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Aurora and Emploi


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#1 CygneDanois

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 12:16 AM

This is something of a continuation of a topic raised on a different thread regarding Aurora and her formal classification--and a few other people in The Sleeping Beauty.

Leigh wrote:

As far as I'm concerned, Theme and Variations is a direct descendant stylistically of The Sleeping Beauty and the leads in neither ballets are "lyrical" at all to me.


I responded to this and something else that Alexandra wrote:

Alexandra wrote:

Lilac Fairy and Hilda (in Bournonville's Folk Tale) are two danseuses nobles roles.

Since you listed the Lilac Fairy as noble, does this mean that Aurora isn't? Would she then be the female equivalent of semicaractere classique? Or is it just that you didn't happen to list her here this one time Posted Image?

Disclaimer: The next paragraph is about adagio/allegro, and yes, I do realize that this is not the same thing as formal emploi.

Leigh, why exactly don't you think that Aurora is adagio? She has some quick steps during the first act, but the rest of her
choreography is generally adagio, I think. For an extreme example (and this may very well not be an equal comparison, considering the very different training of these dancers), I think of Miranda Weese and then
Asylmuratova (though I have only seen her Aurora on video, and Marc may feel free
to step in and correct me at any time here Posted Image) dancing the part. From what I have seen, Weese is very allegro, while Asylmuratova is adagio, but Asylmuratova still dances the allegro section(s) with speed and precision, while Weese, from my experience of her, does not seem to have
the ability to perform the adagio sections with equal skill. Do you think that what you wrote about accounting "account for slow
change over decades and dancer generations" applies in this case--that Aurora may have started out as one or the other and changed over the years? (Then again, to that end, we probably have some people here who know
perfectly well what Brianza was like as a dancer--from reading, that is Posted Image.)

Leigh responded, in an email:

It's an an interesting question - I think my answer will have somethig to do with the nature of the adagio (I know the Rose Adagio is slow, but I don't find it legato; perhaps it's because I've never seen a legato dancer
do it. . .but then again, I have - Letestu at POB. It gets further complicated by the fact that the Rose Adagio was changed in
emphasis because Fonteyn could balance like that and not be steely - but for every
dancer who has come after (with the exception of Gregory, for whom the balances were a specialty) it's been a swamp thing. Right now, you cast an Aurora who can get through the ballet (the best adagio dancers at NYCB have floundered in it, but NYCB isn't the best company to talk about when
dealing with Petipa.) I find the Act III adagio to be in sort of a "heroic" mold that can be done well by allegro dancers. I also
think my perception of the role is colored by her first entrance. There are two essays on my site on the subject (that now I have to reread, too!) One on Weese debuting in Beauty from '97 and one on allegro and adagio
ballerinas from '99.

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I haven't had time to come up with a real response to this yet, but while I'm pondering, everyone is free to add his/her thoughts Posted Image.

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#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 02:52 AM

I was thinking about my reasons a bit more on the walk home from work. It occurred to me that another reason I consider Aurora to be slanted towards its allegro rather than its adagio qualities is the subject matter. Sleeping Beauty is a ballet that's triumphant in nature to me; a celebration of order and harmony. Even in the second act adagio, there's a difference between the meeting of Desire and Aurora and Odette and Siegfried. We know the outcome in both cases; and it colors how it's done. Tragedy takes a different dancer than triumph.

Interestingly (and this is a minority opinion) it's why I don't like Kirkland in the Theme and Variations telecast with Baryshnikov. It's a very accomplished performance, but she's doing it like she was Giselle, not Aurora.

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#3 Alexandra

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 10:36 AM

CygneDanois, I didn't leave out Aurora accidentally, but I honestly don't know where to put her. As I've said before, I don't pretend to be able to decode female employ. I'm sure about Lilac Fairy though, and the true danseuse noble doesn't dance (Hilda in Folk Tale dances only when she thinks she's a troll -- clever, clever Bournonville -- but when she returns to human form she does proper court dances.)

This may be a place where 19th century ballet just leaves 18th century employ behind. Is there a new genre, unnamed (or at least I can't find it) for the classically-proportioned shorter female dancer? A shorter danseuse noble????? I don't think it's a classique role, because that's Princess Florine (Bluebird). Makarova said (quite rightly, IMHO) that she wasn't right for Aurora; her role was Florine. And Makarova, to me, is a classique. It's not a demi role.

