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Fan Oral Histories of Ballet?


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30 replies to this topic

#16 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 11:01 PM

Whether anecdotal or journalistic, spoken or written, it's useful to historians to have ANY kind of primary material to work with!

Amen.

And then, having seen Alberto Alonso demonstrating to his american class how Fokine tought him how to do a grand jete for "Petroushka", or Mme. Alonso on her cuban troupe about how curious Mr. B observed-(and approved)-hers and Youskevitch own pseudo-romantical characterization of the Pas de deux from "Theme and Variations" is so wonderful, and helpful to understand that sometimes this gods/choreographers were as human as her dancers, and results were beautiful even if the original idea hadn't been fallowed 100 %. These stories should be gossiped, talked about, recorded, filmed, written, and everything possible so they run away opposite the saddest case scenario: oblivion...

#17 leonid17

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 06:48 AM

Whether anecdotal or journalistic, spoken or written, it's useful to historians to have ANY kind of primary material to work with!

Amen.

And then, having seen Alberto Alonso demonstrating to his american class how Fokine tought him how to do a grand jete for "Petroushka", or Mme. Alonso on her cuban troupe about how curious Mr. B observed-(and approved)-hers and Youskevitch own pseudo-romantical characterization of the Pas de deux from "Theme and Variations" is so wonderful, and helpful to understand that sometimes this gods/choreographers were as human as her dancers, and results were beautiful even if the original idea hadn't been fallowed 100 %. These stories should be gossiped, talked about, recorded, filmed, written, and everything possible so they run away opposite the saddest case scenario: oblivion...


Mmm. You are right. The tradition is essential. Notation cannot record that which you have written about and yet it is part of the history of the performance of the ballets mentioned. When I read that a ballet has been staged by a notator without a former cast performer involved, I have to think twice whether or not I want to see the performance.

The problem most arises with 19th century works where I believe the performing tradition links broke a long time ago. Sorry to turn this into a British tract but both Markova and Fonteyn who had the advantage of a direct contact with Nikolai Sergeyev and older Russian dancer/teachers, were not in in turn used enough to assist in the performance style of these ballets when they were re-staged. I have heard and read of both of these distinguished dancers recording events of working with choreographers and heritage performers, but I doubt if current performers have any awareness of the clues to performance that they gave.

As Mel states, "Whether anecdotal or journalistic, spoken or written, it's useful to historians to have ANY kind of primary material to work with!"

#18 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 08:11 AM

I agree, Leonid. I'm a strong believer that many things are to be done. Mme. Alonso and Sir Frederick Franklin are still around, and it's a blessing that they are very active and clever. Both of them have a marked interest in passing all their knowledge, and they are very eager to tell and teach. Is their eagerness being addressed enough? That would be the experts task. I read some type of work was being done with Franklin's collaboration-(either oral recording sessions or written, can't remember), but what about other old timers..? Did we give Hightower the chance to do so...? Zurith? Tallchief? Did Baronova or Krasovska had it?
On and on I know i go over the same, but i'll say it one more time, i don't care. If there's something i admire about Alonso's work is her interest in the creation of a whole system and school with a primary goal of PRESERVATION, and the only weapon she had to do so in the beginning was her voice and body. As per 2008, Nijinska's Fille, Fedorova's Sugar Plum PDD or Balanchine's Waltz Academy are spread out to hundreds of new students via older teachers that vere Alonso's pupils during the late 50's and 60's-(Mendez, Araujo, Bosh, Pla), and more than that, the most beautiful thing is some of this knowledge and tradition has even crossed the ocean back to US-(where Mme first got it)-in the form of Magaly Suarez, ex teacher in Havana and a fierce defendor of preservation, now leading the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami. And guess what. I'm sure that Suarez has recordings and tapes with her, but is her MEMORY and her VOICE what have made the miracle possible. This is oral tradition at its best. (By the way, her new Nutcracker production this year is Alonso's staging after Sergueiev/Fedorova, whole PDD included, which i believe is the only Company in South Florida to do so)

