MJ

Stories that should be a Ballet

160 posts in this topic

Finding a score could be a problem. Also there is the matter of having so many characters to keep track of.

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I've been surprised that no one has tried to do an Austen ballet, considering how popular the books, and movies about the books, have become in the last 15 years or so. Perhaps because of the difficulty of finding a score?

There's also the issue of how do you capture the distinctive narrative quality of JA's frequent use of free indirect discourse--that is, her frequent reporting of a character's inner state/thoughts from the narrator's p-o-v, without using quotations? (this combines 3rd-person, objective narrative authority with reader-character intimacy). Austen uses it so frequently and so many after her use it that it's hard to recognize. But here's a typical example from Emma:

Never had she felt so agitated.... How could she have been so brutal,

so cruel to Miss Bates!-How could she have exposed herself to such ill

opinion in any one she valued! And how suffer him to leave her without saying

one word of gratitude.

Dancing might be able to capture the mood in a very general sense here, but what about the distinctive way it's delivered to the reader? Of course this is something films often steamroll over too. But this raises another big question: can ballet only mine works of literature for plot, characters, setting, and "atmosphere"?

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I think Charles Perrault's fairy tale "Donkeyskin" would make an interesting ballet.

It definitely could be. The Jacques Demy/Michel Legrand film certainly was a real beauty, with Delphine Seyrig as one of the greatest Lilac Faeries (literally, too, that was her character, and a very witty one it was) I've ever seen

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can ballet only mine works of literature for plot, characters, setting, and "atmosphere"?

What else is there? Math? I mean Lois Bewley's πr² was pretty hysterical, but I can't see a whole dialectic of math-based ballets, apart from the arithmetic of music.

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But this raises another big question: can ballet only mine works of literature for plot, characters, setting, and "atmosphere"?

Ray, were you thinking of real-life events?

Mayerling and Anastasia come to mind. And Proust Ballet.

I've often thought that something might be done with a stylized version of Walt Whitman's life (the Civil War years especially) . Or Lorca's. And I'd be interested to see something done with the impact that the Bolshevik Revolution and World War One had on the secure, privileged lives of the dancers, ballet masters, etc., of the Imperial Ballet.

There are also ballets that could be (and have been) set to real life situations and to illuminate real life problems: war, plague, intolerance, environmental disaster, social/economic oppression, and the responses of humans to these. The Green Table is a particularly brilliant of example of what can be done in this vein.

I guess real-life topics tend to be something associated more with modern than ballet. Come to think of it, most of those I've seen haven't been very good.

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What about the world of comic books and graphic novels -- Batman, Superman, The Punisher, Maus, Barbarella?

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P.S.: There is the whole world of noir that has artistic possibilities -- The Maltese Falcon, Elevator to the Gallows, The Killers, or the works of Mickey Spillane.

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But this raises another big question: can ballet only mine works of literature for plot, characters, setting, and "atmosphere"?

Ray, were you thinking of real-life events?

Actually, quite the contrary. What I mean is that different poems, books, and plays all have different ways of putting their messages across (so yes, there's more than plot, setting, and character). I don't read Jane Austen for plot or setting, for instance; I'm interested in how she narrates for us the inner thoughts and feelings of her characters. Similarly, I don't want to see the plot of Paradise Lost enacted (and yes, it does have a plot) in any straightforward way. And that's a quality I don't know if ballet can capture except by the use of a cheesy voice-over or lots of program notes. I guess I wonder, along with the romantic-era essayist Charles Lamb, about what happens to the imagination of the spectator when a work of literature is staged (his essay actually argues against staging Shakespeare at all). Here's Lamb on King Lear (warning: lots of romantic-era purple prose ahead):

