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Company Signature Pieces


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#1 Calliope

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 10:31 AM

Ari had a post about ABT's recent Kennedy Center performance that struck me.
Symphony in C being a NYCB "signature piece".

So, what defines a signature piece?
Is it the company it was done on? The dancers? Who/how many times they perform it and is it possible for more than one company to share a signature piece? And some examples, because I couldn't tell you what are signature pieces for a lot of companies.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 10:42 AM

Good question. I think it can vary at different times. Once, I've read, "Theme and Variations" was ABT's signature piece -- its calling card, what they had to bring when they travelled. I don't know what ABT's signature piece would be today.

I remember Croce comparing the Royal Danish Ballet's "Napoli Act III" and "Konservatoriet" to New York City Ballet's (respectively) "Serenade" and "Symphony in C." She said that although Konservatoriet may be the basis for the Bournonville technique -- it's a classroom ballet, and hence, in a way, a signature work, "Napoli" was really the signature work. She said that "Konservatoriet" was like "Symphony in C" and "Napoli" is like "Serenade" -- "more intimate and hence more revealing."

Once, the Royal Ballet's signature was "Symphonic Variations." In the '60s, it was also Shades, I think. Yesterday, it had suddenly become "Manon." I wonder what it will be after two more years of the new regime? The odd Nacho Duato masterwork, I expect smile.gif

Other examples. A small one -- Washington Ballet was known for years by "Fives" and people are still angry that they don't get to see that now. (New directors fire not only dancers but ballets.) In moder dance, Paul Taylor has to schedule "Esplanade" and Alvin Ailey, "Revelations" every time they tour.

And that leads to a definition -- it's the work you see that, once you see it, makes you know the company. It's the calling card, the work that encapsulates the company's style and personality.

#3 Ari

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 01:26 PM

I like Alexandra's definition--"the work that encapsulates the company's style and personality." It doesn't have to have been made for the company--Symphony in C was, of course, first made for POB--and infringement depends on which other company is dancing it. Bizet is danced by many companies (I remember the Pennsylvania Ballet having a sparkling production of it, many moons ago), but my objection to ABT's doing it lies in the fact that they are the other "national" company and traditionally a (friendly) rival to NYCB. They ought to have a separate, distinctive profile. (Okay, they've never had a true profile of their own, unless it was eclecticism and certain commercial leanings. The Tudor style never had a big impact on them. Of all their ballets, I'd say Fancy Free comes the closest to defining them, and therefore NYCB should not be dancing it, except that it was the choreographer himself who decided to bring it there.)

Bizet is different from the other Balanchine ABT has in its repertory, even Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which comes close to being another NYCB calling card. It's one ballet, like Serenade, that has been in City Ballet's repertory from the beginning and has seen legions of the company's great dancers make their marks in it. I myself have seen Allegra Kent and Suzanne Farrell, two of the company's greatest lyrical ballerinas, dance the adagio. And how I envy those who saw Tanaquil Le Clerq, Mimi Paul, and Gelsey Kirkland. And Edward Villella in the third movement, and Paul Mejia who reportedly was terrific (I did see Baryshnikov, but he wasn't particularly memorable.) In that respect the ballet is similar to Napoli and Konservatoriet in the Danes' repertoire, and Sleeping Beauty in the Kirov's, and Ashton's Fille Mal Gardee in the Royal's.

The trouble (or good thing, depending on how you look at it) today is that the ballet repertory is becoming increasingly homogenized. NYCB never used to do the standard full-length works except Nutcracker; now it has Coppelia, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty in its rep. The big Russian companies would never dream of doing Balanchine; now they both have several of his ballets in their repertories. Bournonville used to be seen as an eccentric specialty of the Danes only; now every major ballet company (or wannabe) does some Bournonville. The Joffrey doing Tudor? Ten years ago, people would have laughed. And this is even truer with lesser, more contemporary choreographers. The problem is that there are more ballet companies and fewer choreographers than there were, say, 50 years ago.

#4 Calliope

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 01:41 PM

But what about a "new" company?
I suppose that would be the AD's vision/interpretation.

Was "Etudes" done on ABT? I always associate that with them.
NYCB for me is Apollo, Serenade and Four T's.

Does POB have anything?

As for NYCB's full lengths. Balanchine understand the value of the dollar, but never made it a staple. Aside from Nutcracker, Midsummer's and Coppelia. I'm not sure if Don Q. was full length or not.

But the evolution of these company's to not seemingly have "signature" pieces is interesting.

#5 Manhattnik

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 01:49 PM

Am I wrong in thinking Les Sylphides was also a signature work for ABT?

#6 Farrell Fan

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 03:13 PM

It's interesting that so many NYCB "signature pieces" predate NYCB as such: Serenade, Apollo, Orpheus, Ballet Imperial, Concerto Barocco, Four Temperaments, Symphony in C. It's also curious that when the company moved to the New York State Theater, Balanchine asked Tudor to revive Dim Lustre to celebrate the new house -- the opposite of a signature piece for NYCB.

