cubanmiamiboy

Bugaku: questions and more questions...

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Another MCB season, and as usual, some new-(to me)-Balanchine's. Scotch Symphony, Western Symphony, La Sonnambula...are some of the "new" ones this time. Some way or the other I've picked up here and there from you guys some clues from these ballets, but for some reason there's not too much talking in BT about Bugaku.

Could you give me some clues as what to expect...? perhaps some details to be aware of...? or for the matters whatever recollections you could have from the ballet in previous incarnations and/or some of its most memorable dancers...?

Am I asking a lot...? :blushing:

:thanks:

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It's been a long time since I really thought about "Bugaku", but I think that Balanchine was drawing a parallel between European stylizations of love and sex, and recasting it into terms of Japanese erotic art, Shunga. Just as the Romantic-Imperial period of ballet used conventions to display a "ritual" between men and women, so Gagaku (Imperial court music) ritualized the same subject, but using vastly different conventions. The music, by Toshiro Mayuzumi, portrayed styles found during the Edo Period (1603-1867) in Japanese arts. Allegra Kent was the originator of the ballerina role, and Edward Villella, the danseur. Arthur Mitchell also frequently performed the male lead. Karinska's costumes adapted the European tutu to form a sort of crysanthemum skirt, while the men's costumes were quite simple, based on the short coat, haori, worn with white tights. The set by David Hays did a lot with very little, suggesting a sort of Zen.

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A very strange ballet, but less strange if you recall that Balanchine -- like many New Yorkers -- had seen gagaku performances in 1959. Gagaku and other forms of Japanese classical performance were introduced to NYC in the 50s and early 60s and made a great impression.

Here is Jack Anderson, NY Times, writing in 1996. He is referring to Lincoln Kirstein, Balanchine's partner in the creation of the New York City Ballet.:

An admirer of the traditional arts of Japan, Mr. Kirstein helped arrange a 1959 American tour for Gagaku, an all-male troupe that is the Japanese Imperial Household Musicians and Dancers. Gagaku has rarely performed outside the Imperial Music Pavilion in Tokyo and some of the great Japanese shrines.

Balanchine's take on all this focuses on a mating ritual. My memories of the original cast are limited to on (a) Allegra Kent, (b) the costumes and design, and © Allegra Kent.:wub: For some reason, I can't recall Villella at all. I DO recall Arthur Mitchell later on. There are elements in the work between the man and woman that remind me of Agon pdd.

I tracked down Anna Kisselgoff's review of a 1981 revival by NYCB. She goes into the background a bit.

"Bugaku" was inspired by the Japanese emperor's highly refined ensemble of musicians and dancers known as Gagaku, and by its music, Bugaku. But the choreography's high point is an erotic duet in Balanchine's stylized grand manner. Ballet lore has it that a Japanese delegation invited to the 1963 premiere was not amused. Imagine a Japanese ballet about sex in the Oval Office at the White House. Whatever possible interpretation might result from the content, the ballet is blameless in its form. Take away Karinska's Japanese wigs, flower-petal tutus and mock kimonos and the choreography will reveal its kinship with Balanchine's most experimental works: angular and convoluted, usually danced in leotards. As a rule these are set to modern music, and "Bugaku" has an ingenious commissioned score by a major Japanese contemporary composer, Toshiro Mayuzumi.

Heather Watts and Jock Soto were the geisha and samurai escorted by an ensemble of male and female attendants. Miss Watts has honed the ballerina role to inventive perfection. She can scurry on toe with the modesty of her retinue, 75 percent of which is named Jennifer in one spelling or another: Jennifer Fuchs, Jenifer Ringer, Jennifer Tinsley and Rita Norona. But the assertiveness of her jumps onto toe, feet held parallel, presages her boldness in the famous pas de deux.

Stretched to the extreme as she begins in a low-slung position mirrored by Mr. Soto, she moves her leg eventually into a split up her partner's chest. The most acrobatic of embraces is followed by a ceremonial dance for all, full of floating veils kicked up by flicks of a leg. Mr. Soto's performance is especially likable: light in his leaps and beats but solid as a masculine foil, he exudes grace without exaggeration.

