Leigh Witchel

Do you have a personal checklist?

37 posts in this topic

Mine is similar to the list in the forum but it includes:

Massine. I finally saw Les Presages last year - my first Massine. Part of my curiosity springs from hearing Francis Mason talk at the Balanchine Symposium in '03 about how much he disliked Massine's ballets.

Lifar. If I go to Paris in February, I can finally see Suite en Blanc.

Nijinska. I love Les Noces, but haven't seen anything else of hers beyond tantalizing bits of footage in documentaries such as the one for the Ballets Russes (I need to check what's in the NYPL collection, if anything.) Was she a one-ballet choreographer, or has history made her into one?

Christensen. I've seen a college production of Con Amore, and will see Filling Station for the first time in February in SF.

Loring. Because I like Billy the Kid, and because I'm curious about Loring because like Bolender he straddled the modern and ballet disciplines but in a very different era when it meant a different kind of combination - I wonder what that has to teach us.

Who's on you hit list of pre-70's choreographers to see?

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I don't know whether these pieces have been revived.

William Dollar. The Duel. Never saw this, but they were still talking about it when I showed up in the NYCB audience a number of years later. And I was a big Melissa Hayden fan.

Ruthanna Boris. Cakewalk. Gottschalk score. I've heard good things about this.

John Taras. Ebony Concerto and Arcade. These continue to provoke warm memories of NYCB in the 60s. Arcade made a huge impression on me at the time. Are either of these done any more?

Glen Tetley. Tristan. The thread on dramatic ballet talks got me thinking about the potential of this story line.

Maurice Bejart. L'Oiseau de Feu. This has also been discussed on another thread. I recently learned that Nijinsky, who could dance on or near pointe, tried to persuade Diaghilev to let him dance the title role. So there's a precedent for a male dancer doing this.

Nijinsky. Jeux. Lyinn Garafola's deconstruction in her Diaghilev book made this sound more fascinating than it probably is. But, what the heck!

Anthony Tudor's Romeo and Juliet.

Edited to add:

Robert Joffrey: Pas des Deeses. I never liked Pas de Quatre, but I did love this. It would seem a perfect fit with a number of smaller companies. Does the Joffrey ever license it?

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Le Combat - or the Duel - I saw for the first time this year; New York Theatre Ballet performed it. I think it is also being done in December in Buenos Aires (I noticed it a year ago on the schedule of the Teatro Colon - though being performed "in exile" as the Colon is closed for renovations)

I saw Cakewalk once, probably about 1996. It was brought to New York by Ohio Ballet. It was presented as a good humored trifle, with a few riffs that satirized Giselle and other romantic ballets.

I saw the Joffrey company do Pas de Deeses, but I believe the last time I saw it was about 15 years ago when American Repertory Ballet was still Princeton Ballet. It's reasonably different than the Dolin, particularly with the subtraction of one ballerina and the addition of a danseur.

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Washington Ballet did "Le Combat" about 20 years ago -- I'd like to see it again, but at the time I thought it was obvious why the ballet hadn't lasted. Lots of horsey horseplay, as it were -- but no dominant personality who could put the ballet over.

The Joffrey was still doing "Cakewalk" in the 1970s (perhaps a bit later) and I saw that and liked it -- I can't remember anything about it except that it was playful and well-constructed. A girl on a swing? A little cupid with a bow and arrow? Clever, but not too cute, and it made me want to see more of Boris.

I THINK New Jersey Ballet just did Pas de deeses? I also saw the Joffrey do this, with Ann Marie de Angelo, whom an older colleague of mine insisted was the perfect reincarnation of a 19th century Romantic ballerina. (It's a reconstruction of the 19th century star vehicle. Three goddesses and one male dancer.)