In this century, we seem to use "classical" for "danseur/se noble" and "romantic" for the "semicharacter classique," which helps immensely, of course. I've always accepted Aurora as "classical," in that sense, but that's based on believing that Fonteyn was the ideal Western Aurora.

Maybe one's view of Aurora depends on the Auroras one has seen, or particularly liked. If you define Aurora by Fonteyn, it's not an allegro role (and I don't think nobles can only do tragedy). There's a squareness about the line -- squared shoulders, the 90-degree arabesque (which is why so many people were so upset at the Kirov's "oh, the hell with it, let's kick" take).

From what I've seen on video, Kolpakova was also adagio with a perfect classical line -- very gracious, though not quite grand (which is fine for a Princess), and much more stretched than Fonteyn -- and Lezhnina seemed very much in that line was as well. I don't know the performance history in Russia before Kolpakova, though.
Was Semyonova (their "classical" as opposed to "romantic" dancer) the Aurora of her generation, Andrei? How is she classified in Russia? And if she is a classique, then what do you do with Princess Florine???

#4 CygneDanois

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 11:28 AM

Preface: Rather than placing an IMO in every other sentence, I'm just going to put it here. Please read this with the understanding that it's all "in my opinion." Posted Image

I think I agree with Alexandra on this one--noble dancers aren't necessarily always tragic, are they? Even so, I've never thought The Sleeping Beauty was a particularly upbeat, cheerful ballet. It's orderly and harmonious as you said, but also serious--Aurora and Désiré's wedding is very grand and gives me the sense that it is traditional and conventional. They don't really know each other that well before the wedding, if you consider that they really only meet at the end of Act II. Before that, Désiré is only seeing a vision of her produced by the Lilac Fairy. Aurora's parents seem perfectly happy to marry her off to the first prince who comes along, which would not have been unusual then.

And although the entertainments at the wedding are fanciful, the actual marriage of Aurora and Désiré is really a rather grave affair, with the solemn procession and the minor-keyed apotheosis. Their pas de deux is severe, as well--formal and slow. Nothing is rushed. It's all very cool and serene. Same with the variations--Désiré's variation is very ordered, and although it does have that quick manege at the end, none of it is particularly upbeat, and it has to be done with an extremely noble bearing at all times. Aurora's variation is similar, the simple, demure, outwardly calm dance projecting the maturity of a young princess. The coda is more joyous, but still very formal, and not flashy at all. In fact, I don't even see Aurora's Act I entrance as really being terribly quick, with those high jetés from the very beginning. Of course, some dancers prefer to do small Italian pas de chats, which would certainly change the nature of the entrance.

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So, Alexandra, would Aurora be "more" classical than Florina? It seems to me that she would...although they are, of course, both princesses. And about danseuses nobles not dancing...is it improper for the Lilac Fairy to dance in the prologue (it isn't, after all, court dancing, I think)? What would she then do during the fairies' entrée, adagio, variations and coda?

I think many the differences between Fonteyn and the Russian dancers can probably be accounted for by training--British dancers tend to be very square IMO, whereas Russian dancing is, for lack of a better word, curvy; that is, their arabesques and attitudes are not perfect right angles--they're more diagonal, curved. Same with other aspects as well. I'm not condoning the current "Kirov Kick," but the Russians do tend to raise their legs above 90 degrees in arabesque/attitude for an upwardly-curved line. A little more lyrical, and not as severe, although one could very well argue that Aurora is supposed to be severe and restrained, considering the nature of the ballet and her social position.

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#5 Alexandra

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 12:24 PM

CyngeDanois, I would agree with your analysis, and I think the point you make -- that there's a difference between serious and tragic -- is a very good one.

Re Aurora vs. Florine, if you're defining "more classical" as noble (or the 19th century version thereof) vs. semicaractere classique, yes. I think there are two differences: one, the geometry of the line. Nobles (classically proportioned) are square; draw a box or a sphere around them in arabesque and you get a square or a circle). Classiques are more elliptical; you get a rectangle or an oval. Also, the noble is the simple genre (I'm sure a concept Noverre would not accept) while the semicaractere classique creates a character--often an animal or other exotic character--through the dancing. This next sentence is definitely an IMO, but perhaps the noble is the most human genre? Maybe that's why there had to be something different for the Romantic age. (Again, a nod to Bournonville, who used the human/inhuman conflict a lot in his ballets. Teresina, changed into a nymph, fights to retain her humanity; Hilda, raised by trolls, always knows there's something different about her.)

