The boy from Bayside was, understandably, captivated. Balanchine and Stravinsky may not have been household words in his Long Island suburb, but the names were known. Both the great choreographer and the great composer conducted the first rehearsal that Edward Villella--that boy--attended after joining New York City Ballet. Last night, at the Natural History Museum's Baird Auditorium, Villella explained in a lecture/performance how he felt during his dance career, encountering the work of George Balanchine. The "retired dancer" (as Villella, now director of the Eglevsky Ballet Co., described himself) was opening the Smithsonian's American Dance Experience series, which focuses on 20th-century innovators.
Villella analyzed Balanchine's work by taking the elements of the ballet class, demonstrating the classical norm and then explaining how the choreographer "extended" the idea. He suggested that in watching Balanchine movement one should always keep in mind the classical base as well as the new images. The connections between the two constitute the actual choreography.
Special characteristics that Villella emphasized were continuity of motion, dynamic (even syncopated) phrasing and energetic linearity. These, plus the imagery behind the movement, make dance for Balanchine a continuum of supported gesture, a poetry of movement. "Apollo" is built of gestures to Olympus, of eagles, chariots and the blinking lights in the electric signs of Piccadilly Circus. "Agon" is jazz, the sarabande and Spanish arm movements. Villella had difficulty with Stravinsky's music. Listening to it repeatedly, the first thing he began to discern was its "structure." Eventually, the diverse movements, images and forms fell into place and he was able to make the choreography "his own," something Balanchine encouraged.
Two dancers of the Eglevsky Ballet, Roseanne Germer and Paulo Manso de Sousa, joined Villella to dance and demonstrate several Balanchine pieces. Germer has the proud, high carriage and impatient phrasing of the ideal Balanchine woman. The "Nutcracker" and "Concerto Barocco" pas de deux gave her ample opportunity to display them. But, in "Tarantella," she also gave evidence of a sense of humor. Manso de Sousa is stocky at first glance, but when he begins to move, his body becomes supple.
Villella himself demonstrated variations from "Agon" and "Apollo." The presentation was crammed with information even though Villella's gee-whiz approach was perhaps too unsophisticated for the audience. And, while most people might agree that Balanchine is a genius, the word was uttered much too often.