Friday, November 17, 2006

Balanchine in Tbilisi

A general hubbub of conversation, mobile phones flashing in the dark - a normal performance in the Tbilisi Opera House. And that's just the audience!

Tonight's offering - three choreographies of George Balanchine, the Russian-American choreographer who founded the New York City Ballet. And very fine choreographies they were, too. But even the curtain, featuring a stage height photograph of Balanchine as a choreographer, impressed deeply!

The first ballet, 'Serenade' (1934 choreography) was pure Swan Lake. Based on a serenade for strings (Tchaikovsky?), played very accurately by the opera orchestra (not every opera orchestra would play that so correctly - do you hear that, Mr Kevisas of Vilnius?) - though it could have done with a bit more feeeeeeling - the stage was full of swans, in very tasteful pale blue, long tutus in front of a pale blue backdrop. Basically it was like Swan Lake without the endless pas de deux. Very pretty indeed, the four little swans became five swans, exquisitely delicate choreography, nice music (even that horrid viola solo went well), lots of lovely crowd scenes which went really quite well. I never knew the serenade had quite so many movements. Although this ballet was developed well into the era of 'modern ballet' (which started in the 1920s) there was only a mere whiff of modern balletic movements, otherwise it was very strictly classical.

This was followed by Appolon Musagete (1928 choreography, when B was just 24) was a story of Apollo and the three muses Literature, Music and Theatre. It was kind of a pas de quatre; quite slow and very lyrical, on an almost bare stage. Apparently the music was by Stravinsky, but it was a bit of a throwback to earlier days - very pleasant, not exactly the Rite of Spring (but since this ballet was first performed in Paris, where the Rite of Spring had caused a riot 15 years earlier, Balanchine can be forgiven). It's worth watching for the final picture alone. This also went very well.

Then, a complete change of flavour - 'Western Symphony' (1954 choreography). The music was a medley of American tunes orchestrated by one Hershy Kay. Sounds like just the kind of guy who would write music like that. The Tbilisi opera orchestra bravely hung in there, and again played almost every note - a bit - a lot - more oomph would have been nice, but this is not their normal type of playing. The stage had changed into a western village with 'Ma's Lunches' and 'ice beer' and other such delicacies advertised. (What on earth is ice beer?). The dancing was pure country and western dancing meets Offenbach's 'La Vie Parisienne'. There were some good moments in the dancing although the synchronicity suffered a bit. The costumes were stunning, especially again in the final picture. Balanchine obviously had a knack for choreographing his audience out of their seats into a standing ovation.

In the Western Symphony the tune 'Good night ladies' suddenly appeared - leading me to a flashback of the same tune in Britten's Opera 'Peter Grimes' where, at the end of a long and difficult day, the village parson sings the same tune to a couple of local ladies (actually, there might have been a bit of a party at the pub just before that scene, but I cannot remember if the party was interrupted by a storm, or the arrival of yet worse news). This opera was of course performed in Iserlohn, Germany, by the then Royal Manchester College of Music in April 1971, when I were but a lass. Memories, eh?