Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
saritachan

Potential storylines for Ballets

47 posts in this topic

Hello everyone,

I am a new member and having read all your professional and well researched discussions, I am utterly in awe and have felt a little bit scared in giving comments, let alone starting topics.

But I have finally plucked up my courage and here it is, my first, hopefully not stupid question to you all.

I have recently read about Johan Kobborg, Royal Ballet that he loves ballets with stories and that he feels that newly created ballets nowadays are all quite short and plotless. So I thought about possible ballet storylines that can be created on dancers!

In China, the budding ballet companies are not at all short of stories, from gods to passionate folktales. For example, the White Snake and they even are taking storylines from traditional Chinese operas!

So are Western or ancient plots running out? Or are story ballets just not the trend anymore? What are the criteria for ballets with a storyline? Drama, passion? Pride and Prejudice, or any other English Classics written in the Victorian times would be unsuitable since the English society was best at containing and reserving their emotions!

I would be grateful if you all can give some suggestions!

Thank you!

Share this post


Link to post

What an interesting question. I'll have to mull this over.

I will say, though, off the top of my head, that keeping Balanchine's comment about mothers-in-law in mind, Pride and Prejudice would be a challenge!

Share this post


Link to post

A Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter ballet would probably make a mint. :huh:

Share this post


Link to post
A Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter ballet would probably make a mint. :huh:

And talk about building a new audience!

Problems: copyright, royalties.

Share this post


Link to post

The spate of forgettable-to-dreadful Draculas should be a warning to those who hope that good adventure stories (with LOTS OF PLOT) translate into a riveting evening at the ballet. :huh:

Pride and Prejudice, when you look into it, has an emotionally resonant central situation (the varieties of love, and how we try to find our way through them), the interaction of social norms and individual preferences, and very vivid characters. Someone like Anthony Tudor might have turned this into something. "Pride," "prejudice", ambivalence, social snobbery, silliness, risk-taking and risk-avoidance seem to be central themes of the novel. All can be expressed with choreography.

Three couples: Elizabeth and Darcy at the center, with Jane and Mr. Bingley, and Lizzie's mother and father (Mr. and Mrs. Bennett), at the side. Lydia (giddy) , Lady Catherine de Burgh (haughty). and Mr. Collins (oily) might be good for brief solos. It could all more or less take place at the country ball. I dont' know anything about English 19th century music, so I can't suggest a composer or score.

In terms of marketing, there might be more Janeites ready to spring for ballet tickets than you think.

Share this post


Link to post

I want to do a Great Expectations...

Share this post


Link to post
In China, the budding ballet companies are not at all short of stories, from gods to passionate folktales. For example, the White Snake and they even are taking storylines from traditional Chinese operas!

So are Western or ancient plots running out? Or are story ballets just not the trend anymore?

What a great topic, saritachan.

Some of James Kudelka's comments in this Sunday's NY Times story on ABT's performance of his "Cinderella" seem pertinent. Will retellings of classic ballet stories that amount almost to rewritings catch on? Prokofiev saw Cinderella as a real, then still contemporary person, " feeling, experiencing and moving among us." Kudelka feels the need make her contemporary again. Back when PBS broadcast ABT's "La Corsaire," I remember Alexandra noting that dancers in the accompanying interviews felt the need to nudge, nudge, wink, wink laugh at the story, as if they were embarassed by it. (Pardon the paraphrase, Alexandra). It was as if they weren't able to "suspend disbelief" and fully give themselves to a silly, patriarchal, and racially unelightened story. In this age of postmodern suspicion of narratives, I wonder if some choreogaphers might be likewise disinclined to choreograph new ones.

Share this post


Link to post
Pride and Prejudice, when you look into it, has an emotionally resonant central situation (the varieties of love, and how we try to find our way through them), the interaction of social norms and individual preferences, and very vivid characters. Someone like Anthony Tudor might have turned this into something. "Pride," "prejudice", ambivalence, social snobbery, silliness, risk-taking and risk-avoidance seem to be central themes of the novel. All can be expressed with choreography.

Three couples: Elizabeth and Darcy at the center, with Jane and Mr. Bingley, and Lizzie's mother and father (Mr. and Mrs. Bennett), at the side. Lydia (giddy) , Lady Catherine de Burgh (haughty). and Mr. Collins (oily) might be good for brief solos. It could all more or less take place at the country ball. I dont' know anything about English 19th century music, so I can't suggest a composer or score.

