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Ballets by Arvo Pärt?


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#1 rtnty

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Posted 11 May 2001 - 08:44 PM

Hi, ballet history buffs,

I'm sorry to be such a pill with my questions about random composers! I suppose I should get my own ballet encyclopedia, but frankly, it's just not in the budget at the moment! Anyway, here's my question. I'm wondering if any of you know of ballets to the music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt? (he is no longer living in Estonia--has been in Germany for quite a few years.) I really like some of his music and think it could make for some wonderful dance. In particular, I'm thinking (at the moment) of his piece "Fratres"--I forget what the original ensemble was, but various people have since arranged it for everything from string orchestra to string quartet to eight cellos to wind octet to...! Perchance, somewhere along the line, a choreographer has found inspiration in one of those versions? If you know anything, let me know! (I was dancing around a bit with it earlier this evening...blush...)

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 11 May 2001 - 09:22 PM

I'm sure there are ballets to Arvo Part -- I can't think of any at the moment, but I'm sure other posters can. For the past ten years, maybe a bit longer, modern dance choreographers in Washington have been using Part's music. Lots and lots and lots of Part's music. (Some of them rather good dances :) )

#3 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 May 2001 - 09:27 PM

Fratres is an excellent piece of music, but I've seen too many choreographers rely on it to do all the work in creating atmosphere.

There are way too many dances with music to Arvo Part. In fact, I admit in a lecture I gave to college students I gave a few simple rules of choreography, one of which was "No Part, no Gorecki, no Glass, no Piazzolla. Because I said so. They are all overused. You have a duty to look beyond the top shelf of the CD rack."

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 May 2001 - 02:42 PM

Those interested in the output of composers would be well-advised to consult the New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, which should be available in most library reference departments. You can find some pretty different composers writing for ballet, and liturgical music, and all sorts of surprises! :)

#5 rtnty

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Posted 17 May 2001 - 11:26 AM

Interesting...being but a backwoods Northwesterner (this is my first year in the "big city" of Rochester--ha, ha!), I had no idea that so many people had latched onto Part's music. I guess I shouldn't be surprised--his music, along with that of Gorecki, Tavener, Glass, Reich, etc., as Leigh mentioned, certainly does fly off the shelves. I can see how it could open a gateway to a sort of "easy choreography" just as many musicians/critics feel it functions more as "easy listening" than as serious art music. But let's not go there; I mean no offense to the above composers, or to admirers of their music, or to the choreographers and dancers who become involved with it.

#6 BryMar1995

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Posted 20 May 2001 - 12:36 PM

Great music, or music that speaks to you, is hard to come by. So, to respectfully offer an opinion that differs from Leigh, I say use music that compels you, even if it has been used before, or if it appears that it might not be "serious." Part, Gorecki, Adams, Glass are overused, but no more than Tchaikovsky, Bach, Chopin, or Rachmaninoff. They're used a lot because they are good. I don't think that popular composers lend themselves to easy choreography, but quite the opposite. One's work should have enough substance to complement strong scores.

There would have been no "Deuce Coupe" for Joffrey ballet if Twyla Tharp had used only music that one might ordinarily associate with ballet. Or "Stars and Stripes" for NYCB without Sousa's ever so accesible and popular band music. No "Esplanade" for Paul Taylor if he thought he couldn't violate Balanchine's first dibs on Bach's Double Violin Concerto. Perhaps music choices depend on how accomplished or skilled the artist using it is.
Rick McCullough

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 20 May 2001 - 01:41 PM

I'd agree with Rick that "Perhaps music choices depend on how accomplished or skilled the artist using it is." I'd also agree with Leigh that it's a good idea for those under Balanchine-Taylor level to avoid easy choices :)

Remember Pachelbel's "Canon in D?" Maybe this is just a D.C. story -- it was used in the "To Fly" exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and became hugely popular. One classical music store (there were such things in the 1980s) actually had a big sign that said, "Yes, this is the one you thrilled to at the Air and Space Museum."

Everybody choreographed it. Everybody. Greg Reynolds actually choregraphed it TWICE and did both pieces on the same program. (One, which I will never forget, was "The Passion According to Mary" where Greg danced the role of Mary. It was not unforgettable for good reasons :) )

It was done so much, it became a local joke. Which doesn't mean that someone couldn't make a great ballet to that "Canon."

I think choreographers made a beeline for Part, Gorecki and Glass because they're danceable and for such a long time, serious music, concert music, had lost its dance impulse. More composers, please :) Or, as Leigh suggests, "You have a duty to look beyond the top shelf of the CD rack." There is new music being written, and there are music companies that specialize in it. One of the pleasures of ballet was that one could hear new music -- over and over, because of repertory repetitions, not just once at a "New Now" concert.

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 20 May 2001 - 02:36 PM

I think you raise a very good point, Rick. I think once a choreographer has formed his or her craft that there are no rules, only guidelines. But for beginning choreographers, I'd say not developing good musical skills and habits is the first and easiest trap to fall into. I would put using pop music into this category. The dangers for a young choreographer is that using pop music tends to make the choreographer unobjective about the work. S/he'll use a piece of music that has personal significance without the skills to communicate why or more subtly, to make that significance universal. Also, I don't think it's a great idea to choreograph the story of the song. It doesn't build skills properly as a choreographer, and to me those include the ability to parse the structure of a given piece of music. This is a reason to stay away from minimalism at the beginning as well. A budding choreographer should acquire a basic knowledge of the classical repertory to know what is common and what isn't. A choreographer is in a position to broaden the musical repertory, I think we should take this as part of our job.

#9 BryMar1995

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 01:03 PM

Anyway, to answer rtny's question, the first time I saw a work to Arvo Part was in 1986 at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. The choreographer was Ohad Naharin and he used "Tabula Rasa." It was a very strong work. The audience responded very well, and the dancers loved dancing it. Ohad is in great demand as a choreograher and I believe he directs one of the established modern dance companies in Isreal, I don't remember if it's Batsheva or Bat-Dor.

I've used "fratres" for a work I did for Ballet Pacifica. The work was a success, but I was not satisfied. I didn't feel like I had fulfilled the emothional content of the music adequately.

I've used Gorecki, too. That work, on the other hand, satisfied me, and I have a hard time looking at other works to the same music since then.
Rick McCullough

#10 rtnty

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 07:11 PM

Leigh wrote, "A choreographer is in a position to broaden the musical repertory, I think we should take this as part of our job."

As a musician, I say a great big AMEN to that!!! When great music meets great dance, the "great unwashed" are bound to be hooked by/through one or both of them...and the better off both arts will be.

I have a friend who is working on a paper about the philosophical problems--from a musician's/music audience's standpoint--of creating ballets to symphonies. I'm surprised at how much of a fuss has been made over the "inappropriateness" of this.

But I've now wandered a long, LONG way from my initial question about Part. Thanks, Rick and others, for chiming in with your Part experiences... :)


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