Stravinsky Soirée

BALLET OPENING NIGHT AT THE NATIONAL ROMANIAN OPERA The two ballets staged by Alexa Mezincescu in her recent premiere on the boards of the National Romanian Opera in Bucharest, The Firebird and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, marked, at the moment of their creation – The Firebird in 1910 by Mikail Fokin and The Rite of Spring in 1913 by Vaslav Nijinsky – a turning point in the history of ballet. From the sources of inspiration through the score writing and choreographic vision and interpreting aspect, all of these have been re-debated. The responses were of various kinds, the arguments – hefty, but from thereon the European ballet performance unfettered itself from the artificial structures of Classical-Romantic compositions typical of the previous century, without abandoning their classical grounding. Specifically, Mikail Fokin condensed the action and the dramatic power of the oeuvres into one single act; he did not confine himself to the plain combination of stereotypic figures, in the intention of adjusting the language to the story, and, further, opposed the inserting of solo variations or ensemble episodes into the show which would consist of intrinsically aesthetic movements with, nevertheless, no relevance to the dramatic plot. He has diversified the classical technique by admitting curvatures of the dorsum and of the haunch, the common gate and the folkloric pace and introduced asymmetry into the composition. The line has remained essentially classical, although, substantially enriched, and relieved itself from the recherché attitude; it was, at the same time, charged with passion and graphicality.From the perspective of the last decade of this century, we may realize that the events in Fokin's ballets have, in its first decade, been decisive to all major creators within the same genre in this century. Nijinsky, the performer who has become a myth of classical dance, took a further step when he himself became a choreographer. In The Rite of Spring he did not resort to the elevation of the classical school; he opted for the terre à terre teachings of Dalcroze (publicized by Marie Lambert), in understanding that the story – a rite of fertility – would require it.The two Stravinskian ballets have, throughout the century, been the subject of numerous choreographic settings, some of which have resorted to the original libretto, whereas others, like Maurice Béjart's, to entirely different ones. In Romania, the first performance of The Rite of Spring was staged on the boards of the Romanian Opera by Vasile Marcu, with Rodica Simion and Vasile Tugearu in the cast, in 1969; the première of The Firebird, by Alexa Mezincescu, with Ştefan Bănică, Cristian Crăciun and, a young debutant at the time, Anne-Marie Vretos, i.e. in the same choreographic version as today, took place in 1982. The 1982 Stravinskian version, staged by Alexa Mezincescu, was a triptych. In a prompted review, the author asserted that the Symphony in C Major and The Card Game "bear the stamp of their staging creator" and that they "add new value to her choreographic creation." This could not be extrapolated on the case of The Firebird. In revamping the old version, the choreographer denied herself the chance of approaching the score from a different perspective, which could have been a result of her enriched experience. Nevertheless, even in the new choreography for The Rite of Spring, a long-wearing concern over the story to produce a personal view thereof is not attested. When somebody revives two famous shows with a record of the ampleness of the above-cited, the motivation for their re-enactment could only be an imperative urge on the part of the choreographer to impose a new vision, to reveal new facets, new depths to the human dimension.Both Stravinskian oeuvres recently premiered in Bucharest probe spiritual depths typical of archaic societies: the first fathoms out the world of fairy tales, along with its symbolism, decipherable, in contemporaneousness, with the help of writings like those of Vasile Lovinescu. The latter explores the world of mystical societies, extensively elaborated on by Mircea Eliade, in which every doing would be accompanied by a rite. Sadly, the choreographer is of no assistance in perceiving the atmosphere of either of these. The hasty approach of the theme denies these two shows a placement equal to previous landmark creations.A first unpleasant note would be made on the insufficient familiarity with the score. In the first scene in The Firebird, both Prince Ivan and the Wondrous Bird re-enter, at a given point, the stage, starting their variation at the middle of the musical phrase having run empty to that moment. Similarly, the breaking of the egg, all-concealing for the power of evil character Kascey, occurs choreographically prior to the climactic section of the score, which then – again! – runs idle, at drawn curtain. Moreover, in The Rite of Spring there is an over-use of still