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Apollo -- which approach? which dancers?

80 posts in this topic

Thanks, drb, for the article. Zelensky's comments about the ballet are thoughtful and insightful. Like you, I was impressed by the paragraph that includes the following: "Balanchine left a margin for each dancer to do it his way."

Your post motivated me to take another look at what all the posters on this thread have written. As I re-visited the posts, I began to think that Apollo may be to male ballet dancers what Hamlet is to serious actors: a pinnacle among male roles, something that all the great dancers ought to face, demanding great charisma and technique, while allowing the performer a certain leeway to make his own artistic choices (within limits).

Hamlet has at times been played by women. Is it possible to imagine a female Apollo (with, I suppose, a trio of male muses)????

P.S. I was also struck by Zelensky's tribute to the way that Peter Martins, "a person who knows how to coach," helped him to develop and grow into the role. A very nice thing for Zelensky to remember -- and to insert into his discussion of the role.

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I saw three Hubbe Apollos in 2004, and, like one of the people said about Boal 'I didn't notice who the Terpsichore was.' Peter Martins, though, was always stunning decades back and still on the videos. I just read about the 1984 gala where Nureyev danced it with Suzanne Farrell. Kisselgoff talked about his 'added choreography' but it must have been a fantastic moment. I wonder if it was the only time they danced together.

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papeetepatrick: Thanks for giving me another chance to refer to "Holding on to the Air." The Apollo performance with Nureyev was a gala for the Pennsylvania Ballet. Suzanne says that after that she learned the he also wanted to dance "Mozartiana." That didn't happen for various reasons. Then he was interested in dancing with her in Paul Mejia's "Cinderella," but "it became apparent that Nureyev had his own very specific ideas about the role of Prince Charming, and the project was abandoned." Of the "Apollo,"she says "Despite our different ideas about the ballet, our relationship was both cordial and professional."

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I have two Apollos on video, both with Martins and Farrell as Terpischore. One is from 1968 and it is the long version, and one is the truncated version from 1982. I must admit I much prefer the longer version, with Apollo walking up the steps.

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Farrell Fan--thank you for that interesting information. This makes me remember when Dance Magazine wrote up the 'Cinderella' opening in Chicago about 1982, and I hadn't been able to see it. However, what I had adored was Farrell in 'Romeo and Juliet.' That's Mejia's, isn't it? I hadn't ever seen the Tchaikovsky 'Romeo and Juliet' danced to, although it must have been done a good bit. I think it was this Farrell performance that most completely swept me away first. The whole program (Beacon Theatre, 1980) was wonderful--Patrick Dupond, Cynthia Gregory, many others--but Farrell's performance was so overwhelmingly musical in this for me that I couldn't keep my head from moving around with her movements, they were that powerful. It may have been embarassing, so I tried very consciously thereafter to control all this getting carried away. Recently I have been watching the video of 'Tzigane' a good bit, and am disappointed that I never saw her do this live. In this performance, I think that I see the way Farrell always vibrated with the smaller rhythmic values, so that when she comes to rest the musical line is never disrupted. When I worked with Nadia Boulanger, she introduced me to this way of always hearing the next-smallest rhythmic value--at least--and this made the line flow both accurately and be able to bend with rubatos as well; since then, I've worked to hear ever more micro-rhythms, so it could be that Farrell just does this naturally without ever having to think about it as such. Anyway, when I watch 'Tzigane' it is very much like actually seeing a musical instrument. I suppose I always look for this in other dancers, which is not quite fair, even though I love many other dancers. Surprisingly, in a different way, I find Nureyev to be extremely musical as well, although perhaps not always equally so: someone mentioned on the Royal Ballet post how beautiful was 'Les Sylphides' on the 'Evening with RB' tape, and his performance in this is one of the most elegant and understated I've seen. All of it has an extraordinary sensitivity not only to Fonteyn but also to Chopin.

Regarding Hubbe in 'Apollo', I thought since posting above about the remark that he started as a god rather than becoming a god. This is surely an important point. I wonder whether, in his case, that might not be almost more difficult than anything, through no fault of his own except having that much glamour.

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I am looking forward to ABT's run of Apollos, since I have only seen it once, with Jose Manuel Carreno. I was very surprised not to enjoy his performance, since I have thought of his dancing as godlike. I tried to think of one word to describe it, and all I could come up with was antiseptic. There was early awkwardness, but it came across as discomfort with a different movement vocabulary rather than acting. The choreography seemed to thwart him instead of revealing him.

