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Reconstructions: Pros, Cons, Why, Impacts


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#1 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 July 2011 - 07:21 AM

[Admin note: the first four posts were originally on the dance orientale de Raymonda thread, and they expand upon the broader topic of reconstructions]

Well...the reconstructions are aimed to go back to what was notated in the S.C, and I think so far it's been a lot about restoring cuts, as in Bayadere-(the full last act), Beauty, Coppelia, Corsaire, and even full length ballets-(Pharaoh's Daughter or Awakening of Flora), or with the less orthodox Lacotte's revivals-(which I love)-like Paquita, Ondine and Taglioni's Sylphide. On the other side,going back to the original could also mean cutting, like the most of the pointe work that Lilac acquired throughout the years-(poor Lilac...back to her helmet... :crying: )

#2 Birdsall

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Posted 23 July 2011 - 07:34 AM

Well...the reconstructions are aimed to go back to what was notated in the S.C, and I think so far it's been a lot about restoring cuts, as in Bayadere-(the full last act), Beauty, Coppelia, Corsaire, and even full length ballets-(Pharaoh's Daughter or Awakening of Flora), or with the less orthodox Lacotte's revivals-(which I love)-like Paquita, Ondine and Taglioni's Sylphide. On the other side,going back to the original could also mean cutting, like the most of the pointe work that Lilac acquired throughout the years-(poor Lilac...back to her helmet... :crying: )



Is it wrong to like the more traditional "wow" Sleeping Beauty than the reconstruction by the Kirov (watched it on YouTube)? I think it is great to view the reconstructed Sleeping Beauty to see what the "original" was like, but little things like the fish dives were missing, if I remember correctly. When you watch the more traditional and more acrobatic Sleeping Beauty it is a little hard to be totally satisfied with the reconstruction. Is that just me?

#3 Helene

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Posted 23 July 2011 - 11:25 AM

When you watch the more traditional and more acrobatic Sleeping Beauty it is a little hard to be totally satisfied with the reconstruction. Is that just me?

It takes a while to adjust. The pacing and architecture are different. Often the ratio of mime and theater, like processionals, is much greater in relationship to dance sections, and the characterizations can change. Some of the "wow" choreography goes and is replaced with choreography that has a different feel. When watching the same recorded performance over and over, we get inured and expect almost the exact thing in the theater, even if the performers are the same. If the only "Raymonda" I had seen was the Nureyev version, and I saw even the gussied-up Bolshoi version, let alone the Mariinsky version or the reconstruction, I would wonder where half of the choreography went, much like if I had only heard the Stowkowski versions of Bach, I would be completely thrown hearing a version based on the original orchestration. My balance would be off. Some of the changes are like a punch in the solar plexus, some are like a pebble in one's shoe, and others are less obvious and cause an "I can't quite put my finger on it" reaction.

Seattle is extremely lucky to have Doug Fullington, who is an expert interpreter of Stepanov notation and has worked extensively with the manuscripts in the Sergeyev Collection at Harvard. Most recently, he and Marian Smith, a musicologist from the University of Oregon and expert in the original musical score and a notebook found in 2002 by two early stagers of "Giselle", collaborated with Peter Boal and the PNB dancers on a new production based on Smith's sources and the Stepanov notation for the ballet. Smith describes in her book, "Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle" how the original ratio mime to dance was about 50/50. The PNB version did not restore all of the mime, but it restored three scenes in Act II from the original, one of which, the scene with the hunters, is seen in the Ballet Nacional de Cuba production, and one which reverts to the original ending, much like the reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty shows the inclusion of Carabosse in the last act rather than the various Wicked Witch of the West deaths in modern productions. It also fortified scenes in Act I with longer mime excepts, and added vignettes in the group scenes to enrich the texture and support the plot.

