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


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#16 Quiggin

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Posted 12 July 2010 - 09:21 PM

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


There is a wonderful scene of Doubrovska in her living room acting out the Siren part in Virginia Brooks' film "Felia Doubrosvska Remembered" (available at Amazon). First Doubrovska is sitting demurely on the sofa, with pillows neatly set up on point behind her as she tells stories about Diaghilew. Then suddenly, in the flash of a jump cut, she is kneeling on the floor showing how the part is done, touching the coffee table with her knees (her legs are too long for the alloted space) and grandly bending backwards as her little dog watches from the sofa.

#17 kfw

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 03:59 AM

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.

Thanks for mentioning the Doubrovska film, Quiggin. That is a wonderful moment you describe.

#18 bart

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:20 AM

Has anyone seen the Choreography by Balanchine video recently? I'd love to hear what you think about it, especially since it is the single most watched performance of this work..

I was surprised to find Baryshnikov unconvincing, disappointing, like someone from another ballet. Was it that he is just too beautiful? Too innocent-looking? I don't know, but the anguish does not register or ring true for me.

Aroldingen has the height, angularity, and -- as I've said -- cheek bones for the Siren, but seems to be contriving her performance directly from a detailed set of detailed instructions about steps, positioning of arms and head, etc. There is little in the way of flow. I felt that I could see her thinking and preparing as she moves from one difficult pose or position to the next, especially during her dance and her seduction of the Prodigal.

The Revelers seem even more tentative, especially in closeup. However, they -- like Aroldingen -- become freer and more spontaneous towards the end.

Shaun O'Brien is the Father in this performance. He was such a marvelous character dancer that it's interesting to watch him so constricted by the conventions of the role. This Father -- posing as God the Father -- was stiff, grand, mechanical. I found myself thinking

Maybe Prodigal Son is one of those ballets that does not benefit from close scrutiny by the camera. Maybe you see it best from out in the theater, where a certain amount of detail may be lost lost but you can see and feel the larger picture.

#19 papeetepatrick

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:29 AM

Aroldingen has the height, angularity, and -- as I've said -- cheek bones for the Siren, but seems to be contriving her performance directly from a detailed set of detailed instructions about steps, positioning of arms and head, etc. There is little in the way of flow from pose to pose. I felt that I could see her thinking and preparing as she moves from one difficult pose or position to the next, especially during her dance and her seduction of the Prodigal. It struck me as having the quality of a a rehearsal.


All that follows quite naturally from the character, as I see it. I wouldn't agree that it seems like a rehearsal, though, but rather a 'calculated performance', very professional, such as this kind of experienced 'private dancer' would excel in. 'Doesn't do' certain 'affectionate gestures', etc., just keeps to business. The calculation only seems to enhance that attitude.

I've seen it fairly recently, I still like Baryshnikov very much in it. I've never thought of him as all that beautiful in the general sense, although he does look exquisite in this video. I think that the more beautiful the Prodigal looks, at least if he's smallish like Baryshnikov, the more touching--rather difficult to see Marcelo Gomes doing this part, isn't it? It's hard to see him taken in by her. I found him very effective here, although in 2004 I like Peter Boal a lot too.

I ask again. Did Farrell ever do the Siren? If not, I don't know why not. She could have done an amazing Siren.

#20 Jane Simpson

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:31 AM

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 ending bothers me too - so much, by now, that I feel I don't want to see the piece again. 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.)

#21 bart

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:48 AM

Patrick, to answer your question: Farrell did dance the Siren, though you don't see her interpretation discussed much in articles about her.

I recall her performing with Villella, an unforgettable Prodigal. The height difference (as with Baryshnikov and Aroldingen) was effective. And so were Farrell's legs. I can't recall, however, anything standout about the interpretation. My only visual memory is of a quality which made those strange movements and poses flow almost naturally.

Farrell was especially close to Felia Dubrovska, the original Siren, so I assume they worked together on the role.

#22 rg

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 09:37 AM

the attached is a recently acquired New York City Ballet publicity photo of Yvonne Mounsey as the Siren in THE PRODIGAL SON (w/ a pub. date of 1961 stamped on the back, even though YM had by then - as of '58 - left NYCB. it would seem to be a copy-print of an original photo (no photographer credit is given) which seemingly had retouching on the make-up and the hair style.
re: Balanchine's ending and the timing etc., it's important to remember that his source was Pushkin's THE STATIONMASTER and that he told Villella to think 'icons' when trying to get a handle on the subject, etc.
in sum, Balanchine's PRODIGAL is a highly stylized (and likely deeply felt) Russian version of the parable, and not a Sunday School illustration of a simple Bible story.

Attached Files



#23 papeetepatrick

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 09:45 AM

Fab photo, best face I ever saw for the Siren, and would have been great for Sphinxes of all kinds. Totally spell-inducing.

#24 rg

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 09:50 AM

in a talk Millicent Hodson gave about her work on a staging based on Balanchine's 1925 version of LE CHANT DU ROSSIGNOL, she noted that the female figure of 'Death' originally performed by Lydia Sokolova, was recalled by Doubrovska, if mem. serves, to be a precursor of the Siren in PRODIGAL.

#25 dirac

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 11:10 AM


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 ending bothers me too - so much, by now, that I feel I don't want to see the piece again. 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 think your quote is about right, Jane. I recollect reading that Balanchine said something like that to Robbins. I tend not to have a problem with Balanchine's ending myself, if only because where the original story was concerned I always thought the Good Son had a point. :)

#26 papeetepatrick

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 11:29 AM

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.

#27 rg

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 11:47 AM

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.philamuse...nent/54149.html

#28 Quiggin

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 12:23 PM

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.

#29 Jane Simpson

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 12:37 PM

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)

#30 kfw

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 05:25 PM

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.


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