[Newspress] Return of dance
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
Interestingly, one of the much-anticipated highlights of the Santa Barbara Symphony’s current 60th anniversary season, over the weekend, was a program in which the orchestra itself was sent to the “basement,” but for art’s sake. Of course, we’re talking about last weekend’s encore encounter with the State Street Ballet, with the theme of a newly-choreographed take on Stravinsky’s career-launching classic “The Firebird,” during which the orchestra itself descended into the orchestra pit, surrendering the stage to the dance element.
This was the second collaboration between the two local organizations, after a version of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” in 2011, and the combined forces and respective audience draws filled The Granada, even on the normally less-populated Sunday afternoon performance.
While “The Firebird” ruled the concert’s second half, the first half belonged to the orchestra that Nir Kabaretti has led and nicely honed. The program opened, beauteously, with Debussy’s “Danse sacree et Danse profane (Sacred and Profane Dances),” heard just a few months ago in the Camerata Pacifica season, with harpist Bridget Kibbey as soloist. In this grander orchestral version, the Santa Barbara Symphony’s own principal harpist Michelle Temple seized the solo spot, and through her performance achieved this delicious harp showcase’s sense of lucid dreaming.
Next up, Brahms’ Third Symphony afforded the orchestra a fertile showcase. Mr. Kabaretti led the ensemble with a firm but fluid hand, working up a warm vibrancy of collective sound and delivering an effective, clean read. Beethoven’s looming influence is undeniable here, and Brahms exercised more restraint in this 1883 vintage score than some of his more bombastic exercises, with the popular third waltz-themed movement living up to its reputation as the memorably melodic centerpiece of the score.
On the subject of important anniversaries, 2013 is a notable number in classical music history, the centennial of Stravinsky’s masterpiece “The Rite of Spring,” which infamously created unrest if not exactly a riot at its Parisian premiere in 1913. In a valid way, that premiere is considered a birthing pang of musical Modernism. To my knowledge, “The Rite of Spring” has never been performed by the Santa Barbara Symphony. It was set to be performed once during Gisele Ben-Dor’s tenure as maestro, but switched for an easier ballet.
But the kinder, gentler ballet “The Firebird,” the first of his great threesome, including “Petroushka,” may qualify as a “Rite” celebration once or twice removed. A funny happened at The Granada, though. Although these great ballets came into being through the agency and commissioning of Sergei Diaghilev and the world of dance, they are generally experienced as part of the dance-free orchestral repertoire. So to hear the music and see a dance performance, however well done, felt somewhat of a jarring distraction to those of us accustomed to the work in its purely musical state, with music-related imagery we had supplied ourselves.
That said, however, choreographer William Soleau’s new, stolid and fairly straight-down-the-middle design, and the State Street Ballet’s agile and fine performance were of a high and crafty order. It could be said that the conservative literalism of the choreography made the music sound tamer than it actually is, but it served as a good primer for the narrative and the original impulse of the piece, in its dance mode.
Set to Stravinsky’s 1945 Suite from “The Firebird,” a rerouting of the 1911 original, the choreography yoked close to the emotional and narrative cues of the score, to an almost too strict and confining degree. Ornery reptilian creatures lurk and scamper onstage, before the classical manners of the lilting pas de deux of the Firebird and Ivan Tsarevich (Kate Kadow and Ryan Camou, impressive individually and together). Following the tranquil dance of the princesses, the sterner stuff and more energetically modern-esque musical moment takes over the stage (and orchestra pit) during the neatly coordinated anarchic flailings of “Infernal Dance of the King Kashchei.”
In this version, the triumphant and slow-building finale melody is truncated, leaving us feeling somewhat short-sold, as the dancers play out the regal resolution of earlier tensions. A milder Stravinsky was in the house here, but it was a Stravinsky treated with proper care and focus, on and below the stage.