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Differences among Petipa ballets


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#1 doug

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Posted 01 June 2001 - 03:20 PM

This is a thread, begun at Alexandra's prompting, to discuss differences between and within Petipa's ballets (also, Ivanov's and other those by other 19th-century choreographers, if we wish). I'll start with a few examples of my observations. The point, I think, is to try and look back to the original intent of the creators and see what the differences were within and among the ballets. Over time, obviously, things have changed - deliberate changes/practical changes/forgotten steps, etc.

A full-length ballet by Petipa was constructed to entertain on many levels and with a variety of dance styles and character types. His ballets included classical dances, character dances, children's dances, mime scenes and pas d'actions (danced scene which carried the action forward), among other elements, that I'm sure others can provide.

RAYMONDA is a good example. The opening of the first act included a lot of mime to set up the story of Raymonda and Jean d'Brienne, as well as the story of the White Lady, who protected the House of Doris. The many details of this opening scene have long been absent from productions of RAYMONDA. The scene includes dances as well, but not in suite form as they occur later in the ballet. The second scene includes a classical suite: pas de deux, waltz, 3 variations and coda, followed by a children's dance (not classical - they are bugs, like in Midsummer) and a lengthy mime scene between Raymonda and the saracen knight, Abderrakhman. The second act includes another classical suite, this time a pas d'action, in which Abderrakhman tries to woo Raymonda: adagio, 4 variations and coda, followed by a character suite, including a massed dance, a dance for little boys, a dance for a couple, then a Spanish dance for a lead couple and corps. A coda follows in which the character dancers return to dance, but it also functions as another pas d'action - Abderrakhman tries to kidnapy Raymonda. Jean d'Brienne arrives in the nick of time and kills Abderrakhman in a duel. Act III is the wedding, beginning with a procession, followed by a czardas (Petipa also added a mazurka shortly before the premiere), a formal children's dance, and a suite that can be characterized as a hybrid of classical and character dance: entree, adagio, 4 variations (no variation for Jeam d'Brienne - instead he dances a pas de quatre with three other men), coda. The apotheosis, depicted a tournament - yes, a medieval tournament (go figure), complete with papier mache figures!

I love the variety of these long ballets. I believe ballet was a broader form of entertainment in late 19th-century Russia than it is now. Perhaps less serious on a philosophical level?

As far as differences between the ballets, my comments stem from my work with notations of the ballets made in the 1890s and early 1900s. In the River variations of THE DAUGHTER OF PHARAOH, the most common steps were precipite and arabesque voyagee (we call them 'chugs' here in the States). Also single saut de basques. Very little pointe work. On the other hand, the Fairy variations of SLEEPING BEAUTY are almost all on pointe. The difference could be the time span between the creation of the ballets (1862 vs. 1890) or the fact that the River variations were essentially character dances and the Fairy variations are essentially classical. In the BAYADERE Shades scene from 1900, hardly a step is repeated throughout the scene - such amazing invention - the corps choreography is more demanding than we see now. I've found that steps and nuances that further distinguish the three Shade variations have disappeared over time - changed or forgotten. The most striking changes are Nikiya's steps in the coda. NOTHING like what we see today - the notated steps remind me of TCHAIKOVSKY PAS DE DEUX and SYMPHONY IN C, first movement (sissonne onto pointe, double rond du jambe, repeated on alternating legs - hops in fifth on pointe alternating with echappe onto flat feet). The manege of tour jetes was originally much more complicated - saut de basque, petit jete en tournant, grand jete, all repeated three times - beautiful!

One last example - Le jardin anime from CORSAIRE - no precipite, no arabesque voyagee - all balance, ballonne, waltz turns, emboite. The variation include small and large jumps and lots of pointe work.

That's a start. :)

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 01 June 2001 - 10:02 PM

Thank you for that, Doug. I think the point about variety is one that might spark an interesting discussion. I think all audiences want variety, and Petipa gave it to us all in one ballet. Now, we'll have a wildly varied mixed bill, but without the unification of style and aesthetic that made Petipa's ballets both diverse and harmonious.

