Lumière Ballet performs "Dear Nadezhda" at Mason Hall
Published: Monday, May 7, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 7, 2012 14:05
Venti Petrov’s idea of creating “Dear Nadezhda,” a ballet based on the epistolary friendship between Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky and his “fervent admirer” Nadezhda von Meck, intrigues at first blush.
On Saturday, April 28, the Lumière Ballet performed “Dear Nadezhda” at Baruch Mason Hall on East 23rd Street.
Meck made one demand on the Russian composer in exchange for a princely stipend of 6,000 rubles a year; they were never to meet.
In this way, he could and did devote himself to his music (they met once at a wedding 13 years later at a time of Meck’s financial troubles, which ended her support).
Tchaikovsky was depressive and deeply introverted; his long-distance friendship with Nadezhda provided the one enduring emotional relationship in his tormented and creative life.
To him, she was his mother confessor; to her, he opened his heart and mind, his doubts and hopes in letters that helped sustain the existential stress of musical creativity.
In a way, over time a highly charged Platonic relationship in its purest and most sentimental form developed between the two characters.
During the years of friendship, Tchaikovsky created some of the world’s most popular ballets: “Romeo and Juliet,” “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker” and “Eugene Onegin.”
Now, epistolary exposition works well in literature—Richardson’s Pamela, Rilke’s “Letters To a Young Poet” or Zwieg’s “Letter From an Unknown Woman.” However, it does not in the dance, at least not in “Dear Nadezhda.”
Petrov’s intentions simply do not convey the emotional honesty of Tchaikovsky and Meck’s correspondence. And how could they, since the plot of “Dear Nadezhda” cannot cast the fairy-tale spell that Tchaikovsky’s ballets do. It remains static and unmoving and unconvincing.
Petrov uses standard choreographic conventions in their most basic forms: pantomime, ballroom scene, but no grand pas de deux.
In fact, there is little partnering, and therein lies the ballet’s weakness; as the narrative is based on an exchange of letters lacking an intelligible series of events that would make sense enough on a level of subconscious reverie.
Petrov uses his female dancers well: Oksana Maslova as Meck has wonderful form, timing and good movement. Lauren King as Antonina Miliukova and Cassandra Trenary as Julia von Meck are adept at their craft, and this training comes out in their dancing.
The male dancers—Anton Kandaurov, Alexander Tressor, Jocelyn Delife and Jeremy Canadé have very little to do in the production.
As Tchaikovsky, Petrov fleetingly displays his expert talent in dance.
Instead, choreographic intentions rely on crowd-pleasing movements such as leg extensions of his ballerinas or his own leaps and spins. These, of course, stress technical prowess - but little more.
Since the story line for “Dear Nedezhda” is a muddle, the ballet seems by the numbers and lacks any luminosity.
The second part of the program featured seven short pieces. Massenet’s “Moorish Dances” proved disappointing and rough in execution. Lauren King as Dvorak’s “Butterfly” conveyed the fragility of existence.
Zeiger’s “Harlequinade” is a reenactment of “La Commedia dell’Arte’s brokenhearted but ever-hopeful Harlequin in his attempt to attract Columbine’s attention,” although amusing, at times revealed a wobbliness of foot of Steven Melendez and a cheekiness in Cassandra Trenary.
The pairing of the radiant Oksana Maslova and Anton Kanaurov in Liszt’s “Liebestraum” was competently and pleasingly danced, yet left the audience cold for its absence of emotion.
The use of Leroy Anderson’s light-music “The Typewriter” for Petrov’s “Patent Pending” put a shine on the face of a less-than-satisfying evening.
Today, no one hardly uses a typewriter for writing, let alone as a musical instrument; here, this new role is possible, with its syncopation playing on the keeps, its bell that rang when the carriage reached the end of the paper’s length, as well as its “zipping” return to begin a new line.