Is there such a thing as a perfect ballet?
Posted 01 September 2001 - 06:54 PM
Jeff posted this on the design/redesign thread:
"I was thinking of works that are finished -- not to be worked on again, ever. Few dances, in my opinion, fall into that category."
Like many things, I can argue both sides of this one. Petipa was still tinkering with Sleeping Beauty when they pried his hands off of it, and other choreographers (Fokine, especially, springs to mind) reworked his ballets nearly every time he staged them. Other choreographers tinker for awhile, some don't.
What ballets do you think are perfect? Not a single dead spot, nor irksome variation, nor dance/divertissement/whatever that causes your eyelids to droop. Be tough. Use the gold standard -- not just ballets you like or even love, but ballets that are freeze driable in a perfect state. Or were once
Posted 01 September 2001 - 08:17 PM
Concerto Barocco has also changed massively over the years, going from the jazzy allegro ballet that Marie-Jeanne danced to the lyric adagio one that Farrell did (with the jumps removed because of Farrell's knee problems)
Does mean these ballets aren't perfectly wonderful? No way, they're among my favorites too. But they (and The Four Temperaments and Agon) were fluid in Balanchine's lifetime, undergoing constant change. And interestingly, you picked the two that may have changed the most (except for Apollo). As for perfect ballets? I think perfection is impossible not just because of human nature, but time. I think the Messel production of Sleeping Beauty is a great example. In '46 it was perfect. Two decades later (according to accounts) it no longer was.
This seems like a good place to respond to Robert's question about Liebeslieder on the parent thread of this. I was mistaken, Robert! I began watching NYCB in '83, so to me, the Mitchell sets for Liebeslieder are the only sets I know! I think it furthers the discussion, though. Alexandra remarked a long while back (discussing National Ballet of Canada's lineage of Swan Lakes) that tradition is what you know, and one dancegoer's tradition is another's heresy. I liked the Mitchell sets for the same reason Gorey hated them; he thought they set the ballet "in a bank" - for me, they state the social class of the dancers (haute bourgeois, very wealthy but not nobility) and it fixes the ballet in a social milieu.
On other points: I'm a believer in change in the passive tense. Ballets change; they must because the world they inhabit changes. I'm a great deal more wary of the desire to go in and "improve" someone else's work. A restager should approach all revivals as an advocate for the choreography. It doesn't mean that they should not change a step, but that changing should not be the first option, but the last resort.
However, I change my own ballets all the time. Two reasons:
Choreography is like couture to me. If someone doesn't look good in red, I'm not going to make them wear red. I change my stuff all the time to suit the dancer doing it. I know the effect I want, it's easy for me to substitute an analogous step. I make corps de ballet work so it doesn't need to be particularized in that way.
Dissatisfaction is the other reason, but I've gotten to the point where if I think the original concept was sufficiently flawed, I'll gut the ballet entirely and use the same music for a better idea. I did that with Scherzo Fantastique. I'm planning to scrap 1998's Reger piece and recycle the music. I could see myself entirely redoing the first movement of Quodlibet (it's dull because its unfocused).
With other ballets, the foundation is solid enough that you only need to repair the flawed area. I intend to tinker with the second tableau in my Les Noces in that way. The danger there is a common one; the fix may be worse that leaving it alone. It's half a decade old, I'm half a decade older, my style has changed, and what I do may not integrate with what I did. I changed a section near the end of Horizon in '99 the same way and the fix was better than the original, but it didn't feel integrated into the work, and it still wasn't good enough for me to be satisfied with that part. It's always a relief and source of great satisfaction if I think a ballet is good enough as is. I know I will never make a perfect ballet, but I'm satisfied with "good enough to please me."
[ 09-01-2001: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]
Posted 01 September 2001 - 10:10 PM
Posted 01 September 2001 - 10:30 PM
I was thinking of ballets that were perfect in choreography, cast, and design, where everything was so perfect that you didn't want to see it any other way (even if others, including the choreographer, did). I'd nominate Monotones II (the white pas de trois).
Posted 01 September 2001 - 11:48 PM
There's certainly no wrong answer to Alexandra's question. For me, one ballet that feels perfect is Liebeslieder Walzer. I've never seen a perfect performance of the Four Temperaments, but I know it's a perfect ballet
Posted 02 September 2001 - 01:06 AM
if i were to have runners up, la valse would be at the top of my list. in fact, the first part of the ballet i do put into the perfect catagory. the second half, however is another story.
Posted 02 September 2001 - 07:29 AM
Posted 04 September 2001 - 01:41 PM
Posted 04 September 2001 - 03:12 PM
Posted 04 September 2001 - 04:27 PM
On a shorter note, I think Balanchine's Apollo is right up there with the best of them. I know that Balanchine changed the end of the ballet at one point but that doesn't affect its status in my mind.
Posted 04 September 2001 - 04:35 PM
On topic: Although I understand the original intent of the query and think it's perfectly valid, I wouldn't nominate anything, because nothing is ever perfect and that's what gives viewers and artists something to strive for. I think of Sir Galahad: he achieved the Grail, God, and perfection and there was nothing for him to do but die. Well, we can't have that all the time, can we? ;)
Posted 04 September 2001 - 10:28 PM
Posted 05 September 2001 - 02:28 AM
Oh, and possibly Petrushka?
[ 09-05-2001: Message edited by: Helena ]
Posted 05 September 2001 - 07:16 AM
Originally posted by dirac:
Off topic. salzberg, you left us hanging. (Well, you left me hanging.) Which show was it?
The original cast revival of Man of La Mancha at the Vivian Beaumont in (I think) 1972. When it ended, I was crying (I've cried at shows many times many times since then, but they've all been my own shows, and if I cried because of their artistic quality, you must remember that "bad" is a quality). Had the evening ended there, it would still rank as the most memorable night I ever spent in a theatre -- but it didn't end there.
Afterward, we go to go backstage and meet Richard Kiley in his dressing room. While we were chatting, the composers of his new movie came in, so he introduced us to "Fred" and "Al". About 30 seconds after they left, we all realized at the same time who Fred and Al were.
What do you say to Lerner and Lowe: "Look, I really don't think Eliza should have come back. . . ."?
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