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The Dance of the Maids of Honour and the Pages


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#1 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 05 August 2003 - 03:51 AM

Could somebody please tell me who choreographed a good portion of the dance executed by Aurora's friends after the Rose Adagio? In the Bolshoi version it is partly executed, with wholly different steps, by schoolboys carrying violins. This looks authentic, and tallies with the title in the score, but it isn't how the RB staged it. Did Lopokov step in at one time or other to write a gusset for the friends, or were the adjustments made in Britain (where, in the thirties, there would obviously have been a shortage of male pupils able to dance the ballet at night)?

#2 rg

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Posted 05 August 2003 - 05:12 AM

whenever one asks who choreographed what in a particular ballet, i suppose the answer can only be found or guessed at by asking what staging is being scrutinized.
the violinists (and doug could answer this more definitively if he has the notation info at hand) are likely original, they appeared in latest 'reconstructed' kirov version as well as in a staging of the dance by alexandra danilova for SAB years back.
i think they may never have been danced by actual boy pupils but by girls dressed in boys' attire, as i think was a convention at the time.
perhaps too wiley tells of the breakup of the hierarchy of aurora's friends in this act.
my suspicion is that the royal - once sadler's wells - ballet version(s) by n.sergeyev were adjusted for the numbers of personnel available. along the way one would have to check with archivists and authors such as d.vaughan, or a. bland, etc. to divine the actual 'hands' at work on various stagings of 'beauty' during the 40s, 50s, etc.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 05 August 2003 - 09:42 AM

The only thing I could add to what rg wrote is that in the 1947 book of photographs of the Sadler's Wells at Covent Garden by Merlyn Severn, there is one photo with three pages, obviously girls. (Rodney, we had a thread on this book a few months ago, and I'd uploaded some photos. You might be interested in it: http://balletalert.i...t=0#entry69873)

I was struck by the hierarchy in the new/old Sleeping Beauty, too, and I'm sure it was, as rg wrote, because the Sadler's Wells was so much smaller. In the West, we doubled up on everything -- if you were a courtier in the prologue and first act, you had to be a member of the Prince's hunting party, too, etc., but in Russia, they needed roles for the dancers, not the other way 'round.

Having different groups of maids of honor, with different costumes, also gives the ballet more texture -- one of the many things we lost, I think, in 20th century neoclassism, when the obsession with classical ballet, as beautiful as it was, pushed aside much of what was visually interesting in the classical ballets.

#4 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 05 August 2003 - 11:38 AM

RG, I know that it was a C19 operatic convention to cast sopranos as pages--the so-called musico roles that Marietta Alboni excelled in, and which Verdi tried to exclude from his operas, though Oscar in Un ballo proved to be an exception. I was under the impression, however, that Petipa wrote for both the boys and girls of Theatre Street, as witness the mazurka in Paquita. I am not really sold on the pages with violins, for their choreography is much less interesting than that for the women who supplant them in the RB text. Whoever wrote the stopgaps was very gifted, in my opinion. Perhaps they are based on bits of Petipa from other vanished ballets. Thanks for the hotlink, Alexandra. I shall follow it up with interest. What I find fascinating about the Messel costumes (as they appear in the RB A's Wedding) is that they violate every canon of colour combination I have ever been drilled in, and yet manage to appear harmonious. By the way, in that film, the moorish pages who hold the trees for Chaperon rouge seem to be boys, but I shall check again when next I watch it.

#5 rg

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Posted 05 August 2003 - 03:08 PM

i hope i did not seem to imply that petipa used girl pupils in boys' roles regularly. just that perhaps here the covention was used. to the best of my knowledge, maryinsky/kirov tradition uses boy pupils where such are called for, and girl students when they are wanted.
as i recall the retinue of violinists is for adolescent dancers and maybe petipa wanted girls for the 'purpose'; i can't say w/ any authority.
perhaps wiley's appendix indicates the gender(s) used in the original, or perhaps doug can relate what the notations say for these roles.

#6 Jane Simpson

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Posted 06 August 2003 - 04:03 AM

The RB has evidently had several different versions of this dance - in the famous composite film of the production in the early fifties, the four princes danced with Auroras friends during this number.

#7 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 06 August 2003 - 04:57 AM

Jane, how lucky you are to have seen that film. In the Boshoi version, the princes support the friends in attitude turns in the coda.

