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Homogenization of the Classical Ballet RepertoireArticle in November 2008 Dancing Times


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#16 Jane Simpson

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Posted 01 April 2009 - 05:47 AM

More in Hubbe's defence: the RDB has been dancing Symphony in C for more than 50 years, and had La Sonnambula several years before NYCB did - they've just done their 160th performance of the first and their 222nd of the second, though admittedly only the more senior dancers will have done them before. Only Symphony in 3 Movements is new to the repertory.

#17 Ray

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Posted 01 April 2009 - 05:57 AM

The whole point of the WSJ article is that Balanchine's Swan Lake expressed his own carefully thought out and evolving reflections on the traditional version.

Don't kill me people, but the more and more I read about B's SL "version" the more I compress my brain to try to understand what makes it different from other takes. What I saw was just a traditional Act II with some IV additions...(the mechanical swans and the props making it even more antique-looking on my eyes...). As per the music, isn't the same beautiful T's used in every production ...?
Don't know, but I couldn't really see that famous Odette's depersonalization so often talked about... :dunno:


I have to disagree, but I'm biased because I like it, I guess: B's SL is a late modernist take on the ballet. It's sleek and condensed, and many of the corps configurations suggest a family resemblance to some of the "art deco" formations of Serenade and Four Temperaments. Much of the choreography is entirely original with a lot of B's signature steps.

#18 bart

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Posted 01 April 2009 - 06:03 AM

Don't know, but I couldn't really see that famous Odette's depersonalization so often talked about... :dunno:

In general, I agree. I suppose one has to see this in the context of the kind of theatricality and occasional distortion that was common in those days -- and against which Balanchine was responding. He also, it appears, disliked the tradition in divas created their own personal Odette/Odile's, so that one spoke not so muich of Petipa/Ivanov's Swan Lake or Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake as of Mme. X's Odette and Mme. Y's Odile.

Balanchine's version has its differences, but -- as you imply, Cristian -- these are not SO different as to represent a repudiation of the original version or a permanent replacement for it.

(The elimination of the Prince's story and the Odile sub-plot are significant. I assume that Balanchine thought that they were unnecessary for entering into the tragic story of Odette.)

Regarding the topic of "homogenization," and the Dowler piece kindly summarized by miliosr: perhaps every major company -- those with a great tradition of their own -- should keep in its rep two versions of (or approaches to) Swan Lake. One would be the version of Petipa/Ivanov that evolved slowly and gently in the context of a company style. The other would be the latest "international" version or reinterpretation, suitable as showcases for jet-setting global stars.

The former would be preserved as much as possible; the latter could change with the tides of fashion. The dancers would be challenged; the audiences would have a chance to compare; the company would remain true to their history while not being trapped by it.

Good for NYCB for now having a version of both in their rep.

#19 carbro

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Posted 01 April 2009 - 05:41 PM

Don't kill me people, but the more and more I read about B's SL "version" the more I compress my brain to try to understand what makes it different from other takes. What I saw was just a traditional Act II with some IV additions...(the mechanical swans and the props making it even more antique-looking on my eyes...). As per the music, isn't the same beautiful T's used in every production ...?
Don't know, but I couldn't really see that famous Odette's depersonalization so often talked about... :dunno:

Not only Odette's depersonalization (which, btw, I don't see much of these days).

Like some of his other ballets, Balanchine's Swan Lake hit me as an epiphany during a performance in the 1970s when I was still a pretty inexperienced, balletically speaking. During the big Waltz, a voice said to me, "Look at all those women impersonating swans!", the point being that I saw women (and not even necessarily dancers) on stage sketching swans, rather than embodying them fully. That was the intended effect -- not to be an Ivanov swan, just to suggest what one might have been like. It's a subtle distinction -- totally absent in today's NYCB performances of the ballet -- and perhaps since I did not come to the performance loaded with expectations about what I was about to see, I was open to it.

It's probably very challenging for ballet masters to get the dancers to give just the right amount of swan-ness for this to be evident to most viewers. I would probably go so far to suggest that many ballet masters don't even realize that that was Balanchine's whole point, since it was not his style to explain things in those terms.

#20 Michael

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 07:59 AM

A laughable motif repeated in B's Swan Lake -- and I think intended to be laughable -- is the point that the Hunters (i.e., the men Prince Siegfried's hunting party) partner the Swans in several ensemble passages. Thus the hunters, dressed in Forest Brown with little hunting hats, enter to each get a black swan on each arm and proceed to dance with them.

I've no idea whether this was in the original 1950's City Center version of the ballet, or whether it crept in during the several re-choreographizations later on. This ballet was substantially remade and revised over the years; there were solos and dances in the 1950s version that have entirely disappeared and the black costumes for the swans were a fruit, I believe, of the most recent revision.

Anyway, I nearly laugh out loud at that touch of having the hunters enter en masse to dance a deux and a trois with the swans in the corps de ballet.

