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How important are Odile's 32 fouettes?

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My question is why are the fouettes sacred when so much else of the ballet is not?

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My question is why are the fouettes sacred when so much else of the ballet is not?

A good question, but I'd like to pose another -- is there anything else in Swan Lake in the actual vocabulary that is a "requirement," aside from the fouettes?

Going back a couple of messages to your previous post

I think the only reason we are having this discussion is that women kept to the text long enough so that we have a semblance of what it was, even with distorted tempi to allow them to "get the notes in," and that the virtuoso elements retained and that have become iconic intersect nicely as body types and training have changed over the years.

I think you've put your finger on something essential here. Are we still the most attached to the elements that are still a challenge to perform (O/O fouettes in the Black Swan pdd, Aurora's balances in the Rose Adagio, the brise vole sequence in the Bluebird pdd, Giselle's second act allegro ...) while letting material that used to be a challenge but is now more commonly done slide by?

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I think the answer is easy. The 32 fouettes have been talked about extensively ever since their insertion, and like it or not, people still expect them. They are still sought after because they show up in just a couple of ballets. It is also widely known that they are sometimes suppressed or poorly done out of inability-(Kirkland herself confess to some of this in her memoirs). Audiences are still curious to see if their favorite ballerinas are still up to the task. We can be condescending when age plays a part in diminishing technique-(just as Helene notes with her opera examples)-but when the dancer is young and apparently fierceless, then we-(I)- don't like to see a travesty of a sequence of steps, of even worse, its suppression, again, due to inability. Then, of course, even if the fouettes are a disaster the rest of the ballet can be completely and sublimely interpreted.

Not my cup of tea though...

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In Swan Lake, a lot of the Act II Pas de Deux is still considered sacred: the developpes, promenades in attitude penche, the swoons backwards, the beats into developpe pirouettes, where Odette leans back on Siegfried and wraps his arms around her.

There's a difference between what we recognize easily as difficult and what is difficult. As Doug Fullington and Peter Boal have said, bodies are different now and trained for different things. Most of the women in the most recent Petipa program were among the shortest in the company. The fast floor work doesn't fit taller leaner bodies very easily, and much of it has been tossed in favor of bigger movement, often to slower tempi. Those lost things weren't common in style, tempi, and construction: they just weren't big tricks.

One of the Royal Ballet dancers in "Striking a Balance" talked about how everyone taking one of the RAD exams at the time of the interview had to do 32 fouettes to each side. This showed that they could master a difficult set of sustained turns, but not much about the quality of either their Odette or Odile, as countless competition videos have shown. It certainly doesn't show a mastery of many of the things that were lost due to the trade-offs.

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Points taken, both of you. I think Helene's comment

This showed that they could master a difficult set of sustained turns, but not much about the quality of either their Odette or Odile,

helps me articulate what I'm trying to get to -- the fouettes are indeed a technical challenge, and more dancers than just Kirkland have admitted that they were less that stellar turners. When they are performed by a dancer that can incorporate the thrill of mastery into her performance of the character, they can really knock us flat, but more often than I care to think about today, they are just a test, and whatever dramatic arc that was being created in the act grinds to a halt while everyone counts under their breath.

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I don't really mind them though they don't add a whole lot. Weren't the 32 fouettes originally done by the Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani in Cinderella to show off her skills and the skills of the Cecchetti school (which lacked some of the grace and dignity of the Russian school according to Nikolai Legat).

So if they were put into Swan Lake by Petipa as a divertissement for Legnani, could they not be treated somewhat like cadenzas in concerti that have become standard but could be substituted by something else? As Helene says, lots of other things have been dropped from Petipa – and from Balanchine.

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So if they were put into Swan Lake by Petipa as a divertissement for Legnani, could they not be treated somewhat like cadenzas in concerti that have become standard but could be substituted by something else? As Helene says, lots of other things have been dropped from Petipa – and from Balanchine.

An interesting question -- I think they probably could have become 'one option of many' if that had started earlier, but they've become a cornerstone of the work now -- it would be a tough transition for someone to make.

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A little bit off topic, but I wanted to go on record as saying I saw Kirkland do brilliant (super fast, clean, controlled, FUN) fouettes in Baryshnikov's Don Quixote: roughly first half in place and second half, just as music changed, controlled traveling forward in a steady straight/centered line, and I also saw her do consistently brilliant turning of other kinds in his Nutcracker in performance after performance. Maybe others who saw her more may feel she wasn't always a brilliant turner--at any rate, we know she was always a perfectionist and very self-critical--but I when I think of brilliant fouettes her Don Q performance is on my list. (Alas, I did not see her one Swan Lake which came after a long period of not dancing or dancing, as Croce wrote, like a shadow of herself, due to her problems with weight loss. I would not be surprised if she was not in her best bravura shape at that time, though I have read the performance had many beauties.)

