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Flindt's "The Lesson"

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A recent opportunity to see a couple of Ionesco's plays led me to revisit "The Lesson" and got me thinking about the Flemming Flindt ballet, which I have not actually seen for a long, long time. Long ago, I liked it very much, but the details had grown quite fuzzy in my memory until I started doing a little internet research. (Thank you, Google! :) )

I know that the Royal revived this a while ago for Kobburg. YouTube has a fascinating 5-plus minutes from Russian tv showing Flindt setting the ballet on Sergei Filin and Svetlana Lunkina -- who, by the way, are wonderful!:

I remember that in the past Arlene Croce and a number of other critics were critical of what they perceived as an anti-woman bias in some of Flindt's choreography. This actually made me feel insensitive and guilty about having enjoyed it.

Do people stilll find this ballet controversial when it iss revived today? What, in general, do you -- and others -- think about the work and/or about the issue? Which other companies are performing this work? Who, in your opinion, are its best interpreters?

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Joffrey Ballet - September of 68 (Cover of Dance Magazine).

It was revived in October of 77 (when I first saw it) and again in Chicago.

Flemming Flindt came to Chicago to oversee the staging and I believe we received letters complaining that it was too violent for children.

I saw a video of San Francisco Ballet's 90s? production. The sets and costumes were revised- the wife/pianist was in pants and boots in what I interpreted as a Nazi uniform.

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"... setting the ballet on Sergei Filin and Svetlana Lunkina -- who, by the way, are wonderful!:

True that the ballerina rehearsing with Filin in the studio was Svetlana Lunkina.

However, the blond ballerina dancing with him at the performance shown in the middle of the programme was Inna Petrova.

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Concerning the content of the ballet's choreography, the action fairly represents what happens in the Ionesco play, but without words, it's difficult to insert the absurdist humor that lightens the latter. (What could the teacher do, pull an alarm clock out of his pantleg?) I don't take it as an anti-feminist portrayal. Ionesco wrote the play to examine and demonstrate what the Nazis had done. Not exactly matinee fare. The uniform for the pianist (the maid in the play) might be a little ham-handed in making the point. It's no great wonder that San Francisco wanted to revise at least the sets. That show weighed a ton, and some of the places that Joffrey toured, they couldn't offer it, because it would have damaged the fly system.

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Dallas Ballet used to perform The Lesson. It was back when the F. Flindt was the director and Vivi was head of the school.

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Balletgirl22sk, how was it received in Dallas?

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The Royal Danish Ballet still does The Lesson, of course - a couple of years ago it was chosen as part of Denmark's 'cultural canon' (the other dance works being La Sylphide and Etudes). They often do it on a bill with La Sylphide, as Johan Kobborg also did with the Royal Ballet. I've seen Kobborg and Edward Watson as the Teacher at the RB, and Thomas Lund and Morton Eggert with the RDB, in the last couple of years - I'd be quite happy to see any of them again, though I particularly remember the shattering effect of Lund's performance.

It was Flindt's first ballet, of course, and I'd imagine it's much the most widely performed of his works these days.

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I liked it a lot. I seem to remember the audience liked it too since they performed it more than one season.

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I'm sure they did it but I would have to look up my old programs....some day when I have time.

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They often do it on a bill with La Sylphide, as Johan Kobborg also did with the Royal Ballet

In Paris, where the play has been performed for years and years at the same small theatre, it's paired with La Cantatrice Chauve (Bald Soprano), another absurdist play of Ionesco's. That makes sense, though I remember feeling the the evening was possibly too much of a good thing.

I'm having a hard time imagining the ballet version paired with a ballet something as sincere and literal as Sylphide. Which is usually performed first? Either way, the contrast seems HUGE and, I would think, unsurmountable. This is probably a failure of imagination on my part. How does it work in actuality?

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The Lesson comes first - whenever I've seen it, anyway. It's certainly a huge contrast, but it seems to work, except if the Flindt has had such a strong emotional impact that you're still reliving it when the curtain goes up on James and the Sylphide. At the last revival of the Kobborg production in London, the RB started with a 'dances from Napoli' and though that might sound more suitable it actually wasn't. What comes to my mind first would be Ashton's Scenes de Ballet.

