Categories
Bars CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Listings Living MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

SPRING FLING

While the audience at its 1913 Paris premiere was reportedly scandalized more by Sergei Diaghilev’s choreography than by Igor Stravinsky’s “cruel harmonies and stimulating rhythms” (as attendee Edgard Varèse praised it), The Rite of Spring went on to become 20th-century classical music’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Arrangements for solo piano, two pianos, two pianos plus percussion, four-handed piano, five pianos, and piano roll have all been programmed during its centennial year. Tonight, however, features a performance of the Rite’s rarely heard Seann Alderking arrangement for four pianos and percussion, performed in the round by members of the SONOS Chamber Orchestra. Pianist Jenny Lin’s solo version of “Scenes from Firebird” and Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia’s two-piano “Scenes from Petrouchka” open the evening.

Thu., June 13, 7:30 p.m., 2013

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Theater

Nikolai and the Others: Russian Hour

What if composer Nikolai “Nicky” Nabokov, choreographer George Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, designer Sergey Sudeikin, and a host of ex-wives, dancers, pianists, and the odd State Department official all gathered for a weekend on a Connecticut farm? You might expect romance, intrigue, or at the very least a stirring exploration of the seductions and demands of a life in art. You won’t find them in Nikolai and the Others, Richard Nelson’s elegant, intelligent, impeccably researched, and ultimately inert drama at Lincoln Center.

Nelson has trained his playwright’s eye on Orpheus, a collaboration between Balanchine (Michael Cerveris) and Stravinsky (John Glover) that debuted in 1948 at New York City Center. He sets his play some months earlier, during an imagined weekend rehearsal that unites the crème fraîche of Russian émigré society. As Maria Tallchief (Natalia Alonso) and Nicholas Magallanes (Michael Rosen) dance their pas de deux, alliances are tested and past histories dredged, but despite eloquent acting, fully realized characters never emerge. Nor does an engaging story.

Of course, not every play needs a story. Nelson has always drunk deep from the Anton Chekhov samovar, and Chekhov tells us that while people eat their dinner “all the time their happiness is taking form, or their lives are being destroyed.” Yet all we can see is the surface work of knife and napkin.

In his cycle of Apple family plays, which concludes at the Public Theater next season, Nelson expertly suggests that events of great moment occur even as people attempt picture puzzles or sip tea or bemoan the midterm elections. But little sense—so moving and melancholic—of life underneath or elsewhere enriches Nikolai and the Others. Instead it seems an assemblage of too many boldfaced names and too much background reading.

Occasionally a human moment threatens to intrude, like the distaste Nicky (Stephen Kunken) feels for his anti-Communist work or the complaints and infirmities of Sudeikin (Alvin Epstein). But they soon succumb to the play’s other distractions—the gossip, the dropped names, the endless procession of meals. (Thanks to set designer Marsha Ginsberg, these do look very tasty.)

Director David Cromer may be too patient and cerebral a man for such material. Maybe a slickster with a taste for sensation could have lent a veneer of urgency to the proceedings. But instead Cromer takes the script at its own pace, and that pace is very slow; not even in the extended dance sequences does Nikolai ignite. In the middle of the play, a character arranges a fireworks display. But just as in Nelson’s drama, every flash, every blast, every flare happens far from the stage.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

SPRING FLING

The big problem with flutist Hubert Laws’s well-intentioned 1971 jazz take on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is that it didn’t swing anywhere near as hard as even a so-so orchestral version. The Bad Plus don’t make that mistake with On Sacred Ground, which has its New York premiere tonight. The piano trio’s more or less faithfully transcribed arrangement (listen for subtle electronics early on) emphasizes the original’s percussive provocations yet shifts effortlessly between savage crescendos and bucolic interludes. But is it jazz? Ask Nicholas Payton. Germany’s Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble, tonight’s opener, gives techno a classical makeover with the help of strings, horns, timpani, and a Moog synth. Judging from 2011’s Mr. Machine, the results are somewhere between Steve Reich and the Zen jazz-funk of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin.

Thu., Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m., 2012

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Museums & Galleries MUSIC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Fantasia

Dir. Walt Disney (1940).
The kitschiest, most bombastic of early Disney animations—an attempt to bring Beethoven and Stravinsky (and Grieg and Mussorsky) to the masses—is not without its primitive pleasures. At least it left an indelible impression on this six year old.

