bart

The Siren in Prodigal Son: Who are/were the best?

51 posts in this topic

The Siren's movement makes me think of Marcel Duchamp, I think there were some, maybe even including the Bride, that were to do with allegorical 'sex machines'. I once knew a specific painting I'm now recalling, but it escapes me. Quiggin probably knows the one. But this Siren choreography definitely suggests a machine, that's why it's so profound.

Share this post


Link to post

is this this Duchamp you mean?

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)

Made in United States

1915-23

Marcel Duchamp, American (born France), 1887 - 1968

Oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust on two glass panels

9 feet 1 1/4 inches x 69 1/4 inches (277.5 x 175.9 cm)

linked here:

http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/54149.html

Share this post


Link to post

The Duchamp glass may have been drawing from the same stock pot of ideas as Balanchine and Diaghilew were. I always thought of corps parts of Prodigal like a ballet mechanique or Pas d'Acier, with all the staccato movements and the sorts of ballet movement experiments being done in Russia when Balanchine left.

I think the problem with Baryshnikov is that he was the wrong body type -- and character -- for the part, and maybe the costume is part of the problem, the way the midline hikes up and shortens the waist and makes him look less lean and sinewy than he should be. Following Bart saying he looks like he's in a another ballet, you might add that he looks as if he's resisting the whole ballet, trying to fight his way out its confines.

There are some 1928-1929 Ballets Russes photos of Lydia Sokolova in a bonnet/hat with zig zag details that looks a lot like the model for the Siren's.

Share this post


Link to post

I read a book recently by a dancer whose name I regret I've temporarily forgotten who also wondered about it and asked Balanchine why he didn't have the father go to the boy, and he said 'No - is God - boy must come to him'. (Quoted from memory, almost certainly inaccurately.)

I remembered: In Balanchine's Company by Barbara Milberg Fisher (a very nice book)

Share this post


Link to post
I think the problem with Baryshnikov is that he was the wrong body type -- and character -- for the part, and maybe the costume is part of the problem, the way the midline hikes up and shortens the waist and makes him look less lean and sinewy than he should be.

That unfortunate cape sure doesn't help. Still, he was my first Prodigal, in Chicago in 1979, and I'll never forget him, especially his desperate crawl back to his father.

Share this post


Link to post

was the Chicago performance of THE PRODIGAL SON mentioned above one of those in the International Ballet Festival that took place around this time?

if so, was Baryshnikov already wearing the 'unusual' (for its time) costume that i understood was chosen by Balanchine esp. for the Dance in America taping, so that he (Baryshnikov) would be wearing something more similar to that worn originally by Lifar, and long since changed for NYCB stagings?

i don't recall this oddity being worn at any point by Baryshnikov on stage in NYC.

Share this post


Link to post

I find myself agreeing with dirac that the Good Son had a point. But where is the Good Son in the ballet? You could argue that he -- along with the Father -- are the two central characters of of the story in Luke, as least as far as the ethical message is concerned. Without the Good Son's very human complaint ("unfair !!!!") you would not have the message with which Jesus concludes the parable.

Luke tells us very little, really, about the Prodigal as a human being and nothing at all about the Siren, an invented character. I guess that, once Kochno introduced the Siren lnto the story -- AND once Balanchine had given her a memorable hoochie-koochie dance, a seduction pas de deux, and a serious assault and robbery, not to mention the most striking choreography -- it would be overloading the libretto to ask for the Good Son to be retained.

The Old Testament vision of the Father ("God," to Balanchine) is static in this ballet. The vision of the Father proposed by Jesus is both more sympathetic and more human.

It's a strange and in many ways unsatisfying ballet, it seems to me, despite its many fascinating parts. Without the Prokofiev score, would we value it as highly as we do?

Share this post


Link to post
I still manage to get touched when the father gathers up his 'forgiven sinner of a son'.

