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Balanchine's Angelsvs. Alonso's Matryoshkas


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#16 carbro

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Posted 05 December 2009 - 09:49 PM

Communist regimes don't recognize angels, do they? :clapping: Just like they have to explain magical transformations as dreams. :rofl:

#17 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 05 December 2009 - 11:58 PM

Communist regimes don't recognize angels, do they?


The Cuban version goes back to 1953, and it was staged by Mery Skeaping, Charles Dickson and Fernando Alonso, with the inclusions of Fedorova's Sugar Plum Fairy PDD and the Ballet Russes Snow PDD. The choreography has barely been touched-(with perhaps some extra pointe dancing for Clara in Act I)-including the entrance of the Dolls. Communism didn't get to Cuba until 1959.

Just like they have to explain magical transformations as dreams.


Didn't Christensen's 1944 staging included this Soviet-Social-Realism-driven awakening ending...?

#18 richard53dog

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Posted 06 December 2009 - 07:18 AM

Communist regimes don't recognize angels, do they?



Just like they have to explain magical transformations as dreams.


Didn't Christensen's 1944 staging included this Soviet-Social-Realism-driven awakening ending...?



I'm not familiar with Christensen's staging but as long as we are exploring history, let's look at the time and place Christensen was in when he did his work.

In 1944 WWII was in progress and the USSR was the Allies partner, Stalin being "Uncle Joe" to many Americans.

There was much fascination with the Soviet culture as well as a perception of great innovation occurring. Many things "Soviet" were considered very
chic ("moderne" was a term often used).

So, in theory, it's quite possible that some Soviet reworking of traditional story telling elements to support the official dogma would have seemed shiny and new
to Western audiences.

It was only in the later 40s, 50s and 60s during the cold war that Soviet innovations were looked at differently and not embraced so enthusiastically by
the creative community in the west.

Just speculation of course but I agree with Carbro that Marie's "awakening" would have easily been a Soviet "solution" to a non-realistic plot device. And I can see how during the 30s and 40s there was a fascination with "Soviet chic" in the US.

And once in place, tradition takes over and details have a life of their own. Look at the tenacity of the odd cut in the music used by the BR and later stagings.

#19 bart

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Posted 06 December 2009 - 11:35 AM

I'm glad you revived this thread, Cristian. We should make it an annual tradition. :wacko:

I want to respond to something rg posted last year:

if memory servers Suzanne Farrell might even have appeared as one at the very start of her NYCB career. or maybe i've hallucinated this thought.

In her autobiography, Farrell quotes several letters that she wrote during her first season at SAB. :

December 9, [1960] Dear Diana -- You'll never guess what happened! I was chosen for a part in The Nutcracker. I will be an angel with several other girls. We don't do anything but stand, but I'm thrilled all the same ...

December 15. This evening at 5:30 P.M. was our first rehearsal for angels. It wasn't on stage. though. I thought the rehearsal would be just us eight, but everyone was there. The first person I saw was Diana Adams. Then Mr. B and then Jacques d'Amboise. I push in the throne. I'm enjoying this so much.

December 16. At 5:00 P.M. we had a rehearsal on stage. I pushed in the throne and then two girls brought on the table which Lucy and I then hooked on. Mr. B came up and took my hand. He asked me my name and gave me some directions to do in regards to my "huge" part. Tonight at 8:30 P.M. was the first performance. Diana and Jacques did it. They were perfect. I'm just in another world now.

Farrell comments:

Today the angels in The Nutcracker are performed by the tiniest girls in the School, but in 1960 they were the biggest, thus my part. Before pushing on the throne, we sailed onstage in our angel gowns with halo hats and pretended to play little gold musical instruments.


Regarding "bats" in The Nutcracker. This isnt' as crazy as it might sound. Despite being Hoffmann-esque, as Mel suggests, weren't bats at one time considered to be "flying rodents," and therefore close relatives to rats and mice?

#20 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 06 December 2009 - 11:57 AM

And going a bit :wacko: , but digging further in Farrell's first ballet appearances, it's very interesting that the very first role in a major production she got was that of Clara, in a 1955 Ballet Russe performance of the Nutcracker in Cincinnati. She recalls her very first encounter with the Sugar Plum Fairy-(Alicia Alonso)-and her Cavalier-(Igor Youskevitch):

[size=2]"The curtain went up and I was in heaven. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier-(Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch)-came in a little wheeled boat, but as he stepped elegantly out of the boat there was a huge noise, and all the scenery shook. Youskevitch had tripped. He nonetheless retained his noble bearing and I was very much impressed. After the performance I asked Alicia Alonso for her autograph, and she was very kind. She sat me down, and holding a silk stage lily, told me the story of 'Giselle' while my mother took photographs"[/size]

I keep looking for any references of the matryoshkas in this pre-Balanchine productions of the Nutcracker, but can't find anything. I wish someone could recall what was going on back then with these characters.

