Culture on the Web: Classical Arts Station

18 Jan

Channel 32.5 provides San Franciscans with 24/7 doses of culture: opera, symphony, drama, the occasional interview, and dance. Marc Platt, the venerable centenarian, first told me about it but it took me a while before I could say, “Me, too.” My exposure is sporadic – usually it’s The PBS Newshour, the BBC, NHK and occasionally the German-based news broadcaster – most saying the same things, but in varying order of importance and amount of coverage.

But 32.5 in the Bay Area can be a real treat – I recently saw Manuel Legris whirling through some palace in Vienna; every time he moved to a palatial hall with a differing dominant color, the patterns on his tights were color-coded to match.Dancing down the staircase to his final pose, the tights matched the opening footage. For the perfectionist part of one’s taste, it could not have been bested.

Last night, however, I turned it on after the witching hour and was treated to the dancing image of a very young Jacques d’Amboise, Janet Reed and Todd Bolender in a sequence from Lew Christensen’s Filling Station, that beloved precedent-setting ballet piece and the initial tour of Ballet Caravan, libretto by Lincoln Kirstein, music by Virgil Thompson, the first all American piece by an American ballet ensemble, premiered in Hartford, Connecticut, November 1937.

The visual tone was a varied shade of sepia with the setting rendered far more minimal than the traditional one, telephone poles trailing off into the distance, the lone gas pump. Otherwise the costumes were the same, the choreography adapted to the needs of television, some skillfully. D’Amboise was Mac, the filling station attendant, young, cheerful, wings on his heels metaphorically speaking, his sautes and pirouettes dazzling, a worthy exponent in the role. Janet Reed was the drunk socialite and Todd Bolender her equally smashed escort.

Pint-sized, Reed had worked with Lew Christensen during the painful period as he waited the call to military service during World War II. She was the original tight-rope walker in Christensen’s Jinx. After a period with Ballet Theatre, she moved over to New York City Ballet where she was filmed in the socialite role originally danced by Gisela Caccialanza. The closeups showed Reed raucously comic, Bolender, off center, but still standing. The pas de deux, then the pas de cinq where the socialite is tossed or hoisted by all four men, after the two mechanics show up, hints broadly how boundlessly innocent pre-World War II behavior could be, an insular innocence which competed with Helen Hokinson’s fading middle-aged luncheon goers for gentle humor.

The bandit also appeared and a tad of the search scene, much too truncated, minus the excitement of the darkness happening in a stage production with the socialite’s cortege too close for the best visual effect, her last gesture much too broad. I could spin a visual litany of the dancers I’ve seen in the role, particularly at San Francisco Ballet- Jocelyn Vollmar, Paula Tracy, Anita Paciotti.
It’s a stellar role.

Still I was delighted to see one of Lew’s signature ballets available to today’s viewers, a vignette of a bygone era. The Philippines still has its gas station attendants. It’s a pity there is no angel to supply the funds to see it stages by Ballet Philippines, with son Chris Christensen conducting the orchestra. What a treat that might be.

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