Friday, September 3, 2021

A Fine Sampler of Contemporary Ballet at the Pillow

 Karina González, Harper Watters, and Chandler Dalton of Houston Ballet in
Reflections. Photo by Christopher Duggan

From seeing Jacob’s Pillow’s Ballet Coast to Coast program in late August, contemporary ballet looks to be in good shape. Three accomplished companies brought chamber-sized works to the outdoor Leir Stage in the final offering of the Pillow’s robust summer festival, which had to cope not only with the pandemic, but the dodgy summer weather which caused many cancellations. The slate balanced humor, expressionism, and formalism in works by five choreographers.

Boston Ballet began the show with Helen Pickett’s Home Studies: Parlor Floor Life (2021), inspired by a film, in which Lia Cirio, Paul Craig, and My’Kal Stromile plopped on a sofa like restless kids, sticking their legs up and messing around. In a solo, Stromile used his long limbs and superb line to accentuate the expressive gestures and articulations to maximum effect. Cirio and Craig partnered in a duet, showing Pickett’s explorations in how two bodies can interact in new ways—a foot flicking between legs, or him pulling her in a circle by one of her feet extended high. After a year and a half spent on the sofa, the visual jokes involving boredom and antsiness hit home.

Houston Ballet’s two excerpt offerings, in contrast, showed ballet at its most fluid and lucid. Stanton Welch’s Sons de l’Ame (2013), with Karina González and Harper Watters, featured simple poses connected by flowing, elegant moves. Each line was continually elongated; there never seemed to be any excess movement or embellishment. Even the flesh-hued leotards served to focus attention on the purity of line, the essence of classical ballet. (This piece reprises at City Center's Fall for Dance this season.) Justin Peck choreographed Reflections

My'Kal Stromile of Boston Ballet
in Home Studies: Parlor Floor Life
 Photo by Jamie Kraus

(2019), and the trio is a prime example of his sheer fluency in the language of ballet. Small traveling steps included backward low jetés, a twist on a basic element that felt radical. The color block leotards with white belts might allude to Balanchine and Robbins’ frequent reliance on such simple costumes to better free the dancers (Chandler Dalton, González, and Watters); the seamed pink tights worn by González evoked the classroom staple of ballet students everywhere. The ending tableau—their three heads turned sideways and stacked, arms framing them—beautifully punctuated this work, which the dancers clearly enjoyed performing.

Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels (1994) was performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet. It actually felt less of its period this year than when I last saw it, several years ago, on NYCB. All graphic angles and hyper-articulated torsos and deep, squatty pliés, it has a torero-like feel, abetted by the general fierce attack and the red unitards with sternum lacing. It showcased the charismatic Christopher D’Ariano, Elle Macy, Amanda Morgan, and Dylan Wald. Some of the classical steps, like fouettés, were unpolished, but the catwalk attitude was spot on.

Dancers from all three companies performed in Second to Last (2013), the finale by Alejandro Cerrudo. A series of fluid duets, composed of elastic limbs and attenuated, expressionistic lines, were quite beautiful, but somewhat repetitious. Perhaps the choice of Arvo Pärt’s by-now overused music dictated the lack of dynamic. But the concept of uniting all three companies rang true in a divisive and isolating time.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Brian Brooks at Jacob's Pillow—Seeking the Human Touch


Evan Fisk, Zack Gonder, and Stephanie Terasaki of Brian Brooks / Moving Company in
Closing Distance at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival 2021. Photo by Jamie Kraus

Brian Brooks / Moving Company’s three works at Jacob’s Pillow recently could represent time stamps of periods over the last year and a half. The opening piece, Flight Study (2021) was created primarily during Covid. The eight dancers often moved in a cloud while remaining isolated. Their movements were small in amplitude, traveling little; a foot slid forward a few inches, seemingly propelled by a mere breath. The dancers lay on the stage, taking turns arising to varying heights, evoking waves rolling onto the shore (enhanced by their navy rompers, by Karen Young). Bryce Dessner’s score for strings evoked emotions from anger to contemplation, at times propelling the dancers forward and back. Alone, but together, manipulated by some force as great as the ocean, or perhaps, chillingly, a global pandemic.

