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Bournonville's Valkyrien


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#1 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 10 August 2003 - 08:05 AM

I have spent the weekend getting to know my discs of the Hartmann/Bournonville Valkyrien, and I would be very grateful if Alexandra could give us some background about the ballet. The music is rather distinguished, but not particularly dansante, and I am curious to know if any choreography was notated, and what sort of movement it comprised. The Valkyries dance according to the libretto, but I have no idea if they wore tarlatan and pirouetted, or did something approximating character movement. The booklet contains a head shot of a woman in strapless helmet, so presumablly they didn't attempt anything too strenuous, or there would have been a great clatter on the stage. Does the photographic record show them in pointe shoes or in opera sandals?

Something in me rebels against a marriage of danse d'ecole and Nordic mythology, though I don't know why it should. Ballet began its life in mythological libretti, after all, and I am sure I shouldn't mind a bit if Petipa's Flora did brises to a Drigo polka, her tutu duly trimmed in Greek key. Apropos of which, I must tell you that I recently went back to my copy of Theatre Street after RG's interesting post about Karsavina, and in it I found an HILARIOUS (and forgotten) photo of Fokine as Mercury in The Awakening of Flora--the very picture of despondency. Lydia Sokolova said she could barely summon up the energy to get on pointe for Little Red Riding Hood (which she HATED), and the Fokine picture breathes the same spirit of despair. If RG would be kind enough to post it here, we could all have a good giggle.

#2 rg

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Posted 10 August 2003 - 08:13 AM

not sure what i might post: if you mean a picture, i do have one pic. of fokine labeled: perseus but not identified as being from 'awakening'
still, i don't have the ability to post pix.
and i believe that alexandra doesn't normally include pix, etc. which i imagine would get most unweildy to arrange on the site along w/ our posts, etc.
i can't say however that i find the same distaste telescoping from MF in the pic i have. maybe it's different or maybe it's my diff. reading of MF's expression.
in any case i don't know much of anything about valkyrien, tho' i too adore the score, etc.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 10 August 2003 - 08:39 AM

It was one of his last, great ballets and was ditched in the 1930s (along with the other long, serious works). I regret the loss, not only for the sake of the score, but because without Valdemar, Valkyrien, Arcona and Thrymsqviden, we have a very skewed view of Bournonville as a choreographer. He had been working up to Valkyrien his whole career, getting the audience to accept serious work, and they did. These ballets were very popular in the 1860s and '70s. They lasted for 60 years.

I know that the ballet was well-notated; it was one of the 16 ballets that Bournonville prepared in 1877 before he retired -- prepared, meaning got the paperwork in order in addtion to rehearsing the ballet and training a balletmaster to be able to stage it. I'm sure it's revivable; I doubt it ever will be.

Much of it would have been mime, I'm sure, as Bayadere and Excelsior were mime, and there would have been character as well as classical dancing. The Valkyries' breastpieces were still in the Theatre's costume department in 1990. They were used in the (unfortunately awful) revival of Thrymsqviden. They didn't clatter :thumbsup:

I've posted pictures very occasionally, but we don't allow them -- too expensive to store, and they also cost a lot of bandwidth when a post is accessed. It's also quite a hassle to post them :wink:

I do recommend Knud Arne Jurgensen's books -- heavily illustrated, and very detailed. There are photos from Valkyrien in his Bournonville, a Photographic Record.

#4 doug

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Posted 10 August 2003 - 10:33 AM

Alexandra, did Bournonville devise his own system of notation?

#5 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 10 August 2003 - 10:57 AM

RG, I am so sorry: I didn't mean to put you in a spot. I was thinking of the beautiful Kschessinskaya photo you published in another thread. Anyhow, I have gone back to the picture of Fokine at the start of Chapter 13 in my Dance Books edition of Theatre Street, and have just seen that it is captioned "Fokine as Apollo in The Awakening of Flora." This is definitely incorrect, for he has the winged helmet (very Valkyrienesque!) and the caduceus of Mercury. He is sitting on a rock in a flowery landscape that has obviously been touched up, or possibly even painted wholesale on to the photograph. If that's your "Perseus" then your caption is also incorrect, because Perseus never, to my knowledge, laid hands on the caduceus. Fokine's round-shouldered slump is very unusual in a ballet dancer, and the fact that he is trailing the caduceus on the ground more outrageous still! This is Mercury's badge of office, and one would as readily expect Elizabeth II to use her sceptre as a walking stick!

Alexandra, are you able to guess exactly where the classical dancing might have occurred in Valkyrien? In the Mediterranean act? Do you think that the valkyries did anything on pointe?

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 05:48 AM

Rodney, I'd have to look that up and I'm on a deadline for the next two days -- I'll try to do it Wednesday :)

#7 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 07:29 AM

Thanks so much, Alexandra. I should be very grateful if you could try and establish whether the Valkyries danced with their helmets on, or if B found a way to remove them (as Sylvia takes off her quiver and relaxes with her nymphs in Merante's ballet). If there is evidence that they WERE left on, and there was no visible way of securing them to the dancers' chins, then we could probably infer that their dancing was rather sedate and didn't rise to steps of elevation.

