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The PrologueIs it necessary or wanted?


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#1 Rosa

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 05:55 AM

It seems a good amount of Swan Lake productions performed nowadays include a prologue at the beginning of the ballet. "The audience is made aware that something strange is going on." "It provides background." And "To show whose story it is" are a few of the reasons I've heard/read.

Most of the prologues I've seen (ABT, POB, La Scala,) show Odette being captured and turned into a swan, while others (Staatsoper in Berlin, Royal Swedish Ballet) center on Siegfried.

Is the prologue a necessary addition to the ballet, or really desirable? Does it make the ballet better? More complicated?

#2 Joseph

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 08:46 AM

I like it - but I would rather more attention be spent on the character of "Rothbart." Explain who he is and how he comes into the picture and why he has captured Odette... But the music may not be long enough for all of this rushed explanation.

#3 Hans

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 09:54 AM

If the production is one that retains the major mime speeches/dialogues, a prologue is unnecessary. Odette tells Siegfried what happened to her in Act II; we don't need to see it twice. Likewise, Siegfried's conversation with his mother in Act I tells us his situation. Even if the mime is removed, a principal dancer still ought to be skilled enough to convey the general idea.

#4 Helene

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 10:14 AM

Only if the film or video credits are rolling, so they don't roll over the start of Act I.

#5 aurora

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 10:31 AM

If the production is one that retains the major mime speeches/dialogues, a prologue is unnecessary. Odette tells Siegfried what happened to her in Act II; we don't need to see it twice. Likewise, Siegfried's conversation with his mother in Act I tells us his situation. Even if the mime is removed, a principal dancer still ought to be skilled enough to convey the general idea.


While I agree with this in principle, I think it is perhaps expecting a bit much from the general audience.
A lot of people do not find the mime very accessible. I love it (and really prefer when it is included) but to the lay modern audience I don't think it is easily understandable.

I don't think the prologue is necessary, strictly speaking, but I think it probably *does* enrich the experience for a lot of viewers, and I don't find it distracting or to diminish the strength of a production. Its short, if you don't like it you can close your eyes and listen to the music :P

Additionally, in ABTs (much criticized) production, where you have *2* versions of Von Rothbart--the swamp thing and the suave princely VR--the prologue serves to clarify that distinction/connection, eliminating possible confusion when the elegant Rothbart shows up for the ball with Odile.

#6 Hans

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 10:43 AM

Even if the audience doesn't understand the mime, that doesn't make a prologue necessary. The dancers should be good enough actors to convey the basic idea, and the audience can read the synopsis in the program.

I've lost patience with the 'just close your eyes' reaction to bad choreography: If I wanted a concert, I'd go to the symphony.

And I would respond to ABT by telling them that if they hadn't needlessly complicated things in the first place, they wouldn't have to explain it all with a prologue. :P

#7 EricMontreal22

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Posted 14 February 2009 - 12:26 AM

I always cynically think one reason this is done is the same reason when older Broadway musicals are revived, the overture is choreographed or staged. They feel that audiences will get bored not being immediately *thrown* into the action. I dunno, not every stage piece needs an overture but I do think that there's something to be said for listening to the overture and letting it "get you into" the piece you're about to see. For me, seeing a live theatrical show I'm always a bit distracted till the 30 minute mark or so when I fully forget about my problems in life or at home, my surroundings and (if it's good) get thoroughly "into" the piece, be it a Tchaikovsky symphony, a Pet Shop Boys concert, Sleeping Beauty ballet or A Little Night Music on Broadway. The overture helps with this.

I know in musical theare more and more "intense" pieces do without an intermission at all cuz they say it's so hard to "bring an audience back" after they've gone back out "to the real world" had drinks, chatted about the show, etc, and a short entr'acte can help. I just think that often some sort of instrumental overture gets people more into the feel of the piece than suddenly thrust into the action. Of course it seems nowadays many people spend the overture as time to talk to their friends, text people, and do other things--basically as "pre show music"...

With Swan Lake in particular I sorta feel it gives away some of the surprise by showing us the backstory--and some of the magic (I feel the same about Nutcracker using the overture to show the nutcracker being cursed or similar things--like at the Royal, but not as strongly)

#8 PeggyR

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Posted 14 February 2009 - 03:54 PM

Even if the audience doesn't understand the mime, that doesn't make a prologue necessary. The dancers should be good enough actors to convey the basic idea, and the audience can read the synopsis in the program.

I agree. Plus, it seems to me a Swan Lake prologue is an attempt to explain something that can't be explained in the first place. Sorcerers don't exist and women can't be changed into swans; it's a fairy tale and there's no way to make it realistic, no matter how much 'back story' the audience is given, so why bother?