Ari: I'm confused about what ballet you mean -- surely not Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Please elucidate. Thanks.

Calliope: Don Quixote was a three-act ballet with two intermissions.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 04:00 PM

"Etudes," by Harald Lander, was done for the Royal Danish Ballet. It never became a signature piece for them (basically because Lander was fired shortly after he made it, although not for that reason). London Festival Ballet made it a signature piece, now that I think of it. (Really, truly, it looked different with the Danes. It was originally much more gentle work, and not intended to be a powerhouse, knock 'em dead and trashing it is just fine, kind of piece.

Manhattnik's mentioning of "Les Sylphides" for ABT brings up another aspect of signature piece. I think that was, probably until they got "Swan Lake." It was their classical ballet company credential. Chase insisted on opening with it in London rather than with their American repertory -- which is what the London presenters wanted -- because she said if she had done that, they would have thought the company was a modern dance company. So I think "Les Sylphides" was there keep the dancers in shape, show of the stars, ballet. But "Theme and VAriations" was their spanking new super hit, a 20th century classical ballet.

Re Ari's point about owning a work -- and I second, third and fourth the comment about repertories being too homogenized; in the old days, back before mass transportation when people traveled, you went to the company to see the works -- I can see your point. City Ballet didn't do "Theme and Variations," partly for that reason, and partly because they had "Ballet Imperial," and the repertories were constructed differently then -- more on the Diaghilev appetizer, entre, dessert model than shuffling pieces in and out in true repertory fashion, I think. When Baryshnikov first took over ABT, as many will remember, he went after Balanchine ballets that NYCB didn't do.

#8 Estelle

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 04:23 PM

quote:


Originally posted by alexandra:

Other examples. A small one -- Washington Ballet was known for years by "Fives" and people are still angry that they don't get to see that now. (New directors fire not only dancers but ballets.)

I think one of the things POB fans reproach to Lefèvre is that "Etudes", "Palais de Cristal" and
the Lifar repertory have been absent from the repertory since her arrival. It's interesting to read that "Etudes" was mentioned in that thread about ABT, the Royal Danish Ballet and the London Festival Ballet; I've never seen it (it was last performed just before I started attending POB performances regularly) and don't know which style it had in Paris, but I've often read articles in French dance magazines mentioning it as a POB signature piece (also, I believe the Paris version
is a bit different from the original Danish one).
For "Palais de cristal"/"Symphony in C" it's a bit the opposite of "Etudes": for that one, the French version is anterior to the American version... I wonder if there are real stylistic differences, and if Balanchine used some characteristics of the French style when creating the ballet? (By the way, I think that it's a pity no POB director has ever considered adding "La Source" to the repertory, as it is a homage to the French school...)

Watching the current POB repertory, it's hard to find a real "signature piece" (again, the homogeneization of the repertories...) Nureyev's productions of the classics are danced a lot every season- well, personally I don't like much his choreographic style, but perhaps it's become typical of the POB...

The work which has been performed the most often in the company's history, with a continuous tradition since its premiere, is "Coppélia", but there have been so many changes in productions (and the production which is danced now, by Patrice Bart, has very very little to do with the original, and it seems that there is no intention to revive a more traditional production) that it doesn't mean much.

#9 Farrell Fan

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 04:37 PM

Oops, I see you were talking about Bizet. Sorry for the careless reading Ari.

#10 dirac

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Posted 08 March 2002 - 07:04 PM

While I definitely agree in principle about too many companies trying to do too much, in the case of the Bizet and other items closely identified with NYCB, it seems to me that if Balanchine had been worried about this kind of thing he would have left his ballets, or some of them, to the company, which he did not do. And he does appear to have been very generous in allowing other companies to try his ballets.

#11 Ari

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 12:30 PM

How about the Grand Défilé as POB's signature piece? It's not really a ballet, but no other company has anything like it.

Dirac, Balanchine said many times that he didn't care what happened to his ballets after he died.

#12 Estelle

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 08:00 PM

quote:


Originally posted by Ari:
How about the Grand Défilé as POB's signature piece? It's not really a ballet, but no other company has anything like it.

Oh yes, I hadn't thought about it, but that's definitely something characteristic of the POB (and quite symbolic of its hierarchical system). Well, also that's another thing which has been almost absent since Lefèvre's arrival (and in the current state of the company, it'd be hard to organize a defile with only three female principals!)

#13 Manhattnik

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 09:09 PM

Wasn't it also a point of pride for ABT that its Sylphides was originally set on them by Fokine himself? Or is that my imagination?

I remember ABT would often start programs with a bang-up Sylphides even as late as the late seventies -- there are a couple of ABT Sylphides from back then kicking around on video, and I'm always struck, when I see them, by how good their corps, so maligned back then, actually looked in this piece. They really did seem to be well-coached, and have a sense of the ballet's style, as, perhaps, a part of the company's heritage and culture. I would not be in a hurry to see ABT's current corps tackle Sylphides. Or their some of their principals, for that matter.


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