Stage: Wednesday, February 27, 2003
Back Step

Ballet Arlington forgoesflash for the relative austerity of Les Sylphides.


one of the arts is exempt from money woes these days, and Ballet Arlington is feeling the pinch along with everyone else. George Balanchine’s big-scale ballet Prodigal Son, originally scheduled for this weekend in Texas Hall at the University of Arlington, has been put off until next year. In its place will be Michael Fokine’s less-costly Les Sylphides. Requiring one man and a bevy of women, the latter seems an odd choice for a company boasting the strongest male contingent around, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

It’s ironic, too, that Fokine, a bold revolutionary more interested in expression and realism in his ballets than rigid dance technique, is known today mostly by Les Sylphides, his homage to an earlier time that is all technique and stylized emotion. Fokine frequently threw out tutus and toe shoes in his choreography, a brave innovation in the opening years of the last century, but here he returned to calf -length skirts and ballerinas on pointe to evoke the romantic aura of the 1840s.

The original concept in 1907 had a piano on stage with a costumed pianist portraying Chopin in the last throes of the tuberculosis that eventually killed him, hallucinating about spooks and spirits dancing around him as he played. The ballet was actually called Chopiniana, but, by 1909, Chopin and his piano had disappeared, the choreography had been expanded, and the ballet had emerged as Les Sylphides we know today. The piece was a sensation at its Paris premiere that year.

The extraordinary Lithuanian dancer Mindaugas Bauzys will be featured here. Elegant and aloof (does the man ever smile?), the Kirov-looking Bauzys seems ideal for the male solos. Vaslav Nijinsky, known for the heady elevation and distance of his leaps, created the part, and Bauzys can jump with the best of them. His perfect line and effortless movement epitomize the early Romantic dance school. Anna Pavlova, another legendary artist, was the first principal ballerina in Les Sylphides, and while we can’t tell much about her performing from the stuttering silent movie footage that has survived, her reputation was enormous. Marina Goshko will dance here, and we do know what she can do. Her Sugar Plum Fairy in the company’s last Nutcracker was the quintessential Russian Bolshoi dancer in top form. Rock-solid technique allowed her to do anything she wanted. Her look-ma-no-hands exuberance propelled her through the tricky choreography of the Grand Pas de Deux with joy written plainly on her face. She even tried an unsupported quadruple turn on pointe and almost completed the last revolution before coming down without a bobble and charging into the next movement. Ultimately, though, in her stylish posture and musical awareness, Goshko transcended the mechanics of dance and showed us what classic Russian ballet is truly all about. How she will do in the restrained French style of Les Sylphides is anybody’s guess, but it should be worth a visit.

Les Sylphides is being staged by Ballet Arlington co-artistic director Alexander Vetrov, a Bolshoi Ballet alumnus who returns to Moscow frequently for guest appearances. Surprisingly, he has never danced the ballet, but he learned the choreography from his mother, Tamara Vetrov, who danced Les Sylphides at the Bolshoi in her youth in the version passed down in that company.

Also on the program will be Paul Mejia’s Moonlight Serenade, another homage ballet but this one to the big band sound of Glenn Miller and his 1940s top-of-the-charts music. Of particular interest to area fans will be the return of Maria Terezia Balogh in the principal role she created in 1998 at the ballet’s premiere by the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet. Mrs. Paul Mejia in private life, she has been on maternity hiatus, rejoicing in a new son and daughter. “I’m starting my own company,” Mejia quipped when he learned of his wife’s second pregnancy. But Mejia does have a new company now, since he is working in tandem with Vetrov as co-artistic director of Ballet Arlington. An evocation of World War II America, Moonlight Serenade is dedicated to the heroes and veterans of the time. The piece had a rousing reception its last time around. Authentic U.S. Army Air Force vehicles and period costumes have been assembled for the performances.

Vetrov will complete the evening by dancing a ballet by Canadian choreographer Eddy Toussaint called Bonjour Brel, a setting of five songs by Jacques Brel. Toussaint has been in Arlington working with Vetrov and Olga Pavlova, a guest artist from the State Theater Academy of Classical Ballet. Known affectionately in Moscow as Pavlova III — the third ballerina there to bear the illustrious name, although without family connections — the dancer will appear here and then return to Moscow with Vetrov for more performances.

Later on Ballet Arlington’s spring agenda is a recently announced two-week tour of Ukraine, beginning in the capital city of Kiev and continuing on to the smaller towns of Kharkov and Donetesk. A Ukrainian sponsor is picking up the tab. This is the company’s first trip abroad and first major tour anywhere. As of this writing, no selections have been made as to repertory. Costumes and scenery have to be kept to a minimum, which restricts choices. The 13 core members of the company are all going. Whether or not a live orchestra or taped accompaniment will be used is also up in the air, but the Texas Chamber Orchestra, the company’s regular accompaniment, will not be included. The ensemble, however, will be heard in the pit this weekend under the direction of guest conductor James Rives-Jones.

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