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"Les Sylphides" in tightsA thought on costumes. With or without...?


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#1 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 09:01 AM

The title of this thread is merely symbolic, for which this is a topic I've been wanting to discuss for a while now, or at least know your opinions. I'm going to copy and paste a post I wrote in that other thread about "costume disasters", because I really think this is something that deserves a discussion of its own. Here it goes.

Balanchine's Concerto Barocco.

Here's how it looks now:

Here's an undated George Platt Lynes photo from an NYCB souvenir booklet of his photographs issued in 1957 as a tribut to Lynes. Costumes by Eugene Berman.

Looks like a potential disaster to me!


I'm probably by myself on this, but truly...I adore ballet costumes. I enjoy tremendously "tutus ballets", and to be honest, I really haven't got to that level of abstraction to say, for example, that I could enjoy "Les Sylphides" the same even without the romantic tutus, for which it would be just as great due to the beautiful choreography. But again, I don't have the Balanchinean background you all have, so I'm sort of outdated on this matters.
In my humble, amateurish point of view, the dramatic effect of many ballets diminishes in a great deal when stripped down of costumes...(I'm fine with the "non-props" segment). If I could watch Symphony in C in its original tri-colored structure, or Ballet Imperial with tutus, or even Concerto Barocco the way it was according to those great pics Peggy posted, I would definitely be more attracted to them.

Isn't ballet, at the end of the story, a great mix of beautiful stories, choreography, music, sets and costumes...?

Couldn't it be that we tend to accept and celebrate Balanchine's eliminations, just because they came from the master himself...?

Would you be just as careless if T&V, Chopiniana, Jewels or Symphony in C would start to be presented in plain tights ...?

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 10:36 AM

"Sylphides" has been done this way. First for a School of American Ballet production, then for a season or two by NYCB. I believe that they used the "Chopiniana" Title, but it was "Les Sylphides" as remembered by Alexandra Danilova and Balanchine. I didn't really care for it, even though the dancers were splendid.

#3 richard53dog

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 11:24 AM

I think Sylphides needs the costumes and settings. It's really a bit of an artificial piece in that it is an early 20th century evocation of an earlier era. The whole thing is designed to call up an image of Romantic Ballet and the settings and costumes are an important component in giving the viewer a peak into that long gone era.

#4 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 11:41 AM

I think Sylphides needs the costumes and settings. It's really a bit of an artificial piece in that it is an early 20th century evocation of an earlier era. The whole thing is designed to call up an image of Romantic Ballet and the settings and costumes are an important component in giving the viewer a peak into that long gone era.

...and what about T&V and Jewels...?

#5 PeggyR

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 12:33 PM

...and what about T&V and Jewels...?


OK, here's my take on the two you mentioned.

T&V and Diamonds (from Jewels): I think the choreography of either would be fine without costumes (Diamonds less so, but T&V definitely interesting in practice clothes); however, Tchaikovsky's music more or less demands the whole shebang for both of them: women in tutus, men in princely regalia, a chandelier or two. Whenever I see Diamonds -- live or on DVD -- I feel like I should be dressed in a satin ballgown, strappy heels and long white gloves, and it's the music that does it.

Rubies could certainly be performed without costumes. Emeralds, certainly not. Emeralds shares with Les Sylphides a combination of music, choreography and costume to create an atmosphere that, as richard53dog points out, would be missing without all the parts.

#6 richard53dog

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 01:53 PM


...and what about T&V and Jewels...?


OK, here's my take on the two you mentioned.

T&V and Diamonds (from Jewels): I think the choreography of either would be fine without costumes (Diamonds less so, but T&V definitely interesting in practice clothes); however, Tchaikovsky's music more or less demands the whole shebang for both of them: women in tutus, men in princely regalia, a chandelier or two. Whenever I see Diamonds -- live or on DVD -- I feel like I should be dressed in a satin ballgown, strappy heels and long white gloves, and it's the music that does it.

Rubies could certainly be performed without costumes. Emeralds, certainly not. Emeralds shares with Les Sylphides a combination of music, choreography and costume to create an atmosphere that, as richard53dog points out, would be missing without all the parts.


PeggyR makes an interesting point regarding Jewels. While both Emeralds and Diamonds to a greater or lesser degree have an element of an evocation of a past era, Rubies was close to a contemporary period piece when it was new. (Of course 50 years from now, assuming Jewels is still in repertory, Rubies will then have a evocation component, that of the mid 20th century!)

Ok, both Jewels and Theme and Variation have a component of calling up a long gone era.
But I look at them a bit differently than Les Sylphides. Sylphides to me seems purely a perfumed evocation of the past. Actually, I don't find the choreography all that interesting except that it serves its purpose of being a strongly evocative element that works along with the settings, costumes, and even the slightly artifical attitudes the dancers strike.

The Balanchine pieces are a bit different. The choreography is very prominent and very complex, even Emeralds which shares (roughly) it's "period" with Sylphides. So while I see no reason to do Jewels without the costumes, I believe the sets are expendable. Same with T&V . I just think the choreography is a weightier component in the Balanchine pieces than
Les Sylphides which is a very careful balance of elements.

#7 carbro

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 06:21 PM

I saw a more recent SAB stripped-down Chopiniana -- Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle were among the principal dancers, whatever year that was. I think Balanchine's point in staging it in practice clothes was to take a piece that was familiar to much of the audience and say, "Look, the choreography is interesting and inventive enough to stand on its own. See it for its own sake." Do I prefer it that way? No, but I am glad to have seen it once.