:off topic: I do too, but I also wish Balanchine had hewed more closely to the actual parable there, and had had the Father run to meet his son. In terms of the original story and its message that's more dramatic. In terms of choreography, it's hard to imagine a more dramatic ending than what Balanchine has actually given us, and I wonder if that's why he gave us what he did, or if he was working from memory and forgot that detail in the written story.

The original parable makes sense because it was a different lesson of forgiveness: there was the older (?) brother who did what was expected in comparison to the Prodigal and couldn't understand why the father was so anxious to have him back and was so willing to forgive. Balanchine left that character out and made the relationship between the father and the Prodigal.

Share this post


Link to post

was the Chicago performance of THE PRODIGAL SON mentioned above one of those in the International Ballet Festival that took place around this time?

No, I saw a few Festival performances at the Civic Opera House, but this was during a 2-week NYCB season at the Auditorium Theater.

Share this post


Link to post

thanks for the explanation.

do you recall the costume for these performances as being the one worn by MB in the Dance in America program?

Share this post


Link to post

this scan is the lower portion of a page from The Illustrated London News, dated June 29, 1929.

some or all of these photos might have been reporduced in Ballets Russes books, etc., but they were not overly familiar to me when i acquired this piece of ephemera.

post-848-036848100 1279074338_thumb.jpg

Share this post


Link to post

thanks for the explanation.

do you recall the costume for these performances as being the one worn by MB in the Dance in America program?

Sorry to be unclear. I'm almost certain he wore no cape.

Share this post


Link to post
I find myself agreeing with dirac that the Good Son had a point. But where is the Good Son in the ballet? You could argue that he -- along with the Father -- are the two central characters of of the story in Luke, as least as far as the ethical message is concerned. Without the Good Son's very human complaint ("unfair !!!!") you would not have the message with which Jesus concludes the parable.

I agree, Bart, although I think that as is in the story the protest is implied. The fact that the prodigal so little deserves to be welcomed home and welcomed back into the family gives the story it's final drama and its entire point. We are meant to identify with the prodigal, and with the prodigal receive the father's forgiveness.

The original parable makes sense because it was a different lesson of forgiveness: there was the older (?) brother who did what was expected in comparison to the Prodigal and couldn't understand why the father was so anxious to have him back and was so willing to forgive. Balanchine left that character out and made the relationship between the father and the Prodigal.

That's true of course. I just think the ending would be stronger dramatically, as opposed to choreographically (is that a word?), if the father didn't stand on ceremony and showed real joy and eagerness in welcoming his son home.

Share this post


Link to post
I find myself agreeing with dirac that the Good Son had a point. But where is the Good Son in the ballet? You could argue that he -- along with the Father -- are the two central characters of of the story in Luke, as least as far as the ethical message is concerned. Without the Good Son's very human complaint ("unfair !!!!") you would not have the message with which Jesus concludes the parable.

I agree, Bart, although I think that as is in the story the protest is implied. The fact that the prodigal so little deserves to be welcomed home and welcomed back into the family gives the story it's final drama and its entire point. We are meant to identify with the prodigal, and with the prodigal receive the father's forgiveness.

The original parable makes sense because it was a different lesson of forgiveness: there was the older (?) brother who did what was expected in comparison to the Prodigal and couldn't understand why the father was so anxious to have him back and was so willing to forgive. Balanchine left that character out and made the relationship between the father and the Prodigal.

That's true of course. I just think the ending would be stronger dramatically, as opposed to choreographically (is that a word?), if the father didn't stand on ceremony and showed real joy and eagerness in welcoming his son home.

I think it's a great ballet, and I like the ending as it is. The 'Good Son' is just conventional, he has no point that doesn't just go without saying. Isn't his message unforgiveness? In that case, is he so 'good'? It's not that the Prodigal 'so little deserves to be welcomed back', it's that most wouldn't have the grace to know how to do it. And what's nice about the parable is that the Prodigal is responsible enough to the love and forgiveness that there is not even any question of punishment. The Prodigal knows he's strayed and is chastened just by that knowledge. In such a household, which is not really imaginable in real life, there's every reason to believe that the 'good son' will also realize that this was anything but 'unfair', rather it was the real power that could be wholly forgiving, and therefore totally healing, which is the impression you get when the Prodigal is wrapped into his Father's arms. Punishment would just be the ordinary thing to do, it's easier.

rg--I think that is the picture, but I've got to look at some other images of it to be sure. Thanks, and quiggin also.

