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David Lichine


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#1 gorgon7

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Posted 04 December 2007 - 11:36 AM

David Lichine

Oblivion after a season or two is still the fate of most choreography, so why lament the neglected ballets of David Lichine? My two reasons: lasting impressions made by the trio of stage works and one dance film by him that I've seen, and a recommendation by none other than Edwin Denby. The late, great critic wrote appreciatively of Lichine's "gift". According to Denby, that talent was "different in quality from any other choreographer's" in America at the time (the 1940s). He saw Lichine not as "a poet-choreographer" such as Balanchine but as someone possessing an "exuberant impulse to dance." More than mere movement, not just activity, but full blown dance of varied sorts seemed to spring spontaneously from Lichine's imagination.

Younger than the other Ballet Russe choreographers, Lichine was born 1910 in Russia. He grew up and took his training in Paris. Prominent as a dancer from the 1930s into the 1950s, he made his choreographic debut in 1933.

Lichine's "Cain and Abel" (1946) for the DeBasil Ballet Russe was one of the very first ballets I saw. It was an eye opener for a young teenager. The piece began with the birth of the Biblical brothers. Twins, they rolled out from between Eve's legs as a ball, embracing each other in a 69 hold. When their mother separated them, it was apparent that these were potent young men dressed in little more than dance belts. Cain (Kenneth MacKenzie) and Abel (Oleg Tupine) tangled not only with each other but with two scantily attired women, Good (April Olrich) and Evil (Carlota Pereyra). These encounters consisted of ingeniously complex adagios, the acrobatic sort that became fashionable in subsequent years. Lichine, though, endowed such passages with a rhythmic vibrancy that his imitators often failed to match. In other words, his lifts, holds and interweavings were dansant. The music for "Cain and Abel," too, was a bold choice - "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" by Richard Wagner. Nothing I'd beheld on screen or stage at the time was nearly as undressed and sexy. Only later did Martha Graham and Maurice Bejart deal with bodies so frankly.

Many in the audience, even adults, were enthusiastic about "Cain and Abel" whereas quite a few critics were as hostile as they would become to Bejart. Denby, however, was more amused and only mildly disapproving and The Dancing Times' Gioia Vanni, writing about the Mexico City premiere, admired Lichine's development of his characters through movement. According to Vanni, both Cain and Abel, and Good and Evil were not hollow symbols but distinct individuals.

Sexy with a delightfully light touch (only Grace Robert complained of lapses) was Lichine's "Helen of Troy," based on the Offenbach operetta and using Offenbach's tunes. It bubbled along with so much lively action and dancing that even persons who were usually very proper pretended not to notice its improprieties. The ballet was part danced operetta, part satyr play and had actually been commissioned in 1942 by Ballet Theatre from Michel Fokine, who became ill and died before completing the assignment. Lichine was rushed in to finish the job. With the announced Ballet Theatre premiere looming, Balanchine ("hanging around" because his then wife Vera Zorina was on the Ballet Theatre roster) helped Lichine with the finale. The first cast had Irina Baronova in the title role and Andre Eglevsky as Paris. Nana Gollner and Zorina succeeded Baronova. I usually saw Diana Adams and Igor Youskevitch as the leads. Youskevitch danced elegantly although his character was supposed to be too much of a country bumpkin to wear much clothing. Adams impressed with her extraordinarily long legs yet temperamentally seemed bland. Jerome Robbins was wicked as Hermes, Ruth Ann Koesun shivered deliciously as the sheared lamb everyone loved, and different chaps took on the role of the ejaculatory Faun. For several years, "Helen of Troy" was a popular closing item on Ballet Theatre programs. When it was revived in later years, Eliot Feld was the Hermes and Robbins liked to go and watch. He seemed to have a fond spot for "Helen of Troy."

"Graduation Ball," Lichine's most popular ballet, is family entertainment. Its point of view is the giddiness of youth rather than parental care and caution. What distinguishes it from other under-age fare (Adolph Bolm's "Peter and the Wolf", Tatiana Chamie's "Birthday" and "Prima Ballerina," and even Robbins' "Mother Goose") is its choreography -- a treasure chest of dances. The story part of the ballet is a medley of demicaractere and caractere dancing plus mime. Classicism is represented by one of two alternate pas de deux in the ballet's Divertissement section. One duo is a grand classical adagio - this was usually performed in America. The other, given in Australia, is a romantic-classical adagio called "Giselle and the Scotsman" (because "La Sylphide" was unknown outside Denmark in 1940 when the DeBasil Ballet Russe premiered "Graduation Ball"). An example of neoclassicism among the divertissements was the "Trigonometry" trio. "The Mathematics Competition" for two women good at turning had fun with bravura. Other divertissements exemplified diverse demicaractere modes and caractere (The "Drummer" Boy). Seldom were all the divertissements, six in number (not counting the alternate duo), shown at any given performance.