In terms of marketing, there might be more Janeites ready to spring for ballet tickets than you think.

Hadn't thought of Tudor, but yes, these characters would be very familiar territory for him.

And there are legions of Janites who are willing to purchase many, many things!

Share this post


Link to post
I want to do a Great Expectations...

Tangentially, there is a recent murder mystery set in and around a dance company that is embroiled in creating a ballet version of G.E. The bits and pieces of a scenario were quite believable. Cannot remember the author at the moment.

Share this post


Link to post

This is exciting! Thank you for all the replies. I still have doubts about the Pride and Prejudice plausibility though... Jane Austen fans always put great emphasis on the wit of Lizzy and the dialogue, so much hidden meaning; plus, how do you contrast the huge emotion inside and the cold formal English manners outside? It would be fantastic if it worked out though.

Share this post


Link to post
What an interesting question. I'll have to mull this over.

I will say, though, off the top of my head, that keeping Balanchine's comment about mothers-in-law in mind, Pride and Prejudice would be a challenge!

May i ask what was Balanchine's comment??? "intrigued"

Share this post


Link to post
May i ask what was Balanchine's comment??? "intrigued"

This may not be an exact quote but something to the effect that "there are no mother-in-laws in ballet"

This is not strictly true, but I think Balanchine's point was you could easily get hopelessly wrapped up in the details of a complicated plot. The comprehensive plot synopsis of the major events should be short, just a page or two.(This last is my own)

Richard

Share this post


Link to post

Critic Jack Anderson wrote in this July 1991 "Critic's Notebook"

Some weeks ago, I mentioned that Mr. Balanchine, who abhors fiendishly snarled plots, has been variously quoted as saying that there were ''no mothers-in-law'' and ''no sisters-in-law'' in ballet. I then thought of a few ballets in which mothers-in-law are quite successfully depicted, but speculated that to show sisters-in-law would be difficult, if not impossible.

He then publishes three potential sister-in-law storylines that a reader, Joe D'Onofrio sent him, all of which seem quite plausible.

Mothers-in-law are not necessarily impossible; in Sleeping Beauty, the King and Queen have become Desire/Florimund's parents-in-law, and grandparents, like in The Nutcracker are by definition someone's in laws. The basis of the Balanchine quote was that it is difficult and confusing to describe peripheral family relationships in a story ballet or extremely complicated relationships.

Pride and Prejudice would need a lot of paring. I think there are several tricky plot lines to get across: exactly what Mrs. Bennett says to make Mr. Darcy send Mr. Bingley away, how Mr. Darcy explains what he knows about Mr. Collins because of his sister (could be a tableau, or may it's unnecessary in the first place), and the conversation between Lady de Bourgh and Elizabeth (how to show that it is Mr. Darcy she is forbidding Elizabeth to marry). Miss Bingley could be portrayed easily like the Countess who's after Desire in Sleeping Beauty.

Share this post


Link to post
Pride and Prejudice would need a lot of paring. I think there are several tricky plot lines to get across

I think this is the point where the "mother-in-law" comment comes in. A ballet can express the nature and intensity of many kinds of relationship -- though not all. Motherhood is, to an extent, universal. Mother-in-laws come in a great variety and can easily be confused with a number of other "older woman" types.

Lilac Garden demonstrates the use of dance to convey feelings and relationships in a very simple plot line that can be easily grasped by most people.

I really do think it would be possible, by "reducing" the main characters to types in a way similar to Lilac Garden, to express the essential courtship issues at the heart of P&P. Obviously, much, much, much would have to be left out. And the ballet would have to be a bit longer than Lilac Garden. You couldn't do this with Great Expectations, or with Dickens in general I should think. But Austen deals with "universals" that -- despite changes in times and manner -- are still very much with us.

How about more elaborate story ballets like the MacMillan Manon, Mayerling, or Anastasia? A certain amount of background knowledge is assumed, or conveyed in the program notes to those who care to look. But you don't have to read a biography of Empress Elizabeth or Rudolf to understand the nature and development of their concerns, desires, fears, excesses. However, to get the most out these ballets, it WOULD help to have an idea of how an imperial court might be organized, along with the kind of people who might live there (for Mayerling) or the outlines of Ancien Regime class and gender politics (for Manon), or to have seen the movie of Anastasia. But I don't know how necessary this would be.

