Helene

Presentation of the Classics

18 posts in this topic

On the RDB gala thread, coda asked:

Should the presentation of the classics change? every 20 years? or every decade? Should it be modernized? If so, then HOW?

This is a great topic!

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It should definitely change! Lower legs, fewer pirouettes, more mime, and a little acting every now and then would be a wonderful start.

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Here's a topic that deserves a second chance -- especially since there's been so much heated discussion going on right now on Ballet Talk about the the merits of the reconstructed and revived Kirov Sleeping Beauties.

Consider just two of the stories that recently turned up on Ballet Talk: the success of Christopher Wheeldon's much altered Swan Lake for Pennsylvania Ballet; Christopher Stowell's plans for a full-length SL for Oregon Ballet, taking what sounds like a much more traditional approach. Similar tales can be told about just about every classic. Who do you program for -- the audience that rarely sees a classic and wants to see the "real thing"? or an audience that's slightly bored with what's traditionally done and craves the stimulation of a new approach?

Then, Hans raises issues of styles. Do you keep raising the extensions? cutting down on mime? filling "dead" time with ever more thrilling jumps and turns? and if you keep or re-introduce mime, how much can you get away with given the expectations and values of modern audiences? can mime possibly deaden the action, break the dramatic line?

Or, how about choreographers who impose their own interpretation -- and often their name -- on a classic sometimes overwhelming it, sometimes giving it fresh life? Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet, et al.? Ashton's alterations (choreographic and musical) to Swan Lake?

The variations on this topic are endless. Anyone have any stories or opinions to relate? or to vent? :lightbulb:

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Regarding mime, I know many dancers and artistic directors think it's boring and outdated, but it is there for a reason, and what they do not understand is that many audience members who do not know much about ballet technique are NOT impressed by "tricks." They see much more impressive things done at the Olympics, &c and in fact find that it is the dancing that "deadens the action and breaks the dramatic line." I agree with that to an extent, although dancing in the classics is like arias in opera--it gives you a look inside the character and shows what he or she is feeling. Mime and dance are both expressive, just in different ways. However, if you remove the mime from the classics, it removes the context from the dance and strips it of meaning. Just as musique dansant was never meant to be played by itself, but was always intended to support the dancing, a lone variation makes little dramatic sense without the mimed story to back it up. However, there is also music composed to be played alone, and there is dance that is meant to be performed without mime. In this case, the choreographer puts everything s/he wishes to express into the danced steps and there is no need for the framework of mime and an explicit plot.

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Gererally speaking, I'm with Hans. The pace and scope of a long work has more interesting contours when mime and dance (and other forms of spectacle, such as the Panorama) alternate in meaningful ways. There's EXCELLENT mime in the Royal ballet's old version of the Sleeping Beauty -- watching the entire court fall asleep, in particular, as a wave of drowsiness sweeps around the stage -- Macmillan's work, I believe -- was VERY satisfying to watch, to take in, to understand, AND it make an effective curtain for the act, wonderful theater (and way superior to Sergeyev's version for the Kirov).

But there's another aspect that has not been mentioned -- changes must often be made to scale a colossal production like Sleeping Beauty down to the resources of the company and the theater. If there are plenty of first-class dancers, there may NOT be a sizeable contingent of well-trained performers who can play ladies in waiting, lackeys, minor court functionaries, in a plausible style, nor room on the stage to deploy all those forces. The Royal Ballet DOES have them, but San Francisco Ballet (for one) does not. And SFB certainly did not have the forces at hand needed for Petipa's Garland Dance, which was huge, and had how many? nearly a hundred? performers in it.

Frankly, I think Tomasson cut the garland dance down TOO much, with only 12 corps girls, and 6 children (if I remember right) -- but otherwise his was a judiciously balanced prduction, with a brilliant new Sapphire pas de deux, EXCELLENT dancing and mostly good mime from the principals, and outstanding Carabosses and Lilacs in Jim Sohm and Muriel Maffre.

Well, that's a lot of detail on one issue.. but there are others, such as how far to go in modernizing the line, when to drop and add variations (like Tom Thumb's and Bluebeard's)....

Who else do you all think has come up with good solutions?

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Gererally speaking, I'm with Hans. The pace and scope of a long work has more interesting contours when mime and dance (and other forms of spectacle, such as the Panorama) alternate in meaningful ways.

