Leigh Witchel

Seen and not seen . . .

37 posts in this topic

Swan Lake

Symphonic Variations

Orpheus

Each of the above is a ballet that I know is great - but I haven't (yet) seen a great performance; I keep fixing them in my head to what I know they could be.

Arlene Croce's examples from her writing were Sleeping Beauty and Divertimento No. 15 (of course, I've said this without checking. . .) Does anyone else have ballets that are better in their imaginations than on the stage?

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Well, Danilova'a Odette and Tallchief's Eurydice satisfied me--but I think it was before your time, Leigh. But, keep the f aith Leigh---In over 55 years of watching Symphony in C I have not found the ideal interpreter of the Second movement. :shrug: One performance I would love to see again is the 30-year old Fonteyn in "Sleeping Beauty"---she is still there dancing around in my head (and this, from someone who is not generally over-awed by her).

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Tudor is the most illusive for me. "Pillar of Fire" I've seen performances that others considered fine, but I don't see what I read about the original performances. "Lilac Garden" -- I've put it together from bits of this performance and bits of that.

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I think it was Swan Lake that had Croce imagining what-might-be and if-only. The ballet that pops into my head is Symphonic Variations, which I first saw just recently when San Francisco Ballet did it. I hope as the company performs it more and becomes comfortable with it (which they will do, God willing), I'll see more.

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I always see transcendent performances of Theme and Variations in my imagination, but seldom onstage.

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Danses Concertante. which Denby describes so beautifully. The two performances I've seen seemed pale by comparison. And Symphonie Concertante, which in the 80's ABT could not cast appropriately.

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Symphonic Variations - definitely. Also Monotones. They're both such masterpieces that their beauty shows through even flawed performances. I had problem's with ABT's casting of the female roles in Symphonic Variations last year, I hope they keep it in repertory and work out the casting in the future.

They only live performances I've seen of Monotones I & II have been by ABT's studio company & the recent Joffrey performances. All were good enough, but none were as good as I think they could have been. My favorite so far was the last Joffrey performance I saw with Michael Levine, Samuel Pergande & Valerie Robin in Monotones II. Even though there was a jarring fall in the middle, this performance came closest to fully realizing the otherworldliness of the choreography.

I don't agree with putting Swan Lake into this category. I've seen not one but several performances that were transcendent - technically sound, visually beautiful & emotionally satisfying - as good as (I think) a performing arts experience can get. The Royal Ballet's production in the late 60's/early 70's with Fonteyn & Nureyev, any number of performances of ABT's old Blair production with Makarova & Nagy circa 1974-76. And just this past January - Pavlenko/Zelensky with the Kirov.

I can agree that none of the current productions of Swan Lake are as good as they could be. The Kirov's comes closest to my ideal, but I miss the mime, and of course - there's that happy ending.

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I'd have to say that these categories are personal, and probably generational. I started watching ballet in the eighties, by then those productions were alas gone and I can't consider the Sergeyev Swan Lake satisfactory no matter how good the dancing, not with a dancing von Rothbart and a badly contrived happy ending.

Name a company nowadays that has a good production of Swan Lake in the rep. Name one. Not the dancing or dancers. The production.

And if anyone says the Bourne or the Murphy versions, I'm going to scream.

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I'd have to say that these categories are personal, and probably generational. 

Leigh, you're right - personal preferences & past experiences definitely play a big part here.

I'm not as bothered by the Kirov's dancing von Rothbart as you are, perhaps McKenzie's "Swamp Thing" has lowered my expectations. Although if I got nothing else from McKenzie's production, Nina A's performance last month reminded me how powerful the mime can be, and how much much I miss it when it isn't there. That's certainly a flaw in the Kirov's staging, and the ending is absurd, but despite it's flaws I still think the Sergeyev production is a good one. It's one of the few that really gets to the heart & soul of the story. Put that together with their stunning lakeside scenes and the conviction that each member of the corps brings to even the smallest role and I'm happy. Especially when you compare it to the other productions out there.

