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#1 - Cinderella as a British ballet


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 19 July 2004 - 07:03 PM

(1) Ashton's Cinderella was the first full-length ballet made for a British company. To what extent is this ballet a statement of what British ballet is (or should be)?

#2 andycrawford

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 04:22 PM

(1) Ashton's Cinderella was the first full-length ballet made for a British company. To what extent is this ballet a statement of what British ballet is (or should be)?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Im not quite sure whether i can answer your question too well - but while at the Royal Ballet School we were taught that Ashton was basically the essence of British ballet itself , especially at that time.I don't think it is really a statement of what British Ballet is today - but more a statement of where british ballet came from...as far as i can see there really is no real british ballet left at the Royal Ballet as most of the company members were trained elsewhere and maybe finished their last one or two years of training in Britan , they bring their own qualities to the older somewhat 'stiffer' ballets such as Ashton's Cinderella.

#3 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 04:42 PM

Greetings, and welcome to Ballet Talk, Andy. Hope you'll talk often.

I looked you up (nice career!) As someone who danced in a company that does Ashton awfully well (BRB brought Two Pigeons to the Met last summer and it and the entire company got a very warm reception); what Ashton did you get to dance? What did you think about it?

I can't speak for the entire website, but you'll find some staunch Ashton defenders here. I can say for myself that I think the more Ashton a company dances, the better they dance. It takes real technique to do a beautiful Scenes de Ballet.

#4 Paul Parish

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 11:09 PM

It's great to see this question come up again -- thanks Andy, for picking it up -- for in the months since Alexandra originally asked it, Ashton has been on my mind a lot, and I've slowly changed my mind about this. I would have said yes, and now I'd say no.

I'm sure you didn't ask this as a trick question, Alexandra, but looking at it now (I'm at exactly that stage in the biography where he's choreographing “Cinderella”), there's a glaring fact about it -- Cinderella is NOT typical -- FOR ASHTON, it is strangely unromantic.

And probably because he couldn't choreograph it on Fonteyn – she was out of he picture a that point.

Ashton's ballets are usually FULL of lyrical tenderness, there’s at least one pas de deux that's as sweet as honeysuckle – not cloying, but genuinely sweet -- for the main characters. Denby complained, and he was right, that “Cinderella” does NOT have that gestural truth that makes a classical pas de deux suddenly a magnificent revelation of love.

When he was working on “Cinderella,” Ashton was at odds with Fonteyn. She had "betrayed" him and gone off to work with Petit, who'd done a sexy chic/shocking piece on her and she'd been the toast of Paris as a sex-pot ("la derriere de Margot" was all the rage). Ashton had hated that as an idea, and hated her for abandoning him -- he was often pissy that way. When she came back he made a piece for her that was very strained, and she tore a ligament in it and was sidelined for months -- while the 3-act Cinderella was all set up by de Valois already to be choreographed, so he had to do it then and to use someone else -- I'm not sure it was Shearer he set it on, but she danced it, of course.... Well, "the Red Shoes" is a great thing, but I DON'T think Shearer was an interesting dancer in that movie, in fact, I find her Odette smug and crisp and inexpressive and if I’d been at the Mercury I’d have booed her and hurled things, and I doubt very seriously if I'd have liked her in Cinderella -- she might have been kind exciting in “Ballet Imperial,” but that's a different kettle of fish altogether....

In any case, the kind of skimming, walking on air, radiant choreography Ashton made for heroines LIKE Cinderella does not show up IN Cinderella --

In answer to your question, I'd say that "Fille mal Gardee" is quintessential British ballet and "Cinderella" is NOT -- even though Sibley goes a long way towards making Cinderella a tender and lovely woman -- Sibley was a very great dancer, what an imagination, and what technical resources to express herself with! Much greater I think than Shearer, but we have so little documentation of her dancing that Cinderella is almost all we have to go on. "Cinderella" is not, because of this absence of a real lyrical core for the ballerina, something heartfelt (the biggest thing there is is her entrance at the ball, when she floats down those stairs in a trance, but that's not really a pas de deux) of which there is SO MUCH in Fille, in Ondine, in Daphnis and Chloe, The Dream, The Two Pigeons, even in Symphonic Variations, for all its austerity.