"So to see Lear acted, - to see an old man tottering about the stage with a walking-stick, turned out of doors by his daughters in a rainy night, has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting. We want to take him into shelter and relieve him. That is all the feeling which the acting of Lear ever produced in me. But the Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted. The contemptible machinery by which they mimic the storm which he goes out in, is not more inadequate to represent the horrors of the real elements, than any actor can be to represent Lear: they might more easily propose to personate the Satan of Milton upon a stage, or one of Michael Angelo's terrible figures. The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in intellectual: the explosions of his passion are terrible as a volcano: they are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that sea his mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. This case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought on; even as he himself neglects it. On the stage we see nothing but corporal infirmities and weakness, the impotence of rage; while we read it, we see not Lear, but we are Lear, - we are in his mind, we are sustained by a grandeur which baffles the malice of daughters and storms; in the aberrations of his reason, we discover a mighty irregular power of reasoning, immethodised from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its powers, as the wind blows where it listeth, at will upon the corruptions and abuses of mankind. What have looks, or tones, to do with that sublime identification of his age with that of the heavens themselves, when in his reproaches to them for conniving at the injustice of his children, he reminds them that "they themselves are old?" What gestures shall we appropriate to this? What has the voice or the eye to do with such things? But the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with it show: it is too hard and stony; it must have love-scenes, and a happy ending."

And here's Lamb on The Tempest:

"But is the Tempest of Shakespeare at all a subject for stage representation? It is one thing to read of an enchanter, and to believe the wondrous tale while we are reading it; but to have a conjuror brought before us in his conjuring-gown, with his spirits about him, which none but himself and some hundred of favoured spectators before the curtain are supposed to see, involves such a quantity of the hateful incredible, that all our reverence for the author cannot hinder us from perceiving such gross attempts upon the senses to be in the highest degree childish and inefficient. Spirits and fairies cannot be represented, they cannot even be painted, - they can only be believed. "

Just some food for thought!

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Ooooo Devdas! It might be a bit too long, but it has everything! Star crossed lovers, drunken revels, dancing girls who fall in love with the wrong man, tragic ending. :shake:

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Actually, quite the contrary. What I mean is that different poems, books, and plays all have different ways of putting their messages across (so yes, there's more than plot, setting, and character).

Thank you for your explanation -- and for those wonderful paragraphs from Lamb. It's a g reat point and one which helps me to understand my that over-literalness and over-detail in plot are a negative in many of the big "story" ballets. "The Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted" is a controversial point, but one which makes a good deal of sense, especially in the context of 18th, 19th, and even many 20th century century productions.

The effectiveness of Balanchine's and Ashton's Midsummer Night's Dreams, for me, is the way they cut out elements that cannot be expressed well in dance and focus just on those parts of the story that are necessary for the themes of love-gone-wrong, love-made-right, and the amazingly varied possibilities of expressing how complex this can be.

Lamb's references to Tempest, especially, makes me imagine a ballet which communicates those themes and feelings that are most important, most accessible to an audience, and most expressible in dance terms. Alonso, Miranda, Ferdinand, Caliban, Ariel, and the spirits are really all that is needed to tell the story of loss and the process of redemption through love, wisdom, and forgiveness. (Setting this in a ballet company studio and presenting Alonso in the guise of Balanchine might be an interesting concept. :lightbulb: )

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The effectiveness of Balanchine's and Ashton's Midsummer Night's Dreams, for me, is the way they cut out elements that cannot be expressed well in dance and focus just on those parts of the story that are necessary for the themes of love-gone-wrong, love-made-right, and the amazingly varied possibilities of expressing how complex this can be.

I think there's a response to Lamb in those productions, definitely! And it's not just about judicious cutting: The 2nd Act pas of Balanchine's has little to do with the plot but everything to do with responding to the poetry of Midsummer's "green world."

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I think there's a response to Lamb in those productions, definitely! And it's not just about judicious cutting: The 2nd Act pas of Balanchine's has little to do with the plot but everything to do with responding to the poetry of Midsummer's "green world."