#21 Farrell Fan

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Posted 06 December 2009 - 12:05 PM

Thanks for the Farrell quotations, Bart. Just want to point out that they're not from letters but from Suzanne's diary, which she named for Diana Adams.

#22 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 06 December 2009 - 12:09 PM

So back to the topic, here is a clip that shows the dolls in the back, right after they greet Clara and the Nutcracker.



#23 bart

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Posted 06 December 2009 - 12:15 PM

Thanks for the Farrell quotations, Bart. Just want to point out that they're not from letters but from Suzanne's diary, which she named for Diana Adams.

:wacko: Sorry, I must have missed that. I was using the index and went straight to the quotations. :blush:

Cristian's questions relate to the issue of cultural influences. Along the way, the political sub-plot of the ballet (the Prince is the actual ruler Confituerenberg; the Sugar Plum Fairy is his regent) has been lost. We do not care as much about such things as the Romanovs did. It seems inevitable that other of the peculiarly Russian details (the Russian dolls skimming the stage; the fact that they are the prince's sisters) have been lost also, at least in the United States. On the other hand, I can understand why these details would be retained in Cuba, where preserving the imagery of the old Ballets Russes days seems to be the rule.

Balanchine spoke about the specific religious aspects of the ballet's (German) Christmas setting. ("... [I]t's religious. Christ is born, so grown-ups never gave each other any presents out of respect for religion. But children are told beautiful stories about it, and they have to have presents.") This mind-set leads to images of angels, and specifically little angels when you need to provide roles for lots of children.

#24 atm711

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 08:28 AM

From what I recall from the old Fedorova production---there were neither angels or dolls.` Jack Anderson has a very good description of what I remember...."By current standards, the Ballet Russe Nutcracker was a truncated version capable of serving as one item on a mixed bill...a brief first scene showed the Christmas party--there being no battle with the mice--journeyed immediately in her dreams to the snow country and the land of sweets."

From what I remember though, there was a brief encounter with demons before the land of the sweets. The triumphant Nutcracker emerged and took Clara by the hand to the land of sweets. (talk about a shoe-string version---this poor Nutcracker did not have a mask on his head, but what looked like a white head covering made of o-tag, and the funny part was that there was not a piece covering the top of his head. From my seat in the second balcony of the City Center you could see the dancer's head.) There were no children in this production, the dancers played the children. The second act began with the dance of the snowflakes. I did not see a more elaborate production until Balanchine's in 1954. But, the highlight was the Grand Pas.

One interesting note about this production----in some performances the young Svetlana Beriosova played Clara.

#25 Carson

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 11:40 AM

This is merely conjecture, but maybe it's not far from the truth.

Ballanchine loved his long-legged ladies. He adored them as a man who appreciates the beauty and sensuality of women. I don't think it is a big step for such a man to consider an identifiable stage presence as angelic or comprising "angels", just as we might say, "Oh, she is an angel!" in adoration of both a feminine form and some supporting feminine roles.

I'd go further. In fact, although male angels have always been around, culturally we have leaned toward female angels. Traditionally women who somehow nurtured men (maybe reminding us of a motherly know-all wisdom or omniscience we feel as children) have often been called angels or angelic. I think we simply like to attribute angelic qualities to special women, even children ("oh, she's just a little angel!) —and so I think Mr. Ballanchine simply let his appreciative fantasy take wing.

I'm glad he felt that way. Ballet itself feels that way. It is not an exercise in turning out one's hips. It is a spiritual form of harmony in which the whole is so very much greater than the sum of its parts. It is pure magic, and that is the thrill of the thing. I believe that many angels, yes, and devils too, have danced upon ballet stages.

But that is merely conjecture.

#26 dirac

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 02:20 PM

Communist regimes don't recognize angels, do they? :) Just like they have to explain magical transformations as dreams. :)


It is certainly true that they are less likely to have recourse to supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. Not necessarily a bad thing. :)

#27 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 03:44 PM

Communist regimes don't recognize angels, do they? :) Just like they have to explain magical transformations as dreams. :)


It is certainly true that they are less likely to have recourse to supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. Not necessarily a bad thing. :)


No...not a bad thing at all, but I suspect that the waking up of Clara from the Cuban prouction has nothing to do with dialectic materialism.

#28 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 06:27 PM

I just found a pic of Alonso's production with the Nutcracker Prince's sisters, the matryoshka dolls. Yoel Carreno is The Nutcracker and Primera Bailarina Anette Delgado is Clara..
http://danzahoy.com/.../critica/01.jpg


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