bart

How important are Odile's 32 fouettes?

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It's kind of like the Spessivtseva solo of Giselle. Yeah it wasn't always there, but now it's become of the Giselle tradition.

I think it's a bit more than that. For historical reasons I also don't like steps being altered or substituted. So many changes have crept into Swan Lake over the years that it's becoming increasingly difficult to know how much of the original choreography remains. At least we know for certain that the 32 fouettés were present in Petipa's original, so let's not hurry to toss them out.

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re: why Siegfried falls for Odile. In this thread from 2002 Alexandra explains that it's his Fate, his Destiny. In the modern context, it's hard to understand it as a tragedy unless Siegfried knowlingly betrays Odette, but apparently the fact of betrayal is sufficient tragedy in the Classical interpretation.

For the record, I represent mid-level ballet-watchers and I like the 32 fouettés. And I'm with Mel; if the dancer can't do them, she ought not be cast.

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Truthfully I don't see why any dancer with the technical ability to do Odette/Odile can't just learn to churn out 32 fouettes! It it not a super human trick, It can be taught.

Forgive the bad pun, but somehow I feel this discussion has come full circle. If there is a consensus, it is that the fouettes are both fun and irreplaceable. In that case, Vipa's advice is best. It is true I've seen videos of corps members performing spectacular fouettes (Zhong-Jing Fang!)—there is no shortage of dancers who can do them. Meanwhile, I'll continue to enjoy some of the dancers who can just barely get through them.

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Why does no one remember that Odile is supposed to be the "image of Odette" ie. look like her? The "evil twin" incarnate who wears black for the same reason the 'evil cowboy' wore a black hat, and the good cowboy a white hat. So some swan-arm movements, and even a white costume would be apropos. AND... Rothbart shows up at the ball TOO EARLY for Odette to be transformed yet to human form, so that that weeping Odette in the window is not some figment of Siegfried's imagination, but the poor swan vainly trying to attract his attention in the window--which is why almost concurrently with that image, and musically in the score, Odile imitates Odette's 'swan arms' to capture Siegfried's attention. In an RB version I saw, Siegfried is actually 'transfixed/frozen' by Rothbart so he doesn't see what's happening at the window.

RE: The 32

Yes it's a tradition passed down from Legnani (sp?) days, and I do like traditions. Multiples work if they enhance the musical accent, but not to excess, not as a gymnastic exercize, and not as a gloat at the audiance to "look at me, look at me, the great dancer" instead of a mesmerizing act of centrifigal force like a whirlpool or "black hole" drawing Siegfried and the Court's attention and attraction to her. I too remembe Plisetskaya and being surprised she avoided them, and guessing why that was so, and not missing them.

When I was at Tokyo Ballet, O/O was performed by two different dancers, because each had strengths they wanted to show off and weaknesses they wanted to avoid. I didn't see too much a problem because it was better to see them do well, than not when performing a difficult step, but it did negate the "twin" aspect of the plot I mentioned above.

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the poor swan vainly trying to attract his attention in the window--which is why almost concurrently with that image, and musically in the score, Odile imitates Odette's 'swan arms' to capture Siegfried's attention.

:huh: I've encountered this comment on the musical reference more than once, and no doubt Petipa intended Odile's port de bras to mirror Odette's in the window. But it's worth remembering that Tchaikovsky wrote this adagio for the first act, when neither Odette nor Odile were on the scene yet. I may seem musically obvious to us, but Tchaikovsky didn't conceive it that way.

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the poor swan vainly trying to attract his attention in the window--which is why almost concurrently with that image, and musically in the score, Odile imitates Odette's 'swan arms' to capture Siegfried's attention.

:huh: I've encountered this comment on the musical reference more than once, and no doubt Petipa intended Odile's port de bras to mirror Odette's in the window. But it's worth remembering that Tchaikovsky wrote this adagio for the first act, when neither Odette nor Odile were on the scene yet. I may seem musically obvious to us, but Tchaikovsky didn't conceive it that way.

Could Tchaikovsky have meant it as musical foreshadowing of characters that were to come later?

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re: why Siegfried falls for Odile. In this thread from 2002 Alexandra explains that it's his Fate, his Destiny. In the modern context, it's hard to understand it as a tragedy unless Siegfried knowlingly betrays Odette, but apparently the fact of betrayal is sufficient tragedy in the Classical interpretation.