Brooks took the stage to perform Quiet Music (2021), a solo to Nico Muhly’s music which provided a change of dynamic as well as time for his company to change costumes in the now de rigeur intermissionless, under-an-hour program. Brooks can often treat dancers—most notably himself—as machine-like vehicles with which to conduct kinetic experiments involving endurance or repetition. Hopping on one leg for minutes at a time, or running relentlessly, or walking on others’ body parts to avoid contact with the floor. Here, there is no such dogma, simply fluid movement traveling from an eeling hand through the torso and head, or a languid arabesque to stretch the body briefly. In a long-sleeve shirt and pants, Brooks assumed an everyman presence somewhat reluctant to explode beyond the confines of his body’s invisible bubble.

The final work, Closing Distance (2020), was made just before Covid hit, and that’s clear in the dancers’ physical interactions and unity in moving as one organism in close ensemble passages. Caroline Shaw’s intriguing score, Partita for 8 Voices, begins with spoken phrases: “To the side, left around…” Are these directions for the dancers? Because they are circling around one another, pushing another’s arm to cause a reaction, clustering around one dancer and clutching her arm, forming a caterpillar-like creature by linking hands with elbows. A performer lowers herself to the floor, which is echoed by each successive dancer like a time-stop photo. 

In a key duet, Carlye Eckert floats her hands over a man’s body, eliciting a reaction that resembles the effect of a magnetic field. Even six feet away, as she pushes the air between them, he reacts as if she has cast energy. A closely arranged trio moves essentially as one, with a slight lag between mimicked moves. In the final section, the performers lie parallel to one another, rising a bit, then higher and higher, like a chart of the evolution of homosapiens. They coalesce in a group before lying down to succumb to the invisible force field wielded by Eckert once more. The music, sung by Roomful of Teeth, enchants with closely spaced harmonies, ethereal at times. Young also designed the white-hued costumes of variously fitted and shaped separates.

This program’s breadth symbolized the roller coaster we’ve been through lately, from a pre- and post-pandemic state of normal physical interaction, to being together yet isolated. It departed from many of Brooks’ previous presentations in some ways—less systematic scientific experimentation, and no deliberate choice of signature set or color design typical of years past, perhaps because it was performed on the Leir stage, in front of Massachusetts' verdant Berkshires. But it displays a humanity that beats in the heart of dance, in its varying complexity and potential for expression.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

NYCB Shares Stories at SPAC

The Concert. Photo courtesy NYCB

The Concert. Photo courtesy NYCB

Another sign of cultural life reviving! New York City Ballet returned live to the stage on a mild evening in July with a brief stint at its upstate home, Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). It presented two programs of excerpts with commentary—one of story ballets, which I saw on July 14, and another of Balanchine's abstract works. It was great to see the company in the vast, dramatic, tree-framed setting of the Amphitheater, with similar grand stage dimensions to the Koch, and the casual structure of the program allowed the company to ease back into preparations for a full season of performances.

The wide-ranging "Short Stories" program was moderated by principal dancer Maria Kowroski, who demonstrated a genial speaking presence to go with her in-depth, personal knowledge of the dances. The three sailors (Amar Ramasar, Spartak Hoxha, Lars Nelson) in Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free discussed the nature of their characters, and each shared a move from the dance that encapsulated a characteristic (although three rounds of questions seemed a bit much). Teresa Reichlen and Tyler Angle (with a shaved head!) performed the white swan pas de deux from Swan Lake. Reichlen's stage demeanor is consistently stoic and secretive, and in this case, served to provide some welcome gravitas to the performance, isolated from the context of the story.

Such context was also missed in the next segment, the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. Meaghan Dutton-O'Hara debuted as Aurora, no small feat given the short amount of rehearsal time (weeks) in which to cram for being partnered by four men in one of the most difficult passages in classical ballet. The lack of rehearsal time showed in some off-balance partnered promenades, which no doubt will be smoothed out with more practice. Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan came onstage to give some notes, including the advice to take one section at a time so as not to be overwhelmed, and to "be the rose," firmly planted and growing tall and proud. Another segment from Beauty followed: the opening of the Bluebird pas (Sara Adams and Spartak Hoxha), which felt suitably antic and exuberant given the plein air setting. 

A duet from Midsummer Night's Dream also matched the al fresco ambience. Miriam Miller fell for the donkey-headed Lars Nelson, who only had eyes for his grass. And the "Mistake Waltz" from Robbins' The Concert elicited chuckles from the audience, and reminded us of the humor that he often deployed. The finale, a segment from The Firebird featuring Reichlen and Ramasar, once again revealed the sense of occasion that Reichlen brings to the stage to magically train our collective focus. Full costumes helped to signify some of the context of each story segment, which were accompanied by piano scores—whose arrangements at times were by nature sketchy—played by Alan Moverman and Nancy McDill.