There is a film of "Graduation Ball" by the DeBasil company that some archives have (Tatiana Riabouchinska, Lichine and Nicolas Orloff head a large cast). Live productions still turn up once in a while, usually in the provinces, but the ballet deserves more regular showings because, like the accompanying Johann Strauss II music, it is infectiously dance-y.

Readily available in the early 21st Century is only Lichine's movie short "Spring Night," added as a trailer to the "Black Tights / Bolshoi Ballet 67" DVD from Triton. It is a partly dramatized, partly danced concoction based on the "Afternoon of a Faun" theme, perhaps suggested by an E.M. Forster short story. Slight yet deft, "Spring Night" serves as a memento of Gollner's and Lichine's own fresh performance personas. His version of "Prodigal Son" (1938) was revived in Indianapolis at the end of the 20th Century. Bits and pieces of Lichine's many other ballets made between 1933 and 1959 exist in dance film archives. Critics and historians such as A.H. Franks and Katharine Sorely Walker considered it bad luck that he did not become as major a choreographer as his Ballet Russe predecessors. There are rumors about why he was underused by ballet companies during the 1960s. Lichine died 1972 in Los Angels where he and Riabouchinska, his wife, had a school and small company and where he made dances for Hollywood movies and stage musicals. Talk of reconstructing the dramatic pantomime "Francesca da Rimini" (1937) and his post-World War 2 experimental pieces for the Ballets de Champs-Elysees troupe in Paris has remained talk.



- George Jackson

#2 rg

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Posted 04 December 2007 - 12:22 PM

for a few photos of HELEN OF TROY, see 'tying it all together'

#3 Estelle

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Posted 04 December 2007 - 02:40 PM

"Graduation Ball," Lichine's most popular ballet, is family entertainment. Its point of view is the giddiness of youth rather than parental care and caution. What distinguishes it from other under-age fare (Adolph Bolm's "Peter and the Wolf", Tatiana Chamie's "Birthday" and "Prima Ballerina," and even Robbins' "Mother Goose") is its choreography -- a treasure chest of dances. The story part of the ballet is a medley of demicaractere and caractere dancing plus mime. Classicism is represented by one of two alternate pas de deux in the ballet's Divertissement section. One duo is a grand classical adagio - this was usually performed in America. The other, given in Australia, is a romantic-classical adagio called "Giselle and the Scotsman" (because "La Sylphide" was unknown outside Denmark in 1940 when the DeBasil Ballet Russe premiered "Graduation Ball"). An example of neoclassicism among the divertissements was the "Trigonometry" trio. "The Mathematics Competition" for two women good at turning had fun with bravura. Other divertissements exemplified diverse demicaractere modes and caractere (The "Drummer" Boy). Seldom were all the divertissements, six in number (not counting the alternate duo), shown at any given performance.

There is a film of "Graduation Ball" by the DeBasil company that some archives have (Tatiana Riabouchinska, Lichine and Nicolas Orloff head a large cast). Live productions still turn up once in a while, usually in the provinces, but the ballet deserves more regular showings because, like the accompanying Johann Strauss II music, it is infectiously dance-y.


Welcome to Ballet Talk, gorgon7 ! :)
The only Lichine ballet that I ever saw is "Graduation Ball", performed by the Paris Opera Ballet school a few seasons ago. It was performed at least three times by the POB school under Claude Bessy's leadership: once in the late 1980s (I remember seeing an excerpt of video of a very young Nicolas Le Riche as the Drummer Boy, and of Aurιlie Dupont and Christophe Duquenne in a Sylphide pas de deux- I think it was what you mentioned as "Giselle and the Scotsman"), once in 1991 and once in 1998 (I saw it near Paris, with Myriam Ould Braham as the Sylphide). I found it delightful, and particularly well suited to a performance by a ballet school. Do you know which version of the ballet they perform ?

By the way, a google search with "Le Bal des cadets" showed that some excerpts of it will be performed in Italy by the ballet school of the Teatro alla Scala of Milan.

#4 bart

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Posted 04 December 2007 - 03:31 PM

Great topic. I look forward to hearing more. By the way, here's a link to the thread that rg mentioned

Photos of Helen of Troy

Scroll down to the 9th post.

#5 jms

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Posted 20 December 2013 - 10:29 AM

Does anybody know which archives would have a copy of the film of "Graduation Ball" by the DeBasil company that gorgon7 mentions in the original post?



#6 pherank

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 05:44 PM

Does anybody know which archives would have a copy of the film of "Graduation Ball" by the DeBasil company that gorgon7 mentions in the original post?

 

http://balletalert.i...raduation +ball




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