So far, I've tended to think about the MCB revival mainly as an exercise in ballet history. Now, thanks to this thread, I'm hoping to enjoy it on a higher and deeper level than I was capable of in my youth.

Looking forward to hearing what others have to say, especially those who have seen it in NYCB revivals over the years.

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This link is about a Suzanne Farrell Ballet performance that included Bugaku. In the last post is a link to the New York Times on-line edition with photos of the performance. Photographs 6 and 7 are of Bugaku.

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Thanks Tutumaker for those links. I just found this preview of MCB production...

Weird indeed...

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I believe that the woman is Michelle Merrill and the man is Yann Trividic. I saw them once in this in 2002. I didn't get to see Merrill dance very often, and she retired a few seasons after we moved to Florida.I remember her in Western symphony and as an excellent Myrthe.

Trividic has just returned to MCB this season after several years away.

Maybe Villella's discussion of the piece may give some insight into what indeed may seen "wierd" if one hasn't seen it.

Villella makes me think of just how daring an experimenter Balanchine was. The integration of Japanese court movement and classical ballet are much more interesting -- and emotionally moving -- than I recall.

Allegra Kent was done here recently coaching this. I wonder who coached in 2002.

Any guesses about who should dance the leads?

I was surprised to find only one name popping up and refusing to go away -- Mary Carmen Catoya, the company's supreme classicist. I don't know how well she would work with the much taller Trividic. But I'd love to see her. Possibly with her regular partner, Renato Penteado? Hmmmmm.

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I was surprised to find only one name popping up and refusing to go away -- Mary Carmen Catoya, the company's supreme classicist. I don't know how well she would work with the much taller Trividic. But I'd love to see her. Possibly with her regular partner, Renato Penteado? Hmmmmm.

bart...I can also think of two other Principals whom I usually skip from my "ideal casting" posts...

Wu and Albertson. How's that...?

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Albertson, yes, I can see, given her Balanchine training. Wu is a softer, more lyrical, Romantic dancer.

"Soft" and "lyrical" might seem to be just the thing. But, after looking at the video you posted, I realized how much strength and technique are required for this role. And not only for the neoclassical bits.

There is steel inside the body of this apparently submissive young woman, even as she is manipulated by the man. That is what made me think of Catoya, with her great technical strength, contained within a small and apparently delicate body. Does Wu have that kind of strength, I wonder?.

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Not on the topic of the discussion, but I got a real giggle out of this comment

"She can scurry on toe with the modesty of her retinue, 75 percent of which is named Jennifer in one spelling or another: Jennifer Fuchs, Jenifer Ringer, Jennifer Tinsley and Rita Norona."

Substitute Emma/Emily for Jennifer and you would have the female student body of most of the high schools in the US.

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Does Wu have that kind of strength, I wonder?.

bart...Wu is certainly not a "strong" per se ballerina, but I can definitely see her in the geisha role. I also think her body type and facial fixtures would add up to the realism of the role, don't you think...?

Also, for what I perceived from the clip, this role requires some sort of detachment/coldness, which I think both Albertson and Wu can deliver somehow.

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Cristian, you've convinced me. :thumbsup:

The MCB blog has a longish video of Edward Villella and Allegra Kent discussing Balanchine's creation of the ballet, their feelings about interpretation, memories of the first performances, etc.

It's worth watching. Villella, especially, is articulate about the work. Kent is simply marvelous. What a joy to watch her -- and to watch her expressive arms and hands as she describes the movement qualities of the work. They are sitting side by side on a small sofa. But, with Allegra Kent is still dancing.

http://www.miamicity...-the-originals/

Kent comments that many dancers have performed these roles over the years. The interpretations and look have inevitably changed.

Kent: We want to go back to the original feelings ... the original movements ... the original intentions.

Villella: I feel very comfortable with Allegra here so that we ought to be able to provide our dancers with the way this was originally intended.