I agree with Helene that much of the Act II pas de deux is pretty sacred text for the ballerina in Swan Lake. I would be more appalled by a traditional Swan Lake that messed with some of that choreography (eg the swoon) than with the fouettes. But sure, I prefer the fouettes to be there and...uh...well done.

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But sure, I prefer the fouettes to be there and...uh...well done.

As opposed to medium rare? (sorry, couldn't resist)

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My question is why are the fouettes sacred when so much else of the ballet is not?

But then...that is IF there's a ballet being performed. The Black Swan PDD and DQ PDD are strong staples of mixed bills. No way to bail out on those scenarios. It is just a black and white matter of being able to perform the thing or not.

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But sure, I prefer the fouettes to be there and...uh...well done.

As opposed to medium rare? (sorry, couldn't resist)

laugh.png -- Undercooked is what we often get--slow and cautious. Or oversauced--doubles and triples, but not fully controlled.

(Kirkland in Don Q did fast and brilliant singles, fully controlled. At least that's how I remember it. I actually think fast,powerful singles can be the most exciting. If I were Siegfried that's what would make me dizzy.)

Anyway, as a fan, do I want to see the Fouettes? Heck yeah...and I think their now iconic value and the expectations they arouse are not entirely trivial aesthetic matters even if they are partly or even mostly imposed on the ballet due to the history of its reception and contingent factors such as Legnani's particular skill. But if I had a chance to see an otherwise great Odette/Odile who left them out? I would still run, not walk, to the theater -- and be grateful.

I agree with Cubanmiamiboy that at a gala they should be there or one should pick another pas de deux.

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Mulling this over, I realize that I think of the pas de deux quite differently when they're presented in excerpt form. They are already detached from the dramatic continuity of the full work -- they're being used almost exclusively as a technical showcase, so you want to see something extraordinary.

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I came across this today, what could be Paul Valery's opinion on the matter. From Poems in the Rough, section one of Diamonds:

A ballerina: a cascade of pirouettes, of a marvelous precision, brilliant as the facets of a diamond...

Thirty-two fouettes! (Karsavina)

A very fine image.

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My question is why are the fouettes sacred when so much else of the ballet is not?

My question is why are the fouettes sacred when so much else of the ballet is not?

The simple answer is the historical context.

The 32 fouettes are not merely a test of technical skill and strength, they have become central to the deceitful character of Odile exhibiting the the dominating magical strength of her personality confirming in the process, her underlying personification of her nature as being evil.

Odile's impersonation of Odette creates a taunting and seductive version of Odile to which Siegfried submits beguiled by the magical impact of the thrillingly sexual fouettes.

The Prince's mother is delighted that Siegfried is taken with Odile. He announces that he will marry her and kisses Odile's hand. The Prince's mother and von Rothbart join their hands. The scene darkens, an owl cries out and von Rothbart is revealed as a demon. Odette appears helplessly at a window as the white swan, while Odile laughs loudly. Siegfried is horrified, and flings away the hand of his newly betrothed.

Clutching his breast, he rushes out of the castle.

Academic classical ballet drama at its best.

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I understand the context, although very often Siegfried is catching his breath and thinking about his next part of the coda, but I don't think it's the only option, and there are other ways to be mesmerizing/dazzling and there are other classical ways to be a seductress and sexual and to close the deal with both Siegfried and his mothet, especially since he's desperate at that point -- his mother is impatiently, emphatically, and publicly insisting that he pick a bride, any bride right then and there -- and is ripe to be convinced and half convinces himself.

Regardless of context, I don't think it's the most important part of the ballet -- it wasn't even the original music, which is quite different in character -- but even if it was, that doesn't explain why few care about the rest of the text and how it's been changed. British audiences used to get Mozart operas with chunks of Mozart cut out and Bishop interpolated in between. Why no outcry about the changes to Petipa/Ivanov?

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When I came across the "Amazing Fouettés" videos on YouTube, I couldn't help but be reminded of this thread. Many well known dancers are shown, and it is interesting to see their different approaches one after another.

So for your enjoyment (or displeasure):

Begins with Yuan Yuan Tan, Evgenia Obraztsova -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtJ2R_i6Too

Includes Viengsay Valdés and Mathilde Froustey -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4NVP-tjKk8

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Thank you so much, phrank, for those links. They're educational ... and fun.

I've only watched the second video and already I have a much greater respect for the fouette-sequence as an index of differences among ballerinas. Among the American dancers I know best, my preference was for Gillian Murphy (though the sweet face of Cynthia Harvey, caught (oddly) in close-up, brought back nice memories). Tiler Peck is remarkable, considering that multiple fouettes aren't a big part of NYCB's training.

So many differences in the details. Doubles or not? If doubles, arms held en avant? or hands on waist? or one arm up, one to the side? Should they try triples, like Ana Sophia Scheller, if the price is a loss of grace and elegance? And then there's speed: some are awfully slow, though these allow for the leg to be extended a la seconde and do have a kind of grandeur if you're good at it. Some are impressively fast, though the price paid may be (as in the case of Zakharova) the impression of floppiness when the moving leg is oding its whipping. Then there's the difference between shorter, more compact ballerinas (eg., Bouder) and tall ballerinas with long legs and arms (eg., Kent). You can see all of this in 9:48 minutes. It's fascinating.

