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Reconstructions: Pros, Cons, Why, Impacts


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#16 EricHG31

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Posted 12 October 2011 - 02:57 AM

This is a fantastic thread, as I've been obsessed with the original productions of these ballets (particularly Sleeping Beauty and Raymonda, my two favorite 19th century ballets) ever since I was honestly 8 or 9. Trying to track down every photo I could find, comparing different productions on video and trying to guess where and when the changes came, etc. At the time, the hardest ballet to do this with was Nutcracker, partially I suspect as the original production wasn't really deemed a success (what I would give to be able to see a visualization of the original's "Bee Hive in Harmony" apotheosis--a final image that would have made sense to 1892 Russian audiences, but now would leave nearly any Nutcracker audience member shaking their head in confusion). Of course the Royal Ballet's 1980s production (by peter Wright?), initially inended to go back to the Ivanov original, but in the end it seems not very much was retained, and even the story was changed to try to add more cohesion, something I find a mistake with The Nutcracker where I think much of the charm comes from its almost Alice in Wonderland lack of logic. As a child the basic story (as done in the Balanchine version, anyway) made *perfect* sense to me, it only seems to be adults who need more justification and "depth". Many argue that the ETA Hoffman source story was so different, darker, and what we'd now call "freudian", but seem to forget that the ballet was adapted from the Dumas, fils, adaptation which turned it much more into a fairy tale.

I've been out of touch with the ballet world for some personal reasons the past couple of years, and I feel really upset that, living in Victoria--a short boat trip away--I knew nothing of PNB's "old/new" reconstruction of the Petipa/Perot version of Giselle. I hope it is brought back next season.

I understand Bart Birdsall's feelings about the Sleeping Beauty reconstruction... I grew up watching the Irina Kolpokova VHS of the K Sergeyev Kirov version, so it holds a special place in my heart. But I have to say, seeing the reconstruction (and only on the poorly shot youtube version) was such a revelation to me. And I have to say that I really believe, issues of length aside, most modern ballet audiences, if they don't have preconceptions, soon get absorbed into the whole, perfectly worked out, piece that the reconstruction suggests the original 1890 Beauty was. (I'm sure you know too, that it is hard to fairly judge the piece from youtube videos...)

Helene has raised every point I could think of to make, and many more, and is a far greater authority on the subject than I am, but I would like to add a few thoughts. To me, keeping the Lilac Fairy more as a mime "non toe" role does place her and Carabosse more clearly against each other. They are the only two fairies who communicate primarily through mime.

I also think we have to keep in mind that by 1890, these Petipa ballets were true spectacles, and I use that term here in a non derogatory way. I know Vsevolvsky when he comissioned Sleeping Beauty, which was truly his baby, he wanted it to be a Ballet-Feerie. These were meant to be, as I understand it, a combination of dance, mime, and spectacle (most obviously in the tableau). Already in 1890 some balletomanes decried such spectacles polluting the stage--on the other hand seeing Sleeping Beauty also made many, including what would be the core of Diaghilev's group, see for the first time the potential of ballet.

Many considered it, and still do, the first time that design, music, and physical performance all came together at one in ballet--in a way the equivalent to what Wagner was doing with his operas. It has to be remembered that Tchaikovsky wroe his score to Petipa's incredibly precise (and fascinating to read) outline. Yes some cuts and interpolations were made (less for SB than for many other ballets), but when you listen to the score, it's very clear when you're listening to the story/mime music and when listening to the more abstract dance music. I feel when the mime is done away with, you miss an important juxtaposition, even though it's still spelled out for you in that gorgeous, near perfect score.

It's ironic that the Soviets seemed to have, around 1950, a bigger problem with mime than the Western companies did. To me it seems that with K Sergeyev's revised Petipa ballets for Leningrad, and then more drastically with Grigorovich's for Moscow, the point was to try to keep what they felt the essence of Petipa was--the dance--and to try to tell the mime parts in dance as well, which they viewed as more "pure" to the form. The current Royal Ballet Sleeping Beauty has much more, what I see as largely authentic, mime than the Russian versions do. In the case of SB where I find mime most missed is in the Prologue, which really does set up the story.

