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Nederlands Dans Theater in Jiři Kylián’s Sinfonietta, Symphony in D, and Stamping Ground
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) *
Symphony No. 101 in D (first 3 movements)
Symphony No. 73 in D (4th movement)
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928) **
Carlos CHAVEZ (1897-1966) §
Toccata for Percussion Instruments
* Nederlands Ballet Orchestra/David Porcelijn
** Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl
§ Makoto Aruga and Percussion Ensemble
rec. 1983 (*), 1980 (**), 1984 (§) Venues not given
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100-444 [135:00]

For dance fans, this is a delightful disc covering, in three performances, a representative range of the great choreographer Jiři Kylián. The music and performances range from a quite-amusing take on what many would think as classical ballet set to Haydn’s music to the more avant-garde Stamping Ground with Chavez’s Toccata for Percussion Instruments. For those looking to this as a music performance disc first and a dance disc second, I will state upfront that this DVD certainly is a dance disc first. 

Some may balk at Kylian’s substitution of the last movement of the “Chase” symphony (No. 73) for the Vivace movement of the Clock symphony (No. 101), in Kylian’s piece Symphony in D, but the dance performance is so delightful it may win even them over. Premiered in Schweinfurt in 1976, with some revisions in choreography since then, this 1983 performance under the direction of Kylian is the only performance of these three that is in front of a live audience. It is immediately delightful. Many of the stereotypical moves of “classical” dance are parodied; instead of the men and lead male dancer chasing after the women, they ignore them, shun them even, as certain ballerinas keep popping up like persistent weeds that don’t get the hint that one is trying to root them out. Some are carried offstage, flopping, like unwanted stage props. Dancers get carried away with their moves and land facing the wrong way or forgetting to support their partners, who lurch off into the wings. For all the hilarity, though, the choreography is extremely detailed and tough to pull off, and the ensemble performs this piece with ease. Included with this release is a behind-the-scenes feature that shows rehearsals of Symphony in D, including interviews with Kylian, in which he details his move from Prague to the Royal Ballet School. 

The liner notes mention that in the 1980s Kylian distanced himself from the early, lighter style of Symphony in D, becoming increasingly darker. One such example is Stamping Ground, premiered in 1983. This piece also has a small feature with interviews in which Kylian discusses his fascination with Australian Aboriginal dance, from which the overall tone and moves were adapted. As with the other works presented here on this disc, Stamping Ground has little staging: only a curtain of Mylar strips, allowing dancers to appear and disappear from the back of the stage as well as the wings. The piece begins with the dancers appearing singly, through the strips of the curtain, accompanying their dance with slaps and claps. The postures and movements often mimic animals, such as birds or turtles, before they leave the stage to another dancer — thus the name of this first movement, the “Dance of the Individuals.” Chavez’s music is saved for the second movement. Here, the dancers interact more clearly, often confrontationally, occasionally as a group that has momentarily taken over the Stamping Ground. Sometimes the confrontation has its casualties as the victor stalks off stage and the prone bodies are pulled silently behind the curtain. A striking performance. 

Kylian’s treatment of Janáček’s Sinfonietta was worked out in 1978, commissioned by the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. Performed before a panoramic landscape backdrop, the piece attains a sort of timeless, iconic stature. The staging is a bit more involved, with timed lighting changes to reflect the change in mood. Grand, all-encompassing gestures predominate. Here, the camera-work is more static and less obtrusive — with Symphony in D and Stamping Ground there are cuts to specific dancers or gestures and one gets the feeling — especially in the comedic Haydn piece — that a couple of the jokes happen just off-camera. 

For pieces filmed in the early 1980s, we have — and can expect — some lack of resolution and crispness in the image which, with my standard television, is not quite so noticeable, but can easily be detected for those viewing on computer monitors or more state-of-the-art high definition screens. For the performances, though, as well as for the quite interesting interviews, this disc will certainly be of interest to dance enthusiasts. 

David Blomenberg


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