Without these "separators," over the course of an evening, there's too little variety, and the passages of classical dancing tend to blend together. You need a little creamy with the crunchy, a little dark with light. Variety of texture, mood and pace are absolutely necessary. Otherwise, it's probably best to do what Balanchine did with Raymonda (at least three times) -- don't think of it as a full-length story ballet and boil it down to the essential 30-40 minutes worth of pure dancing.
If there are plenty of first-class dancers, there may NOT be a sizeable contingent of well-trained performers who can play ladies in waiting, lackeys, minor court functionaries, in a plausible style, nor room on the stage to deploy all those forces.

When the Kirov brought this production to the Met in the late '80s, one of the most jarring elements was the dearth of supernumerary courtiers during the Prologue, Paul. The population necessary to make the Christening feel like an Important Occasion wasn't there. The vast Met stage kind of gaped, and as I remember it, that it weighed down the Prologue, rather impeding the momentum of the whole ballet.

Have they changed that in this current tour?

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dunno yet, Carbro -- it opens here tomorrow..

but the Zellerbach stage is SO much smaller than the Met's -- which is built with spear-carriers in mind, whereas Zbach's is meant for Merce Cunningham (so to speak). The WEALTH of courtiers in the old Kirov movie of SB is just incredible, all looking like a painting by van Dyck or Tiepolo; as I remember this production from when Ayupova was Aurora back in 89 or so was it was underpopulated and then there were all these lilac-colored folk bourreeing around....

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The issue at its broadest would have to be cast as "Traditional" plot or staging versus (what shall we call something like Wheeldon's "Swan Lake" in Pa.) "Contemporized" or "Updated" Plot?

What I mean is that the most basic distinction is between a Swan Lake which on its own terms purports to be at a court, with a prince and a real swan queen, and one (to use the example of Wheeldon) in a 19th century dance studio with a dancing master/Von Rothbart, or -- to give other hypotheticals -- one which you might cast in Rio Di Janiero with the Prince being the son of a drug lord who, in a morphine induced semi delirium, falls in love with the Queen of the Mardi Gras ...

Opera has been oscillating about on this issue for the past twenty five years with new contexts for Wagner at Beyreuth and, for example, Le Nozze de Figaro (Miller's version, in a Diner, was it?). There, as here, it's obvious at the outset that, unless you continue to have an identifiable academic, classical or traditional version, there is nothing to revolt against, nothing to update or to make contemporary. Only in the context of a strong and indentifiable Swan Lake being immediately familiar, could something like Wheeldon's Swan Lake make sense.

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Only in the context of a strong and indentifiable Swan Lake being immediately familiar, could something like Wheeldon's Swan Lake make sense.

A point so obvious, yet so easy to overlook. Thank you, Michael, for stating it so well.

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Continuing to think after my post as usual, I would add that this is also true of the point which Hans and Paul are speaking to --

That is, as with the necessity for there to continue to be a traditional plot version available, so with the necessity for there to continue to be a traditional staging. Thus, unless we continue to have Swan Lakes which are staged in something resembling the form which the unbroken series of productions of this ballet have brought down to us from the late 19th to the early 20th century -- with the scenery, the production values, the mime, the alternation of pas d'action with divertissement (pas de trois, pas de quatres, etc.), of pas de deux and major dances for the corps, with the princesses and the national dances in Act III -- something huge would be lost. There would be nothing left to contemporize.

This is about "Staging" writ large. It is quite apart from the issue of a more modern technique, such as the six o'clock penchee or of Zacharova kicking herself in the head in developee. Those things might become incongruous in a very traditional version, but they can co-exist with it nonetheless.

It is when you do what Kevin did with Swan Lake at ABT, however -- take away the entire white act after the Black Swan pas de deux, shrink the dances for the Swan Corps de Ballet to nearly nothing elsewhere and emphasize the waltzes at the court to the exclusion (literally) of almost everything else, that you do violence (and senseless violence) to the work which cannot be repaired.

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There, as here, it's obvious at the outset that, unless you continue to have an identifiable academic, classical or traditional version, there is nothing to revolt against, nothing to update or to make contemporary.  Only in the context of a strong and indentifiable Swan Lake being immediately familiar, could something like Wheeldon's Swan Lake make sense.