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It's wonderful to watch Allegra Kent's hands echoing gestures in that interview... they have a life of their own, like butterflies hunting after the muse's scent ... I used to think she was totally flighty from seeing her on film, but in her writing she is so articulate. One wishes to hear what was cut out immediately before the "But... it was a masterpiece!",

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I saw Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefous do "Bugaku" in Amherst many many years ago. (Don't remember why they were in town.) Since it hadn't been that long since I had returned to the US from Japan, it was very interesting to see and I immediately recognized the original versions of many of the movements. I also have strong memories of the costumes and that very spare set, all of which really made an impact on me. But after viewing the preview clip here, I am glad to say I'd forgotten the music. (I prefer the original I heard in Japan.)

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I don't know much about the exact creative process that Balanchine used while making "Bugaku", but I feel that it is only fair to reiterate that whether by design or accident, he found a cognate to the Grand Pas of ballet in a Japanese hermeneutic. The former flowed from the era of Courtly Love and the Roman de la Rose, and the latter from the Floating World and the Pillow Book.

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I saw "Bugaku" several times in the early 1990s and was always a little troubled by it. Heather Watts always seemed too wirey for the role and perhaps by then, as Allegra Kent suggests, it had strayed too far from the original.

The Miami clip intrigues me now. To me the metaphor would be the strange combinations of natural and artificial materials in Japanese flower arrangements. The sustained drawing out of line seems unsual for Balanchine, especially the long lateral stances of men and the inner - and intricate, almost endlessly inner - hand gestures.

... and the latter from the Floating World and the Pillow Book.

I wonder if Balanchine was seeing some Kurosawa and Mizoguchi films at that time which were always being shown in small New York cinemas.

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I wonder if Balanchine was seeing some Kurosawa and Mizoguchi films at that time which were always being shown in small New York cinemas.

To digress from the topic of the thread, this reminds us of how much more I'd like to know about what Balanchine saw/heard, and when, and how--beyond legend, beyond Taper.

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The arrival of Japanese performance (including film) was a big story -- a revelation, actually -- in New York City throughout the late 50s early 60s. This opened a new (post World War II) world of artistic expression to many of us. I would be surprised if Balanchine were not aware of the films. I agree with Ray that there is much more to learn about the cultural influences on Balanchine, especially during that crucial time in the city in which he and his dancers lived and worked.

Miami Herald has posted some fun pictures of a rehearsal with MCB with Edward and Allegra coaching for the upcoming performance.

http://cid-10c91a789118a2ae.photos.live.com/browse.aspx/Miami%20City%20Ballet%20rehearsal%20-%20%5E4Bugaku%5E4?nl=1&uc=117

Wow! Thank you, cahill. I love the intensity with which the dancers listen and observe. It's a great visual depiction of how the art of ballet is passed on from one generation to another.

Based on the photos, it looks like first cast will be Reyneris Reyes and Patricia Delgado. Other casts: Isanusi Garcia-Rodriques and Haiyan Wu (you were RIGHT, cristian !), and Renato Penteado and Jeanette Delgado. There is a fourth woman working without a partner, but I could not zoom in enough to make out who it was.

Reyes looks impressive. What a debut role for this new member of the company ! Ditto for Garcia-Rodriquez (returning to the company) and Wu (returning after maternity leave).

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I'm sure that I'm in the minority on this, but I've always wanted to see "Bugaku's" costumes stripped of their more obvious Japanese inflections - the wigs, e.g. (The ballerina's daisy-covered bikini must never be abandoned, however. :wink: ) To my eyes they make the ballet look alarmingly close to clumsy parody or 19th C style exoticism, whereas the choreography itself - despite the stylized gestures and images lifted from Japanese theater and visual art -- seems neither parodic (at least not by intention) nor a like conventional ballet incidentally clad in fancy dress. The movement alone says everything it needs to about the intersection of stylized refinement, ritual, and sexuality; the costumes' more obvious japonaiseries are a distraction, IMO. Maybe even a little culturally obtuse.

I lived in Japan for three years when I was in my early teens and first saw Bugaku within a decade of so of my return to the US. The movement made me happily nostalgic for Japan; the wigs and robes really annoyed me (and still do). While we're at it, I'd like to re-dress "Le Baiser de La Fee" (a wonderfully weird little ballet that deserves better than the hand-me-downs that it got), at least the first three movements of "Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3," Nuts' "Waltz of the Flowers," and "Walpurgisnacht Ballet" (who wears cocktail dresses to a witches' sabbath? - they make the work look like an episode of "Debs Gone Wild").

