2014 USA IBC More on Round II Choreographic Selections

14 Jul

For the Press Briefing Monday morning, June 23 at Jackson’s Clarion Ledger, jury chair Edward Villella explained the raison d’etre for assigned choreographic selections seen during Round II’s three sessions. As artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, Villella came regularly to Round III and the Gala of prior Competitions; in some instances to Round II also, which up to and including 2010 this round was a choreographic free-for-all. The pieces were either choreographed by the contestants or created by their teachers. Even with restrictions when the works had been created, few, if any, contestants chose a work in company repertoires, although the 1979 Competition enjoyed a Lew Christensen solo from Scarlatti Portfolio, danced by David McNaughton, and possibly others from European repertoire. In subsequent years, some European contestants utilized dances created for other competitions to demonstrate interpretive versatility.

Villella stated he was not impressed by most Round II selections; well he might. In addition to cavorting to pop tunes, some costumes flirted with nudity, a foretaste of the shorts-wearing teen-age students attending this year’s International Ballet School; shorts frequently seemed to be the garment of choice at performances and some social functions usually considered somewhat formal. Though not quite a prude, the sessions made me wonder about the future of the art and the mind-set of some contestants. What a dichotomy when romantic tutus are in a ballet company’s standard repertoire!

Villella mentioned, when approached for the job of jury chair, he expressed his desire to see works by contemporary choreographers which would challenge the dancers, maintain technical skill and foster evidence of individual interpretation. Chosen for this task were works from Trey McIntyre for solos, two for the men, two for the women, one each in the junior and senior categories, two pas de deux by Michael Neenan for seniors and one for the juniors. The costumes also were specified, simple, undistracted by sequins or ruffles.
McIntyre’s choreography, one of the more off-beat of current choreographers, used excerpts from Bad Winter and Leatherwing Bat, which, not seeing the full ballet, says nothing about the charm of the music. Bad Winter employed a vintage-sounding vocal by Steven Tracy of “Pennies from Heaven” for junior women and the delightful Peter, Paul and Mary folk tune, “Leatherwing Bat” for the junior men.

For the senior males, McIntyre selected Book Trio music from Henry Cowell’s Book Trio “Four Combinations for Three Instruments and Trio in Nine Short Movements” under the title (serious.) The senior women got an excerpt from Robust American Love, “A Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” performed by Fleet Foxes.

Michael Neenan’s selections included a ‘Thirties style pas de deux from Penumbra to music by Alberto Ginastra, and a Switch Phase excerpt by “Café Tacuba” from Brooklyn Rider’s Passport album, a selection of angst and tension. The sole junior pas de deux, The Last Glass excerpt, Beirut’s “Un Dernier Verre” but sung in English was suitably gentler. `

Seen once, the choices allowed audience and jurors to assess the competitors’ interpretive abilities. Over the three sessions, this decision manifested wisely, the interpretative edge going to dancers familiar with American predilections for lyrics or dramatic tension. I remember most junior selections and the pas de deux, the senior women’s selection dimmer in my impression. Seniors numbered twenty-three, juniors twenty-one, with twelve senior pas de deux, only six for the juniors. Fifteen juniors danced solos, eleven seniors performed alone.

The Last Glass, the junior pas de deux, featured the girl frequently with her back to the audience, once or twice in broad a la seconde en pointe spider-like in movement, lifted, dancing pirouettes; in the end en pointe, back to the audience, right foot beating delicately on the calf of the supporting left leg, to convey, apparently, the fluttering response of reciprocated young love. Of the juniors, just two junior Brasilians, Yasmin Lamondo and Gustavo Carvalho, danced this pas together into the finalist category. Romina Contreras of Chile, with a senior partner, also made the cut from this pas de deux. The remaining junior males interpreted Leatherwing Bat and the junior women Bad Winter.

For Bad Winter the junior women were required to wear black trunks, a striped stretch tunic covered over by an exaggerated white jacket with wide lapels and lengthy tie-like closing. Standing stage center-back, the dancer started to edge forward foot parallel to the stage, three such movements before the reedy rendition began. The body moves to face back, arms raised to make an incomplete square; some not-quite pirouettes follow before the words “Pennies from Heaven” are heard. There is a jaunty salute and one starts to think “Charlie Chaplin” or “Danny Kaye” as the dancer rolls on the floor under the admonition of not being under a tree. There is another movement upstage, some demi-pointe pirouettes before the dancer lifts the white front tails above her head, falls on her back and lifts her feet as the lights are cut.

Likewise, in Leatherwing Bat, the young men had an elaborate jacket, multi-colored, perhaps the several-hued wings of a parrot, in white tights, lifted their arms like wings, moved the forearm sometimes like semi fores, head twitched bird like, sidewise body lunges, some technical bravura in service to the quirky, occasionally rhyming, bird specie litany, the slightly bouncy rhythm seeping into the pulse. It was one of McIntyre appealing folk themes, easy to appreciate, the men’s interpretive grasp equally clear.

(serious), the McIntyre selection for senior male soloists, combined precision of execution, unexpected gestures in unexpected postures with beautiful, classical movement erupting from the quirky sections. From upstage center, the dancer stood, extended their arms, inspected their hands bending forward, wrapping them around legs in a la seconde, head and body, apprehensive of being followed. The movement heads downstage right, crosses over to mid-stage right, small inflections interspersed with turns and semi-crouching steps. At the finale, the dancer falls to his knees, and falls between the curtains. Interpretation ranged from the totally precise of China’s Mengjun Chen to the controlled frenzy of Ivan Duarte from Brazil.

Matthew Neenan’s pas de deux were easily understood. After all, the two dancers need to react to each other; that necessity alone helps assessing interpretive strength. Combined with steps and music, it provides an accurate appraisal of range. The excerpt from Penumbra, danced by six couples, specified the women wear a floor-length skirt but allowed the women to choose, red, mauve, filmy tulle and uneven-length black. In contrast to Switch Phase, emotional controversy was comparatively minor, though the woman drags herself across the stage to grasp her partner’s legs toward the end, after having lain prone with the suggestion of completed love making. There was a spectacular lift and a startling head-first drop of the woman; in the end man and woman have embraced.

Switch Phase is stormy and the man gets as good as he gives; they turn, head touching head; there is one magical moment when the pair touch each other’s forefingers moving from hip to chest before going into other movements, signaling a cautious recognition of the other’s separate being requiring respect. After the lifts, or supported arabesques, there is upright, body-to-body contact and resolution. Phrasing again was the key to the effectiveness of each presentation. Melissa Gelfin, USA, and Arianna Martin, Cuba, gave distinguished interpretations as did Aaron Smyth.

These three sessions, replete with excitement; revealed the choreography as choices, physical forms of understanding over technical competence. The thirty-one finalists were the result.

N.B. The above was written during the Competition; the prior entry on Round II was written in San Francisco

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