By that token, I'd like to see Sleeping Beauty in practice clothes. Once. :lol:

PS: I'd allow Carabosse to wear a more traditional get-up, esp. if it's performed en travesti.

#8 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 06:48 PM

By that token, I'd like to see Sleeping Beauty in practice clothes. Once. :lol:


OMG...I automatically thought of Giselle in leotards...(Oh, blasphemy!! :lol: )

PS: I'd allow Carabosse to wear a more traditional get-up, esp. if it's performed en travesti.


:wink:

#9 emilienne

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 09:37 PM

What is the function of the costume in relation to a ballet?

When I think of Romantic ballets or those costumed in the style of it (even Serenade), the first thing that always comes to mind is the skirt, being manipulated by the dancer as it is snapped up and flung from step to step. The long tutu is like a character on stage, another party to the dance responding to the whims of their partners. Or, in Giselle, it is the afterimage of the woman - her tether to the world for this tenuous moment.

The classical tutu may be mostly decorative, but the stiff shape of it delineates the geometric boundaries of a ballet for me. Imagine Paquita in practice skirts: the hierarchy of dancers is suddenly lost, and the loose skirts look wrong with regards to the lines of the choreography. I enjoyed Piano Concerto #2 when I saw it (NYCB with T Reichlin) but my sense of wrongness wasn't articulated until I had an opportunity to see Ballet Imperial in formal regalia (La Scala? My copy was unlabeled). I think that particular ballet needs classical tutus, both to frame the choreographic geometry, and as others have suggested, to visually convey the grandeur that Tchaikovsky's music suggests to the ears.

The same goes for romantic ballets - Chopiniana may be beautifully danced, but the geometry of the choreography is (I think) meant to be framed by the skirt. We are not meant to see the legs but what the skirt suggests as animated by the movements underneath it. The combination adds a visual dimension of texture that I find quite bewitching. The thought of watching Emeralds without the skirts is, to paraphrase carbro, interesting once but only once.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 02:26 AM

I managed to see "Ballet Imperial" in its 1964 revival with sets by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. I was quite disappointed when I later saw "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #2". It was about that time that I began formulating my Law of Balanchine Diminishing Returns. When the Old Man began tinkering with former works, it often was not for the better.

#11 Quiggin

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 08:24 AM

In some of Balanchine’s works the costumes are part of the choreographical architecture - in La Valse, Liebeslieder, Emeralds and Theme and Variations especially - and the women touch and shape the skirting materials and the costumes frame their movements and direct your eyes to this part or that of the legs or arms. The man is instructed in the Theme & Variations video tutorial to bring his hands gently over the skirt after a lift to stabilize it.

But part of the madness and wonderful effect of Symphony in C - which was changed only a year or so after its premiere - is that everyone is in the same black or white costume and when they all pile onto the stage at once at the end you’re not at first aware that the four separate stories, or the four ring circus, have become one entity. The ballet enrichens itself in a way that the four color indentities wouldn’t allow it to. That effect would be more like Union Jack, that sort of salad.

When the Old Man began tinkering with former works, it often was not for the better.


They're also things of their time and are difficult to wrench apart from it. Ballet Imperial - at least the version I saw at ABT in 2005 with Michelle Wyles and Veronika Part - seemed very 1941, almost MGMsih. Isn't that where there's a single male and two women and a small corps of women and all sorts of inventive solutions? It may have been that production but seemed overall a little on the sluggish side. I think I would like all the Apollos - the 1927 one I imagine as being very athletic and angular and less serious than the later ones.

#12 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 01:41 PM

I think I would like all the Apollos - the 1927 one I imagine as being very athletic and angular and less serious than the later ones.

...and even THAT one had tutus...! :speechless-smiley-003:

#13 Quiggin

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 04:31 PM

cubanmiamiboy:

..and even THAT one had tutus...!


Sad ones, of differing lengths (perhaps snipped-snipped).

Here are the images the Getty has of the costumes:

Getty: Balanchine/Apollon

Chanel was asked in 1929 to replace the originals which had been done by the difficult Andre Bauchant. According to Lincoln Kirstein in Four Centuries of Ballet:

In 1928 fearful of identification with such “Greek” works as Narcisse (1911), Daphnis and Chloe (1912), or Midas (1914) - to say nothing of Nijinksy’s Faune - Diaghilev wished a naive, or at least a new eye, on traditional antiquity. Bauchant provided equivalent to neither music nor dancing.

The costumes, after several compromises between full-lenght ballet skirts and modern sports dress, were designed by by the great couturiere Madame Chanel, who bound the Muses’ bodices with men’s cravats. Apollo wigged in gold, wore a scarlet tunic. In recent revivals Balanchine eliminated all adornment, concentrating on naked structure, as generated by melodic and rhythmic plasticity in the music.


But it was perhaps a different ballet, lighter in tone. Apollo was tossed about on the tips of the toes of the Muses in that version.

#14 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 13 September 2010 - 04:51 PM

Thanks, Guiggin for those pics. I had seen some of them, in Danilova's book. Call me crazy, but I actually DO like Chanel's tutus...(I didn't know about the three different lenghts...only Danilova is photographed standing solo in her book, and her tutu is the shortest, looking pretty much as a regular modern tutu).
Don't know about Apollo's costume earlier incarnations, though...I can't imagine anything but white... :speechless-smiley-003:
Alonso's production has the muses dressed in tunics too, but they wear a strange headdress...


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