The practice of dancers appearing as soloists with symphony orchestras has not yet become history. But when New York City Ballet principals Patricia McBride and Robert La Fosse opened the Glendale Symphony season Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, time seemed to have stood still.
The hodgepodge of a program with which principal conductor John Covelli framed his celebrated guests' dancing harked back to something from the days of Ed Sullivan.
What's more, Covelli (or someone) didn't help matters with a primitive lighting plan or by identifying McBride in the program book as "prima ballerina"--a title that does not exist at City Ballet--while tagging La Fosse merely as "dancer."
All this by way of saying that when an artist is off-form, as McBride clearly was, one tends to notice such tacky touches. And when her partner, roughly 15 years younger, captures most of the attention with his exhilarated suavity, discrepancies can loom even larger.
Neither does the memory of McBride dancing the title role of Balanchine's "Coppelia" in the late '70s enhance the current view. This excerpted "Wedding" pas de deux, stripped of narrative context and decor, became ordinary. It also found the ballerina unsteady on pointe, somewhat disoriented and seemingly insecure with Covelli's accompaniment.
Matters improved with four dances from "Who Cares?"--Balanchine's suite of Gershwin songs. The elegantly soulful choreography for "The Man I Love" put McBride and La Fosse (not seen in Los Angeles proper since he defected from Ballet Theatre several years ago) at their most complementary vantage. But the night belonged to him for all his buttoned-down Broadway bravura, smooth-as-silk spins and utterly romantic aura.
Here, Covelli and his guests found their collaboration more agreeable and less chancy.
Elsewhere on the program he resorted to gratuitous spoken introductions and even apologized for offering Ravel's much-maligned "Bolero," which ended the evening with welcome cymbal-crashing. Otherwise, he drew a prevailingly thin, dimensionless sound from the orchestra. But he brought commendable clarity and careful shaping to Stravinsky's 1919 "Firebird" Suite, along with the lesser musical tidbits.