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Remaking the Classics, Round 5


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 23 February 2002 - 10:58 AM

Mark Lawson, in the Guardian, has a go at one of our favorite topics:

Making a crisis out of a drama

Critics always make a fuss about radical retellings of the classics

[quote]What's in operation is an artistic dress-code in which we believe that old stories should be told in the old way even though the artists who are now the beloveds of cultural conservatives - Shakespeare, Mozart, Bach - told old stories in a new way.
A curious exception to this rule of reverence towards the classics is in ballet. When the choreographer Mats Ek brings Carmen to the Royal Opera House in London soon, admirers of modern dance are most likely to boo if there isn't a certain amount of historical anachronism, sexual depravity and mimed drug-taking. The new director of the Royal Ballet, Ross Stretton, was attacked by critics because his debut presentation of Don Quixote was too old-fashioned.

read article


Lawson also discusses revised operas and plays, giving some reasons for both. What do you think?

#2 cargill

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Posted 24 February 2002 - 04:52 PM

Somehow, I don't think calling someone conservative who objects to some of the things he mentioned in Don Giovanni is insulting! Or accurate, either, since a great production of any work should take its impetus from the text or the music. A director looking over his shoulder at what has been done or ahead to the latest scandal and critical flap does not usually, it seems to me, have anything interesting to say. If the production cannot be justified artistically by what is already in the work, then drug dealing, etc., will only look false. And a critic who criticises a work which looks false is not being conservative, just as a critic who praises a work simply because it is offensive to certain perceived audiences is not being liberal. "It is new" is a description, not an evaulation, just as "It is old-fashioned" is not a valid criticism unless certain elements do not work--in which case the readers deserve to know why they don't work.

#3 Estelle

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Posted 24 February 2002 - 05:11 PM

Mary, I agree with you totally. I really found that article a bit irritating. For me, the only interesting point was the part about the fact that theater directors make a lot of changes because the same plays are programmed over and over for box-office reasons- I do think that there's a similar problem in ballet, and that it's easier for a company director or choreographer to indulge in staging their own versions of "Swan Lake" or "Romeo and Juliet" rather than create a real new work because they know that the title alone will bring some audience... But Mark Lawson seems to consider such an egotistic behaviour as a part of "director's integrity". frown.gif

By the way, it seems to me that the criticisms about the RB' "Don Quixote" were not so much about it being "old fashioned" (and it was Nureyev's version, not Stretton's...)

#4 Ed Waffle

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Posted 24 February 2002 - 06:54 PM

The two examples of classic works that had been modernized are A Masked Ball and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Below are two links with reviews of Ballo including one with a photo of the infamous opening scene.

http://www.guardian....,655612,00.html

http://www.musicweb....erdi_masked.htm

One problem is that directors don’t think in terms of their audience—like many academic poets currently writing they attempt to impress their peers. If it is shocking and well executed it works. If the production points out an aspect of the work that had been heretofore buried, all the better. That this new approach uncovers something that only the director is capable of seeing is beside the point.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a work many of us have seen many times as a play and also as interpreted for the ballet and opera. It is a standard of the rep, as it should be. It contains some of Shakespeare’s most memorable poetry. (It is the one about the king with the three daughters isn’t it? One of them wants to marry a Montegue but is stabbed on the Ides of March by Sir John Falstaff, who is defended at the trial by Portia?)

I am sure that great ideas abound for interpreting it.

The other work, Ballo is one that I can’t say much about, since it is the sole work of Verdi’s late period that I don’t like—why I cannot say. It does not, however, deserve the ignominy of the production as described.

There are ways to produce works from hundreds of years ago that actually serve the creative genius at their core while not insisting on performance practice ossified in past decades.
Don Giovanni set in Spanish Harlem did not work, possibly because it is such a dense work that Mozart and Da Ponte simple overwhelm any attempt to tamper with it. The Don Giovanni described in the linked reviews sounds disgusting and over the top.

Rigoletto set in Little Italy on the Lower East Side of New York worked quite well. The director showed that Verdi’s idea of a Renaissance princely court full of intrigue, backstabbing, sexual violence and general loathsomeness could be transported to the circle of a Mafia don. I don’t think that updating as such isn’t bad—just updating for its own sake, or because you can do it is.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 27 February 2002 - 02:45 PM

I don't think we've kicked this one 'round enough, so I'm raising it again.

I agree with what's been said so far. I liked Ed's examples of two restagings that didn't work and one that did -- nothing is impossible, or always wrong. As Mary and Estelle said, it's when "good" and "new!" become mixed up that the problems happen, when someone is trying to remake something just to be new.

I do think the point that the reason each director changes standard or classic works is to make his mark and for better box office is true -- depressing, but true. Perhaps, too, the problem is that there are so many companies trying to cash in on "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty," not to mention "Romeo and Juliet."

I was especially struck by the statement in the article that "admirers of modern dance are most likely to boo if there isn't a certain amount of historical anachronism, sexual depravity and mimed drug-taking." I don't think that modern dance and lust for depravity are linked. I DO think there is a segment of the audience that defines "adult" as "having sexual content and depravity," but I don't think that all modern dance fans would agree with that. Unless I'm missing something hidden in merce's works......

One of the problems, from a critic's point of view, is that critics are polarized over this issue. Half will shoot (figuratively, figuratively) anyone who tampers with a classic on sight, the other half will jeer at anyone who does NOT tamper with a classic. It's hard to tell the audience's take on this. Some will agree, in theory, that they think this or that tampering is too much, but if the dancing is good, probably won't complain too loudly. Since people will come to see a "Swan Lake" without knowing what they're going to get, we can't relaly tell if they're voting with their feet or not. (i.e., the fact that a new, updated "Swan Lake" sells out doesn't mean as much if a program of new, as in created this week, choreography were to sell out. Which it generally doesn't, which is why they go rape "Swan Lake.")

#6 cargill

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Posted 28 February 2002 - 11:25 AM

It seems that the statement that the modern dance audience expects sex, violence and depravity and will leave without it in some ways says they are as conservative and the audience and critics the writer is damning--if you know what you will see you are hardly getting cutting edge or innovative material or a true rethinking. But of course, I am a middle-aged fogey!

#7 Nanatchka

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Posted 02 March 2002 - 08:16 PM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by alexandra:
I DO think there is a segment of the audience that defines "adult" as "having sexual content and depravity," but I don't think that all modern dance fans would agree with that. Unless I'm missing something hidden in merce's works......

Well if you wanted to see those things in Merce's work, you probably could find them! Take Cunningham's "Beach Birds," with a section I always think of as "birds do it." All of this reinterpretation stuff reminds of the No More Masterpieces approach to theater production, for which we can credit Antonin Artaud. I don't think he really meant for people to stage As You Like It in ante-bellum New Orleans, but that is the kind of thing that happened. As for real sexual content and depravity, give me Giselle (dead girl dances with living lover)any day.


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