#19 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 08:15 AM

well to give you an idea, this link will show a listing of audio material featuring frederic franklin:

http://catnyp.nypl.o...e...;SORT=D&m=i

and this is a summary of the first listing:

Cassette 39, side A (ca. 46 min.). The recording includes Frederic Franklin's comments made in reference to selections from the correspondence files of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Franklin speaks about the dancer Nina Novak, focusing on Sergei Denham's relationship with her, and the problems this caused in the company; Novak's strengths and weaknesses as a dancer; Novak's brother Edmund; the régisseur Mischa [Michel Katcharoff] and his relationship with Nina and Edmund Novak; the wardrobe mistress Sophie Pourmel; describes various elements of the dancers' costumes at that time, including the wool tights, the shoes, and the tutus; Pourmel and the union [American Guild of Musical Artists]; an anecdote about meeting Mr. Capezio; the company's experiencing a train wreck on tour in the U.S.; more on Pourmel.

Cassette 39, side B (ca. 50 min.). Franklin speaks about Ruth Page; Page's and Bentley Stone's ballet Frankie and Johnny; the ballet's cast, set, score, and choreography; Page's ballet Bells, including Isamu Noguchi's set; Page's personal background; her husband, Tom [Thomas Hart] Fisher; Page's ballet Billy Sunday, including her coaching of Franklin and Alexandra Danilova in their roles [Franklin reads a letter from Page to Danilova critiquing Danilova's performance as Potiphar's wife in Billy Sunday]; problems with the score; Franklin's revival of Billy Sunday with a new score and new finale; his and Page's revival of Frankie and Johnny; Page's friendship with the writer Louis Bromfield; Page's ballet The merry widow; the founding of the Chicago Ballet; Page's and Stone's opening night performance of Frankie and Johnny; speaks briefly about Page's ballet Love song and other subsequent ballets and ideas for ballets.
Cassette 40, side A (18 min.). Frederic Franklin continues to speak about Ruth Page, including her personality; her long-running production of The nutcracker in Chicago [short gap]; Danilova's difficulties with her role in Billy Sunday.



#20 Helene

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 09:17 AM

I think that many great oral histories are those that are done and published in other mediums:

  • Foremost is Barbara Newman's "Striking a Balance: Dancers Talking about Dancing", in which Ms. Newman's extensive interview materials are edited and fused into a streamless narrative format. She also captures "voices" although it is a printed work. This is one of my all-time favorite books of any kind.
  • All of the Balanchine Foundation tapes of coaching sessions are oral histories
  • "Ballets Russes"


#21 sandik

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 09:56 AM

I think that many great oral histories are those that are done and published in other mediums:


I agree with Helene on this, but wanted to add a caveat -- while the histories of prominent dancers and dance institutions are at least partially documented, the real dearth lies on the local/regional level. Small ensembles and local schools are an integral part of the larger dance community, and are often underrepresented in available archives. For a concrete example -- the Ballet Russe companies have been the topic of many historical projects, but the schools and companies their alumni founded are not documented nearly as well.

#22 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 10:51 AM

Yes. The two videos I posted earlier in this thread, of Sydney Leonard, were part of an effort a few years ago to produce a detailed history of the beginnings of ballet in New England, since Miss Leonard was there at the beginning. I don't know what happened to it.

#23 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 04:40 PM

...Sir Frederick Franklin...


Although Freddie was created Commander of the British Empire (CBE) a couple of years ago, that's still one grade short of Knight of the British Empire (KBE) or Knight Commander of the British Empire (KCBE), which would give him the "Sir". He's still just Mr. Frederic Franklin (CBE). I've often wondered what kind of thinking goes on behind the scenes when it comes to Birthday Honours and such. I asked somebody in the Garter King of Arms' office one time, and he said, "Well, it has a lot to do with what the Government wants. Sir Anton Dolin was, after all, Irish, and had an American passport, and there was some to-do about what kind of a precendent that would set, especially from the Tories. Besides, he did most of his work outside of Britain, and they didn't like that either, especially when it came to the War!" Politics! :thumbsup:

#24 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 06:12 PM

Good to know. So...there it goes, Mr. Frederick Franklin. :thumbsup:

#25 bart

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Posted 29 November 2008 - 11:34 AM

The oral historian (like the reader of memoirs) must listen carefully, and somewhat skeptically, and then check as many facts as possible. This is something that amateurs, even the best-intentioned, cannot always do consistently.