I also saw "Romeo and Juliet" in the 1970s. (Looking back, 1980 seems to be a sort of curtain date, at least in America, for Ballets from the Old Repertory.) I would give a lot to see it again. I wanted so much to love it, as I'd read so much about it, but it seemed very dull. Hilda Morales was Juliet and Fernando Bujones was Romeo. I was shocked by the ending -- Romeo wakes up in time to see Juliet dies, and Juliet knows (Isn't there enough tragedy?) -- and liked the designs very much.

There really is a lot out there. Or was :helpsmilie:

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I don't know whether these pieces have been revived.

William Dollar. The Duel. Never saw this, but they were still talking about it when I showed up in the NYCB audience a number of years later. And I was a big Melissa Hayden fan.

Ruthanna Boris. Cakewalk. Gottschalk score. I've heard good things about this.

Anthony Tudor's Romeo and Juliet.

Cakewalk I saw a lot when Joffery was doing it and I loved it. Tudor's R&J I saw a while back when ABT did it and was puzzled by it. I'd love to see them both again to see what I make of them. I was pretty young at that time and would love to see them with a mature eye.

Ditto The Duel which I did in lecture/demos back in the day. When you dance something, sometimes you can't tell.

I'd love to see these pieces again. One brings different things to the viewing experience as time one's life goes on.

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(Looking back, 1980 seems to be a sort of curtain date, at least in America, for Ballets from the Old Repertory.)
I wonder why. The 60s and 70s were supposed to be the time when everything was overthrown -- but there seemed to be a fairly good coexistence of stretching for the new and reexamining the old.
I'd love to see these pieces again. One brings different things to the viewing experience as time one's life goes on.
I agree. And its not just "nostalgia." Many works I loved I no longer admire. Others -- some I loved when I first saw them, some I didn't get at all -- seem like revelations; I like them for completely new reasons..

One thing these ballet experiences have in common -- and you have lived a while to experience this -- is the sense that I am two people watching, feeling, thinking. One's me as I am today. The other is me -- different but also the same -- as a youth.

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Taras' Design for Strings was performed by DTH in the '70s. If I saw it, I don't remember, but I remember being charmed by the name. Maybe if DTH can get back on its pointes, we'll have another chance at it.

DTH also did Taras' version of the Firebird. It may have been my first Firebird, so I can't compare it to Fokine's or Balanchines.

Another piece of Taras at NYCB (for the Ravel Festival, with a few years' afterlife) was a Daphnis & Chloe, with Hell's Angels and Biker Chicks. Nina Fedorova premiered as Chloe, alternating later with Suzanne Farrell.

I found Souvenirs de Florence rather disorienting -- three couples dancing completely different duets simultaneously. However, as I saw more performances of it, relieved of the effort to see everything all at once, I came not to dislike it so much.

As for the choreographers I'd like to see, I can only echo Leigh's first three choices: Massine, Lifar and Nijinska. I may think of more later.

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My votes would go to Nijinsky, Nijinska, Bolender,and Boris and Tetley.

I've mentioned on other occasions how I'd like my first stop in the Time Machine I've put on reserve to be in the audience to watch Nijinsky dance, and of course, to see his choreography. I've always been struck by how his choreography contains NONE of the things for which he was noted as a dancer.

I have seen Le Train Bleu, Les Noces, and I think Les Biches and liked them. It is better to see these ballets with a little background of the work and the times, as they are so much a product of their times and the then-current aesthetic. My recollection is that they are more dramatic and athletic than balletic. To an extent that is a shame, from my point of view, because she was so well-trained in the Maryinsky tradition, that I would have loved to see her using more footwork.

Dance Theater of Harlem produced one of those, but I can't remember which one. It's a major shame that more of her work has not been preserved through performance. I feel that her work was more revolutionary than her brother's work, because she was so much more articulate, informed about the world and sane. Estelle has an excellent page on Nijinska's life and work: http://www.cmi.univ-mrs.fr/~esouche/danse/Nijinska.html

For many years I had a faint memory of a very funny ballet I saw at NYCB as a child.... and had no idea what it was. When City Center first opened after its major renovation in the late 80's or early 90's I was standing on the platform just outside the back of the auditorium, when Mr. Kirstein appeared. What did I have to lose, I described what I remembered of the ballet and asked him what it was. Souvenirs, by Tod Bolender was his answer. Now that I've also seen his Renard, I would love to see more!

