Jump to content


The Siren in Prodigal Son: Who are/were the best?-- and how should this character be performed?


  • Please log in to reply
50 replies to this topic

#1 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 11 January 2010 - 08:11 AM

The Autumn 2009 issue of DanceView includes Nancy Reynolds' fascinating account of a coaching session in which Yvonne Mounsey coaches Prodigal Son for the Balanchine Archive Project. Mounsey, still vital and elegant at 89, danced the Siren in Balanchine's 1950 revival of the piece for the new NYCB. She remembers just about everything about the part and can articulate it well.

There have been lots of Sirens over the years. Sometimes it seems as though, if you're tall, strong, have long legs, and can put on a blank face, you're hired.

I've seen a number of Sirens over the years. Patricia Neary, Suzanne Farrell, and Karen von Aroldingen are among those who had all the moves but, speaking for myself only, did not really mesmerize or terrify. Cynthia Gregory, in ABT's version, was probably the Siren who chilled me most. Deanna Seay of Miami City Ballet, generally thought of as an elegant and subdued dancer, was amazingly strong and cold, yet alluring.

Which Sirens, in your experience, were the best interpreters of the role? Which raises another question: what SHOULD the Siren be like?

#2 papeetepatrick

papeetepatrick

    Sapphire Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,486 posts

Posted 11 January 2010 - 08:45 AM

Perfect post idea, bart.

I thought Darci Kistler was great as the Siren back in the 80s, I thought she bristled with wicked energy. I like Von Aroldingen in the video with Baryshnikov because of the statuesque look she seemed able to achieve there. I also saw it several times at NYCB in the last few years, but can't even remember who did it. But young Kistler was good in this.

#3 leonid17

leonid17

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,422 posts

Posted 11 January 2010 - 08:47 AM

Which Sirens, in your experience, were the best interpreters of the role? Which raises another question: what SHOULD the Siren be like?


Deanne Bergsma was seductive, totally in control, creating a powerfully sensuous and beautiful image. She remains my favourite Siren.

I should have loved to have seen Doubrovska as I do not think anyone could reproduce her intensely sophisticated appeal.

#4 LiLing

LiLing

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 205 posts

Posted 11 January 2010 - 11:49 PM

I think of the Siren as sensual and alluring, but cold and calculating, rather than scary.
I remember a review that said Kistler danced it "like a young snake." I loved that image, and though it described her performance perfectly.

#5 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 12 January 2010 - 04:37 AM

Mounsey addresses that snake-like aspect in an interesting way:

The best-known verbal image likens the Siren to a snake; in Mounsey's view it is a snake that while admittedly distant and inhuman, coils and slithers boneless -- "that's where the softness comes in, and that's how Doubrovska coached me."


Mounsey cites to Doubrovska's own words in a post-coaching interview by dance writer Emily Hite:

"I think about a snake, which is not human, but which hypnotizes and bewitches. I used my eyes, and the movement comes from my stomach. I had to perform without any feeling, without any added chi chi."


Another interesting point in the article: the cape Costuming is not usually a part of the Balanchine Archive Project filmings. The cape, however, becomes, in Reynolds\' words, "part of the choreography -- a player in itself, so to speak -- so it must be used." It occurs to me the cape definitely assists in the creation of the serpentine illusion. I'll certainly be looking more carefully at how it is used, how it moves, in the future.

#6 perky

perky

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 653 posts

Posted 12 January 2010 - 05:32 AM

I think of The Siren as coldhearted but warm blooded. She should be both emotionally remote and physically accessable. It seems like it would be a very challenging role to dance just right.

I never saw either, but I would have loved to have seen Martine VanHamel's Siren at ABT and Diana Adams interpretation at NYCB. Arlene Croce, in a review described the section where The Siren wraps the long red cape though her legs and tosses the end over her outstretched arm and comments that Martine did this bit looking like a bored, haughty Chanel model. :shake:

#7 abatt

abatt

    Sapphire Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,676 posts

Posted 12 January 2010 - 08:11 AM

I thought Helene Alexopolous at NYCB was a wonderful Siren- sexy and stealthy. I thought the worst Siren was Julie Kent at ABT.