You've helped me clarify my thoughts on this. Perhaps the "cutting out" helps in two ways. (1) Most directly, it allows time and room to do something other than explicate plot. (2) It frees us to think about and savor the larger poetic (and ethical) impllications of the story.

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Just came across something in a 1952 David Denby piece on the NYC Ballet, then a verey new company.

Denby suggests that Jerome Robbins -- whose The Cage he had just seen and admired -- might turn to Edgar Allen Poe.

I think that Robbins's present technique would perfectly suit a "Fall of the House of Usher."

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In my own literary research, I've been reading 18th-century whore biographies, texts that may have inspired Defoe for Moll Flanders and Roxana. Both of those would make interesting ballets; both have, w/in their narratives, ballroom scenes (Roxana gets named "Roxana" because of how she dances).

It wasn't exactly a ballet, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced a film of Roxana set in the swinging '60s in which the title role was played by the National Ballet of Canada's Greta Hodgkinson. Rex Harrington, retired by then, and Christopher Body also appeared.

http://www.roxanathemovie.com/

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I've been rereading this very interesting thread and wanted to respond to a couple of MJ's earlier suggestions:

Groundhog Day: Now THAT I'd love to see. So many ballets nowadays are pretty much of repetitive and interchangeable, in essence anyway if not in detail, as were Bill Murray's days. :yahoo: It would be interesting to see the ending -- the breaking of the pattern.

Napoleon and Josephine: You'd have to revise the story structure. Josephine's story is interesting in an upwardly-mobile Manon kind of way UNTIL she marries Napoleon. After that, she sits around a lot in Paris and Malmaison while he conquers much of Europe. I'd love to see the character dancing by Napoleon's grasping and very strange mother, brothers, and sisters. But Josephine?

_________________________

What about the Bluebeard story? (Or -- if modern versions need something more familiar and "accessible" -- the Wives of Henry VIII?)

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I'll play . . .

My dream ballet takes place in the Muslim kingdom of Granada on the night of December 31, 1491. On that night, the last ruler of the kingdom -- Muhammad XII (Boabdil) -- contemplates, with shame and sorrow, that he must turn over the kingdom and its fabled palace the Alhambra to their Catholic majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, on the following day. Alone in the throne room of the Alhambra, he dances a dance of despair as he confronts the reality that Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula is ending after 800 years. Soon, three individuals confront him in succession:

1) The father, Abu 'l-Hasan 'Ali, who he betrayed and displaced as ruler of Granada;

2) The mother, Zoraya, who encouraged his mad ambitions but now reviles him for allowing the kingdom to fall into Catholic hands; and

3) The ghost of Muhammed I, the founder of the kingdom in the 13th century, who haunts him for failing to preserve the kingdom.

Boabdil dances with each of these individuals until, left alone, he continues his mad dance of despair . . .

My title? The Last Sigh of the Moor

My Boabdil? Ed Watson (And, before the posts start rolling in that Ed Watson would make for an unlikely Moor, the founder of the Muslim Abbasid dynasty in al-Andalus (Spain) had red hair.)

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BLOGO!!! The Ballet.

The story of the martyr Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his fall from grace! We'll cast Rahm Emanuel play the part of the governor...but he'll have to hold his tongue and grow his hair.

Nyuk, Nyuk, Philip.

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I've been rereading this very interesting thread and wanted to respond to a couple of MJ's earlier suggestions:

Groundhog Day: Now THAT I'd love to see. So many ballets nowadays are pretty much of repetitive and interchangeable, in essence anyway if not in detail, as were Bill Murray's days. :wink: It would be interesting to see the ending -- the breaking of the pattern.

My name is Phil and I was born on Feb 2nd. (Puxatauney Phil) I'll play the part of the Groundhog. (My Mom swears up and down that mine is a family name - it is- but, naming me that on Feb 2nd was just not fair...one step under "a boy named Sue!"

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:wink:

A happy birthday to you, Philip, one day in advance!

