Serenade – George Balanchine
The third and last piece of the night, and what a way to end it.
You can hear the music here – Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major:
*Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5J3duJIx9Y
*Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSGKRfEUqVk
*The music used for Part 3 of the dance, which is actually the last part (Finale) of the actual musical composition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvDIxPr4PZ0. One of my favourite parts of this is runs from 5:07/8 to 5:38.
*The music used for Part 4, which is the third part of the actual musical composition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPGInkNkPpA
Before I had watched it, I found the third part of the actual musical composition rather slow. Now that I’ve watched Serenade and seen this played out as Part 4 of Serenade, it brings chills.
The opening of Serenade always brings tears to my eyes. That, and the closing of Part 1. That beautiful yearning music, and the girls in rows tracing an arc in the air with one uplifted hand, their eyes following it; the last Lost Girl (Waltz) wandering in late at the end, looking for her place amidst the others.
I’m going to say something heretical and ignorant now. When I first saw Part 1, I was surprised. In my mind, to the music, there’s a great flowing soft sea of motion, something that perhaps resembles one of the last parts of the Winds of Zephyrus or something out of Opus 25. But in Serenade, there’s a close following of the beat: feet shoot out into first position, heels together and feet pointing in opposite directions; girls looping their arms above their heads and kneeling or tilting with every note. The closest to a swoop of motion is that of the sea of girls in the corner in the iconic scene above, before a girl, and then another, scatters out of the flock.
To me, the music is a stirring of strings, so to see the notes played out one by one on stage was unexpected.
But then I saw that by following the music, the dance had a beauty of its own, and it had such a lovely unfolding pattern. From a distance you might see flowers unfurling and ladies like petals, lifted away in a breeze. There’s a delicacy to the moves where the music is light, and when the music crescendos or grows more urgent, the dance as a whole reflects that surge in energy.
Serenade, in its entirety, is such a rich and layered piece.
Part 1, little snippets: Suzuki Mai and Ines Furuhashi-Huber flitting swiftly from the sides, crossing in the centre amidst the sea of ladies; the girls breaking off into branches of four, the first girl seated on the ground, the wrist of the next girl curled round her raised hand; as the girls gather in a corner, the last (Lisha Chin) in a terrifying backbend, Uchida Chihiro (Russian) leaps out energetically, kicking so high her skirt catches on her arm for a fraction of a second.
I am quite fond of different-looking moves: hopping forward with one leg extended behind parallel to the ground, and pushing one’s arms open as if pushing aside swing doors in a salon; the freestyle swim-walking on pointe; Li Jie (Dark Angel) cycling her arms before her face gracefully as if she’s brushing cobwebs gently away before her face with full arms, one foot placed sharply before the other; and probably the most crazy gorgeous thing ever – walking backwards en pointe, kicking one foot back every few beats, scissor-arms opening and closing.
Part 2, which has some of my favourite music in the serenade, follows on Lost Girl (Rosa Park, as Waltz), who remains on stage with her Waltz Man (Etienne Ferrere) after the rest have left, and theirs is a tightly-run pas de deux. Watching them dance together is always pleasantly relaxing – there’s an easy, assured air that everything will be executed just right. It’s not just a matter of efficiency, but also the right amount of flair and spirit.
I like how Part 2 gives air time to dancers who don’t always appear in a solo or semi-solo role. As dancers line three sides of the stage (an open-mouthed square), Ines Furuhashi-Huber and Tanaka Nanase whirl in circles in the open centre; Chihiro and Alice Lin Cao enter it after them, light on their feet.
Part 3 opens to the slow, gentle music of the last part of the actual Serenade by Tchaikovsky, with Chua Bi Ru, Maughan Jemesen, Chihiro, Tanaka Nanase, and Alison Carroll sliding down into front splits, bowing over their front legs with folded crossed hands so that you see only the tops of their heads. Then they sit up, graciously taking the hands of the dancers flanking them, so their hands are cross-linked; they tilt their heads; they rise up together. Following this is a return to one of Balanchine’s favourite geometric patterns – the winding of arms, the bowing to step through garden-arch arms so that everyone is in a tight knot before unwinding.
Rosa and Etienne follow in a sweet, lilting duet – he might hold her by the elbow and wrist so she leans at an angle, poised on one foot and looking away, as if about to flit off, but he draws her back, sweetly. The others, behind, float by; Sun Hong Lei very bright and graceful; Maughan Jemesen and Chua Bi Ru soaring past, arms wide, like eagles – Maughan with very expansive arms and Bi Ru with expressive gestures.
