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Gorey's "Lavender Leotard" and the NYCB mentality:

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My copy of Ballet Review arrived recently with a lovely little reproduction of Edward Gorey's booklet of drawings, The Lavender Leotard. Originally published in 1970, it contains many references to the "look" and style and distinctive mentality of NYCB -- audiences and performers -- in the 50s and 60s.

I especially liked the simple drawing: of two child-balletomanes, perusing the performance list for the new season: "There are twenty-seven Swan Lakes this season, but only twenty-one Firebirds." You had to be there to understand how true this was. Ditto: "Don't you feel the whole idea of sets and costumes is vulgar?" And: "I sometimes think if I see that lavender leotard with the little skirt that doesn't quite match in one more ballet .... " And well do I remember wonderful programs like: "I thought we'd break him [an especially tiny child] in on Swan-Lake-Firebird-Afternoon-of-a-Faun-and-Western-Symphony."

Probably the key to NYCB mentality at that time is the drawing of two children informing two much taller adults: "Other companies merely put on ballets; we dance."

A couple of drawings alluded to ballets or events or something that I couldn't place. For instance, the boy tosses a tutu-clad lady into the air: "I'm Ike, you're Mamie." I know this refers to the Eisenhowers: but what's the connection to NYCB?

Then there are the two references to the White Swan pdd, one with Benno, one without. What's the story behind that?

Also: "You're right, that was Glinka they were doing, but Minkus he was wearing." What ballets?

And, is there a specific ballet refernces in: "Let-s see - he didn't do his first variation, and she didn't do her second one; Barbara did the fifth instead of the fourth, and Carol substituted for Linda, and Susan wasn't there at all, but then who was ... ?

In other words: does anyone have any thoughts about, or responses to, this marvellous -- but rather cryptic (typically Gorey) -- little work of art?

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A couple of drawings alluded to ballets or events or something that I couldn't place. For instance, the boy tosses a tutu-clad lady into the air: "I'm Ike, you're Mamie." I know this refers to the Eisenhowers: but what's the connection to NYCB?

Stars and Stripes

And, is there a specific ballet refernces in: "Let-s see - he didn't do his first variation, and she didn't do her second one; Barbara did the fifth instead of the fourth, and Carol substituted for Linda, and Susan wasn't there at all, but then who was ... ?

I'm betting Raymonda Variations.

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the Ike & Mamie ref. is to STARS AND STRIPES and acc'd to Hayden this was suggested by d'Amboise as they were about to go on stage for their pas de deux on some occasion.

the glinka/minkus refers to two pas de trois balanchine choreoraphed in the same period: GLINKA pas de trois and MINKUS pas de trois. (both likely had costumes by karinska - my ref. book is not near at hand.)

i'm not sure about the benno problem - he was never part of any balanchine i saw but perhaps he was at some point - again my ref. book(s) not close enough at hand to dig aroun.

and yes, the skipped variation(s) one refers to RAYMONDA VARIATIONS - (in)famous in its day for having this or that portion cut due to day-to-day company dilemmas - at one perf. i saw in the 70s the entire 3rd mov. of SYMPHONY IN C was dropped due to insurrmountable casting problems on that day.

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i'm not sure about the benno problem - he was never part of any balanchine i saw but perhaps he was at some point - again my ref. book(s) not close enough at hand to dig aroun.

Noting the many changes in Balanchine's Swan Lake over the years Nancy Reynolds in Repertory in Review writes only that "long ago the Prince's friend Benno disappeared." For the original cast she lists Frank Hobi as Benno.

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the glinka/minkus refers to two pas de trois balanchine choreoraphed in the same period: GLINKA pas de trois and MINKUS pas de trois. (both likely had costumes by karinska - my ref. book is not near at hand.)

According to Choreography by George Balanchine, the costumes for the Glinka Pas de Trois (entry 307) were by Karinska, and the costumes for the Minkus Pas de Trois (also called "Pas de Trois Classique" and " Paquita Pas de Trois" (entry 247) were by Jean Robier, with whom I'm not familiar. The premiere was in 1948, for the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. There's no note to suggest that NYCB used anything but the original designs.

i'm not sure about the benno problem - he was never part of any balanchine i saw but perhaps he was at some point - again my ref. book(s) not close enough at hand to dig aroun.

From the same source ("Swan Lake", entry 285), Benno was danced by Frank Hobi in the premiere in 1951, and the "Dance of the Four Cygnets" was in it as well, but in 1964 there were a handful of major revisions, to both Odette's and Siegfried's solos, replacing "Dance of the Four Cygnets" with "Valse Bluette," and eliminating Benno. I'd never seen a performance with Siegfried's solo, but the book says it was "often omitted."

Many thanks for identifying these references.

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This subject puts me in mind of a remark by Robert Caro, the biographer of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. In an essay in "Tributes: Celebrating Fifty Years of New York City Ballet," he wrote, "The ballet has never lost its wonder for me, and I try to make sure it never will -- by not learning too much about it." Similarly, I think Gorey's charming booklet is best served by not attempting to dig up now-outmoded references. Remaining cryptic adds to its charm.

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there i think we can agree to disagree; i think the charm lies in knowing *exactly* what they mean! :clapping:

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there i think we can agree to disagree; i think the charm lies in knowing *exactly* what they mean! :clapping:

I'm already wavering, Mme. Hermine. So in which ballets did that lavender leotard with the little skirt that doesn't quite match make an appearance?

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So in which ballets did that lavender leotard with the little skirt that doesn't quite match make an appearance?
I'd love to know the answer to this, too. But maybe this refers to a general problem faced by the company in its earlier days rather than to a specific production. The first frame of the book imagines the author introducing "two small, distant, ageless, and wholly imaginary relatives to fifty seasons of the New York City Ballet." If we look back to the City Center days, I recall there was a not-infrequent sense of tiredness, improvization, and even shabbiness in the costuming of some of the ballets.