Fri., Nov. 25, 7 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 26, 3 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 27, 3 p.m., 2011

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Tori Amos

Earlier this year, the flame-haired piano player Tori Amos drew upon classical chamber music for concept album Night Of Hunters. Equally inspired by the creepy Charles Laughton film as by Stravinsky’s octets, Amos has crafted an ambitious song cycle that stands in sharp contrast to her past forays into adult contemporary and prog-inspired balladry. Lately, she’s been perfecting a stripped down solo show that showcases a kooky flair for drama. And while her fans adore anything Amos throws their way (including a tepid Depeche Mode cover), new listeners will have to contend with Florence, without the machinations.

Fri., Dec. 2, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 3, 8 p.m., 2011

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Gerald Wilson

Over the past few weeks, the Generations in Jazz Festival has been taking up much of this club’s schedule, but shows like tonight’s, in which the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra takes cues from the 93-year-old maestro, have kept the event from overstaying its welcome. Wilson’s charts are full of swagger, simultaneously heady and breezy. His new disc puts Puccini, Stravinsky and the Chicago Cubs in a kaleidoscope, and it’s as fetching as big band albums get.

Wed., Sept. 28, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 29, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 30, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 1, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m., 2011

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

The Bad Plus

These omnivorous rag & bone jazz men are the perennial skunks at the garden party, an unclassifiable power trio with tastes that stretch from Milton Babbitt to Black Sabbath. Like the Twilight Zone jukebox that plays all your favorite tunes, just slightly off, they’re easily the only act to be asked back to the Blue Note after covering “Heart of Glass” there. Most recently, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring passed through their impressionistic prism and emerged with breakbeat minimalism. The composition caused a riot in 1913–maybe it’s time the Bad Plus led a reprise. With Joshua Redman.

April 19-24, 8 & 10:30 p.m., 2011

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Theater

Raimund Hoghe, Faustin Linyekula, and the New York City Ballet Help Open the Season

How do you see motion in stillness? Raimund Hoghe, the German writer turned performer-choreographer, would like, I think, to instruct us in feeling the weight of time and help us to notice that even very minimal movements, repeated over time, change—in themselves and in our perception of them. The works of his that I’ve seen both cleanse and charge the air.

Last year at Dance Theater Workshop, he began Bolero, the first piece of his to be seen in the U.S., by carefully, and with dignity, walking around the perimeter of the performing area. This year, in his Sans-titre (part of the French Institute’s Crossing the Line festival), he defines the same space by laying sheet after sheet of white paper along three sides of the black floor. That paper boundary and a candle in a glass at the back are the only décor. But he again begins by walking. He is not alone. While quiet Bach piano music emerges from the speakers, he and his colleague, Faustin Linyekula, approach each other from opposite sides of the stage, pass, and continue. Each repetition of this moves them a little closer to the rear wall, until they meet and stand side by side, their backs to us.

The walk gives you time to think (will they meet this time?) but more importantly, to take in their differences. Hoghe is a very small, white man in his fifties, with a crooked spine and a hump; he’s wearing dark trousers and a black shirt. Linyekula—raised in Congo, the director of a dance company in Kenya—is a medium-height black man with—it turns out—a surpassingly beautiful spine; his shirt is white. It’s not unusual for Hoghe to work with younger, lither performers, but in this powerful piece—simpler and shorter than others he has made—the physical and cultural contrasts between these two men form its intense core.

Although “Sans-titre” can refer to an immigrant without papers, the no-title title is apt in another way. What could you call Sans-titre that wouldn’t be corny, or pin it down in some undesirable way? Stone Ritual is definitely out, although the ritualistically precise laying out and gathering up of stones take up a substantial amount of the piece’s duration. Another vital element is Linyekula’s dancing. He’s a master of the sinuous torso and shoulders; he takes off his shirt and you gasp. Holding him while he’s moving would be like grasping a snake. His whole body is in vibrant motion; he slips down into a squat and up again as he goes; his arms shape air. His rhythms are varied; he may pause, or draw one move out, then snap the next. He’s always watchful, even wary at times.

Linyekula is in curious sympathy with, although never exactly moving to, the recorded music Hoghe has chosen. And what music! It adds a spiritual layer and an understated poignancy to Sans-titre—hanging above it, moving through it. Janet Baker, I believe, is the mezzo-soprano who delivers Dido’s lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, but the very great English contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, who died of cancer at 41 in 1953, sings the Agnus Dei from Bach’s B-minor Mass and “He was despised. . .” from Handel’s Messiah. (At one point, Linyekula, while dancing vigorously, sings along with a recording, eerily on pitch, but slightly out of synch.) When the two men are initially standing at the back, Odetta’s voice caresses “No more auction block for me.” Through several of its sweet, sad verses, the men are still, as if to let us appraise them in a skewed parallel to long-ago slave auctions. Then Hoghe slowly raises his left arm and, with difficulty, holds it up. As Linyekula lifts his own arm, he passes it close to Hoghe’s back and head, caressing his partner without touching him.

