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Flexibility in choreography


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#1 innopac

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Posted 22 January 2008 - 10:59 PM

Is there a point where a ballet work becomes a "historical" work and therefore should remain sacrosanct? Wiley seems to be arguing that ballets shouldn't remain frozen in time but maybe the difficult issue is setting the limits of the "flexibility" that he is talking about in the quote below.

"And if, for example, one has ever seen Ivanov's steps to Swan Lake danced by a ballerina who was not physically similar to Pierina Legnani, for whom they were created, one understands that the need for flexibility in choreography is genuine, and that modern day insistence on exact duplication of such individually modelled dances can be historically and artistically misguided. For Petipa a change of cast, and particularly of ballerina, might automatically call for the reshaping of a work, something to which the literature bears witness again and again." page 1 of Roland John Wiley's Tchaikovsky's Ballets



#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 04:33 AM

There is already great latitude within the choreography which already exists for differences of phrasing, nuance, and characterization. Rule #1 of production runs something like: "Do we have the resources to do this show? If not, do another show." Now if you haven't got somebody who can do an Odette, let alone Odile, do another ballet.

#3 leonid

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 04:42 AM

There is already great latitude within the choreography which already exists for differences of phrasing, nuance, and characterization. Rule #1 of production runs something like: "Do we have the resources to do this show? If not, do another show." Now if you haven't got somebody who can do an Odette, let alone Odile, do another ballet.


I second that.

#4 SanderO

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 06:23 AM

I think classical ballet should be both frozen in time and preserved as a window into history. But I also think that contemporary SHOULD interpret the classics. I want both. Opera is doing all these "re-do" to make them more appropriate to the contemporary aesthetics.

Watching Barber of Seville last night at the MetOpera I was imagining what Mozart would have thought of the new production and I think he would have loved it. Why not? It was visually interesting and the music and story were preserved.

One observation I made last night is that most (not all) of the re do's of classics can look very new, but usually maintain somethings very historically accurate or referential.. such as costumes. But seeing the full out classic version is a real treat and journey into history.

People involved in all the aspects of classical performances are creative and not simply copy cats and want to contribute something and thanks for that.

#5 bart

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 06:41 AM

I recently attended a very earnest and well-meant production of Sleeping Beauty Act III, done by a superb dancers more accustomed to a Balanchine and contemporary repertoire. The production was faithful to standard versions. The framework ballet was there but the style, sweep, confidence, and grandeur were not. I have been brooding over ever since: was this worth doing? Or should the greatest of the classics be reserved only for companies in the grand tradition?

Incidentally, conventional wisdom tells us that you need the brand-name classics for box office. But the audience response to this was definitely more tepid than to the Balanchine or Tharp that preceded it. Was that because they knew or felt the difference between the real thing and sophisticated mimickry (however beautifully mounted)? Was it because they were tired after a long program? Or what? I don't know.

Every aspiring company seems to want a Swan Lake or other full-length classic. The Joffrey's recent foray into Giselle territory is an example. They do it for box office, prestige, to "preserve the tradition" and educate the audience, and to stretch their dancers. However, how far should this go??? What is the cut off point (in terms of ability, resources, etc.) beyond which it is better NOT to perform a classic even if you have lots of reasons to do so?.

#6 kfw

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 07:06 AM

I recently attended a very earnest and well-meant production of Sleeping Beauty Act III, done by a superb dancers more accustomed to a Balanchine and contemporary repertoire. . . .

. . . But the audience response to this was definitely more tepid than to the Balanchine or Tharp that preceded it. Was that because they knew or felt the difference between the real thing and sophisticated mimickry (however beautifully mounted)?

Bart, what kind of audience does Miami City Ballet get down there? I'm guessing you have a lot of retirees from out of state who've seen the classics done well and could tell the difference, but do you also have a lot of younger Floridians who maybe haven't seen those productions, and like the dancers have been trained on, so to speak, and have had their taste formed by, neo-classicism? But then the other thing that strikes me is that when dancers are asked about how they came to ballet, they often mention having seen the classics when they were young. I would think that a dancer who'd been entranced by Sleeping Beauty as a child would bring a lot of imagination to dancing it as an adult.

Just speculatiing . . .

#7 SanderO

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 07:09 AM

If you don't preserve the classics then you have destroyed ... or at least completely evolved the medium into "dance"... anything goes.

It would equivalent to removing all the classic works of art from the museums and only mounting contemporary art.

Dance unlike painting or sculpture is a performance art and needs to be preserved real time.. It can't live on a wall in the museum.

We need to preserve the classics and we also need to encourage new artists and choreographers and the public needs to understand what is at stake.

#8 Helene

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 09:25 AM

In an article for the Summer 2007 Dance View, Kirov Academy of Ballet (DC) dance student Jackye Waugh wrote about her experience at the Kattsbaan International Dance Center taking class and being taught and coached by Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov. Her half of the class was taught the Lilac Fairy variation from the Prologue of "The Sleeping Beauty."