Part 3 seems to become all jovial and jolly at the end, with everyone progressing forward, arms outstretched, before sweeping off –
– leaving Rosa Park’s Waltz alone; and Waltz puts her hands to her head and spins round and round, tearing off her hair ribbon, spinning it across the floor into the curtains as she collapses to the ground.
Such yearning, luscious music, for the finale. More so than the other parts of Serenade, this finale seems to have been crafted around a particular concept.
As Rosa lies on the ground, Nazer (Elegy) enters, Dark Angel Li Jie behind him, covering his eyes with one arm and with her other arm, holding him so that she may guide him to Rosa. Then she releases him, and he discovers Rosa and kneels by her. Dark Angel arabesques perfectly and pirouettes before them, seemingly all on her own (but actually turned carefully by Elegy, who is hidden by her skirt).
Russian (Chihiro) appears a little later, springing out at Elegy – she turns, leaps, flings herself backwards, into Nazer’s waiting arms. Then as he supports her in an arabesque, as she holds one hand out for Rosa to take, and as Nazer releases Chihiro from arabesque very delicately, Li Jie takes one of Nazer’s hands, so that they all four are now entwined. This evolves into a more dramatic cross of four, hands piled together in the centre, whirling around madly, Li Jie’s shoulders slightly hunched in a crazy-witch way, her face all still and Dark Angel.
The other dancers appear as well – first as Faeries flying out of the curtains in pairs, Elegy dancing with one in each pair, swinging her round, letting her flee with her companion; and next in a stunning scene where four women are lifted onto the shoulders of the men standing in a diamond shape, and these four women become the puppet-masters of their four other friends, whose hands they hold so that the four other friends are supported in their turns and poses. This is the kind of thing I would actually like to see in photos of Serenade, haha.
At last we are left with Waltz (Rosa Park) and Elegy falling in love in a corner, Elegy gently lifting Waltz up in his arms while Dark Angel stands far off in a corner, her back to them. But then Dark Angel turns, the hair falling across her face so that she looks deliciously Fury-like, and in her great jealousy (perhaps), she approaches Elegy and Waltz. As Waltz and Elegy fall together, Dark Angel’s arms behind Elegy flap sharply, like the wings of a crow, and she grabs Elegy and covers his eyes once more, so that they are all three as they were at the beginning. Nazer releases Waltz’s hand, leaving her bereft on the ground as Dark Angel guides him away.
Waltz whirls away in a heart-breaking frenzy; and then in enter the other damsels, in pairs, arms extended out to her: Tanaka Nanase and Nakahama Akira; Yatsushiro Marina, Kwok Min Yi; May Yen Cheah, Emma Hanley Jones. Lisha Chin enters last, and Rosa returns to her in her wild grief, embracing her.
Then enter the four men: Ivan Koh, Shan Del Vecchio, Reece Hudson and Shi Yue Tony. Rosa is placed on Reece Hudson’s shoulders and she bends backwards excruciatingly as she is borne away, and the female procession follows en pointe as they all disappear into the curtains; and so it ends, on this lonely note.
This last Part resulted in some irreverent comments – Dark Angel’s almost-cartoonish arms flapping away; Macbeth and three witches; the zombie-like arms of the female procession at the end.
There are official pictures of the three ladies with their hair up, but an artistic decision seems to have been made to let all the ladies dance with their hair down. At least I can say that most definitely, before I watched Serenade, I did not enjoy the music for this last Part as much as I do now.
Here’s BUTS 2015:
(1) Double Contrasts: neat chequered colours and moves that seem so natural and right against the music
(2) The amusing, light-hearted Rubies, with Li Jie resplendent in her arabesques, and Chihiro mincing with arms up and hands pointing out like chicken wings
(3) Lambarena – lively and colourful (though I was a little confused by the all-male portion at first – men as various wild creatures – it’s fascinating). Wonderful – so glad I finally managed to catch it.
(4) Concerto Barocco in white, rapid and precise in execution.
(5) Schubert Symphony, with its pretty choreography and costumes.
(6) Serenade, in all its 101 layers, which really needs a second watching. Also, how is it humanly possible to do all those backbends – !
Midnight Memories…I mean, Masterpiece in Motion, is next:
(A) Bournonville’s Divertissements, the choreography of which I enjoyed thoroughly
(B) Midnight Waltzes – entertaining, and considered, choreography.
(C) Opus 25. Heavenly.
I’ve been looking at Jerome Robbins’ Dances At a Gathering on youtube. Had no idea it was available! So fun.