frames, in contrast to the evenly flow of music.A further deficiency has to do with drama elements in the show. The atmosphere is not charged with tension, as characters do not, in most instances, interrelate in a necessary, natural manner. In other cases, errors occur on account of misunderstanding the symbolic role of every object in a scene. The Firebird, for example, in her capacity of a celestial creature, may thunder somebody down, but may not, as it occurs, hand somebody a knife, ergo a weapon, as such a brutal gesture would corrupt her supernatural nature and degrade her to the terrestrial level of human conflict.It stands to reason that, in a work of choreography, the capital component is the graphicality of movement – the essence of the oeuvre itself – which, in its primordial turn, is not capable of expressing the opulent content of the two ballets. The Fokian emancipation from an artificial language was to a great extent doomed to irrelevance in the present staging. The most eloquent example would be provided by the variations of Prince Ivan and the Firebird – these may be watched as such, as classical variations, but not as an expression of the characters and their interaction. Several moments of warmth and naturalness may be observed in Scene II, on the encounter of Prince Ivan with the future beloved Princess. In The Rite of Spring, ensemble performances have the same ornamental-and-background function for the rest of the action; there is no inner force, whereas, in actuality, a collective ritual is unfolding. Whether there are protagonists or not therein, this ritual should, in the last analysis, manifest itself as an ecstasy, a trance over-powering the entire community. There is nevertheless, in the latter ballet, a host of high-quality moments, which bear witness to the fact that Alexa Mezincescu, had she dwelled on the theme and emancipated herself from clichés, could have "fathered" artistically accomplished works. Potential samples of such a work are: the earthly dance created for the character referred to as in this version as the Chosen One, and by the repertoire of the Virgin, one of subtle sensuality.The sadness attributable to the lack of accomplishment is so much greater as the majority of performers were, relative to the parts offered, in their best of shape. Tiberiu Almosnino (Prince Ivan) had an excellent execution of classical variations, both in rotation technique and leap, and landed with the swiftness of a feline. Tiberiu Almosnino is the recipient of two national awards for performing; nevertheless, in the present case… Anne-Marie Vretos (The Firebird), with her delicate, racy line, has no contribution whatsoever on the performing front. It is solely Carmen Angheluş who lends to the part of the Princess a note of warmth.A revelation was Mihai Babuşca, known as a classicist in his own country, with a clear-cut technique and an impeccable, but frozen line. In the last two roles performed by him – the Music Director in La dame aux camélias, at the Opera of Iaşi, choreographed by Ioan Tugearu, and the Chosen One, in The Rite of Spring, in the present premiere – he reveals himself as an accomplished dancer – modern style, genre he had previously embraced, albeit only abroad. Both roles render evident a remarkable force and graphicality in performance. But the revelation of the show was Corina Dumitrescu (the Virgin in The Rite of Spring). Over the course of her performance, the miracle which always produces a high-quality act of choreography happened: the choreographer's and the performer's encounter in the same sphere, in a contest of excellency. Lithe and expressive in every fiber of the muscles or particle of her bone structure, Corina Dumitrescu was a superb feline of suppleness, sensuality and filigree of movement. But, beyond her natural qualities, she has, for the first time, completely abandoned herself to the role, thus transcending the footlights.The two Stravinskian ballets, masterpieces in their genre, were, in this case, conceived in a rush, at the last hour in the middle of an unfolding theatrical season. At the National Romanian Opera, the 1993-1994 season, following the revival of two ballets pertaining to the 19th century style, The Nutcracker and Paquita, an Italian female choreographer was called to stage a modern work: Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. The ballet dancers at the Opera drilled in their parts, the choreographer cashed in the fee, the Arts Council rated the production as of no value and failed to present it to the public. Whereupon, in the well-established fashion, so that a ballet première be, after all, ticked off, Alexa Mezincescu was allotted the Stravinsky Evening. All this, at the outset of the season. Facts of this caliber are equally detrimental to the establishment, the entire Opera ballet corps, the choreographers and the performers.Dance deserves a different kind of consideration and a much more careful repertoire policy.

by Liana Tugearu