As Fullington has often said in lectures, in the fantastic studio programs he's presented called "Balanchine's Petipa", and in other presentations, each manuscript has a different level of detail in the notation and coming up with a presentation version is a collaborative process. It's not like finding the original manuscript of a symphony with all of the notes, markings, and instruments listed, and even there, someone(s) has to decide what "piano" meant in that time with those instruments and adjust for modern performance spaces. For example, Fullington describes the level of detail in the "Giselle" manuscript as "medium", and the manuscript isn't even the notation of the original, but of the Petipa version, notated 15-19 years after the 1884 premiere in St. Petersburg by different notators. (The PNB program notes by Fullington and Smith note that Anna Pavlova's name is included in the notations, and she danced Zulme in 1899 and Giselle starting in 1903.) It had steps and no port de bras. The team was lucky that there were two rich sources for the mime, but only one placed the mime with the music, and the other was descriptive, but that isn't the norm for most Petipa ballets, and the Justament notebook with descriptive mime and stage placements wasn't found until 2002.

In creating the version, the team had to analyze the sources -- they published a grid to show the origin for each musical scene -- piece together a version, add the arms, interpret what physical gestures belong with descriptions like "voluptuous pose" and "angry gesture", determine what to keep of the Petipa choreography, and adjust to modern bodies and a company that has 46 dancers plus professional division students, where the original ending calls for 45 dancers to be onstage to witness Bathilde forgiving Albrecht at Giselle's grave. Plus, all of those choices had to support a balanced and integrated whole. One of the things that made me most crazy about the ABT "Sleeping Beauty" is the addition of a scene with the four gossips right before the Garland Dance. It is a long, intricate, mime-filled scene, in which the King ponders the fate of Catalabutte, who has allowed the gossips to bring a forbidden spindle. I loved the scene, although I wish the mime had been clearer, but it was so out of balance to the rest of the mime shorthand in the production.

In the PNB Giselle Peter Boal made the decision to keep what has become the standard long Giselle/Albrecht lift in Act II, even though the notation and score read otherwise, and stated in a Q&A that he understood that this was a distortion of the music, but that he liked the lifts. Some of the original choreography was not accepted into the production because it didn't suit the technique of 21st century dancers. In a reconstruction they're dealing with incomplete data as well as modern sensibilities in analyzing and editing the available sources.

The mime shorthand in modern productions makes for faster theater and gets straight to the meat of the dancing, but it also turns the characters into archtypes and simplifies them. In the original Giselle, she was a feisty creature who stands up to everyone. It was interesting to see Osipova's gorgeously danced Giselle in 3D just a month later; she, like many Giselles, had one foot in the grave in Act I, which was a stark contrast to the original character and the version I had seen in Seattle, where "feisty" and "determined" were interpreted four ways by four different dancers.

In the PNB version, Wilfrid is a real character. He watches and comments on the action and doesn't just ferry Albrecht's cape and sword on and off stage. Albrecht's entrance in Act II is to a real bel canto oboe solo. You can hear the pace and footsteps in the music: it could be sleepwalker music. In a typical staging, Albrecht rushes in with the flowers and runs back and forth to find her grave and/or be agitated, which is not what the music is saying. In the PNB production, Wilfrid helps Albrecht find Giselle's grave (downstage diagonal), and it's a slow walk to the pulse of the music, while upstage, Wilfrid mimes, to the pace of the music, Albrecht's sorrow. Instead of indicating "I am upset!!!!", the Albrechts had to work very hard to create a characterization and to show us how they had changed, which was more demanding than it sounds.

The "Giselle" team had over a year to work on this production; in the lecture demos and presentations, Fullington has much less time to work with the dancers, who are collaborating in addition to their day jobs, so that they aren't necessarily production-ready, but they illustrate so much. As part of an excellent program for the premiere of Balanchine's "Coppelia" at PNB, Fullington worked for a very short time with Brittany Reid to contrast the Spinner variation from "Coppelia" in the manuscript to Balanchine's version, which was about to be performed. The conventional wisdom is that Balanchine's version was better, but I disagree: Petipa's architecture, especially the use of the diagonal, was much richer to my eye. I wouldn't have realized how confined the Balanchine version is on the horizontal without seeing it in the studio as a solo, because there are 24 young girls taking up a lot of space on stage as Spinner dances front and forward. In one of the "Balanchine's Petipa" series, the female corps did a version of a finale based on the manuscripts that was much more eye-catching to me than a more typical current version.

It takes a lot for the audience and the dancers to put aside the familiar versions and clear the palate for the new. It takes time and effort. For me the reconstructions set a new bar and are a lens through which I see other performances, but that's not everyone's experience, and dancers like Lopatkina and Tsiskaridze are on record as being against them, although apparently Tsiskaridze later tempered his criticism of them.

