Oh those old stories! Call in the decorators!
Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice
Igor Stravinsky wrote what George Balanchine called “musique dansante” —music that drives the feet to move. Perhaps that’s why even Stravinsky compositions not conceived for dance attract choreographers. But the big dramatic works he created for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the early years of the 20th century may lure them even more. Pina Bausch and Maurice Béjart both tackled Sacre du Printemps (hers was terrific, Balanchine liked his), as did Shen Wei, Lionel Hoche, Molissa Fenley, and others; Jerome Robbins and Lar Lubovitch chose Les Noces. Some choreographers were faithful to the original scenarios, others weren’t; Béjart saw the magical female creature of Mikhail Fokine‘s Firebirdas a male revolutionary leader.
For his Les Noces, Mauro Bigonzetti, artistic director of Italy’s Aterballetto, has accepted the wedding theme that shaped Stravinsky’s great 1923 choral work and Bronislava Nijinska‘s equally great choreography. His Petrushka, however, involves no lonely puppets or holiday fairs. Both examples of European post-classicism (the Forsythe strain) favor stark, faintly futuristic sets by Fabrizio Montecchi, with platforms that abet choreographic level changes (remember Bigonzetti’s Vesprofor the New York City Ballet with Benjamin Millepied atop the onstage piano?), as well as chic contemporary attire.
As for the music, Bigonzetti inserts long silences, and sometimes all but ignores the drama built into the score. Les Noces begins with a rhythmic clacking noise that turns out to come from the tall sculpturesque chairs on which men and women in black evening attire, facing one another across the stage, rock aggressively. Petrushka begins in silence, while the titular hero (Thibaut Cherradi the night I attended) rushes furtively among the clothes racks of a stylish department store, looking for something to steal. As he cinches a belt around his waist, the music kicks in.
The excitingly theatrical opening moment of Les Noces sets up Bigonzetti’s approach to Stravinsky’s wedding. This is a chill, coerced affair, but, unlike Vaslav Nijinsky‘s original ballet and the sung text, it involves no stern fathers, regretful mothers, or matchmakers. The movement is harsh, angular, sometimes bestial. Men vault startlingly onto and off two pushed-together tables at center stage. Women lie on the tipped-over chairs and weave their legs into basketwork patterns. A couple (Macha Daudel and Roberto Zamorano), representing—I’m told—parents, sets a contentious example on the table. Four women solo, the third (Ina Broeckx, I believe) compellingly. The bride and groom (Ashen Ataljanc and Walter Matteini) are no innocents: He nuzzles her crotch; she mashes her foot against his face.
In Petrushka, Bigonzetti makes perfunctory references to puppethood. Once, the down-and-out hero slumps over and dangles his forearms like an abandoned marionette. Four strutting police officers (three men and a woman) sometimes look like toy soldiers as they lay down the law and search for the thief. Meanwhile members of the vapid, brightly dressed ensemble cavort and ogle amid the fashionable display. They stare while an imperiously sexy woman (Broeckx), standing in for the Fokine-Stravinsky Ballerina, toys with the hero and romances a tough guy (the Moor—Valerio Longo) dressed in white. They cheer as the two men fight on an empty clothes rack that skids around. When Stravinsky’s music for the fair resumes, police and customers frolic together and bury Petrushka in a pile of hurled garments. It’s a strange experience for those who automatically connect remembered images of the original ballet with what they hear. In both Bigonzetti works, the striking theatrical devices never add up to convincing narratives, let alone moving ones.
I remember picking the young Cuban American Fernando Bujones out of the corps in a long-ago American Ballet Theatre performance of Graduation Ball. He was so attentive, so eager, so full of himself and the pleasure he was taking in being part of this work. ABT made him a principal at 19, and he matured into a brilliant technician—soaring jumps, impeccable line, charm, and ease. The appetite for performing never left him and was, in a way, his most endearing trait. He always seemed proud and happy to be onstage. Without ever losing his elegance, he ate up the space and devoured our applause for dessert. It’s tragic that cancer took him by surprise when he was only 50 and in the midst of a second productive career as artistic director of the Orlando Ballet—passing on his élan to a younger generation of dancers.