Good luck with the deadline. Stomach-knotting time, as I know all too well! I have a rather silly habit of killing myself to beat deadlines by as many days as I can, just so that can't haunt me!

#8 rg

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 08:36 AM

re: MF as perseus, the russian postcard i have of this is a vertical; MF striding as if in clouds, brandishing a sword - a cross between a machete and a scimitar - he's in contrapposto/profile; efface legs; eyes downcast over a downstage, epaule arm; upstage arm holds the weapon over his head. winged shoes on feet. he looks calm, determined, not bored.
(i think the pic of him seated is reproduced elsewhere too, maybe in lynn garafola's 'petipa diaries', maybe elsewhere...)

#9 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 11:54 AM

RG, this image sounds quite thrilling. Definitely not the one in Chapter 13 of TS. I shall see if I can find something approximating the pose in the repertoire of Hellenic sculptures, or possibly among Renaissance St Michaels. The implement sounds identical to the one that Cellini gives Perseus in his statue--but I also can't give it a name. I bet Mel Johnson could, though! In the original myth, Hermes gave Perseus an adamantine sickle to decapitate the gorgon. What ballet could this be? A charity pas seul a la Mort du Cygne, or perhaps even a tableau vivant of a neo-classical painting we've forgotten about? I can't think of any ballets in the Imperial repertoire that could have accommodated a Perseus, but then again I know only a fraction of them.

#10 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 02:39 PM

RG, I have now had time to do a quick riffle through my books, and the painting that comes closest to the Fokine Perseus (if I have properly construed your description) is not a St Michael, but a St George--Raphael's marvellous version in the Louvre--a contraposto epaule, if you will excuse that barbarous Gallo-Italicism. There are also analogues in the Hellenistic "Gaul Slaying Himself and Supporting His Dead Wife (part of the series dedicated at Pergamum by Attalus I) and also in the uppermost angel in Signorelli's fresco of the damned in Orvieto. The latter has the cloud-treading element, as well as a low arabesque, but the sens is a plain de cote.

#11 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 22 August 2003 - 05:08 AM

What a delightful day it's been--warm and halcyon after our recent antarctic weather. It's the start of Spring break, and, after my morning class, we walked the dogs in a fine old nineteenth-century park where all the oaks have begun to leaf, and then, to crown it all, I was dropped at the Music College Library to spend a very pleasurable hour in browsing and snuffling about. I can report on three things as a result, but, since I can't face making separate entries for them, I am going to present a composite post.

First of all, with regard to Valkyrien, I can confirm that Svava and indeed all her cohorts did wear secured satin slippers (and therefore went on pointe), and that her dress in 1861 was not conventionally balletic (hem about mid-calf, and not very full) but that by 1895 it had turned into a Degas tutu (hem about two inches below the knee). None of the helmets is visibly secured, a fact which permits three inferences--1) they didn't turn or jump (unlikely) 2) they took them off before dancing (undramatic) 3) they tucked the fastenings up for photographic purposes on the assumption that they would spoil the effect. I am sure the eclipse of Valkyrien had everything to do with the ascendancy of Wagner, whose Walkueren are properly hoydenish and LOUD. Valkyries who turn neatly and beat precisely are rather hard to swallow, at least in my opinion.

The photographic record of Valkyrien throws an interesting sidelight on the discussion I have been having with Mel about balletic conceptions of the Greek. In 1861 Juliet Price simply donned her Sylfiden costume (more or less) for Act III, but by 1905, the danseuses at least (but perhaps not Svava) wore dresses trimmed in Greek key. They danced on pointe, and are furthermore photographed in conventional fourths. Elna Lauesgaard, who looks astonishingly like Adeline Genee, is in fourth croise devant, and has her hands in low fourth--by which there might hang a tale, for I have suddenly remembered that this position is called "attitude grecque" in some school or other (Cecchetti?). Even if there aren't any obvious correlations with friezes and figure vases, could this be the balletic shorthand for Greece? If so, it isn't borne out by a photo that I have managed to dig up of Pavlova in The Awakening of Flora. There she has clasped her hands behind her neck like an Esther Williams bathing belle.

And, finally, I am able to supply some details about the composer of the Queen of the Dryads variation. Anton Simon, who was born in Paris in 1850 and died in St P in 1916. His career, most especially his appt as superintendant of the Moscow Imperial Theatre in 1897, makes it clear that the choreographer of this variation is not Petipa, but Gorsky, even though he lifted the grands fouettes en tournant from the Petipa variation that figures as No 1 in the Vinogradov redaction of the Paquita Grand Pas. And while we are on the subject of borrowings, I'd like to point out that a thrilling effect in the D major mazurka of Les Sylphides--the arabesques releves en tournant--was lifted from the Vazyem variation in Paquita (1881). One is tempted to ask, both of Gorsky and Fokine, who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him?

