Jump to content


When and why do you redesign a ballet?


  • Please log in to reply
12 replies to this topic

#1 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 31 August 2001 - 10:47 AM

When we think of revival and preservation, we always think of the choreography, but what about the other elements of the production? I was musing on a few well-known incidents recently. Several Ashton ballets have been redesigned in the past two decades, most with hot dissension. Massine's Gaite Parisienne was redesigned in the 80's by Lacroix. Pacific Northwest Ballet has a redesigned production of Balanchine's A Midsummer Nights Dream and when Forsythe had Gianni Versace design costumes for the Frankfurt production of Agon it caused quite a stir (and an overblown one frankly. At the time, people were reporting spurs on the pointe shoes and nose-cone Gaultier bustiers. It was actually the same basic idea as the NYCB production, leotards and tights, but the women's black leotards had a small amount of lacing in the center and the men's white shirts had a thin black stripe at the armhole. Both were cut slightly boxier as well.)

Why redesign a ballet? If I were King, here is when I would order it. The general rule for me? I'd redesign not to change the ballet, but to maintain its meaning. Some examples:

If the ballet was supposed to take place in the present or in no time at all and the costumes gave the work a date. (A discussable example, the hairpieces for the women in Hans van Manen's Grosse Fuge. But I think changing the men's skirts changes the ballet unconscionably)

If the point of the costumes was to provide chic frisson when they were done. If the idea was to be au courant, or even ahead of the time, then I'd consider redesigning to maintain that. This is very dangerous, though; I think the Ashton redesignings show that. The point is to stay with the ballet's meaning, not to spice it up. But what if spiciness was the original point?

So to begin the heresy, what would I redesign? La Valse would probably be my first candidate. I probably wouldn't alter what was already there, I just want it to be more specific. At the State Theater, the ballet seems to take place on a bald, bare stage with black swags. I want it to take place in a ballroom. It wouldn't take much, just a suggestion of walls; it might only need re-lighting. But I would alter things until I felt like the ballet was happening somewhere instead of nowhere.

What ballet would I resort to violence to prevent redesigning? Liebeslieder Walzer.

So what are your thoughts on this? Don't forget design encompasses sets, costumes, hairpieces, lighting. . .

#2 rg

rg

    Emeralds Circle

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,400 posts

Posted 31 August 2001 - 11:28 AM

settingwise 'liebeslieder' HAS been redesigned. d.mitchell re-did the whole ballet scenically in 1984, keeping the karinska costumes, w/ modifications [originally the men wore tights and patent pumps not fitted pants as in '84, and the re-built dresses (and tutus) were slightly altered at the time as well, either by intent or benign neglect]. mitchell's design's replaced those of david hays, which some nycb-goers said were preferable for their lightness of structure and for the transformation they allowed from part one to part two. (the late e.gorey, longtime nycb-goer was not impressed by the re-do, he suggested to me that after hay's airy/light latticed surround mitchell's heavier, more specific architecture made it look as if the salon affair were taking place 'in a bank' [actually, the new designs were meticulously based, on lincoln kirstein's guidance, on the architectural detailing and scale of the amalianberg 'lusthaus' in germany].)
so i presume you mean you think that karinska's costumes should not be re-thought/designed.

[ 08-31-2001: Message edited by: rg ]

#3 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,234 posts

Posted 31 August 2001 - 12:38 PM

Good question. I guess the two best reasons are that the first ones look too dated -- I'd offer the Oliver Messel designs for Sleeping Beauty. When ABT revived them in the 1970s, they didn't work (I'm sure there were those who liked them, but I think this was the consensus.) And the second is that there was something wrong with the first ones that need to be corrected.

I can't imagine "Concerto Barocco" in pink polka-dot hot pants, and I don't think "Monotones" needs to be redesigned. (But like all rules, someone may well come up with a "better" Barocco or Monotones that I can't imagine.)

The recent "Les Rendezvous" redesign is an interesting example, because there was a case to be made for both sides, I think. Many people (including me) hated them. For me, they were too cute and bright, the distinction between the four little girls and the young women got lost, the sense of confinement and convention wasn't there, and most importantly, the designs (in the sense of the costumes) got in the way of the design (in the sense of choreography). BUT there's also a case to be made that the original costumes were dated, and that the brightness of the new designs captured the "bright young thing" aspect of the choreography.

