A Gala, Estonian Style, June 28

4 Jul

One of the best things about the June 28 performance of the Estonian National Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts with its accompanying musicians was the audience.  It made me feel comme il faut still existed and a corner of the theatre-going audience  alive and well with its share of handsome young men and comely young women, nicely dressed but not attempting to be fashion plates, or boasting ostentatious rocks. Of individuals observed, I saw one mid-aged couple dressed in Estonian costume, lively if understated members of  the crowd..

Unfortunately, I arrived just before eight to learn that the performance, while starting late, was scheduled for seven – and here I had written an advance piece about Tiit Helimets efforts to bring the company here -so the premiere of the Helimets’ ballet Time was missed.

At the mid-section of the Gala, Hando Nahkur played Schumann and accompanied Hanna-Lina Vosa, singing in both Estonian and English, before Alexsandra Meijer and Tiit Helimets danced the pas de deux from Act II, Swan Lake.  The pair were also featured on the cover of the play bill,  in white on the ticket stubs, but in the Black Swan pas de deux, despite the presence of Helimets, an incongruous image for the cover of an Estonian-themed Gala. The seat rake and the stage width made Meijer look less than long-limbed. It seemed her correct port de bras was placed rather emerging organically from the solar plexus, the positions well practiced but slacking emotional motivation.  But what can one expect from a deliberately programmed cultural pot pourri?

Teric McCollum  later reminded me that Titt Helimets used  a wine promotion to help raise funds for the Estonian Festival using the Black and White Swan motif for a red and a white wine.  The promotion was apparently successful, and Quinn Wharton’s Helimets-Meijer images in those iconic roles made tardy sense (and the legs looked longer!).

The Estonian wares on display for sale quite intriguing and handsome – sand dollars with beaded circles attached for earrings, leather employed for the same purpose, key chains, wallets, a drop dead elegant leather computer case, some dresses with peasant braid arranged in expected locations, CDs of Nahkur in concert.

The Gala closed with Marina Kesler’s Othello, danced to recordings of composer Arvo Part.  It was the first time I had ever heard cacophony and forte connected with the Estonian-born composer.  McCollum also mentioned that Estonians can use his compositions free of charge, which helped understand the choice behind this tumultuous Shakespearean tale.  Unlike Portia, also Venetian, Desdemona is loved by an admiral of Moorish descent whose Christianity  must have rested comparatively lightly upon him.  His lieutenant Iago manages with the aid of Blanka to create circumstantial evidence of his beloved’s infidelity.  Othello chokes her.

Kesler has altered the plot to make Blanka accept money from Iago to plant the scarf on Cassio, a lieutenant Othello loves and trusts with Desdemona, a source of Iago’s envy. Kesler also has Blanka plant the scarf after she seduces Cassio, a considerable departure from  the Shakespearean plot, plus the joint death of Othello following his killing of Desdemona. I suppose such tweakings are permitted, but why call the ballet Othello?

Another departure from the Venetian setting and period were the women’s costumes, short, peachy-pink satin skirts of three tiers of puffs, removed at one point  and worn again at the finale. The men’s costumes looked a bit like replicas of the school uniforms worn by boys in the Russian Imperial Ballet School, admittedly quite handsome though again not of the period.

The dancers themselves were marvelously flexible and technically secure in choreography requiring stretching, bending and a variety of distortions of classical vocabulary though executed en pointe, most of them small of stature.  Any choreographer would be excited to work with such dancers.  The dancing which ignited the ballet was Sergei Lipkin’s; he got the assignment for wiliness, maneuvering, plotting and nearly all the  choreographic solos.  Othello and Desdemona in the persons of Anatoli Arhangelski and Eve Andre looked Mutt and Jeff visually, he tall and the necessary choreographic adjustments, she fair, small, roundly shaped, strong athletic legs – perfect to throw into bends, stretches and lifts or to wrap around the waist.  As Cassio Jonathan Hanks was given something of a cipher role, but still  jaunty emerging from his encounter behind the red draperies and sexual shenanigans with Heidi Kopti’s Bianka, the fated red scarf, rather than white, draped around his neck.

I would love to see the company dance Tudor, Robbins or Balanchine, even to see what they might do with Agnes de Mille.

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