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Gorey's "Lavender Leotard" and the NYCB mentality:some questions about the NYCB allusions


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#1 bart

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 07:38 AM

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?

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 07:50 AM

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.

#3 rg

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 07:57 AM

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.

#4 kfw

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 08:29 AM

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.

#5 Helene

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 08:30 AM

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.

#6 Farrell Fan

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 09:21 AM

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.

#7 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 11:37 AM

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

#8 Farrell Fan

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 02:08 PM

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?

#9 bart

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 02:56 PM

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?

#10 Hans

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 02:59 PM

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

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 03:21 PM

1 is Profane Love in Ashton's "Illuminations".

4 is "Firebird".

#12 Helene

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 05:08 PM

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.

#13 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 06:27 PM

http://www.nycballet.../scotch-new.jpg

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 06:44 PM

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.

#15 Farrell Fan

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Posted 20 October 2007 - 07:04 PM

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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