Sleeping Beauty brings with it the familiarity of fairy tales from many cultures. I can't imagine anyone having difficulty with it or not responding to its charms. The plot lines of Swan Lake, on the other hand, might seem very obscure to someone who hadn't been given some kind of summary before their first visit, or who was not very good at translating mime.

Share this post


Link to post

anymore suggestions? this post is not restricted to only pride and prejudice... I am not from the West so perhaps I am not aware of more folklores or ancient myths... Brainstorm people!

Share this post


Link to post

While the West is far from exhausted as a source for storytelling, I daresay that Asia is a rich mine of tale and tradition which is hardly touched, and yet would make for good ballets d'action. Somewhere, brooding in my unstaged consciousness, is Rashomon, and a ballet based on the Tale of Genji would work very well, too. For the lighter fare, Japan has a marvelous fantasy tradition which shows itself in modern times in part through manga and anime. A ballet of "Inu-Yasha", perhaps? The subtitle of the series identifies it as "a feudal fairy tale". Outside of Japan, the characters and their characteristics are widely known, so an audience would be pre-trained in what happens and what the dramatis personae can and cannot do. ...Or Spirited Away, anyone?

Share this post


Link to post

The NYCB/Frances Schreuder story could maybe combine a modern dance story surrounding parts of 'Davidsbundlertanze' inside it. The TV movie was good because of Lee Remick's pyrotechnics, but major NYCB details had to be omitted. You see this from reading the Shana Alexander book. The trial was in full swing, and there she was up at Saratoga. Juxtapositions like this are interesting, as when Leona Helmsley left the Park Lane Hotel to get on her private jet to go to no-frills jail in Kentucky--I think I would have done some austerity transition practice with such a future looming. I can't think that the Schreuder funding had any effect on the creation of this masterpiece, but it's hard not to remember that such a thing happened occasionally when you see it. Maybe enough time has gone by, and there's no way it's not still interesting--the arrival of that cool large check.

Share this post


Link to post

Rashomon could be wonderful. :jawdrop: There's certainly an excellent "look" available, directly from the Kurosawa film.

Possibly this could be done with different casts of dancers for each version of the story?

The story has been made into an opera by Mayako Kubo, and I found a reference to a production in Graz directed by the Taiwanese choreographer and dance company director Lin Hwai-min. Has anyone seen or heard this? Have there been other productions? How important was any dance element in the telling of the story? Could the choreography have carried the story without the sung words?

Also, about Proust's In Search of Lost Time (a.k.a. Remembrance of Things Past). The approach of the director Raul Ruiz in his beautiful film, Time Regained, as the title of this section is translated, might work. This begins at the end of the saga, with the narrator as an elderly man returning to a grand reception at the house of the prince and princesse de Guermantes. He meets -- but scarcely recognizes -- the older versions of characters with whom he had earlier had a very close involvement. Those earlier meetings are revealed in flash-back.

There's lots of French salon music from the period (including Proust's favorite Faure, but also Satie, etc.) which could provide the score. (The film, I believe, has original music.)

Share this post


Link to post

I believe that the Proust has already been done. Not terribly well, but done.

Share this post


Link to post

I just Googled for 'Alice' and 'through the looking glass,' but don't know any of these productions--from English National Ballet and California Ballet in recent years. A non-children-performing 'Through the Looking Glass' would still be terrific. The review of ENB I read said there wasn't really that much dancing, but the choreographer who could figure out how to do the contortions once you've gone through the looking glass would need to be a genius, and spectacle wouldn't even have to be emphasized, since there are Red Queen and White Queen and all the other creatures. They could just dance spectacularly. But I'm sure every choreographer has thought through this one.

Think Proust would be a great ballet, but rather a non-story ballet. The Ruiz is considered good, but I don't think you can really do all those complex stories justice, so I thought it ended up rather skeletal, a little aging Odette, the Verdurins, Charlus, but nobody really fleshed out. What would be great is to do the salon of Oriane de Guermantes, but it's hard to see anything old working but Ravel, and that's been used a lot. There might be something from high modernism that could be used, I don't know. Faure if there was a 'Combray' ballet, maybe; and maybe Combray really could be done as a story, with Marcel nervous about his mother's kiss, etc. Maybe Albertine could be the focus of Proust as ballet, the ones without too many characters could be passionate.