The differences in the actual variations I find fascinating, and I'm sure others do, too. I'd be perfectly happy for you to teach us about them :)

#3 James Wilkie

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 03:38 AM

This is an excellent thread to have started. I am currently studying The Sleeping Beauty for my A-Level exams and it has become apparent as to how many variations there are on certain aspects of the ballet.
No two productions are the same in terms of choreography whether that be because a dancer or choreographer as changed a step to suit the dancers body type and facilities. I as a student dancer am very interested in the reconstruction of 'Original' ballets- Kirov Sleeping Beauty and Bolshoi Pharohs Daughter. I think it is a brilliant idea to restage these versions so that we can see what are heritage is, although this brings up other questions as to whether this is correct. For example in the Kirovs Sleeping Beauty they went back to their 1952 version when parts of the ballet were unclear, resulting in ballet of 1890 style mixed in with Soviet style choreography( which I do not have a problem with incase I may have offended).I must write a link, there has been a brilliant article written about this reconstruction on Marc Haegemans Web page.(Doug did you by any chance write this as I thought it was brilliant had has given a bit more background knowledge for my exam. Thank you!)
Also one other ballet I find that has so many variations on is Giselle. If you look at the male variation in Act Two it is never the same. Recently I saw nearly every night of the Royal Ballets Sir Peter Wrights production and every different male had a different solo so as to what the choreographer had wanted has been lost.
I am a huge fan of Giselle as I think it is one of the most taxing ballets for the dancers as there are so many feelings and emotions that have to connect with the audience. It is the one ballet that I long to dance. For me I would very much like to see a reconstruction of this ballet but I fear that this may not be possible. Also another final note on Giselle is it true that there may possibly have been a third act to this ballet that got lost on the way, as I have heard people disscuss that there was at one time another act. Fact or Fiction!

[ 06-02-2001: Message edited by: James Wilkie ]

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 10:07 AM

There was never another act, but at one point Gautier and St.-Georges were considering a different first act. The scene would have been a ballroom, and the Wilis and Myrtha would appear early to enchant the floor to make the dancers dance unstoppably. Gautier nixed the idea because the peasant/noble interplay allowed him more room for his anti-establishment Romanticism to make its point. If they had gone ahead with the first idea, it would have been an eery precursor to Balanchine's version of "La Valse"!

#5 wjglavis

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 10:14 AM

I was fascinated by what you had to say, Doug - and am still trying to absorb it all. (And very interested in James' comments too, of course!)

Presumably, some of the increased difficulty in the choreography had something to do with improved technique. So, for instance, when a ballet was brought back into the repertory for Kschessinskaya, it would be changed to show off her talents. (And there's an oft-quoted passage of Bronislava Nijinska's in which she describes helping to carry the Lilac Fairy's cloak - danced by Maria Petipa - and seeing her [character] shoes with their little heels. Wiley talks about there being choreography for two different variations - one for Maria Petipa, and a more difficult one for someone else. Is the more difficult choreography anything like what is danced today???)

I don't know if you (or James) can answer these, but I have some questions about Sleeping Beauty.

1. Nijinska talks about the HUGE difference in the way her brother danced the Blue Bird - have you found anything in your researches to back up her statements?

2. Balanchine gives a very detailed account of his memories of Sleeping Beauty as regards stage effects. Some of these things are still done (like the disappearance of the Wicked Fairly's disguise) but I would like to know more about some of his other effects. In particular:

- Fire - he mentions this in conjuction with Carabosse's disappearance at the end of Act 1. (And I know they used fire at other times at the Maryinsky because you hear about it in Faust, as well.) Do you know anything about this? Is there anything about it in the notation??

- Balanchine also mentions being 'a cupid on one of the carriages in the final act'
What carriages? What cupids?

- And at the very end, he mentions a huge and wonderful staircase, with fountains on both sides of the stairs, so that there was a sort of waterfall effect all the way down the stairs. The Russians used fountains at lot (and still do) but I've never heard about this particular effect from anyone else.

I'm sure I could come up with a lot of other questions (!) but I'll try to restrain myself.

