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Les Noces


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#16 glebb

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 09:39 PM

More from the Robert Johnson article:

"The way Bronislava Nijinska immediately saw "Les Noces" was affected by the intensity of her life in revolutionary Russia. Nijinska had only recently returned from Kiev, and when Diaghilev asked her to mount "Les Noces", in her own words, "I was still breathing the air of Russia, a Russia throbbing with excitement and intense feeling. All the vivid images of the harsh realities of the Revolution were still part of me and filled my whole being".

Nijinska's vision also grew out of a keen appreciation of the emotions of the Bride and Groom. Although Stravinsky had made these emotions clear in his score, he preferred to ignore them when it came to staging the work. Nijinska, in her recollection of the ballet's creation, discusses them at length:

"I saw a dramatic quality in such wedding ceremonies of those times in the fate of the bride and groom since the choice is made by the parents to whom they owe complete obedience-there is no question of the mutuality of feelings. The young girl knows nothing at all about her future family nor what lies in store for her. Not only will she be subject to her husband, but also to his parents. It is possible that after being loved and cherished by her own kin, she may be nothing more in her new, rough family, than a useful extra worker, just another pair of hands. The soul of the innocent is in disarray-she is bidding good-bye to her carefree youth and to her loving mother. For his part, the young groom cannot imagine what life will bring close to this young girl, whom he scarcely knows, if at all.... From this understanding of the peasant wedding, and this interpretation of the feelings of the bride and groom, my choreography was born. From the very beginning I had this vision for "Les Noces".

Nijinska's experience during the Revolution and her instinctive sympathy for the two young people in Stravinsky's scenario led her to hear "Les Noces" primarily as an expressionistic work, and to value the music's spiritual qualities above all others. This in turn, led her to a specific source of inspiration for her choreography, the art of Russia's icon painters and archaic mosaicists. Nijinska had ample opportunity to study the work of these traditional masters, for Kiev's Chathedral of St. Sophia has some of the finest mosaics and icons in Russia. In this spare and powerful art she encountered a spirituality not unlike that of Stravinsky's music, and also related to the nature of the marriage rite as she perceived it. In taking inspiration from such traditions, the choreographer, like the composer, joined the ranks of the primitivists".

About dancing en pointe in "Les Noces". :)

"Nijinska is reported to have told Diaghiliev, "Noces is a ballet that must be danced on point. That will elongate the dancers' silhouettes and make them resemble the saints in the Byzantine mosaics. When the Bride's sad faced escort of maidens rises on point and begins to bourree in place, their toes shoes seem to flicker beneath them, like votive flames beneath the solemn images of a Russian church".

#17 Hans

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 10:10 PM

Leigh, are you certain those lyrics are entirely accurate? Then again, perhaps its my translation that is wrong--my voice teacher said the French translation of the Russian was not very good. In my copy of the score, it is a bass duet, and it reads: Et vous, pere et mere, benissez votre enfant/Qui s'approche si fierement/Toutes murailles renversants/Pour ravir sa douce promise/Qu'il entre dans l'eglise/Et qu'il baisse la croix d'argent.

Which translates to:

And you, father and mother, bless your child who approaches so proudly, all walls (renversants is difficult to translate--roughly, the phrase means "all obstacles [between the parent and child] removed") to claim (I believe) his soft promise, that he enters the church and kisses the silver cross. [Edited after reading Leigh's post below]

This has a somewhat different meaning from the text you posted...is anyone able to translate the Russian directly into English?

#18 glebb

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 10:12 PM

More from Robert Johnson's article:

"Nevertheless, if Igor Stravinsky had had his way, the spirituality of the wedding would not have been visible on stage. The composer's original staging concept is described in his autobiography:

According to my idea, the spectacle should have been a divertissement.... I wanted all my instramental apparatus to be visable side by side with the actors or dancers, making it, so to speak, a participant in the whole theatrical action.... The fact that the artists in the scene would uniformly wear costumes of a Russian character while the musicians would be in evening dress not only did not embarrass me but, on the contrary, was perfectly in keeping with my idea of a divertissement of the masquerade type.

Though the idea of presenting the wedding as a kind of masquerade may seem anomalous now, Stravinsky's original inspiration, with all its primitivist and psychological appendages, was at least party humorous. Nicolas Nabokov, recalling the composer's search for a title, describes how the Russian title Svadebka was found:

One day Stravinsky and Diaghilev had a conversation about peasent marriages in Russia and Diaghilev remembered a peasant marriage.... and said (in Russian), "It was such a mad little marriage (Svadebka)." Stravinsky, who told me the story himself, jumped in the air and said "Wonderful!" It really meant the women all weep and the men all get drunk..."

#19 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 March 2003 - 10:44 PM

Hans, I checked a second source - a 1934 recording of the score conducted by Stravinsky in London, sung in an English version translated by D. Millar Craig. It reads the same as what I cited (a translation used for the Bernstein Recording in the late 60s), except it ends "break it down."

