Jane Simpson

RDB American Tour 2011

136 posts in this topic

I'm curious how full the Tuesday audience was. On Wednesday, it seemed like less than half the house was filled. In retrospect, perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing.

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I would have liked to see Etudes or The Lesson, as I have seen them both by others and would like to see them done by the masters, so to speak.

I was fortunate to be able to see Etudes (twice) earlier this month in Copenhagen. Both performances were very impressive. It's such a rigorous, unforgiving piece, and very few companies would be capable of pulling it off as well as did the RDB. It would have been a good piece to bring to the States, except for the toll it exacts on the dancers. What a punishing ballet . . . .

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Well, that was a big letdown. After a whole year of anticipation of finally seeing this great company in person, I was severely underwhelmed. Hopefully, they'll perform up to their reputation in later cities.

We saw their Napoli today (Sunday matinee to a 2/3-filled house), and it's a schizophrenic ballet done with not the highest levels of taste. Act 1 takes place in a 50s La Dolce Vita-esque Italian town, which is not a bad concept unless you spice things up with Jersey Shore-style Italian stereotyping. I suppose embarrassing ethnic stereotyping is kind of normal in classical ballet. Beyond the emphatic punctuation in the mime (perhaps as a way of giving it an Italian accent), 'What?!" seemed to comprise most of their mime vocabulary --- imagine that said in the worst possible Italian accent, and you get the idea of act 1. The mime beyond that was also unclear and ugly, which is not a good thing when mime drives most of the action in the 1st act. There was little dancing in act 1, though it did look pretty good.

Act 2 is creepy weird, with some beautiful images in spots, especially when the curtain first goes up. The lighting people and background design people deserve applause here. But the act seems entirely superfluous, and the dancing style for the most part didn't fit with what we think of as the Bournonville style. The corps dance, which is like half the act, could have been pulled from any of the other classic ballets. Apparently, this act is lost, and every production of this ballet makes this act up. Act 2 does check off the "Underwater grotto" item from the standard ballet checklist.

Act 3 is the set of diverts we normally see, and while the style was there, the dancing wasn't. People were still falling off their legs, corps lines weren't straight or spaced evenly, and worst of all, the dancing seemed joyless. There was one or two bright spots (Teresina and the male solo before that), but this act, which should have been a crowning jewel for the company, was a big letdown. I've seen regional companies perform this better both technically and expressively. They used the traditional costumes for the dancers, but in the crowd were mixed people from act 1 in their modern clothing, which made for a dissonant-looking stage. I thought this was pretty much a trainwreck of a production. Good luck to the rest of you in their later cities!

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These reports are depressing and surprising. Reminds me of someone writing some 6 months ago maybe, about the Royal in 'A Month in the Country', I believe in D.C., and then we saw the glorious video of the old 1975 (?) with Dowell and Seymour. It's not that difficult to find a number of companies showing some deterioration, it seems. I can't think of any but POB that come across as constantly fit (but not always in terms of new works), but I haven't kept up with the Bolshoi much, nor seen them live since the 70s.

I had thought I was going to hear all about magics of all kinds, and precision everythings. These stories I would expect to hear about other companies. And some of what Andre reports doesn't have to do with being on tour. Yes, I also hope that the NYC perfs. are going to be better than what you and a couple of others saw, but I'm not getting my hopes up at this point.

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and here

http://www.niuzer.com/Culture-Arts/Dance-review-Royal-Danish-Ballet-performs-a-revamped-updated-Napoli-at-Segerstrom-Center-for-the-Arts-5015710.html

In both review I recogniced the production and I also find that the reviewers have a good understanding of why Hübbe wanted to update Napoli. As Lewis Seagal writes the new production does not eclipse the traditional staging (which we will likely see again in a few seasons) but it has helped the younger company to claim Bournonville as a "new" choreographer

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Napoli was certainly a better experience than the Nordic choreographers mixed bill...but again I felt it was sort of a mixed bag. The sets for Napoli are lovely, and the digitally projected backdrops are pretty neat and work especially well in the grotto sequence in Act II, where Teresina descends through the various oceanic levels. The costuming is also gorgeous...the 50s style outfits of Act 1 are beautiful and the Naiads in Act II are even more impressive with their shimmering sea colors.

