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Dance of the Doomed: Carmen (Ana Lobé) and Don José (Kwang-Suk Choi) can't escape their fates in 'Carmen.'

Fluid and Subtle

'Temperaments' outshone flashy 'Carmen' at SJ Cleveland Ballet

By Scott MacClelland

IN ITS CERTAINLY controversial Best of the Century pages, the Dec. 31 edition of Time magazine anointed Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms as best classical composition, Britten's Peter Grimes as best opera and Balanchine's The Four Temperaments as best dance.

For those familiar with the ballet, this judgment came as no surprise. For them, as well as for those who had never seen it, expectations were heightened ahead of the San Jose Cleveland Ballet's inclusion of Four Temperaments in its program last weekend. And there it was, with its signature flexed knee, pelvic thrusts, fluid line, startling shapes and subtle wit, the simple vocabulary of a visionary genius.

The most popular ballets in the repertory are narrative. They pay for dance companies to put on a program like this, full of pure abstract dance, the stuff aficionados love best, those works that speak only in the language named for the Greek muse, Terpsichore. Even this program marketed the image of Carmen to sell tickets, notwithstanding the silliness of that piece.

The Four Temperaments deploys its dancers like strokes from an artist's brush, from duos to full ensemble, from three statements of the musical theme to variations called Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic and Choleric. The 1946 piece was staged for this production by Balanchine protégé Victoria Simon, and the score by Paul Hindemith was conducted by company resident Dwight Oltman with Laurent Boukobza at the piano. Lighting substituted, effectively, for sets.

On opening night, the dancers had not fully absorbed the choreography into their bodies; concentrated thought diminished the elasticity of their movement. This distraction, subtle to be sure, excepted most of the soloists. The lanky but liquid Oscar Hawkins deserved an Oscar for his performance in Phlegmatic, while Anne-Marie Savoie articulated the ensemble in the finale, Choleric. Ramon Moreno stood out in Melancholic, while Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez pursued sanguinity with determination.

Roland Petit's Carmen has aged well--and not well. Its solo work touches on the sublime while its ensemble material revels in the ridiculous. Of course, that is the French taste going back centuries. When the corps lines up to chant "L'amour, l'amour" as the principals dance the habanera, and when the toreador appears with fey gestures and dressed in high camp, you know that Offenbach is hiding in Bizet's feathers.

A scene with spinning chairs lasted long enough to recall Cirque du Soleil. But the love and murder scenes of Carmen and Don José conveyed intensive and expressive meat as danced by Ana Lobé and Kwang-Suk Choi.

The first movement of company choreographer Dennis Nahat's Mendelssohn Symphony--plainly an homage to Balanchine's Bizet Symphony--arranged the corps in precision rank-and-file patterns. But on opening night, precision was lacking, which blurred the designs and spoiled the effects. The energy was there, however, and as the remaining movements played out, the images and ensembles settled down and became choreographically clear and meaningful.

Like Balanchine, Nahat punctuated the final cadences of the first two movements with the sudden arrival of those dancers who would begin the next one. Nahat also made adroit alternations of men and women and, of course, joined them in various ensembles, imparting different flavors of character to the work as it progressed.

Overall, however, the Balanchine spirit hovered in the background, and who could complain about that? Due to artificial amplification, the orchestra lost much of its dynamic range. Maestro Oltman might restore it by exaggerating those markings during performance or, better still, finding an alternative to amplification.

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From the March 2-8, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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