I don't think tragedy requires *intentional* betrayal.

I find the aspect of senseless "fate" more tragic.

After all, I think most people would concur that Romeo and Juliet is one of the all time greats of tragedy--and its ALL horrible dumb luck!

If the message had reached Romeo...

If Romeo hadn't met the apothecary...

If Juliet had woken up just a few minutes earlier...

That's tragedy (and damn frustrating if you ask me!) :)

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There is probably no universally correct answer to the question of whether the 32 are necessary. It is certainly important that they are remembered, and when one is new to that specific ballet it is good to see a complete performance, including them, just to know.

But when one has seen it and knows the gist of it, isn't the raison d'etre for Swan Lake that it is one of those special works of art that can bring the beholder to a level that transcends mere excitement or beauty, an enobling experience that touches the sublime?

Earlier in this thread I mentioned the (second) Sara Mearns Swan Lake, with her 12 fouettés. Up to that time she hadn't even had a demi role at NYCB. In a Gia Kourlas interview in Time Out (still available on their site) after her two performances, she spoke of her dress rehearsal and first performance:

What part did you enjoy the most: Odile or Odette?

SM: I thought I was going to enjoy Odette more, but that became the most stressful for me. It was weird. I’ve always loved the white swan, but being the black swan was so exhilarating.

TONY: After a few fouettés, you substituted pique turns. What happened?

SM: Your leg, by that time, is dead. When we were in the dress rehearsal, I didn’t really finish the fouettés; I just kind of walked around and Merrill and Sean Lavery said, “You have to have a plan.” So I did a version of what I wanted to do: fouettés into pique turns without even posing to go into them, and I was fine with it. So during the performance, after 16 fouettés, I thought, Oh no. I cannot do anymore. I couldn’t feel my leg.

After over a hundred Swan Lakes I know the gist of it. Frankly, if that voice that tells you to turn off your cell phone had blurted out at the beginning of the variation "The ballerina needs to rest, and will come back out after the 32 music," I still wouldn't have traded her O/O for any other one at NYCB (except, of course, for Bouder's), and a lot of others too. In the face of her art, I can easily live without a rote fairy tale.

In the truly great works, the duty of a ballerina is to elevate, not just jump. To move, not just move.

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I reallky appreciate drb's point that

In the truly great works, the duty of the ballerina is to elevate, not just jump. To move, not just move.

Several posters have interpreted the 32 fouettes as essential to the character and presentation of Odile. Others have stressed tradition and loyalty to the choreographic "text" that has been handed down to us.

As to the first point: If the audience withdraws its attention and begins to count the fouettes, does this in fact develop, enhance, or even support the Odile character or the situation in which Siegfried finds himself?

As to the second point: If the dancer is forced to "churn out" the fouettes, visibly undercutting the visual and emotional impression of the rest of her performance, is the text being honored or sabotaged?

Also: if no one should undertake Swan Lake without being able to do them (at least minimally), aren't we eliminating a lot of potentially wonderful and expressive Odette/Odiles for the sake of something which is essentially a trick.?

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the poor swan vainly trying to attract his attention in the window--which is why almost concurrently with that image, and musically in the score, Odile imitates Odette's 'swan arms' to capture Siegfried's attention.

:) I've encountered this comment on the musical reference more than once, and no doubt Petipa intended Odile's port de bras to mirror Odette's in the window. But it's worth remembering that Tchaikovsky wrote this adagio for the first act, when neither Odette nor Odile were on the scene yet. I may seem musically obvious to us, but Tchaikovsky didn't conceive it that way.

:) I didn't know that! I think I knew that Tchaikovsky's original adagio was too 'romantic' and I assumed that he then wrote up something new. Was the current adagio meant for the Act I pd3?

Back on topic...

This is from bart's post:

Also: if no one should undertake Swan Lake without being able to do them (at least minimally), aren't we eliminating a lot of potentially wonderful and expressive Odette/Odiles for the sake of something which is essentially a trick.?

I don't think that they shouldn't be allowed to do it, but they should really, really try to get the fouettes in, because they may be a trick but they are in the choreography and they are SUPER famous: original or not, it's what the audience expects. E.g. Margot Fonteyn apparently practised the Rose Adagio balances like crazy to make them work - dedication in order to give the audience what they want.

