Tulsa Ballet's impressive revival of a decades-old Balanchine work. Troupe fares well with the ballet's images, illusions, and metaphors
New York — Reconstruction in dance is more than bricks and mortar - the mere rebuilding of the thousands of steps in a ballet that's long out of the repertory or one that has belonged to different dancers. On top of that you have to make the ballet look right - by finding present-day equivalents of the original costumes and sets, by creating space designs that approximate the original, often with different numbers of dancers and types of stages. And perhaps the greatest challenge is to re-create the ballet's visual images, illusions, and metaphors.
Tulsa Ballet and Esmeralda Agoglia, Argentine ballerina, have succeeded wonderfully, as far as I can tell, with their staging of George Balanchine's 1942 ``Mozart Violin Concerto'' (No. 5).
The year-old production had its first New York performances in mid-October at Brooklyn College. Although the work was in almost continuous repertory for 20 years in Latin America, and has also been seen in Europe, it might as well have come from a pre-Columbian dig, for all we knew of it here in the States.
The best thing about the Tulsa revival is that it actually conveys an inner life that matches credibly with other things we know Balanchine was doing at the time.
The war years were tough ones for Balanchine. With the New York City Ballet not yet in existence, he struggled to keep his own dancers together while choreographing other people's musicals, movies, operas, and pi`eces d'occasion, in addition to ballets here and there.
Yet he managed to produce the masterpieces ``Ballet Imperial'' and ``Concerto Barocco,'' and the first versions of the Stravinsky Violin Concerto (``Balustrade'') and ``Danses Concertantes.''
A 1941 goodwill tour sponsored by Nelson Rockefeller sent him to South America with Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan, and a year later he created the Mozart during a residency with the Ballet of the Teatro Col'on in Buenos Aires.
Working with unfamiliar dancers, Balanchine opted for a limited step vocabulary, a minimum of bravura solo work, and clear, readable group patterns. But the appearance of simplicity is deceptive. Within a perfectly formal, open structure, he implanted elements of drama, musical wit, and a surprising abundance of texture.
The ballet introduces the female ensemble in groups of three with one foursome, thus allowing for both symmetricality and asymmetricality in the stage designs of succeeding passages.
The uneven numbers also provide the corps with an odd-woman-out who can become a second lead dancer and insinuate dramatic possibilities where you'd expect only ``pure dancing.''
Balanchine's ability to transport you from the strict language of steps into a heightened realm of expression is constantly at work in ``Mozart.''
In the slow second movement, at one point the ballerina floats in a balance on pointe, then falls back from the man's supporting arm. Members of the corps step behind both of them and gently propel them together again, as if they've detected some emotional trouble between them that must be quickly mended.
In this movement, essentially a long adagio pas de deux, the corps is always present, sometimes as witness, posing in lines and semicircles around the principal couple, and sometimes, strangely, forming little subgroups that seem engaged in their own private colloquies. Then, toward the end, the women become almost an abstraction, coming forward in a straight line so that they discreetly mask the solo man and woman just as she's fallen into his embrace.
In the lively third movement, the proceedings get a little mad, picking up on Mozart's changes of mood. The music begins with a minuet, which Balanchine choreographs like a mazurka. The whirling ``Turkish'' section of the music he sets as a sort of tarantella. Various props are carried in and used by the dancers - soundless tambourines, lighted candelabra, long trumpets.
It's as if the dancers are caught up in the musical hints of masquerade, but are too decorous ever to break ranks with their revelry.
But the props also remind us of other, much more conventional ballets, and the dancers might even be celebrating their release from the tedium of the standard repertory.
Three dancers anticipated
``Mozart Violin Concerto'' was danced originally by one ballerina, though Balanchine had apparently hoped to find different dancers for the three stylistically different movements.
Three dancers were scheduled for the Tulsa performances, although at the one I saw, Kimberly Smiley did the first two, while Lisa Slagle sparkled in the demi-caract`ere finale. Miss Smiley seemed less secure in the first movement, but she was unruffled and beautifully unmannered in the adagio.
She was partnered by Matthew Bridwell for the first movement and Roman L. Jasinski for the second. Both men escorted Miss Slagle in the finale, another example of Balanchine's originality.