While NYCB's 2021 run at SPAC can barely be called a season, it was a welcome return of live arts after such a horrendous year and a half. The company recently released its full schedule for the 2021-22 season at the Koch Theater, another welcome reminder that New York's cultural life is ramping up for, hopefully, a return to normal.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Varone Scrapbooks a Solemn Year

March's landing page. Photo: S. Yung

Watching dance, like everything in 2021, is different. Choreographers are finding ways to express themselves, but for those used to having a huge stage and a captive audience for a set amount of time, there's no clear path. Ignore the bounding box of Zoom? Or address it and play with it or rage at it? And now that dancers can return to theaters—even with limited audiences—how best to utilize the limits and expanses now present?

Michael Trusnovec in "Temptation." Photo: S. Yung 

Doug Varone deals with it his way—by building a story one dance at a time, to complete The Scrapbook, a series of 10 chapters set to pop standard songs. (The subtitle edifies: 10 months / 10 letters / 10 stories / 10 songs / 10 films. Interesting that "dances" is not used, or perhaps indicative of how Varone has always viewed his work.) These are framed by a set of letters between a woman and her grandson, written during the course of the year of Covid and BLM. The letters' content ranges from affectionate salutations to much deeper questions of personal liberty and responsibility—life and death—that all of us have faced. 

Each chapter appears onscreen as a spread in a tactile leather scrapbook, with memoirs, doodles, and photos at left, and an envelope on the right, which you click to open. The letters' words unspool visually as you hear them spoken—both endearing and a bit patience-trying (although you can skip around freely). Following the text, a video of the dance plays. It's a chronological and sentimental presentation that offers an empathetic narrative through a warm visual interface.

Whitney Dufrene in "Don't Explain." Photo: S. Yung

Aspects of Varone's choreography fit well in such a context. His visceral expressions involving the upper body—impulses, upheavals, shudders, ecstasies—always eloquently convey the full breadth of human emotions. And while a lot of his oeuvre has been presented as essentially abstract, if you wished to, you could assemble a story framework given individuals' movements and group interactions. The Scrapbook's structure resembles standard linear constructs of film and literature, but it's an organic fit. (That said, Varone has experimented with site-specific works, sometimes pegged to narratives, such as Neither, in the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, or The Bottomland, filmed in caverns in Kentucky.)

Some chapters stand out. Guest artist Michael Trusnovec, who danced in Varone's commission by Paul Taylor American Modern Dance, makes a memorable appearance to the song "Temptation," forcefully resisting the pull of the great outdoors while grabbing door frames and furniture through his house, even foregoing the lure of a jigsaw puzzle, before plunging out the front door into the intoxicating night air. Whitney Dufrene imagines herself as a sultry noir chanteuse in "Don't Explain." A knock at the door shocks her back to reality; she's lingering in the bathroom, away from her partner, who has apparently abused her.

Doug Varone finding chow in "Almost Like Being in Love." Photo: S. Yung

Varone delivers his own message incisively. "Time After Time" features a close-up of his jittery hands hovering above a newspaper's help wanted ads, fidgeting with a wrist watch. And while I might've guessed Varone to be more cat than dog with his pantherine movement, in the final chapter, "Almost Like Being in Love," he comically embodies a canine, with all the simple pleasures therein—lapping up his chow and snuggling with his human on the sofa—and presumably the joy of having his people around full time, one benefit of the pandemic. 

The Scrapbook illuminates such unexpected pleasures, and reminisces about the darker times of the year. And while some of the episodes echo the tired "trapped at home" vibe so prevalent during Covid, they're an accurate reflection of the isolation and frustration we've all been through.

The Scrapbook: Doug Varone, artistic director; One Foot Productions, website creation & production; Joan Winters, graphic design; Kevin Merritt, letter narrative; Patty Bryan, creative consultant.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Dance Moves Forward — Support, Watch, Learn, and Toast

The dance world has been hit especially hard by Covid 19. Here are a few events—digitally accessible—happening soon, of interest. Help support dance and experience some amazing stuff. 

Kyle Abraham/A.I.M

Abraham/A.I.M have put together Homecoming Week (Oct 12—17), a varied slate of events to raise awareness and funds with an eye toward continuity:

Oct 12, noon (bid through Oct 16, 6pm): Silent Auction
Lots include a solo performance by Kyle Abraham; a private Zoom class with newly appointed ABT principal Calvin Royal III; a behind-the-scenes tour of Gramercy Tavern's kitchen by Executive Chef Michael Anthony; a pass for a MasterClass of your choice. 