Act I was extremely underwhelming; no one even makes a move to dance for what seems like the first 10 minutes and then the sailor boys arrive with one grand jete and then it's back to more mime. The problem with this mime is that there is no direction to it. It's 40 minutes of everyone going "What" or "NO!" which doesn't make a story or help to tell one. I would wager there are maybe 7-9 total minutes of dancing in Act I, and none of it is choreographically interesting, leaving the leads with little to work with. Teresina's drowning happens so fast it's almost incomprehensible that it occurs until her mother is throwing dirt at Gennaro. There was another incomprehensible episode with a cross-dressing man who mimes singing to a horn solo (Thomas Lund? program notes do not say anything at all about this interlude) that takes 5 minutes longer than it needed to.

Amy Watson is a lovely dancer (she has beautiful legs and feet) but I felt nothing for her Teresina. Her Gennaro, Alexander Staeger, is so diminutive that you wonder if he will be able to lift her when the going gets tough in any pas de deux (lucky for him, it doesn't). They were a generally pleasing couple, but there is no tension built into the ballet so anything they (mostly Watson, Staeger was in strict business-only mode) try to do doesn't add up to much.

Act II is pretty...with a corps of well-trained women you expect some good dancing to occur; again it's often fluff but at least everyone is moving and no one is walking around with a cigarette wrenched in their mouth for 5 minutes straight (hint: you gotta exhale at some point, character dancers). I just saw Neumeier's Little Mermaid so it's almost impossible to not compare the underwater transformations that take place. In Napoli we are supposed to see Golfo (Jean-Lucien Massot) as a threatening sea demon who steals Teresina away...well, he came off as a fairly decent dude, if you ask me. Teresina seemed a bit worried about becoming a Naiad, but that quickly passes and when Gennaro comes to rescue her, there is a small test of wills to see whether Gennaro will overpower Golfo but Golfo just kind of shrinks off into the corner and wilts. No tension involved, no worry things will ever end badly for our leads. Neumeier's Sea Witch is terrifying, on the other hand, a truly powerful destructive force who ruthlessly commands the sea creatures-Staeger's Gennaro wouldn't have stood a chance against him.

Act III is where the dancing gets down to business. It is all variations, all the time. We haven't lost the Italian townspeople, but they've been thoughtfully given tambourines and complex clapping routines to keep their hands busy in the background in lieu of mime-yelling at each other (Morton Eggert, as Peppo, one of Teresina's suitors from the first act is particularly amusing--one gets the feeling he is charged with keeping the background livened up and gets up to much mischief). The choreography here is rich and after so much non-dancing it's exciting to see dancers charging forward with choreography. Jodie Thomas (small, very blonde-hopefully id'ing her correctly) was a standout in the Napoli pas de six--she was so light on her feet and fluid. Her variation was all small jumps that ended on a balanced accent of some sort, she never hit the accent the same way drawing your attention perhaps to her foot or her fingertips.

Needless to say, I was very happy to see the production--I just wish there was more dancing to it, or mime with a purpose. The theater was pretty empty--I was in the mid orchestra and it was basically empty behind me. It's a shame, but probably had a lot to do with Memorial Day.

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From iPhone

1st intermission after The Lesson: weird weider weirdest... Excellent performances, esp Thomas Lund as homicidal ballet teacher. Seemed to be channeling Kevin Spacey in American Beauty,

On to La Sylhide.

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I have some extra tickets for RDB in New York that I would like to sell. Daughter is ill and not able to attend.

There are two tickets for Wednesday June 15, the mixed program. Front row orchestra.

Also, one ticket for Sylphide for Saturday evening June 18. I can't remember if it is row 6 or 7, in the orchestra.

For some reason, I am not able to PM here, but I do have PM privileges over on the sister site, Ballet Talk for dancers.

Let me know if you are interested.