For example, here's something I just came across from Keith Money's biography of Anna Pavlova. Money is explalining how difficult it was to locate and substantiate statements about Pavlova's early life and career. For example her obituary in a Russian-language magazine in Paris -- published at a time when she was famous all over the world -- gave her age and date of death incorrectly and even misspelled her name.

To take another instance from that same week: her partner of thirteen years, Alexandre Volinine, when asked how they came to work together, replied:

"In 1910 Diaghilev took me to London in the Russian Ballet along with Nijinsky and Lydia Lopokova. At the same time Pavlova and Mordkin were dancing for Charles Frohman at the Globe Theatre. A year later Mordkin was ill, and Gatti-Casazza took Pavlova and me to the Metropolitan Opera."

It is hardly giving things away to say that in Volinine's statement there is only one correct fact -- Mordkin was ill -- and even that is not in its correct context.

The historian's job is NOT a simple one!

#26 leonid17

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Posted 29 November 2008 - 02:07 PM

The oral historian (like the reader of memoirs) must listen carefully, and somewhat skeptically, and then check as many facts as possible. This is something that amateurs, even the best-intentioned, cannot always do consistently.


The historian's job is NOT a simple one!


Quite right.
I would say that Keith Money's tome on Pavlova is admirable, but in my opinion he is a biographer and that is something quite different to an historian.

#27 popularlibrary

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Posted 29 November 2008 - 02:35 PM

Well. this has been an interesting discussion, as usual on BT, but I strongly suspect it isn't what emilienne had in mind when she started it. I think maybe she was hoping for something more along the lines of "when I was seeing Giselle at Ballet Russe in 1947, the Willis all had green toe shoes for two performances," [yes, I made that up] or "I remember the caller in Square Dance, and how different the ballet was without the Bart Cook solo," or the like.

Let's see - I can offer a Bolshoi Spartacus from circa 1961 in which we all watched poor Maya Plisetskaya search for the body of her beloved Spartacus on the body-strewn battlefield after the slave army's defeat. She searched and she searched, with heart-rending gestures, never quite noticing the huge fellow dressed all in silver in the middle of the stage with a blinding spotlight on him. After a while, mutterings of "honey, he's the guy lit up like kleig light, OK" could be heard from unsympathetic New Yorkers, accompanied by my own muttering of "no wonder these idiots lost." I believe the staging was changed, though I can rarely make myself watch the ballet so I won't swear to it. I am sure they removed the bit from the orgy in which a couple of slaves trying to feed her bunches of grapes scrambled frantically after the wicked temptress lolling (or trying to) on a fast-travelling couch.

#28 leonid17

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Posted 29 November 2008 - 02:38 PM

...Sir Frederick Franklin...


Although Freddie was created Commander of the British Empire (CBE) a couple of years ago, that's still one grade short of Knight of the British Empire (KBE) or Knight Commander of the British Empire (KCBE), which would give him the "Sir". He's still just Mr. Frederic Franklin (CBE). I've often wondered what kind of thinking goes on behind the scenes when it comes to Birthday Honours and such. I asked somebody in the Garter King of Arms' office one time, and he said, "Well, it has a lot to do with what the Government wants. Sir Anton Dolin was, after all, Irish, and had an American passport, and there was some to-do about what kind of a precendent that would set, especially from the Tories. Besides, he did most of his work outside of Britain, and they didn't like that either, especially when it came to the War!" Politics! :wacko:


In the UK, any citizen or group thereof can nominate someone for a CBE which is awarded for :

a prominent national role of a lesser degree; or a conspicuous leading role in regional affairs, through achievement or service to the community; or
making a highly distinguished, innovative contribution in his or her area of activity.