#4 Birdsall

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 05:41 AM


When you watch the more traditional and more acrobatic Sleeping Beauty it is a little hard to be totally satisfied with the reconstruction. Is that just me?

It takes a while to adjust. The pacing and architecture are different. Often the ratio of mime and theater, like processionals, is much greater in relationship to dance sections, and the characterizations can change. Some of the "wow" choreography goes and is replaced with choreography that has a different feel.




Helene, thanks for your in depth explanation. It helped me a lot. It makes sense that there are definite positives to the reconstructions. I liked what you said about how characters become archetypes in the more "famous" and traditional stagings instead of more fully fleshed characters (in the reconstructions of originals due to longer mime sequences). That makes sense, so I am sure as I watch more and more ballet, I will probably want to see more reconstructions as my taste is slowly refined as the years go by. I think newbies to ballet like me are wanting the "wow" factor where everything is an excuse to dance. But I am sure I will grow to love the reconstructions also.
I have heard about PNB's reconstruction of Giselle, and by your description, it sounds wonderful. I hope they are able to put it out on dvd to save it for history and get a bigger audience for this version. I think a "feisty" Giselle sounds like a great idea (makes more sense for her to be able to fight off the other Willis and save Albrecht), and from your description the way they have matched the original steps with the music better than what we normally see makes it sound like it is worth seeing to compare and contrast. I imagine these "new" old versions help people who have seen hundreds of Giselles and want to view it from a new (old) perspective.

#5 Helene

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Posted 30 July 2011 - 08:45 AM

Leigh Witchel wrote an excellent review of PNB's "Giselle" for danceviewtimes, in which he details the changes made in the production:

Love's Labors Found

He concludes by writing,

Even so, PNB’s honest efforts to create an historical Giselle viable on a modern stage paid off in one of the most valuable productions of the year. In its own way, this production is as important as the Mariinsky’s “new/old” revival of “The Sleeping Beauty.” And like that production, it will probably not supplant newer versions. Many of the changes over time have taken too firm a root and have their own validity. But both revivals illuminate and add perspective to the masterpieces that would be missing without them.

An unanswerable question: How much would someone from 1842, 1862 or 1899 recognize this “Giselle” if they saw it? If the bodies, manners, training, morals, even mindsets of the dancers have changed enough in the succeeding generations, does it matter if the steps are the same? There’s no way to know. We’re looking at a panorama through the wrong end of the telescope, but it’s the only view we have.



#6 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 30 July 2011 - 09:44 AM

I suspect that Beauty has been the most choreographically wounded reconstruction so far isn't it...?

And then...there's Lilac's helmet and heels issue...hum...not convinced here that going back to that was the happiest idea.

#7 Helene

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Posted 30 July 2011 - 09:52 AM

I like Lilac Fairy in heels. It sets her apart from the other fairies. When she's on pointe, her dancing is compared to the Aurora's, and that's often to her great disadvantage.

As far as being successful at its home theater, Lopatkina has been a vocal opponent of the SB reconstruction. If you watch the "New Year's Eve with the Mariinsky" DVD, which does have the third act reconstructed version, at the end, when the coda morphs into the choral version and the champagne is being passed around, Lopatkina makes a majestic central entrance in party clothes. I was waiting for Gergiev to get down on his hands and knees to bow. She has influence.

It is long and expensive to tour. In DC we lost part of the second act -- the dance with fans -- and almost all of the third of the Bolshoi's "Le Corsaire", so that it could end on union time.

#8 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 30 July 2011 - 01:32 PM

I like Lilac Fairy in heels. It sets her apart from the other fairies. When she's on pointe, her dancing is compared to the Aurora's, and that's often to her great disadvantage.


I've never seen one live, but I do very much like the effect of the Lilac Fairy in heels in the Dutch National Ballet's 2004 Sleeping Beauty DVD (the one with Sofiane Sylve as Aurora). I wouldn't have expected this, but I think that she actually has more authority, not less, which is at least partly due to the very grand gown and headdress she gets to wear since she's not on pointe. The match up with Carabosse--who is also a beautiful (and beautifully gowned) woman in this version--is very interesting theatrically, too. They really do seem like rival queens. I wouldn't want to see the Lilac Fairy danced that way every time, but I'd definitely like to see it that way some of the time. One of the DVD's extras is a lovely film in which the ins-and-outs of the mime is carefully explained to some lucky schoolchildren.