Thanks. Millie

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Still on iPhone so short post

After other negative comments. It's a pleasure yo report that La Sphide is lovely. Be warned tho: despite being informed there would be two 30 min inteissions, first intermission lAsted a full 55 mins. Much rebellious muttering (this is Berkeley - rebellion lurks everywhere). Well worth the wait tho.

More re perfs later-can't stand this keyboard (plus on bus and ride bumpy).

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I heard that RDB was dealing with huge technical difficulties with the sets last night, due to the small size of the theatre. They had to take the sets for the Lesson outside into waiting trucks, then haul the Sylphide sets back in from the truck, having problems turning the big sets. That is why the long intermission. Also, the floor was terribly slippery causing some injuries, and some props not functioning. They are used to working in bigger stage settings.

I hope they are able to wrestle the sets in and cut down on the time tonight.

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I heard that RDB was dealing with huge technical difficulties with the sets last night, due to the small size of the theatre. They had to take the sets for the Lesson outside into waiting trucks, then haul the Sylphide sets back in from the truck, having problems turning the big sets. That is why the long intermission. Also, the floor was terribly slippery causing some injuries, and some props not functioning. They are used to working in bigger stage settings.

I hope they are able to wrestle the sets in and cut down on the time tonight.

Re the looooong intermission between The Lesson and La Sylphide: that's pretty much what we thought it must be. The sets were gorgeous for both ballets -- very elaborate and realistic and BIG. For La Sylphide Act 1, a two-story set with fireplace, stairs, balcony, a huge window with what looked like real glass (you could easily see reflections), and a door on the second floor that slammed resoundingly every time it closed. Maybe that was the prop that didn't work.

As to injuries, that's awful. I only saw one actual fall -- the bagpipe player went down hard, though luckily he got up and continued -- but I had the impression everyone was holding back slightly due to limited space. During the wedding party dancing, the stage was definitely overcrowded, the lines of folk dancers ragged. Even the 16 sylphs in Act 2 looked crowded, although aside from that they were splendid.

As to the dancing, it's hard to find anything to criticize. Mads Blangstrup's James was ardent and well danced, although I suspect he would have been even better with space to stretch out more. Caroline Cavallo's Sylph was lovely. She doesn't have high jumps or glittering batterie; what she has are ballon, delicacy, liquid bourees and intense musicality.

A word has to be said for the Berkeley Symphony, which did well, I thought, with what must be unfamiliar music.

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Both Teresinas are good, though I prefer Amy Watson, having more temperament than the delicate and refined Susanne Grinder.

I'll be seeing Ms. Grinder as the Sylph. Is her 'delicacy and refinement' perfect for it? I bet it's going to be really exquisite.

Charming photos I just found:

http://www.ballerinagallery.com/grinder.htm

I might be too late in my answer (I haven't visited this site for a longer period and I seem to have missed out on a lot of things concerning the RDB tour - I'm a bit shocked, and sad too, that they have had such a bad start on their tour) but I think Susanne Grinder has the potential, physically as well as psychologically, to be a very exquisite Sylph. When I saw her in La Sylphide more than a year ago she still hadn't fully developed into the character, but I think that over time she will be one the great Sylphs. Maybe you have already seen her perform? (I'm not quite updated on their tour schedule.)

Thank you for the link to the photos!

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Both Teresinas are good, though I prefer Amy Watson, having more temperament than the delicate and refined Susanne Grinder.

I'll be seeing Ms. Grinder as the Sylph. Is her 'delicacy and refinement' perfect for it? I bet it's going to be really exquisite.

Charming photos I just found:

http://www.ballerinagallery.com/grinder.htm

I might be too late in my answer (I haven't visited this site for a longer period and I seem to have missed out on a lot of things concerning the RDB tour - I'm a bit shocked, and sad too, that they have had such a bad start on their tour) but I think Susanne Grinder has the potential, physically as well as psychologically, to be a very exquisite Sylph. When I saw her in La Sylphide more than a year ago she still hadn't fully developed into the character, but I think that over time she will be one the great Sylphs. Maybe you have already seen her perform? (I'm not quite updated on their tour schedule.)

Thank you for the link to the photos!