#4 rg

rg

    Emeralds Circle

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,400 posts

Posted 31 August 2001 - 01:02 PM

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (remember records?), may I interject here a way of identifying "original" w/ regard to ballet designs? I assume you mean the Chappell design's most recently used as preferable to the newest ones by Ward. (And yes, I'm one of the few, perhaps only people ‘on my block' who actually admired them.). The actual ‘original' designs which I never saw live, are pictured in David Vaughan's invaluable "Frederick Ashton and His Ballets" and seem eccentric to a degree, but probably apt, in their ‘period' way for the Thirties. I also never saw the interim designs, but ‘grew up' with Chappell's last ‘thoughts' on the ‘look,' which I admired overall. But fyi, here's a rundown according to the dance collection's records of the designs and redesigns for the ballet in it's nearly 70-year-old history.
Here then the list of credits:
Chor: Frederick Ashton; mus: D.F.E. Auber (L'enfant prodigue, arr. by Constant Lambert); scen & cos: William Chappell. First perf: London, Sadler's Wells Theatre, Dec 5, 1933, Vic-Wells Ballet.//New production: Sadler's Wells Theatre, Nov 16, 1937, Vic-Wells Ballet; scen (new): William Chappell.//Revival: London, Sadler's Wells Theatre, Dec 26, 1947, Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet; scen & cos: (new); William Chappell.//First New York perf: Mar 25, 1952, Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet.//First National Ballet of Canada perf: Hamilton, Ontario, Palace Theatre, Nov 5, 1956; scen & cos: Kay Ambrose after William Chappell.//Revival: London, Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden, May 7, 1959, Royal Ballet; scen: Sophie Fedorovitch (sets originally made for Act I of Verdi's La traviata); cos: (new): William Chappell.

#5 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,234 posts

Posted 31 August 2001 - 01:10 PM

Yes, I meant the Chappell -- sorry, this had been dicussed when the Royal was here, the difference among the earlier British productions. I don't think I said "original designs," actually, but I didn't clarify that I was referring to the designs which I, perhaps erroneously, believed had become thought of as standard, hence the controversy over the latest redesign.

But I had hoped, Robert, that you'd explain why you thought the new designs were either equal to, or an improvement, over the older ones. (I was trying to provide an example of a recent redesign that many people here have either seen or at least read about, and have different views on whether it had worked, and I don't think I presented the "pro" view adequately.)

[ 08-31-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#6 rg

rg

    Emeralds Circle

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,400 posts

Posted 31 August 2001 - 01:46 PM

D.Vaughan's book, which i didn't consult earlier today, has, as i trust you've all already discussed, a full rundown of the changes over the years of the design scheme, etc. (d.v. btw, as he's said himself in print, also intensely disliked ward's designs.) as to my admiration for his work--the men's and women's costumes as well as the decor--i found it all of a pretty piece, not nec. a definitive statement on this ballet but a fine one for this outing. i'm not sure what big-girl/little-girl distinction you refer to in the previous chappells, but, if you refer to the fact that one 'rank' had pink ribbons and others white as trim in their hair and on their skirts, etc i think ward offers a kind of distinction, tho' i'm not remembering things precisely here, but i recall that his use of color/polka dots involved some in full chroma and some rendered in pastel hues to distinguish one 'tier' of dancers from another. in any case, w/ the exception of the little hats, which i liked more in theory than execution on the women (i loved the men's boaters!) i thought the result was winning in an apt way, and suitably 'french,' in line with the music. the silhoutte of the dresses was pretty much that of chappell's scheme and tho' ward's gloves were mitts where chappell's were elbow-length ones, i thought the effect was still winning. i esp. liked the way the little colored gloves helped focus on the ashtonian 'wrist curls' as well as in guiding the eye to follow and admire the sweep of the hands and the arms rendering the ballet's lushly torsioned upper-body and epualement moves, etc.

[ 08-31-2001: Message edited by: rg ]

#7 salzberg

salzberg

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 115 posts

Posted 01 September 2001 - 07:11 AM

OK. I really tried to think of a way to respond without using the first person, but I can't; it's too (first) personal.

There's redesign. . .and then there's redesign. For example, two years ago, after I'd lit Scherzo Fantastique for Dance As Ever, I remember thinking that I'd like another shot at lighting that set -- I didn't hate the way it looked, but I thought it didn't quite look "complete". Fortunately, I'm getting that opportunity soon. Is this a "redesign", or just a tweaking of an existing design? What's the difference? Where's the line drawn?

#8 rg

rg

    Emeralds Circle

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,400 posts

Posted 01 September 2001 - 09:31 AM

my understanding, jeffrey, of this 'question' is that it is meant to address efforts by 'others' to re-do work originally done by those involved with the ballet's initial (or, at least an existing, perhaps, longstanding, design scheme). i think there is no question that the artists who do the work are entitled to redo/adjust/tweak/change etc. any of their work as the work exists in rep. there are innumerable instances of this, and the public, even the individuals who might MISS the previous 'choices' (familiarity is often an ironclad factor of a public's mind-set). look, by way of example, at balanchine's choreographic (not to mention design-peference) 'revisions,' none probably more notably 'controversial' than his tinkerings w/ 'apollo' in the late 70s. (as i recall his response to all complaints about his cuts, etc. was something like: it's my ballet i can do anything i want!) so if i catch the point of this 'issue' you are well within your artistic rights to do whatever you want, and the public needs to consider, then, the latest version of your design as THE version. the bone of contention indicated here would come in if/when some other lighting designer re-does the plot and maybe someone different from the original costume designer re-does the costumes. then we'd have a 're-design' issue on our hands here. robbins btw was somewhat infamous for letting his designers do their work, and put it on stage, only to have him request revisions soon thereafter. THE FOUR SEASONS is an example of this costumewise, tho' the santo loquasto revisions were only somewhat different from the originals, but they were, if mem. serves different. ditto a situation w/ robbins's 'in g major' which initially had a terarutunian backdrop and then x-years later that got replaced, by robbins, with the current erte drop now in use. SO, if someone goes ahead and re-designs the 'g major' drop or the 'seasons' costumes, then i think the 'question' initiated here would be applied to the results. as to your urges to 'tweak' you own lights, i think, to paraphrase of mr. b around the 'apollo' time, you could call a halt to any complaint/argument about the changes by saying: it's none of your business! (which i think was the upshot of most of mr. b's response to the 'apollo' complaints).

