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Balanchine's Tchaikovsky


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#16 innopac

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 05:21 PM

Yes, Bart. I didn't expect this but it is really one of those books that pulls you in and gets you thinking... Here are two more quotes that struck a chord with me.

"You could say that in general there are certain rules in art, but no laws, You must know the rules and you many break the laws." page 151

"Because, if an adult is a good person, in his heart he is still a child. In every person the best, the most important part is that which remains from his childhood". page 136



#17 bart

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 05:47 PM

Reading over the old posts, I was really struck by something Jacob wrote:

It is such a civilized book. I had forgotten that. Just about conversation and art.

That's a rare thing, especially nowadays.

Also, we are all accustomed to reading Balanchine expressing himself in English, necessarily using short, sometimes cryptic sentences. It's good to hear Balanchine talking, thinking and developing his ideas thoroughly in his native Russian (translated to Englisih of course). This book gives Balanchine a new voice.

I've just been looking at the extraordinary photos in Portrait of Mr. B, one of the many books I first learned about here on Ballet Talk. In so many of these photos, Balanchine is teaching, coaching, illustrating movement, working in partnership with the dancerr. The last such image is dated 1982 (a year before his death) during a rehearsal of Orpheus. Mr. B supports a prostrate Karen von Aroldingen with one arm while he raises his other arm and gazes into the distance. Such photos -- and there are many of them in Portrait of Mr. B. -- show Balanchine speaking directly to his dancers in another kind of "voice."

#18 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 26 March 2008 - 07:18 PM

A wonderful anecdote about Tchaikovsky in Balanchine's words....

I recently was told of an extraordinary example of Tchaikovsky's craftsmanship. Anna Sobeshchanskaya, a prima in the Bolshoi Ballet in Tchaikovsky's day, danced in the mediocre Moscow production of Swan Lake. In order to liven up her benefit performance Sobeshchanskaya asked Petipa to create a pas de deux for her, and she inserted it in the third act of Swan Lake. She wasn't worried that Petipa had done the pas de deux to music by Minkus!

Learning this, Tchaikovsky protested, "My ballet may be good or bad, but I alone bear the responsibility for its music." Tchaikovsky offered to write a new pas de deux for the ballerina, but she did not wish to change Petipa's choreography. So, taking Minkus' music, Tchaikovsky wrote his own pas de deux which fit--measure for measure--the dance Sobeshchanskay had already learned. She did not have to relearn anything, not even rehearse, thanks to Tchaikovsky.

From: Volkov, Solomon. Balanchine's Tchaikovsky. Conversations with Balanchine on his Life, Ballet and Music. Page 149.


Oh, dear...the old Tchaikowsky/Sobeshchanskaya/Minkus ordeal...I'm always curious about what happened to that first Minkus version of the PDD music (that's if Tchaikowsky REALLY wrote a whole different set)

#19 kfw

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 12:17 PM

I reread the Nutcracker section of the book this afternoon, which records Balanchine’s thoughts about the ballet, the story behind it, and his memories of childhood (which he must have had in mind when he choreographed his version of the ballet). Since it’s Nutcracker season, here are a few excerpts!

There’s a lot of Russian music in The Nutcracker but also a lot of stylized numbers. For instance, the guests dance the old German dance, Grossvatertanz, and the overture to the ballet resembles Tchaikovsky’s beloved Mozart. The march is also written in Mozart’s spare, light style. Everything in The Nutcracker is exquisitely crafted. I would call it the Viennese style. In Petersburg, we loved Viennese pastries and tortes. The Nutcracker is like them.


Balanchine then talks about how “fantastic” Christmas was in St. Petersburg, when the city was “all dark and strange somehow."

It wasn’t the way it is now, with everyone shouting, running around panting as if it’s a fire instead of Christmas. Back in Petersburg there was a stillness, a waiting: Who’s being born? Christ is born! I’ve never seen a Christmas like we had on Petersburg anywhere else – not here in America, nor in France. It’s hard for us old Petersburgers!