I saw Cakewalk as a child, and have no memory of it, but there have been so many interesting things said about Ruthanna Boris that I would love to see more. The few things I've seen by Tetley, though uneven, have piqued my interest.

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:helpsmilie: Funny that you mention Bolander's Renard. Jane Simpson has written elsewhere today about Andree Howards's Lady into Fox. An interesting double bill? What could be a third piece to fill out the evening? The chicken dance from La Fille Mal Gardee?

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I'd like to see more of de Valois and some early Cranko. I saw both "Lady and the Fool" and "Pineapple Poll" in London in about 1964. It would also be great to see more Joffrey and I have a very soft spot in my heart for de Mille, as her writing meant so much to me when I was young.

It would be great to see The Duel, however badly it seems dated.

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"The Duel" really brings b ack memories---I saw it for the firt time with Petit's group, "Ballet de Paris" when they were in NYC. Although I saw it with Melissa Hayden, for me the performances of Colette Marchand (a Zakharova-legged ballerina) and Milorad Miskovitch tops anything I saw of it by American companies.

I also saw a Nijinska ballet to a Chopin piano concerto danced by the Denham Ballet Russe, and Lifar's 'Suite en Blanc" performed by POB in '48 in NYC--all I can say, really, is that they paled next to the Balanchine I was seeing. :helpsmilie:

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"Cakewalk" is an amiable takeoff on the minstrel shows of old. It has the double line of chairs, "Mr. Interlocutor", the end "men" (women), and a two-part "show" of specialty acts. No cupid, but there is a bubble dance. And of course, Hortense, Queen of the Swamp Lilies, partnered by Harolde, the Dying Poet (Mr. Interlocutor). It becomes obvious what he's dying from - hernia. She takes off up onto the upper riser and does a sort of "Peri"-like jump from it into his arms. He says, audibly, "OOF!" She goes through outlandish lengths to avoid dancing with him, and when she does, she's pretty uncooperative.

I wonder if the Nijinska/Chopin work you saw was "Constantia"?

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:helpsmilie: Funny that you mention Bolander's Renard. Jane Simpson has written elsewhere today about Andree Howards's Lady into Fox. An interesting double bill? What could be a third piece to fill out the evening? The chicken dance from La Fille Mal Gardee?

La Chatte?

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Violin Concerto, "La Chatte" it is!!! Let's get the reconstructor, paint the sets and hire the theater.

Mel, thanks for that description of "Cakewalk." In all the references I've seen, yours is the first to actually describe what was going on.

Thinking about lost ballets, there seem to be several reaons for wanting to see them.

On one level, we may actually have the chance to see something of great worth, something "new" (though of course old), even something that might give a few ideas or suggest alternate directions to choreographers in the present.

On another level, you just want to experience them, no matter how they actually look to us today. Kind of like visiting European cathedrals and checking them off your list. Or seeing as many Leonardos as you can, no matter how far apart they are displayed. An week spent watching Fokine's pre-Diaghilev work would probably be deadly. But wouldn't it be wonderful to have the experience and the knowledge?

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I have seen Le Train Bleu, Les Noces, and I think Les Biches and liked them. It is better to see these ballets with a little background of the work and the times, as they are so much a product of their times and the then-current aesthetic. My recollection is that they are more dramatic and athletic than balletic. To an extent that is a shame, from my point of view, because she was so well-trained in the Maryinsky tradition, that I would have loved to see her using more footwork.
I especially enjoyed Les Biches when I saw it long ago, and Train Bleu on the Paris dvd. Les Noces was not my cup of tea. I was interested to read that Lincoln Kirstein, visiting Paris as a young man in 1927, , that that Les Biches the "loveliest ballet of all" during the summer season. He described it as "The finest thing I've ever seen in the theater." (Duberman, Lincoln Kirstein.) Of course, he was 20 at the time.

