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Bugaku: questions and more questions...

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Another point worth making: I've been watching "Bugaku" since City Center, and from the video, I'd say that the former set by David Hays has been gussied up a bit over time. As I recall it, it was spare, spare, spare, with only a very green groundcloth, an upper platform leading to a central step unit and the dancing ground laid out among four VERY red vertical poles at each corner. Like I said - there was a Zen about it.

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[ ... ]a sequence of three Fred Fehl photos in B. H. Haggin's Ballet Chronicle on page 172:

Thanks, Jack, for that mention of Haggin and the Fred Fehl photos of Bugaku. (There are 11 from that first season.)

Your word pictures are wonderful, by the way.

Another point worth making: I've been watching "Bugaku" since City Center, and from the video, I'd say that the former set by David Hays has been gussied up a bit over time. As I recall it, it was spare, spare, spare, with only a very green groundcloth, an upper platform leading to a central step unit and the dancing ground laid out among four VERY red vertical poles at each corner. Like I said - there was a Zen about it.

Quite different from the robin's egg blue of the Miami set, more reminiscient of Monet's skies than of Japan in the feudal period.

What are they doing in New York nowadays, I wonder.

Haggin's comments show how important casting is.

As always, Balanchine's imagination has operated in terms related to the particular capacities and styles of his dancers. With Kent it is the capacity for exquisite delicacy in bodily configuration and movement -- to say nothing of the more physical strength behind this, which in Bugaku makes possible the secure slow-motion execution of the delicate configurations and movements with unbroken continuity.

With Villella it is the virtuoso powers exercised with an elegance and grace that are personal as well as physical, and with a force of mere presence that becomes tremendous in the climactic adagio.

Haggin felt that Mimi Paul came close to Kent's performance but that Arthur Mitchell's personality and style did not work as well as Villella's. (N.b.: the boldfacing is my own.)

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What are they doing in New York nowadays, I wonder.

I'll have to catch it at NYCB next time it comes 'round on the samisen. I haven't seen it in literal decades. It was programmed so much when I was a kid, I guess I subconsciously avoid it now! The green was so intense, I found myself asking, "Why are they dancing on a pool table?" There also now seems to be a torii-influenced fence around the playing area that wasn't in the earliest set and the area itself is dish-shaped.

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It's difficult to see the full set from the photos in Haggin. But I have the impression that they tried in some way to capture the sense of performing in an enclosure (a kind of corral, actually) which is associated with gagaku (instrumental only and instrumental-plus-dance). There is a low angled wall at the back and, apparently, also at the sides.

Does this match your memory of those earlier performances, Mel?

Here are examples of the use of enclosure in a more recent (and definitely non-Balanchine) performance of gagaku. The FIRST and THIRD links have the pool-table green floor that Mel remembers.

http://www.culturalp...6_-10088_50.png

http://homepage3.nif...en/09wien01.jpg

http://farm1.static....a50ce58.jpg?v=0

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Thanks for the links, Cristian. Snapshots sometimes leave out part of the story, but, that said, I don't see any of that fearsome/fearful aspect in this one of Paul and Mitchell, none of that emotional weight.

And thanks, bart; now we know a little bit more about why they dance on a "pool table" (sometimes, anyway).

I wonder if the set was elaborated when the company moved to the State Theatre? The undated picture in Reynolds of Kent and Villella is what I remember from my days there, and what I have seen since.

Haggin's description about Kent's dancing helped to bring back the remark of someone near me in the audience one evening, as she and Villella were taking their applause: "That woman has been filleted."

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It was even greener - a whole order of color temperatures different. And the reds were the vivid cinnabar red that Clive Barnes used to like to call "cyclamen red". The vibration they set up against one another was dazzling, which was perhaps the whole point! Take one element, focus on it entirely, and leave all else out. That is the "beauty of the missing" which is part of Zen. That it made such a strong impression which has lasted so long in ballet years* leads me to believe that it was an intentional act of creation. Another feature, which seems now mellower was that the chrysantemum tutus seemed stiffer, more sticky-out than the ones I'm seeing in the videos. I guess you had to see them in motion, as the photos don't adequately capture this quality.

I know that these are not the choreography, but I'm still a diehard believer in the old dictum that said that ballet was a fusion of dance, costume, music**, and stage setting. Don't get me wrong! - these are still very good examples of "Bugaku" on the videos. They're just a little updated from what I recall. And that's a good thing! (Gee, I must have liked the thing better than I knew at the time!)

*like dog years, only worse.

**I can talk about this too at some length and with some passion. I had played some Mayuzumi chamber works by the time I first saw "Bugaku".

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That is the "beauty of the missing" which is part of Zen. ...

Another feature, which seems now mellower...

They're just a little updated from what I recall. And that's a good thing!

I don't understand how this mellowing updating, which seems like a diminution of the beauty, in your account, is a good thing.

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Ballet is organic. It cannot live in a glass bowl, hermetically sealed. As long as the choreography and the music, which are intact, to my memory, survive, and the updates to the costumes and decor capture the spirit of the original, the work is alive.

I did rather prefer the spikier tutus, but then that's a de gustibus matter, and can't be recaptured short of having a time machine. Karinska was more than just a designer. Her construction has not been matched, in my opinion.

Perhaps we have here another example of the Japanese spirit reserved in "Bugaku". I should retire to the beach of my koi pond, and contemplate these matters.

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Fascinating discussion. Thanks, all. Mel, I apprciate your comment about the chysanthemum imagery in the original tutus.

Like Kathleen, I much prefer the sleek, embroidered bikini which Kent wears for the pas de deux.

The undated picture in Reynolds of Kent and Villella is what I remember from my days there, and what I have seen since.

There is a definite architectural look to the set. Notice the angled and curved "wall" to the left of the photo. The photos in Haggin's book make it clear that this element is carried through on all three stage walls. Only the "invisible" wall separating dancers from audience lacks this barrier. There is a flight of stairs at the center of the backstage wall.

Mel, your memory of color (which I lack) is giving me a sense of what this must have looked like. The feeling is of a state room in an imperial palace (the simplicity and purity of Kyoto, not the vibrant decoration of Edo). The colors, as you describe them, would have an imperial richness that the Miami set does not attempt.

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