Adam and Eve

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  January 13, 2009

The setting of NYCB's production is a puzzle. The program identifies it as "a village square in Galicia" (i.e., northwest Spain). But with its hues of rose, ocher, orange, celadon, and aqua, the first act conjures Provence as painted by Cézanne, and the banners are in French: "Demain la fête de carillon" and "Les noces de village." The "Burgomaster" wears an oversized Napoleonic hat; some of the ethnic costuming looks Balkan. Although the orchestra, conducted by Maurice Kaplow, started on an unhappy note with wobbly horns, the mazurka and the csárdás had rhythmic point and dancelike pacing.

Chaconne, which opens amid the clouds of Mount Parnassus, goes back to 1936, when Balanchine staged an innovative (and short-lived — just two performances) version of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice for the Metropolitan Opera, with the dancers on stage and the singers in the pit. In 1963, Balanchine did the choreography for the Hamburg State Opera production of Gluck's work, and that's the basis of Chaconne, which premiered in 1976 as a vehicle for Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins.

Writing about that premiere, Arlene Croce described the opening duet as "less a prologue to the ballet than a puzzling preliminary. What follows is completely different in style — a rococo divertissement with entries for the corps de ballet and demi-soloists." This "prologue" became perhaps less puzzling when Balanchine added a ceremonial section for nine women — the Muses? — in cinnamon chiffon, their hair unbound. That duet for the principal couple then becomes more dream than dance, the woman looking as if she were about to take flight, her hair also flowing. In the ballet proper, they bring their art down to Earth. There's a pas de trois, a pas de deux, and a pas de cinq for demi-soloists. (On the 1978 Dance in America performance that's part of the VHS/DVD Balanchine Library, these divertissements — about a quarter of the ballet — are omitted.) The principal couple enter, the woman's hair now up, and execute a minuet and a gavotte (the latter with three solo variations for each) before joining the ensemble for the concluding celebratory chaconne.

It's hard for any couple to escape the shadow of Farrell and Martins. Maria Kowroski has the hair, the body, and the affect, but she doesn't always read. When she kicked in that brief "swimming" move in the minuet, Farrell made you notice her legs; Kowroski merely kicked, and she didn't push the rococo envelope in her third gavotte variation. Sébastien Marcovici might not be her best partner here; he tended to pull his shoulders up. Martins rose subtly from the chest, his vertical ascension giving Farrell license to move laterally.

The Four Temperaments, which Balanchine made in 1946 to a score commissioned from Paul Hindemith, is a battle of the sexes stripped to, well, sex. Nothing prelapsarian about the three couples who in turn dance the three parts of Hindemith's Theme; what look like duos are really trios: Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. And though the men stand behind the women and seem to lead them, they actually follow. Each of the four Variations treats the Theme's three parts. (On the Dance in America performance, these parts are backdrop-color-coded: blue, red, yellow. Nowadays it's all just blue.) Melancholic's depression is challenged by a quartet of women with scything (castrating?) battements; Phlegmatic keeps having to push through a thornbrake of women's leg that are also roses; Choleric is fondled by men (think back to Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even and ahead to Rubies), but she's too much for them and they find easier targets.

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