Set to Antonio Vivaldi's driving Concerto Grosso in D minor, Opus 3, No. 11, the three movements of Vivaldi Concerto Grosso are performed by fourteen dancers--a corps of twelve and a solo couple. Christensen, ever alert to the contrapuntal elements in Vivaldi's music, works the dancers against each other with consummate skill and craftsmanship. Throughout the exhilarating first and third movements, the dancers spin intricate patterns; lines become pinwheels, circles and spirals as duets, trios and quartets quickly assemble and disperse. Even the tranquil duet of the second movement which the New York Times described as, "rich with extreme imagery" is not a diminution of energy but an intensification of it. This duet has the same capacious strength as the presto movements. The entire ballet moves with a consistent drive, a pulse, a sweep that are hard to resist.
Vivaldi Concerto Grosso was performed as part of San Francisco Ballet's 1985 tribute to Lew Christensen. "Vivaldi Concerto Grosso seemed a quintessential Christensen ballet," wrote Allan Ulrich, dance critic for the San Francisco Examiner, "a serene commingling of sound and movement, a distillation of ... classical vocabulary and sovereign impulse derived from the European cradle of ballet. "
"The Vivaldi score inspired in Christensen a radiant work for 14 dancers, a delectable essay in patterning (the play on groups of twos, threes and fours brims with ingenuity), a work that for all its elegant grand manner surveys the ballet lexicon with a touching austerity. The contrasts are breathtaking. The men's zippy, leaning diagonals in the first movement yield to a cluster of bodies. They part to reveal the lead couple, who, from a kneeling position, launch one of Christensen's more arduous and sublime adagio duets, a study in gently extending limbs and perilous lifts."
Astute musicality, wry, witty comedy and neo-classical craftsmanship- these are Christensen's gifts. "When the curtain descends on Vivaldi Concerto Grosso, " said the San Francisco Examiner, "no one can doubt the taste, wit, and musicality of the Christensen legacy."
Photograph: Kathleen Mitchell and Jais Zinoun in the second movement of Vivaldi Concerto Grosso (1994). Photo: Lloyd Englert.
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