The stones. They’re small. Linyekula can gather them in his hands and shake them. There are just enough for him to make a line from the front of the stage to the back, but after scanning along the trail and dancing a little, he walks forward in a squat, collecting them again. While Dido is singing “When I am laid in earth,” Hoghe walks to the rear center and lies supine, head toward the candle, feet toward us, and Linyekula begins another task with the stones. He outlines one of his hands with them, then the other hand and forearm, each time lifting away from the outlines to survey them or gather the stones needed to complete his task.

But his most important and difficult job is to lie face down and reach around to place the rocks one by one along his spine; then he crawls, rippling his back. Those that don’t fall he shakes off in a sudden frenzy. When Hoghe also removes his shirt and lies prone, Linyekula assumes the manner of a grave nurse, or healer. Carefully, he lays the stones along Hoghe’s spine, drawing our focus to its hills and valleys. The stone trail runs from waist to back of head, with a small cluster on Hoghe’s hump and one in each of his upturned palms.

[

To remove the stones one by one while still face-down, Hoghe has to snake his right arm behind him to reach them, then skidding each away across the floor. I feel the strain in my own shoulder. After more slow pacing—punctuated by small bows—the men again face the back wall. This time, they put their arms around each other and, united, traverse the space with small steps backward and forward. Now the ravishing unseen voice is singing Bach’s “Bist du bei mir”— “If thou art beside me/I go joyfully to my death. . . .” The two men stand together, while the song and the light take an eternity to fade.

———————-

Long ago, my children, the New York City Ballet had a fall season. But some time back, that was replaced by a handful of November mixed bills (perhaps even only one) followed by weeks and weeks of The Nutcracker. So it’s a cause for rejoicing that the company is performing for four weeks in September and October.

The second night program opened with a welcome 2010 revival of Balanchine’s Danses Concertantes, to Igor Stravinsky’s music of the same name. Stravinsky wrote his coruscating piece in 1941, and Balanchine snapped it up in 1944, when he was working for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In 1972, programming his ballet for NYCB’s Stravinsky Festival, he claimed he’d forgotten the choreography and had to start over.

Judging by reviews of the two productions, however, the steps may have changed, but the structure and the mood remain the same, as does the scenery and the ornate, jewel-bright costumes by Eugene Berman. Balanchine introduces each of four trios (one man, two women) and a leading couple one by one; each entry has its own color scheme: green, blue, purple, and red, with the pair in yellow. A group shows off for a few seconds, bows, and exits. Since Berman’s fancy painted drop (which flaunts the date of the ballet’s premiere and his name, Stravinsky’s, and Balanchine’s) is hung downstage, the effect is that of little introductory vaudeville acts “in one.”

Like the music, the steps are jaunty and playful, a bit saucy. The three in the blue trio race-walk on, all but winking at us. The ladies in red exit strutting on pointe. In one of the trios, the women throw their legs onto their partner’s shoulders and look pleased with themselves. Their performers’ hand gestures are as flippy as the women’s fluffy, swinging little tutus. You know the gesture I mean. The dancer lifts his or her arm slightly to the side, elbow bent, and angles the wrist back to turn the palm to the ceiling; it can mean “May I present?” or “Here you have me!”

When all the performers have greeted us and departed, the painted curtain rises, and there they are, neatly and symmetrically arrayed. In Berman’s curious all-charcoal-gray set, they look like jewels on black velvet. The wings mimic the elaborate boxes of an 18th-century theater, but at the back is a painted balustrade with various painted musical instruments perched on it. The denizens of this society behave with the politesse of courtiers, but that decorum has an edge. Perhaps they’re commedia dell’arte performers or an assembly of court jesters subtly mocking the aristocracy. When the ballerina (Megan Fairchild at the performance I saw) shows off, the eight women watch and hasten to copy her. When her cavalier (Andrew Veyette) makes a statement, the four men echo his “words.”