RG, I grew up reading the works of Arnold Haskell, who argued that ballet in Russia was spared the decadence that overtook it in France because it continued to honour the male dancer (he always cited the en traversi Franz in Saint-Leon's Coppelia as a regrettable development). I can, however, think of at least one occasion on which Petipa choreographed en traversi, and that's the Enchanted Garden sequence in DQ. A boy could never have danced the choreography for Cupid. Which leads me to modulate enharmonically to another kind of androgyny altogether. I have long been intrigued by the following passage from Edmund White's Farewell Symphony. Other characters in the novel (which may or may not be a roman a clef) are recognizably based on real figures, eg Felice Picano, but I am so ignorant of the American dance scene that I wouldn't be able to pick up the clues about Jimmy, even if they were blaring at me.

Here are extracts from pp 72 and 75 of the Vintage edition:

Jimmy was the best. He could leap the highest and turn the most times without "traveling," that is, drifting unwittingly downstage or to one side or the other. He was faster and cleaner than the other men. He could turn as easitly to the left as to the right. He could turn and leap, turn and leap, following a perfect giant circle of grands jetes inscribed within the square of the stge. He could leap up an beat his legs together faster than a barber's shears. His ports de bras were elegant, but not mannered, at once noble and unfussily American. He was too short to partner ballerinas convincingly, but he could do things no other man would attempt, such as kick the back of his head as he went flying offstage in an absurd rock adaptation of Vivaldi that had been especially concocted to show him off, a role so rapid and demanding that backstage assistants would clamp an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth before pushing back in front of the audience.

* * *

Jimmy dreamed of changing his sex, not because he rejected his . . . well, boyhood, but because he thought that if he were a woman he'd be the strongest ballerina in the world with the most startling elevation and he'd never have to totter and struggle to lift another big girl off the ground.

End of quotes.

The oxygen mask brouhaha is obviously a variant of the backstage antics during Nijinsky's Spectre de la rose, but I wonder if there are nuggets of fact buried in all that. Does anybody know?

#8 doug

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Posted 06 August 2003 - 06:59 AM

rg is absolutely correct. The dance after the Rose Adagio was choreographed by Petipa for eight pages who were danced by girls (in the notations, in Sergeev's hand, they are represented by circles - females - rather than x's - males - and he has indicated in writing that these are "girl students"). They are followed by the four women who held the mandolins during the adagio and then the four maids of honor. This represents, in order from lower to higher, the hiercharchy rg mentions. Please see Wiley, "Tchaikovsky's Ballets," pp. 174-176. I believe the Kirov has it right in their new/old Beauty.

In Raymonda, Petipa's lead couple in the Act II Spanish dance was augmented by eight "couples," all danced by women (corps de ballet members in that instance). But he also choreographed the Act III "Danse des enfants" for 12 students couples who were danced by girls and boys, as was the Paquita Mazurka.

#9 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 06 August 2003 - 10:45 AM

Many thanks for this information, Doug. I have never seen the new Kirov Beauty, and Marc Haegemann has told me it isn't likely to be released on video. (I was very excited when I heard about it, and wrote him a letter of enquiry after he had published an article on the Russian ballet in Brolga.) Do the Kirov pages en traversi tap out tendues in circles like their counterparts at the Bolshoi, and, if so, do you have any idea where the RB alternative (where the first four friends link up like the cygnets or like the nymphs in the vision scene) comes from? Is there anything in Sergeyev's notes to suggest that changes had been made post Petipa in Russia, or are we to assume that somebody at SWB--say Dame Ninette or Sir Fred--devised the new text?

#10 Amy Reusch

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Posted 06 August 2003 - 09:55 PM

My apologies for the ignorant intrusion.... but does C19 mean 19th Century?

#11 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 07 August 2003 - 01:51 AM

Amy, it isn't an intrusion at all, and all questions posted here, mine most especially, are necessarily prompted by ignorance. C19 is indeed nineteenth-century or nineteenth century. The abbreviation is quite common among Eng Lit people, but that's only a tiny fragment of the world pop. When I first joined the internet, I was mystified by all the acronyms that were being tossed around--lol and imo and btw--and that was a much more universal code!

#12 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 07 August 2003 - 01:58 AM

Mel, I am unable to access private messages because of my antiquated browser. However I did somehow get hold of Leigh Witchell's suggestion in all the tangle of superimposed script, and then sent an email about the dancer in question to Glebb, who hadn't read this thread. The information he supplied tallied so exactly with the details of the novel--right up to the Vivaldi ballet--that I have no doubt at all in my mind now who Jimmy was.


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