But you have a point. I think I remember a post by Alexandra saying that the most radical thing an A.D. could do these days is to stage a traditional production of Swan Lake. Don't I wish someone would! :unsure:

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One of the things that makes Swan Lake so haunting for me is that it doesn't have the perfect, balanced ballet score that Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker do, and somehow that very imperfection magnifies its yearning quality--my mind has to fill in the blanks, so to speak, which means it appeals to a more personal kind of fantasy. For that reason, my perfect production probably exists only in my imagination. In the final minutes, Tchaikovsky's music is just soaring, crying out for something something something--probably something that can't be choreographed--but on stage you always get a bunch of ballerinas running around flapping their arms, earthbound. In anything less than a really great performance, I always want to laugh. It's only afterwards, as I walk home, that the moment is moving to me.

I agree completely about Orpheus. I'm sure it's a great ballet, but I've never seen a really compelling performance. Why does Martins always cast Nilas Martins in this ballet??

I've also never seen a really great performance of Les Sylphides--especially not at ABT, where they must pass out Sominex to the cast and conductor before every performance. (Those of us in the audience don't need it.)

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I've never seen Orpheus outside the New York State Theater, and I've seen a few wonderful dancers attempt the role there. It has always looked disjointed to me on such a big, deep stage, except for the pas de deux, performed at the front of the stage in front of the white, silk curtain.

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Coppelia. I love the music, I love the dancing, I (usually) love the sets and costumes, but I've never seen it performed with the proper spirit. To me, it contains so much potential for humour and yet most dancers seem to think that, as long as they grin all the way through, they'll be fine.

And I don't buy into this thing of Franz being an idiot because he falls in love with a doll. In the first place, he doesn't fall in love with her, he flirts with her. In the second, a doll placed at a proper distance can look very convincing. And after all, Dr. Coppelius is supposed to be a miraculous toymaker.

Talking about dolls, I was recently admiring a group of life size, remarkably realistic looking dolls in a shop window, until one of them blinked...

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Mayerling. For me it is Macmillan's best ballet, but I have not, until now, seen a performance that is completely perfect. I have seen good Rudolfs, good Marys, good Empresses but never a performance where all the characters are well delineated and all the dramatic gestures are exploited. Maybe this is because there are so many characters and they all are essential to the whole, not to mention the many dramatic opportunities in it.

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Firebird

and the adagio of Bizet

atm, did you see Tallchief in Firebird or LeClercq in Bizet?

understand that Kent was beautiful in Bizet. the snippet of film of this is quite the thing, anyway--

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Yes, I did see Tallchief's 'Firebird' and in that wonderful year of 1949. October gave us Fonteyn's Aurora, and this was capped by Tallchief's 'Firebird'. Up to that time I had only seen the Ballet Theatre Fokine version with Alicia Markova, who was a sprite of a Firebird with her light-as-air jumps. Tallchief brought out the aloofness and drama of the bird, and she looked gorgeous. I did see LeClercq in the 2nd movement of the Bizet. I know some people who saw her were crazy about her performance (including Jerome Robbins), but my first real satisfaction of the role came with Allegra Kent's performance---although, must add, I have never really been satisfied---it's better in my head. B)

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The Ideal Odette in my head was magnificently realized by Martine van Hamel in what turned out to be her final :wink: ABT/Met Swan Lake. The only problem was that it took place within the problematical Baryshnikov staging. Every mime gesture was danced, every dance element told part of the story, and technically, she was impeccable.

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I keep imagining the perfect La Bayadere, but I havent yet seen it, either on video or live. I've seen perfect Nikyas (Cojocaru, Zakharova, Asylmuratova), great Gamzattis, less perfect Solors, and only the POB video has IMO perfect Shades. And Golden Idols, and character dances ... Each performance that I've seen has had a combination of greatness but none of them had ALL the elements working together. This is IMO a ballet that relies so much on balletic ideals that no live performance could ever live up to an opium-induced vision :D

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Firebird, Afternoon of a Faun, Spectre de la Rose, Dying Swan.... mostly those ballets legendary ballets of the Ballets Russes that I imagined about before seeing... (it's so hard to live up to anyone's imagination)... particularly those with music I loved (Spectre doesn't count here)... most particularly Firebird... I've never seen a Firebird leap with the energy of that music... (though I've only seen a couple of Firebirds), the women always seem inconsequential compared to the music. This might have to be a ballet filmed with tight shots on the leaps and dramatic cuts in order to get the leap to have the full impact the music does. One might have to be onstage oneself to catch the energy.

