Paul Parish

"Forward to Petipa"

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If you were to list four "bloody crucial points" about the art of Marius Petipa, what would they be?

Or make it the ten most significant things about him as a choreographer -- imagine you were giving a lecture to the rest of us, what would be the things you'd MOST want to bring out?

Say you had an hour (55 minutes), what would be your priorities? What clips would you show us?

Seriously -- if you thoguht we REALLY wanted to know, to be enlightened, turned on, to have his world opened up to us -- what would you say?

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Well, for me, exhibit 1 would be the ballet blanc.

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I'm at work, so I can't go into too much detail, but here is my quick list:

1. The way he used both mime and dance to tell a story.

2. His choreographic structure in the pure dance sections. (Balanchine once said that you could learn everything necessary about how to structure a dance from watching Petipa.)

3. His infinite inventiveness within the formal structures--Petipa is never boring.

4. His sense of what was appropriate for each dancer and ballet and his ability to meld the two.

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Thanks, Leigh and Hans --

yeah, one of hte first things I'd have to mention is the fruitful way he keeps hybridizing folk-dance and pointe technique -- playing them off each other for similarity, contrast, vitality, clarity, energy, rhythm --

and the way he can advance a LARGE argument in distinct sequences, so that each point gets made in he most appropriate way....

he's never boring.... bu by the end of the evening such an incredible variety of stuff has passed before your eyes.

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Leigh and Hans are right-on, I think. I would add one more thing...musicality! For a dancer, his choreography fits the music so perfectly. I can't imagine any other choreography to the music of the ballets that he created.

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That's so true Paul--Petipa is so often thought of as conventional because we've all seen his ballets 500 times (there's a reason for that: they're masterpieces!) but really he was extremely creative when you think of how he gave his ballets such distinct flavors (Indian, Hungarian, Spanish) while still using classical technique.

Petipa really had a gift for seeing both the forest and the trees--his concepts are so broad and grand, yet exceptionally detailed and refined.

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My real worry about pointing to anything specific (and why I picked such a general thing myself) is - what exactly do we have that we can incontrovertably point to and say "This is Petipa's" and is as close as possible to what he choreographed?

A genuine question. The Shades scene in La Bayadere, or has that changed over time? Can anyone point to anything?

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doug will know that :P I hope he sees this thread.

For me, it's the structure and, the more I'm learning about 18th century ballet, the way he used the forms of a century ago in new (then) ways. And the variations -- he makes it look so easy to make interesting classical choreography. (But if it's so easy, then why have only Fokine, Ashton and Balanchine been able to do it since?)

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doug can answer the BAYADERE 'differences' between today's so-called 'pure petipa' stagings and what the 1900 notations tell of the 'text' of the Shades scene in petipa's time - which is a different story in numerous details, if my memory of his conversations w/ me is correct.

as i recall the kirov's 'reconstruction' of BAYADERE neglected to re-visit the Shades scene, but that some of the details i noted in the last act seemed to echo those that doug pointed out to me in the notated Shades sc.

so, if doug weighs in, there'll be concrete commentary.

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Thanks, Gina, for that testament. It's so good to know from someone who's done the steps how right they feel....

And, Well, yes, Leigh, that is SO true-- it's almost like with Homer, how can you know what the "REAL" text is.... and as soon as you try to get specific, there you are wondering if this passage is Lopukhov (the toe-hops in Giselle) or nijinska (the fish-dives in sleeping beauty) or whoever it was that added the little temps de fleche to the Breadcrumb Fairy's variation (if indeed Sergeyev's version can be trusted to be the TRUTH in that version) ....

And what DID Petipa choreograph for the coda of the black swan before Legnani did her fouettes instead? Almost certainly, he rarely/never choreographed hte men's variations. And DID Aurora corkscrew her wrists in her act 3 variation -- Diaghilev said it was a Russian dance, so she must have.... unless somebody else saw an opportunity and "developed" those details....

Well, there are some accretions it's easy to doubt: in the Black Swan adage, where ballerinas now do grand jetes in second it used to be just a glissade, right? We've seen that change. And in Kitri's variation, she probably DID do those little pas de chevals and hops, huh? It looks like a folk dance set on pointe (a lot like the Pony, actually), and THAT's the sort of thing my hunch inclines me to believe in, whereas the Bolshoi's version just has a bunch of releves with no danciness to them that seems to reveal nothing in particular, just when we need some insight into our girl.

You wonder, if he changed things for particular dancers as Balanchine did? In Aurora's act 3 variation, e.g., those sissonnes changes: some ballerinas do them in second, others do them through fourth, some do 3 sissonnes, others squeeze in FOUR. And of course, the balance that follows that -- in soussus? in retire? in attitude? one sees them all...... did Petipa care?

BUT -- it IS clear that he gave the toe-hops to fairies, like Tchaikovsky gave the celesta to the Sugar plum fairy -- these were effects of other-worldly delicacy he wanted, as if he could add a new register to the instrument. And Aurora has a kind of sprightliness but she's NOT fairy light. Right? (Not even Sizova, who could jump like nothing else on earth, and her sauts de chats are among hte most amazing things i've ever seen, cultivated that skipping-on-water look of the fairies....