Oct 14, 7pm: Homecoming Night
Line-up features a conversation between Kyle and Misty Copeland, principal with ABT (Misty performed Ash, a solo by Kyle created for City Center's 2019 Fall for Dance); plus appearances by artists Carrie Mae Weems and Glenn Ligon; Bebe Neuwirth; and A.I.M dancers. Streaming for free.

Oct 17, noon: Open level Masterclass with A.I.M dancer Tamisha Guy
Sliding scale donations welcome, including sponsoring another dancer's participation.

City Center — Fall for Dance

Dormeshia. Photo: Christopher
Duggan Photography

Two programs boast four world premiere commissions and an all-star cast performing on City Center's stage, hosted by Alicia Graf Mack and David Hallberg.

Oct 21, 7:30pm: Ballet Hispanico, 18 + 1; Jamar Roberts commission, Morani/Mungu (Black Warrior/Black God); Martha Graham Dance Company, Lamentation; Sara Mearns & David Hallberg, commission by Chris Wheeldon, The Two of Us

Oct 26, 7:30pm: Ashley Bouder, Tiler Peck & Brittany Pollack in excerpts from Balanchine's Who Cares?; Calvin Royal III, commission by Kyle Abraham; Lar Lubovitch Dance Company with guests Adrian Danchig-Waring & Joseph Gordon in Lubovitch's duet from Concerto Six Twenty-Two; Dormeshia, commission, Lady Swings the Blues

$15 per program for digital access through Nov 1

Michael Trusnovec. Photo: Mohamed Sadek

Joyce Theater — State of Darkness and Choreographers and Cocktails

A bold move by the Joyce to appeal to fanatics (but accessible to all)—a solo interpreted by seven fantastic performers at different times.

Oct 24—Nov 1: Molissa Fenley's 1988 solo, State of Darkness, to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, interpreted by Michael Trusnovec, Cassandra Trenary, Annique Roberts, Shamel Pitts, Sara Mearns, Lloyd Knight, and Jared Brown — over several nights. 

Access to individual performances (viewable until Nov 7) is $12; $150 nets you a household pass to see all seven, plus a talk with Fenley and the dancers, led by Peter Boal — and a cocktail recipe. 

Fisher Center at Bard—The Four Quartets Experience

Pam Tanowitz's highly praised Four Quartets (2018 world premiere performance) screens Oct 31—Nov 1 at Upstreaming, Fisher Center's online platform (access starts at $10). 

In addition, a new film screens: There the Dance Is, documenting the dancers' experience of performing Four Quartets, plus an audiobook of actress Kathleen Chalfant reading T.S. Eliot's pseudonymic poem (streams free from Oct 31—Dec 31). 

Tanowitz speaks by video with critic Alastair Macaulay on Oct 30 at 7pm ($100 includes a virtual toast plus access to the archival performance stream and the audio recording)

Monday, July 27, 2020

Never Have I Ever Saves the Summer of 2020

Lee Rodriguez, Maitreyi Ramakrishna, Ramona Young 
in Never Have I Ever

Young adult shows are mainstay guilty pleasures. Riverdale is a current leading entry, although it jumped the shark a few seasons ago—Archie runs a boxing gym, and Veronica a speakeasy and rum producing company, all while going to high school and solving crimes? Mmm, okay. And Riverdale is the hotseat of syndicated crime and/or mass murderers…? no prob. I miss coming-of-age shows including Gossip Girl and Jane the Virgin and the gold standard, Friday Night Lights. But the cursed summer of 2020 has borne new tv treasures which not only tell teen stories, but embrace a more inclusive narrative.

Foremost: Never Have I Ever (Netflix, 10 episodes), created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, which follows Devi, an American-Indian teen who has just recovered from psychosomatic trauma caused by the sudden death of her father. She’s trying to get back to a normal high schooler’s life, but as we all know, to begin with that’s an overload of emotional turmoil and social awkwardness, never mind a trauma. Maitreyi Ramakrishna plays Devi in her first acting role. Apparently Kaling did an open casting call, and somehow found someone who’s naturally comfortable onscreen and talks like I’d imagine a typical smart, sassy Sherman Oaks teen would. Devi has a crush on Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet), a multi-racial 29 year old in real life. Amazing story—Kaling didn’t know Barnet’s full heritage until she heard him speaking Japanese, and so “Yoshida” was added onto “Hall” for his name.