It's also interesting, thinking only of the 3 works mentioned by ViolinConcerto, that Nijinska showed strength both in comedic and emotionally charged works. I shouldn't have been surprised, therefore, to learn recently that she "worked with" with her brother on the development of movements for L'Apres-midi d'un faune. They also appeared to function as a pair when it came to giving Diaghilev and Bakst a first view of the evolving work at the beginning of 1911. (Buckle, Diaghilev.) I can imagine brother and sister working in a studio, side by side, as someone plays the score on an upright piano -- and then showing it proudly to the boss in their own apartment. How much, I wonder, was Nijinka's?

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On another level, you just want to experience them, no matter how they actually look to us today. Kind of like visiting European cathedrals and checking them off your list. Or seeing as many Leonardos as you can, no matter how far apart they are displayed. An week spent watching Fokine's pre-Diaghilev work would probably be deadly. But wouldn't it be wonderful to have the experience and the knowledge?

That's exactly why I need the time machine. Anyone have a spare?

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I wonder if the Nijinska/Chopin work you saw was "Constantia"?

'Constantia' was a ballet by William Dollar to Chopin and I saw it danced by the deCuevas Ballet International--and...it was not memorable. The Nijinska ballet was called 'Chopin Concerto' and the best thing I remember about it was the performance of the young Maria Tallchief.

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I also think I've seen Les Biches. Did the Joffrey do it in the early 70s? Or perhaps, it was earlier in my life that I saw it. My. memories of it are blurry - I mostly remember the costumes and an overall atmosphere of chic with over tones of lesbianism.

I know Eliot Feld Ballet restaged Nijinska's Les Noces also in the 70s. Cora Cahan danced one of the parents. But I didn't see it.

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Les Biches was done at Covent Garden in '05 in a generally decent revival. Whether the girls in gray seemed to be more than friends depended on who did the part. Martin Harvey was deadpan and very funny as the lead athlete.

Les Noces, thank heavens, is possible to find - I've happily traveled to see it (Paris in '04, London as well.) It looked unsurprisingly chic at the Salle Garnier. For me, the most amazing thing about it (past the score) is the restriction of Nijinska's vocabulary, particularly the point work, which is not much more than tiny walks in place on point. She did so much with so little.

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Some thoughts on Leigh's personal checklist of choreographers:

Is Nijinska a one-ballet choreographer? No. But I suspect the two works which Ashton retrieved for the

Royal Ballet, Les Biches and Les Noces, are far an away the best. I wasn't bowled over by Le Train bleu at the Paris Opera. And among several I saw from the Cuevas Ballet, only Brahms Variations (plotless and with some virtuoso sequences) left any real impression. La bien aimee was clearly liked well enough for the Markova-Dolin Ballet to revive it in the 1930s.

Lifar: Out of the half-dozen or more Lifar ballets I saw, Suite en blanc (also known as Noir et blanc) is the only one I'd care to see again. It was, I think, quite a bit influenced by his teacher Nijinska.

Leo Staats: His Soir de fete, to Delibes music, is a most attractive suite of dances; I was told in Paris that Balanchine much admired it. His interpretations of Sylvia and The Two Pigeons were interesting -- although certainly not as good as Ashton's ballets to those scores. However, Staats deserves to be remembered and revered for his invention of the Defile given at the Paris Opera on special occasions, parading every dancer from the youngest pupil to the most senior etoile.