#8 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,212 posts

Posted 12 January 2010 - 08:28 AM

Another vote for Kistler: her performances also showed the youth's feeling of invincibility.

#9 E Johnson

E Johnson

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 187 posts

Posted 12 January 2010 - 09:21 AM

I thought Helene Alexopolous at NYCB was a wonderful Siren- sexy and stealthy.


I loved alexopolous as well; i don't think NYCB has anyone doing it as well now. Kistler knows how to do it right but she can't do it physically anymore. She's still nice to see for the moments when technique is not so important. Reichlen is too nice and kowroski is too distant.

#10 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 12 January 2010 - 09:29 AM

This is unorthodox, but I like it when you get a sense from the Siren of the deadening routine of her seduction. "Prodigal Son" isn't "Judgment of Paris" but I think the Prodigal's naivete inflates the Siren in his eyes. He sees Cleopatra, we see a petty thief and con artist (albeit a beautiful one) I like it when we get a peek behind the curtain from the Siren that she has danced this dance . . .many . . . times . . .already.

#11 duffster

duffster

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 129 posts

Posted 12 January 2010 - 07:22 PM

I was impressed with Arantxa Ochoa ( Pennsylvania Ballet ). Her interpretation was very controlled,seductive with a hint of evil. This is in no way an easy role- just working with the heavy cape is a challenge. I also would have loved to have seen Doubrovska in this role.

#12 keguri

keguri

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 30 posts

Posted 10 June 2010 - 07:31 PM

I was impressed with Arantxa Ochoa ( Pennsylvania Ballet ). Her interpretation was very controlled,seductive with a hint of evil. This is in no way an easy role- just working with the heavy cape is a challenge. I also would have loved to have seen Doubrovska in this role.


I have no basis for comparison, since I have only seen the Joffrey's performance (in Chicago, March 2000), with Trinity Hamilton, but I thought she was amazing: she captures the inhuman, dissonantly angular, contorted strangeness of the role. I also felt that there was a real affinity between the Joffrey and the spirit of the Ballets Russes. Not a very rigorous observation, of course, since I've never seen the Ballets Russes, even on videotape. But I could, at least, imagine something of the sense of experiment, adventure, excitement, even outrage, that the audience of the Ballets Russes would have felt.

#13 dirac

dirac

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 25,226 posts

Posted 12 July 2010 - 03:30 PM

I think of The Siren as coldhearted but warm blooded. She should be both emotionally remote and physically accessable. It seems like it would be a very challenging role to dance just right.

I never saw either, but I would have loved to have seen Martine VanHamel's Siren at ABT and Diana Adams interpretation at NYCB. Arlene Croce, in a review described the section where The Siren wraps the long red cape though her legs and tosses the end over her outstretched arm and comments that Martine did this bit looking like a bored, haughty Chanel model. :shake:


Villella says in his book that Adams as the Siren chilled him to the bone. With those legs I'm sure she was a very striking Siren.

Another interesting pairing to have seen would have been Robbins-Tallchief, photographed so well by George Platt Lynes. Tallchief says she wasn't tall enough and couldn't cope with the cape, and there is no reason to disbelieve her, but I would still be curious to see what she did with the role. Apparently there were some rocky moments on the first night ("Maria! For God's sake, sit on my head!") but both of them seem to have received intensive coaching from Balanchine.

#14 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 12 July 2010 - 05:42 PM

dirac, I wonder if hyperdog has any photos of Adams in the collection that is part of the estate of her daughter? I'll check tomorrow.

I've been thinking about Leigh's "unorthodox" suggestion:

He sees Cleopatra, we see a petty thief and con artist (albeit a beautiful one) I like it when we get a peek behind the curtain from the Siren that she has danced this dance . . .many . . . times . . .already.