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(The ballerina's daisy-covered bikini must never be abandoned, however. :wink: )

http://www.ballerina.../pic/kent05.jpg

(Photo by Kent's former husband, Bert Stern. In the filmed conversation between Villella and Kent, he picks up copy of NYCB's 50th-anniversary book by Peer martins, with the photo on the book jacket.)

The same photo illustsrates a Nov. 2009 interview with Kent in Time Out. The interview is not directly relevant to this thread, but it is interesting, speaking as an Allegra Kent fan. :blushing:

http://newyork.timeo...ancer-interview

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I've only seen Heather Watts do the role, from 1983-1985 with Bart Cook, and then from 1987-1992 with Jock Soto. I liked her unique anti-vulnerability: she wasn't a warrior, rather no matter how her partner pushed, stretched, and tied her into knots, she'd bounce back to her original form.

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I had the privilege of watching Suzanne Farrell coach the pdd on dancers of the Chicago City Ballet, when I was in that company (I performed a corps role in the ballet). It was one of her first times coaching, and I remember thinking she was not particularly generous or encouraging to the principal woman. Still, it was fascinating to watch--while not a role we normally associate with her (I think Arlene C reviewed her in it once), she clearly new every nuance of it and had a clear vision of what the shapes and rhythms should look like.

The corps movements, btw, were not particularly innovative; I suppose you can say that, as in the corps work in Tzigane, he trusted in the simplicity of the steps.

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I had the privilege of watching Suzanne Farrell coach the pdd on dancers of the Chicago City Ballet

What a privilege indeed. Farrell set the ballet for her own company in 2007 (yikes, was it that long ago?). Alexandra's review is here. I remember two very different but equally compelling leads. I also remember a NYCB rehearsal and performance with Darci Kistler and Albert Evans. If astute NCYB watchers care to bring that duo to memory, I'd love to read your impressions.

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Here's an image from that 2007 TSFB run, with Natalia Magnicaballi and Jared Redick. In Post #4, TutuMaker posted a link to our discussion of that, with my post about the ballerina role's fearful aspects and her partner's role's fearsome aspects in the pas de deux, which was so powerful for me when I saw the Kent/Villella cast and which Redick, on his side, realized well.

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Stretched to the extreme as she begins in a low-slung position mirrored by Mr. Soto, she moves her leg eventually into a split up her partner's chest. The most acrobatic of embraces is followed by a ceremonial dance for all, full of floating veils kicked up by flicks of a leg. Mr. Soto's performance is especially likable: light in his leaps and beats but solid as a masculine foil, he exudes grace without exaggeration.

I don't remember seeing this revival, but I think the movement passage Kisselgoff delicately describes here is the one shown in a sequence of three Fred Fehl photos in B. H. Haggin's Ballet Chronicle on page 172: In the first picture, we see Kent suspended in an inverted split between Villella's legs, looking up at him, her arms outstretched behind her, he hunched over her, hands under her hips. Thus, reminiscent in some ways perhaps of the pas de deux of the Siren and the Prodigal Son in that ballet, their contact is crotch-to-crotch, although as I hope I've made clear, in submission, she doesn't support herself, in contrast to the dominant Siren, who does.

In the second picture, Villella has straightened up, even begun to lean back, and has raised Kent against his torso; her legs are bent now, the left one over his left shoulder, and with her arms still outstretched behind her, she looks toward the front. The third shot shows more upward progress: Villella, still gripping her waist and hips, has bent back so Kent is upright, straddling his chest sideways - that left leg is still bent behind his neck - and has grabbed her right foot with her left hand. (Sound contorted? At the time of the premiere, some critics, like P. W. Manchester in Dance News, objected to this aspect, while admiring the ensembles, according to Nancy Reynolds' "Repertory in Review".) Having said that, I'll add that I don't have any problems with the "contortions" myself.

In the video cubanmiamiboy has posted, where Villella talks about Bugaku, he uses the word "erotic" twice, including, emphatically, at the end; I think this is what he had in mind, and as it premiered in New York early in the '60s, when cultural limits were being tested, I think it may have been the occasion for the line, "If the cops knew what was going on here, they'd shut it down!"

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