Which is not to say that the fouettes are the most important thing in Swan Lake, of course! (Artistry, etc... :innocent:)

Btw: I have only read about and never seen NYCB. I'm not picking on Sara Mearns' unsuccessful fouettes but use her only as an example: is it fairly unusual nowadays to be weak at fouettes? They seem to be such a standard Thing - does the SAB not place very much emphasis on training to dance the 'classics'? Or have I got a rather outdated/inaccurate idea? (I will do some searching but wanted to throw that in before I forget)

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I'm not picking on Sara Mearns' unsuccessful fouettes but use her only as an example: is it fairly unusual nowadays to be weak at fouettes? They seem to be such a standard Thing - does the SAB not place very much emphasis on training to dance the 'classics'? Or have I got a rather outdated/inaccurate idea?
Interesting questions! I was wondering the same thing. Does anyone have an answer?

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No, training for the classics is not emphasized at SAB.

Victoria Leigh made a good point quite some time ago when she explained the situation of company dancers, though. When a dancer is a student, she has pointe class every day, so she is given lots of practice as far as things like fouettés, balancing, &c go. However, in a company, dancers don't have formal pointe class--the most they get is if they decide to do all or part of the company class with pointe shoes on. So it is more difficult to keep up the technique required to do such steps, especially if the ballets requiring them are not frequently performed (and therefore not often rehearsed). There is a documentary of the Kirov where it appears that the ladies do have pointe class there; they are shown practicing fouettés and various other turns, so it would be interesting to know how different companies handle this. Is the lack of pointe class an American thing, or is it typical for pro dancers everywhere not to have daily pointe class?

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Can't resisit posting this review of Gillian Murphy's fouettes (ABT in London, review by Judith Mackrell, The Guardian):

Murphy may not be a natural classical stylist, her arms too brusque, her attack too blatant, but she is utterly fearless, and her performance of the Black Swan pas de deux raised the benchmark of ballerina virtuosity. Setting herself a furious pace, Murphy barrelled effortlessly through the notorious 32 fouettées, inserting double, triple and one heartstopping quadruple turn. It was pure circus drama [ ... ]

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I'm not picking on Sara Mearns' unsuccessful fouettes but use her only as an example: is it fairly unusual nowadays to be weak at fouettes? They seem to be such a standard Thing - does the SAB not place very much emphasis on training to dance the 'classics'? Or have I got a rather outdated/inaccurate idea?

Interesting questions! I was wondering the same thing. Does anyone have an answer?

I don't think Ms. Mearns is incapable of 32 fouttes. It may well have been a matter of stamina or fatigue, after all up to O/O her biggest role had been the Chinese dance in Nutcracker! Also, the strong point of the Martins Lake is Act 4, and perhaps it was her fouette choice that enabled her to deliver the goods in that act. If so, an extremely worthy trade-off! If it suits her artistically, which matters more than abstract opinions, I suspect she'll perform them next time around. Obviously Mr. B. wasn't a great fan of the 32; on the other hand, Ms. Mearns is very atypical of NYCB dancers, which also may explain why she is so often fascinating when dancing Balanchine.

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From a preview of ABT's Swan Lake in Miami:

[irina Dvorovenko] insists that the 32 fouettés, which balletomanes are known to count under their breath, "are not difficult; I have been doing them since I was 12. But you're exhausted afterwards. And I need to control my expression to make sure that doesn't come out on my face. And there are moments when it gets very emotional and it's very easy to lose control of your body..."
A bird, a prince, a love affair

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Well I don't think that the fouettes are such a big deal. If the ballerina can do them, great! But if she's unsure then I think it would be better if she did pique turns around the stage (fast though).

The thing about this bravura steps is that they have to make an impression of Odile's triumph over the Prince. It should be the climaz of the pas de deux. If the turns look weak it takes away a bit from the rest of the pas de deux, even if the ballerina danced it really good! So I think she should choose the step in wich she can dazzle the most.

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The thing about this bravura steps is that they have to make an impression of Odile's triumph over the Prince. It should be the climaz of the pas de deux. If the turns look weak it takes away a bit from the rest of the pas de deux, even if the ballerina danced it really good! So I think she should choose the step in wich she can dazzle the most.

This is pretty much my thinking. The momentum of the pdd is lost if the ballerina wobbles or grinds her way through the fouettes. And I don't think it's a valid conclusion to say that if the dancer can't do them she shouldn't do the role. I think they are a trick step and have been since they were first done.