These reconstructions can illuminate to people truths about a work that over time have been forgotten. Even a basic story like Sleeping Beauty, when I watched the reconstruction, suddenly made *much* more sense--not a detail seemed pointless or curious.

There also was a snobbish belief that the designs for these ballets were done by hacks, with no thought to the aethetics of the actual ballet. But, for me anyway, the reconstructions have largely proven this untrue. I think people were too used to those faded, black and white posed photographs we have--I remember reading with Sleeping Beauty many were shocked at how gorgeously colourful the ballet was, and how perfect the design looked (although I do know many felt it heavy as well--to which I'd ask if they ever saw Nureyev's version...). The 1890 production probably looked dated to Russians by the time it was redesigned, I believe, around 1920, the same way something from 20 years ago would to us, but 100 years later, going back to that original source no longer feels dated, at least to me.

Finally, I think there's been a mistake with many who dislike the reconstructions, to miss an important part. These ballets were done as true collaborations. Why is it more ok to completely change the choreography, than it is to change the score, when they were written as a collaboration between Petipa, Tchaikovsky (and Vsevelosky to an extent)? (I exagerate of course as small changes and edits are always made to the scores, but...)? I do understand that ballet is fluid, and harder to notate and reproduce than music is, and there's no way to be sure of full authenticity, and I understand that modern ballet bodies and techniques can't dance exactly the same way. But I do think there's as much to be learned and gained in reconstructing these masterpieces, artistically, as there is in doing a new interpretation.

(I admit, one issue that does bother me with the reconstructions is that often there is less dancing for the men, particularly the lead. Pavel Gerdt basically seemes to have done the later ballets, some said due to his age, in mime with one final, short, variation near the end. I think there is *some* justification for trying to interpolate a variation for the premier danseur somewhere else in these ballets, as so many modern ballet audiences go to the ballet to see men dancing as well, I know I do. On the other hand, I find the balance goes completely off when they go the Nureyev route and try to refocus the ballet on the journey of the prince...)

I'm partially playing devil's advocate--truthfully I believe there's more than enough room to have these reconstructions AND still have valid new productions. But many don't seem to feel this way--it's a very devisive issue. Of course, it's financially restrictive to mount the lvaish original productions anyway, and few companies could ever have both a reconstruction and a "new take" in their repertoire at the same time (although I believe the Mariinsky did for a while, and I think technically, though not performed to my knowledge in a long while, the reconstructed SB is still a part of their repertoire).

Anyway, it really saddens me that the reconstructed Sleeping Beauty (and La Bayadere to a lesser extent) no longer are performed, and it seems unlikealy they will again soon. I'm planning a trip to Russia within the next few years, and it would be a dream to see it live. At the very least I hope someday we'll get a professional video record of the production. (I cling, and watch repeatedly, the near complete SB Act III on the New Year's Gala DVD as well as the bits of Act I and The Vision on that Mariinsky documentary DVD).

If Bart Birdsall is still reading this way too long post, I'd recommend checking out the reconstruction the Mariinsky did around the same time of The Awakening of Flora, a short, more abstract ballet Petipa did around the same time, that is on that same site. It would be interesting to get your take on it, since I don't think any modern version has existed, so there would be less preconception.

Finally, having been so out of touch with ballet this past little while, I was THRILLED to hear there was a reconstruction of La Raymonda being done right now at La Scala! I've already checked out every image and bit of information I could find on it online, and I can only hope somebody does desice to film and release a professional DVD record of this. Raymonda probably has far more divergent productions than Sleeping Beauty, even though a fraction of the ballet companies perform it. (I do largely love the K Sergeyev version, but details like the complete removal of the White Lady bother me, especially since Glazunov was so careful to give her a theme for her appearances. I admit, I also like the Grigorovich version, which dramatically works better and has some particularly spectacular male dance work. But again, I feel there should be room for these newer interpretations as well as the original).

#17 dirac

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Posted 12 October 2011 - 06:25 PM

Greetings, Eric HG31, and thank you for those comments.

Helene has raised every point I could think of to make, and many more, and is a far greater authority on the subject than I am, but I would like to add a few thoughts. To me, keeping the Lilac Fairy more as a mime "non toe" role does place her and Carabosse more clearly against each other. They are the only two fairies who communicate primarily through mime.