Thank you, Anne. No, I haven't seen her ever, nor anybody in the RDB except Hubbe himself when he was with NYCB; he was one of my favourite dancers of my balletgoing life. But I have the feeling that she is going to be wonderful, too, and I am sure they're going to be in good shape by the time they get here--really, it's hard to imagine that at least 'La Sylphide' won't be one of those 'once in a lifetime' experiences. I appreciate what you've said about Ms. Grinder--because even if she's still 'evolving into the role', there's bound to be a lot there already.

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Last night's opening of the Kennedy Center/Wash, DC leg of the tour (A Folk Tale) was attended by Queen Margrethe. The new production has its visually-stunning moments. It is very, very different from the past 3 productions, all of which I've seen. A lot of the Bournonville dancing/miming has been cut and, in its place, new 'globalization-style' choreography by Nikolai Hubbe and his associates substituted. More importantly, and personally very disappointing to me, the important element of Christianity -- so central to the story -- has been wiped away by Hubbe. Abdallah?]

Despite a stunning Act III Pas de Sept with some incredible solos (esp. Diana Cuni), one couldn't help but notice the very weak Bournonville technique and bland acting of the leading lady, Suzanne Grinder, as Hilda. (Her long-limbed non-Bournonvillean proportions alone killed the Bournonville choreography, but the delivery was equally bad.) Marcin Kupinsky certainly is handsome as Junker Ove but his dancing -- because this Ove dances A LOT -- is not particularly distinguished. And his acting is pathetic...that one 'dumbstruck' face! Many previous little gems of this ballet, such as the interchange among party-goers in Act I or the mimed episode of the maids at Birthe's toilette in Act III, are not well ennunciated, now coming across as weak tea. The monster guests in Act II still seem as Disney-esque, albeit not in as bright and cutesy a manner as in the immediate-past production designed by Queen Margrethe.

Besides the glorious Pas de Sept dancers, the day was saved by Lis Jeppesen's always-brilliant rendition of the 'kind' troll Viderik and by the fierce acting and mock-Balanchinean dancing of the run's Birthe, Alba Nadal (substituting the pre-announced Kizzy Matiakis)...but why-the-heck did Hubbe et al have to choreograph the character Birthe into the Pas de Sept? Totally idiotic, playing for cheap laughs at moments when she disrupts the classical ensemble (breaking-through of the final pose of the 7, for ex). Maybe it was Hubbe's twisted way telling us that he's intent on killing the past and old ways...by breaking the beauty of the 7 classical dancers?

I wish that the Royal Danish Ballet would revert to the ca-1980 production that first played at the Kennedy Center, the one that starred TRUE Bournonvilleans Mette-Ida Kirk or Lis Jeppesen as Hilda and Ib Andersen as Junker Ove. That one was PERFECT!

All in all, a mild disappointment. Hopefully Napoli will provide a more felicitious experience.

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I'm so pleased you singled out Diana Cuni for praise Natalia, she is stunning in everything she does but in Bournonville she reigns supreme in my view. Lis Jeppesen's Viderick is adorable, I'm pleased she still dances the role.

The Christian element is very important to the story: faith overcoming the machinations of the supernatural and providing comfort for Hilda. This is a serious omission in my view. And I'm horrified that they've altered the Act III pas de sept, it was as close to perfect as choreography gets.

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....The Christian element is very important to the story: faith overcoming the machinations of the supernatural and providing comfort for Hilda. This is a serious omission in my view. ...

It's important in many Bournonville ballets. So I'm bracing myself for changes in Napoli, i.e., will Teresina still clasp her Santa Lucia medallion to fend-off Golfo the Monster in the Blue Grotto scene...as a famous church hymn plays in the background? (I wouldn't be surprised if Hubbe has 'killed' the hymn altogether, substituting a secular tune.) Will there be a priest officiating at the wedding at the start of Act III? The good news is that I'm scheduled to see Amy Watson dance Teresina -- a dancer with excellent technique and the right proportions and look for a Bournonville heroine. I'm also looking forward to Alexander Staeger's Gennaro, as Staeger was another impressive member of last night's Pas de Sept crew. Accentuate the positives.

