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"Forward to Petipa"what makes Petipa great?


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#1 Paul Parish

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 09:26 AM

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?

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 09:42 AM

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

#3 Hans

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 11:03 AM

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.

#4 Paul Parish

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 08:21 AM

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.

#5 Gina Ness

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 08:23 AM

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.

#6 Hans

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 08:30 AM

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.

#7 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 08:50 AM

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?

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 09:00 AM

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?)

#9 rg

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 10:13 AM

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.

#10 Paul Parish

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 05:42 PM

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.

#11 Gina Ness

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 08:37 PM

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...

#12 carbro

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 09:34 PM

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.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

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!

#13 Hans

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Posted 09 July 2005 - 07:01 PM

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.

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 09 July 2005 - 08:01 PM

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.)

#15 carbro

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Posted 09 July 2005 - 08:19 PM

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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