I agree, although I think the train may have left the station on that one, for the most part.

#18 Paul Parish

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Posted 12 October 2011 - 07:42 PM

[I was responding here to the LAST comments on the post, beginning 'a certain type of feminine character is no longer fashionable these days'....]

There was a masculine type of that, too -- Hamlet is the greatest (Hamlet was very famously payed by Sarah Bernhart)people of great soul, who're not grasping and don't want to take charge of things but instead long for otherworldly knowledge. Siddharta is probably hte remote model. The type is common in heroes of SOuth-Asian epic -- in the dance-dramas of India, Java,Cambodia, etc., the dancers who play hte role are very slender, tall, extremely turned-out, "refined" creatures


THe Prince in Swan Lake is of this type.

#19 Paul Parish

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Posted 12 October 2011 - 08:31 PM

Re the "primitive" Balanchine Apollo,
Take a look at this painting by Andre Bauchant

http://www.google.co...=1t:429,r:0,s:0

Totally news to me, and it's stunning.

#20 EricHG31

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Posted 12 October 2011 - 11:53 PM

Dirac--thanks for the welcome!

As to if these "types" with female heroines, and as Paul mentioned male characters, still have relevence, I think if you turned on your average teen soap, or read Twilight (not that I'd recommend that), etc, you'd see them still present. Even many of the feisty women seem to more often than not, get passive when the dreamy, loner, soulful guy they fall for is close by...

One more thing about reconstructions (well, for now). I'll keep tis brief because, although dance plays an important part, it is somewhat off topic, but I'm involved in theatre and musical theatre, and this same debate constantly comes up. Many argue that a revival that recreates the original production, including choreography, makes the piece a museum piece, when it should live and breathe and be constantly reinterpretated. Again, I think there's room for both views, but there are many musicals, for example, that are a group effort--A Chorus Line (which legally major revivals have to use the original choreography--a rare exception in musicals that mainly only Bennett and Robbins shows have) was created as such a joint venture with music, songs and dialogue written sometimes after, or to, or around the dance steps, and staging.

I saw the recent West Side Story revival on Broadway that Arthur Laurents directed before his death. There's the gossip that Laurents was angry that everyone, Bernstein, Sondheim, especially Robbins, got more fame from WSS than he did for his libretto and sought to emphasize his contribution. But the best parts of the production were the original music, lyrics, dialogue and especially choreography. The new scenery was so so, and the new costumes were no improvement on the often reused originals. And as Sondheim said, when Laurents cut out the final Nightmare part of the Someday Dream Ballet, he inertly ruined the whole dramatic purpose of the ballet.

One last example--It's long been believed that the groundbreaking musical Oklahoma! had a great score, iconic Agnes De Mille choreography, but that the original production was too simple, the designs too bright and abstract, and badly dated--a work that needed a new production to connect to modern audiences. Last Spring there was a major production that attempted to recreate the original--luckily people involved with it were still alive to help--many revelations occured, like some long missed DeMille choreography, the fact that the original costumes and settings actually brought out long forgotten aspects of the musical, that some moments that people felt hadn't made sense before, suddenly did, etc. (the production will air on PBS sometime this Spring, BTW).

Anyway, like with ballet reconstructions, I think it just shows that often they can illuminate long forgotten or neglected parts of these great works, that simply sticking to new productions, or beloved productions from 60 years back, can't.

It would be dull if suddenly every company was doing the same, 1890 derived version of Sleeping Beauty--but there's no risk of that happening. (And if the Mariinsky doesn't start performing their Sleeping Beauty--I believe it's been nearly 5 years now--soon, I hope another company thinks of picking it up--though in the meantime it's exciting to see lesser known works like Raymonda being done this way).