The problem is, the French version has authority too. I'm guessing the version you are citing is translated by C.F. Ramuz - and I think he did Stravinsky's lyrics for L'Histoire du Soldat (and who knows, maybe Renard?) so it isn't as if they are made by someone with no knowledge of Stravinsky. The French and the English are shown side by side in my liner notes, and it is not a literal equivalence. (Just as a note, they say "baise la croix" or kiss it, rather than "baisse" - to lower)

So as Hans asked, who here knows the Russian lyrics? I've got them transliterated ("Ko stolnu gradu pristupit kamennu") but obviously that may not be any help because it's not in Cyrillic.

#20 Hans

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Posted 02 March 2003 - 08:46 PM

Leigh wrote:

Just as a note, they say "baise la croix" or kiss it, rather than "baisse" - to lower

Thank you--that does make more sense. Perhaps the line about the wall could be translated as "who approaches so proudly, breaking down all the walls"?

#21 Alymer

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 12:22 PM

Both translations of the lyrics of Les Noces which I have are "who goes against the strong wall of stone to break it (down)". I think there is a quite clear double meaning here.
With regard to the Bride weeping I wonder if rather too much isn't made of this. A sleeve note by Stravinsky himself on one recording: "The bride weeps in the first scene, not necessarily because of real sorrow at her prospective loss of virginity, but because, ritualistically, she must weep." I'm sure I also recall in a very early Royal Ballet programme not for Noces that much the same quote was printed with the addition of the words "even if she is looking forward....., even if they already have........" Life may have been hard but not all marriages were unhappy surely.
Interestingly, the tradtion of the bride weeping as she leaves home for the church still persists. I remember seeing a photograph in the National Geographic magazine a few years ago of a Romanian or Bulgarian girl in white micro-mini dress and veil clinging to her mother and crying on the steps of her old home. The caption explained that this was all part of the wedding ceremonies.

#22 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 26 March 2003 - 04:24 PM

It's difficult to complain about this, but amazingly enough, is Les Noces becoming part of the repertory of the National Ballet of Everywhere?

This year it's being done by the Joffrey and the Kirov, among other companies. Next year the Royal and Paris.

I can only say I'm glad the work is getting the exposure it deserves as a touchstone of modernism.

#23 Estelle

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Posted 26 March 2003 - 04:34 PM

So am I... especially as so far I've only seen it on video (the POB hasn't danced it for quite a long period... I wonder if those revivals at the same time are just a coincidence, or is it also a matter of staging (for example is it staged by the same person?) Now let's hope that it won't be forgotten after that...

By the way, which ballets by Nijinska are still "active" (I mean, which ones are still danced or could be revived in a decent shape)? "Le Train Bleu" and "Les Biches" were danced by the POB in the early 1990s, but I don't know how faithful the stagings were, and unfortunately they haven't been danced again since then...

#24 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 March 2003 - 07:53 PM

Amory's bio of Berners came in, courtesy of Amazon, and in that, he quotes Ashton as the originator of the idea that "A Wedding Bouquet" should be a sort of parody of "Les Noces" but expresses amazement, just as has been expressed here, that the ditzy ballet should be so related. I can see it, in the way that Ashton wanted to make a rather mad, comic wedding to contrast with Nijinska's stark ritual, which he tremendously admired. Something else that comes out is from listening to the score. When it's done with a chorus, it sounds a lot more Stravinskian, sort of like the ensemble work in The Rake's Progress, but with a narrator alone, it sounds more like Satie!

#25 glebb

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Posted 26 March 2003 - 08:00 PM

"She had made no plans for the summer."

"She had made no plans for the winter".

#26 Alexandra

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Posted 26 March 2003 - 09:49 PM

Originally posted by Leigh Witchel
It's difficult to complain about this, but amazingly enough, is Les Noces becoming part of the repertory of the National Ballet of Everywhere?

This year it's being done by the Joffrey and the Kirov, among other companies.  Next year the Royal and Paris.

I can only say I'm glad the work is getting the exposure it deserves as a touchstone of modernism.



What distinguishes Les Noces from NBE rep is that it's a classic. Joffrey and Paris, as well as the Royal, of course, have had it in rep before, so Kirov is the only New Kid in this round of Les Noces.

I do wonder, sometimes, though, when a piece enters repertories en masse after a brief absence, if it has something to do with availability of a stager -- maybe it's more efficient to set four productions in a year than merely one. There was an explosion of "Rodeos" and "Billy the Kids" a few years ago. There are "Four Ts" all over the place -- as is "Slaugher." It could be coincidence, everyone having the same good idea, but I've often wondered if there's some giant, underground bazaar we don't know about, but They do :D. Company directors roam its streets, while ballet choreographers and stagers dart out from the shadows saying, "Psst. Can I interest you in a nice 'Les Biches?'"

#27 Brendan McCarthy

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Posted 27 March 2003 - 02:37 PM

I'm curious about Howard Sayette being granted "exclusive rights to the original choreographic score by the Nijinskaya Trust".

Surely the 'original choreographic score' and the one with most claim to authority is that created by Christopher Newton, Liz Cunliffe (and completed by Harriet Castor) for the Royal Ballet, and based very directly on Bronislava Nijinska's production for the Royal Ballet?

As I understand it, all subsequent productions derive from the Royal Ballet's Benesh score and the Royal Opera House's own archive film of Nijinska's 1966 production.


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