Piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 102, especially the pas de deux

Thought to start the year with something jolly. Piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 102 – music by Shostakovich; choreography by Edmund Stripe.

The music is here:

Update! You can watch snippets of the pas de deux described below, here:

and other snippets here:

Hmm, those are supposed to be links to the actual page but they to have embedded themselves. Hope that’s okay..

The opening notes bring to mind a July evening (light dimming, on grass, crowds around, sitting on a slope and trying not to roll right over; children posing for pictures and people unpacking actual picnic baskets while we struggle with our bought-in sandwiches or bowls of noodle soup and fried rice; anxiety over how to wash the picnic mat after). Settling in as Maughan Jemesen opens the entire Ballet Under the Stars series with razor-sharp feet, quick and precise. Beautiful strong style. Then Zhao Jun enters and dances with Maughan, and then the rest of the dancers come out. Sketches and group dancers in pairs, lifting and turning. Strong shapes, such as the outstretched arms at angles to the body (one up, one down), hands parallel to the ground (like lifting plates?), contrasted with the feet held stiffly and laid flat from heel to toe. It’s a nice relaxing way to open the evening, the music building up to a march. When the music grows strong and loud, the men leap in and twist their hips; there’s a pas de deux (the Andante portion of the music); followed by a solo by Chihiro, coming out superbly into the centre like a sprite; there is great symmetry in the lifting of the girls, and lowering them slowly to land en pointe, and there is a part where they are like a frieze, turning in succession like dominoes but freezing in different positions.

It’s pretty fun. As an irreverent side note, almost all the girls I watched the performance with noticed Gianluca Sermattei immediately (he has since left SDT). They appreciated all the dancing and choreography, of course, and they all noticed him. Some liked very much his form.

There’s lots to like about this piece, but one part that I’m going to talk about is the pas de deux. Start listening from 6:33 of the video above, and you’ll hear the change in the music. It’s beautiful, so lyrical and gentle, and it fits perfectly with the romantic pas de deux created for it, and performed by Senior Artist Chen Peng and First Artist Li Jie. When the piano notes repeat a motif at around 8:32, Chen Peng lifts Li Jie into the air, soaring as a bird, her bent arms outstretched as wings, and he carries her across the stage.

He is her fulcrum; you see this in how he supports her and she leans on him in all her turns and moves; how he holds her raised hand high as she walks around him lightly en pointe; how he lets her hover just a few inches above the ground as he carries her while he walks, so she appears to float above the ground; how she leans on him, her body a plane at an angle to the horizontal, her arms outstretched, one leg lifted parallel to the ground, as he turns her on her toe, 360 degrees. There are also some terrifyingly swift moves that call for trust; something that I recall to be akin to draping her quickly round his shoulders, and then sliding her over his shoulder and across the front; and another move that you see in all the pamphlet photos, of his thigh and bent calf forming a seat for her on which she sits as he looks down at her, arms lifted.

There’s a tenderness in the little moves that make this dance so expressive and delicately romantic. Early and elsewhere in the piece, she presses her hands together, her arms stretched out to form a little loop, and he stoops to step into the circle as she looks lovingly at him. At the front corners of the stage, they move in unison, he standing behind her, and their arms stretch into the air like streamers, their moves echoing each other’s. And when the music slows and grows reflective (9:32, thereabouts), they quietly walk down the centre of the stage, an arm about the other’s waist, down life’s road; and at the end they exit in similar fashion, together.

The dance and music linger in your head and make you want to watch the pas de deux over and over again. It just sort of blew me away because in all the moves, layered over and over again, there was a wordless message of love and trust. Fulcrum on which the girl turns, and leans; a togetherness. Beautifully choreographed and performed. Long lines, fluid arms from Li Jie (see: streamers in the corners, above); fluid moves that bring out the softness in the choreography, but do not muddy the moves because they retain their line and form.

More irreverently — much heavy lifting.

This was possibly the first time I considered that body types might be cast for a dance. Generally, there are only so many dancers in SDT, and two female senior artistes (currently), they would be the ones dancing the lead roles for full-length classical ballets. There isn’t the issue I see on other blogs or in magazines, of whether to cast X for this lead role, or Y for another. But in this dance I considered that perhaps height was a factor, and then I saw a version from the late 2000s on youtube (Chen Peng and another female dancer, I think) and again the casting appeared to consider height.

This was one of my favourite parts of the dances for Ballet Under the Stars 2014. I would absolutely love to see it again, and again, and the rest of the dance, of course. I note this entire dance is not up for 2015’s schedule, but maybe it’ll be back again in 2016.

Anyway, now that we’ve started on a jolly note, the next comment post can be about … Bittersweet. 🙂


One thought on “Piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 102, especially the pas de deux

  1. Pingback: ETA on Shostakovich | balletbelatedetcetera

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