#21 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 03:10 AM

I think there's great mischief possible in "restoration" when uncontextualized evidence shows up and suddenly finds itself incorporated in current productions. The Lilac Fairy is a good example. Around 1970, a single photo of Marie Petipa as Lilac was found showing her in a "chemise-shift" and soft shoes with heels, clearly indicating a role whose job was primarily mime. The Maryinsky promptly revised the Prologue to have SEVEN fairies, one non-dancing. Subsequent research clearly established that Marie was dressed in a traditional "tarlatine" (tutu) and danced a much different variation from the one we're accustomed to, but clearly en pointe. She changed the dress and the shoes for Act I and the rest of the show, but the damage had been done, especially on people whose first view of the ballet was the precipitately modified one. First impressions are very lasting.

#22 leonid17

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 05:30 AM

I think there's great mischief possible in "restoration" when uncontextualized evidence shows up and suddenly finds itself incorporated in current productions. The Lilac Fairy is a good example. Around 1970, a single photo of Marie Petipa as Lilac was found showing her in a "chemise-shift" and soft shoes with heels, clearly indicating a role whose job was primarily mime. The Maryinsky promptly revised the Prologue to have SEVEN fairies, one non-dancing. Subsequent research clearly established that Marie was dressed in a traditional "tarlatine" (tutu) and danced a much different variation from the one we're accustomed to, but clearly en pointe. She changed the dress and the shoes for Act I and the rest of the show, but the damage had been done, especially on people whose first view of the ballet was the precipitately modified one. First impressions are very lasting.


I need my memory jogged.

Was the picture posted on ballettalk?

#23 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 10:37 AM

Not to my knowledge, although it certainly made the rounds shortly after its discovery. Maybe rg has a postable version of the photograph.

#24 leonid17

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 10:59 AM

Not to my knowledge, although it certainly made the rounds shortly after its discovery. Maybe rg has a postable version of the photograph.


I have found the picture on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia....ki/Marie_Petipa

Which is odd because contemporaries state she never danced fully en pointe.

#25 sandik

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 11:46 AM

I saw the recent West Side Story revival on Broadway that Arthur Laurents directed before his death. There's the gossip that Laurents was angry that everyone, Bernstein, Sondheim, especially Robbins, got more fame from WSS than he did for his libretto and sought to emphasize his contribution. But the best parts of the production were the original music, lyrics, dialogue and especially choreography. The new scenery was so so, and the new costumes were no improvement on the often reused originals. And as Sondheim said, when Laurents cut out the final Nightmare part of the Someday Dream Ballet, he inertly ruined the whole dramatic purpose of the ballet.


I hadn't followed along with all of the WSS discussion, but I must say Sondheim's observation doesn't surprise me. PNB has Robbins' West Side Story Suite in its repertory, and so I've seen it several times in the last couple years -- I think that Robbins did himself a disservice by ending the work with the "Somewhere" number, which has a very bucolic, deMille-like feeling. It's very pretty, but it's not West Side Story.

One last example--It's long been believed that the groundbreaking musical Oklahoma! had a great score, iconic Agnes De Mille choreography, but that the original production was too simple, the designs too bright and abstract, and badly dated--a work that needed a new production to connect to modern audiences. Last Spring there was a major production that attempted to recreate the original--luckily people involved with it were still alive to help--many revelations occured, like some long missed DeMille choreography, the fact that the original costumes and settings actually brought out long forgotten aspects of the musical, that some moments that people felt hadn't made sense before, suddenly did, etc. (the production will air on PBS sometime this Spring, BTW).


I'll be very interested in seeing an Oklahoma with recisions -- there's a production currently on tour coming to Seattle where it will have new choreography by Donald Byrd, whose work is generally quite intense and harsh. It should make for some fascinating comparisons!

Tangentially, I think you make a very interesting point about the relationship between Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Pointe or no pointe, I've seen it set up where the hierarchy is very clear -- like Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West -- they are obviously on a different level from the rest of the fairy ranks -- the conflict between the two of them is about a fundamental conflict between good and evil, rather than battling personalities.

#26 bart

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 01:12 PM

This topic has so many facets. It's fun watching it develop. Thanks, Eric, for taking us beyond Giselle and even beyond ballet. I especially appreciate your comments as to design.