For me, the key to the success of the fouette sequence is still the finish. It should be secure (no major adjustment of feet), well-placed in relation to the audience, and should radiate triumph. It should not require the intervention of the partner to provide stability (as in the case of Mathilde Froustey). A surprising number of the dancers in this video managed to accomplish most if not all of these feats. flowers.gif

Can't wait for this afternoon when I'll get the chance to watch video #1.

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The most brilliant fouette sequence I've seen in "Swan Lake" was danced by Carrie Imler, but it was the chaine turns that signaled entrapment for me. That was taking a basic turn and by executing it as perfectly as it could be done, enlarged her character and told a story.

This is a rehearsal video:

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For me, the key to the success of the fouette sequence is still the finish. It should be secure (no major adjustment of feet), well-placed in relation to the audience, and should radiate triumph. It should not require the intervention of the partner to provide stability (as in the case of Mathilde Froustey). A surprising number of the dancers in this video managed to accomplish most if not all of these feats. flowers.gif

Agreed, although in the video segment of Froustey, she's doing just fine until her partner intercedes and throws off her balance and speed. In the Valdes segment (same video), her partner handles the situation beautifully. And Valdes does something fascinating with her right arm, and I can't tell if it is designed to increase momentum , or if it is intended as a kind of visual detail to trick the eye. Murphy has a tendency to drop her right shoulder/arm and that muddies the look a bit in her pyrotechnics.

It is fascinating how individual looking some of these fouettes are. I realize that it depends on the particular role/ballet being danced, but in these videos most of the dancers keep their arms out straight to as this seems to be the better way to maintain balance and gather momentum (dancers please feel free to comment). The POB dancers share a common approach, whereas the Russians appear more eclectic to my eye.

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I think a ballerina decides to give up Swan Lake when she's no longer able to accomplish the fouettes, given that she might manage well the rest of the production-(first appearance by act II and mostly partnering stuff, with the exception of the batteries moment during her Act II's solo. That would be different from, let's say, Don Quijote, where there are at least two iconic difficult bravura segments...the fouettes in Act III and her diagonal of traveling pirouettes with the toreadores in Act I. Giselle would be another tricky ballet for a bravura moment to be thought over when taking or giving up the task, for which there's the famous Spessivtzeva's solo in act I and her demanding adagio in act II.

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When I came across the "Amazing Fouettés" videos on YouTube, I couldn't help but be reminded of this thread. Many well known dancers are shown, and it is interesting to see their different approaches one after another.

So for your enjoyment (or displeasure):

Begins with Yuan Yuan Tan, Evgenia Obraztsova -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtJ2R_i6Too

Includes Viengsay Valdés and Mathilde Froustey -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4NVP-tjKk8

Thank you for the links, pherank. Very instructive.

I confess! Odile's fouettés make my eyes glaze over. In fact, just about everyone's fouettés-and-nothing-but variations make my eyes glaze over. Now I know why: often as not there is absolutely no relationship between what the music is doing and what the ballerina is doing, and I find it as boring as all get-out. What is the point of dancing to strongly accented music if nothing in particular is happening on the accents? Ideally, the leg should be whipping out (or alternatively snapping in) right when the cymbals crash, no? -- and not a beat and a half later or a beat and a half before. Some of the ballerinas featured in these videos did look like they were attempting to coordinate their movements with the music, but most seemed intent on filling up however many bars of music they were given with however many turns they could manage (or mis-manage as the case might be). I'd be happier with a couple of bars of well-timed (and well-executed) fouettés followed a few bars of something else when the music changed.

That's why I was so delighted with Ashly Isaac's fouettés in Midsummer the other evening. If I'm not mistaken, they were all singles except for the last one, but they were all beautifully timed with the music, and all the more fun to watch for that.

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I'd be happier with a couple of bars of well-timed (and well-executed) fouettés followed a few bars of something else when the music changed.

Balanchine did this on at least one occasion. I can't remember which ballet but I do remember 10 or so fouettes followed by the ballerina spinning away in a series of chaine turns. It made sense in terms of the music. But the 32-fouette tradition is so entrenched that even I felt let down when it was bypassed.

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The "Midsummer" fouettes are not only perfectly timed and in character for that particular stretch of music, they also invoke Hippolyta whipping up a forest windstorm.

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What is the point of dancing to strongly accented music if nothing in particular is happening on the accents? Ideally, the leg should be whipping out (or alternatively snapping in) right when the cymbals crash, no?...

Wich is why I always show to whomever wants to really see what a perfect sequence of single fouettes look like, the brilliant Rosario Suarez, whom I had the pleaseure of watching doing them countless times...

@ 3:19

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