BTW, SFB's new SL (premiering next week) will have a prologue. Here's an excerpt from Swan Lake chapter of the Season Guide:

" 'Helgi said that though it's called Swan Lake, it was always Siegfried's story, because he was the character you were introduced to first,' says [designer Jonathan] Fensom. 'We wanted to make it Odette's story, and to do that we needed to introduce her then [in the prologue].' "

#9 carbro

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Posted 14 February 2009 - 06:08 PM

Perhaps it depends on whether you want your Swan Lake to be poetry or prose.

Even if the audience doesn't understand the mime, that doesn't make a prologue necessary. The dancers should be good enough actors to convey the basic idea, and the audience can read the synopsis in the program.

In truth, great acting isn't really necessary. As Martine van Hamel demonstrated (in her final SL, partnered by Kevin McKenzie, so he saw every moment), the story is in the choreography. It's just a matter of making the movements mean something. In the Act II adagio, in arabesque facing upstage towards the lake of her mother's tears, she stretched longingly towards it, pivoted back downstage and, as she bent forward before swooning, you could sense a sigh. And so on, and so on. It almost -- almost -- made the mime unnecessary. In fact, Act II was a seamless blending of mime and dance.

That performance took place in the early 1990s, and I never saw one like it (even from van Hamel, whose performances I always tried to catch) before or since. I don't understand why van Hamel hasn't passed this eloquent interpretation along to some of ABT's current O/Os. Maybe she's tried and they either rejected it or couldn't make it happen. :dunno:


Only if the film or video credits are rolling, so they don't roll over the start of Act I.

:)

#10 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 14 February 2009 - 06:10 PM

Over with Prologues and stuffed swans...(can't stand that). That's what Google is for, if anybody wants to see what the performance will be about. The Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami started their production with a weird Prologue, showing a caravan of mourners following a coffin being carried away. Among the mourners are Siegfried and his shaky mom, so one assume that the ballet starts by telling us that this is the kid's turn to be in command from then on after his father's death. Didn't like it either. Let Mr T's beautiful music do the magic.

#11 Joseph

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Posted 15 February 2009 - 12:01 AM

Over with Prologues and stuffed swans...(can't stand that). That's what Google is for, if anybody wants to see what the performance will be about. The Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami started their production with a weird Prologue, showing a caravan of mourners following a coffin being carried away. Among the mourners are Siegfried and his shaky mom, so one assume that the ballet starts by telling us that this is the kid's turn to be in command from then on after his father's death. Didn't like it either. Let Mr T's beautiful music do the magic.


See I actually like this idea of the mourners etc. I guess it just depends on how the choreographer or person setting the ballet wants the story to be told. And to what kind of audience it is for.

#12 bart

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Posted 15 February 2009 - 05:42 AM

The music in the Prologue introduces Odette's theme, so it does make sense to introduce Odette herself and give her a back story. It depends on how you do it. When so much "story" is concentrated into so little time, you actually need better structure and acting than most companies are able or willing to provide.

McKenzie's version -- which I just looked at again on YouTube -- is story-telling at its most ham-fisted, relying on quick costume changes to make dramatic points (Rothbart into gentleman; Odette into Swan).

I have less confidence than Hans in the communicative power of traditional mime in the modern world. I agree with carbro that the answer probably lies in great acting, though that is a rare skill. Also, I suspect that the Swan Lake experience does not really require a literal, cover-all-bases narrative structure -- IF it is danced by principals who know how to communicate feeling.

My own preference is for the traditional theater experience of: (1) lights go down, (2) music establishes a mood(in the sense of overture), (3) curtain rises. This gives the audience a chance to settle down. It also gives time for a sense of anticipation, even suspence, before you actually SEE anything.

Modern audiences seem to respond best with lots of visual information and stimulation. Maybe it IS preferable, given current realities, just to tell some kind of story in the 3 or so minutes of the Prologue. Rather like the "dumb show" in Hamlet's version of "The Murder of Gonzago."

#13 Sacto1654

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Posted 15 February 2009 - 06:29 PM

[font="Verdana"][size=2]Of the three major significant versions of the [/size][/font][font="Verdana"][size=2]ballet performed in Russia today, the version performed at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theatres has the prologue in musical form only. I'm not sure if the Bourmeister version performed at the [/size][/font][font="Verdana"][size=2]Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre in Moscow has a performed prologue, though.[/size][/font]

#14 Helene

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Posted 15 February 2009 - 07:13 PM

Of the three major significant versions of the ballet performed in Russia today, the version performed at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theatres has the prologue in musical form only.

Do you mean they play the written overture with the curtain (or front scrim) down?

#15 Sacto1654

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Posted 15 February 2009 - 08:55 PM

Do you mean they play the written overture with the curtain (or front scrim) down?


Yes. The April 2006 Mariinsky Ballet performance that is now available on DVD/Blu-ray disc has the orchestra play the entire Prologue with the big main curtain down.


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