(The RB's next double bill pairs the new, one act version of MacMillan's Isadora with Dances at a Gathering - an even stronger contrast!)

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Jane, it's interesting that this did not work with selections from Napoli. I'm intrigued by your suggestion as to Scenes de Ballet. I haven't seen this for decades, but I think I can follow your assosciation.

Sylphide, from the instant the curtain rises, demands emotional sincerity from the performers and a suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. If you allow even a particle of doubt, insincerity or (worse!) irony to enter in, you've lost it.

That problem does not exist with Scenes de Ballet. The score still comes across as "modern"; it's witty, sophisticated, zippy, and not terribly involving emotionally. The choreography itself, as I recall it, comes across as something seen from a distance, possibly through a plate-glass display window. Though in no sense "absurd" (as Ionesco's scenario is), it's shares that quality of being something we can look at, think about, and respond to without having to commit our hearts or minds to the world it portrays.

I love the wackiness of combining Isadora with Dances at a Gathering. Over-the-Top Meets Super-Subtle. I'd be fascinated to hear the programmer's thinking on this. All I can come up with so far is that both ballets concern people who (a) are dancing and (b) are aware that they are dancing. :huh: Oh yes, and they both involve our perception of time. Isadora left me with the feeling: Too long! Dances at a Gathering always leaves me wishing it had not ended yet.

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I love the wackiness of combining Isadora with Dances at a Gathering. Over-the-Top Meets Super-Subtle. I'd be fascinated to hear the programmer's thinking on this. All I can come up with so far is that both ballets concern people who (a) are dancing and (b) are aware that they are dancing. Oh yes, and they both involve our perception of time. Isadora left me with the feeling: Too long! Dances at a Gathering always leaves me wishing it had not ended yet.

I would argue that this isn't so much wackiness as a cynical ploy: programme the excrutiating Isadora with the sublime Dances at a Gathering and the punters will come for Dances and stay for Isadora. Except the ploy won't work as in the hands of the current RB last year's revival went from sublime to disastrous, achieving the distinction of turning one of the loveliest ballets ever created into an hour of tedium, even cutting out one passage altogether. I made two visits and both times wished I hadn't.

BTW, I'm told that attendances have dropped drastically at the ROH recently, can anyone confirm this?

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Mashinka, do you actually know they're going to do Dances first? The publicity talks about Isadora/Dances so I'd rather assumed it would be that way round. (Either way, I'd toyed with the idea of setting up a ticket exchange desk in the interval so that those who can't stand one of them could sell the other half of the evening to someone with the opposite tastes. With a small commission for me, obviously.) Slightly less cynical than you - on this occasion - I wonder if the pairing is more because at about an hour each they're difficult to programme with other things but would fit together quite well.

Bart, I hadn't thought out the Scenes/Sylphide pairing quite as deeply as you - I liked the thought of an Ashton/Bournonville pairing and Scenes was the one that came immediately into my head - but doing a bit of retrofitting, I'd say that SdB is a piece very much of this world and therefore leads on quite neatly to James's search for something beyond the tangible. But I'm really more motivated by the idea of seeing two of my most favourite ballets on the same evening!

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So Scenes de Ballet can work either way -- with The Lesson, but also with Sylphide.

Oh yes, I can very much imagine a Scenes de Ballet/ Sylphide double bill, as you suggest.

Jane, is there any chance that you might be available for a programming position at the Royal Ballet? :):dry:

Any thoughts on a Lesson/Isadora double bill? (Haven't seen Isadora since the Royal brought it to NYC long, long ago. I can't actually remember the ballet, just my emotional reactions.)

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Any thoughts on a Lesson/Isadora double bill?

{quote]

As I admire The Lesson I would not want it on a double bill with Isadora.

What I would like to see is a filmed Isadora/Isadora double bill to be attended only by those who select and promote the worst of MacMillan's ballets who in turn would be forced to attend that programme for an eternity as punishment for the failure to programme what people will soon be calling MacMillan's lost ballets and Ashton's historical works were once believed to be the aesthetic core of the Royal Ballet.

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