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 February 2005 - 05:03 AM

Also, let's face it, the Prokofiev score isn't a particularly congenial host to the Ashtonian ideal. Prokofiev's "motor" theory seemed to be in full play here, and Ashton's work has beginnings, middles, and ends. The music for this one seems to be one eternal "middle", which rarely stops, so Ashton's choreographic structures don't fit very well for the most part.

#6 Ari

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Posted 03 February 2005 - 05:48 AM

Well, "the Red Shoes" is a great thing, but I DON'T think Shearer was an interesting dancer in that movie, in fact, I find her Odette smug and crisp and inexpressive and if I’d been at the Mercury I’d have booed her and hurled things, and I doubt very seriously if I'd have liked her in Cinderella -- she might have been kind exciting in “Ballet Imperial,” but that's a different kettle of fish altogether....

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Shearer said in an interview (I think it was the one in Barbara Newman's book Striking a Balance) that she hates to be judged as a dancer based on The Red Shoes, that it was not representative of the way she really danced.

#7 Old Fashioned

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Posted 03 February 2005 - 03:12 PM

It does seem unfair to judge a dancer of whom we have seen little of. This is off topic, but Margot Fonteyn didn't become who she was just through sheer talent. de Valois kept Fonteyn in the spotlight while keeping other dancers, no matter how talented, out. I get the impression from reading the Daneman biography that we would have different opinions on these dancers had so much attention not been focused on the prima ballerina assoluta.

#8 cargill

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Posted 04 February 2005 - 06:26 AM

I think there are so many Ashtonisms in Cinderella; the wonderful characterizations of the sisters, so Dickensian in a way, so human yet still exaggerated. And the way the jester (at least originally!) was just not a step machine, but an emotional bundle as well. And the choreography for the stars is staggeringly, sharp and clear yet still recognizably Petipa based. It was so amazing to see it this summer next to Scenes de Ballet, and see the resemblance. The ball room pas de deux is so lovely, and I don't think we really need to see a final one--the slow walk up the stairs (or the glorious lift, depending on the version) is such a gentle unexpected ending that we don't need the crackerjacks. When you come to think of it, Swan Lake doesn't end with a great pas de deux either.

#9 atm711

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Posted 04 February 2005 - 11:33 AM

Shearer said in an interview (I think it was the one in Barbara Newman's book Striking a Balance) that she hates to be judged as a dancer based on The Red Shoes, that it was not representative of the way she really danced.



I would also add Massine's name to that. I saw Shearer's 'Cinderella' those many years ago and found her thoroughly appealing. In comparing her performance to Fonteyn's one critic found her 'brittle' and Clement Crisp said "Fonteyn instilled poignancy into the dance.......it was her eyes" (really, I wonder where he was sitting to see such detail)--but I expect that look in her eyes was better than..."The Act 1 solo with the broom...is a choreographic poem to Shearer's famously eloquent feet....."

#10 Paul Parish

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Posted 04 February 2005 - 06:18 PM

well, I am sorry I said such unpleasant things about Shearer's unfortunate appearance as Odette in the Red Shoes. I don't really doubt that she was a wonderful dancer on other occasions.

We all have bad days, that was one of mine.

I do wish I'd been lucky enough to see this year's performances of Cinderella -- I agree with Cargill that the jester's complexities are a sign of Ashton's genius -- the jester sees he's about to be displaced by Cinderella, and his dances are inflected with these emotions -- and the sheer brilliance and fantasy of the divertissements are enormously satisfying. (I felt that way when I saw the Bolshoi's Raymonda -- so grateful for all those wondeful court dancews, such wealth of invention across the board.)

All I meant was that on top of all those values, the thing that put Ashton's ballets over the top was the love interest, deeply built into the courtesies and attentions of the pas de deux -- so that within the bounds of decorum you could have characters swept away on currents of emotion that i don't feel welling up in hte dancing in Cinderella. To the contrary, the strongest emotion I felt watching the video was in the last act when Cinderella showed them the shoe -- Sibley made a tremendous moment out of that, but it's not a dance moment at all.

