cubanmiamiboy

The Four Temperaments

20 posts in this topic

Hi everyone!

MCB's Season is approaching, and I thought that since this will be another set of first timers for me, maybe I could have some help from those more experts of Balanchine and his works. Specifically, this Season will open with "The Four Temperaments" and SL Act II. Now, SL has been discussed, and i'm more or less aware of what to face and what to look at. But on FT I'm totally lost.... So, can you guys give me some advice? What do you remember from the NYCB stagings back on the days...? Who danced it?, Which accents should i look for on it? Any video reference that i can look at..? Any anecdotes related to the ballet..?

Any info will be appreciated. If these thread exists already, please redirect my post.

Thanks in advance!

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For one, the video version that is filmed in a television studio is slightly off on certain things due to space management. It's better to watch the NYCB archival copies. When Sanda Jennings was here in Phoenix, we referred more to the archival footage even though it was newer than the version that is available for purchase on DVD.

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4T's is now over 60 years old, so it's evolved a lot over time - the version Villella will identify with is probably an earlier one than most of have seen. As far as I know, the one are of major change is the finale, but there may be some others. The biggest change that doesn't involve the steps is that it did not start as a "black and white" ballet. There were elaborate costumes by Kurt Seligmann - a sculptor. Balanchine loathed them as he felt they hid the dancers and choreography. Anecdotally, there are stories of him in the wing with scissors, beckoning over a dancer to snip off a ping-pong ball or bandage.

The music is one of the most accessible of all modern ballet scores - a set of variations for piano and strings by Paul Hindemith. Balanchine commissioned the score, but there is some question as to whether Hindemith composed fresh, or resuscitated something he had already been working on.

Melancholic - the most notable in my viewing were Jeff Edwards and Peter Boal. I think of it as a poet's role, and Romantic with a capital R.

Sanguinic - a pas de deux (actually one that's quite classical in structure with entrees and small variations) - but it's the woman's section. She's Diana - a conqueror. Merrill Ashley was the one I recall, and she can be seen on the commercial video. Daniel Duell referred to the famous lifts that circumnavigate the stage as "twice around the park."

Phlegmatic - Todd Bolender originated this role, but by the time I saw it, it had become "exotic." I believe Adam Luders is on the commercial video. I love it when the 4 ladies come out like bored fashion models at the end of the world.

Choleric - This is a "big girl's" role and it needs fire and magic, like the close of a ritual. When I saw MCB do this about a decade ago, there were slight textual differences between their version and NYCB's - nothing worth really watching for.

The finale contains two famous sections, the "Devil's Dance" for the five women that should be very fast, and when the entire cast reassembles, which is done on an unspoken count of 29 - and sometimes the right side of the stage is off the left.

It's a great ballet - one of my favorites. Enjoy!

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Despite Stinger's suggestion, I recommend you see the Dance In America video of the ballet if you can. Stinger sees it through a dancer's perspective, and I don't think his observation is so obvious to most of us. Besides, blocking always changes a little when stage dimensions are changed, and sometimes scale of steps changes as a result.

The video, through lighting changes, explicitly shows the ballet's architecture, the variations of each of the three themes in the four different sections. This makes it easy for even neophytes to understand.

I look forward to your reaction.

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Four Temperaments was one of the very first Balanchine ballets I saw and was long my favorite (right now my favorite is Agon). Since NYCB doesn't "rest" it for very long before bringing it back into the rep, I've had the good fortune to see it many times over the past thirty years. (Favorite Melancholics: Bart Cook and Jeffrey Edwards. Favorite Sanguinic: Jenny Somogyi. I hope to see Ellen Bar dance Choleric some day soon.)

Speaking as a member of the audience with no dance expertise whatsoever, here's what I'd recommend: really, really pay attention to the three opening themes and then watch how the little "atoms" presented there get combined and re-combined in the rest of the ballet. Balanchine starts with something very small in the first theme -- flexed vs pointed feet -- and move on through vocabulary and gestures of increasing complexity and seems to cover everything from basics like pointed feet and turnout, moving in a straight line vs on the diagonal, being off center vs on, right on through to elements of partnering. Although in this last case, not much is presented straight up: one of the men (literally) spins his partner around while she's in a sort of bent-legged, half-sitting position and then proceeds to "promenade" her by moving her pelvis on and off her center. I'm making it sound more grotesque than it is.

Alternatively, you could just sit back and enjoy it!

My husband never tires of the big, scary grand battements the Melancholic corps women do and we both think the score is just terrific.

The "Choreography by Balanchine" DVD with Ashley, Neary, Cook, Duell, and Luders will give you a good overall sense of what the ballet is about, even if some of the studio details are different from what you may see on stage. (It's not as radical a re-working as I remember the same series' Chaconne being.)

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Arlene Croce has a long essay in one of her books, which was written when the piece was revived with the Ashley, Cook (who was memorable becuase of his flexibility), etc. cast.

I've always seen the lifts at the end of the ballets as planes taking off from an NYC airport run way. The ballet is so dense that I see something new in it every time I watch it and I've probably seen 20 or 30 times at NYCB.

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All these years later and I still remember Todd Bolender's ineffable wit and flawless timing in Phlegmatic. To my mind no one has ever touched him in this part. His musical sense was something very special, and Balanchine also used it in Agon's first pas de trois. I also remember Tallchief's flash and brio in Sanguinic, and Govrin's amazon power in Choleric. Herbert Bliss used to dance Melancholic - he was almost as boneless as Allegra Kent, and quite wonderful. I don't know if any of these interpretations have been preserved, but I hope so.