Stravinsky’s music is dense, fast, and witty, with outspoken utterances by the brass section. The ensuing brief numbers for each trio have little surprises and smart syncopations. The man in the blue trio ends in a deep plié between his dates for the evening. The intricate interweavings of the three in purple culminate in a kind of seesaw enabled by the man: he tips one woman forward in arabesque on pointe; as she straightens up, the other, hanging onto the guy’s shoulder, lifts her leg high. They can see we like it, so they repeat it a few times. Balanchine has a lexicon of moves for Stravinsky ballets (and for others set to scores by certain acerbic or jazz-influenced 20th-century composers). Here they are: those crooked wrists, the swinging hips, the knees that flip in and out, and the pinup-girl pose (the woman stands on one leg, with the other bent, coyly turned in, and resting on a pointed toe). The dancers in red have the spiciest, jazziest bit.

[

But that’s not counting the pas de deux. Balanchine created the original duet for Alexandra Danilova—once his lover, and a sophisticated 40-year-old charmer—and her frequent partner, Frederick Franklin, ten years her junior. It would be unfair to expect Veyette and Fairchild to have that pair’s elegant ease with one another (even though the very well-spoken pre-curtain speech by principal dancer Tyler Angle—a new audience-wooing device—clued us in to their upcoming marriage), but they perform it engagingly. The choreography crackles with wit. Instead of rotating Fairchild by walking soberly in a circle, Veyette sort of dithers around her, stepping in when he’s needed. He watches her rapid feet admiringly; what a girl! He springs up into an entrechat from a deep plié to impress her, and when she has displayed her pirouettes, he kisses her hand.

The program that began with Danses Concertantes was an exhilarating all-Balanchine, mostly-Stravinsky evening. The two lovely, spare, practice-clothes ballets, Monumentum Pro Gesualdo (1960) and Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1963), were performed, as usual, by the same ballerina and with only a short pause between. In the first, she has an entourage of 12 in addition to a partner—appropriate for the patterned court dances of that 16th-century composer (and criminal) Don Carlo Gesualdo, whose music and formations Stravinsky and Balanchine channeled into contemporaneity. In the second, only one helpful man and six women attend her as she negotiates the asymmetrical intricacies that Balanchine matched to Stravinsky’s spiky five-section foray into 12-tone music. Movements was created to feature the 18-year-old Suzanne Farrell, and another big, limber beauty, Maria Kowroski, fills out the steps with aplomb.

The evening ended with the Balanchine’s crowd-pleasing Who Cares?, an orgy of carefree dancing and wonderful Gershwin songs, arranged for orchestra by Hershy Kay. I like just about everything, but I’m partial to the smart little duets for a savvy bunch of guys (Sean Suozzi is especially terrific in this divertissement) and the five lively red-garbed women they vie for. This is a ballet in which the principals don’t strut their stuff until the evening is almost over. One man, three beautiful women, three duets, solos all around. Some dessert! Balanchine’s ingenuity and musicality never flags. Sterling Hylton creates a tempest with her solo. Amar Ramasar has grown increasingly assured in the male role—courteous, but with a glint in his eye, bold in his jumps and easy in his jazzy sauntering. The most memorable dancing of the entire evening came from Tyler Peck, both in her duet with Ramasar to “The Man I Love” and her solo to “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.” She is indeed fascinating—embedded in the music and in the moment, alive to every nuance. It’s difficult to define great performing, but you recognize it all right. The minute you see it.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky Gets It On

Coco Chanel. Igor Stravinsky. Two iconoclasts whose contributions to their respective artistic fields left an indelible mark on the 20th century. Did you know they used to bone? After a lengthy staging of the disastrous 1913 premiere of “The Rite of Spring” (the sole sympathetic set of ears in the audience belonging to the youngish Chanel), Stravinsky jumps ahead a decade. Lacking love, hot shot Coco (Anna Mouglalis) turns workaholic like a proper rom-com heroine; Igor (Mads Mikkelsen), an unpopular genius, is living in squalid exile. She invites him, his sickly wife, and offspring to move in to her country estate, and soon the two artists are furiously humping on the piano. “Your music has more passion,” sneers Mrs. Stravinsky, willing to accept the dalliance if it’s good for the canon—up to a point. Lit like a David Fincher music video and shot with a gliding camera approximating a wandering eye, Stravinsky strains to convince that its lascivious pleasures have historical import. In the film’s 1:1 correlation between erotic indulgence and creative innovation, hot, home-wrecking sex is justifiable only if it directly leads to the invention of Chanel No. 5. Stravinsky is the second corset-ripping French-language romance about the legendary fashion designer to hit American screens in seven months. Here, Coco’s cast as a femme fatale who preys on a helpless nebbish—the Audrey Tautou–starring Coco Avant Chanel was much more fun.