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However, what I had adored was Farrell in 'Romeo and Juliet.' That's Mejia's, isn't it? I hadn't ever seen the Tchaikovsky 'Romeo and Juliet' danced to, although it must have been done a good bit.
Although Farrell's most famous Juliet was Bejart's to music of Berlioz, Paul Mejia also choreographed the ballet to Tchaikovsky. (According to Ballet Met's website, in a list of Selected Chronology of Ballets on the Theme of Romeo and Juliet (Compiled April, 1998), which starts from 1785, Mejia originally choreographed his version for Ballet Guatemala in 1978.)
Regarding Hubbe in 'Apollo', I thought since posting above about the remark that he started as a god rather than becoming a god. This is surely an important point. I wonder whether, in his case, that might not be almost more difficult than anything, through no fault of his own except having that much glamour.

I think it's difficult, if not impossible, to portray the full development of Apollo in the truncated version. Ib Andersen, who I only saw in the short version, came closest, but until I saw the full version, I didn't realize what was missing. (Apollo's birth.)

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Helene-thanks for that marvelous link for those like me who are really trying to remedy our deficiencies in ballet history. I am in process of googling for tapes of some that I haven't seen, thus far am turning up mostly the Prokofievs that I am familiar with. Would love to see the Berlioz and some of the other Tchaikovskys, but I imagine most of them are not commercially available. I also want to see some ballets of composers who wrote exclusively or mostly for ballet, that I otherwise haven't usually heard of. Schneitzshoeffer is unfamiliar (never have seen 'La Sylphide,' but will at least finally see an excerpt on a NYPL VHS shortly), as was Drigo. I knew Adolphe Adam and Delibes, of course, but I think I will discover something about a very specific sort of 'ballet-only music' by listening to some of these composers who are not well-known for other music. In 'Le Corsaire' I can already hear something of what my problems were when I was somewhat involved (long after Kryzanowska) with playing ballet classes--those teachers who liked my playing tended to let me improvise too much, then when my old friend Bobby Blankshine decided to use me at Steps in 1983, I got fired because I didn't know the more traditional style well (I could have quickly repaired this problem in a single day, but I am fairly sure things may have already gotten to a difficult stage; however, he did live another 4 years. Needless to say, this was a disturbing experience which I have only now begun to re-assess. I never saw him again, but was horrified to hear of his death in 1987.) There was a very popular pianist there at the time, Hispanic but I cannot remember the name, who knew exactly what to do and she was always in great demand.

I just saw that ABT will have several Apollos in June. I've never seen it anywhere but NYCB actually, so don't know how different it might or might not be; and as my ballet-going budget is a bit more restricted this year, I'm wondering if I should try to see Veronika Part, whom I haven't ever, or just go ahead and see 'The Firebird' and 'Fancy Free' since I'm sure not to be disappointed, especially after seeing Bouder in the former in 2004. I saw 'Fancy Free' at Saratoga in 1980 and have never seen it again.

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I adore Veronika Part, but I will warn you of two things. First, when I saw her last fall in Apollo, she hadn't yet grasped the essence of the ballet/role. She is a ravishing dancer, but (like Bouder) very inconsistent. I mean "inconsistent" not in terms of on- or off-nights, but in the sense that she tends to try different things in each performance of a role. I suspect that you share my admiration for this kind of artist, but you run the risk of a miscalculated reading.

However, Part is Terpsichore to Hallberg's Apollo, and there's no way I'm going to miss that!

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My recollection of Nureyev in the role is just as Sandik describes it. He was clearly not in great shape, but was mesmerizing and moving in spite of panting and perspiring in a worrisome way. Even small things--the way he folded his lute into the ground, his posture and countenance as he sat watching the Muses--were unforgettable. Unfortunately, the powerful effect was eviscerated by his three Parisian Muses, who flounced through the ballet as if it were just the cutest thing. I always thought Martins was particularly superb in this ballet, with that great classical repose of his, a marble god to Farrell's alabaster princess. Boal was also one of my favorites; I only wish he had a more godlike height, to give the role more weight. Zelensky has the height, but I always found him gangly and lacking nobility. Right now, I think Hübbe is my favorite. But I'm very much looking forward to Hallberg in the role.

I much prefer the full Apollo. It shows his development more clearly, which makes the final scene more powerful and meaningful. I also think the "sunrise" image is more moving when it's just another passing moment in a chain of extraordinary metaphorical events. Also, I just adore the moment before the blackout, with arms aloft and lyre-like, undulating to the sound Apollo's lute. What a great ballet! And Balanchine was what, 25 when he made it? It boggles the mind.

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These posts have helped me to reflect on decades of Apollo watching.

For me, also, the most effective Apollos have tended to be those who brought a dramatic concept and the nuance of an actor to the movements contained in the role. It's not just "do the steps," as Balanchine is alleged to have instructed a group of dancers.