Apart from adjustments for students who weren't advanced enough to do the actual choreography, Waugh wrote,

After all the students understood the basics of the variation, Ms. Kirkland took the time to watch every individual and offer personal suggestions to make the steps fit the person better. These included slightly different ways to carry the arms, a faintly unique tilt of the head, or just a little bit of unusual timing.


It can be remarkable how the choreography can look altered when the eye is caught by a different emphasis or attribute.

#9 bart

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 11:22 AM

Bart, what kind of audience does Miami City Ballet get down there? I'm guessing you have a lot of retirees from out of state who've seen the classics done well and could tell the difference, but do you also have a lot of younger Floridians who maybe haven't seen those productions, and like the dancers have been trained on, so to speak, and have had their taste formed by, neo-classicism?

The West Palm audience for MCB is older than for Ballet Florida and visiting companies like the Joffrey our touring Russians. I think it is also older here than in Miami. As you say, most of the audience were ballet goers elsewhere before they arrived down here. A big percentage are winter people -- most from metropolitan NYC. I suspect many have seen major company Sleeping Beauties. I did hear the phrase "Margot Fonteyn" a number of times during intermissions. And no one can live up to one's fond memories of that.

I suspect MCB is a particular case: NYC retirees are used to the subscription system, with its long term commitments, and also have the bucks to buy a full season in advance. Same-day box-office sales are younger, but not -- alas -- "young".

In an article for the Summer 2007 Dance View, Kirov Academy of Ballet (DC) dance student Jackye Waugh wrote about her experience at the Kattsbaan International Dance Center taking class and being taught and coached by Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov. Her half of the class was taught the Lilac Fairy variation from the Prologue of "The Sleeping Beauty."

It does seem to come back to coaching -- passing down the details and spirit of the tradition face-to-face. And it helps when the person doing it is someone highly respected by the young people he or she works with.

In the absence of this kind of person-to-persosn transfer -- and the large investment of time and money that this involves -- is it possible to pass on the the tradition in a rich, meaningful manner?

#10 innopac

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 12:29 PM

Would it be correct to say there is a more of a movement towards "authenticity" in the area of early music than there is with "early" ballets?

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 05:53 PM

There's a big difference in "early music" and "pre-classic dance". In the former, the notation is relatively like the modern version of it, but in dance, the notations are highly subjective, and not very comprehensive, often just showing where the feet go, and the rest of the body has to look out for itself, deriving explanations by general rules laid out in text, or the all-too-rare pictorial cut.

#12 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 06:29 PM

Now if you haven't got somebody who can do an Odette, let alone Odile, do another ballet.

Agree. And that also links this thread to that one of questioning the access of a ballerina to the Odette/Odile roles if not capable of performing 32 fouetees...

#13 innopac

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 06:51 PM

There's a big difference in "early music" and "pre-classic dance". In the former, the notation is relatively like the modern version of it, but in dance, the notations are highly subjective, and not very comprehensive, often just showing where the feet go, and the rest of the body has to look out for itself, deriving explanations by general rules laid out in text, or the all-too-rare pictorial cut.


I agree that music has a firmer basis of notation, however there is a wide range of discussion on type of instruments to be used, ornamentation, phrasing and pitch. It just seems to me, even with classical ballet, that there is less interest in striving for historical "authenticity". Or is this a misguided view?

#14 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 06:56 PM

I recently attended a very earnest and well-meant production of Sleeping Beauty Act III, done by a superb dancers more accustomed to a Balanchine and contemporary repertoire. The production was faithful to standard versions. The framework ballet was there but the style, sweep, confidence, and grandeur were not. I have been brooding over ever since: was this worth doing? Or should the greatest of the classics be reserved only for companies in the grand tradition?

"Sleeping Beauty" should stay in the MCB repertory, but it has to be studied in a more profound way. Mme Alonso always said that the "grandeur" of a ballet has little to do with the lavishness of sets and costumes -(just take a look at how old and faded the Cuban ones are...and still how proud and regal do their princes and princesses look)-...it's the manners, the way the choreographer project the characters on the set and how the dancers believe in the story and make their approach to the "royal" concept...Getting familiar with the plot and its historical surroundings, period costumes and the like are essentials for the dancer and the stager to come out with a quality and credible product.

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 08:49 PM

I agree that music has a firmer basis of notation, however there is a wide range of discussion on type of instruments to be used, ornamentation, phrasing and pitch. It just seems to me, even with classical ballet, that there is less interest in striving for historical "authenticity". Or is this a misguided view?


Most followers of the Royal Danes would be incensed at attempts to "update" his ballets choreographically. Some ballet masters are equally adamant about Giselle,
too. There have been dancers fined for wil(i)fully doing six o'clock penchés and knee earrings at the start of the Act II pas de deux.


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