National Ballet of Mexico (Compañia Nacional de Danza) and Felberg Chamber Virtuosi
by Janet Eigner
The concept of chamber ballet was enthusiastically discussed in a brief, pre-concert symposium, moderated by Jane Blume, with panelists, Judith Bennahum, an author, choreographer, dance historian, former dancer, and retired chair and professor of dance at University of New Mexico’s Department of Music and Dance, choreographer Alex Ossadnik, a co-founder of the Ballet Pro Musica Festival (the Mexican company performed one of his works) and principal dancer and ballet master, Jacquelyn Helin, pianist and soloist for the second of the company’s works, Joseph Franklin, Executive Director of Chamber Music Albuquerque as well as percussionist and composer, and Henry Holth, the Ballet Pro Musica Festival’s General Director who has been a former dancer and general director and manager of ballet companies and festivals.
The panel emphasized that the musicians of the Felberg Chamber Virtuosi would be intensely interacting with the dancers, as compared with a traditional dance concert, even with live music, which, in Mr. Holth’s estimation, does not promote a lively synergy between dancers and musicians. Mr. Holth repeated the mantra, “see the music, hear the dance.”
What a set-up for disappointment, then, that this concert, in fact, provided less interaction between the two media than other venues have integrated into their dance performances. In recent memory, jazz pianist, Billy Taylor, sat onstage interacting with and playing with a major dance company. A guitarist’s upstage conversation with Bill T. Jones’s dancers in “A Quarreling Pair,” was a major player in this summer’s concert at Moving People Dance Santa Fe’s festival. Mark Morris’s musicians play classical chamber music live and onstage or in the orchestra pit for his highly musical dances. New York City ballet principal, Christopher Wheldon’s new classical ballet company, Morphosis, also gives live musicians their due. Many dance companies recognize the extra element of energy that a live, on-stage, interactive musician or chamber orchestra provides.
The Felberg musicians sat below the proscenium stage, facing each other, angled toward David Felberg, who, as the conductor, was the only musician positioned to see the dancers. The bassist faced the audience and blocked sight lines except for balcony seats. Two dancers from the National Ballet of Mexico were injured and unable to dance, I was later told, contributing to a rocky start for “Concerto Grosso”, a world premier to J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 6, with choreography by Alex Ossadnik. The handsome, young dancers looked uncertain, unable to contribute the kind of energy and movement that inspires confidence. Toward the dance’s conclusion, Mayuko Nihei emerged with accomplished triple and double pirouettes and graceful arms, and Carlos Carrillo with distinguished speed, backward leaps, and spins. But what explains the Chamber Virtuosi’s many off-key notes and underwhelming strength? The orchestra play very well, however, for the third orchestral work that closed the concert.
The second work, “Reflections,” shone, performed by solo pianist Ms. Helin. Mark Godden skillfully choreographed this work to contemporary, austere and clear ballet movements, meaning that more of the movement took on modern dance’s heavier gravity in the body’s torso, as well as modern’s flexed feet and hands, with more floor action, such as rolling.
Ms. Helin’s lyrical, evocative playing to Ravel’s five compositions woven into “Miroirs” contributed to the excellent production. The dancers sparkled as well. The men accomplished impressive back-leaps and all had graceful moth-like arms in the first movement. Silkily smooth couple’s partnering distinguished several sections. Dancers wove a movement motif – fists covering eyes – through the dance’s sections. Hansell Nadchar used dramatic skills in his virtuosic and uniquely comic “Morning Song of a Jester,” the fourth of the five sections. His props included a long feather. The fifth, introspective section allowed eleven of the company’s dancers to slowly draw the lovely work to a close. The five Ravel compositions, each danced either by a soloist, a duet, trios or quartets, performed a work that came closest to Mr. Holth’s goal of a conversation between artists.
In both the second and third work, “Symphony for Strings” danced to the first three movements of Felix Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia Number 9, C Major, the sylph-thin Mayuko Nihei and Raul Fernandez’s expertise stood out. John Clifford choreographed the Mendelssohn work.
The Mendelssohn music began, slow and introspective. Ms. Nihei danced with lovely arms; her supple spine curved into backward, leggy turns. The livelier the music, the more animated bent-knee, low turns for the men. Raul Fernandez, in synchronous movement with the radiant Ms. Nihei in the second movement pas de deux, used strong, sustained and expressive hands and arms. Theirs was a dance of precision and silky grace. The third movement allowed eight dancers a lively, happy waltz and 18th century social dances done with classical expression.
The Mexican Ballet’s dancers, a strong and talented young company, are listed in the program as: Raul Fernandez, Principal Dancer, Irache Beoriegui, First Soloist, Mayuko Nihei and Maria del Mar Mazzaferro, Soloists. Listed as Corifeo are: Hansel Nadchar, Carlos Carrillo, Hector Jimenez, Francisco Rojas, Mahaimiti Acosta, and Jasmany Hernandez. Monica Barragan, Corps and Dariusz Blajer, Artistic Director.
Members of the Felberg Chamber Virtuosi are listed as Jacklyn Helin, Jonathan Armerding, Ruth Bacon, Justin Pollack, Debra Terry, Cherokee Randolph, David Chavez, Felix Wurman and Jean-Luc Matton.