There also was a snobbish belief that the designs for these ballets were done by hacks, with no thought to the aethetics of the actual ballet. But, for me anyway, the reconstructions have largely proven this untrue. I think people were too used to those faded, black and white posed photographs we have--I remember reading with Sleeping Beauty many were shocked at how gorgeously colourful the ballet was, and how perfect the design looked (although I do know many felt it heavy as well--to which I'd ask if they ever saw Nureyev's version...). The 1890 production probably looked dated to Russians by the time it was redesigned, I believe, around 1920, the same way something from 20 years ago would to us, but 100 years later, going back to that original source no longer feels dated, at least to me.

I have to admit that when I have looked at posed and faded photographs from the 19th century, or of dancers in their costumes like the Marie Petipa photo, linked by leonid, I've found them interesting as history but not beautiful. Maybe I'm too stuck in the relative sleekness and simplicity of modernism.

But watching something like the reconstructed Sleeping Beauty, I had an entirely different reaction. I imagined this would come across as impossibly fussy, over-dressed, cluttered with design elements. Instead, these works seemed rich, colorful, vibrant, alive. Modern lighting and fabric technology may have something to do with this, but on the issue of design. I have become a convert. You write elsewhere of these ballets as collaborations in terms of choreographer and composer. Obviously those responsible for the "look" of the piece were important collaborators as well, and essential to the success of the work. And this is pre-Diaghilev, pre-Bakst.

Much musical entertainment today -- music videos, Cirque de Solel extravaganzas, the new type of Hollywood musical, etc. -- seems obsessed with richness of color, light, detailing, pageantry. Bodies move in all directions, becoming elements of a constantly changing picture. In this kind of theatrical world, where the pursuit of the exotic becomes the new norm, reconstructions of the 19th century ballets don't seem out of place,

As for the future, I suspect that historical reconstructions of much loved works like Giselle and Sleeping Beauty will fade away, to be revived only for special occasions and specialist audiences. Of course there is always the chance that they will leave behind certain elements to be added to or imposed upon the contemporary versions. Our emotional and financial investment in this works is already very strong.

Unfamiliar works -- like Atys as revived recently by Les Arts Florissants, or rarely produced ballets like Raymonda -- do have a chance of survival or at least playing a role in re-defining our idea of what these works should look like.

#27 EricHG31

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 02:16 PM

I have found the picture on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia....ki/Marie_Petipa

Which is odd because contemporaries state she never danced fully en pointe.


And that photo makes it pretty clear (to me) that it's meant to be for the Forest scene--even though it appears to be a posed shot, I doubt they'd put her in front of the wrong set...

Mel Johnson, I know there's always been some controversy about the Lilac Fairy's Prologue variation (I *believe* the excuse was that Marie was given a deliberately too easy variation, with the justification for using a later version being that any other dancer would have done it that way--but I admit to finding the whole thing confusing). From what you posted, you mean for a while in the 1970s the Kirov/K Sergeyev version added a fairy, and had the Lilac Ferry not in toe shoes? How long did this last? I know by the 1983 (?) Kolpokova recording, it's back to six fairies, with Lilac in toe shoes throughout the ballet. Fascinating stuff, and your post raises the very valid point that it's often hard to really know what's authentic, particularly with something as subjective as dance. I think the best reconstructions give us the opportunity to get a sense of what the feel and intention of the original production was, but it's impossible to truly consider them "authentic", and that's OK with me, if the research was properly done.

#28 EricHG31

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 02:43 PM

I hadn't followed along with all of the WSS discussion, but I must say Sondheim's observation doesn't surprise me. PNB has Robbins' West Side Story Suite in its repertory, and so I've seen it several times in the last couple years -- I think that Robbins did himself a disservice by ending the work with the "Somewhere" number, which has a very bucolic, deMille-like feeling. It's very pretty, but it's not West Side Story.


Right, I forgot that the Suite version ends before the Nightmare as well--I believe Laurents may have even used that as justification for cutting it in his production (the Robbins estate is VERY firm about not cutting his choreography in WSS, Gypsy and Fiddler on the Roof, which has caused some trouble when directors want to do a drastically different version of, say, Fiddler and still have to shoe horn Robbins' choreography into their concept, like with the last, unsuccessful, minamalist Broadway revival).

You nailed it perfectly--tit drastically changes the whole tone of WSS, even just of the Somewhere dream ballet, to end on a note of uplift, and it feels dishonest with what WSS is about, to me.