Categories
ART ARCHIVES BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Theater

At New York City Ballet and Györ National Ballet, Choreographers Re-tell Old Tales

“There are no sisters-in-law in ballet.” Is that what Balanchine said? He was dead right. Parents and children, yes. Commanders and subordinates, enemies, lovers–yes to all those. It’s not hard, if you wish, to manipulate the classical vocabulary to show feelings: the despairing pirouette, the elated arabesque, the indecisive bourrée, the enraged battement, the developpé flung as a challenge.

But dancing resists showing complex thoughts or mundane details. Can a performer in a ballet convey the layers of feeling that the male protagonist of a story reveals about the woman he is staring at: “this little woman, in no way remarkable, lost in a provincial crowd, with a vulgar lornette in her hand, filled his whole life now, was his sorrow and his joy…” ? Of course not. But such thoughts are the lifeblood of Anton Chekhov’s frail short story “The Lady With the Dog,” which choreographer Alexey Miroshnichenko has turned into a work for the New York City Ballet.

With his customary brusque delicacy, Chekhov tells of a chance encounter in Yalta between Dmitri Dmitrievitch, a fortyish married man who is given to casual affairs and has a low opinion of females, and Anna Sergeevna, a younger woman, also unhappily wedded. Both are vacationing by the sea; their intimacy progresses slowly, flowers, and ends when they must return to their separate cities and spouses. They try to forget each other, but the man realizes that, for the first time in his life, he has fallen in love. He goes in search of her. The story ends enigmatically; they realize that they must be together, no matter what the cost.

Choreographers have not been falling over one another to build dances on this nuanced tale. However, the great Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya choreographed it in 1985 as a star vehicle for her 60-year-old self, and Miroshnichenko has dedicated his The Lady With the Little Dog to her on the occasion of her 80th birthday, setting it to music composed by her husband Rodion Shchedrin. In 1999, Martha Clarke tackled “The Lady With the Dog,” along with other Chekhov tales, in her Vers La Flamme, setting it to music by Alexander Scriabin. Hers was a spare, evocative, if not entirely successful dance theater work, with both lovers’ families part of the picture.

In Miroshnichenko’s hands, the story becomes simply a pas de deux, with little in it to suggest the characters of the protagonists or the subtleties of their relationship. Andrew Veyette wears glasses. That’s supposed to tell us that he’s older. Sterling Hyltin does walk on with a little dog on a leash (her own), and on opening night, it turned very charmingly to stare at us before being led away.

The first duet builds from decorous meeting to rapture, with Veyette wearing a white summer suit and Hyltin a short, pretty black dress with a full skirt (costumes by Tatiana Noginova). For their erotic encounter, they wear underwear, and Mark Stanley’s lighting reddens.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Miroshnichenko had a clever theatrical idea. The lovers are almost never alone. Eight male dancers, garbed in gray unitards and billed as “angels,” act as fate figures, puppeteers of destiny. They unroll, roll, and re-position pathways of flooring designed to bring the lovers together. For the sex scene, they carry Veyette in laid out like a log and undress both protagonists on stage.

The best thing about these men is that, although they dance very nimbly at times, they act more like dogs than like your usual angels. Crawling and scrambling over one another, they all but push the rolls of flooring with their noses. And, at the end, they crouch like good pups on either side of the path that they’ve arranged to point toward the horizon, so that the lovers can walk, hand-in hand toward their unknown future.

There are several other good things about the ballet. At one point, the slanting, angled patterns on Philip Dontsov’s backdrop get smaller and begin to speed across the painted surface to indicate the passage of time. A few non-balletic touches create a whiff of Chekhovian dailiness. Veyette removes his glasses; Hyltin puts them back on for him. After she pulls herself out from under his post-coital sprawl and steps into her dress, he fastens it up in back. He sees that she’s cold and drapes his jacket over her shoulders.

Nothing about the movement is surprising, but you can admire the sensitivity and generosity of Hyltin and Veyette’s dancing. His energetic solo after the lovers separate can’t convey the ideas that Chekhov gives his changing character, but Veyette shows you a man troubled by thoughts, tossed this way and that by the unaccustomed turbulence of his feelings.