One thing that really struck me while watching one the RDB's recent performances of La Sylphide in NY is just how powerful pointe work is as a dramatic and expressive device when it's used (relatively) sparingly. I don't know why it blew me away so much this time, but Bournonville's reserving pointe work for the Sylph and her sisters made the woodland scenes seem super-duper magical, and made James' and the Sylph's relationship all the more weird, wonderful, and tragic. I liked the textural and dramatic effects of pointe / not pointe so much, I started fantasizing about a Swan Lake in which only Odette, Odile, and the Swan Maidens dance on pointe. The Princesses would look just as lovely -- and more appropriately mundane -- in heels.

#9 Quiggin

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Posted 30 July 2011 - 02:20 PM

I haven't seen the Pacific Northwest Ballet production, but a "feisty" Giselle might be something that flatters us and paints Giselle in the image of our time – and doesn't sound too dramatically appealing. Henry James (and Tolstoy's) characters have long periods when they only slowly realize what's going on, the Isabella Archers not Henrietta Sackpoles that is. The role of Albrecht is deepened when he realizes by degrees the way he's mixed things up from two different worlds, and then helplessly watches them collide ...

My experience of these classic productions is limited, but I don't think stripping the paint back to the first coat really works – a ballet seems to be a living document that many hands have worked on over the years – though it's certainly good to clean it up here and there and bring back some details. But whose Terpsichore could you restore Apollo to: Suzanne Farrell's or Alexandra Danilova's, with their significantly different accents and characterizations?

Someone at the Brooklyn Museum once told me that no matter how authentic they try to make the historical early American rooms and how conscientiously they work, 20 or 30 years later it's pretty obvious they were reconstructed in the 1970s, the 1990s, etc.

– Though I do think reading the original E T A Hoffmann Nutcracker and Mouseking and Sandman/Coppelia (where Franz is truly mad) might help with the shadings of a production.

#10 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 01:53 AM

I think it was less a modern feminist re-reading than closer to the original one of class.

It's not that Giselle was spirited because she was a strong woman - it was because she was a peasant girl, not a noblewoman who could afford the luxury of delicate sensibilities.

#11 Helene

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 07:14 AM

Vera Altunina, the Vaganova Academy-trained founder and Artistic Director of International Ballet Theatre in Bellevue (Washington) who danced professionally in Russia, described in a panel discussion at the Dance Critics Association conference how, in the evolution of the ballet in Russian/Soviet productions, issues of class were stripped and the ballet became more about personal romantic love.

To expand upon Leigh's question, as a result of the changes in emphasis, would the original audience have recognized Petipa's version forty years later, or would they have thought that the movie made changes to the book?

I would say the common thread among the Giselle interpretations at PNB was "willful", because each Giselle had her own way of showing that she had a spine. Not every interpretation was necessarily feisty, unless compared to what has become the traditional version of having one foot in the grave. She may be subject to bouts of illness, but she's still expected to pick grapes; she doesn't spend gym class in the nurse's office: instead, she's out smoking behind the building so to speak while her friends try to cover for her.

She's also not pure-as-the-driven-snow innocent: even in traditional versions, she defies Hilarion, her mother, and Myrtha, all of the authority figures. She's just not as emphatic about it.

#12 dirac

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 11:35 AM

I haven't seen the Pacific Northwest Ballet production, but a "feisty" Giselle might be something that flatters us and paints Giselle in the image of our time – and doesn't sound too dramatically appealing. Henry James (and Tolstoy's) characters have long periods when they only slowly realize what's going on, the Isabella Archers not Henrietta Sackpoles that is. The role of Albrecht is deepened when he realizes by degrees the way he's mixed things up from two different worlds, and then helplessly watches them collide ...

though it's certainly good to clean it up here and there and bring back some details. But whose Terpsichore could you restore Apollo to: Suzanne Farrell's or Alexandra Danilova's, with their significantly different accents and characterizations?

Someone at the Brooklyn Museum once told me that no matter how authentic they try to make the historical early American rooms and how conscientiously they work, 20 or 30 years later it's pretty obvious they were reconstructed in the 1970s, the 1990s, etc.