Two of the cast’s other three featured young classmates are non-white—Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) are Devi’s closest pals, each grappling with her own big issue. Ben (Jaren Lewison)—rich and completely ignored by his self-absorbed parents—is Devi’s nemesis at the start of the series; they’ve been academic rivals since childhood, and through the series, their relationship takes twists and turns to take them to a new level. John McEnroe is the off-screen narrator (with one fantastic guest spin by Andy Samberg), which underscores the bottled up rage that simmers in Devi’s heart.

Devi also struggles with satisfying the fraying Indian traditions carried on begrudgingly by her dermatologist mom (the acerbic Poorna Jagannathan), and even more unwillingly by her hot cousin, Kamala (Richa Moorjani), who’s staying with Devi and her mom while finishing a doctorate, and being matched up with a potential suitor by her parents. (Meta note: Kamala becomes obsessed with Riverdale after Devi introduces her to it.) Devi is seeing a therapist (Niecy Nash), so in her hilariously frank sessions, we hear what’s really going through her head.

My favorite episode is five: “...started a nuclear war.” Ben leads a team going to a model UN, and Devi joins at the last minute. (They’re such well-matched rivals that they’d split up all potential extracurricular activities between them to avoid running up against each other. Devi broke their pact for the model UN in order to escape her being grounded.) Ben (repping the USA) runs afoul of Devi (Ecuatorial Guinea), who winds up making a deal with Russia, a social outcast, to borrow a nuclear bomb to attack the US in exchange for Devi’s “real” email address. The script is perfect and hilarious, and their exchange in the UN conference is an apt metaphor for all the complexities of their interpersonal angst. Ramakrishna’s timing and realistic cool-kid patois are remarkable, and she’s allowed to look like a regular teen, not overly made up or too glam to be believed. Best of all is the dialogue, worth rewatching the season to catch every brilliant bit of snark and wit. A second season has been slated. Hallelujah!

Wyatt Oleff & Sophia Lillis in I Am Not Okay With This

I Am Not Okay With This (Netflix) shares devices with Never. High schooler Sidney (Sophia Lillis) also lost her dad at a young age, and she’s also undergoing therapy sessions, which reveal some of her deepest thoughts. Her blue collar mom also struggles to relate to her and be there as much as she and her little brother need. Sidney also deals with intense rage and trauma, but hers manifests in telekinesis, rather than McEnroe. It’s violent, and at first uncontrollable. Stan (Wyatt Oleff) is her weird, endearing neighbor/classmate who becomes her friend and confidant, and develops a crush on her. Her usual BFF, Dina (Sofia Bryant) has been ditching Sid for a popular, cheating football-star boyfriend. I haven't finished the first season, but its brand of quirk and angst are addictive. 

I never read The Babysitter’s Club books, but the new series is endearing in a nostalgic way. The title is basically the plot frame; for some reason, the five core girls comprising the club have to gather in cool kid Claudia’s room and wait by a landline phone for jobs to come in (while they all have cell phones). Good reason to gather them in one place. There are the expected characters twists, moral-of-the-story plotlines, clueless parents, and intergroup dynamics. All the girls live in enviable huge houses in fictional Stoneybrook, Connecticut (by way of LA, it would seem), where it never seems to rain. But it’s visual comfort food.

The racial diversity on-screen has been a welcome change in this summer of #BLM. Not so much I Am Not Okay, which has one non-white lead, but the leads are definitely off-beat. Many of the characters are basically outcasts, or struggle with relationships. Spoiler alert! At the end of season one of Never, Devi has two boys pursuing her romantically, even after conflicts with both. And in Never and Babysitter’s Club, the kids deemed “coolest” are actually Asian, or part Asian. In Never, inter-Asian racism jokes pop up, to hilarious effect. Eleanor’s mom, who’s supposed to be leading a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie on a cruise liner, turns up waiting tables in a local Mexican joint. When Paxton tells Eleanor he saw her mom there, Eleanor, not able to process the idea, accuses Paxton of thinking all Asians look alike. He tells her he’s part Asian, which shocks his doofus buddy. “That’s what the Yoshida part is, dude! Japanese!,” barks Paxton. Eleanor goes to the restaurant to see if it really might be her mom, and grabs another Asian waitress from behind. It’s not her mom, and she says, “that was really racist of me.”