This new ballet shared the program with the Balanchine-Stravinsky Agon and the Balanchine-Glazounov Cortège Hongrois. Together they wonderfully illustrate what different worlds the architect of NYCB style could create, depending on the music that inspired him. Just as in its Stravinsky score, the 1957 Agon mingles dissonance and the thrust and drive of athletics with the elegance of baroque court dance, and Cortège Hongrois (essentially the last-act celebration of Marius Petipa’s 1898 ballet Raymonda) is all tsarist grandeur and protocol with a spicy taste of Hungarian folk steps. Is it possible to create a Chekhovian approach to ballet? Or is that a cause pretty much lost?

[

If you can believe that a girl is able to wake up from a hundred-year sleep as fresh as a daisy and ready for love, then perhaps you can also accept the vision of happy communist youths of the 1930s going through their calisthenics in front of a bloody sickle, a gigantic broken-off arm holding a hammer, and the decapitated stone head of a statue of Lenin. And if Sleeping Beauty can be thought of as a light-hearted look at resurrection, then perhaps you should try to admire Dmitrij Simkin and James Sutherland’s 1995 attempt to re-shape Mikhail Fokine’s 1911 ballet Petrushka by making the hero a rebel against communist repression of individuality.

Watching the Györ National Ballet from Hungary perform at the Joyce, you’ll perhaps be able to hold down a bubble of laughter when an oppressive commandant (Balázs Pátkai of the long, powerful scything legs) rolls the huge Lenin head around the stage like the light-weight plastic object it is, and despondent gulag prisoners are crushed under the weight of its symbolism.

Stravinsky’s music for Petrushka being ill-suited to strenuous precision drills, the score is preceded and later interrupted by another (unidentified) piece by the composer that features high, ringing voices. There are a number of moments in the Simkin-Sutherland work that are effective in theatrical terms. When the ensemble splits into trios, anchored by spotlights, the hero (Bálint Sebestyén) visits each in turn—trying to integrate himself into the ongoing sculptural complexities or attempting to alter them. A point is made when the performers—now out of their Communist Youth, sailor-collared outfits and maid’s uniforms (don’t ask) and wearing ragged prison stripes—make feeble, rag-doll gestures toward keeping up with the calisthenics that were drilled into them.

The ballet acquires a certain resonance if you know the original Petrushka. The dictatorial oppressor blindfolds Petrushka and flings him around, the way the Magician might handle his puppet (even when the blindfold comes off, Sebestyén has trouble seeing). To the music written for the stiff dance of Fokine’s ballerina puppet in Petrushka’s room, two women, egged on by the villain’s two helpers, tempt and tangle with our conscience-of-the-people hero. But this Petrushka, who refuses to be a puppet, doesn’t utter the last little crow of triumph that Stravinsky wrote into the music before the doll’s final collapse. He’s alone and dead when the curtain falls. The brutal system tolerates no rebels, not even gentle ones.

Sebestyén’s performance is one of the best things about this cardboard creation. He’s adroit at suggesting the naïf confronting a society that controls every individual’s moves and beliefs. You see him weighing possible options, experimenting with conformity, and finally resolving to fight the system.

No such combative choice is open to the sacrificial victim of the ballet that Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky created in 1913 as Le Sacre du Printemps. The Chosen One in Attila Kun’s revised version of this epochal music doesn’t just dance herself to death; she is mauled by the crowd and released to crawl across the stage drenched in blood. This is no primal redemptive ritual; it’s a mob scene. You expect the participants to start eating her.

This work is spatially more fluid than the updated Petrushka. Men in white pants with tails (as in the bottom part of tailcoats) and women in white bandeaus and white trunks with aprons behind (costumes by Zsuzsa Molnár) chase one another across the stage and into the wings. They prowl and stalk. In one mysterious moment, a white silk curtain falls across the background, and figures behind it imprint themselves on its billows. There’s not much suspense. We know quite soon which woman (Lilla M. Horváth) is going to be sacrificed, although there’s no hint of impending doom in her amorous duet with Krisztián Horváth. She’s trembling as the others dress her for the rite, although she’s the one who turns and nods when one man is late to join the circle tightening around her.

The dancers of Györ National Ballet perform these two updates of works made famous by Serge Diaghilev’s Les Ballets Russes with conviction and intensity (the men appear to be technically stronger than the women). But the choreographers who tackled the two brilliant, very dissimilar Stravinsky scores seldom plumb the richness of their shifting rhythms and harmonic and melodic colorations. Kun finds the beat and treads on it; his choreography may respond briefly to a mood change, but any attempt to delve into the music’s depths seem done with a shovel rather than a sensitive probe.