"Ladies and gentlemen, ours is a silent art." he told them, and spent the rest of the class teaching them how to land their jumps softly. This was not only for artistic reasons, but also to save their knees from the pounding they were giving them, coming down like pile drivers.
I was reminded of that afternoon as I watched - and listened - to a young man from the Mariinsky Ballet perform Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. His jumps were high and technically perfect, and each one landed with a resounding thud, clearly audible over the forte orchestra. Not even the squeals of an audience conditioned by TV competition shows could drown out that noise. His performance might have been worthy of the enthusiasm, if he had not obviously run out of steam halfway through. By the end we were wondering if he would manage to catch his leaping ballerina. During the closing press lift, he rushed for the wings before his arms could give out.
The crowd roared for their curtain call, regardless.
The following pas, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, was dance by a pair from the Paris Opera Ballet. The costumes were exquisite, and their flawless classical technique was a reminder that even Balanchine choreography can look pretty when performed with a flowing port de bras. The orchestra played quietly, yet the only sound to be heard was the ballerina's pointe shoes, and only when she landed a big jump. Her partner's jumps were as high and spectacular as his Mariinsky colleague's, yet he landed them lightly and silently as a feather.
These two pieces were sandwiched between Scotch Symphony, performed by San Francisco Ballet, and The Four Temperaments, performed by Joffrey Ballet.
Scotch Symphony dates back to 1952, and for something supposed to be a highland gathering, comes off looking very much like Russian tableau ballet. A hapless lad from a rival clan woos a fiercely protected girl. Though he wins her in the end, we must sit through Balanchine's refusal to cut the music, filling it instead with repetitive choreography. Still, this was made less painful by a company who know how to use the upper body, so the movement had a lovely flow rather than the stiff, puppet-like effect one usually sees from the "diaspora" companies. Not only that, but the men's feet were exquisite, showing a well shaped pointe without tension or over-exaggeration. Pretty sure those arches were made in the studio, not the prop shop.
Not so with Joffrey's presentation of The Four Temperaments. The oldest work on the program, we got all the awkward angles and stiffness any Balanchine aficionado could desire. They shuffle. They do a forerunner of the Pony. They put on a vaudeville, call it ballet, and the audience is none the wiser. I very nearly fell asleep, something I haven't done since having to sit through Serenade. The man himself once said his style accounted for only one percent of ballet. For that, and the other ninety-nine percent of the ballet world, I am truly thankful.