I'll be very interested in seeing an Oklahoma with recisions -- there's a production currently on tour coming to Seattle where it will have new choreography by Donald Byrd, whose work is generally quite intense and harsh. It should make for some fascinating comparisons!


I try to take the Clipper to Seattle as much as I can afford for theatre and ballet, but hadn't heard of this. I'll be curious to hear about the choreography-the Dream Ballet in particular. I did see the Trevor Nunn revival back in London around 1999 (with Hugh Jackman), which had brand new Susan Stroman choreography. I like Stroman, though she's certainly no DeMille, but I admit I did miss that distinctive Demille vocaublary, although Stroman did an adequate job (the production was filmed, and I believe her Dream Ballet is on youtube). At least with Oklahoma we are lucky that DeMille personally staged nearly all of her original choreography for the film version (we were less lucky with her other major Rodgers and Hammerstein show, Carousel, which she wasn't allowed to supervise due to how difficult she had been on the Oklahoma set, and so it has pretty mediocre choreography, except for the dDream Ballet in that show is fairly close to her original--so close that apparently she sued, and rightfully so).

Tangentially, I think you make a very interesting point about the relationship between Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Pointe or no pointe, I've seen it set up where the hierarchy is very clear -- like Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West -- they are obviously on a different level from the rest of the fairy ranks -- the conflict between the two of them is about a fundamental conflict between good and evil, rather than battling personalities.


I completely agree! I think some productions really do lose this--even common modern production details like having the Prince kill her before the kiss scene, kind of negate this element. And all you have to do is go and listen to the music--the two key themes throughout, and spelled out in the Overture, are Carabosse's and Lilac's--not Aurora's and Desire's...

(It's a bit like in Raymonda how there are several spots where the White Lady's leitmotiv pops into the score, and it personally kinda drives me crazy when nothing in the action accompanies that... But I guess many people wouldn't notice).

#29 EricHG31

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 03:25 PM

This topic has so many facets. It's fun watching it develop. Thanks, Eric, for taking us beyond Giselle and even beyond ballet. I especially appreciate your comments as to design.


I love that there's a venue to discuss this kind of thing. I remember as a kid falling for ballet in the late 80s, I would try to find everything I could about the original productions of many of these ballets, and come up with scattered articles, booklets, and photographs--with descriptions that nearly always contradicted each other. And I have many friends and family members who love ballet, but frankly, questions of authenticity have no importance to them as long as they enjoyed the dancing and performance (which is probably true of most balletgoers, understandably). I've always had a fascination with theatre design, and it does seem to sometimes get forgotten when discussing ballet productions (unless it's particularly awful or ill suited, and distracts from the performance).

But watching something like the reconstructed Sleeping Beauty, I had an entirely different reaction. I imagined this would come across as impossibly fussy, over-dressed, cluttered with design elements. Instead, these works seemed rich, colorful, vibrant, alive. Modern lighting and fabric technology may have something to do with this, but on the issue of design. I have become a convert. You write elsewhere of these ballets as collaborations in terms of choreographer and composer. Obviously those responsible for the "look" of the piece were important collaborators as well, and essential to the success of the work. And this is pre-Diaghilev, pre-Bakst.


Good point! For a long time, the general impression was that this never existed until Diaghilev, I'm sure many people still think this. It's true that he probably took it to a higher level--hiring famous artists, etc--but it's obvious that a lot of thought from the start went into the design. I know that for the ballets Vsevolozhsky actually designed the costumes for (which include Beauty, Raymonda, and I think Nutcracker and the '95 Swan Lake, but am not sure), he did so as early as when the ballet would be comissioned and a libretto worked out.

And speaking of Diaghilev, it was Benois who wrote rapturously about how Sleeping Beauty re-awakened his love for ballet, partly because he saw every element, includig the designs, as a complete whole for the first time, a ballet "Gesamtkunstwerk". So there are several direct connections there.

I admit, I also always thought that one reason these ballets would never have restored productions was that to a modern eye, judging from the photographs, it would look fussy, over-dressed and cluttered, as you say. Also, audiences would have to get used to longer tutus, even more wigs than the Soviets used (;)), those 'modesty shorts" for the men, etc. But when you actually see the results, for the most part the design simply *works*.

