Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mozart's Requiem

I would call this a diatribe, but that would be a lie. It's less of a diatribe than a very long-winded enthusiastic response to what I feel to be a performance worthy of much more.

So, I suppose this preface is more of a warning of the hopelessly pathetic gushing that is to come and I urge any readers who have the inclination, to skip reading it without any feelings of remorse -or in the worlds of Cage, "if any one is sleepy, let him go to sleep."

So, the Cincinnati Ballet's performance of Mozart's Requiem premiered last night at the Aronoff center for the Arts. It can hardly be said that the ballet was a dance interpretation of Requiem, but then the playbill seemed to have a difficult time describing it also, calling it a "non-narrative drama," which seems like a contradiction in terms to me. In fact, a very clear narrative is evident, with an obvious conflict encompassing the first half and an evident resolution in the second.
A minimalist set was used to its full potential, with the artistic director, Victoria Morgan, relying on several props suspended from the ceiling and the illumination of objects in the background to convey messages regarding the situation playing out onstage. Light was also artfully used to suggest changing venues while allowing the audience to perceive a change in scene and in mood. The scaffolding that filled the background of the stage and the bare, uncluttered dance space worked well within the theme of the ballet, accentuating the ideas of harsh reality, without the pretenses of of something more beautiful, even superficially. The ultimate transition from darkness to light at the climax of the performance was also artfully communicated through these minimalist means, with a sparse use of modern art pieces and a generous helping of light and color cues. Costuming was similarly simple, with dancers attired in black or white, leaving the dance itself to speak, without interruption or background noise provided by costume (female dancers did, however, wear their hair down, using its movement with the choreography to emphasize the emotions inherent in the dance).
The choreography itself was likewise stunning, contrived of classical technique without any of the oft-attached classical conventions. Modern dance influences were ubiquitous throughout the performance, glimpsed in the tendencies of dancers to use combinations in ways that were unexpected, often filled with allusions to crude contortion, yet with ease and athletic finesse. The emotions portrayed through the movement in the first half of the performance were immediately apparent. Tension, angst and struggle -both internal and external- were common elements in all of the dancers' motions as they made their way across the stage, sometimes charging and leaping in desperation or anger, sometimes limp and listless like marionettes or rag dolls. The use of lifts was liberal and also worked to enforce the ideas of pain, with female dancers posed in such a way that suggested struggle or unwilling compliance. A stark contrast between the powerful and the powerless was made evident in such movements.
The second half of the show was immediately a contrast to the first, yet with references to the struggle encountered in the later. The company began clad in white with a solemn march in circle formation, dancers sometimes exhibiting those puppet-like movements, but with a clear soberness, hinting to a desperation for some sort of salvation. Then, two figures dance to the middle of the circle, shouldering red capes and garbed in a simple, white attire that makes the rest of the company appear to be clothes in a dingy yellow. Their fluid movements free from any of the stress and tension thus far seen in the other dancers, the two figures dance with each other, as opposed to against one another, their movements working in a harmony and paralleling to create a sense of content equality, rather than a power struggle. Their mirrored motions and lifts that convey a sense of flight starkly contrast the dancers who had thrown themselves about the stage earlier. The pair represents freedom and redemption and as the act progresses, the sense of puppetry and struggle dissipates. Though the rest of the company never reaches the grace of the two dancers in white and red, the transformation makes evident that a healing has taken place. Finally, the dance ends with the company following the two red-caped figures out into a painfully white light, away into a hopeful unknown.
Though paired with a legendary classical score, I can't express how pleased I was to find the accompanying ballet did not fall into classical ballet conventions. Yet I also greatly appreciated the adherence to technique and good ballet form as filtered through modern influences. The intense emotion conveyed and the subsequent freedom could easily have been executed in a generic sense, but doing so through precision and technique added a stylized flair that elevated the performance in an admirable way. I was also impressed by the powerful subject matter portrayed onstage and its presentation in such a way that made it accessible by all present without insulting the intelligence of the audience.
On a final note, I felt that this performance was a beautiful example of a dance and musical score that can each stand alone and independently. Undeniably paired with a fantastic score, the ballet could easily have been overshadowed by the musical performance, the dance being relegated to a mere echo. Thankfully, this was not the case. The artistry and mastery that was displayed onstage rivaled that which was taking place in the orchestra pit. This could have been disastrous under other circumstance, becoming a battle for the audience's attention. I'll admit that the music sometimes failed to permeate as my attention was fully absorbed by the visual phenomena, but in the end, I think an excellent balance was struck as the two stand-alone performances succeeded in creating an epic dialogue. What could have been a fight for the spotlight became a veritable duet in which both parties maintained beauty and integrity.
I left the theater feeling tingly in my elbows, weak in my knees, and light in the head. Unable to speak about the performance and yet unable to think of anything else, I've concluded that it might be worthy of recommendation to any readers of this blog who have managed to get all the way to the end of this long-winded, excessively wordy play-by-play.
It really was quite wonderful.