Dances for Petersburg

Choreography by guest artist Alonzo King and faculty Gay Delanghe, Bill De Young, Jessica Fogel, Ruth Leney-Midkiff, and Peter Sparling

Graphic design by Don Hammond, Savitski Designs

February 5 - 7 at 8 PM
February 8 at 2 PM
Power Center

background | press release | program | photographs

The Poetic Muse Influences Dance
Dance and poetry are not peculiar bedfellows. Marvels of human invention, these art forms transcend the drudgery of day to day life. Within their compositions gravity is often defied, dreams become reality, and the introspection of an individual often improves the understanding of their society.

But what dance and poetry do best is move the body. They trigger the voice, the brain, the muscles and bones into action by tapping into the fundamental human desire to feel rhythm. In many ways it's as if poets and choreographers are able to connect with their audiences by lending out their own heartbeats for a while, challenging people to feel the palpitation and live for a moment in that rhythm.

It is not uncommon to hear poems written about dance or for dancers to find their inspiration in a poem. Such is the case in "Dances for Petersburg," the U-M Dance Company's February 5-8 concert. As the dance department joins the U-M in celebrating St. Petersburg's tercentennial, one of the cityÕs most influential poets will take center stage as the inspiration for a new dance by U-M faculty choreographer Jessica Fogel.

Osip Mandelstam was one of Russia's most influential poets in the early 1900s. He was a leader in the Acmeist school of poetry, a movement remembered because of its political and social significance in the years that followed the October Revolution of 1917. Recognized by its confessional and fundamentally modernist tone, Acmeism professed a dedication to "world art" and its preservation. This stood in sharp contrast to other institutions, including the new Soviet regime and such literary movements as Futurism, that were denouncing the past.

At the time artists were frequently turned to in Russia for moral guidance and to lend a form of expression to both the joys and the despairs felt by their culture. The words of a poet, for example, could carry great weight in shaping the mood of the nation. The new Soviet leadership recognized this power and likewise took an interest in what these artists were saying.

By 1923 Osip Mandelstam was well-published and had achieved widespread fame. In the years following the Revolution, though, he like others found that gainful employment in the field of letters depended more and more upon being loyal to the government. Like most Russian intellectuals, Mandelstam had welcomed the Revolution É but mistrusted the Bolshevik usurpers of it.

Despite his attempts to avoid the political mainstream, Mandelstam took few pains to conceal his feelings and was soon labeled a subversive. For the rest of his life he was hounded by interrogators and his work was restricted. Frequently he was only able to find work writing childrenÕs books, or picking up the hack translation and journalism jobs that periodically came available through government publishing houses. Only a few books of his poetry, criticism and prose of his were published in the late '20s and early '30s, and, like his life itself, they were heavily censored.

In order to preserve his poetry, which became incriminating if it was written down, his poems were committed to memory primarily by his wife, Nadezhda.

Yet Mandelstam's life ended with nearly three decades of "non-existence." He was arrested and immediately thrown into prison in 1934 for composing the lampooning "Stalin Epigram" (a poem that was later described as a "sixteen line death sentence"), but was spared execution thanks to the intervention of influential friends. Following several years in exile and one suicide attempt, he was arrested again in May 1938 and sentenced to five years hard labor. He died in the Gulag Archipelago near Vladivostok, on December 27, 1938.

It was over 30 years later that his widow, Nadezhda, garnered him international recognition through the publication of her memoirs, Hope Against Hope (1970) and Hope Abandoned (1974), which depicted the power of his poetry and the quality of their life during the Stalin era. Mandelstam's Voronez poems, published in 1990, are the closest approximation what the poet planned to write if he had survived.

The dance inspired by this poets is one of six new works that will premiere in this concert. Don't miss this powerful dance.
- Joel Aalberts

The collaboration of music and dance

Russian music from Glinka onwards has always been associated with dance. One has only to think of the famous balletic leaps masquerading as piano chords which open Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto or the elegant and precise machinations of all of Stravinsky's scores to get a sense that Russians compose kinetically as Italians do vocally. Today's program showcases a variety of these dance inspirations, Shostakovich and Stravinsky providing our lodestones.

Stravinsky, without question the major composer of the 20th century, is represented in two works: his "Fanfare for a New Theatre," written in 1964 in the U.S. for his colleague and fellow Petersburger George Balanchine, and his "Symphonies of Wind Instruments," written in 1920 to commemorate Debussy's death. Tchaikovsky, who was Stravinsky's favorite forebear and the creator of so much immortal ballet music, leads off the main program. Two early piano works illustrate the Chopin influence on this great artist, the same Chopin who inspires the great ballet "Les Sylphides." Prokofiev, Stravinsky's friend and nemesis at the same time, is represented with four piano works that illustrate definitively the new style which he brought to music - forceful, steely, and yet somehow magically melodic as well.

Then to Shostakovich, the great composer of the Soviet regime, who suffered at its hands more than anyone, but whose ultimate triumph was the steady creation of 15 symphonies and 15 string quartets. The great 15th Quartet, one of the composer's last works, from 1974, gives us a full range of this creator's emotion, from despair and fright to the most intimate whisperings of humanity. And finally short works by two composers championed by Shostakovich, firstly the strikingly named Edison Denisov, son of Siberia, and an avatar of modern trends - his Saxophone Sonata giving us filtered notions of such cherished Western modes as jazz and atonal writing. And second the fascinating Sofia Gubaidulina, ceaseless explorer of folk styles and instruments and a mystic devoted to the life-changing possibilities of music, both tendencies to be found in her Seven Words.
- Jonathan Shames, Musical Director

Press Release

Ann Arbor - The UM University Dance Company presents "Dances for Petersburg" at the Power Center for the Performing Arts February 5 - 7 at 8PM and February 8 at 2PM. Featuring choreography by guest artist Alonzo King and faculty members, "Dances for Petersburg" is an evening of modern dance set to music of Russian composers as part of the University-wide "Celebrating St. Petersburg" festival. The concert will feature live music by a variety of School of Music student performers under the musical direction of Jonathan Shames.