While reading Anthony NYC's post about the effect created by Nureyev, my mind went to something in Barbara Newman's "Grace Under Pressure: Passing Dance Through Time." She quotes an example of the wisdom of a Kabuki master, passed on to Peter Brook by the actor Yoshi Oida: "

"I can teach a young actor the movement of how to point to the moon. But from his finger-tip to the moon, that's the actor's responsibility."

A great sense of the music, and the ability to phrase, don't hurt, either.

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One dancer usually not associated with the essential Apollo is Edward Villella. But Villella's Apollo, which I saw only once, is still fixed in my visual memory as exciting and somehow quite "right" though also quite unique. In Villella's book "Prodigal Son" there's a description of how Balanchine worked with him in the studio to develop his approach to the role.

When I was done [performing the opening variation], Balanchine looked at me matter-of-factly and said, 'No, that's not Apollo.'

'What do you mean?; I said. 'Those are the steps and the counts.'

'Those are the steps and the counts, but it's not Apollo because you don't understand that dancers are poets of gesture. ... Dear, I will show you Apollol'

"What followed was extraordinary. Sixty years old at the time, Balanchine stood in the studio in a double-breasted gray suit and a green-and-white-strip cowboy shirt, a string tie, and loafers, and he danced this big variation from Apollo for me. It was astonishing. I could see the music emanating from his body.

Balanchine seemed willing to allow Villella to develop the role in a way that was faithful to his own physical nature and to personality. To Villella, for example, Balanchine described Apollo as "a rascal." However .....

I'm convinced Balanchine never described Apollo as a rascal to Peter Martins. He was telling me to be myself in the role .... But I, too, was learning and growing, developing a new identify, striving for nobility, and a new American elegance, through art. I didn't have to emulate Lew Christensen or anyone else in the role, didn't have to project the lifeless image of a noble god. I could present Apollo as an ideal human being I intimately understood."

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Thanks for the wonderful story from Villella, bart.

I'd almost want to change your "though" in

quite "right" though also quite unique
to "because." Mr. B's statements are so consistent with Igor Zelensky's, a few posts above. In part
... Balanchine left a margin for each dancer to do it his way. His choreography is just a framework, and it’s fascinating to watch that every dancer does it differently. The piece has its plasticity, its technique, and you just breathe a new life in it. Besides, every dancer has a different body and that also an important factor.”

Of course I'm just back from seeing Carlos Acosta's way with Apollo (the Terpsichore excerpt) at ABT's Gala. By making it his, he made it Balanchine's (for me).

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drb, for those who might have missed it on the ABT forum, here's your take on Acosta:

Carlos Acosta is an awesome Apollo, his growth and transcendence during the Terpsichore part of the ballet had the refinement and subtlety, and power and charisma, that just may make him the best I've seen since Martins. A Kingdom for a Farrell tonight, alas...

But ... did you LIKE it ??? :)

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...

But ... did you LIKE it ??? :flowers:

The three Apollos that I've liked most live are Martins, Zelensky and Acosta. I never saw Villella's, but did see Nureyev's and many others since, some immensely admired on these pages. As to the Gala performance and those since at the Met, I think the Met's stage, built to amplify sound, is not good for this ballet. It belongs on Mr. B's stage across the court, one built to silence thudding shoes. Remember how quietly large Mr. Martins used to land? And Suzanne? For me, Paloma's noisy landings broke any spell of lyricism she might have had.

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Robert Garis ("Following Balanchine") just made my :jawdrop: with a refrence to "Jacques d'Amoise's pompous, coarse performances during the 60s" and his suggestion that Balanchine put up with them because "perhaps he didn't care" about the ballet" any longer. (p. 77)

I just saw Nilas Martin in the (mid-90s) Balanchine Celebration video. "Hey man, I know I'm supposed to be a God, but, like, it's pretty early in the morning to have to do these steps. And you want them fast, sharp and strong?"

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I had the privilege of seeing Peter Boal do Apollo, with Farrell's co. (?). I had never seen a generous Apollo before, and would have not thought it possible. A midwife to the muses' talents--pretty wonderful stuff!

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Mercifully, I've forgotten almost everything I read in Robert Garis's book, but since Bart brought it up, I went back and looked at it. Talk about pompous! On the same page Bart refers to, there is this gem: "For Stravinsky and for me, the ending of Apollo is tragic." (Balanchine, apparently, was too obtuse to share this opinion.) What I hated about this book (it comes back to me now), is that it told me little or nothing about Balanchine, and more than I would have ever cared to know about Garis.