I was thinking this morning about how important height is to female employ, and -- again, anything I say about female employ is a total guess; male employ is only half-a-guess Posted Image -- in trying to trace what Danes consider "classical" I've made some observations that may be helpful to this discussion. Two of the dancers some people may actually have seen Posted Image

Silja Schandorff (5 foot 7 and, as Tobi Tobias once wrote, "magnificently proportioned") took over the employ of Mette-Ida Kirk (5 foot 2 and very small-boned). You can't imagine two more different dancers. Schandorff is on every page of our main site, although bent over so you can't really see her body; Kirk is on the video of "Dancing Bouornonville." Her great Bournonville roles were Hilda in "A Folk Tale" and Eleanora in "Kermesse." (Schandorff was a great Hilda but did not do Eleanora, probably because of height.)

I once saw a tape of Schandorff, from the back, at the barre and my first thought was, good grief, I never realized Mette-Ida Kirk was that tall. Even though the bodies were totally different, the picture the bodies make are very much the same. The tilt of the head, the angle of the shoulder, the way the arm is held, even the way the muscles in the back display, were identical. I started tracing their roles and there was remarkable overlap -- both Myrthas, for example -- and, going back further, they were the same employ as Mona Vangsaae, Ashton's Juliet, and the first Danish dancer, I was told, who had contemporary line. Point being that there's an element of sensibility, musculature, proportions and training.

#6 CygneDanois

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 10:08 PM

When I said "more classical," was trying to ask if, for example, Aurora would be closer to noble than Florina--and I think you understood what I meant Posted Image.

I believe I see what you mean about geometry of line as well--you were speaking of physical proportions (legs:body ratio), and I was speaking of training (ie, the tendency to raise a leg at a different angle in relation to the body or hold it in a different manner)...but I think we understand each other there, as well.

Your point about human/inhuman in Bournonville is interesting, but I'm not sure I understand completely--was a new type of dancer necessary in the Romantic era to portray human/inhuman conflicts because the nobles were usually human and the semicaractere classiques were usually not--and so someone was needed who could portray both? Or are Teresina and Hilda just nobles who, since they are naturally human, are meant to be out of place as supernatural creatures?

I'm also very interested about what you wrote about female employ--do I understand that you're saying height wouldn't necessarily matter as much as proportion/sensibility?--because that is what you're saying, it makes perfect sense to me Posted Image. And about sensibility...is that where such words as "dramatic," "lyrical," "adagio," and "allegro" might come in (ie, that one can be classically proportioned and still an allegro dancer or something)?

One last thing--I just wanted to say that in my last post, when I wrote that I don't see Aurora's entrance in Act I as being "terribly quick," I did not mean to say I don't consider it allegro, which it obviously is. I think it's petit allegro, but maybe petit allegro that wants to be grand...? If that makes any sense. That is, it's fast, but it still has some large jumps in there, and it has to be done more in a grand manner than possibly the female equivalent of demicaractere steps would be done--they might, for example, be more intricate and complex, close to the ground, than a few large jetés interspersed with small ones...which actually leads me to an interesting thought--that both steps in the beginning of the entrance are jetés, just different kinds, juxtaposed (I can't believe I just said "juxtaposed"). Petipa made an extremely interesting, beautiful entrance that conveys the character right from the beginning, all out of "large jeté, small jeté, piqué attitude croisé devant and repeat"! Less is definitely more when dealing with choreography Posted Image.

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#7 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 21 March 2001 - 01:01 AM

I figured I ought to explain how I'd cast Aurora in my fantasy ballet company.

I'm going to stay away from noble/classique for this post, only because I'm not entirely convinced yet that I've nailed the terms accurately. Even adagio/allegro is a bit dangerous - I don't consider Aurora to be an allegro role because of it's speed (although I do for its jumps, but then again, Giselle is a jumping role and it is definitely an adagio role). It's allegro to me because I think it needs to be danced crisply.

Using the repertory I know best as a guide, the dancer I would pick to do Aurora would also be the one who did the first movement of Symphony in C and the lead in Divertimento No. 15. CD, did you ever see Judith Fugate do Aurora? I'm not implying she goes in the pantheon of legendary Auroras, but I always thought she was well cast in the role. She was an elegant dancer with even proportions, could do adagio (more sweet and lyric than tragic, though) and with a real capacity for footwork. She was great in the roles listed above; the sort of roles I call "magisterial". Weese also does these roles, but she's a little more sharp-edged in them than Fugate was.

So that's how I conceive of the role - what sort of dancer am I describing? Classique or noble?