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The comments by members on some early productions have reminded me of old memories perhaps worth sharing. William Dollar's Le Combat (aka The Duel), in its original duet form, actually had its premiere from Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris in London, at what was then called the Princes Theatre (now the Shaftesbury), in February 1949, during the same week as Petit's Carmen. On some pretext -- perhaps an interview with Dollar -- I watched a rehearsal before the first night. The woman at that time was Janine Charrat, better known as a choreographer, and her partner was the excellent dancer Vladimir Skouratoff. I have an impression that I liked the ballet better in that form than when the extra warriors had been added.

John Taras: the first ballet by him seen in Britain was Graziana, a reasonably attractive dance suite very much a la Balanchine to Mozart music, brought to Covent Garden by Ballet Theatre in its 1946 season. I remember him playing the Baron in Night Shadow for the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, 1948. He created Le Piege de Lumiere for that company in 1952, with Rosella Hightower as the butterfly heroine; she was the most virtuosic ballerina I ever saw (and later an exceptional teacher in Cannes, Southern France -- she's still there). Among various revivals of Piege was one for London Festival Ballet in 1969, starring Galina Samsova, and I was thrilled by Elisabeth Platel as guest star in a staging for the Lyons Festival during the 1980s.

Taras's best ballet without doubt was Designs with Strings, created for the small English company Metropolitan Ballet to the second movement of Tchaikovsky's Trio in A major. With a cast of four women and two men, it had no plot but a theme of young love, built around the 15-year-old ballerina (yes, already a ballerina at that age) Svetlana Beriosova. Many companies, as you know, have danced this since -- the French title is Dessin pour les six -- and I wish we still had it in a British repertoire, assuming that a suitable cast could be found.

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John, I've only seen photos of Charrat, and your post jogged my memory. She had (from what I remember from photos) real glamour, which the casts of "Le Combat" in the late 70s/early 80s certainly didn't. Hightower is another ballerina I regret not seeing -- I'm sure there are films somewhere, and widh they could be released.

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Lifar: Out of the half-dozen or more Lifar ballets I saw, Suite en blanc (also known as Noir et blanc) is the only one I'd care to see again. It was, I think, quite a bit influenced by his teacher Nijinska.

I wonder at Nijinska's influence in the Soviet Union, from her studio in Kiev. I am sure that she taught and molded more students than just Lifar. Likely she set some ballets on her students, and perhaps created some ballets. She does not touch on this in her Memoirs -- which remained unfinished (a 2nd volume was hinted at).

Those Memoirs (brilliant) present her intelligence and emotional understanding -- and ego -- very beautifully, and I am sure these same qualities permeate her choreography.

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Les Noces, thank heavens, is possible to find . . . It looked unsurprisingly chic at the Salle Garnier. For me, the most amazing thing about it (past the score) is the restriction of Nijinska's vocabulary, particularly the point work, which is not much more than tiny walks in place on point. She did so much with so little.
Cooper-Hewitt Museum mounted an exhibition of designs from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at some point in my past (1980s???), and included a video of Oakland Ballet (I'm pretty sure) doing Nijinska's Les Noces. What a powerful, moving work -- even on video. I'd love to see that live, and preferably in a small theater.

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Les Noces, thank heavens, is possible to find . . . It looked unsurprisingly chic at the Salle Garnier. For me, the most amazing thing about it (past the score) is the restriction of Nijinska's vocabulary, particularly the point work, which is not much more than tiny walks in place on point. She did so much with so little.
Cooper-Hewitt Museum mounted an exhibition of designs from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at some point in my past (1980s???), and included a video of Oakland Ballet (I'm pretty sure) doing Nijinska's Les Noces. What a powerful, moving work -- even on video. I'd love to see that live, and preferably in a small theater.

Yes, thanks for the reminder -- the video was shown in a conservatory-like room, and I stood there mesmerized for about three go-rounds.

I think it has been mentioned somewhere else on the BT board that Oakland Ballet presented a program of her ballets out Stonybrook university's campus, 15-20 years ago I believe. That must have been where I saw Les Biches, because I saw Le Train Bleu at City Center.

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