#9 salzberg

salzberg

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 115 posts

Posted 01 September 2001 - 03:56 PM

Dance is a dynamic, living art form, not a static, dead one. If someone wants to see a museum piece, then I suggest that s/he go to the Mat (the one in Central Park, not the one in Lincoln Center, athough, now that I think of it. . . .).

As long as there's a valid reason and the new designs stay true to the spirit of the piece, I say there's no reason NOT to redesign.

Besides, I could use the work.

#10 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,234 posts

Posted 01 September 2001 - 04:25 PM

I think the whole idea of what makes something a museum piece is at the heart of this thread. Surely every ballet doesn't need to be redesigned every year. Or does it? Is it a matter of fiddling until you get it "right," or changing things the way one rearranges a living room -- as much from boredom as anything else.

Aside from the personal taste or employment needs of the artists involved :D what drives the need to redesign? Will "Four Temperaments" (in its current black-and-white state, which I do know is not the original) look dated some day? I think the case can be made that what keeps something from looking like a museum piece -- whatever that is; I know it's a term used a lot, but I'm never quite sure what it means other than 'something older than what it is I've just proposed to do') -- is the dancers.

[ 09-01-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#11 rg

rg

    Emeralds Circle

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,400 posts

Posted 01 September 2001 - 04:56 PM

museums and museum pieces are probably elastic terms meaning diff. things all around. balanchine was on record saying his co. 'vision' was not that of museum, which i think was to counter claims made by various ballets russes troupes, or was it specifically one of de basil's claims about his company's being a museum. in any case i think the whole thing has gotten out of hand, somewhat, w/ museum becoming equated w/ a bad thing. as for 'museum piece' which i'm not looking up in any dictionary at the moment, but i THINK it's usually a pejorative term meaning a musty thing that's become dated and is valued only as an artifact, etc. dance o'course is separate kettle of fish as if it's not performed it doesn't really exist. i think re-doing ballets should be the province of inspired artistic directors who have reasons for commissioning new this or that and who have THEIR own reasons for so doing. these reasons i should think would vary, the costumes don't become the current company's bodies, for example. as an artistic exercise, i for one, would welcome a look at THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS in those controversial costumes, but only as alternative 'exercise' (and probably an impractical one, because the costs would probably far outweigh the version's shelf-life). dowell got fried in the reviews, so far as i can recall, for having 'rhapsody' redone, and unlike the 'rendezvous' results, which i feel made an effort to honor the extant scheme's silhouette, etc., those for 'rhapsody' seem, from pictures, to go in a direction all its own, which may or may not be successful aesthetically. but i'd like to see these on stage before assessing them. (i found the 'original' chappell ones undistinguished; ditto the setting.) david vaughan, by way of another example, has long lobbied for a re-do of the lancaster 'fille mal gardee' designs. i guess my feeling is that there are no set rules for what, when, where, why to re-do a ballet's decor and/or costumes. what matters is the effect of the resulting work. and that will prob. always inspire a whole range of reactions. i for one felt strongly favorable for the lacroix designs baryshnikov commissioned for 'gaite' and these were almost universally panned. (i find the zack brown set for the same production much less successful.) danilova said on a diaghilev docu. how the impresario taught her that 'with the taste, you can do anything; and without taste, you can do nothing!' i know, i know, who's taste? what taste? but that's probably the bottom line. sometimes it would seem that a new set of designs can re-introduce a work to a new/current audience the way the old set could (or did) not. then there is the notion of two 'looks' etc. for the same ballet: is 'ballet imperial'as a production in tutus and tiaras a separate ballet from 'tchaikovsky piano concerto no.2' in chiffon shifts, etc. even though the steps are virtually identical? i resisted the shifts' look for a while then i noted the way the chiffon skirts worked into the choregraphy's stage full of soutenu turns and started to see that there might a real, almost 'organic' reason to put the women in looser shifts. who's saying poTAYtoh and who's saying poTAHtoh?

[ 09-01-2001: Message edited by: rg ]

#12 salzberg

salzberg

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 115 posts

Posted 01 September 2001 - 06:16 PM

That's not exactly the definition I had in mind, RG, although I see your point.

When I referred to "museum pieces" (except, of course, for my gratuitous wisecrack about the Met, which I just threw in because. . .well. . .just because), I was thinking of works that are finished -- not to be worked on again, ever. Few dances, in my opinion, fall into that category.

[ 09-02-2001: Message edited by: salzberg ]

#13 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,234 posts

Posted 01 September 2001 - 06:49 PM

Now, that's an intriguing concept. So intriguing, I think it deserves its own thread. :D


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):