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Undanceable?


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#1 Ed Waffle

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Posted 08 April 2003 - 05:47 PM

In a thread on another topic and in a different context, cargill wrote:

Originally posted by cargill

I think with a great choreographer anything can be danced, and with a poor one, nothing works


Which I thought of while reading a biography of Prokofiev. While writing the score for "Cinderella", Prokofiev "had concentrated on writing a ballet that was as danceable as possible. He wanted to create dances that would merge naturally from the story line, and whoud be caried, that would allow the dancers to do enough dancing and to exhibit their technique. No doubt Prokofiev wanted to avoid the arguments and humiliation he had encounterd in 1940, when the supposedly difficult and undeaceable score for "Romeo and Juliet" was disfigured and simplified against his wishes."

Since one of the dancers who objected in 1940 was Galina Ulanova, "R&J" must have been very radical at the time.

Arlene Croce called the repeated revisions by Leonid Lavrovsky, Adrian Peiotrovsky Sergei Radlov a "dramaturgical nightmare."

The author of the biography, Harlow Robinson, describes one scene when Lavrovsky had inserted a movement for Prokofiev's second Piano Concerto into the score. When Prokofiev refused to orchestrate it, Lavrovsky told him they would simply play the insertion on two pianos!

I recount this struggle that Sergie Sergeivich had because it seems with the immense technical resources that dancers have now that no score, as such, would be considered undanceable.

In much the same way that conservatory trained (perhaps overtrained) opera singers can pick up an incredibly complex score and credibly sight read it, I would think that dancers today, forged in the unforgiving crucible of competitions, would not find any piece of music too difficult.

Which is not to say, of course, that today's competition winner is superior to Ulanova, but that the current standards are much different than in the past and that these standards may make more music available to the ballet stage.

I would appreciate being corrected on this if wrong.

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 08 April 2003 - 06:25 PM

You can still stump most of 'em with the Sapphire Fairy music in Sleeping Beauty, and that's only because it's in 5/4!

#3 Hans

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Posted 08 April 2003 - 06:38 PM

Forget Sapphire Fairy--I can't even get my students to count the "Dance of the Big Swans" from Swan Lake, and one of them is a pianist!

I think that perhaps it's more because dancers are expected to be able to figure out complicated pieces of music--in Petipa's day, musique dansant was extremely simple and easy to follow, with a steady beat (except for Tchaikovsky, of course!). These days, people choreograph to almost anything and there aren't really (m)any ballet composers about. Also, I can't think of a single company that performs only ballet, and modern dance often uses unusual rhythms and time signatures. Ballet classes do have their little irregularities, like 24 measures instead of 32 or four extra chords after every 16 counts, but they're not really that difficult to follow.

#4 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 11:36 AM

Strangely enough, given his reputation for musical naivete, I found several 5/4 waltzes by Pugni in the University Library at Cambridge, one of which might have come from a ballet, though I'm not sure about my facts at this distance in time. When I discovered them, I notified John Warrack, the Tchaikovsky scholar, and he said there had been many experiments with quintiple time before T. I know that Tchaikovsky rebuked Arensky for using 5/4 in his tone poem about Marguerite and Armand, though the date of this critical letter escapes me. He seemed to think it an affectation there, and implied it could have been notated differently--but I can't remember the details. They're in David Brown's study of T.

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 02:46 PM

The 5/4 waltz had a sort of fad life in the late 1840s and 50s. The basic step is not difficult, a balancé and a temps levé. Odd, that Tchaikovsky should take anyone on about 5/4 time, as the waltz in his Symphony #5 is a 5/4 waltz.


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