Share this post


Link to post

No, this is the painting I was thinking of, whether or not I had any idea why I was describing it as I did, but it does remind me of the stiff movements of the Siren, as if made of metals.

http://www.beatmuseum.org/duchamp/images/nude2.jpg

Meant to add that I imagine Villella was extraordinarily moving as the Prodigal. Thanks for remembering Farrell in it, bart, yes, I've never heard it mentioned. but I have a feeling she was absolutely sensational as the Siren.

Share this post


Link to post
We are meant to identify with the prodigal, and with the prodigal receive the father's forgiveness.
Yes, I agree. I can see this in the story as Jesus tells it. I also think we are meant to identify with the Good Son -- to look at and question our what is "good," and to examine our tendency to think that we are more deserving of good treatment than others. (The parable of the Good Samaritan has a similarly complex message.)

Speaking for myself, I do not identify with the Prodigal Son. The details of his experience are too specific. Jesus, a very canny story-teller, doesn't go into detail about this, focusing much more on the return, the family to which the Prodigal is returning, the Father's forgiveness, AND the Father's need to explain all this to his other son. I can identify with that.

For me, the power of the conclusion of Prodigal Son comes from the amazing music and not really from the stage picture. Balanchine's insistence upon a static, impersonal, other-worldly Father, to whom the Prodigal must return crawling in shame and penitence was probably the way he (Balanchine) interpreted the parable. Good theology? Many would say so. Effective theater? I'm not convinced.

Share this post


Link to post

With an earlier PA Ballet generation, I was surprised by Tamara Hadley in it... she was so vibrantly in control of the space that everything seemed larger than it could really be... quite beyond her underlings and victim... sounds like overacting, but it was more "dangerous" than "oversold". Other's in that run may have been more seductive, but none had the fatale down so well...

Share this post


Link to post

I agree with Bart about Cynthia Gregory being the best Siren. It was one of her best roles, I thought. I'll never forget at the end of the pas de deux that iron hand of hers rising up behind her head, both a gesture of victory and a slow, deliberate threat. She was terrifying.

I don't agree with Bart about the end of the ballet! For one thing, he couldn't have the Father run to the Prodigal, because it's not in Prokofiev's score, which suddenly goes all soft and gentle. Balanchine points it up by bringing the movement on stage to a minimum: the curtain parts, the old man slowly shuffles forward. The Prodigal's turning away in shame, his crawling on his knees into his father's arms--I could go on and on about this, because I think it's one of Balanchine's most theatrically canny moments, and incredibly moving. But it's also off-topic in this thread, so I guess I won't go there!

Share this post


Link to post
No, this is the painting I was thinking of

I originally thought it might be Nude Descending a Staircase which has a staccato drive ...

The Prodigal's turning away in shame, his crawling on his knees into his father's arms--

I absolutely agree about the theatrical power of this image -- being made stronger by the father's reluctance to meet him halfway. Cosmo Campoli, the Chicago sculptor who I took a class from, did a strong version of this scene which I've never forgotten. (It's in "New Images of Man" -- he may have seen the 1950 revival.) The father sits upright in a chair, his hands on the arms of the chair, his head a mass of images (the son's travels?) and the son lays his head on his father's lap.

Share this post


Link to post

I don't agree with Bart about the end of the ballet! For one thing, he couldn't have the Father run to the Prodigal, because it's not in Prokofiev's score, which suddenly goes all soft and gentle.

Good point. Prokofiev was not, I believe, a religious man in a an orthodox sense, though he was influenced by Christian Science,

Actually, I'm not big on the idea of the Father running forward. I object not so much to the stillness of the Father as to the stark, static quality which is a feature of many productions (including those by Miami City Ballet, directed by one of the greatest of Prodigals, Edward Villella).