Much musical entertainment today -- music videos, Cirque de Solel extravaganzas, the new type of Hollywood musical, etc. -- seems obsessed with richness of color, light, detailing, pageantry. Bodies move in all directions, becoming elements of a constantly changing picture. In this kind of theatrical world, where the pursuit of the exotic becomes the new norm, reconstructions of the 19th century ballets don't seem out of place,


That's a good point I hadn't thought of. It's true the pendulum of what people like tends to swing one way or the other, and currently I think many audiences going to the ballet appreciate, and maybe even expect, the spectacle--which for a while seemed to be the opposite where people felt it took away from the purity of dance. Probably another reason why story ballets, even brand new ones, seem to currently have by fair the most mainstream appeal. For non regular ballet goers, it's so expensive to go to a major production nowadays anyway, that, for good and bad, it might be a bit like the Megamusical trend--people want to see some of their money up on the stage.

As for the future, I suspect that historical reconstructions of much loved works like Giselle and Sleeping Beauty will fade away, to be revived only for special occasions and specialist audiences. Of course there is always the chance that they will leave behind certain elements to be added to or imposed upon the contemporary versions. Our emotional and financial investment in this works is already very strong.

Unfamiliar works -- like Atys as revived recently by Les Arts Florissants, or rarely produced ballets like Raymonda -- do have a chance of survival or at least playing a role in re-defining our idea of what these works should look like.

(I would have killed to be able to see that revival of Atys). I think you're right. These things go in trends, and to repeat myself, the pendulum will probably swing back again. But I suspect a few companies will keep them in their repertoire, if only to pull them out occasionally for special occasions. (This is why I hope the rumours of Raymonda being filmed are true--and I'm still greatly annoyed that we never got a commercial release of the three Vikharev/Mariinsky Petipa reconstructions, back when they were briefly being regularly performed). I hadn't been to the Mariinsky's website in about a year, and they DO still list The Awakening of Flora and Sleeping Beauty in their repertoire (along with the Sergeyev Beauty which they seem to be doing exclusively now), so that gives me a tiny glimmer of hope--Flora certainly would be a good vehicle to show off students. On the other hand, both versionfs of la Bayadere used to be listed, but the 1890's reconstruction has been now removed... No big surprise I suppose (I know the standard version uses many of the same set designs).

#30 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 October 2011 - 04:37 PM

Mel Johnson, I know there's always been some controversy about the Lilac Fairy's Prologue variation (I *believe* the excuse was that Marie was given a deliberately too easy variation, with the justification for using a later version being that any other dancer would have done it that way--but I admit to finding the whole thing confusing). From what you posted, you mean for a while in the 1970s the Kirov/K Sergeyev version added a fairy, and had the Lilac Ferry not in toe shoes? How long did this last? I know by the 1983 (?) Kolpokova recording, it's back to six fairies, with Lilac in toe shoes throughout the ballet. Fascinating stuff, and your post raises the very valid point that it's often hard to really know what's authentic, particularly with something as subjective as dance. I think the best reconstructions give us the opportunity to get a sense of what the feel and intention of the original production was, but it's impossible to truly consider them "authentic", and that's OK with me, if the research was properly done.


Most of it was happening while I was in the US Air Force, 1970-74. By the time I got out and was able to go to ballets again, the Kirov wasn't touring the US, and I was already transitioning into a museum career. In 1976, I was able to get a look at the N. Sergeyev notations as they were being processed through the Libraries at Harvard, and I was struck by the odd variation I was able to dope out from what I could decipher from the Stepanov notation, which is actually not that counterintuitive, but quirky. News from Leningrad was filtering back that in response to the discovery of the Marussia Petipa photo, that the Prologue to the K. Sergeyev Beauty had been modified to add a NEW fairy - whose supposed name escapes me right now - and that Lilac was relegated to a new role, but still in the stilted post-Soviet manner of deeply compromised mime. The chatter out of Russia was that the overall effect was not much liked, and the interpolations were soon after eliminated. I didn't see the production, but I was around to earwitness the grumblings surrounding it. You hear a lot of interesting things when you're secretary to Robert Joffrey.


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