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G.Kirkland's assessment of B's "Coppelia"


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29 replies to this topic

#1 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 05:51 AM

I've been digging a bit on different approaches to the ballet before tonight's opening, so I went back to some of the biographies i own that have something to say on the subject. Alonso, Danilova and Kirkland are some of them. Particularly interesting are the scarce words of the latter on Balanchine's version. This is what she has to say:

[size=5]"I also knew that Balanchine would adapt the concept to his vision of pure dance. The story and the characters would be encased in plastic. I made a plan with myself; I would leave the company before dancing in this production. Danilova's somewhat old-fashioned approach was to be wed to Balanchine's modern sensibility. I knew the inevitable outcome of such a marriage would be a stylistic travesty, a waltz of dolls. I had had enough of glorified triviality. His Coppelia was a major hit that summer without me. I had no regrets about not appearing in that one..."[/size]

Any thoughts from those familiar with this staging...?

#2 cargill

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 07:12 AM

Her take is very interesting. The act I like best in Balanchine's Coppelia is the second, set in the workshop, which is almost pure mime, and very similar to the traditional (at least as it has come down) version. As I understand it, Danilova pretty much set this according to the version she danced with the Ballet Russe. I do like the other two acts, especially Balanchine's pas de deux, but there are "pure dance" things that do bother me. I know it is very pedantic, but having the same group dance the mazurka and the czardas in the first act just isn't right. These dances are from different countries, and should be danced by different groups. That said, it is nice to see an attempt at a character czardas rather than a pseudo-gypsy dance set on point that some companies do. I do feel that all the pink tutued little girls in the last act are a bit saccherine, and wish he had used the music for more grown up choreography. I did see the revival that the Bolshoi did when it was presented live in the theaters, and just loved that choreography.

#3 Michael

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Posted 24 March 2012 - 07:46 AM

I think that the several productions of Coppelia are fairly close to each other - or, better said, that there is less difference between the various Coppelias than, say, between various competing Swan Lakes and Sleeping Beauties.

I fully agree with you, Mary, about the details.

But I am struck that this is a work where I doubt that anyone but the most passionate followers of ballet would understand much of Kirkland's issue. I like to split hairs but these are hairs being split. Whereas if you set McKenzie's Swan Lake beside Macmillan's; or Kirkland's own Sleeping Beauty beside the Royal Ballet's - even outsiders would see what we are talking about immediately.

Maybe this is because Coppelia represents a distinct genre, where the types and events of puppet show Italian Comedy hold strong and no one has decided to change that yet. Unlike Swan Lake or Parsifal, no directors yet setting Coppelia on a space station.

#4 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 24 March 2012 - 08:09 AM

Unlike Swan Lake or Parsifal, no directors yet setting Coppelia on a space station.


You heard it here first, folks.

#5 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 24 March 2012 - 02:31 PM

Unlike Swan Lake or Parsifal, no directors yet setting Coppelia on a space station.


You heard it here first, folks.


Please, no...

#6 Paul Parish

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 06:52 PM

when did she say this, Christian?

I'd say she's wrong -- whether it's Danilova or Balanchine, the first act retains more of Swanilda's mime and character than any other AMerican production and rather emphasizes the mime than downplays it.

ANd the earthiness of the mazurka and czardas make them tremendously exciting. THe women are turning on their heels, the rhythms are fantastic.

#7 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 08:01 PM

when did she say this, Christian?


Paul, those words are from "Dancing in my grave". It is interesting, because when one reads it, there's the impression that she's merely guessing when in reality by the time she had written the book she must have had an exact idea of how this production looked like, and still she went ahead with her assessment.

#8 Jayne

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 08:47 PM

I'm always nervous about people's judgments when they are sampling columbian marching powder, as well as popping amphetamines, along with various pain meds for plastic surgeries. She was clearly unhappy at NYCB and was looking for reasons to leave. Through the lens of drugs, unhappiness and anorexia, she could easily find an artistic reason to depart.

I like the Balanchine Coppelia, and I don't think the term "plastic" applies. It is very sweet, but has anyone ever seen a dark "Coppelia"?