The ballet shouldn't be taken too seriously; it's a bit of a pastiche and, as such, quite agreeable, and is always popular with audiences. The trouble with it from the critical point of view is that by its very nature it insists on being taken seriously, as the underlying work is a Drama. B's treatment, though, is pastiche - perhaps justifiable as one of his stylizations - but suffering from the lack of integrity that pastiche implies, and thus open to criticism on that score.

#21 bart

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 08:26 AM

This is a bit Off Topic, but it does relate indirectly to the issue of changing styles and ballet versions.

The ballet shouldn't be taken too seriously; it's a bit of a pastiche and, as such, quite agreeable, and is always popular with audiences. The trouble with it from the critical point of view is that by its very nature it insists on being taken seriously, as the underlying work is a Drama. B's treatment, though, is pastiche - perhaps justifiable as one of his stylizations - but suffering from the lack of integrity that pastiche implies, and thus open to criticism on that score.

An interesting comment, Michael. I'd love to hear more.

"Laughable" is not quite the same, it seems to me, as something which makes one smile. "Popular" is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you are dealing with fairly sophisticated audiences.

Also, I tend to think of the Balanchine version as a "reduction," a "distillation," a "reworking," and perhaps a "comment upon" the inherited version. Some of us do take it "seriously" (although, of course, nothing in life, by definition, should be taken "too" seriously :P ).

It would be helpful to hear what "pastiche" -- a word which usually has quite negative connotations -- means in this context, especially as it applies to Balanchine's version of a classic text which has, in its history, often been subjected to reinterpretations, alterations, abridgements, expansions, and even distortions.

#22 kfw

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 09:22 AM

A laughable motif repeated in B's Swan Lake -- and I think intended to be laughable -- is the point that the Hunters (i.e., the men Prince Siegfried's hunting party) partner the Swans in several ensemble passages. Thus the hunters, dressed in Forest Brown with little hunting hats, enter to each get a black swan on each arm and proceed to dance with them.

I've no idea whether this was in the original 1950's City Center version of the ballet, or whether it crept in during the several re-choreographizations later on.

There is no mention of this motif in the excepts of reviews in Repertory in Review, so perhaps it's a later addition. (Paging atm711!). In any case, Croce, writing in 1979, experiences it differently:

I am caught up in it as in no other version of the ballet, because, although it isn't the traditional Swan Lake, it's the essence of what attracts me in Swan Lake. To mention just one moment: during the adagio (which is a jeweler's appraisal and resetting of Ivanov), the hunters come out and stand with a swan on each arm, and all at once the bewildering beauty of the ballet's fantasy about hunters and swans and sorceres crystallizes in a single heraldic image. The choreographer has done the dreaming for me.



#23 carbro

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 11:50 AM

I'm not sure that the hunters supporting the swans is unique to (or even original with) B's staging. I seem to recall seeing them in footage (becoming an obsolete term, to be replaced, perhaps, by "megabytes"?) of another SL, although which one escapes me now.

#24 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 05:03 PM

alterations,(...) and even distortions.

The latter being closer to my personal view, both by changing the original ending-(a la K.Sergueiev)-or erasing part of the story and its characters-(a la Balanchine).

#25 Hans

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 08:50 PM

As far as I know, the hunters partnered the swan-maidens in the original Petipa-Ivanov production--each hunter had two swans.

#26 rg

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Posted 03 April 2009 - 05:54 AM

i can see the misreading of Croce's comment, but she's not saying that GB is the one to have first chosen to work the hunters into the adagio, she's pleased to see that GB included this detail in this staging - it was by time of her writing not a moment much in evidence in productions of SWAN LAKE - where else can one still see it today?
Croce knows her Ivanov as well as her Balanchine.

#27 volcanohunter

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Posted 03 April 2009 - 06:28 AM

where else can one still see it today?

Of all places, in John Neumeier's Illusions like Swan Lake. It's a revisionist production, but since he was aiming for a 'period' look in act 2, he had Alexandra Danilova stage it, complete with huntsmen, Odette's mime and a Benno figure in the adagio.

#28 rg

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Posted 03 April 2009 - 07:13 AM

thanks for this. i hadn't realized "Illusions -- like Swan Lake" was of a vintage when Danilova was still around and staging ballets.
i know there is a video.
is this production still in active repertory?

#29 volcanohunter

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Posted 03 April 2009 - 07:37 AM

Yes, EMI released a DVD, but it's presently out of print. The Hamburg Ballet performs the ballet regularly. It's also in the repertoire of the Dresden Semperoper Ballett, though I understand they're planning a new production of Swan Lake for next season.

http://www.hamburgba...schwanensee.htm

Unfortunately the linked photos don't include any of the huntsmen.

#30 Hans

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Posted 03 April 2009 - 09:08 AM

rg, I apologise for not making this clearer--I was replying to Michael's post, not referring to Croce's writing.


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