Liszt's 'Mephisto Waltz' could be a great story ballet, since it's already built in.

Share this post


Link to post

Each of these stories suggests powerful visual imagery -- perhaps because they've all been been filmed. It's not always so easy to imagine sustained dancing that would advance, but not be merely illustrative of, the plot lines.

An Alice divertissement -- presided over by the rival Queens??-- would be fun. I'm thinking of something like Act II of Balanchine's Midsummer's Night Dream. But that's not, I admit, a "story ballet." You certainly would have the advantage of instant familiarity of each character. How would the imagery of the characters morphing into a pack of cards be done?

I like the idea of a Combray ballet. Wouldn't there be a problem with having a main character who is a child? Although it works for L'enfant et les Sortileges, where the child is played by an adult mezzo, I'm having difficulty thinking about how it could be done in a ballet. A real child? And where would the dancing be?

The duchesse de Guermantes is a great character -- her husband is even better, IMO -- but what makes her memorable is the contrast between her often frivolous words and her rather selfish actions. There is so much satire and (as time passes) disillusion in the way she is presented, it might be difficult to sustain sympathy or interest.

How about a "Swann in Love" ballet? Pursuit of the unattainable (and really not very appropriate) woman, then disillusionment when she is attained.

Share this post


Link to post

Alice was done in two acts, eight scenes by choreographer Michael Charnley with music by Joseph Horovitz. It was premiered in 1953 by the London Festival Ballet.

Share this post


Link to post

bart--I actually found 'Swann in Love' to have a more Proustian sensation to it than 'Time Regained,' but I think I'm in the minority. Casting of Ornella Muti was physically perfect, I thought, Deneuve such a straight shooter it's hard to see her as Odette even though I think she's a great actress.

Oriane and Basin are definitely fabulous characters. While you are right that you could not sustain sympathy (it would be ridiculous to try to sympathize with these two completely), I don't know about interest. I think one could sustain interest, even though it would be about something often caustic. The 'orianisms', the 'red shoes' which become all-important despite Swann's illness, Basin's adventures in lust. Then there are the more balletic images as when Oriane and her sister the princesse de Guermantes are wearing those fanciful hats and Oriane waves at Marcel. Oriane continued to be interesting all the way into 'le temps retrouve', having been able to change with great facility according to whatever new modes came up. I especially thought her raptures about the Spinning Song in 'Flying Dutchman' hilarious--especially since I also like it probably for the same silly reasons. Maybe an adult could not work for a child Marcel--I think you're probably right, but I'm not sure. In that video of 'Giselle,' Makarova's costume makes her look like a giant little girl. Albertine and Marcel could be done, I just doubt the interest is there. But it may be that ballet is not suited for unsympathetic characters like Oriane, except in the decorative aspects, and it may be that 'La Valse' already takes this on successfully. The music is marked 'Mouvt de Valse Viennoise,' but Ravel doesn't ever sound anything but Parisian, so with the fading away at the end, you get a sense of Things Past as in Proust. Or if fascinating selfish characters like this are portrayed, they probably can't be the central ones.

Share this post


Link to post

bart--I meant to add that I think your 'Swann in Love' idea is surely the most realistic if anyone wanted to use a section of Proust as a ballet. Just because I'm crazy about that 100-page-plus dinner party doesn't mean I would know whether you can do a ballet culminating in 'Poulet a la Financiere.'

Share this post


Link to post

The problem with Proust as a grounding for a libretto would be hampered by the fact that we lack a Tudor to speak chapters of narrative with a single jeté, or a way of walking. That was Petit's problem in his treatment of it. We even lack a Kenneth MacMillan to do a tabloidy "Nutcracker Murders" tale. Sir Kenneth could get away with Mayerling. It's been years since the Hapsburgs have sued anybody for defamation over things like that.

I don't believe that there is anymuch dance content in Rashomon, but Kurosawa did set an overall tone and suggestive movement vocabulary in his splendid direction of the 1950 film.

Share this post


Link to post
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0