The Rembrandt painting linked by kfw captures what I'm think the part needs. It does depict a moment of perfect stillness. But the father's face, as well as the positioning of his hands, has gentleness, sadness, consolation ... in other words, life. The Prodigal can't perform this big climactic moment in a vacume. He needs a father who is experiencing and depicting feelings of equivalent weight.

Shaun O'Brien, in the early NYCB performances, certainly conveyed much of what you see in the Rembrandt without altering the choreography or violating the music. It was a great stage performance. Other less talented dance-actors don't always handle it quite as well.

Sorry to keep this thread so Off Topic. Thanks, AnthonyNYC, for bringing us back to the Siren. So please: let's have more Siren sightings, Siren critiques, and Siren theories?

Share this post


Link to post

Can't agree about Kistler in this role; vastly preferred every other NYCB ballerina whom I saw in it. Lopez would probably have been great in this but to my knowledge was never given it. Thought Alexopoulos, who was a gorgeous femme fatale to begin with, was excellent, and oddly enough Ashley was very good (which rather presaged her Carabosse); probably the best I've ever seen live was the sadly soon retiring Ariana Lallone, who was positively glacial--and utterly controlling. Lallone was like the descriptions of Adams and Gregory in this role--'ice cold'--and so strong in the difficult choreography that she could devote all of her attention to the character, not the steps or the cape.

Share this post


Link to post

rg has posted a photo of Suzanne Farrell's Siren (first post on the following thread):

Also, regarding the way the final scene should be played -- I just came across Alastair Macaulay's 2010 review of the Ballet Arizona performances:

Mr. Andersen staged all three ballets himself, often making fascinatingly shrewd choices of textual options ignored today by most other Balanchine regisseurs. Although "The Prodigal Son" is now danced across the globe, where else today is it evident that when the Father (Sergei Perkovskii) enters in the final scene, he is now blind?

Share this post


Link to post

Also, regarding the way the final scene should be played -- I just came across Alastair Macaulay's 2010 review of the Ballet Arizona performances:

Mr. Andersen staged all three ballets himself, often making fascinatingly shrewd choices of textual options ignored today by most other Balanchine regisseurs. Although "The Prodigal Son" is now danced across the globe, where else today is it evident that when the Father (Sergei Perkovskii) enters in the final scene, he is now blind?

That's interesting. Without having searched through all my Balanchine books, I'm wondering if this was in the original text. In the Biblical parable, God's grace to the wastrel is dramatized by the fact that the father runs to meet his son. I've always been a little sorry Balanchine didn't include this element in his ballet. But if Balanchine made the father blind, that casts a different light on what he left out.

Share this post


Link to post

Also, regarding the way the final scene should be played -- I just came across Alastair Macaulay's 2010 review of the Ballet Arizona performances:

Mr. Andersen staged all three ballets himself, often making fascinatingly shrewd choices of textual options ignored today by most other Balanchine regisseurs. Although "The Prodigal Son" is now danced across the globe, where else today is it evident that when the Father (Sergei Perkovskii) enters in the final scene, he is now blind?

That's interesting. Without having searched through all my Balanchine books, I'm wondering if this was in the original text. In the Biblical parable, God's grace to the wastrel is dramatized by the fact that the father runs to meet his son. I've always been a little sorry Balanchine didn't include this element in his ballet. But if the father in the ballet is blind, that provides a different explanation.

I recall from either an interview with Danilova or from "Chura," [and I may have mentioned this on the board previously] that in their hotel room, Balanchine was considering the ending. He was at his wits end about how to deal with the very long (lyrical) stretch of music from the time the sisters drag the Prodigal in through the gate until he is taken up in his father's arms. The Prodigal's long, slow, hobbled walk with his hands behind his back (a sign of shame???) was his solution as to how to fill those bars.

Share this post


Link to post