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Ashton Celebration
-Onstage with the Dancers

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Lincoln Center Festival Presents
Director: Nigel Redden
(Festival Website)
Ashton Celebration
(Ashton Bio)
Director, Publicity: Eileen McMahon
Manager Publicity: Marian Skokan
Ticket Coordinator: Gary Gerdes

K-Ballet Company
Artistic Director: Tetsuya Kumakawa
Music Director and Conductor: Anthony Twiner
(Website)

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Director: David Bintley
Music Director and Conductor: Barry Wordsworth
(Website)

The Joffrey Ballet
Artistic Director: Gerald Arpino
Music Director and Principal Conductor: Leslie B. Dunner
(Website)

New York City Opera Orchestra
Music Director: George Manahan

Review by Dr. Robert E. Zlokower
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
July 7, 2004

Sir Frederick Ashton, actually born in Ecuador about one century ago, was Britain's most renowned choreographer. Ashton choreographed his first ballet at the age of 21 and later was Co-Founder of the Ballet Club, later Ballet Rambert. He served in the Royal Air Force and joined Ninette de Valois as associate at Vic-Wells Ballet, later The Royal Ballet, which he directed from 1963 to 1970. Ashton produced 80 ballets, opera dances, film dances, and musical comedies. He mentored dancers and choreographers and developed an enormous following in the international arts community. (Program Notes).

K-Ballet Company (Rhapsody, 2001, Japan): Music by Serge Rachmaninoff, Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Set and Costume Design by Patrick Caulfield, Lighting by John B. Read, Pianist: Risa Takahashi, Performed by Viviana Durante and Tetsuya Kumakawa as the Principal Couple and the Company as Six Couples.

Tonight's performance of Rhapsody had a more bravura quality, as Mr. Kumakawa achieved perfect timing, balance, and poise, and with deserved audience approval he blew a kiss to the audience in the final figure. Ms. Durante and the Company of six couples were obviously even more rehearsed, and the Opera House was breathless and then boisterous in this electrically charged, yet elegant work. Tonight, the angular turns and charismatic attitudes were more apparent. Ms. Takahashi once again provided the piano accompaniment that drives the ecstatic energy. I could never tire of seeing this work with the virtuosic duo of Tetsuya Kumakawa and Viviana Durante.

Birmingham Royal Ballet (Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, 1975, Hamburg): Music by Johannes Brahms, Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Staging by Lynn Seymour, Lighting by Mark Jonathan, Performed by Molly Smolen, Solo Pianist: Kate Shipway. (See Isadora Duncan Bio). In barefoot abandon and in very Isadora Duncan motif, Molly Smolen rose from the stage floor in golden hues, red curly hair, and peach, flowing dress and ran across space, dropping glistening rose petals and uplifting her expansive scarf, as it caught the wind. Kate Shipway, on solo piano, also onstage, was the interactive performer, energizing Ms. Smolen with drama, joy, and passion. This unusual work should be added to today's repertoires for its fusion of ballet and modern dance, for its tribute to Ms. Duncan, and for its aesthetic beauty.


Ashton Celebration -- Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan. Birmingham Royal Ballet Molly Smolen. Date Photographed: July 7, 2004
Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival

Birmingham Royal Ballet (Dante Sonata, 2000, Birmingham): Music by Franz Liszt, arranged by Constant Lambert, Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Design by Sophie Fedorovitch, Lighting by Mark Jonathan, Performed by Ambra Vallo, Victoria Marr, Robert Parker, and the Company as Children of Light; Silvia Jimenez, Dominic Antonucci, and the Company as Children of Darkness, Solo Pianist: Jonathan Higgins.

Another barefoot fusion of modern and ballet, this is an important work with historical and psychological implications. The Children of Darkness, metaphor for evil, dressed in stark black dresses with angular straps, and male dancers in nude unitards laced with black, battle the Children of Light, metaphor for goodness, dressed in white dresses and male dancers in nude unitards laced with white.

Implications of War are rampant, and Silvia Jimenez and Dominic Antonucci as evil creatures with extra snakelike costumes, coupled with extra, evil poses and evil dances were quite remarkable and well cast. Ambra Vallo, Victoria Marr, and Robert Parker were quintessential innocence, and in the end, both Mr. Antonucci and Mr. Parker were born off like human crosses, across the shoulders of their "Children". Some of the beating of the chest and flailing of arms were reminiscent of Lady Capulet's excruciating scene in Romeo and Juliet. Ashton's choreography and still figures were balanced, yet amorphous. Sophie Fedorovitch's minimalist, white on black design of a staircase to hell with heavenly clouds above was well suited to this chiaroscuro work. Liszt's score, with Jonathan Higgins on piano, was dynamic and dark. Dante Sonata is a work to revisit.

The Joffrey Ballet (A Wedding Bouquet, 1978, NY) Music by Lord Berners, Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Words by Gertrude Stein, Set and Costumes by Lord Berners, Lighting by Kevin Dreyer, Staging by Christopher Newton, Performed by Christian Holder as Narrator, Emily Patterson as Bride, Calvin Kitten as Ernest, Britta Lazenga as Josephine, Maia Wilkins as Julia, Willy Shives as Bridegroom, Jennifer Goodman as Pepe, Julia's Dog, and the Company as Webster, Peasant Girls, Peasant Boys, Paul, John, Violet, Therese, Arthur, Guy, Guests, Gendarmes, and Bridesmaids.

Another campy ballet, in the fragmented style of Enigma Variations, danced to Gertrude Stein's lyrics, recited by Geoffrey Holder (unfortunately with a malfunctioning microphone), and to a score by Lord Berners, A Wedding Bouquet is actually a tantalizing delight. Full disclosure, I happen to be a friend of the "Bride", Emily Patterson, who marries a rogue (Willy Shives), who dances an American Tango with the female guests, many of whom he has apparently bedded in the past.

A Wedding Bouquet is actually more like a pre-divorce event, with the bride undressing into a white garter and tiny tutu, with a small garland in her hair, replacing the wedding veil of innocence. Maia Wilkins as Julia, the Bridegroom's spacey, castaway lover, who has only her dog, Pepe (Jennifer Goodman en pointe, with a dog face and brown unitard and tail), to console her, is adorable. Lord Berners' set and costumes are ever so memorable. Provincial France and quaint chateau are the backdrop, and the interior wedding party scene is an open stage for the eccentrics, high on champagne.

Britta Lazenga as Josephine, a well-dressed harlot, is escorted out to Stein's staccato lyrics to leave. Calvin Kitten as the hilarious Ernest was theatrically entertaining, and Ms. Patterson, as Bride, carried this comical extravaganza to the edge, with her ingénue vulnerability and extraordinary characterizations of the stoic, but soon to be unhappy wife. The Bride-Bridegroom pas de deux was a study in disharmony. No chemistry, no connection. Geoffrey Holder exuded stage presence and courage. The Company as Peasant Girls, Peasant Boys, Guests, Gendarmes, and Bridesmaids was outstanding.

Kudos to Lincoln Center Festival 2004.

 

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net