Excellent point. In an ideal world, a company seeking to be contemporary would have two productions -- the traditional, designed for the long haul, and the updated, which would possibly lose its impact and pass out of rep fairly quickly, to be replaced by yet another update. Costly, of course. But each could possibly encourage audiences to see the other.

Does anyone have examples of companies who actually use (or have used) this two-production approach to a classic?

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Michael, there's one important factor that is overwhelmingly important when it comes to "updating" ballets that opera companies, by and large, do not have to deal with. In an opera, the music (generally speaking) always remains the same. When choreographers udpate ballets, they often change the steps as well, and as ballets are not notated as frequently or as in as much detail as music, that presents a large problem when it comes to maintaining a traditional version.

Bart, the Kirov does what you describe to an extent. For example, I believe they currently have two Nutcrackers in the repertoire (Vainonen and Ratmansky). Ratmansky also choreographed a Cinderella for them, and I don't know whether they kept the Lavrovsky or not (or even if they were still dancing it when Ratmansky choreographed his version). They also have both the reconstructed and Sergeyev versions of Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadère, although with La Bayadère they use the reconstructed costumes for both productions, as far as I know. I imagine that only a company with resources comparable to the Kirov's (both artistic and financial) would be able to do something like that.

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NYCB keeps the Balanchine one-act distillation of Swan Lake while performing the Martins full-length version.

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I think we are no longer doing "classical ballet". "Classical ballet" of today differs so much from the original pure classical ballet of the past. I think that we need to change the term for today's "classical ballet".

But I believe romantic ballets shouldn't be turned into classical ballets. The chest should be pulled forward and up, the legs should be lower, more restrained and much simpler. We have to remember, Giselle when she is alive is a peasant and they aren't professional ballerinas. When she is dead, though, she is a spirit and they can do whatever they want! I have seen too many productions of Giselle (mainly Russian ones) where Giselle is so elite that it's completely unrealistic to the character, the ballet and the style. But this isn't a thread about Giselle is it/.

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Hans, let me just correct the data in your posting.

The other Nutcracker in the Mariinsky’s repertoire is not by Ratmansky. The choreographer there is Kyrill Simonov and design, which prevails over everything including the choreography, is by Mikhail Shemyakin.

Lavrovsky did not choreograph “Cinderella” for Mariinsky. The choreographer of the Mariinsky’s lovely “Cinderella” was Konstantin Sergeyev; and Oleg Vinogradov also had a go in 1977, I think.

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Thank you, Coda. :) I don't know where my brain was when I posted that.

MinkusPugni, in the very strictest sense of the term, Classical ballet has not occurred since the time of Noverre. We've discussed this issue before on BT and haven't really come up with anything conclusive as to what to call today's dancing. As historical periods are generally named after they've occurred, I think we'll just have to wait until we have the benefit of hindsight on this one.

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I think that it is okay to change the steps so long as you keep with the ideas of the ballet, such as with Gisselle, I think that she should be more "human" in act 1 and more etherial in act 2. I do not however think that choreographers should bring in different genres of dance into a classical or romantic ballet, such as (and this has happened in my home town) hip hop in the Nutcracker. I think that this changes the core of the ballet, and makes it something that it was never intended to be.

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I just flashed back on what may seem an :wink: shock I suffered some years ago.

I was cruising the supermarket aisles and spotted among the cookies some packages of cookies I had loved as a child but had not eaten since. I eagerly bought a bag, took them home, and bit in. :yucky:

Oh, NO! :yucky: This is not how I remembered it! Of course, one's physical sense of taste changes over time, but I didn't think that was it. I looked at the ingredients list and decided, well, half of them didn't exist -- at least as food additives -- when I was little! I concluded that over the years, the baker had substituted a little bit here, and the tasters could perceive no difference. Then a little substitution there. No difference. At the rate of one tiny, imperceptible change every year or two, they could easily have made more than a dozen changes between the Cookies I Remembered :wub: and these . . . whatevers :( . Cumulatively, a lot of little changes add up to something completely different.

If they can do it to cookies, they can do it to ballets.

So welcome to BalletTalk, Sami~Poo. I hope you take a minute to introduce yourself on our Welcome Page.

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