This quality of routine is definitely from the moment the Siren enters to perform her dance. She doesn't even notice the Prodigal at first. Even after she targets him, she shows no particular interest until she sees (and caresses) his gold medallion.

What follows is a possible alternate interpretation of the Siren. It takes Leigh's idea as a starting point and is based on the Karen von Aroldingen/ Mikhail Baryshnikov performance on the Choreography by Balanchine. dvd.

Aroldingen's facial expression gives nothing away. Her eyes are dead. It is clear, however, that she suddenly SEES the Prodigal partying on the other side of the room. As soon as she sees him, she makes her move..

Something struck me in her performance that I'd never noticed before. After the revelers have turned the Prodigal upside down so that he gold falls to the ground, and after they have snatched it up, the Siren re-enters. She is held aloft by two men. When she is lowered to the ground she runs to the remaining bits of gold and snatches them up in both hands..

Now she comee alive. She darts her eyes quickly to the left and right (something right out of a silent film) as if checking that no one has observed her. This bit gold she won't share with her accomplices. She takes the money and runs off stage.

These few seconds are a sharp break fin the image she has been working to create during her performance in the tavern. The effect, if you look closely, is actually comic. The music -- rapid, light, staccato -- is in sharp contrast to the more serious, even plodding music associated with the suffering Prodigal. .

In an instant, this woman, is exposed as an accomplished con artist. A greedy opportunist. You see this also a bit later when she organizes what amounts to a quick escape from town, what you could probably called a "flit."

She orders them to stow the loot on their boat. All clamber aboard. The men start rowing. They raise the sail -- the Siren's cape -- and head for the next town. And the next Prodigal..

The banality of the Siren's story may actually make us feel more deeply the contrasting anguish of her victim.. For the Prodigal, his encounter with the Siren is the defining moment of his life. For her, ironically, it's just another day -- a particularly successful day, to be sure -- in a long series of con games.

As Leigh put it: "she has danced this dance .... many ... times ... already."

#15 papeetepatrick

papeetepatrick

    Sapphire Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,486 posts

Posted 12 July 2010 - 06:32 PM

I think of The Siren as coldhearted but warm blooded. She should be both emotionally remote and physically accessable.


Well, since people are coming up with scenarios, this begins to look that black-and-white 'good-and-evil' sort of business, and anyway that's what the Bible meant it to be. I think cold-hearted and cold-blooded would be about the same, and that I'd just agree that she was 'physically accessible' because she knew her profession, which is prostitution and then some, maybe. I don't care much for the story since it's so cut-and-dried that she's 'evil', when frankly, if the 'prodigal' was more savvy, he might have even gotten round to charming her into a working relationship, albeit not the societally sanctioned sort (it's been done before, think 'The Rake's Progress', but it wouldn't have to be as repulsive as all that Baba stuff.) We need her to be 'evil', so the Prodigal can 'fail', though, so she is. And although, if you want to talk about the siren having done this seduction time and time again, you could also see the prodigal as a hick who's out of his league. I mean, there would have been plenty of guys knew how to handle this dame, and probably had.

I prefer to just see the steps in this one, because the Siren's choreography is marvelously 'early mannequin', but I still manage to get touched when the father gathers up his 'forgiven sinner of a son'. Not that I don't 'sympathize' with the poor guy, just that I'm sure that, as 'con artist', Mme. La Sirene has suffered her share of failed seduction-thefts as well, now that we're getting it so down-to-earth. She'd have had some, uh, co-workers to deal with, and sometimes she'd have to share the loot, whether or not she ended up setting sail after that one. How was she going to get to re-do the scene if she split? In Corinth or something?

Did Farrell ever do the Siren? Because it occurs to me now she would have been stupendous in the role. The height and imperiousness would have all been things she'd have figured out how to use to extraordinary effect. With all that talk of being too tall for Baryshnikov, she would have been very effective with him in this.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):