Neoclassical Master: Works by Sir Frederick Ashton in Ballet San Jose’s 2013 Season

Rudy Candia and Alexsandra Meijer in Sir Frederick Ashton's "Méditation from Thaïs." Photo by Robert Shomler.

Rudy Candia and Alexsandra Meijer in Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Méditation from Thaïs.” Photo by Robert Shomler.

One week from today, Ballet San Jose’s 2013 Season will continue with our mixed repertory program, Neoclassical Masters. We’re especially thrilled to be performing two incredible ballets by legendary ballet choreographer Sir Frederick AshtonLes Rendezvous, a suite of witty, light-hearted dances set in a park; and Méditation from Thaïs, a rich and poetic pas de deux set to the beautiful violin solo “Méditation” from Massenet’s opera Thaïs.

The stagers of these incredible works–former Royal Ballet soloist Hilary Cartwright (Les Rendezvous) and former RB principal Bruce Sansom (Méditation from Thaïs)–shared their thoughts about Ashton’s choreography for our Playbill, and we want to give you a sneak peek! Read on for some interesting insights to the pieces, and don’t miss seeing them performed for the first time on the CPA stage next weekend.

Hilary Cartwright on Les Rendezvous:

Les Rendezvous was one of the first ballets I learned from Sir Fred (as we called him) when I joined the company in 1962. I loved it and thought it was so playfully romantic—something I was to discover later was a recurring theme in his work. Sir Fred was an incurable romantic. His choreography could be extremely contemporary, but no matter the style he always managed to infuse his choreography with elegance, grace and the most beautiful, organic use of the body.

One of his favorite things to say was: “Bend!” The depth of the “bend”—which refers to the balletic term of port de bras, the carriage of the arms and torso—in every possible direction made such a huge stylistic difference in Sir Fred’s work and set him apart as an artist.

Every ballet has its own unique style, and Les Rendezvous is no exception. It remains challenging for dancers today, in terms of both execution and stamina. I think it’s become increasingly difficult to instill that depth of movement in modern ballet when we have so many dancers whose technical capability soars—sometimes to the detriment of artistry. Everyone needs a little romance in their lives! And Les Rendezvous is romance at its finest.

Bruce Sansom on Méditation from Thaïs:

I rarely performed Méditation from Thaïs, but it was a part of my whole Royal Ballet experience, so it became imprinted into my memory. Many pas de deux, in galas and repertory programs, are short sections taken from longer works, and the audience sees them out of context. But Méditation from Thaïs is a rarity because it is a complete work.

Ashton choreographed Thaïs specifically for a gala performance. I imagine that it was meant to be performed only once, however, it was so enthusiastically received that when Sir Frederick Ashton took his curtain call, he asked the audience if they wanted to see it again. Immediately, everyone in the theater responded with a resounding “Yes!” and Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell had to dance it again!

Ashton was wonderful at the art of understatement and Thaïs is a perfect example of his ability to condense a dance piece down to its elements. Here he uses subtlety to create a sense of Eastern mysticism without resorting to cliché. Thaïs is simply the man’s meditation on Thaïs; she never truly exists outside of his imagination. He begins by remembering her and gradually creates a full image of her in his mind, culminating in the kiss. Then, as he is lost in ecstasy, she begins to recede.

We hope you’ll join us March 22 – 24 for this exciting program of company premieres and fan-favorite encore performances (Stanton Welch’s Clear and Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1)! Find show times and buy tickets online at www.balletsj.org, or call our Box Office during regular business hours at (408) 288-2800. See you at the theater!

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