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Chicago's voice of Balanchine

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4/17/2014 - Director's Insights - Divertimento No. 15



Inside Ballet Chicago's On Pointe Program
May 17 & 18, 2014 at the Harris Theater

A "Director's Insights" Essay Series
Divertimento No. 15 - Serene Classical Brilliance


Balanchine is known to have said, "All of Mozart's music dances!" Indeed, Balanchine profoundly revered Mozart, and in 1956, that reverence and Mr. B's genius resulted in a work that can only be called sublime in its aesthetic beauty and illumination of Mozart's exquisite score. A revered masterpiece, Divertimento No. 15 remains actively performed in professional companies worldwide.

Rehearsing Divertimento No. 15 is a dose of heaven on earth, as it brings one close to both the beauty and the actual technical craft of two towering geniuses. Watching the ballet, one's ears revel at how Mozart states and develops his elegant musical themes while one's eyes marvel at how Balanchine's choreography reveals the interior of Mozart's music in an organic and seamless way. "How simply beautiful, how beautifully simple!" visits one as a kind of ongoing epiphany.


Ballet Chicago Studio Company Members rehearsing Divertimento No. 15
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust


Simple beauty is deceptively difficult to accomplish, as it requires dancers to shed all unconscious mannerisms and unnecessary motions, a grueling daily pursuit of extreme precision, honing, and polishing. Dancers ultimately love this process, as genuine clarity is one of the most fundamentally enabling tools in a dancer's arsenal of expressive capacity.

The ballet's five sections elegantly reflect the structure of Mozart's score. The opening movement, entitled Allegro, brings the cast of 16 dancers into view by stages, announcing all thirteen ladies and three men by its end. Second is Thema mit Variationen, a "theme and variations" section in which initial movement themes stated by two of the three men are followed by a set of charming and technically challenging variations, performed by the ballet's six principal dancers. Third is the Menuetto (minuet), which gives the corps an opportunity to shine as an ensemble and also to be featured in pairs. The fourth section, the Andante (moderately slow), is a series of partnered duets tranquilly evoking Mozart's long melodic lines. The fifth and final section, Allegro Molto (very lively), brings the dancers onto the stage in buoyant duets and trios, squeezing in a brief cadenza before the full cast's final moments.


Jordan Kiehle and Brennan Smith are creating brand new Divertimento No. 15 tutus after the original Karinska design.


Having performed one of the ballet's three male roles under Mr. B.'s direction is a blessing that brings first-hand knowledge to the preparation of the work. But I am far from alone in this endeavor; Associate Artistic Director Patricia Blair brings her own wealth of knowledge and expertise to the process. Having danced many Balanchine ballets during her performing years, she is also a repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, and has been masterfully teaching Balanchine-based technique her entire teaching career. A welcome additional eye is that of Ballet Chicago Resident Choreographer Ted Seymour, who recently performed Divertimento No. 15 himself with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet at Kennedy Center. And last, but far from least, is Balanchine Trust repetiteur Sandra Jennings, who also performed Divertimento No. 15 under Balanchine's direction. An exceptional authority who stages Balanchine's ballets all over the world, Ms. Jennings staged Divertimento No. 15 for Ballet Chicago in 2010, and it is her staging that we will perform again this season.

On May 17 and 18 at the Harris Theater, don't miss the curtain rising on the vision of classical grace that is Divertimento No. 15, passionately performed by the Ballet Chicago Studio Company!

And watch for next week's blog, which will be an interview with Ballet Chicago Resident Choreographer Ted Seymour about his world premiere, Intermezzi!

Sincerely,

Dan Duell
Artistic Director




4/3/2014 - Directors' Insights - Tarantella


Inside Ballet Chicago's On Pointe Program
May 17 & 18, 2014 at The Harris Theater

A "Director's Insights" Essay Series
Tarantella - Fireworks abound


Many years ago (1968), in his first summer away from home, a young mid-western boy in his fifth year of ballet training saw a series of compelling performances that helped determine the course of his career. The company was the New York City Ballet in its annual season at Saratoga Springs, and its performances featured many of the era's great artists including Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Violette Verdy, Jacques d'Amboise, Peter Martins, and Edward Villella, among others.

The many formative first impressions this young lad took away from that summer included an electrifying performance of George Balanchine's Tarantella danced by Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, for whom Balanchine had created the work. Seeing these two great artists explode onto the stage with their boundless energy, dazzling technical prowess, and enveloping, radiant warmth was utterly unforgettable, as was Louis Moreau Gottschalk's lively music. Imagine then my excitement over the next several years when, as a student at Balanchine's School of American Ballet, I was among those assigned to perform Tarantella for young audiences at public schools throughout the Big Apple! Later, for independent professional concert tours, Edward Villella himself coached me in the work. In September 1988, for my last classical performance onstage in a Ballet Chicago performance program we called "See the Music, Hear the Dance," I chose Tarantella as the work to dance. Thus it is with special pleasure that we bring Tarantella to the Harris Theater stage for the first time.


Artistic Director Daniel Duell and students of the Ballet Chicago Studio Company in rehearsal for Tarantella
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

The brilliance and exceptional speed of the musical form called "tarantella" stem from an ancient gypsy legend in which a person, once bitten by a poisonous spider (tarantula) must "dance out the poison" to save his or her life (which explains why there is no such thing as a slow or leisurely "tarantella"). Below are quotes from New York City Ballet's brief description of the music and choreography for Balanchine's Tarantella.

"This sprightly music, despite its Italian air, was composed by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), a New Orleans-born composer and pianist who made a large impact in his brief life. The audacity and wit of his works, along with his brilliance at the keyboard, made his compositions immensely popular... Gottschalk was a true American original, and his achievements had a great impact on composers and performers who followed. Balanchine admired this particular composition and choreographed a pas de deux for Patricia McBride and Edward Villella - two virtuosic dancers - in 1964."
In his Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, Balanchine wrote of the music, "It is a dazzling display piece, full of speed and high spirits. So, I hope, is the dance, which is 'Neopolitan' if you like and 'demi-caractère.' The costumes are inspired by Italy, anyhow, and there are tambourines."


Ballet Chicago Studio Company members rehearsing Tarantella.
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

Prepare to be dazzled and inspired by our performances of Tarantella on May 17th & 18th at the Harris Theater, and by the other four works in our diverse and exciting On Pointe program! Visit balletchicago.org or harristheaterchicago.org for more information and tickets.

Keep an eye out for my next blog, which will reveal treasures about Balanchine's classical masterpiece, Divertimento No. 15!

Sincerely,


Dan Duell
Artistic Director




 

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