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What would an "historical version" of Giselle look like?

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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 07 February 2002 - 11:24 PM

Yet another thing I was conjecturing on today. If we've already discussed this, my apologies, but we can always chew on this topic again!

It's been discussed here before that the "Old" Kirov Sleeping Beauty is not 100% authentic, but even given that, there are some very clear things we can extrapolate about the original version. The most striking of them to me was the episodic nature of the work. It's not so much the changes in choreography or performing style I notice, as how the ballet has gradually become more symphonic, even though Act III is a series of set pieces. And this is a change that I don't feel is a deterioration.

If we could take a time machine back to 1841, would we find Giselle was more episodic as well? It's become one of the most powerfully integrated of ballets by now - what would we see different in 1841, both cosmetically or stylistically and also structurally?

#2 dirac


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Posted 11 February 2002 - 06:28 PM

This is a question that bears lengthy consideration not yet given by me, but one cosmetic difference pops into my head out of left field -- pointe shoes. Weren't the shoes much softer then, with less blocking? and wouldn't that make the choreography look somewhat different?

Experts on the Romantic era would know much more about this than I, but I'd think that there must have been a lot of mime that's been cut over the years to make room for more dancing.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 February 2002 - 08:41 PM

Mary Skeaping did a "historically restored" version of Giselle some years ago. Some parts were successful, other parts less so. The pas de deux and variations work was much admired, the corps work, especially a fugue for the Wilis, was not much liked.

#4 aubri



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Posted 11 February 2002 - 10:43 PM

Pierre Lacotte famous for his historically revival such as la Sylphide and lately Paquita did one for Nancy in France years ago and it was much longer, and it had a Pas de deux in the first act with giselle and albrecht

[ February 11, 2002: Message edited by: aubri ]

#5 katharine kanter

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Posted 12 February 2002 - 10:46 AM

Sometime around 1986, I interviewed Michel de Lutry, who, as his name does not indicate, was an Englishman then teaching at the Heinz Boesl Academy at Munich. Michel de Lutry met and spoke with Tamar Karsarvina on not one, but several occasions, if I recall aright, when he did first Hilarion, and then, by a fluke of fate, Albrecht. He told me that Mlle. Karsavina had taught him several very fine mime passages that are no longer done, including one for Hilarion where he kisses the ground beneath Giselle's feet - in fact, he kisses his hand, and then traces a path on the ground in Giselle's wake. M. de Lutry said that he thought it a great pity that so much mime has been cut from Giselle since the beginning of the century.

As is well known, the Peasant Pas de Deux with the ghastly lifts is a later accretion, as is that awful solo on pointe for Giselle , and there is stuff in Albrecht's solos that does not look right, from a Perrot standpoint.

Swathes of the original score have been cut out. Joan Sutherland's husband, Richard Bonynge, a conductor, had a recording out some years back with the full score by Adam.

There was of course far less pointe work.

Serge Lifar is the one who added the camp bit at the beginning of Act One where Albrecht swooshes in his purple cloak, with the bunch of big fake "tasteful" lillies. Kitsch to the Nenth Degree. Lifar to the hilt. Perrot wanted it sober. Well, sober today, it ain't.

Most importantly, Perrot did not see his play as a romantic dream. There was a short final Act, where the Prince returns to reality, and to Bathilde.

Carla Fracci had that reconstructed for a production she did with her husband about fifteen years ago, at one of the Festivals in Italy.

Lastly, but not leastly, one should not forget that Perrot and Bournonville were schoolmates, students of Gaetano Vestris at the Opéra. In 1840 or 41, whenever, Bournonville was in Paris during one of his bouts of exile, and was actually VISITING Perrot during the weeks he was working on Giselle. I find that terribly exciting to think about. it is also the period Bournonville began to compose 'Napoli'.

In other words, if we are to dance it right, 'Giselle' should be danced in the so-called "Bournonville" style, which is actually that of the immortal Gaetano Vestris. Please, no leaning forward, no drooping, no wilting - do not mistake the notoriously feeble level of contemporary draughtsmanship as shewn in the sketches and paintings one sees of dance in the 1840s, for what REALLY went on in the studio and on stage. What those painters meant to shew by having the dancers lean forward, was EPAULEMENT.

[ February 12, 2002: Message edited by: katharine kanter ]

#6 Alexandra


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Posted 12 February 2002 - 11:07 AM

I love thinking about what ballets once looked like smile.gif There's a book which I bought but haven't had the chance to read, by Marion Smith, about Giselle in its time. I'll be able to answer this question better after I've read it, sometime next summer smile.gif

Ashton tried to restage "Giselle" with its original ending, Katharine, working with Karsavina. (He also choreographed a new solo for Sibley in the peasant pas de deux.) It didn't go over -- it was thought too old-fashioned. I know the Danish critics, especialy Aschengreen, are always harping on this. They want the old ending. So Peter Schaufuss gave it to them -- I don't think much else in that production was old, nor very solid (Giselle dripped real blood from the sword) but it did have the original ending.

