Hypercriticism vs Enjoying the Art
Posted 10 July 2010 - 08:05 AM
At City Ballet Marika Anderson got a shot at Carabosse and did her borderline psychotic - which I actually thought worked for her (and a lot of people disliked intensely.) Were I the stager, I'd let her do it that way, but would never let her teach it to anyone.
When the choreographer is gone, you can try to insist on fidelity to the text. Sooner or later the work is going to calcify - or the culture underneath the work will move enough that fidelity to the text is no longer actually fidelity to the text, because different eyes are looking at it. Constant adaptation introduces the risk of corruption and bad versions - it means that the stager needs to know not just the steps, but the intention of the ballet, and needs to be as much of an artist as the choreographer - but I think it's the only way for a work of genius to last as a work of genius.
Posted 10 July 2010 - 08:45 AM
For commercial videotapes, this is a snapshot in time. Given that most available Balanchine has been released on one official edition -- often the series that Balanchine made in the late '70's and shown on PBS -- what Merrill Ashley or Karin von Aroldingen did in "Emeralds" is the definitive version and interpretation most people know. That Balanchine stopped casting Ashley in the Verdy role, described by Croce as a failed experiment, isn't what's on the record. Even for companies that tape all of their performances, there isn't necessarily a great range, although looking carefully over time, differences might be apparent.
Also, Balanchine made adjustments for dancers and to the ballets themselves. Francia Russell had permission from Balanchine when he was alive and now from the Trust to stage the versions she knew, where she could speak to intent. Maria Tallchief, in "Dancing for Mr. B" describes telling him that she staged his ballets for her company as she knew them, and he told her that was right. Then there are the change Balanchine made to "Apollo" by dropping the entire first scene. At least there are several videos with the full version, or it could have been lost.
Like with classical vocal recordings, where a phrase is interpreted in a particularly beautiful way, it's easy to be disappointed at a live performance where the phrasing changes. For me, that's in Suzanne Farrell's performance in the "Apollo" pas de deux from the Balanchine biography. In it she does a supported turn and ends in a perfect fifth position on a little "pah" in the music. She doesn't quite pause there -- it's more of the contrast of the split-second stillness after the momentum of the turn. Every time I see "Apollo", I want to see that fifth position phrased the same way, and it's never happened.
Posted 10 July 2010 - 09:20 AM
So here are the two extremes: the risk of a "private subtext ... starting to become the text," on the one hand, and the opposite risk of :"calcification" of content, on the other. One risks perverting the work. The other risks making it appear out-of-date or irrelevant. Those who must make the decisions have a lot to think about. I don't envy them.
Helene, I also have the feeling that most dancers rely on the video (possibly without really questioning the authenticity of what they see). This may not be true at the very top companies, where the coaching budget is larger and where there is usually a longer communal memory, but I know it is the case at Miami, as it was at the late Ballet Florida. I suspect this happens at many other regional companies -- even when they do bring in coaches to work with the dancers.
(Now THERE's a related topic: What do the COACHES rely on when they're prepping for a visit to X Company?)
Posted 10 July 2010 - 09:44 AM
In vocal recordings there is such a range of style that a young singer could listen to. You can hear Leonid Sobinov, a singer Stanislawski described as one of the greatest performers on stage, from 1910-11 recordings sing Lenski's aria and compare it to any number of recordings over 100 years. You can see the stylistic changes and similarities over time. "Sleeping Beauty", not so much: there isn't as wide a range of recordings.
Interviews with singers from the trainee to the Diva level show a wide range of dicta from teachers and coaches about listening to great singers, from "listen to everything you can" to "no listening to anyone else", with the underlying fear that the singer will copy instead of finding his/her own style. That's always going to be an issue with dancers using videotape as well. Do you copy Suzanne Farrell? Do you think she's hopefully old-fashioned and should be doing quadruple pirouettes in the middle of "Apollo"? With dance, there's rarely a way to go back to the score, the way the singer can to say, "That's nice that Tenor X belted out a gorgeous high note at the end of "Celeste Aida", but the score says 'piano', and I'm going to sing piano."
Francia Russell primarily used her own copious notes, and nearly all the dancers who described working with her mention "Francia's notes". She mentioned referencing video with a huge caveat. Others rely on it much more, but the range of the use is very broad: some might use it to figure out how X in the corps gets to the other side of the side and to get general patterns. Others use it to be referenced when there's a conflict in memory or instruction or as a memory jog. (There could be different stagers in subsequent productions, and very frequently a stager in subsequent productions after the piece is originally choreographed.)
In the PNB/Louisville Ballet co-production of "The Seasons", for example, Val Caniparoli could make edits, or changes could be made by his stager, inadvertently or deliberately, to accommodate a dancer or if the stage size is significantly different. (There isn't any info on the Louisville Ballet site about who will put it on stage.) If there are edits that are not dancer- or space-specific, which videotape is correct when/if PNB revives it?
I think it's a matter of what the tape triggers. For a stager or a dancer for whom there is no context other than the tape, what you see is what you get, unless there is an intuitive insight. For a stager or dancer who was there at the creation, the tape triggers an entire world of aural and physical instruction.
Posted 10 July 2010 - 10:27 AM
Posted 10 July 2010 - 12:28 PM
Danilova has commented on how different her version of Terpsichore was in Apollo than Farrell's, the tone and the accents, and Verdy in Garis points out how Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux was set on a short body -- hers -- and how different and difficult it was for Farrell to bring it off. Also Kyra Nichols pointed out how she had to strip the ornamentation from the roles she inherited and completely rethink them. Farrell does seem to be an important point of reference in discussions on interpretation (a 35mm lens version of Balanchine roles?).
Posted 10 July 2010 - 08:18 PM
In addition something of the kind was already happening while Balanchine was alive. He told different dancers different things about a given ballet at different points and if something didn't suit a new dancer in the role he would often change it. Of course, any such alterations made in his lifetime happened under his own aegis. But when the creator is gone others have to make those decisions -- responsibly, one hopes.
Also Balanchine changed some of Terpsichore's steps for Farrell and so the "score" she worked from was slightly different from Danilova's. When Farrell was new to the scene some thought she was distorting some of her choreography. Now she's the "old-fashioned" standard.
Posted 14 November 2010 - 05:00 AM
So many answers. However, as food for thought, I'd like to mention that we don't go into art museums with crayons and "retouch" works of great art to suit our needs. We don't take chisels to great sculpture because we think it could use a few tweaks. The melody lines of the great symphonies are set forever. Just IMHO.
Posted 14 November 2010 - 04:01 PM
Also a good point.
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