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It's important in many Bournonville ballets. So I'm bracing myself for changes in Napoli, i.e., will Teresina still clasp her Santa Lucia medallion to fend-off Golfo the Monster in the Blue Grotto scene...as a famous church hymn plays in the background? (I wouldn't be surprised if Hubbe has 'killed' the hymn altogether, substituting a secular tune.)

Natalia, the whole of the second act is new, including the music - and no, Teresina doesn't have a sacred medallion. If you want to prepare yourself for the changes, there's a lot about the production on this thread - but maybe you prefer to come new to it!

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I'll go into Napoli with a fresh mind, as I did for Folk Tale but thanks nonetheless, Jane. It doesn't surprise me after what I saw yesterday with Folk Tale. Sigh.

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Nobody else from Ballet Alert has attended Folk Tale at the Kennedy Center? I'd love to read a report or two on the 2nd cast. (hint-hint)

I also have a ticket for tomorrow night's opening Napoli ...but that's it. Thanks to the lousy economy, I now attend only one performance of each full-evening ballet(although I broke my rule and saw two Cuban Don Qs last week).

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Went to last night's Napoli opener, starring Amy Watson and Alexander Staeger. Nutshell: I loved it! Specifically, I loved each act...as a separate ballet. A funky-50s-Felliniesque Act I, a 'Euro-Pseudo-Balanchinean' Act II to weird tinkly music, and an 1800's-looking Act III just as in the old traditional productions -- kids on the bridge and all -- with the exception of (1) the older women sitting on the sidelines in short dresses and (2) the floral cart replaced by a yellow motor scooter at the very end. Three totally different ballets. ODD but individually, delightful.

Fabulous leads - Watson and Staeger have absolutely perfect bodies (not too long of limb), faces (that project like sunbeams), and technique for Bournonville. They were lovely in both the traditional Bournonville choreography and in two brand-new pas de deux in Acts I and III, in the old style, thus completely acceptable. Jean-Lucien Massot was perfectly scary and 'macho' as Golfo in the tinkly underwater act. On the other hand, with the exception of veteran Gudrun Bojesen, the ladies of the Act III Pas de Six were rushed and unclear in their solos (Misses Crandall, Gruber & LoSardo); only Bojesen seemed relaxed and unrushed,allowing us to savor every step clearly...and was the only one to consistently hold her arms properly. Nikolai Hansen was wonderful in his solo (the one with the gnd plies)...but it was Gregory Dean who blew the roof off the house in the zippy final male solo of the Pas de Six with quick high leaps. WOW! [The initial male solo - the one so brilliantly rendered by Thomas Lund in recent years - was adequately danced by Alban Lendorf. Lendorf was the 'lone man' who did not dance in the Pas de Six ensemble portions.]

Lund was here too, in the mimed cameo role of the street singer in Act I, now a 'Drag Queen' in a golden dress & flaming-red wig, a tad too over-the-top and not funny after the first 15 seconds. In the old Bournonville version, this was a male opera singer...and far funnier.

Glorious finale, with seemingly "hundreds' on the stage, confetti thrown from the bridge, and an instant-standing-o from the happy audience.

p.s. Hubbe did not totally banish Christianity from this 2009 production, as he did with this year's Folk Tale. Acts I & III both had the little icon-shrines to the Madonna and religious characters...but the story-line was less religious, due to the changed Act II.

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I'm so pleased you singled out Diana Cuni for praise Natalia, she is stunning in everything she does but in Bournonville she reigns supreme in my view. Lis Jeppesen's Viderick is adorable, I'm pleased she still dances the role.

The Christian element is very important to the story: faith overcoming the machinations of the supernatural and providing comfort for Hilda. This is a serious omission in my view. And I'm horrified that they've altered the Act III pas de sept, it was as close to perfect as choreography gets.

The "Christian element" bugs Alastair Macaulay, too, and he's glad to be shot of it:

Though Bournonville regarded this as his most perfect ballet, Mr. Hübbe has had the courage to change the most problematic aspect of it for many modern viewers: its reliance on holy water in Act III as the agent that restores the hero, Junker Ove, to life and sanity. In Mr. Hübbe’s production Hilda’s human charity and dance grace do the trick that holy water used to. This succeeds, beautifully.