#9 dirac

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 09:34 PM

I'm always nervous about people's judgments when they are sampling columbian marching powder, as well as popping amphetamines, along with various pain meds for plastic surgeries. She was clearly unhappy at NYCB and was looking for reasons to leave. Through the lens of drugs, unhappiness and anorexia, she could easily find an artistic reason to depart.


Gee. Ad hominem, much? Kirkland has been very honest about her personal problems (not all of which were in their most severe form when she left the company). That doesn't mean the aesthetic reasons she gives for not wanting to be in the production aren't genuine --which is not the same thing as having to agree with those reasons or accepting that those were the only reasons for her unhappiness at NYCB.

#10 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 10:56 PM


I'm always nervous about people's judgments when they are sampling columbian marching powder, as well as popping amphetamines, along with various pain meds for plastic surgeries. She was clearly unhappy at NYCB and was looking for reasons to leave. Through the lens of drugs, unhappiness and anorexia, she could easily find an artistic reason to depart.


Gee. Ad hominem, much? Kirkland has been very honest about her personal problems (not all of which were in their most severe form when she left the company). That doesn't mean the aesthetic reasons she gives for not wanting to be in the production aren't genuine --which is not the same thing as having to agree with those reasons or accepting that those were the only reasons for her unhappiness at NYCB.


In any case, this is Kirkland's truth, out and about for people to agree with it or not. I'm sure that, like everything in life, there's more than one side to pick from.

#11 carbro

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 08:40 PM

Gee. Ad hominem, much? Kirkland has been very honest about her personal problems (not all of which were in their most severe form when she left the company).

As one who was here in New York during that period and who spent more evenings than I can count standing outside the theater waving a ticket I no longer wanted for one of Kirkland's many last-minute cancellations, I disagree with you about just how honest she has been. Her book took the position that someone else was always responsible for getting her or keeping her on drugs; she was just an innocent victim. She never did address that habit of sticking her partner and audience with someone other than who they were counting on to dance.

If you accept her chronology, Kirkland was not yet drugging before she left NYCB -- except for that time in Russia when Mr. B slipped her a "vitamin." You can't blame her questionable judgment about Coppelia (and other ballets -- she singled out Concerto Barocco as one she particularly disliked Posted Image ) on drugs. When I saw the term "ad hominem," my immediate association was, "if it was Balanchine's staging, Gelsey wasn't going to like it, no matter what."

Despite all that, when we discuss favorite ballerinas, I always name Gelsey without a moment's hesitation. Posted Image

I happen to like Balanchine's staging, except for the War and Discord section in the last act. I like the Waltz with the children and I like the pas de deux.

#12 sandik

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:32 AM

I happen to like Balanchine's staging, except for the War and Discord section in the last act. I like the Waltz with the children and I like the pas de deux.


I have to admit to a liking for War and Discord -- with those over the top costumes, and the way that the men use their spears llike canes in the cakewalking steps, it looks like an old music hall number. Like teenagers in a tantrum, they storm in, stomp around, and leave in a huff.

#13 dirac

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 09:14 AM

Gee. Ad hominem, much? Kirkland has been very honest about her personal problems (not all of which were in their most severe form when she left the company).

As one who was here in New York during that period and who spent more evenings than I can count standing outside the theater waving a ticket I no longer wanted for one of Kirkland's many last-minute cancellations, I disagree with you about just how honest she has been. Her book took the position that someone else was always responsible for getting her or keeping her on drugs; she was just an innocent victim. She never did address that habit of sticking her partner and audience with someone other than who they were counting on to dance.

If you accept her chronology, Kirkland was not yet drugging before she left NYCB -- except for that time in Russia when Mr. B slipped her a "vitamin." You can't blame her questionable judgment about Coppelia (and other ballets -- she singled out Concerto Barocco as one she particularly disliked ) on drugs. When I saw the term "ad hominem," my immediate association was, "if it was Balanchine's staging, Gelsey wasn't going to like it, no matter what."


The term "ad hominem" referred specifically to the earlier post, cargill, which seems to suggest that Kirkland's having suffered from an eating disorder, "sampled columbian marching powder, " etc., were reasons to question what she had to say about the ballet and why she didn't want to appear in it.

As for her book, few memoirists are unable to refrain from the self-serving, I'm sorry to say, and Kirkland was hardly immune. I appreciated the fact that she was honest about matters such as her anorexia at a time when such things weren't discussed nearly as much as they are now.