One cartoon definitely reminds me of those notorious orchestra seats at City Center. The ballerina -- depicted in arabesque -- is seen from a vantage point well below the stage. From this angle, she completely obscures her partner, who stands behind her. You cannot see their standing feet. The captain: "I warned you not to get them tickets before row R."

Thanks for the responses so far. Here ae a few more idenitification challenges for our NYCB experts:

1) Ballerina to partner. (She's wearing one pointe shoe and one bare foot): "I suppose wearing only one somehow makes me more so." More what? And what's the ballet?

2) Ballerina in long soft tutu is drawing on a long black glove. She says to the man standing in front of her: "You've given me the wrong one." What ballet?

3) Ballerina in Romantic tutu, jumping, speaks to her partner. He wears black, with white lace jabot and tartan trimming: "I think it would be more amusing if they threw you at me." What balle?

4) Ballerina in classical tutu, trying to escape her much smaller partner: "You know what? I forgot the feather." What ballet?

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I would bet that 2 is La Valse and 4 is perhaps Firebird? 3 sounds as if it could be Scotch Symphony.

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The throwing in #3 sounds like a reference to the second movement of Scotch Symphony, but the only other Balanchine ballet I can think of where there was a tartan is Figure in the Carpet. I'm not sure what the characters are supposed to be performing.

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The throw happens twice in the second movement of "Scotch Symphony" when two kilted men appear and march with the "Sylphide" across the stage, then toss her to the "Poet" character.

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The throw no longer occurs in the NYCB staging. Instead, the two kilted men gingerly place the ballerina in the poet's arms. Very disappointing to us old-timers.

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The throw happens twice in the second movement of "Scotch Symphony" when two kilted men appear and march with the "Sylphide" across the stage, then toss her to the "Poet" character.

That's where the throw does happen, but is there another Balanchine ballet where they'd be dressed like that in which the character suggests adding the toss, or is the ballet they're dancing supposed to be La Sylphide?

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Gorey kept pretty much to references to NYCB. There was no toss in the Gigue in "Figure in the Carpet", and "Scotch Symphony" was intended to reference La Sylphide.

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the toss in question is definitely a ref. to SCOTCH SYMPHONY - gorey noted it oftenin conversation that it became a pass-off when the actual throw started to have mishaps.

as farrell fan notes in this thread, many who knew SCOTCH when the throw was still there, missed it sorely when it was tamed in later years.

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I only saw it in the days of the pass-off, but it always looked pretty scary to me :beg:

In the Six Ballerinas documentary, Maria Tallchief described how Danilova (I think) told her after a performance that she needed to look up during the toss, and Tallchief told her she was trying to look serene, but there were several men tossing her and only one to catch her.

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Other throws that have gone MIA:

  • The ones on the big diagonal in 3rd Movement Symphony in C. They now merely sissonne lifts. :rofl:
  • The ones in Second Movement Brahms, which used to be so thrilling. The man would toss the woman and then catch her in a back-bending swoon. Gorgeous moments which are still lovely, even only a shadow of its intended effect.
  • The ones in Monumentum pro Gesualdo.
  • The ones in Agon's second pas de trois still has some oomph, but are veering dangerously in the direction of pass-off.

So much for the Balanchine rep (although I may have missed some). I wonder what happens to Dances at a Gathering -- the big waltz -- if the ballet masters begin to make allowances there? :beg:

4) Ballerina in classical tutu, trying to escape her much smaller partner: "You know what? I forgot the feather." What ballet?
Picking up on the height disparity, I wondered if this might refer to Bouree Fantasque, whose first movement is a series of visual jokes about a tall ballerina with a too-short partner.

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4) Ballerina in classical tutu, trying to escape her much smaller partner: "You know what? I forgot the feather." What ballet?
Picking up on the height disparity, I wondered if this might refer to Bouree Fantasque, whose first movement is a series of visual jokes about a tall ballerina with a too-short partner.
Gorey frequently shows the male as smaller and less consequential than the female. (Possibly a reflection of Balanchine's opinion of their relative importance in ballet generally?) I go with "Firebird" on this one, partly due to costume (the 50s-60s classical tutu) and simple feather headdress, a la Tallchief.

About the tosses -- I have a dim memory of Tallchief being tossed quite a distance towards the camera on an old tv video replayed occasionally on Classical Arts (Firestone? Bell?). Wasn't that Scotch Symphony?

About Gorey -- you couldn't miss him in the lobby. Did he write at all about ballet (in conventional terms, I mean)? Are there any memoirs which include discussion of Gorey's thoughts about the ballets he saw?

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About the tosses -- I have a dim memory of Tallchief being tossed quite a distance towards the camera on an old tv video replayed occasionally on Classical Arts (Firestone? Bell?). Wasn't that Scotch Symphony?

Yes it was--it was on that Balanchine film that was aired on PBS this week.

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By the way, Gorey makes a cameo apearance in the Lavender Leotard -- tha't's him wearing the mink coat, seen from the back -- unless it's Robert Greskovic, wearing the mink coat that Gorey gave him from his collection.

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About Gorey -- you couldn't miss him in the lobby. Did he write at all about ballet (in conventional terms, I mean)? Are there any memoirs which include discussion of Gorey's thoughts about the ballets he saw?

Bart, you can find Gorey interviewed by Anna Kisselgoff and Tobi Tobias in "Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey," edited by Karen Wilkin.

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don't get carried away, Paul: however much i admired EG's minks he never gave 'em away. he did pass along others - mostly racoons - but no mink.

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