There is a formal protocol of consideration by several levels of committees and in the end, it is the responsibility of The Prime Minister to make a list of submissions to Her Majesty the Queen who generally makes the presentation but this can also be made by members of the Royal Family. There is a Specialist Sub-Committee for the Arts and Media.

Anyone can be nominated, but only exceptional people are honoured. To be in with a chance of seeing your candidate on the Honours List, you have to make sure your nomination has what it takes to make it all the way to Buckingham Palace. Achievement comes in many forms but what is looked for is someone who has made a difference in their field of work or community.

Frederic Franklin's award was very warmly and fondly received by the ballet world in the UK as was witnessed a few years ago when he took a curtain call on the stage of the Royal Opera House(he was a member of the Sadlers Wells Ballet). It semed like a welcome home for one of ours who had made it good at home and especially proud of the name he had made abroad.

With a wealth of experience from his training with the legendary Nikolai Legat and fellow Russian teacher Lydia Kyaksht to his work with various companies, Franklin has a lot to offer for historians and thank goodness some of it has been recorded.

#29 emilienne

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Posted 29 November 2008 - 02:54 PM

Green Willi toe shoes, now wouldn't that be interesting?

Thanks, popularlibrary, for clarifying the issue when as usual I'd made a hash of my earlier words. I am indeed interested in oral histories of dancers and those who had 'made history', as it were, but the question was originally directed at the existence of 'fan' histories. I've done smaller oral history projects (but not in dance) and it's always interesting to hear stories retold by several different voices to hear what sort of details the teller considers important.

While dancers may be great sources of reminiscences, I think that the viewers themselves are often overlooked as viable keepers of lore (ha). I think Farrell once said that there were choreographic details that she had never noticed in 'Concerto Barocco' until she had become an observer herself (she was specifically referring to the staging of the two soloists, like the entwining bows by the violin soloists). Sometimes we may remember things that the dancers have forgotten. But then again, are these recollections any more credible?

In any case there is a great dearth of histories from dancers and viewers alike. Gathering up all the stories before the tellers are gone will be a daunting, but I suspect rich, adventure.

emi

Well. this has been an interesting discussion, as usual on BT, but I strongly suspect it isn't what emilienne had in mind when she started it. I think maybe she was hoping for something more along the lines of "when I was seeing Giselle at Ballet Russe in 1947, the Willis all had green toe shoes for two performances," [yes, I made that up] or "I remember the caller in Square Dance, and how different the ballet was without the Bart Cook solo," or the like.



#30 bart

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Posted 29 November 2008 - 04:08 PM

Well. this has been an interesting discussion, as usual on BT, but I strongly suspect it isn't what emilienne had in mind when she started it. I think maybe she was hoping for something more along the lines of "when I was seeing Giselle at Ballet Russe in 1947, the Willis all had green toe shoes for two performances," [yes, I made that up] or "I remember the caller in Square Dance, and how different the ballet was without the Bart Cook solo," or the like.

Thanks, popular library, for bringing us back on track. You are absolutely right.

About the green toe shoes: you made that up?!? Then why do I suddenly ssee those very shoes so clearly? Another ballet legend fails the accuracy test! Dang! :thumbsup: :( :wacko:

I am indeed interested in oral histories of dancers and those who had 'made history', as it were, but the question was originally directed at the existence of 'fan' histories.

[ ... ]

In any case there is a great dearth of histories from dancers and viewers alike. Gathering up all the stories before the tellers are gone will be a daunting, but I suspect rich, adventure.

And thanks, emilienne, for restating your topic so clearly ... and so patiently. :D

In the U.S., Francis Mason has done a great job with this, both with his I Rememer Balanchine: Recollections of the Ballet Master by Those Who Knew Him, mentioned earlier in this thread, and in the interviews and retrospectives he publishes in Ballet Review.


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