Peter Boal was much the best Apollo of recent times, both with NYCB and with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet (although for reasons of sheer prejudice, I thought the Farrell performances more luminous. But I also liked Peter Martins's Apollo. I didn't understand those who thought him too much the stolid, corporate god.

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Mercifully, I've forgotten almost everything I read in Robert Garis's book, but since Bart brought it up, I went back and looked at it. Talk about pompous
Alas, Farrell Fan, I have to agree. There are a lot of interesting observations, but it took me a while to figure out that Garis's subject is NOT Balanchine, and NOT Ballet -- it's how Garis's personal aesthetic values and judgments were formed. His central concern (never overtly expressed) is "how did I become the ballet observer that I am?"

This leads to frequent examples of the phenomenon you point out: one in which ideas like "Balanchine" and "Stravinsky" -- or, indeed, the "ballet Apollo" -- serve mainly as props or excuses for expressing some new insight or experience in the inner life of Mr. Garis.

Indeed, this is possibly the most solipcistic book about the arts that I've ever read.

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Pardon me, and it's off topic, but I have to speak up for a book in which I found much to appreciate.

Alas, Farrell Fan, I have to agree. There are a lot of interesting observations, but it took me a while to figure out that Garis's subject is NOT Balanchine, and NOT Ballet -- it's how Garis's personal aesthetic values and judgments were formed. His central concern (never overtly expressed) is "how did I become the ballet observer that I am?"

For me, that was part of the value of the book. Garis’ subject is Balanchine, but he comes to his conclusions from a continuous process of examining his own reactions and trying to account for them. I thought him particularly interesting on the Balanchine-Stravinsky relationship and he writes most thoughtfully about the style of Violette Verdy and on Farrell. I can understand seeing his approach as “me-me-me” but this preoccupation doesn’t necessarily detract from his critical acumen and in addition I think it made him exceptionally honest in his reporting of his reactions, not always the case. It led him in some odd directions (he’ll say of a ballet, “I hadn’t worked on it with Balanchine” and things like that) and I wouldn’t want to hear this stuff from every critic, no, but from Garis I don’t mind.

On the same page Bart refers to, there is this gem: "For Stravinsky and for me, the ending of Apollo is tragic." (Balanchine, apparently, was too obtuse to share this opinion.)

I haven’t picked up the book in awhile, but as I recall, the context of that quote is Garis discussing the cuts that Balanchine made to the ballet, which Garis regretted, and he is suggesting that eliminating the original ending also eliminates the tragic note present in the uncut ballet and the score.

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I agree with dirac. I'm not bothered by Garis' ego, I'm thrilled to hop into the time machine and watch and contemplate "the Balanchine Enterprise" with an observer so thoughtful, sensitive, musically knowledgeable and emotionally involved with what he's experiencing.

For example, from pages 77-8 of the original hardback: "And so at the end, Apollo and the muses did not mount to Parnassus but instead moved around a stage which now represented no illusioned space. This makes a tremendous difference. When Apollo and the muses leave, they leave us behind in our mortality. This is what the music seems to say in its reiterated cry of lamentation dying away at the end, and it is what the old version of the ballet used to say, simply and effectively, as the four immortals waited motionlessly on the staircase for their chariot."

Agree or disagree with his opinion, but that's good writing.

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As dirac and kfw say, there's much that's insightful, valuable, and even well-written in the Garis book. Those parts give it importance as an historical record and weight as a a book of critical insights into Balanchine's work and the achievements of his company.

For this reader, however, there's also much that's overly subjective, obscure, long-winded, self-indulgent, and ... strangely irritating.

A good book? A mixed bag? A curate's egg? Take your pick.

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Okay, there are isolated passages that are quotable, but the book as a whole gave me acute indigestion.

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I agree with dirac. I'm not bothered by Garis' ego, I'm thrilled to hop into the time machine and watch and contemplate "the Balanchine Enterprise" with an observer so thoughtful, sensitive, musically knowledgeable and emotionally involved with what he's experiencing.

For example, from pages 77-8 of the original hardback: "And so at the end, Apollo and the muses did not mount to Parnassus but instead moved around a stage which now represented no illusioned space. This makes a tremendous difference. When Apollo and the muses leave, they leave us behind in our mortality. This is what the music seems to say in its reiterated cry of lamentation dying away at the end, and it is what the old version of the ballet used to say, simply and effectively, as the four immortals waited motionlessly on the staircase for their chariot."

Agree or disagree with his opinion, but that's good writing.

Thank you for reminding me of that fine passage, kfw.

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Watched a documentary of Nureyev recently. There was a brief excerpt of his Apollo and I wanted to see more! Does anyone know of this video? Is it with the Joffrey?

Thanks

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