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#8 Michael

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Posted 21 March 2001 - 01:44 AM

If the Lilac Fairy is, at the outset, defined as the example of the Danseuse Noble emploi par excellence, then Aurora must be treated as a Classique role. (You see, CD, "juxtaposed" isn't so difficult, now that I've thrown in a "par excellence" or two).

#9 CygneDanois

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Posted 21 March 2001 - 11:33 AM

I don't think Fugate was still dancing by the time I got to NY. I've only seen her dance a variation from Who Cares? on the Balanchine Celebration tape. However, from your description, she sounds like she was the right type for Aurora, whatever it is. I agree that The Sleeping Beauty needs to be danced crisply. It is a very precise ballet.

Michael, I agree with you that Aurora should be more classique than noble...now we just have to figure out what that is for a female dancer Posted Image. Fugate to me sounds like a cross between noble and semicaractere classique--actually, she sounds similar to (I hope this makes sense) Larissa Lezhnina (keep in mind I've only seen them both a little bit on video) to me. If this similarity that I see is valid in real life, then it would help immensely if someone knows Lezhnina's "type." (Of course, they might be totally different in real life--I once made a "video comparison" between Lezhnina and Maurin that made no sense whatsoever.)

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#10 Michael

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Posted 21 March 2001 - 01:18 PM

CD,on reaching some more solid description of the boundaries of Semicharactere Classique, I think maybe we have to conclude that this category of danseuse is just more porous and more widely defined than danseuse noble was and is. Greater definitional certainty might not be attainable.

Classique seems to includes both Florine and Aurora. Apparently Classique developped because of the need to hybridize. Danseur/Danseuse Noble was too restrictive. A need was felt to have a softer and broader class, including relatively tall, but not very tall or extremely tall dancers, that extended over a wider range of roles and included all sorts of dancing (allegro, adagio, and legato effects) but that stopped at outright character portrayal and more grotesque dramatization. So they called it "Semicharacter Classique" and pulled together a lot of roles which, at the extreme ends at either extreme (short and tall, allegro or adagio demands too) can become hard to reconcile under one roof.

There are always hard cases on the edges in drawing a line in any discipline. A judge once wrote something like (my paraphrase) that "At dawn or dusk, it's hard to tell whether it's night or day and maybe you could say both. But that doesn't mean that light and dark don't exist or aren't different from each other."

#11 Drew

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Posted 22 March 2001 - 12:05 AM

I saw Lezhnina dance Aurora when she was still with the Kirov and quite young -- She was, I think, possibly the most "right" Aurora I have seen. (However, it is NOT a role in which I have seen too many genuinely great, or even successful, performances -- and I missed Fonteyn and Kolpakova altogether.) What I remember most about the performance was the "crisp," and pure, classical lines, the sheer crystalline geometry of it, as well as Lezhnina's youthful radiance. A description that perhaps accords with what Andrei means by "classique-ingenue" (?).

For me geometry (literally) is a big part of Sleeping Beauty. Though I don't quite know how that intersects with "emploi." Lezhnina's lines were not really "square" but they were nothing like what we are presently being served up as the Kirov norm!! I don't have the memory or technical knowledge to characterize the look, but as a fan, I felt as if I were seeing something that at least approached the "ideal" Petipa angles. A kind of textbook simplicity, nothing look strained or "extra" stretched etc. The body was harmonious -- you weren't drawn to look at the leg or the torso, but the whole "figure."

I would never have thought of comparing Lezhnina with Fugate (whose Aurora I missed) except in the very general sense that Fugate's line was more classical, more restrained than other NYCB dancers. Fugate was also warmer and more womanly than Lezhnina (at the time I saw Lezhnina anyway); I associate "coolness" of temperament with Kirov -- or should I say Leningrad -- classicism and, specifically, the way the company danced Sleeping Beauty over a decade ago. Temperament may be more a matter of sensibility than "emploi" but if classique is a somewhat "hybrid" category anyway, one might say that Aurora grows into a more "noble" type of classique. Even in a "cool" performance, the contrast/development of her three big set pieces -- from the allegro entrance to the grand pas de deux -- is supposed to show differing facets of the dancer. And the choreography/music arguably moves towards a greater 'grandeur' of style or presence in the final act.

[This message has been edited by Drew (edited March 22, 2001).]

#12 CygneDanois

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Posted 22 March 2001 - 11:02 AM

Thank you both, Michael and Drew. You clarified several things for me.

