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Changing productions over timeAurora with alzheimers?


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#1 Cliff

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Posted 17 January 2007 - 11:13 PM

Robert Gottleib on Sleeping Beauty, mentioned his ideal Beauty and then added

http://www.observer....ttliebdance.asp

When that production, designed by Oliver Messel, deteriorated, the Royal replaced it with a whole series of versions, none of which measured up to what they were replacing. (Its current staging is sadly pallid.) The Kirov Beauty, already in trouble, gave way recently to a fussy historical reproduction of the 1890 original—a fascinating curiosity if not a living work of art.

Now, he doesn't seem to be referring to deteriorating sets and costumes, but to the choreography. Is this an intentional process of gradual tinkering that Gottleib calls deterioration? Or is it a result of forgetfulness? In what ways do productions change over time?

#2 Ostrich

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Posted 18 January 2007 - 03:29 AM

I often wonder if it is really necessarily the productions and performance which is deteriorating, or is it our expectations that are going up?

#3 Amy Reusch

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Posted 18 January 2007 - 06:46 AM

I think there is this problem that contemporary productions have to deal with... some attempts at solution are awful, but that doesn't mean the original problem didn't exist... our frame for looking at these century old pieces is very different than their original intended audiences... and the dancers we're setting it on, "the instruments" if you will, are very different than those used in the original production. Current audiences are used to seeing a wider range of movement in the dancers. Sometimes things that were knock-you-down virtuostic when they were first done are just insignificant now... and that affects the way the dynamics of the choreography are weighted. Sometimes dancers seem to try to solve this by just doing the movement to the widest extent of their abilities... but wrapping one's foot around one's neck warps the visual line that the steps surrounding that moment lead into. Also dancers today seem more trained to realize ideal spheres in their motion than communicate their emotions on stage, and perhaps many of the earlier works had more "theater" in their ballet which is missing from today's stages. A lot comes down through the ages relatively in tact and still working at full effect, like the shades entrance in Bayadere, or the corps groupings contrast to Odette in the white acts. It's a trick... how does one restore the life of the antiquities and fill in the missing sections in the cracks while remaining true to the essence of the piece? When we note that a production has failed, we should also note the scale of the problem the producers were trying to solve.


Okay, I think I should just admit I'm having severe metaphor problems this week.

#4 kfw

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Posted 18 January 2007 - 09:20 AM

Thanks for a great question, Cliff. Productions tend to deteriorate over time if the choreographer dies or moves on (if he's a guest) or loses interest. In such cases dancers replacing the originators of the roles lack the benefit of the creator's concentrated coaching. For example I've read that even during Balanchine's lifeftime some of his ballets sometimes looked shoddy.

#5 Ostrich

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Posted 18 January 2007 - 10:06 AM

Current audiences are used to seeing a wider range of movement in the dancers. Sometimes things that were knock-you-down virtuostic when they were first done are just insignificant now... and that affects the way the dynamics of the choreography are weighted.


Well put. That's exactly what I think - we may complain about the new, "tinkered" productions, but would we truly be happier with the originals? Not that I think this is an excuse to make changes to the classics, but it goes to show what difficulties present-day choreographers and dancers face.

#6 bart

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Posted 18 January 2007 - 12:34 PM

[ ... ] I've read that even during Balanchine's lifeftime some of his ballets sometimes looked shoddy.

This was something frequently commented on at different stages of the company's life. I recall noticing this in ballets that I saw often in the 70s, but don't seem to be able to come up with specirfic examples other than Agon, which went through periods when certain performances reminded me of a choreograph-by-the-numbers training film, creating little of the the effect that the first decade of performances had. The pas de deux was always fascinating, but things like the part for the 8 women near the beginning became pro forma.

I don't have the vocabulary to describe this, but it's as though movements that were once distinct and very personal -- movements that thrilled and even surprised you, despite having seen the ballet before -- became generic and textbook. The heart was lost, though the "steps" remained more or less the same. The dancers' energy and focus also seemed to decline.

Could it be that Balanchine himself lost interest in some of his own earlier work at certain times, or in the dancers that he had assigned to it?

I'm looking forward to hearing other posters' take on this question.

#7 scherzo

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Posted 22 January 2007 - 10:10 AM

That's exactly what I think - we may complain about the new, "tinkered" productions, but would we truly be happier with the originals? Not that I think this is an excuse to make changes to the classics, but it goes to show what difficulties present-day choreographers and dancers face.


These difficulties certainly must exist. But the thing is, sometimes I can't understand why people don't just do things straightforwardly. Basically, I'm thinking of the new/old RB Sleeping Beauty, whose major selling point was that it was a reconstruction of an historic production. But it was quite a free reconstruction. Messel's iconic designs were 'reimagined' or something by Peter Farmer, who may be a talented designer but seemed to feel obliged to assert himself artistically, updating for the 21st century. Result: designs that have been criticised for their insipid, pastel palette. Also, small choreographic details were changed, such as the pas de chats onto pointe by Violente. This must have been due to personal preference. I can identify with this: I would have changed the series of travelling developpe lifts in the Act III Wedding pd2 that replace the supported penchees. This desire to personalise productions must account for many changes in text.

Another constraint appears to have been running time. Some of the court dances in Act II were cut. This may have been due to either theatre union rules regarding running time, or perhaps an assumption that the audience would be bored. Now that ballet is no longer the best entertainment available, I think that there is pressure to maintain the pace of a ballet's narrative, cutting non-essential episodes. Hence Swan Lakes minus pas de trois, Giselles minus Peasant pd2.

#8 carbro

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Posted 24 January 2007 - 06:18 PM

Humbly begging pardon for self-citation, a very recent example of a role whose character has changed markedly beginning with the third cast was raised in the reviews of last week's NYCB performances (starting here). Another would be the first dance in Vienna Waltzes, orginally performed by Karin vonAroldingen late in her career. Her immediate successor was the young Kyra Nichols, and it has since been assigned to willowy ingenues, the next to be Sara Mearns. Youthful abandon (or near abandon) has replaced sophisticated discretion.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 08:58 AM

I think that sometimes a choreographer comes down with the urge to tinker for all sorts of reasons. I recall back in the City Center days, when Lincoln Kirstein was trumpeting that NYCB's Swan Lake had no four swans in it (he hated it!), the next season, there they were. And they were the good old applause-machine that Kirstein disparaged them for. It's one thing to tinker when you are the original stager/producer/choreographer, but when you put up a revival, you're really ethically bound, I think, to put up what was there, to the very best of your ability. But then, I'm a fussbudget about that sort of thing. I probably would have chewed on Petipa's ear for leaving out the Fugue of the Wilis in his revival of Giselle, but I agree that some of the men's headpieces from the original Messel production of Beauty look better gone.

#10 Drew

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 10:54 AM

Now that ballet is no longer the best entertainment available [...]

:) Oh...it's still the best entertainment available!

#11 scherzo

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 01:58 PM

Now that ballet is no longer the best entertainment available [...]

:) Oh...it's still the best entertainment available!


:) Aargh, I can't believe I wrote that!!! You know what I mean :blush:


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