With regard to Crisp's being able to see Fonteyn's eyes, perhaps he had press tickets -- maybe they gave him a good seat. It is also the case that dark eyes are much more legible from a distance than blue eyes.
................................................................
I just went and read what Shearer says in "Striking a Balance": here it is:

The trouble with the dancing in that film was that it was so cinematically worked out that we were very lucky if we ever danced for as long as one minute. It was usually half a minute and then they would cut. Well, you can't really get any steam up that way, or any flow -- you can't really dance. This is why I'm sad that it's what I'm always remembered for. People can just look at it now and think,' Oh, that's the way she danced,' but I was just at a stage where I was about to make a big jump forward, technically, artistically, in every way. By the time we did 'Tales of Hofmann' in 1950, I was a totally different kind of dancer. And also, Freddie Ashton did the choreography for that, we did longer takes, and one really could dance. I'm not ashamed of my dancing in that at all; at least it was genuine dancing. It gave the idea of the way one could dance, which I never felt 'Red Shoes' did at all."

I have a lot of respect for that.

She's also impossible not to like -- so she must have been an engaging entertainer ( I mean that in the highest sense, someone who is making something happen for you.) And what she says about her frustrating experience being in the Red Shoes echoes what it was like to go from the joy of Legat's class-- which she says even at the barre always made her feel like she was dancing -- to the classes she had to take after he died, which were always 8 of this or 32 of that and NEVER let you feel like you were dancing, "not even in the center". it's clear that she was very sensitive to this, to the sense of fantasy and life of the one and the grinding mechanical chop-chop of the other. It makes me wonder if the clipped tone of her Odette doesn't reveal the frustration that the director was rousing in her --

In any case, thank you all for pointing me back to Newman's great book and to the Shearer interview. You can't help caring about her.

Edited by Paul Parish, 04 February 2005 - 07:33 PM.


#11 andycrawford

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Posted 04 February 2005 - 07:11 PM

Greetings, and welcome to Ballet Talk, Andy.  Hope you'll talk often.

I looked you up (nice career!) As someone who danced in a company that does Ashton awfully well (BRB brought Two Pigeons to the Met last summer and it and the entire company got a very warm reception); what Ashton did you get to dance?  What did you think about it?

I can't speak for the entire website, but you'll find some staunch Ashton defenders here.  I can say for myself that I think the more Ashton a company dances, the better they dance.  It takes real technique to do a beautiful Scenes de Ballet.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yes i totally agree with you - it does make your technique alot cleaner .I find that the choreography looks a little gawky on taller girls unless they really really practice it and get it as clean as possible - i found it took me a little while to co-ordinate my feet and arms at first.I consider Margaret Illman to be the most exemplery dancer in his works.I have danced alot of Ashotn's work but my favorites are;
Birthday Offering
La Fille mal Gardée
Monotones
The Dream
Two Pigeons - which i performed in school
Ashton was able to create a beautiful intimacy in his use of pas de deux which i first discovered dancing two pigeons in school , i was lucky to have an amazing partner so I had a wonderful and challenging experience.That was the best time I had doing Ashtons work.

#12 Old Fashioned

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Posted 05 February 2005 - 12:12 PM

[quote]By the time we did 'Tales of Hofmann' in 1950, I was a totally different kind of dancer. And also, Freddie Ashton did the choreography for that, we did longer takes, and one really could  dance. I'm not  ashamed of my dancing in that at all; at least it was genuine dancing. It gave the idea of the way one could dance, which I never felt 'Red Shoes' did at all."

She's also impossible not to like --

You can't help caring about her.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

[/quote]
I must get my hands on "Tales of Hoffmann."

You're right, Paul. There is a magnetism about Shearer that's unexplainable. Just looking at her pictures and having seen "Red Shoes" makes one adore her and want to learn more about her. One of the most touching pictures I've seen of a ballerina- which happened to be in the Daneman bio- was of Shearer holding her baby. No, she isn't dancing, but her face is glowing with such pure joy as she looks upon her child that it warms your heart.


[edited to insert "[quote]" tag for clarity.]

Edited by carbro, 05 February 2005 - 01:07 PM.



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