Much of what we have today is really by Petipa -- including the grand pas classique for Myrthe and her chums that starts the second act. What it would have looked like before....more round, less linear, circles rather than diagonals. Myrthe used to dance with Albrecht, really dancing him to death, I've read.

I agree with Katharine on epaulement. What started my love affair with Danish dancing was watching two weeks of Giselle rehearsals there (Kronstam's production) including several rehearsals with Mette-Ida Kirk as Myrthe. Now, she'd been dancing the role for several months, but they were still refining it -- think of that! And two, 30-minute rehearsals concerned nothing but epaulement. I'd never seen a Myrthe with epaulement before -- she flies. It's gorgeous.

Bournonville hated Giselle, for what it's worth. Nasty people say it's because he was jealous of Perrot. Danes say, as though they'd heard it at the company water cooler, "He didn't like it that the hero lied." He also felt it sentimental; it took me a long time to understand what he meant by that. (That a ballet about a peasant girl who dies from a broken heart is sentimental. His great Romantic ballet, Valdemar, has the heroine give up everything to save her country.) I think "Folk Tale" was Bournonville's answer to "Giselle" and can imagine him sitting in the theater, watching, thinking, "But the hero (with whom, of course, he would identify) is lying. What could possibly make a nobleman lie like that? How could he turn his back on his betrothed? I know! What if she's really a troll...."

I must say I can't get angry at Petipa for changing it, even if I would like to see the roundness and softness of the original. Had he not done so, we would not know the ballet.

#7 cargill


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Posted 12 February 2002 - 11:39 AM

And of course the original Giselle would have been lit by gas lights, which of course is something we will never see. I don't know enough about theater history--were the house lights being dimmed during the performances in the 1840's or did that come later? An audience chatting and oggling must have been distracting, gas lighting or not!

#8 Alexandra


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Posted 12 February 2002 - 11:46 AM

Yes, of course -- gas light, the dim blue gaze. I don't know whether the lights were dimmed -- surely, they must have been. Perhaps the ushers doubled as gas dimmers.

There's a film called "Young Catherine" (about Catherine the Great of Russia before she was The Great) that has a wonderful five-minute ballet in it. The theater is lit by hundreds of candles. They blaze -- it's diamond light. The audience is all dressed in icy pastels -- I'm sure this is the designer's idea, but it certainly worked, showing the 18th century ballet in all its optimism during the age of enlightenment (light).

The 19th century, a time of revolt, revolution and death, needed gas light for its ghosts.

I do think they talked all through the performances, though. There was an essay in a book published at the 1992 Bournonville Festival all about rats in the theater. Patrons carried umbrellas and those seated in the orchestra had to fend off the rats during the performance. Ah, the good old days smile.gif

#9 doug


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Posted 12 February 2002 - 11:53 AM

Marian Smith's book, "Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle" (Princeton, 2000), is currently the most authoritative work on the original production of Giselle. It really is amazing. Marian was able to work with a repetiteur that likely was created to assist with the staging of Giselle in St. Petersburg in 1842. The rep contains all of the mimed conversations, which are very lengthy and detailed. Characters are developed much more fully than we now see. The crowd scenes were much larger too: 32 vine gatherers, 4 musicians, 24 children, 16 in the hunt, 4 pages.

The choreography is referred to in the rep but only via stage directions that are included in addition to the mimed conversations.

#10 Estelle


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Posted 12 February 2002 - 12:00 PM

In the early 1980s, there was a special issue of "L'avant-scene ballet/danse" about "Giselle", and I remember it included quite a lot of details about the original libretto (but my copy still is in Grenoble at my parents' house).

As Aubri wrote, Pierre Lacotte staged a reconstruction for the Ballet de Nancy, but I don't know how authentical it was (Lacotte himself admits that there are quite a lot of things in his "Sylphide" which are not authentical, for example pointes for the corps de ballet, and a trio from "L'Ombre", so perhaps it was the same for his "Giselle").

Doug, what is a "repetiteur" in that context?
That sounds fascinating anyway.

#11 aubri



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Posted 13 February 2002 - 11:00 PM

a repetiteur is the person that use to rehearse the company only he wouldn't teach class, the ballet master was the ballet teacher.

#12 doug


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Posted 17 February 2002 - 07:08 PM

In this context, a repetiteur is a document: the musical score of a ballet arranged for a single violin, or two violins (two violins were the norm in Russia), or sometimes piano, to be used for rehearsals. In the case of GISELLE, the repetiteur is written out like a piano score (with treble and bass clefs), although I doubt a piano was used for rehearsal. In the middle of the staves the mimed conversations are recorded, along with stage directions and other information.

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