Friday, January 27, 2012

Saint Paul City Ballet: The Company at the McKnight

After finishing some meetings in Rochester this morning I moved to Minneapolis for tonight -- checking into The Marquette, a Hilton-managed hotel that's not aligned with any of the family's marques (I suspect this may be because there is both a Hilton and a DoubleTree within perhaps a few thousand feet of the hotel) -- the service level is at least equal to if not slightly higher than what I expect from Hilton but not being tied to brand standards it feels much less cookie cutter and is just a little bit more fun.

Anyway, by the time I got to the hotel I didn't feel like I had enough time to get to and really enjoy the Walker Art Center before it closed; perhaps I'll try a quick run in the morning or maybe it will have to wait for my next trip (tentatively the end of March). Instead I made my way over to Saint Paul to check out the Ordway Center and Saint Paul City Ballet's The Company at the McKnight.

Ballet is an art that I certainly don't get enough of -- the fluidity and grace of the human body can be stunning in the right contexts. In the ultimate incarnation ballet has the unique power to dance on the ears and tickle the eyes. And I have to admit I'm a little bit of a sucker for the look of the classical tutu.

Tonight's program ran just about 90 minutes inclusive of a 20-minute intermission and 5-minute pause and I think it hit the sweet spot as for length with the following selections:

Excerpts from Raymonda (Choreography after Marius Petipa, restaged by Ted Sothern; Music by Alexander Glazunov; Costumes by Ann Marie Ethen; Lighting by Chuck Norwood)

Not an Etude (Coreography by Ted Sothern; Music composed for SPCB by George Maurer; Costumes by Ted Sothern and Ann Marie Ethen; Lighting by Chuck Norwood)

One (Choreography by Joseph Morrissey; Music by Sugeru Umebayashi and Michael Galasso; Costumes by Ann Marie Ethen; Lighting by Chuck Norwood)

Bolero (Choregoraphy by Greg Drotar, Music by Maurice Ravel; Costumes by Greg Drotar; Lighting by Chuck Norwood)

Considering myself lucky if I see ballet (in any form) once a year I can't really comment on the technical aspects of dance -- the couple next to me was commenting on one of the male dancer's sloppy jumps after Raymonda, but generally I had no issues with the dance; it was fun to watch and none of the pieces were so long as to be boring.

The one complaint I did have throughout is the audio quality: While a live orchestra was probably too much to ask for (and probably not a possibility within the physical constraints of the McKnight theater -- a pretty intimate venue) the audio was horrid. At times it I wasn't sure if it was over compressed or just the victim of a truly frightful house EQ curve, at others compression artifacts (as if someone was playing a low-quality MP3) were clearly audible and I think every piece had some, culmintating with an unacceptable level of background hiss present: The overall result was something not much better than listening to music on an AM radio and generally distracted from the dance.

Excerpts from Raymonda with its overture, le grand pas hongris, le pas classique hongris, variations I-V, and coda was the longest piece of the program and also the piece with the most classical air about it in terms of technique and costuming.

Not an Etude was clearly a social commentary with a three-dancer clique playing against a solo male dancer (two men, two women all costumed virtually identically) the music was fun and while it took me a bit to figure out the commentary, I think it was the first time I've laughed during a dance show of any kind -- and I was not alone among the audience.

Conversely I didn't find One compelling nor did I connect to it musically or philosophically I honestly didn't find either the choreography or music memorable and may or may not have been counting smoke detectors on the catwalk near the end of the piece.

A dance based on Ravel's delightful Bolero closed out the program and although I think the audio was at its worst in this piece it tied with the first piece on the program for my favorites of the evening. With the almost militaristic constant drumbeat throughout I've always thought this was a no brainier for a dance and while Greg Drotar's choreography went a different direction than I've imagined while listening to this piece (most recently at a it was no less appealing.

Leaving the Ordway in the 25-ish degree outside weather I noticed quite display of ice carving across the street and lingered a bit to watch the crowds and carving but not really being prepared for extended time outdoors I shortly headed back to the hotel. Watching the local news in the hotel room, it seems that this is part of St. Paul's Winter Carnival) -- but on a blustery winter night it was nice to see so many people outside "downtown"


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