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Leigh Witchel

La Sonnambula

37 posts in this topic

This was always called Night Shadow in the UK and was danced fairly frequently by Festival Ballet (now ENB) John Gilpin was particularly associated with the role of the poet and must have danced it dozens of times. The very last time I saw it Gilpin danced with Fonteyn as the Sleepwalker. The critics thought the role didn't suit her and they may have be right, but I still remember her quite vividly.

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What I didn't realize untill I saw the ballet was how important a role the Coquette is. She's such a wicked, flirty little minx. I think it's important for the dancer to somehow show a sort of jaded ennui. That makes it all the more moving when the poet encounters the Sleepwalker's unaffected pure innocense.

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It's interesting that every company has had a definitive Poet -- or one can imagine a definitive Poet (and they'll all be different, of course) but the Sleepwalkers have all been so different.

Was Danilova virginal and ethereal, atm? (Or anyone else who saw her?) That's my ideal of a Sleepwalker (and why I liked Kent and Kirkland) but I might be missing other aspects of the role.

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I'm going to plug myself via Danceviewtimes here - apologies!

I wrote a lot about Sonnambula last week, it lives here.

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It's not a plug -- I hope people realize that the reason we're doing DanceView Times is because we're trying to give them something more to read! :blushing:

I think readers of this thread will find Leigh's review interesting -- it touches on, among other things, a nonstandard interpretation of the role of the Poet.

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I think readers of this thread will find Leigh's review interesting -- it touches on, among other things, a nonstandard interpretation of the role of the Poet.

And a nonstandard interpretation of the role of the Coquette, which was just as fascinating.

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Of course, there's always the gap between what one sees and what was really there, but I don't think any of what each of them did would have worked well without the others to play off of. It felt like a team effort.

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Team effort - -now THERE's a concept. That was one of the things I used to love about the Royal Ballet. Everyone in the cast was in sync with the others; no clash of wayward interpretations. I'm glad to read of a living example!!

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That reminded me of an R&J I saw last year (Vishneva's) - most everyone had an interesting characterization, the problem was none of them worked with the other. Tybalt acted as if he killed Mercutio by accident. All right, but then how does that affect Romeo? and so on. . .

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Yes, exactly. One sees that a lot, I'm afraid. My favorite (least favorite) example is the Fancy Frees I've seen where the pas de deux is danced at full throttle, as though they're warming up for "Romeo and Juliet." Terrific! But if the girl is that passionate, how can she shrug her shoulders and walk away at the end? It should be a flirtation, with both of them wondering if this could possibly lead anywhere.

And I've seen the conflicting ones, too. What if Albrecht takes the Sincere, though Forgetful, Lover approach, while Giselle decides she's the town hooker? Bathilde has carefully worked out her interpretation: she really wants to join the convent, but her father is making her marry, while Giselle's mother is in cahoots with Hilarion to sell Courland's deer on the black market.....

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Was Danilova virginal and ethereal, atm?

She was neither, Alexandra. In 1946 she admitted to being 43 years old and she was her mature womanly self---this sleepwalker had an interesting past. And this I can vouch for---she was not on pointe when she held the poet, but it was still amazing to see her carry him a few feet---it was an illusion, very much like the one about Fonteyn's first Sleeping Beauty in NYC. Some people will swear that during the Rose Adagio she did not take the hand of her last cavalier, but held her balance without him.

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In the photos RG posted in the Ballet History forum, both Danilova and Krassovska have "pasts" -- you can see it in their eyes. There are photos of Schanne (also a mature dancer when she first did the role) that have the same expression. Impassive, but not blank, and a living, breathing woman and not an Ideal.

About Danilova's illusion -- I think part of it, too, was that, especially in the 1940s and '50s, the notion of a woman carrying a man was .... surprising? Noteworthy? Out of the ordinary? In the reviews of the Royal Danish Ballet's tour of the States in 1956, every single newspaper review outside of New York (where both critics and audiences were familiar with the ballet) led with that ending, and some reviews devoted half their space to the ending.

I think you've hit on something, comparing Danilova's (non) walk on pointe to Fonteyn's (non) holding a balance -- when you see something you haven't seen before, the mind holds the experience as Extraordinary, and perhaps Fish Story Effect takes hold. I've also read early reviews of Nureyev that claim he did an entrechat vingt, or jumped 8 feet high and held it in the air.

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