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Jerome Robbins' Faun


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#1 rtnty

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Posted 31 March 2001 - 07:14 PM

Can anyone give me an overview of the differences between Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun and the original Nijinsky one? Choreography in particular is what I'm after, but staging info would also be welcome. Which version is performed more often today? Which do you prefer, and why?

Thanks!

#2 Yvonne

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Posted 31 March 2001 - 11:24 PM

The Nijinsky "Faun" has a character that's (of course), a faun (it also has nymphs - I think six of them). All the movements were supposed to look one dimensional, as if you were looking at greek figures on a vase, etc...(at least that's the impression I got from reading Buckle's book on Nijinsky.) The dancers had difficulty trying to move and look the way Nijinsky wanted them to, and I don't think that he was very patient (or maybe he just had difficulty explaining what he wanted - in his biography I get the impression that Nijinsky wasn't exactly the "verbal" type). The ballet takes place in an outdoor, woodsy type setting. The faun is curious about the nymphs and attempts to interact with them. At the end of the ballet, the faun crawls up on a large rock and stretches out with a scarf that he obtained from the "lead" nymph, and well....let's just say the Paris audiences were quite shocked with the ending! It is not a very long ballet. I saw this on television back in the early 80's with Nureyev, but I don't know if it's available on video. The music is SO BEAUTIFUL (IMO), and it sparked my interest in Nijinsky, which, in turn, led me to ballet!!

The Robbins "Faun" takes place in a ballet studio, with one female and one male dancer. They are wearing "practice" type leotards and there is NOT a faun in site! I don't know what the "plot" is, but I'm sure others on this board will be able to tell you. The impression I get is that both dancers are more interested in their own reflections in the mirror that they are in each other..... Posted Image



[This message has been edited by Yvonne (edited March 31, 2001).]

#3 rtnty

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Posted 01 April 2001 - 09:20 AM

Thanks, Yvonne. I agree that the music is wonderful...but I'm a musician, actually, and only a beginning dancer, so I know much more about that side of the coin than I do about the dance! I was doing some research the other day on the Debussy piece that started it all and was *quite* surprised to learn that this Robbins version existed. And now that you have told me what that version consists of, I'm even more surprised! I wonder if it's effective--if the music and the dancing really go together in that "studio" setup...? Perhaps it's because I already knew about the Nijinsky ballet, but Debussy's music seems to just be made for fauns and nymphs and soft light on the forest floor! It's such sensual music...but perhaps this contradiction between the lush music and the ho-hum (at least for dancers!) ballet studio set, given our Nijinsky-Faun expectations, makes the Robbins version powerful in a different sort of way.

Another interesting thing I learned: I had always assumed that Debussy and Nijinsky worked more or less together to create Faun, as STravinsky and Diaghilev, say, did with the various Ballets russes productions. But Debussy wrote the Prelude a good several years before the ballet was made. (ANd Stephane Mallarme's poem predated DEbussy's music by a similarly large span of time!)

#4 Drew

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Posted 01 April 2001 - 09:31 PM

Rtnty -- do you know if the Nijinsky version has an unbroken performance tradition? When the Joffrey revived it (ca. two decades ago) the company's publicity suggested that some reconstructive effort went into the project. The Robbins version, on the other hand, does have a consistent, unbroken performance tradition. And it is very acutely and suggestively related to the Debussy music. If one knows about the Nijinsky version, it even acquires an additional layer of meaning from that "intertext." Robbins deliberately re-imagines the ballet studio through the image of the erotic dream world of Nijinsky's faun -- the effect can be ironic and sensual. Even if one doesn't know anything about the original Nijinsky ballet, the overall mood of the Robbins works rather well.

(Mallarme's poetry in general is full of mirror imagery that overwhelms and freezes characters and events -- e.g. "Herodiade" -- and it wouldn't surprize me if Robbins had that in the back of his mind, too, when he created his ballet, even if it isn't directly derived from the Faun poem. But that's speculation on my part.)

#5 Estelle

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 08:44 AM

There's a video of Nijinsky's "Afternoon of a faun" in a tape called "Paris dances Diaghilev", which was filmed at the Paris Opera around 1990. The main roles are danced by Charles Jude and Marie-Claude Pietragalla. As Yvonne, a video of that ballet was one of the things which made me feel interested in ballet...

Drew- a few weeks ago, there was a German documentary shown on the French-German channel ARTE, dealing with a reconstruction of "Afternoon of a faun" by Ann Hutchinson Guest (who managed more or less to understand Nijinsky's own system of dance notation. What a fascinating woman she seems to be, by the way!) It wasn't very clear if there had been an unbroken performance tradition- it seems that the work had been performed by several companies, but getting farther and farther from the original work...

By the way, next season the Paris Opera Ballet will perform both Nijinsky's and Robbins' "Faun" in the same program.

#6 rtnty

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 09:47 PM

Drew: don't quote me on this, but I believe there was indeed a fissure in the Nijinsky Faun performance tradition. The reconstruction wasn't as labor-intensive as that of M. Hodson's *Sacre*, but I'm pretty sure you're right in saying that they had to work to recapture some things.

#7 rtnty

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Posted 02 April 2001 - 09:52 PM

Estelle: what fun it would be to see that Paris performance!!!!!

Re. the Ann Hutchinson Guest reconstruction: sounds like an interesting documentary, but I don't suppose it will be available in the USA. Posted Image Do you know if she has any thoughts on the Hodson/Joffrey Sacre that I mentioned above to Drew? (Of course, this topic might have been covered in a previous discussion...haven't checked!)

#8 Guest_Nakako_*

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Posted 10 April 2001 - 09:55 AM

Recently I saw another “Afternoon of a Faun”. It was danced by Adam Cooper,the former RB principal. It was a solo dance choreographed by Cristian Uboldi, Belgian dancer-choreographer.
It is the dance not about a faun, but about a teenager. But I think the context is the same to Nijinsky’s.


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