Done well they are very effective, done not so well a negative.

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Sure, I hate bad fouettes, but isn't it a case of practice makes perfect? (No, really, I'm asking, not being sarcastic: can some people simply not do them?)

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Sure, I hate bad fouettes, but isn't it a case of practice makes perfect? (No, really, I'm asking, not being sarcastic: can some people simply not do them?)

Well I should say it's both. Of course there's certain different techniques how to do fouettes, but it's a lot easier if you have a natural sense of turning (if that makes sense).

Of course you can practice until you're able to do 32, but those dancers who can throw in like tripples in between, they are I would think natural turners!

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I was considering the problem of dancers not being able to do 32 fouettés on the Metro today, and I think it could be solved by substituting a different step (easier turns or jumps or whatever suits the dancer and music) for the first sixteen counts of the fouetté music. Then (as the music gets more dramatic at that point) the dancer could start doing fouettés, so the excitement builds along with the music instead of abruptly stopping as the ballerina decides halfway through her fouettés that she can't get through all of them after all and changes to whatever she can think of in half a second.

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The music is already pretty intense while Siegfried is dancing and Odile is waiting upstage to take her turn.

Hans got me thinking about which "different steps" you could insert at the beginning of the musical passage. Pique pirouettes, with their expansive, sweeping travelling, strike me as having a very different dramatic impact from fouettes, which are controlled and have a limited range of movement across the floor. Could you start with piques and end up with fouettes? It might be rather difficult to transition quickly and smoothly from one to the other without losing a few counts.

So what steps could be substituted? What alternatives were you thinking of, Hans?

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Well, almost any type of turning step either done on a diagonal or traveling forward would work as long as it works rhythmically with the music. It would just have to be engineered so that the ballerina either does a pas de bourrée en tournant or lands in fourth position in time to start the fouettés. One could even alternate pas de bourré en tournant with fouetté and then change to only fouettés after a while, or do pirouettes from 5th finishing with a developpé to the front or side as in Coppélia and Satanella. In that case the dancer would stop four counts early to have time to pas de bourré suivi and plié in fourth in preparation for continuous fouettés.

Those are pretty conventional, but I'm sure others could come up with something more interesting!

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The music is already pretty intense while Siegfried is dancing and Odile is waiting upstage to take her turn.

Hans got me thinking about which "different steps" you could insert at the beginning of the musical passage. Pique pirouettes, with their expansive, sweeping travelling, strike me as having a very different dramatic impact from fouettes, which are controlled and have a limited range of movement across the floor. Could you start with piques and end up with fouettes? It might be rather difficult to transition quickly and smoothly from one to the other without losing a few counts.

So what steps could be substituted? What alternatives were you thinking of, Hans?

Just do the fouettes. Yes, your leg gets tired but it's something you have to practice. On the other hand I guess everyone could just pick out a favorite step and do it and that might be OK and even fun. At the same time I think it is good for dancers to measure themselves against the test of time. If dancers in the past could do technical feats (fouettes, rose Adagio balances) why not now, given the idea that ballet technique has advanced. I'm sure Sarah Means could go into a studio and work her way up to 32 if she wanted to. Not a priority and maybe it shouldn't be, but I fall into the camp that this step is a requirement of the role. Just like a note in opera that may have been written for a particular singer.

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:clapping: Well Plisetskaya actually did pique turns in manege but at a great speed though, it's also very affective I think!

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In practice, most Odiles that I've seen do go for the 32 fouettes, but there is the issue of embellishment. Irina Dvorovenko was an embellisher before giving birth, but on her return did it straight, 32, in place. But in her second performance this season she did interpolate a triple in the middle and another for her finish. Diana Vishneva's choice is obviously based on the dramatic interpretation she's planned for any given performance.

Gillian Murphy, surely one of the most spectacular 32'ers, she reached 32 at the age of 11, has given embellishment and the place of spontaneity serious consideration, and has reached different conclusions for different ballets. Regarding Odile, in an interview given to Finis Jhung last year she says

... I plan ahead of time, but leave it open to last minute spontaneity. What I try to do is have different combinations of turns for different ballets. I do basically the same combination (fouetté, fouetté, fouetté-triple pirouettes) for Black Swan.

For more:

http://www.danceart.com/BarreSide/Gillian_Murphy.htm

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