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The Island of Lost Phrases

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#1 Manhattnik


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Posted 25 January 2002 - 01:15 PM

In one little post recently I managed to bitch about three currently extant ballets with bits of choreographic emphasis which seem now to be gone, or in danger of going, to the Island of Lost Phrases. (I know that's not a very catchy name -- feel free to improve upon it.)

I'm sure we've all experienced this: we go to a revival or new production of a ballet we have come to love, only to find that a favorite bit just isn't done "right."

So what's on our lists of things we miss from ballets which are still being performed?

#2 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 25 January 2002 - 01:26 PM

i haven't seen it often, but i've seen it enough in different decade-presentations to seem to remember seeing a moment disappear from liebeslieder walzer where the ballerina sort of 'falls' to face her partner with her head on his shoulder, which has seemed to totally lose the emphasis in the later version. does this ring a bell?

[ January 25, 2002: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]

#3 cargill


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Posted 25 January 2002 - 03:52 PM

What I miss in Liebeslieder, or at least missed the last time I saw it, was the place where Verdy (not that I ever saw her, but I did see Nichols in the Verdy role) points to the ground, sort of like saying "That is where I am going, and very soon." Also I remember in the 2nd pas de trois in Agon, the one with 2 men and the women, with the difficult balance, she used to come forward to the audience at the end, and nod slightly. It was such a witty moment, asknowledging the audience and sharing a moment with them.

#4 Alexandra


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Posted 25 January 2002 - 04:06 PM

At last count, there were approximately 254, give or take a few dozen, moments from Bournonville ballets that had been sent to Devil's Island -- or the more civil Island of Lost Phrases, the Republic of ILP, Mime and Style Counties. The conditions there are very squalid and overcrowded at the moment...but then, I've written about that smile.gif

Great thread, Manhattnik. When I get my head of of Lost Bournonvilleland, I'll start working on great Ashton, Balanchine and Petipa moments I once saw! Maybe we could do a Ballet Alert!'s version of The Ten Most Wanted?

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 25 January 2002 - 05:11 PM

There's plenty of deterioration in choreography, and it's regrettable, but this one is a toughie, simply because some of what we like best in a performance isn't part of the "text". It's the perfume. For example, how do you want the Agon pas de deux to end? Arthur Mitchell sets it with the woman standing upright, others set it with a collapse on the last note. It's been done both ways. It's different on every single tape I've seen.

The moments people are mentioning in Liebeslieder, were they moments that Balanchine choreographed or moments added by the individual performer? This is always interesting to me. And do they get handed down? Are they part (or do they become part) of the "text"? Do they qualify as inhabitants of the Island of Lost Phrases, or am I talking about something different?

#6 Alexandra


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Posted 25 January 2002 - 07:04 PM

In the Bournonville case, it's a bit more concrete, because there are things that are written down or have a consistent performance tradition. If I went into individual nuance, I'd have a waste dump of lost phrases smile.gif

There are a lot of instances where one may remember a phrase that was specific to a certain performance, or generation, but one can miss it nonetheless. There's a former dancer-now-writer in Washington (Jane Murray) who can look at any Serenade and tell you: 1959 version, staged by X, the year that Sally S replaced Mary J as the third girl from the left and that's why this step-phrase-moment is different. (No, I'm not jealous.) That's the kind of knowledge only a backstager would have.

Often I don't realize I miss something until I see another company, or dancer, do the older version. When San Francisco Ballet first brought Symphony in C to DC about a decae ago, I noticed several tiny segments -- more than a step, less than a phrase -- that I'd forgotten I missed.

Manhattnik, what are your missing phrases?

[ January 25, 2002: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#7 Nanatchka


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Posted 25 January 2002 - 08:21 PM

Liebeslieder, Bart Cook and Patty McBride---at least that is what I recall--she was facing upstage, they were in the center, and as she started from downstage to up--that is, moved away from you, the audience--he gave her a little push right between her shoulder blade. I think I would like to go live on the Island of Lost Phrases....

#8 Paul Parish

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Posted 16 March 2002 - 08:18 PM


SO complex, for there are so MANY reasons a phrase /step can be lost --

for example, in Giselle, KARSAVINA herself says, the ballottes should be steps of elevation -- Giselle should soar, the knees bend, the feet should disappear under her skirt, and the body rock back and forth like a bouoy (How do you spell that?) -- nowadays, when women don't build thighs the same and can't alight from high jumps softly, the emphasis is always on the extension in fondu...

RE Liebeslieder, Balanchine himself recast it with the wonderful Kyra Nichols in the wonderful Violette Verdy role; I take class from Nichols's mother (the wonderful Sally Streets) and have come to know Nichols a bit -- what a nice person -- and she once told me -- so long ago, I've probably misremembered it -- that she was upset by critics who were upset that she didn't dance it like Violette did, and that she'd confided in a fellow dancer -- Nicole Hlinka, maybe -- who'd said "well, look, Mr B put you in the role. He knows, we all know, you're a very different kind of dancer from Violette, you're very light, she's very ["grounded," or something to that effect]. But he wants to see you dance it, so do it your way....' And she'd taken comfort from that.

And Marie Jeanne told me that in BAllet Imperial, the tricky double swivels the ballerina now starts out with -- "I didn't do anything as set as that -- he told me (again, this conversation was 10 years ago, I don't remember word for word, but she's a wonderful conversationalist, and she said something like this) "go out there and when hte music starts, do something crazy -- so I did something -- then the piano did something, and I did something else crazy, not the same thing; it was very jazzy, it wasn't set figures --" the timing was set, but not the moves.

Personally, the step I miss the most is in Tarantella, the ballerina's Suzy-Q exit at the end of one of her variations -- the one with the goofy echappes, I think -- that McBride does on the "German" tape I have. In San Fancisco Ballet's version, they replace the Suzy Q with a kind of goofy hobble-off (one foot flat, the other using the pointe), which is funny but not hilarious.... McBride doing SUzy Q makes me laugh OUT LOUD, every time, I never get over it....

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