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Balanchine's "a la Francaix"


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#1 bart

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 08:48 AM

Today's NY Times has a review of the Eglevsky Ballet's performance of a rare 1951 Balanchine work, a la Francaix. Thanks, dirac, for the Link.

http://www.nytimes.c...evsky.html?_r=1

Has anyone actually seen a performance of this ballet? Or know about what it was like or how it was received, either in 1951 or in one of its subsequent stagings?

I have learned from Choreography by George Balanchine: a Catalogue of Works that tghe premiere was at the City Center (NYC) in Sept. 1951, with an original cast of Janet Reed, Maria Tallchief, Andre Eglevsky, Frank Hobi, and Roy Tobias. Subsequent stagings include: San Francisco Ballet (1953), Eglevsky Ballet (1964), San Diego (1981) and Kansas City (1982. It was performed on television on the Kate Smith Hour in 1953.

Nancy Reynolds, in Repertory in Review, includes a frequently reproduced photo of Eglevsky and a tennis player (described as "the Dandy" in Macaulay's review).

Macaulay's piece makes it sound delightful -- AND something that a Balanchine follower ought to have the chance to see.

“À la Françaix,” the third item on the program, shows us a flippant side of Balanchine we don’t often see today. Its five characters are (as named in the program) two Sailors, a Flirt, a Dandy and a Sylph. The Flirt does nicely with the Sailors until the Dandy (with handlebar mustache and a tennis racket: the role created by André Eglevsky) strikes her as better fare. The two are dancing promisingly together when along comes the Sylph (dressed in traditional Romantic-ballet attire, soft calf-length dress and floral headdress), who distracts him. He forgets about the Flirt; she even tugs at his trouser leg, but to no avail, and she departs, leaving him with the Sylph.

But you know how it is with sylphs: they come, but then they go. So, after experiencing this alluring little vision of otherness, our Dandy soon returns to the Flirt and starts a pretty duet with her. Sure enough, the Sylph (danced originally by Maria Tallchief) soon reappears. (This actually is the best way to bring any self-respecting sylph back into play.) This time, the Flirt no sooner sees her ethereal rival than she, very funnily giving up the game without a moment’s further ado, droops all over in the Dandy’s arms.

And the Sylph now clinches matters by removing her outer sylph layer. Underneath she’s a bathing beauty in a bright pink mini-dress.

The following is especially intriguing:

At every point you can feel Balanchine’s freedom in making new coinage from old currency.



#2 duffster

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 07:15 PM

Bart, I don't remember very much about a la francais, it was one of the ballets on a program on which I performed many years ago (Eglevsky Ballet) What I do remember that it is absolutely charming, very different from any Balanchine ballet I've danced or seen. It moves very quickly, a very short piece,and I think to make it work well, the casting has to be very good. The ending comes as quite a surprise on viewing this piece. I wish it had not been given away in the NYtimes review. I did have the good fortune to watch Mr.Eglevsky rehearse the ballet. I think he enjoyed dancing in it as well.

#3 papeetepatrick

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Posted 23 August 2010 - 07:45 PM

This interests me, because 'Francaix' is the name of the composer, for those who were unsure (and haven't looked at the linked article). I had no idea Balanchine had written anything to music of Jean Francaix, who was one of the very few French composers of some importance who worked with Nadia Boulanger. Her primary fame came from the great Americans who worked with her--Copland, Harris, Thomson, numerous others, but she did not teach at the Conservatoire, or not ever primarily, although there were some classes through the Ecole Normale de Musique, I believe, and she herself had studied at the Conservatoire, along with Ravel and under Faure and Dubois.

In fact, Francaix is not that well-known. He's not one of the major French composers of his time, which is not to say he shouldn't be, but rather I never heard of him except when I was in her class. I'd like to see (and hear) this work, which comes as a pleasant surprise to learn of. So it was a play on 'a la francaise', of course, but I did somehow remember that he had an 'x' in his name (I don't know the French name otherwise, although it may be common), and found out from the Macaulay article that is indeed the same.

#4 cargill

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 09:52 AM

This was performed by the New York Theatre Ballet a few years ago, and I remember enjoying it very much. I just looked it up, and it was done in 2004 and here is what I wrote in DanceViewTimes
.
Balanchine’s A La Francaix, too, is a rarely seen comedy, and it was enterprising of the company to find a rarity in this Balanchine-saturated year, where every company seems to be doing the top five Balanchine hits. The work was created quickly to fill a repertory hole, and is a riff on the French Romantic era, from the punning title (Jean Francaix wrote the music) to the pushy sylph. It begins with two matelots dancing with a frisky young girl, who are brushed aside by a suave tennis player (Steven Melendez with a debonair false mustache). The sylph (Melissa Beaver) then absconds with him using all the sylphian clichés—there is a whole lot of whispering going on. Eventually she morphs into a very earthbound bathing beauty. It was a very entertaining bauble.