If Ove was rescued by a fairy waving a magic wand, would Macaulay be bothered by that? How does stripping an overtly Christian story of its Christian elements help the work?

Sanitizing old works of qualities that might make modern audiences uncomfortable is nothing new, of course.

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I'm so pleased you singled out Diana Cuni for praise Natalia, she is stunning in everything she does but in Bournonville she reigns supreme in my view. Lis Jeppesen's Viderick is adorable, I'm pleased she still dances the role.

The Christian element is very important to the story: faith overcoming the machinations of the supernatural and providing comfort for Hilda. This is a serious omission in my view. And I'm horrified that they've altered the Act III pas de sept, it was as close to perfect as choreography gets.

The "Christian element" bugs Alastair Macaulay, too, and he's glad to be shot of it:

Though Bournonville regarded this as his most perfect ballet, Mr. Hübbe has had the courage to change the most problematic aspect of it for many modern viewers: its reliance on holy water in Act III as the agent that restores the hero, Junker Ove, to life and sanity. In Mr. Hübbe’s production Hilda’s human charity and dance grace do the trick that holy water used to. This succeeds, beautifully.

If Ove was rescued by a fairy waving a magic wand, would Macaulay be bothered by that? How does stripping an overtly Christian story of its Christian elements help the work?

Sanitizing old works of qualities that might make modern audiences uncomfortable is nothing new, of course.

Yes. I don't think it 'helps the work' either, and 'sanitizing' is definitely what that sort of thing is. What are we gonna lose next, the Holy Grail in Lohengrin and Parsifal? I think this is a specifically Scandinavian sentiment, although not limited to Denmark (or especially

Sweden in my experience, where the 'peace-loving' types I've known well always are almost rabidly anti-religion; by that I mean they go too far, and I've got real problems with overzealous Christians myself), in which traditional religion is often thought to be more intrusive than even anybody else thinks it is. There then come these substitutes for it, as Macaulay here terms it 'human charity and dance grace do the trick that holy water used to', but I don't find it at all convincing. These human substitutes can be just as pushy and downright cloddish as your basic Christian Crusade, if the truth be known. But so much for that kind of provincialism, and there is deflnitely Scandinavian provincialism of a quasi-sophisticated sort that exists today just as was well-portrayed in its older, unsophisticated form in 'Babette's Feast', where the stolid Lutherans (who are like the contemporary atheists very often) could not enjoy Babette's French genius except in the most limited way, not quite even a whole afternoon. I've heard about 'Italian Catholic Atheists' and 'French Atheistic Catholics', but they just don't hold a candle to the overt atheism of some Scandinavians, who've got it down to even being self-righteous about it. And there is often an attitude that re-writing history is not that serious, that people in the past 'should have just known better'. It's very oppressive.

The review was otherwise very interesting, as has been the evolution of this thread since the tour began in CA. I don't think I've ever seen so many reversals and extreme differences of opinion on choreography, productions, and individual dancers. Now who am I supposed to trust, Natalia or Mr. Macaulay or Anne on Ms. Grinder next week? After all these strong opinions, I daresay I won't even know what I think.

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I'm usually on the side of historical accuracy. But regarding the holy water, I agree with Macaulay. Napoli as a work of art is nowhere near the level of Lohengrin or Parsifal. So, there is much less at stake in making a change of detail like this.

For most of us today, the idea of a miracle brought about by holy water requires a major suspension of disbelief.

On the other hand, most of us still do believe (and, more important, want deeply to believe) in another set of values that are arguably more broadly "Christian" than holy water. I'm referring to the idea that ballet miracles can and DO happen through the agency of what Macaulay calls

human charity and dance grace

Love ("charity") and art ("grace") are universals. Take the ballet Giselle. It can survive productions that downplay the importance of the cross on Giselle's grave. But it can't survive a Giselle who is unable to communicate a deep and miracle-making love for Albrecht.

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