Sunday, May 08, 2011

Grandage's "Lear" and Balanchine's Dances

Last Thursday I watched the Donmar Warehouse production of King Lear at the BAM. Derek Jacobi played Lear as a childish old man, an interpretation that robbed the play of some of its pathos, I think. He was electrifying, however, in the mad scene, in which he and blinded Gloucester (played by Paul Jesson) became ironic pastoral figures. The final scene, in which he entered carrying the dead Cordelia (played by a lackluster Pippa Bennett-Warner), was extremely moving.

Michael Hadley was a negligible Kent. Alec Newman was a shabby Edmund who did not look capable of seducing tortoises, let alone queens. As Goneril, Gina McKee had an interesting voice, somewhat metallic. Justine Mitchell was always on the verge of tears, if not actually crying, as Regan. Tom Beard was a convincingly ineffectual Albany. Gideon Turner looked too young and wild to be Cornwall. Gwilym Lee was fine as Edgar, solid but not revelatory. The most charismatic presence on stage was Ron Cook as the Fool. He was brilliant.

I was surprised by the casting choices of director Michael Grandage. The decision to quiet the storm while Lear spoke, to convey the inward quality of his growing madness, lowered the intensity of those scenes, I think. The great achievement of this production was to make very clear the narrative. Not an easy task with so many characters taking the spotlight in turns.

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TS gave me and VM two tickets to the New York City Ballet. This afternoon we watched a program of five dances by George Balanchine. Concerto Barocco (1941) is considered "the quintessential Balanchine ballet of its period, its manner entirely pure, its choreography no more, and no less, than an ideal response to its score, Bach's Double Violin Concerto in D minor" (program notes). The music for Monumentum Pro Gesualdo (1960) was composed by Stravinsky to honor the 400th birthday of Don Carlo Gesualdo, "the 16th century most chromatic . . . composer." I liked this dance best, for linking the men inventively into a barre, on which the women stretched and balanced.

The score for the next piece Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1963) was also composed by Stravinsky, using the serial technique. Duo Concertant (1972) was almost too straightforward after the more intricate and stringent earlier dances. A boy and a girl danced to a piano and a violin playing. After the second intermission, the entire corps performed Symphony in Three Movements (1972), music again by Stravinsky. The dances to the two outer movements were large and intricate, often making use of the long diagonal. The middle movement was a pas de deux, with Indian-inflected arm movements.

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