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The ballet is so dense that I see something new in it every time I watch it [ ...]
I haven't seen it as many times, but I agree completely with this sentiment.

It's a fascinating work. I gather that this was Balanchine trying to explore and expand the possibilties of classicism in the modern world. As such, it provides new discoveries -- movement to think about, meditate over -- each time you see it.

My favorite is actually Choleric, if it has the right lead dancer. It's faster than the other movements and seems to be rushing (whoosh) towards the ballet's conclusion, pulling everyone else along. Thinking about the original cast, I would love to have seen Tanaquil LeClercq in this role. The casting doesn't go along with my ideas about her style, based too much, probably, on the video of Afternoon of a Faun.) . Did anyone see LeClercq perform Choleric?

I definitely plan on re-visiting the Dance in America dvd before the MCB performances. Something about this ballet asks you to study it closely, rather than just going along with the flow. I don't know why.

Some casting thoughts for MCB:

Melancholic: Jeremy Cox

Sanguinic: Jennifer Kronenberg

Phlegmatic: Rolando Sarabia

Choleric: Jeanette Delgado

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Some casting thoughts for MCB:

Melancholic: Jeremy Cox

Sanguinic: Jennifer Kronenberg

Phlegmatic: Rolando Sarabia

Choleric: Jeanette Delgado

Thanks bart for your casting guessing..! (believe it or not, just visualizing these dancers makes easier to relate the pieces)

(BTW, :( , i see that more and more Catoya is being left out lately in all dream castings-included by me-...mmm, wonder why :dry: )

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I like the little Sanguinic clip in Anne Belle's Six Ballerinas with Mary Ann Moylan (or is it Maria Tallchief?). It's quite perfect, especially the lateral push and resistance, exact and determining, in the woman's arms during the lifts.

Interestingly, San Francisco Ballet, City Ballet and Miami are all doing the 4T's this fall and winter. And both Miami and New York are doing La Valse.

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I'm grateful for the references of videos/dvds of 4T's. I saw this performed by the Paris Opera Ballet (April 2008) and was mesmerized by the depth and intricacy of the choreography, and was hoping to have the opportunity to see it again.

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Funny little detail about the PBS version. Look carefully: when the 1st Theme dancers are in silhouette, the woman is in a slight plie, and she only straightens her legs in time to make the first move. She (Marnee Morris) did this b/c she was ever-so-slightly bowlegged! (Hearing about these kinds of things make me very frustrated with our art form!) Now who suggested to her that she should do this I don't know--i.e., I don't know if she was self-conscious or B directed her to do it.

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i'm confused by the m.morris ref. above: what PBS version shows her?

in the 1977 'dance in america' CHOREOGRAPHY BY BALANCHINE, PART 1, m.spohn performs the first theme.

is there a film clip somewhere of morris?

i think there are any number of stories where balanchine gave his dancers little tips to adjust certain physical 'differences' that would minimize them in certain moves or cirsumstances when they went against a desired look/effect.

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i'm confused by the m.morris ref. above: what PBS version shows her?

in the 1977 'dance in america' CHOREOGRAPHY BY BALANCHINE, PART 1, m.spohn performs the first theme.

is there a film clip somewhere of morris?

i think there are any number of stories where balanchine gave his dancers little tips to adjust certain physical 'differences' that would minimize them in certain moves or cirsumstances when they went against a desired look/effect.

My error: Marjorie S. is who I mean.

Certainly B did that, but I guess I'm less enamored of seeing "differences" as flaws than I was when I was younger. I know how the the power dynamics of this can work too: a dancer is made to feel that she or he is "lucky" to be dancing, despite their "difference." (I'm speaking generally, not specifically about the dancers in this video.)

This is complicated, though: I also find myself thrilled at the uniformity of body types when I see the Kirov do Swan Lake.

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Ray, I'll have to watch the First Theme dancers carefully the next time I see the ballet, but have other dancers, not having heard that story, copied Marjorie S.'s move?

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I will also add that the more I watch that video--which is almost 30 years old now!--the more I marvel at Merrill Ashley (in Sanguinic).

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It is perfectly possible to correct bow legs with straight knees. See Gretchen Ward Warren, page 69.

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I will also add that the more I watch that video--which is almost 30 years old now!--the more I marvel at Merrill Ashley (in Sanguinic).

I love the whole thing, actually, even the parts that aren't really canon.

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Arlene Croce has a long essay in one of her books, which was written when the piece was revived with the Ashley, Cook (who was memorable becuase of his flexibility), etc. cast.

It's in Afterimages, and I assume in the comprehensive anthology of her New Yorker writings.

I've always seen the lifts at the end of the ballets as planes taking off from an NYC airport run way.

They've always given me a similar feeling - the lifts have almost an interplanetary feel, as if they're taking off for another world.

Thank you, cubanmiamiboy, for including the definite article in your original post. ("The Four Temperaments") :clapping:

I will also add that the more I watch that video--which is almost 30 years old now!--the more I marvel at Merrill Ashley (in Sanguinic).

She's awesome.

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What makes the entire video worth it for me is Bart Cook's "Melancholic", and there are parts of the solo that are very different than the versions being performed today.

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