The evening begins with a work by faculty member Gay Delanghe entitled "La Duncan and Fokine." The dance explores the influence and significance that new movement by modern-dance pioneer Isadora Duncan's had on premier Russian ballet choreographer Michel Fokine during her visit to St. Petersburg in 1904. Featuring both classical and modern dance elements, including movement quotes from both Duncan and Fokine, Delanghe's dance presents a sometimes comic and insightful look at the transition between the two styles. The dance is set to two piano works by Peter Tchaikovsky: "Chant sans paroles" and "Waltz - Caprice Op. 4" which will be performed by School of Music student Angela Yun-Yin Wu.

Peter Sparling's work, "The Second Space," takes its title from a poem by Czeslaw Milosz and is set to "Symphonies of Wind Instruments" by Igor Stravinsky. Tracing the constant ideological and actual rebirths of the city of St. Petersburg, the dance heralds a community's triumphant ascent to a utopian order transcending politics or religion. The work draws its imagery from the Suprematist vision and Modernism of messianic Russian avant-garde painter Kasimar Malevich.

Bill De Young creates a short work to the music of composer Edison Denisov. DenisovÕs work "Sonata for Alto Sax and Piano Op. 37" echoes the influences of American jazz and musicals on Russian composers in the 1960s. The music will be played live by School of Music alumna Kathryn Goodson, piano, and current UM student Brian Sacawa on saxophone.

The Rayonist painting movement (1912-1914) serves as the inspiration for a work by Ruth Leney-Midkiff entitled "Point of No Return." Influenced by theories of light, industrialization, and the celebration of speed, the rayonists attempted to depict the fourth dimension by painting objects as they appear as reflections of rays of light. Pulsing and dynamic, the dancers become sources of energy echoing the fractured elements of the paintings. The work is set to Prokofiev's "Etude Op. 2" and "Sonata #7 in B-flat major" played by School of Music piano performance major and Concerto Competition winner, Ming-Hsiu Yen.

Jessica Fogel's work, entitled "We Will Meet Again in Petersburg," is based on three poems written by Osip Mandelstam from 1913-1920 and translated by the chorographerÕs father, Ephim Fogel. The dance begins with Mandelstam's 1913 poem, "The Admiralty," a poem which celebrates the creative spirit of man as manifest in The Admiralty Building, built in 1703 in St. Petersburg to celebrate the Russian Navy. The movement is set to the scherzo of the "Piano Quintet in G Minor Op. 57" by Dmitri Shostakovich which will be played live by the UM School of Music students Jennifer Walvoord (violin), Bethany Mennemeyer (violin), Dan McCarthy (viola), Christopher Wild (cello), and Angela Yun-Yin Wu (piano). In the second movement, set to a work by modern Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina, the dance evokes a poem written in 1918, (#101, "At a terrible height".) This poem is a dark twin of "The Admiralty" and reflects the disintegration of the city and MandelstamÕs sense of despair during the revolution. The final section of the piece is based on Mandelstam's 1920 poem #118, "We will meet again in Petersburg" which reflects a hope for the rebirth of old world culture, and the ascendancy of love, art and culture over war, chaos and totalitarianism. The dancers are joined on stage by actor Leigh Woods, UM Professor of Theater, playing the role of narrator/poet.

The highlight of the concert is a work by guest artist Alonzo King entitled "Shostakovich String Quartet" which is set to Shostakovich's "String Quartet #15 in B flat minor Op. 144" to be performed by the UM Rosseels String Quartet whose members include Martha Walvoord (violin), Bethany Mennemeyer (violin), Elvis Chan (viola), and Noella Yan (cello). One of the most sought after modern ballet choreographers in the country, King is the Artistic Director of LINES Ballet, a company he formed in San Francisco in 1982. King's choreography has been commissioned by numerous companies throughout the world including the Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the Frankfurt Ballet. The work, which is double cast, is a series of small ensembles, solo performances and a pas de deux. The San Francisco Chronicle declared the dance "one of the San Francisco dancemaker's most affecting works...mirror[ing] the tragedy and hope of Shostakovich's music."

The artistic team for "Dances for Petersburg" includes set and costume designer Jeff Bauer, who joins the University Dance Company for his third concert having previously designed "Dances of Passion" and "Resonant Rhythms." Mary Cole, a faculty member in the Department of Dance, will design the lighting.

"Dances for Petersburg" is supported in part by a grant from the National College Choreography Initiative Foundation, a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support by the Dana Foundation and is administered by Dance USA, the national service organization for professional dance.

Ticket prices are $20 and $15 reserved seating with students only $8 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at The Power Center for the Performing Arts, located at 121 Fletcher Street, is handicapped accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.
- Kerianne M. Tupac

Click here to view the Dances for Petersburg program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

La Duncan and Fokine
Choreography by Gay Delanghe

Sonata for Alto Sax and Piano
Choreography by Bill De Young

The Second Space
Choreography by Peter Sparling

Point of No Return
Choreography by Ruth Leney-Midkiff

Shostakovich Sting Quartet
Choreography by Alonzo King

We Will Meet Again In Petersburg
Choreography by Jessica Fogel