And Claudia, in Babysitter’s Club, is played by Momona Tamada, of Japanese descent. Not only does her fantastic room, complete with candy hidden in the armchair, serve as HQ, Claudia is an artist, and dresses like a brazen bohemian. Without question, she’s the coolest kid around. (Tamada played the young Lara Jean in the To All the Boys' second film.) Another of the girls, Maryann, is half Black, half white. Her mom is dead (what’s with all these prematurely dying parents?), leaving her in her very white dad’s care. Maryann has worn her long hair in two braids her entire life. Turns out it’s the only hairstyle her dad knew how to do. So she changes up her hair, as well as the overalls she’s always worn, and eschews the wheelie backpack that she’s always used, which was supposed to be orthopedically beneficial. 

Minju Kim design

Next in Fashion (Netflix) is another show that centered Asians, both in the ranks of competing fashion designers, and in the hosting/judging spots. It’s co-hosted by a couple of cool cats—the fabulous Tan France of Queer Eye, and Alexa Chung, who is part Chinese. While season one took awhile to pique my interest—the designers begin by working in pairs, which in standards like Project Runway, usually spells forced discord—it wound up so much better than its nearest chronological competitor, Making the Cut (on Amazon, hosted by old PR hands Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn).

Spoiler alert! Several Asians wound up in the final group (by then working solo), and the winner—Minju, from Korea—was one of the least likely from the outset, at least going by traditional indicators of emotional makeup and a cool aesthetic. But her designs had straddled tradition and futurism the whole season, ultimately winding up on the latter end. Her voluminous designs were feminine, but not in the typically western way of snug fitting, comfort second, and high heels. Minju’s aesthetic really does feel like a way forward in fashion without ceding innovation to male perceptions of how women should look. Her palette sang, too, plus her self-effacing nature—which admittedly could grate—became genuinely moving in her humble acceptance notes.

So in this summer of covid and #BLM, I sought some refuge in mainly light entertainment, but which packed a personal wallop by moving Asians toward the focus. It’s not only their significant presence, but that they speak with no accents and are simply integrated into larger social groups. The just-ended series Fresh Off the Boat had its moments, but the forced (and ever shifting) imitation Chinese-English accents of Louis and Jessica were never highlights. Glad to see tv evolving and embracing non-white leads who are just American kids.

ps - apologies for the terrible layout; Blogger has a new version, and I have not mastered it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The sad side of Symphony in C

New York City Ballet performing Symphony in C in 1973

How sad is it that composer Georges Bizet never witnessed his Symphony in C being performed? He wrote it in 1855 in about a month when he was 17 as a student exercise while studying under Charles Gounod at the Paris Conservatoire. It was shelved, and would ultimately be unearthed by Bizet’s biographer and given its first performance in 1935 in Switzerland. (Sections of it would survive in other works.)

And in 1947 at Paris Opera Ballet, George Balanchine choreographed the pseudonymous ballet to it, and New York City Ballet performed it the next year at City Center. The dance would become one of his hallmarks of classical ballet, and remains a standard in large ballet company repertory, noted for its vivacity, dynamic shifts, dancey musicality, devilish technique, and as a show of a large company’s depth. When ABT performed it at City Center a few years back, the stage was so full in the finale, with 50 some odd dancers, that it seemed some might fall into the orchestra pit.

There’s a theory that Bizet didn’t perform Symphony in C as it shares some traits with his teacher Charles Gounod’s Symphony in D (also from 1855). Indeed, there are similarities, in fact some direct references, but Gounod’s is more atmospheric, pensive, and far less rhythmic and jaunty. Perhaps it is a reflex reaction developed by watching the ballet so many times, but I can’t help bounce along with Bizet’s irresistible melodies. And, written at 17!

It’s also a testament to the power of dance to underscore and delineate the music’s essence. Each of the four ballet movements is distinctive, offering each of its four lead couples an occasion to show off their finest characteristics, from allegro to andante. Is there a more heartrending passage than the end of the adagio section when the man lowers the woman through a spiral to rest on his knee? Even in a time-marking vamp in the allegro section, Balanchine enlivens it by having the dancers bounce between small pliés and relevés. The men pay homage to Balanchine's idea of "woman as ballet" by brushing the backs of their hands along the womens’ tutus. And the full-cast finale never fails to impress, a gigantic swiss timepiece clicking and whirring, each dancer/jewel in their place. The corps is just as important as the featured pairs. It’s also one ballet that both ABT and NYCB have both performed, with ABT’s feeling somehow more authentic.

Bizet may have borrowed enough melodic notions from his teacher to prevent a performance of it in his lifetime. But he might be pleased to learn that his composition has become ensconced in 21st century culture, and that even Gounod, if a little envious, might have been proud of its success.