Many thanks for introducing this very interesting subject.

- Wendy

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 10:33 AM

Wendy, "red fire" was a very common and popular effect used in many late nineteenth-century operas and ballet. Gilbert and Sullivan even used it in The Sorcerer. I'm not sure of the chemistry involved, except that it was liquid and was set off manually. The Royal (and innumerable rock shows) used fire in one of its Act III Swan Lakes, but this is easier to control using modern technology.

If Bronia were recalling character shoes on the Lilac fairy, she doubtless has reference to the last act entrance, where the Lilac Fairy appears en suite.

Why don't you take a look at the "Great Ballets" section of the main Ballet Alert! site? Beauty is one of the ballets that's up, and contains a synopsis of invited guests to the wedding feast.

#7 doug

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 12:44 PM

I'll try and respond to all the points based on things I've found/noticed:

Re SLEEPING BEAUTY - There are notations for two Lilac Fairy variations - one is headed "M. Petipa." It involves pointe work, but is pretty basic. The other variant is the one we know from the Royal Ballet's BEAUTY. PNB in Seattle just got Ronald Hynd's version and the Lilac variation matches the notation very closely, even more closely than what the Royal does now. The Lilac variation the Kirov includes in their new BEAUTY is neither of these - !.

I've gone over Nijinska's comments about Nijinsky's Bluebird. Nothing seems to diverge much in description from the steps included in the notated version, which is pretty close to what we see today. She seems to state that he didn't change the steps but danced them in a freer way, more or less.

In the final act, some of the fairies are guests at the wedding. I think it is Canari that comes in a cage with cupids in Shirley Temple wigs sitting on the edges. Maybe this is what Balanchine was refering to. There also are other cupids in that act.

By the time Balanchine was dancing BEAUTY at the Maryinsky, the sets and costumes were no longer the original ones, but those designed by Konstantin Korovin. They may have included the fountains and the rest that he mentions.

James - I did write the article on Marc's site - thanks. I really like the Kirov's BEAUTY. There are some things I would have done differently, but the big picture is that they are the first company (that I know of) to try and do a full-scale reconstruction of a Petipa ballet, using original set and costume designs, along with period notations of the steps (though they also used a number of video sources of a number of more recent productions). It was an eye-opener for many folks. My opinion is that the public is more open to projects like these than they were in the not-so-distant past. The general feeling of "newer is better" seems finally to be wearing off, so that new and old can be embraced and appreciated for their different attributes. This notion certainly has worn off in other areas of the arts, particularly music.

Re DAUGHTER OF PHARAOH. Lacotte's production for the Bolshoi can't really be called a reconstruction. Nearly all of the choreography is his own (although I had hoped he would use the Stepanov notations). I provided a few variations for the production based on notations dating from around 1905 but they don't amount to much in the final production. The River variations, in their notated form, are great examples of ballet character dances.

Another point I've been thinking about is the notion that a particular step/pose is the signature step of a given ballet. For example, attitude as the signature pose of SLEEPING BEAUTY and arabesque as the signature pose of GISELLE. I don't agree with this in regard to BEAUTY. The notated "attitude" in the Rose Adagio is really a 90-degree arabesque with the knee bent slightly (about 45 degrees) - more like a relaxed arabesque than the tighter attitude we often see today. I also don't buy most of the modern philosophical/psychological arguments about the meanings of the various ballets and the inference that Petipa and his collaborators were trying to infuse ballets with psychological ideas, most of which were not introduced until long after the ballets were created. Just my opinion. :)

[ 06-02-2001: Message edited by: doug ]

#8 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 02:04 PM

i think that one april there was an article on ballet.co.uk that spoke of a 'lost' third act of giselle, but on investigation it turned out to be an april fool's! (though not immediately obvious).

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 02:12 PM

Doug, I couldn't agree with you more about the infusion of philology and psychology into the steps chosen for a given ballet. It's been a long-held opinion with me that the choreographers of those nineteenth-century ballets were just trying to be "iconic" - to find a mental picture that would spell that ballet to the viewer.