Michael, it definitely makes sense that semicaractere classique is just more broadly defined because it is a hybrid. About Florina and Aurora, though, Alexandra wrote that while Makarova was a Florina, she was definitely not an Aurora. So possibly, the two roles indicate different "ends" of the semicaractere genre? By the way, that is a very wise judge.

Drew, thank you very much for the description of Lezhnina and the comparison to Fugate. Having barely seen either dancer at all and only on video, it's difficult for me to tell much about what they would be like in person, and so I am grateful for any descriptions of live performances. I know what you mean about the textbook placement--I don't think I've ever seen a developpé above 135 degrees in a diagram, even though anything is possible in a drawing! I also agree about the gradual progression to more grandeur in Act III. In Act I, she's a princess, but a young one with high spirits; in the second act, she's not even really there because she is asleep (but she still manages to enter with coupé jeté en tournant) and in the third act, it is her "big day"--and she must (and does, willingly) fulfill all the expectations of the court for how a married princess should look and behave.

The words "married princess" brought out something in my mind--the end of NYCB's The Sleeping Beauty, when the king and queen hand over their robes to Désiré and Aurora. Why??? Even though they're married, they still won't become king and queen until after Aurora's parents pass away--they're just the Prince Regent Désiré and his lovely wife, the Princess Aurora. Or was this done in the original?

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[This message has been edited by CygneDanois (edited March 22, 2001).]

#13 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 22 March 2001 - 02:55 PM

CygneDanois, when considering the "type" of a ballerina, and more precisely whether they are adagio or allegro, I think we also have to take into account the possible evolution of the concept of how a role (take Aurora) needs to be performed, as much as the individual development of a certain dancer. I agree with you that Asylmuratova may now be characterised as adagio, but her performances of, let’s say, ten or more years ago gave quite a different picture. The speed and dynamics have surely been slowing down through the years and finishes have been polished. The same might apply to Kolpakova. We have a video recording of her in "Beauty" late in her career, which indeed shows her as adagio, but was she like that in her prime?
And when you compare Asylmuratova's or Lezhnina's Aurora to Alla Sizova's from the 1960s (which I only know from video) then you see again that the whole concept of the role has been slowed down.

Drew rightly mentions the girlish (or what he calls less womanly) quality of Larissa Lezhnina when we saw her ten years ago. My basic objection to Lezhnina’s Aurora in those years was simply that she stayed that way all the time in the ballet. Yet when you see her now in the role, in her early thirties, there is still this girlish quality in the beginning (how she cans till do it, I have no idea Posted Image), but it is followed by a real development to maturity and grandeur. Her Aurora today is also a lot warmer than it used to be when still in the Kirov.

The present tendency at the Mariinsky seems to want to speed things up again (if yet caused by a factor completely alien to ballet: Gergiev likes to play the music fast), but that doesn't necessarily make the tall ballerinas more allegro.

#14 Andrei

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Posted 22 March 2001 - 09:09 PM

Drew, you was absolutely right describing "my" classical-ingenue. One more thing, she has to be miniature and her character has to be innocent. The classical example is Kolpakova and for youngest people - Leznina.
If we change character with the same proportions, let's say she will be more joyful, perky, down to the earth girl, we will have classical-subrette with the classical example of Maximova. I'm sorry for using Russians only but I'm more familiar with them.
Alexandra, I didn't see Marina Semenova's dance. What I saw it just her walk as Odette in the old movie and it was gorgeous. I saw the Swan and the danseuse-noble the same time. One more physical future for danseuse noble - the lenth of the arms. They have to be unlimited.

#15 CygneDanois

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Posted 22 March 2001 - 10:48 PM

Marc, that definitely makes sense about looking at the dancers as they progress. It's a good point. One question: Did Asylmuratova and Kolpakova dance Aurora when they were younger? Or did they only dance it once they had "slowed down"? I don't think I feel quite the same way about the Sizova video--while I agree that the allegro sections are faster than usually done today by Russians (or anyone, for that matter) I have seen, I don't think the adagios are. Sizova, from what I know of her, seems as though she would have been quite the adagio dancer (although of course I have absolutely no way of knowing that for certain--I believe Mel may have seen her in her prime...perhaps he would know). And you are of course right--faster music won't change a dancer's temperament Posted Image. Also, I really need to see Lezhnina live!

Andrei, thank you for the explanations. I am learning so much on this thread from everyone, and you really do say a great deal (for me--I know nothing about this topic besides my own few impressions) in just a few sentences.

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