Sorry about your tickets.

#14 bart

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 01:53 PM

Reading the Kirkland statement, it sounds like she made up her mind about "stylistic travesty" and "glorified triviality" long before the work was complete. The tone makes me appreciate Patricia McBride even more.

I have to admit to a liking for War and Discord -- with those over the top costumes, and the way that the men use their spears llike canes in the cakewalking steps, it looks like an old music hall number. Like teenagers in a tantrum, they storm in, stomp around, and leave in a huff.

Gosh, you're right about the impression of kids acting out, which always puzzled me in something called War and Discord, but which fits the "youth culture" of Swanhilda's social circle. Nancy Reynolds comments that the spears "are waved as idly as picket signs."

I don't recall noticing the cakewalk imagery. But I can imagine both Colleen Neary and Ricky Weiss giving the choreography the spirit of music hall.

Thanks, sandik.Posted Image Will be looking closely for these touches at MCB's performances in a couple of weeks.

I didn't attend Ballet Theatre as often as you did, carbro. But I do recall some cancellations and at least one very weird Giselle, with poor Baryshnikov. I stayed for these performances, on the theory that there's always SOMETHING to watch in ballet. I admit that I am having a hard time recalling the names of her substitute(s), in the cases of cancellation. Susan Jaffee, of course, after Kirkland was fired. But does anyone remember others who subbed for Kirkland earlier on?

Nowadays, highly erratic behavior like this makes most fans think automatically of drugs. Back then, however, the media were (of course) silent and people like me attributed the behavior to things like "too much pressure" and "the stress of perfectionism." Only later did I learn, to my chagrin, that just about everyone in New York City understood the situation very well.

I agree with you about Kirkland as a dancer -- unforgettable and unique. I also agree with your comments that remind us that Kirkland's behaviors affected many more people than herself, Including her colleagues..

#15 Drew

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 03:41 PM

Kirkland--My favorite ballerina of all time. No contest.

Balanchine's Coppelia: love it...don't find it heartless at all. With possible exception of recent Bolshoi reconstruction, my favorite version of the ballet. Think the finale is stupendous ... Think Kirkland would have been wonderful in it. Mcbride most certainly was as indeed was Kirkland in ABT's Coppelia.

I remember a Coppelia in Washington D.C. the first season Baryshnikov and Kirkland were dancing together (Fall 74?)--when their partnership was still, to recall Bruhn's dictum about great ballet partnerships, a "love affair on stage" and had not yet descended to "a bad argument." Clive Barnes wrote a rave about this particular performance; it was not just first-rate--it was, as Barnes wrote, one of those special nights, and they sparked sensationally off of each other.

(As for the "bad argument" I know exactly the Giselle bart is talking about and must have been the only person in the audience disappointed a few weeks later when a Kirkland-Stretton Giselle was changed to a Kirkland Baryshnikov one at the last minute: I had been looking forward to seeing her dance with someone with whom she did not have a fraught relationship. The drug problems would of course have been the same either way, though presumably they impacted her dancing somewhat unpredictably.)

The view of Balanchine expressed in her memoirs seems to me wrong-headed historically as well as critically and converges with an understanding of Balanchine I have sometimes read in some hostile (and as I remember usually European) reviews and that I also believe is a caricature at best. But certainly he and NYCB were not a good match for her--not that any company could altogether be said to have been a good match--and certainly the narrative ballet (to which she expresses her committment and is still committed in her teaching) is proving fertile ground for one of the few major post-Balanchine choreographers around, that is, Ratmansky. In an interview he has even given that as his 'contribution' so to speak to what is happening in ballet today.

Replacements? Early, when her problem may or may not have been drugs, I saw Ichino replace her in Don Quixote. I had come into New York for the performance and was devastated as I was, too, when, after her firing from ABT, I travelled to see one of her appearances, w. Bissell, with a student group in Towson Maryland and she cancelled. However, when she danced--even during the period of her drug use--I can only think of one or two performances I saw that were not...well...as beautiful, moving, and expressive as it is possible for classical ballet to be. Even during the height of her problems, I saw a Three Preludes in Boston -- also w. a student group I think -- that was just ravishing in its sensuality, daring, and precision.


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