Petipa, since he did not read German, got all the names wrong in his Nutcracker. The Christmas party in Hoffmann is at the home of Dr. Stahlbaum, while in Petipa he is President Silberhaus. Petipa calls the girl Clara, while in Hoffmann Clara is the name of Marie’s doll. In Hoffmann the place is called Konfetenburg while Petipa called it Konfituerenburg; I rather like that change. Konfituerenburg is a marvelous word! You can’t even pronounce it the first time. I also like the German word Schlaraffenland – the land of the lazy, with rivers of milk and shores of pudding.

The Nutcracker in our theater is for children young and old. That is, for children and for adults who are children at heart. Because, if an adult is a good person, in his heart he is still a child. In every person the best, the most important part, is that which remains from his childhood.

In the Nutcracker Fritz and Marie play with the children who come to their party. I didn’t go visiting much when I was a child, First of all, I didn’t have time. Secondly, it was a complicated ritual, visiting in Petersburg. Children did not simply drop by. Adult males could visit one another, drink and play cards. But children did it this way: somebody’s mother would come by and invite us for tea, or dinner. Then we went.

Naturally, I had pals, but not special friends. So we did not give big parties for name days or birthdays. In winter we were taken to a Christmas party at a special place called the Bolshoi Hall. Many Petersburg children came. We played around the tree – we played rucheyok [stream, or something like London Bridge] and leapfrog – that was called slon [elephant]. We ran and skipped, but we tried not to fall down because we were all dressed up: velvet, white bows, lace collars. In the summer, at our dacha in Finland we played lapta [a stick and ball game].

At one time in our Nutcracker we had white mice fighting as well as gray ones. I decided to have the white mice running around under the tree, it could be interesting. But, as usual, there wasn’t enough time and it didn’t work. It confused the audience; people thought that the white mice were the good guys, while in both Hoffmann and Tchaikovsky the mice are evil. So I got rid of the white mice to avoid confusion.

The second act of Nutcracker is more French than German. Petipa liked the idea of Konfituerenburg because at the time in Paris there was a fad for special spectacles in which various sweets were depicted by dancers. Actually, Nutcracker’s second act is an enormous balletic sweetshop. In Petersburg there was a store like that, it was called Eliseyevsky’s; huge glass windows, rooms big enough for a palace, high ceilings, opulent chandeliers, almost like the ones at the Maryinsky. The floors at Eliseyevsky’s were covered with sawdust, and you could not hear footsteps – it was like walking on carpets. The store had sweets and fruits from all over the world, like in A Thousand and One Nights. I used to walk past and look in the windows often. I couldn’t buy anything there, it was too expensive. But I remember the store as clearly as if I had been staring in the window just yesterday.

The Petersburg Nutcracker also had Prince Coqueluche. Coqueluche means whooping couch. I think Prince Coqueluche was supposed to represent a lozenge or cough drop. But that wasn’t very clear, and so in our production, instead of Prince Coqueluche the Sugar Plum Fairy dances with a cavalier.


Anna Kisselgoff’s reviewed the book when it was published back in 1985: http://www.nytimes.c...?pagewanted=all. It's no longer in print, but copies can be found through the Amazon link at the bottom of each Ballet Alert! page (purchasing there helps support BA).

#20 sandik

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 12:48 PM

"rivers of milk and shores of pudding."

I've been listening to difference version of the old hobo song "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" lately, so this fits right in!

#21 Jack Reed

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 01:19 PM

... the overture to the ballet resembles Tchaikovsky’s beloved Mozart. The march is also written in Mozart’s spare, light style. Everything in The Nutcracker is exquisitely crafted. I would call it the Viennese style. ...


I've long felt The Nutcracker displayed the finest craft of Tchaikovsky's ballets.

... Konfituerenburg is a marvelous word! You can’t even pronounce it the first time...


That's Mr. B. all right, the taste for challenge, the man who told people who complained about the title, when Robert Schumann's Davidbundlertanze premiered, "If you can't pronounce it, don't come."

Thanks so much, kfw. It's good to know him though his works and through his words, too, and it's an especially good time to have a little visit with him.

#22 kfw

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 05:27 PM

That's Mr. B. all right, the taste for challenge, the man who told people who complained about the title, when Robert Schumann's Davidbundlertanze premiered, "If you can't pronounce it, don't come."



That story always makes me laugh. As does Prince "whooping cough," which we have a thread about.


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