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 22 August 2003 - 05:55 AM

Thanks for that on Valkyrien, Rodney. I haven't had the time to research it, and probably won't :wink:

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 22 August 2003 - 06:42 AM

An afterthought. I don't know how reliable 19th century photographs are for production details (such as string or elastic attached to helmets). They may well be like the ribbons on pointe shoes in early drawings -- not there because it took away the illusion. You don't find photographs of the Sylph or the Wilis wired, for example. Also, they may well have taken something from the stock room because the costumes for a new ballet were not finished. (The skirt length, though, is probably accurate. Bournonville used long skirts; by the end of the century, they were shorter.)

#14 doug

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Posted 22 August 2003 - 06:52 AM

Re: Paquita. I've never seen grand fouettes en tournant in the Stepanov notations of any female variation, including any from Paquita. I've always thought this sort of step, pedagogical to my mind in the way it is used here, came from the developments in the Vaganova school rather than from Petipa or anyone of his era. (A startling example of Soivet-era addition to Imperial-era choreography can be seen in the Tcherepnin variation that is danced in Paquita but is from Fokine's Pavillon d'Armide: Danilova can be seen teaching it on her bio video; an SAB student dances the entire variation. Compare that to the Kirov version and one can see numerous added steps and hear a MUCH-slowed tempo - nearly a totally different variation and extremely anemic, in my opinion.)

That said, the fact that Simon worked in Moscow doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility of Petipa choreographing to his music, but in the case of the grand fouettes, I would have to doubt it was Petipa or Gorsky, et al.

I've also never seen the amount of repetition of a step such as that in the notations (Aurora does 14 ronds de jambe in her Act I variation, but that's a rare exception as well as an easier step than the grand fouette).

And *that* said, I could be completely wrong in my judgments here.

The St. Petersburg Paquita of the turn of the century had 5 female variations, at least one of them to music that is no longer used. Paquita has become a real grab bag and one of those divertissements that has completely clouded Petipa's contributions. I would not rely on the authenticity of any variation I see danced by Russian companies today in productions that passed through the Soviet era.

Rodney, let me know if I've completely misread you! :wink:

#15 R S Edgecombe

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Posted 22 August 2003 - 11:15 AM

First of all, re Valkyrien: I am reading a Brenaa biography as a holiday treat, and have just made a rather startling discovery. Before 1929, nobody in the RDB could turn more than two pirouettes because Bournonville was either ignorant of, or didn't permit, spotting. (The Scho/nberg text isn't clear on this.) That being the case, I think it's probable that B's Valkyries danced in their helmets after all. It has also occurred to me that Bournonville jumps require a certain verticality to the carriage of the torso--his dancers don't seem to lean as much as Russian ones into the trajectory--so the helmets would have stayed put for those too.

Thanks for those cautions about photographs, Alexandra, and I certainly apply to those of the Imperial rep that I have seen. But somehow these Danish photographs struck me as being very scrupulous, and not cobbled up ad hoc as, for example, in the case of Marie Petipa when she swings merrily in a Romantic tutu outside the inn of La Halte de la cavalerie. Still, that's only an impression.

Doug, I shall obviously have to defer to your HUGELY, HUGELY superior knowledge of the dos and don'ts of 19C style, but it might be worth remembering that Anthony Tudor thought that there could never have been a pirouette saute a la seconde in the Vivandiere pas de six, and both A Hutchinson-Guest and Pierre Lacotte concluded there was. I simply have to take on trust what is given me by the annotators of video material, and I realize that that is often very flawed. It's possible that you have missed the long discussion about the Paquita variants (in General Discussion under Ballet Videos) where some of the points you raise have been thrashed out. I would give anything to see the Danilova version of the Pavillon var because, as I said in that thread, I have begun to look on its Petipa cribbings (Miettes, Candite) with a baleful eye. Now, it seems, they aren't Fokine's at all. SCREECH! As I said on another occasion, sorting out ballet history is like doing a white jigsaw puzzle! I would not, however, rule out multiple virtuosic repetitions as being unPetipan on the strength of the 95 Lac III coda, and of the Gold Fairy insert (how many raccourcis in that? I don't think I've ever counted) in SB II. In the grands fouettes en t, moreover, the rhythm of open grand battement and closed attitude is a very Petipan--that systole/diastole ictus, or its reverse, which you can see in virtually every variation, eg Miettes hops en pointe in attitude devant (systole) and then (at least in her RB version) throws her leg through into an allongee (diastole), or in the Bolshoi text, does a grand pas de chat (quasi diastole).

I'm afraid won't budge on my conviction that Gorsky (either cribbing Petipa, or on his own, or on his own + Vaganova) choreographed the Q of D var. There was a degree of hostility between G and P, who probably resented his Moscow version of DQ (after all the birthplace of the ballet) in 1900, and definitely fumed at its transposition to St P two years later. Simon only becomes active in ballet after taking up the superintendance (if there's such a thing) of the Imperial Theatre in 97. His three ballets, Stars, Living Flowers and Gudule's Daughter (though Grove gives the title as Esmeralda) are Moscow offerings, and he had there a function identical to Drigo's in St P. If P had wanted a QD gusset for the Enchanted Garden Scene, he would have turned to Drigo. If Gorsky did (and he clearly must have, since Simon is the composer), he would have turned to Simon.


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