Now, maybe you can help me - in the second shade's variation in Bayadere, is the "signature" the cabriole, and in the diagonals across the stage, does the caesura/pause in the music happen on an extended end to a cabriole ouverte? Then, the music picks up on a piqué arabesque and so forth.... Often wondered if that were Petipa or the effect of Chabukiani/Vaganova and/or others. It's a cherished memory, though, for me, as it was the first way I ever saw the variation performed, by a dancer named Inessa Korneyeva, with the Kirov in 1964.

#10 James Wilkie

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 02:30 PM

Thank you Doug for opening up this thread it has certainly been a very interesting one. I am looking forward to seeing the Kirov do The Sleeping Beauty when they come to London again unfortunatly it is after my exam but it will be interesting to see it again. I would really like to see Altynai Asylmuratova do it again as in my opinion she brought something very special to the role. I am to see Svetlana Zakharova this time as I missed her last time. Who did you like in the role of Aurora?
One thing I must ask is that when Rudolf Nureyev was staging La Bayadere for The Paris Opera Ballet it was said in a documentry that he wanted to stage a fourth act. Is this true? It would have been interesting to see what it would have looked like.
Doug have you seen Perm State Ballets The Sleeping Beauty because this was supposed to have helped the Kirovs production?
:) :) :) :) :) ;)

#11 wjglavis

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 05:50 PM

Thanks so much for your detailed answers, Doug - especially for your thoughts on the Lilac Fairy - which were really helpful. And I'll certainly try to learn more about that 'liquid fire' Mel.
- Wendy

#12 Mel Johnson

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 08:01 PM

One of my guesses as to the composition of the awful stuff involves phosphorus and that useless nineteenth-century byproduct of making kerosene (paraffin oil), gasoline. :eek:

#13 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 03 June 2001 - 04:29 AM

James, Nureyev declared in interviews that he indeed wanted to reconstruct the 4th act of "La Bayadère". He wanted a real big finale with the destruction of the Rajah's palace. Allegedly there was a disagreement with the set designer Ezio Frigerio, who thought it was too expensive and too difficult to realize. So, no destruction, no 4th act.

I guess you can get some idea what Nureyev had in mind by watching the versions of Makarova (which version Nureyev didn't particularly like, mainly because of all her editing) and Patrice Bart for Munich (who actually reduced it to two acts or four scenes). Personally I don't find any of the two very convincing. The reconstructed scenes lack the weight and impact of the previous ones, not to mention the choreography (Especially when you want to say something after the unsurpassed Shades act, you need to be another Petipa, I guess).

Don't forget to tell us what you think of Svetlana Zakharova in "Beauty", James ;)

#14 doug

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Posted 03 June 2001 - 02:55 PM

Mel, I've got the notation out here. The second variation (with cabrioles) in the Shades scene was danced by Varvara Rykhlyakova in December 1900 when the notation was made. The first fermata (hold) in the music coincides with a pique arabesque on the right foot coming from 5th position plie. The ballerina continues with tombe, pirouette, etc. Second fermata is also a pique arabesque on the right foot, just like the first. The third fermata (towards the end of the variation) is not marked as a fermata in the notation. The step at that point in the music is the last of a series of releve attitude en avant on alternating feet (left foot for the final one). Final pose is sus-sous from fifth position plie, left foot front.

BTW, this notation was not made by Nikolai Sergeyev. He didn't started notating much until 1903, when he took over the ballet master position at the Maryinsky. I'm not sure who made this notation.

Hope this info helps.

[ 06-03-2001: Message edited by: doug ]

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 June 2001 - 05:30 PM

Thank you, Doug - you have cleared up a question that has been gnawing at my mind for years! I had the advantage of having a couple of spare hours while doing research at Harvard, and used it to profit by briefly perusing "Beauty" and "Swan", just to try and dope out the notation, which I found relatively intuitive, but didn't get around to Bayadere. I'm aware of a couple different hands in there and wonder if maybe Sergei Legat had a hand in there for his brief tenure - I know what Nicolai's hand looks like and that wasn't it.


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