Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson dance Balanchine

George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky pas de deux was the absolute highlight of the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary gala, at least as far as I saw on the televised version of the event. Tschaikovsky pas de deux, made in 1960 for Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow, has all the nuances of movement of which Balanchine was capable in his choreography and requires considerable technical expertise. Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson made it their own. Jackson is to be congratulated too for stepping into a role that was to be danced by one of the best male dancers around today, David Hallberg, who for some reason that I haven’t yet learnt did not appear.

In terms of the partnership, I loved the way Jones and Jackson interacted. Their initial meeting was gracious and they seemed to linger over each movement so as to enjoy the full pleasure of being in each other’s company. They developed the engagement with each other often in quite subtle ways—a gentle lean, a thrust of the hips or a bend from the waist, for example, or a hand held out to the other, and eye contact all along the way. Jones had such fluidity in the upper body and both were in such command of their movements that they often seemed to be dancing in slow motion. In the early part of the pas de deux Jones’ double swing of the leg going through a fifth position between swings was just gorgeous. Their musical phrasing was breathtaking.  And what a beautiful ending to the pas de deux—that slow, sustained unfolding from arabesque to fish dive. And how they shone in the coda when picking up that fish dive again but beginning it not from arabesque but with Jones flinging herself through the air into Jackson’s arms. Delicious.

Both executed their variations with great attack. Jones stepped into everything as if she had all the space in the world. Turns, beaten steps, that little gargouillade from Jones, Jackson’s grands pirouettes, they all were so pleasurable to watch. Jones often reminded me of that great Balanchine ballerina Merrill Ashley. While Ballo della regina is perhaps not Balanchine’s most thought provoking ballet, it was made on Ashley and Jones could look just as brilliant in it as Ashley did. Perhaps at another gala?

Jones and Jackson were rehearsed in this pas de deux by Eve Lawson. Lawson is now a ballet mistress and repetiteur with the Australian Ballet but comes from a strong Balanchine background. Amongst other things, she worked with Edward Villella at Miami City Ballet (a company with a strong Balanchine repertoire, thanks to Villella) and has worked as a repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust. While she had great material to coach in Jones and Jackson she appears to have brought out the very best in these two dancers and given them a real understanding of how to dance Balanchine. I can’t help wondering too whether her influence isn’t apparent elsewhere in the company? Unfortunately I didn’t see the gala onstage but the television screening gave me the impression that the Australian Ballet, especially the corps de ballet, is looking better than it has for years. Anyway it augurs well for next year’s Four Temperaments.

Bouquets all round!

Michelle Potter, 16 November 2012

Images? Unfortunately the Balanchine Trust did not give the Australian Ballet permission to photograph this part of the gala so I cannot include any images. Such a shame and incredibly annoying too.

Kings of the Dance. City Center, New York

19 February 2010, City Center, New York

Christopher Wheeldon’s comment was thought-provoking. In the film sequence that opened Kings of the Dance, Wheeldon remarked that the biggest challenge for choreographers working with the eight exceptional artists performing in this show was managing the different styles in which those dancers had been trained. Of the eight, Jose Manuel Carreño was trained in Cuba, Guilllaume Côté in Canada, David Hallberg and Desmond Richardson in the United States, Marcelo Gomes in South America, Joaquin de Luz in Spain, and Denis Matvienko and Nikolay Tsiskaridze in Russia. Wheeldon continued that it was a particular challenge when the dancers had to dance together in a single work, but noted that it had eventually worked well. In fact, it only worked sometimes.

The highlight of the show for me, as far as works involving more than one dancer were concerned, was Nacho Duato’s Remanso, which comprised Act III of the program. Remanso, a work made for three men in 1997, was performed by Hallberg, Côté, and Gomes on the evening I attended. Duato’s choreography is always distinctive and transcends particular methods of classical training. It allows an individual voice to emerge from the choreography rather than being pasted upon it or sublimated to it. Hallberg, Côté and Gomes responded brilliantly. They brought their undoubted talents to bear to present a thrilling performance that was both amusing and technically absorbing.

This kind of transcendence didn’t happen in Wheeldon’s own work, For 4, that followed the opening film. It was danced by Matvienko, Carreño, de Luz and Côté and, while each danced well, it was not the stylistically coherent piece that Wheeldon was obviously seeking. There were also eight distinct styles on show in the Finale when eight excellent dancers showed off their best tricks—a manège of turns or leaps or a series of grand pirouettes—although coherence was obviously not an aim here.

The middle act consisted of seven solos and one duet. They ranged from the quite cliched work by Igal Perry, Ave Maria, danced by Carreño, to the Mr Universe style of Dwight Roden’s Lament danced by Richardson.

Amongst these solos, however, was the sublimely beautiful short piece made by Frederick Ashton for Anthony Dowell in 1978—Dance of the Blessed Spirits. It began with the dancer, David Hallberg on this occasion, standing on the top of a small platform with a few steps leading down to the stage floor. Hallberg’s body was lit to resemble a piece of sculpture in a gallery and his pose initially clearly recalled Michelangelo’s David. As Hallberg descended the steps and began to dance rather than to pose, the lighting came up to reveal choreography that was simple and yet in no way simplistic. It was an understated display of what constitutes the classical body, how that body moves and how with subtle twists of the arms and turns of the head it can become an innovation. Hallberg danced with classical perfection.

In the end, in a show of this nature it is the choreography that counts. On this occasion it was Ashton and Duato who gave this show its flair.

Michelle Potter, 24 February 2010