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In the video "Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas," Allegra Kent says that as a small child she wrote her mother that she wanted to be a "ballyreeny" even though she'd never seen a ballet. When she finally saw the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, she disliked "Swan Lake," "Gaite Parisienne," and, especially, "Scheherazade." She thought perhaps that even though she loved ballet, she hated ballets. The first one she saw that lived up to her mental picture of what ballet should be like was "La Sonnambula."

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For me, the issue is not so much "imagining" ideal performances I have not seen -- but "remembering" bits and pieces of ballets I have actually seen. And then using these fragments to transform, in my memory, the larger, often ordinary context.

In so many cases, a few glimpses remain in the mind -- some are transcendant, some are small and even silly. Fonteyn and Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet -- leaping in tandem across the stage, with Nureyev jumping just a little bit higher and remaining in the air just a little longer. Showing her up? Protecting her? That's the memory that triggers the ideal performance in my mind. Or, rather, makes an ideal performance out of what was actually rather lackluster and quickly forgotten.

"Firebird" at the NYCB at the old City Center. I was a child, but I can still recall the pallid Russian princesses, the cardboard, uninteresting Prince, the silly gobblin-like creatures like something out of a children's pageant. And the great music, which I had not heard before or even knew existed. I cannot visualize and feel the entire evening because at center was Melissa Hayden (this child's favorite NYCB dancer at that time). Sharp and imperious. (Taught me the power and danger of a pointed foot.) Then the seductive and sinuous. Those undulating arms. (Lesson: that it was possible to produce wavy, graceful, apparantly random movements perfectly and identically each time.)

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It's nice to see this topic resurrected - I hoped it would spark interest!

Bart - welcome to Ballet Talk! Those sound like wonderful, fascinating memories of performances a lot of us were never fortunate enough to see. I hope you'll be sharing more of them with us!

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I don't think I've ever seen a really fantastic full-length Sleeping Beauty live, for whatever reason, dancing or production. I guess that it's to do with the over-hype in my mind, as in: 'I'm going to see The Sleeping Beauty!!!' When you know something's A Classic...

Something that didn't quite make the impression I hoped it would was Ballet Imperial. I'd been DYING to see it for years, having adored the excerpt used in the Royal Opera House's re-opening gala in 1999. When I saw it recently (Royal Ballet), it was nice but it was over too quickly and afterwards it was like, 'What just happened? Oh well.' (Bussell was 1st ballerina, make of that what you will. :off topic:) I must say, though, it was a relief to find out that the 'flat-footed turns' that I'd read about were not as weird as I had pictured in my head!

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in regards to Amy Reusch and scherzo, I really enjoyed Le Spectre de la Rose by POB (I forgot the info b/c I saw it on CAS). And I think The Sleeping Beauty is best done by the Kirov, particularly with Irina Kolpakova.

I have a feeling that some of the great performances were done way back when. For example, Afternoon of a Faune & Petrouchka, w/ Nijinsky, or The Dying Swan.

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I've never seen Orpheus outside the New York State Theater . . .. It has always looked disjointed to me on such a big, deep stage. . .
Funny. I have always thought the same of Concerto Barocco -- too spread out. I have often wondered if it could be just a little more compressed there without leaving dead space on the stage.

I've seen it at BAM (Pennsylvania Ballet) and Lissner (Washington Ballet) -- both about a hundred years ago. Seemed truer and more satisfying on the smaller stages.

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How about Symphonic Variations - w/ Anthony Dowell.

I'm sure there's a bunch who have seen and loved this one.

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