My parents named their son, born on Feb. 2, Charles, Chip for short. Had they chosen Chuck as a nickname, he'd have been a step away from you -- the Woodchuck! (Groundhog and woodchuck being two names for the same critter.)

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(Groundhog and woodchuck being two names for the same critter.)
It's amazing the kind of thing you can learn on Ballet Talk! Thanks, carbro and philip.

I'm sorry I missed miliosr's brilliant suggestion :wink: for "Last Sigh of the Moor." This really has possibilities.

How about setting it in the Sala de los Abencerrajes in the Alhambra?

http://www.travelswithtwo.com/wp-content/u...07/img_0564.jpg

http://www.etribes.com/sites/etribes.com/f...bencerrajes.jpg

It's said that Boabdil invited members of a rival noble family, the Abencerrajes, to dine with him and had them massacred in this space. Another set of ghosts to haunt Boabdil as he spins towards the collapse of his world?

Edward Watson sounds great. How about Desmond Richardson? And Marcelo Gomes for the ABT production? This would also seem a natural to be picked up by Victor Ullate's company, or Angel Corella's, in Spain.

Any way to give the story a happy ending? (Just kidding. :o:) ) But, to be serious, in Petipa's day they would have done just that. There might have been a Christian princess held imprisoned, though still virginal, in the Alhambra -- a brave Crusader who risks his life to save her -- and a final triumphal scene, with divertissement, featuring the arrival of Ferdinand and Isabella and their court.

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Well, if anyone on this board knows Ed Watson, tell him I've got a neurotic character for him to play!

My Last Sigh of the Moor ballet would only work in a smaller space so a staging in one of the rooms at the Alhambra would be perfect. It seems like the Corella Ballet has played everywhere else in Spain so maybe they could debut it there. :wink:

If Angel Corella is looking for new ballets for his company, then he should consider hiring someone to stage Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra.

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If Angel Corella is looking for new ballets for his company, then he should consider hiring someone to stage Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra.

Maybe 4rmrdncr can pass the idea on to Corella!

Some rewriting would be necessary, however, to fit the value and sensibilities of modern Spain and its (once again) large Muslim community.

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I wonder if any of Rogers and Hammerstein's musicals would make good ballets. A full-length Carousel, King and I, or Oklahoma... With the famous scores or original music?

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A few Japanese fables that immediately come to mind:

TAKETORI MONOGATARI

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tale_of_the_Bamboo_Cutter

"There have been suggestions that The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is related to the tale of Swan Lake[citation needed]. This probably is due to Kaguya-hime wearing the hagoromo (羽衣 "feather robe") when she ascends to her homeland. But the hagoromo figures more famously in a group of tales known as the hagoromo densetsu (in one example recorded in the Ohmi-no-kuni Fudo ki tells of a man who instructs his dog to steal the hagoromo of eight heavenly maidens while they were bathing, forcing one of them to become his bride). And the latter is remarkably similar to the tale of how Völundr the Smith and his brothers wedded the swan-maidens."

MOMOTARO

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momotaro

"Momotarō left his parents for an island called Onigashima to destroy the marauding oni (demons or ogres) that dwelt there. En route, Momotarō met and befriended a talking dog, monkey, and pheasant, who agreed to help him in his quest. At the island, Momotarō and his animal friends penetrated the demons' fort and beat the demons' leader, Ura, as well as his army, into surrendering. Momotarō returned home with his new friends, and his family lived comfortably from then on."

KINTARO

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintarō

"His animal friends served him as messengers and mounts, and some legends say that he even learned to speak their language. Several tales tell of Kintarō's adventures, fighting monsters and demons, beating bears in sumo wrestling, and helping the local woodcutters fell trees"

also,

THE LITTLE MERMAID or the latest incarnation: GAKE NO UE NO PONYO

a few Ghibli films:

TOTORO and MAJO NO TAKYUBIN (KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE)

-goro-

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