SEVENTH SYMPHONY


Seventh Symphony, Etc.
Cincinnati Ballet
Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
October 9, 2004 at 2 and 8 PM

By George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson

A dancer steps briskly between the music's pizzicato punctuations as if her pointes were dodging
small, spiky waves to tap a pearl in the trough between each crest. She is open, full of joy and
generous in sharing her feelings. Her mood infects her companions and us, their audience. This
image from a Cincinnati Ballet performance of Leonide Massine's "The Seventh Symphony", to
the Ludwig van Beethoven composition that Richard Wagner called the quintessence of the
dance, should last long in memory. So should impressions of corps groupings that, like incoming
tide and expectant beach, merge seamlessly only to separate again until the next embrace.
Massine's "The 7th" is powerful and melodious. Looked at whole, it seems clear and bold. Taken
apart, it appears complex and clever. Its dancing is diverse—neoclassical and modern, abstract
and expressive, airy and weighty—yet it has the cohesion of an impulse sprung from a single
source.

This 1938 ballet and its current production proved to be of interest to the general public. At its
core, though, the entire enterprise was by and for romantics. Not the sort of romantics who revel
in the remnants of repertories past and are afraid of restorers. Working in Cincinnati were people
who strove to revive a dance work of former days based on authentic sources and scholarly
research. Of course, they never had enough of either. Persist they did, nevertheless, to stage
three-fourth of "The 7th". Their concern was not 1938 but today, retrieving a legacy for the here
and now and for what may come in the future. Among these incorrigibles are Victoria Morgan,
Frederic Franklin, Johanna Bernstein Wilt, John Mueller, Blair Gibeau, and Diana Vandergriff.
Has anyone calculated how long and hard they worked to stage the three scenes of "The 7th"
for just the three performances this October, plus the teaser two years ago of the 3d scene
alone? Regrettably, there aren't any plans for further performances or even making a
distributable electronic copy.

The revival's major source was the discovery by Prof. Mueller, a dance movie expert, of a silent
rehearsal film from 1938 by the company which originally danced the piece, the Ballet Russe de
Monte Carlo. Footage of the work's first three scenes or movements is legible; that of the fourth
and final movement is not. So, missing in the current production is the ballet's climax and
summation. Ms. Bernstein Wilt deciphered what she saw on screen and transferred it onto the
Cincinnati dancers. Mr. Franklin, who starred in the original production and again in 1948 and '49
for this ballet's only previous revival (also by the Ballet Russe), coached and coordinated the
dancing with Beethoven's music. Cincinnati's leads for realizing the Christian Berard scenery and
costume designs from 1938 were, respectively, Mr. Gibeau and Ms. Vandergriff. Trad A. Burns
planned the new lighting.

Movement 1 of "The 7th" is titled The Creation. It is a choreography of interweaving thematic
streams that denote birth and illustrate behavior. Movement 2, The Earth, deals with evildoing
and death. It is a lesson in weight mass and vector force with very effective use of corps groups
differentiated by their motion motifs and also by the cuts and colors of their costuming. Movement
3, The Sky, is a festival of buoyancy and luminosity. Had we been able to see Movement 4, the
major theme would have been Fire, a sizzling bacchanal followed by a world conflagration and
possibly, as suggested in a pre-performance talk by critic Jack Anderson, hints of rebirth.
Another pre-performance speaker, dance editor George Dorris, discussed why "The 7th" was
controversial in 1938. There were objections then to using symphonic music for dance, an
attitude few people have today. However, some opinions both then and now have held that
Massine's particular way of using the music is flawed, especially his imposition on it of such
themes as water, earth, air and fire, or his Jungian admixture of mythologies as different as
those from Mount Sinai, the Mount of Olives, Mount Olympus and Valhalla. As mentioned by
still another introductory speaker, Mr. Franklin, in conversation with Ms. Bernstein Wilt, one
can take or leave the ballet's literary and psychophilosophic aspects. They are optional. The
choreographer never discussed them with his dancers. Members of the original cast learned
the names and designations of the characters they were portraying only on opening night, on
seeing them in the printed program. Nor did Massine write elaborate program notes. Most likely,
he wanted both the performers and the audience to experience "The 7th" as a symphony of
moods...

www.danceviewtimes.com
Volume 2, No. 38
October 11, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by George Jackson