You can say THAT pretty safely....

I wish DOug WOULD say something here..... please.

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I learned the 3rd Act Aurora variation from Madame Ludmilla Shollar, who danced with Nijinsky and was trained in St. Petersburg. I wonder if the variations and choreography learned or recorded long ago isn't more likely to be closer to the original. I believe it probably is. Paul, as I learned it from Madame, Aurora "corkscrewed" her arms and hands in a very exaggerated fashion doing the little diagonal "on pointe" front develope walks. The sissone section was three arabesque sissones darting to croise (so changing direction very quickly) and one releve sous-sus in fifth position, arms fifth. (I know this is getting a bit technical, but I know quite a few of you will know what I'm talking about). One of my favorite variations I learned from Madame was from a now probably lost ballet "Le Pavillon d'Armide", one of Fokine's first works presented at the Marinsky Theatre. I remember every step of it. I wonder how many little bits of history are floating around in people's minds who have studied in their youth with these "living links" to the old Russian ballet...

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One of my favorite variations I learned from Madame was from a now probably lost ballet "Le Pavillon d'Armide" . . . . I remember every step of it.

Gina, may I be so bold as to suggest that you have a friend videotape you in this role? I don't know whether you can/are willing to dance it full out, but at least get enough of it down so that it's not lost? :blush: Or maybe teach it to someone who can? It would be a great treasure for posterity. Hey! It would be a great treasure now!

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I read that the port de bras in Aurora's Act III variation is based on French court dance, which is appropriate considering the setting at the court of Louis XIV.

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That's interesting, Hans. I've read -- though I can't remember where now -- that the arms were from Russian folk dance, and were the ballerina's contribution, and her tribute to the audience. (And intended to appease the anti-foreign-guest-star segment of the audience.)

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I love your explanation, Alexandra.

Does anyone buy Kirkland's hypothesis from Dancing on My Grave, that the port de bras describes Aurora's life story? I've looked for it at just about every opportunity, and it doesn't quite congeal for me.

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Hi everyone. I can add more tomorrow. In my opinion, things for the most part are still unclear with Petipa vs. altered-in-the-Soviet-era Petipa, but the topic is very important and deserves as much solid scholarship as possible. In many cases, with some important caveats, I think this may be possible.

To answer re Shades, it is true the Kirov neglected the notation of the Shades scene in their 1900 version of Bayadere. Nikia's solo entree in the Coda demonstrates a slight change from the 1940s changes but only very slight. Karsavina's recollections in Dancing Times, written when Nuruyev staged Shades for the Royal, point out differences. Each of her points is represented in the 1900 notations.

More generally, in most cases, the notations do not include the arms, head and torso movements. However, some are so detailed as to include wrist flexion, etc., but only very few. Most just give feet and legs with a floor plans and written rubrics.

I'd be happy to share what I have found studying the Stepanov notations. More details to come.

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Doug, as much as what steps changed, I'm interested in how the structure changed. If (for instance) the shades scene in Petipa's time was the snake line entry, an adage with the corps in lines and then the pas, variations and coda, that still gives us something to work with when talking about Petipa even if there's now an arabesque where a pose used to be a terre. To me, it changes it more if, for example, a pas de deux used to have a frame of the corps and now does not than if the steps change.

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THanks, DOug -- eager to hear more. I agree with Leigh -- and am also concerned to kno w how the "minutage" has changed. (Something tells me that Petipa, like Ashton and Balanchine, knew just how long every section needed to be; that's just a hunch, but he seems to understand stage rhythm so well.....)

Hans, if I remember right, in the (Konstantin Sergeyev?) version which Sizova danced on film, the variation is altered somewhat and after a couple of steps on pointe she doubles back and starts the diagonal again, and in the doubling back, she definitely does some of that baroque-arm gesture (where the elbow dips and hte hand risesas hte arm opens to second) instead of the corkscrewing in the version Gina learned from Shollar (which has a simple diagonal)....

Tomasson's version we see here at SFB has a simple diagonal with pronounced corkscrewing of the wrists and elbows, and (whatever the other limitations of his version -- and an 18-member garland dance is pretty limited), the wedding grand pas is beautiful.

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1. His ability to find a story that reached out to so many people.

2. The fact that he made so many ballets that people kept enjoying.

3. The fact that his ballets are the most famous.

But I'd also have to say this too:

4. Unfortunately, his ballets are the most rechoreographed / restaged ballets in history.

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Leigh, the structure of Shades is the same now as it was in 1900. According to Wiley, in 1877 Petipa included a scene in which Nikia showed Solor a palace that rose up out of the stage. This took place where we now have the first pas de deux. According to notes I have from POB, Petipa added the pas de deux by 1900 (perhaps even in the 1880s). But what we see today closely mirrors the 1900 version in structure. Only steps are different, most significantly in the big pas de deux (the one with corps), the first and third shades variations, Nikia's variation (according to contemporary written sources - this variation was not notated) and parts of the coda.

For comparison, current Jardin anime settings (particularly the bizarre one from ABT in the early 80s) have significant structural differences from its Imperial-era version mostly because fewer dancers are used today.

