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Ashton Celebration

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 6, 2004
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
212.875.5456

About the Author:

Ashton Celebration

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

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

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

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

New York City Opera Orchestra
Music Director: George Manahan

Review by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 6, 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).

Lincoln Center Festival 2004 at the Metropolitan Opera House has brilliantly and resourcefully prepared a treat for NY and visiting ballet lovers, as we so sorely miss The Joffrey Ballet and The Royal Ballet, which have been so long absent on NY ballet stages. (I happily see The Joffrey, when visiting Chicago). These audiences are also treated to K-Ballet Company and Birmingham Royal Ballet in the celebration of Sir Frederick Ashton's centennial birth. This was another centennial year, the birth of George Balanchine, and this Spring Ballet Season in NY has been exciting and full of surprises.

Included in the Ashton Celebration are films and symposiums that bring us back to the grand ballets of Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. In fact, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has a summer-long exhibit dedicated to Ms. Fonteyn. I have been a lifelong fan of Nureyev and Fonteyn, having seen them often perform together on this very stage to the accolades of tenaciously adoring fans. Curtain calls never ended.


Sir Frederick Ashton
Photo Courtesy of Leslie E. Spatt

Opening Night of the Ashton Celebration is reviewed below.

The Joffrey Ballet (Monotones I and II, 1974, NY): Music by Eric Satie, Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Orchestration by Claude Debussy, Roland Manuel, and John Lanchberry, Lighting by Kevin Dreyer, Staging by Lynn Wallis, Performed by Jennifer Goodman, Calvin Kitten, Stacy Joy Keller, Michael Levine, Victoria Jaiani, and Samuel Pergande. (See Joffrey Ballet School 50th Birthday Celebration).

Satie is one of my favorite composers, and his Trois Gnossiennes and Trois Gymnopédies are intoxicating pieces of music, sometimes as piano solos, and here as orchestrations, with the softest of breezy percussion and evocative rhythms. This rare ballet was recently performed by American Ballet Studio Company at the Joyce, and there it was fresh and nubile, with young pre-professional dancers like budding plants in lime green, yellow, and white, wrapped in pastel unitards and caps, dancing to recorded music.

Tonight, danced by six tall soloists from the Joffrey, and with live orchestra and a more expansive stage, this ballet took on a new quality of elongated grace and psychological fascination. With linking arms and limbs entwining, circular patterns and slow athleticism, Monotones I and II became hypnotic and mesmerizing. The Joffrey brought a mature motion to Ashton's conception, and I knew I would love this entire Ashton Celebration, if it opens with Satie.

Birmingham Royal Ballet (Enigma Variations, 1994, Birmingham): Music by Edward Elgar, Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Design by Julia Trevelyan Oman, Lighting by Mark Jonathan, Performed by Joseph Cipolla as Edward Elgar, Silvia Jimenez as The Lady, and the Company as cronies, friends, eccentrics, cellist, schoolgirl, country girl and boy, sailor girl and boy, housekeeper, gardener, carrier, country woman, telegraph boy, and others.

For full disclosure, I am not usually fond of campy ballets, and Enigma Variations is created with quintessential campiness. However, Julia Trevelyan Oman's detailed design brings outdoors indoors, all on one stage, with hammock and living room, stairway and sky, falling autumn leaves and orange and brown costumes, very British suits, caps, and mustaches, very long skirts and bouncing bicycles, surrounding a story loosely based on Sir Edward Elgar's receipt of notification that his Enigma Variations will be conducted by the renowned Maestro Richter.

Joseph Cipolla and Silvia Jimenez, as Elgar and adoring wife, were the central focus of the mayhem that ensued, as an elderly man, a pair of lovers, and all the characters listed above performed solos and duets, sometimes humorously, sometimes warmly, and always characteristically and charmingly. However, there seemed to be no psychic energy to this work, no desire to re-visit. The experience was more akin to but less satisfying than seeing Seurat's A Sunday on Grande Jatte-1884, with interrelating and formally dressed characters posing and performing in strained casualness.

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.

Now here was a ballet that rivets the audience. Tetsuya Kumakawa is one of the most exciting new dancers on this stage in many years. Mr. Kumakawa and Viviana Durante met at the Royal Ballet and are very well matched in an odd way. She is so ethereal and effervescent, arriving in flowing yellow and a touch of red at the top of a grand, expressionistic set and staircase, swathed in geometric forms of blue, red, yellow, and black. He is so muscular and taut, short but mighty, arriving at the top of this staircase in solid red with a touch of yellow, and his backward leaps and multiple spins are on target and well defined.

As an effective gesture, Ms. Durante twisted her hands in space like tiny fluttering wings, as she was carried and walked to this rapturous score. Rhapsody is a ballet of contrasts. The sets and Mr. Kamakawa's choreography are contemporary in motif, while Rachmaninoff's score (Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini) and Ms. Durante's choreography are classical and romantic. Risa Takahashi brilliantly performed on piano with the richness and relevance that Rachmaninoff deserves.

Kudos to Lincoln Center Festival 2004.

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