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Mme. Hermine

Problematic Classic?

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Jennifer Dunning, in today's review of The Prodigal Son, says it has "always been a problematic classic."

I found this strange. I first saw this ballet in the mid-1970s, when Baryshnikov did it with the Chicago Ballet. I've seen it at many intervals across the years. It really hit me right away. I felt it was powerful and emotional. I wasn't worrying about classifying it. I wasn't worried about whether the movement in it was of one era or another because the era didn't mean anything to me, given its immediate effect. If I've ever not enjoyed a performance of it, it's been when I felt the dancers weren't able to do it well, full-out, with conviction. Would love to hear the thoughts of others.

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I wondered that, too, Mme. Hermine (and THANK YOU for posting a topic suggested by something on Links!!!). Perhaps the ballet just doesn't hold together for her? She explains "problematic classic": "A somewhat willing 1929 collaboration by Balanchine, Prokofiev and Georges Rouault, engineered by Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes, "Prodigal Son" is a rough-edged evocation of the biblical story as depicted in a series of Russian pictures."

I hadn't thought of it as a series of pictures before -- I agree with that. There are a lot of European 19th century ballets that are organized by "picture" instead of "scene". I've always thought that it was a conscious way of storytelling -- putting out "pictures" along the way and bringing them to life. But it isn't an organized, linear method of storytelling. I don't think that's a flaw, just a different way of doing it.

Anyone else?

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thank you, alexandra! i agree that the story is not told in a linear fashion. but in a way it acts as a sort of 'memory' ballet for me. i'm not sure exactly how to explain that except that in my mind(don't know about anyone else's!) i remember things in pictures, or tableaus, and not so much in a linear fashion. so the way the story is told always seemed very natural to me.

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i'm not sure if there are specific or oblique or coincidental references here to source material suggested by 'the station master' (sometimes called 'the post master'), a short story by pushkin, wherein, and i haven't actually read said story, a character in the narrative is taken by a series of three prints--etchings(?) engravings(?) woodcuts(?)--delineating the story of the prodigal son. this specific, pictorial reduction of the parable was said to have been a key inspiration to the gestation of this ballet chez diaghilev. i'm not sure if the pictures are real, and thus familiar to many russians or imagined, generic ones.

[ February 19, 2002: Message edited by: rg ]

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Well that's very interesting and something I didn't know. Here is what seems to be the relevant part of the story:

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Thereupon he began copying out my pass, and I examined the pictures that adorned his humble but clean dwelling. They illustrated the story of the Prodigal Son: in the first, a venerable old man in a night-cap and dressing-gown was saying good-bye to the restless youth, who was hastily receiving his blessing and a purse of gold. Another vividly depicted the young man's dissolute conduct; he was sitting at the table surrounded by false friends and shameless women. Farther on, the young man, in a three-cornered hat and ragged clothes, was herding pigs and sharing their meal; his face expressed profound sorrow and penitence. The last picture showed his return to his father: the kind old man in the same dressing-gown and night-cap was running to meet him; the prodigal son was kneeling; in the background the cook could be seen killing the fatted calf, and the elder brother asking the servants about the reason for such rejoicing.

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I also noted the phrase "problematic classic" and I just took it to mean, "I like it, with qualifications," or "the early Balanchine that's not so good as 'Apollo.'"

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