I've found the notations offer a greater variety of steps than those we see today. For example, Nikia's second coda entree (the solo one) has about 3 times the variety of steps in the notation compared with what is danced today. I'd have to pull out my notes to list what the steps are, but can try if you are interested.

In my opinion, Petipa deserves far greater acknowedgement as a choreographer than he receives today and his ballets deserve to be danced with the steps he created (even if their execution must change to follow changes in bodies and style today).

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I don't buy it re: Kirkland, but if it helped her, or other people that think so, fine. Gelsey was very given to over-thinking everything, so anything can happen that way.

As for the hand-circling, it happens a lot in a lot of Petipa. The peasants in Act I Swan do it, Giselle's townspeople do it, it happens in Beauty. It occurs in the grand pas in Raymonda. For whatever reason, it appears to have been the thing to do for him.

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One of my favorite variations I learned from Madame was from a now probably lost ballet "Le Pavillon d'Armide" . . . . I remember every step of it.

Gina, may I be so bold as to suggest that you have a friend videotape you in this role? I don't know whether you can/are willing to dance it full out, but at least get enough of it down so that it's not lost? :clapping: Or maybe teach it to someone who can? It would be a great treasure for posterity. Hey! It would be a great treasure now!

:clapping: ooh! ooh! pick me! pick me! :rolleyes:

but anyways, there are soooo few people still alive that have worked w/ greats that've worked w/ greats. Unfortunately, this generation is lacking and is very unknowledgeable of any work or history. I mean, a great majority of kids dancing the Nutcracker don't even know who Petipa is. or what he is!

regarding changes in original choreography, are there any ballets that were made that we still know the original intended choreo. ?

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The oldest ballet in existence is called (I believe) "The Whims of Cupid and the Ballet Master" and as far as I know it is (very) occasionally performed by the Royal Danish Ballet. However, I have no idea how much of the choreography is original. There are some well-notated Petipa and Ivanov ballets (but they aren't generally performed as notated) and a good bit of Bournonville is still around (though it may not be much longer).

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Doug, That's an offer I can't refuse.

"I've found the notations offer a greater variety of steps than those we see today. For example, Nikia's second coda entree (the solo one) has about 3 times the variety of steps in the notation compared with what is danced today. I'd have to pull out my notes to list what the steps are, but can try if you are interested."

Sorry I realize several months have gone by, and somebody else has revived this thread. And actually, I'm shifting the subject slightly, from Bayadere to Sleeping Beauty, which is back with us in San Francisco, and I have a QUESTIONS about steps --

Well, about phrasing and style -- the performance I saw seemed to be distorted in favor of steps on releve. It's a version of the commonly-seen distortion in favor of high extensions, but here it looks like an an emphasis on the "money-shot" in the phrase. These particular distortions were not there in 1990, when Tomasson's principal assistant was Irina Jakobson, but it was there during the last revival and in this version, in which Lola de Avila has been principal assistant.

For example the third fairy's variation ("Miettes qui tombent") has has been slowed almost to a halt -- the developpe that comes through front to back, with toe-hops, here actually stopped in passe before the dancer sprang down to attitude. In 1990, when Shannon Lilly danced it exquisitely, very softly, it was a flowing andante, the whole phrase flowed seamlessly, and the emphasis was distributed through the whole phrase, with an extra fillip on the final attitude pose in fondu. I understand that in the old Sergeyev's notation there was no final temps de fleche at all, and the 1990 version comes from a Soviet version that itself seems "flitty" to Royal Ballet purists. But at least it was a dance. SFB's current version, no matter how well executed, looks over-decorated and awkward and has no rhythm, rather like the Soviet version of Florine's toe hops (the one where she where she changes feet).

Again and again, SFB's current version arrests the action momentarily at big pictures in prologue and Act I --

The Rose Adagio got that treatment on opening night, alas.

But it was endemic: For example also the wonderful combination that begins the scena where she pricks her finger. In this passage, the ballerina starts backwards from down left on the diagonal FACING US the whole time, and does jete passe, cabriole, coupe renverse 3 times till she reaches the back corner (well, there's a quick pas de bourree turn, but basically she's flying backwards but facing us all the while). It's one of the airiest passages in the entire ballet -- I'm SUPPOSING it's echt Petipa, for in Sizova's performance it shows genius in placing arrested moments on pointe within lacy passages that are mostly completely off the ground.

Do you know if it IS Petipa? It's certainly standard, since Soviet Sergueyev .

The renversee is the climactic step, of course, but it shouldn't hog the attention -- the leg should sweep around and keep flowing. Tan crushed all the other steps into nothing and gave all her time to the renversee, which became the money shot: a deeply bent back pose, a big balancing act as the leg curled round and her back twisted to accommodate it, which was amazing and fancy but held too long. A renversee should pour forward into fondu like a cornucopia spilling -- it shouldn't STAY UP. Maybe in Tomasson's Romeo and Juliet, but not in Sleeping Beauty.

Phrasing and style are of course the hardest things to read from notation. But is there any indication that that renversee should stay up? or that the jumps should be sacrificed to the releve?

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