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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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#31 rg

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 05:47 PM

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.

#32 bart

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:10 PM

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?

#33 Helene

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:10 PM

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.

#34 kfw

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:15 PM

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.

#35 rg

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:22 PM

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?

#36 rg

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:25 PM

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.

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#37 kfw

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:26 PM

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.

#38 kfw

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 06:30 PM

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.

#39 papeetepatrick

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 07:00 PM

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.

#40 papeetepatrick

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 07:10 PM

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.beatmuseu...mages/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.

#41 bart

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 07:15 PM

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.

#42 Amy Reusch

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 07:28 PM

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...

#43 Anthony_NYC

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:22 PM

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!

#44 Quiggin

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 10:04 PM

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.

#45 kfw

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 05:14 AM

Speaking of the ending of the ballet, I wonder if Balanchine was familiar with and drew on Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son in the Hermitage.


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