#5 bart

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 10:31 AM

Patrick, thanks for that fascinating information on Francaix. I confess then when I first heard of this ballet, I thought the "x" in "Francaix" was some sort of southern regional spelling, or something medieval. :smilie_mondieu:

The ending comes as quite a surprise on viewing this piece. I wish it had not been given away in the NYtimes review

Good point. I wonder why Macaulay did this. I hope the ballet is done more often, and that most people won't remember Macaulay's spilling the beans. :innocent:

Balanchine's A La Francaix, too, is a rarely seen comedy, and it was enterprising of the company to find a rarity in this Balanchine-saturated year, where every company seems to be doing the top five Balanchine hits. [ ... ] It was a very entertaining bauble.

Thanks, cargill. Good argument for more extensive revival.

I was interested to learn the following from Macaulay, which adds to what I know about Balanchine's ballet legacy:

Not all of those to whom Balanchine bequeathed his ballets agreed to place them under the guardianship of the Balanchine Trust, which was formed after his death and supervises the vast majority of Balanchine stagings today; and it’s been widely assumed that the three ballets Balanchine left to Ms. Anchutina (the others are the “Sylvia pas de deux” and the “Minkus pas de trois”) are among those few non-Trust works. This would explain why they are so seldom seen. I note, however, that the Eglevsky program says that “À la Françaix” and “Tarantella” are “Courtesy of the Balanchine Trust.” The program was called “Keeping the Vision Alive.” I assume this refers to the Eglevskys’ vision; but in “À La Françaix” Balanchine’s vision was alive too



#6 chiapuris

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Posted 25 August 2010 - 07:15 AM

[b]Has anyone actually seen a performance of this ballet? Or know about what it was like or how it was received, either in 1951 or in one of its subsequent stagings?[/b


What I remember most about A la Francaix, (in performances at the City Center in the fifties), is that it was danced downstage in the foreground, like a vaudeville skit, back and forth in a two-dimensional way, without the use of the upstage. What I don't recall is whether there was a curtain that cut off the larger stage space. In memory this seems to be so. Memory can be unreliable.

I found the music charming ( Serenade for Small Orchestra -1934- by Jean Francaix) with its strong suggestions of music hall.

The dancers were always top-notch. I remember Maria Tallchief in it, and Jillana.

And always Andre Eglevsky.

There is no other Balanchine like it. Light-hearted and meant to bring chuckles.

#7 Crenshaw

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 11:12 AM

The Carolina Ballet is doing A la Francaix in an all-Balanchine program beginning this weekend (Saturday, October 12, 2013).  When I saw the title on the Carolina Ballet website, I thought it was a typo.  Thank you to Ballet Alert for the background information above.  I am looking forward to seeing it.



#8 sandik

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 01:52 PM

Glad to know that this work is still being performed.  It lets me keep hoping I'll get a chance to see it!  Thinking about it, it seems several choreographers made humorous works in the 1950s, including some recital works that were direct satires of canonical ballets.  There's a discussion about Myra Kinch's Giselle's Revenge from the early 2000s here  That kind of satirical work seems to have been assigned mainly to the Trocks, now, so that gender becomes an issue in all of it, but I don't think that's been the case in the past.

 

Read through the thread, and was reminded of Mark Morris' "My Party," which he made to Francaix' Trio for Strings in C Major in the early 80s. 



#9 mimsyb

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 07:18 PM

Glad to know that this work is still being performed.  It lets me keep hoping I'll get a chance to see it!  Thinking about it, it seems several choreographers made humorous works in the 1950s, including some recital works that were direct satires of canonical ballets.  There's a discussion about Myra Kinch's Giselle's Revenge from the early 2000s here  That kind of satirical work seems to have been assigned mainly to the Trocks, now, so that gender becomes an issue in all of it, but I don't think that's been the case in the past.

 

Read through the thread, and was reminded of Mark Morris' "My Party," which he made to Francaix' Trio for Strings in C Major in the early 80s. 

San Francisco Ballet used to perform it also.  Long ago.  Very entertaining.



#10 Paul Parish

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 08:12 PM

Berkeley Ballet Theater performed it back in the 90s, which if memory serves is when I saw it. I believe Robert Nichols played the dandy. They danced it well: It was a sweet, funny little vaudeville. [They also did Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie, the smaller version, in which Kyra Nichols guested with her brother.]

 

 Marina Eglevsky lives and teaches in Berkeley.  



#11 Natalia

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Posted 10 October 2013 - 02:38 AM

Also, this was performed in NYC by the Gelsey Kirkland Academy a couple of years ago. It's a very cute ballet.



#12 ceecee

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Posted 13 October 2013 - 04:58 PM

Not sure if links are allowed, but Carolina Ballet posted a great pic from this ballet on their Facebook page:

 

https://www.facebook...&type=1




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