– Though I do think reading the original E T A Hoffmann Nutcracker and Mouseking and Sandman/Coppelia (where Franz is truly mad) might help with the shadings of a production.


A certain kind of feminine character is no longer fashionable these days - the Ophelia type, the girls whose frailty makes them unsuited to the realities of life and that frailty is part of their femininity. Greater autonomy for women and the rise of feminism probably play a role in that, but not necessarily so. High spirits and defiance are forms of strength and I should think the brutal facts of a peasant girl's existence would work against all three, but if you give Giselle too much of such qualities her human fate and her spirit fate make less sense, to this viewer anyway, unless there's some revising involved. I"ve never seen a Giselle where class didn't play a role, though.

About reconstructions in general, I tend to have mixed feelings, and sometimes the word is used misleadingly, as in some Nijinsky "reconstructions" where there was hardly anything to work from. In an art like ballet that is made and performed by living people, with a text that by its nature is somewhat fluid, never "set" things change - bodies change, sensibilities change, and you can't go home again. On the other hand I'm always curious to see them, although not necessarily more than once, and I wouldn't want companies to put too much time and energy into them.

Nice topic, cubanmiamiboy, thank you.

#13 Helene

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 07:59 PM

Of course, she never claimed that class was eliminated. It was retained enough to support the romantic story. Since the original was 50/50 mime/dancing -- and the PNB production didn't aim to come close to that ratio -- a lot of interaction was dropped. Even in the last scene, the Justamant notebook shows over 40 people on stage when Bathilde forgives Albrecht: their society witnesses the act. In the PNB production, the Prince of Courland and Wilfrid represented their society, as PNB only has 46 dancers on the roster.

#14 Jayne

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Posted 31 July 2011 - 09:34 PM

A certain kind of feminine character is no longer fashionable these days - the Ophelia type, the girls whose frailty makes them unsuited to the realities of life and that frailty is part of their femininity. Greater autonomy for women and the rise of feminism probably play a role in that

Yes, I think this is why modern women have a difficult time identifying with certain literary female heroines, and find them rather spineless: Lucy in "A Tale of Two Cities", Cosette in "Les Miserables", and Fanny in "Mansfield Park". Most of my classmates just wanted to shake some backbone into them. But we have the ability to act on our own, women of that time had far fewer rights, opportunities for self employment, or personal decision making. They were entirely dependent on their male protectors. And when those male protectors made decisions, for better or worse the women were subject to them.

A modern day Giselle would have had a successful heart repair operation as a child in socialized-medicine Germany, done well on her final exams and gone to a major city for university. Or, since she danced so well, she would have enrolled in summer intensive at a major contemporary company, and probably ended up a muse to Pina Bausch. Albrecht would be a Eurotrash German who's family was stripped of their titles after sympathizing with the Nazis. Instead of hunting and slumming in a German village, he'd be slumming it at the Ibiza discoteques and tempting "common" girls with cocaine. Hilarion would have a mullet and mustache, and watch Bundesliga and Premier league soccer after working at the BMW factory. And he'd talk on and on about how he "could have had" Giselle. :off topic:

#15 Quiggin

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Posted 01 August 2011 - 01:12 PM

I've never seen a Giselle where class didn't play a role, though.


Giselle was performed between the 1830 and 1848 revolutions to a new emerging upper middle class. Both Theophile Gautier and Heinrich Heine were progressives (though Gautier was rather anti-feminist; and anti-danseur noble). Heine was a supporter of the 1830 Revolution and came to Paris because of it – and he was something of an anti-Romantic (& anti-Madame de Stael) – his passage "Elementary Spirits" prose piece on which the second act of Giselle is based – as well as his graveyard ball poems – are danse macabres, scherzos... Giselle in a different key, if it were so reconstructed.

Regarding the "original" Apollo, according to Balanchine in "Dance for a City", Apollo was based on the Douanier Rousseau-like paintings of Andre Bauchant – and the choreography was likewise done in a primitive style:

It was a primitive Apollo, small Apollo, a boy with long hair. The paintings were like that. All the little mountains and hills were painted primitively...So that’s why I made the ballet a little bit like Rousseau. You know, the man lying down, or walking with his head tilted slightly, all wooden.


Perhaps a bit more archaic than classical.


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