skirts from Hawaii, The Gentlemen of H ä lau N ä Kamalei, brought the evening to an intriguing close, performing Kahikilani, choreographed by Robert Uluvethi Cazimero to music that he also composed. 

After the show, the trendiest of the crowd adjourned to the FFD Lounge for drinks, conversation with the artists and club dancing. 

Houston Ballet ballet master Claudio Munoz traveled with Sara and Connor, coaching them for their big moment, while stage manager Brian Walker insured that everything went smoothly backstage.  Former Houston Ballet staffer Carmen Mathe, in Gotham to teach for two weeks, was at the performances to cheer the Houstonians on. 

The fourth program will be performed a second time tonight, September 24.

There is no rest for the weary, however.  Sara and Connor fly back to Texas early Thursday morning for the final dress rehearsal for Houston Ballet’s program Classically Modern, which opens Friday, September 26 at Wortham Theater Center.

For more information on Fall for Dance, which continues through September 27, visit the City Center website.

-Andrew

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