pherank

Dancers and characters in Balanchine's Apollo

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I've a question regarding the film of George Balanchine's Apollo

(Filmed for Canadian television (CBC) in 1960, and available on DVD, and a later bootleg filming of Peter Martins as Apollo)

I've only found an incomplete listing of the characters/dancers:

Apollo: Jacques d'Amboise

Apollo's mother, Leto: Ruth Sobotka

Calliope: Jillana

Polymnie: Francis Russell

Terpsichore: Diana Adams

In the d'Amboise version - Who are the two dancers who unwrap Apollo in the prologue and what are their character names?

Also, in the later version with Peter Martins and Suzanne Farrell (which I've only seen the last portion of), what are the 3 characters that appear in the finale at the bottom of the stairs? Are they the same 3 characters from the birth of Apollo prologue in the d'Amboise version?

Prologue:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlhH7EaqbRM

Excerpt:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWft-39NHAc

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The Balanchine Caalogue server seems to be sticking, but I believe the characters are called "Handmaidens.". They and Leta appear in front of the stairs/platform at the end of the ballet.

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The Balanchine Catalogue server seems to be sticking, but I believe the characters are called "Handmaidens.". They and Leta appear in front of the stairs/platform at the end of the ballet.

Thank you, Helene. "Handmaiden" to the gods, I wonder what that position pays?

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before identifying Leto, Mother of Apollo, CHOREOGRAPHY BY BALANCHINE identifies "2 Goddesses"; some APOLLO commentators refer to these two female characters as "handmaidens."

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It does make me wonder what Stravinsky (presumably, as he wrote the libretto) was thinking about for these parts. Balanchine was in the habit of adding and subtracting dancers at will, and worried little about 'the meaning' of these occurrences. But Stravinsky didn't do much of anything without calculation. So I wonder what his thinking was on these 'extras'.

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For what it's worth, Nancy Reynolds, in Repertory in Review: Forty Years of the New York City Ballet (1976), calls them "Nymphs", uniquely in my experience; "Handmaidens" is the term I have always associated with them, from program cast lists and so on. It's also the term used by Balanchine and Mason in their book, Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets (1977).

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For what it's worth, Nancy Reynolds, in Repertory in Review: Forty Years of the New York City Ballet, (1976), calls them "Nymphs", uniquely in my experience; "Handmaidens" is the term I have always associated with them, from program cast lists and so on. It's also the term used by Balanchine and Mason in their book, Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets

Thanks Jack. Any idea who is dancing the handmaiden roles in the Amboise version of Apollo?

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For what it's worth, Nancy Reynolds, in Repertory in Review: Forty Years of the New York City Ballet (1976), calls them "Nymphs", uniquely in my experience; "Handmaidens" is the term I have always associated with them, from program cast lists and so on. It's also the term used by Balanchine and Mason in their book, Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets (1977).

I love the handmaidens, and that's the term I've always associated with them as well. That's how they were referred to in the program notes for the '72 Stravinsky Festival (reproduced in Nancy Goldner's commemorative book The Stravinsky Festival of the New York City Ballet). Funny that in his book Thirty Years, Kirstein writes of the Muses, whom he has named but not referred to by that term, that

These are all subservient to Apollo, animator and driver; they are his handmaidens, creatures, harem, and household.

It's clear there that he isn't titling them "handmaidens," but I still find the term curious given that the ballet has other, actual . . . er, handmaidens.

"Goddesses" strikes me as really inappropriate, even if it may be technically correct, because it seems a higher title than "Muses" (although the muses are goddesses as well).

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These are all subservient to Apollo, animator and driver; they are his handmaidens, creatures, harem, and household.

It's clear there that he isn't titling them "handmaidens," but I still find the term curious given that the ballet has other, actual . . . er, handmaidens.

"Goddesses" strikes me as really inappropriate, even if it may be technically correct, because it seems a higher title than "Muses" (although the muses are goddesses as well).

"these immortal beings are the daughters of the titaness Mnemosyne (daughter of Gaia and Uranus) by Zeus"

The Muses are somewhat unique in Greek mythology, as they aren't really treated in the same fashion as the Olympian gods (who behave more or less like humans, but with super powers). The muses act more like forces of nature, devoid of personality and vagaries of human behavior. They represent ideals and skills. I think that's why I tend to prefer Suzanne Farrell's interpretation of Terpsichore, rather than the more modern ones which make Terpsichore look more like Apollo's eager buddy or little sister, along for the ride. ;)

For example, when the muses form the "sunrays" pose behind Apollo, Farrell looks to the rear rather than forward, matching Apollo's gaze (as many modern dancers do). It seems a little presumptuous to me for Terpsichore to be sharing the same vision as Apollo - it is his moment of ascendency, not the muses - they are bound with the god, but not experiencing what only he can experience. And that would be true of the artist in the moment of inspiration. I also prefer it when the 2 muses behind Terpsichore cleverly hide their upper bodies - more like a force bound to and absorbed within the god, than equal partners. That's just my two cents. ;)

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In his 1928 Ballets Russes program notes Stravinsky calls the un/wrappers déesses, goddesses.

Deux déesses accourent pour saluer Apollon, lui donnent pour langes un voile blanc et une ceinture d’or. Elles lui présentent le nectar et l’ambroisie et l’emmènent vers l’Olympe. Fin du prologue : Apollon reste seul, il danse (Variation)

Google translation: Two goddesses come running to greet Apollo. They bring diapers, a white veil and a golden belt. They present him with nectar and ambrosia and then move towards Olympus. End of the prologue : Apollo is alone, he dances (Variation)

What's interesting as you read reviews of Apollo is how the tone changes decade by decade - 1928 is acrobatic, the 1937 version with Lew Christensen is serious, but the next production in 1943 is lighter. New York Times :

The present revival, however, presents an interesting new color which suggests that Balanchine has decided to turn the whole thing in the direction of kidding. It is not nearly so solemn ... Eglevsky makes Apollo a sort of cross between Hermes and Silenus, and dances the combination brilliantly.

Here are the Stravinksy notes whole (probably in English translation somewhere):

Apollon-Musagète est une pièce sans intrigue. C’est un ballet dont l’action chorégraphique se déroule sur le thème: Apollon-Musagète, c. a. d. chef des muses inspirant à chacune d’elle leur art.

Le ballet commence par un court prologue représentant la naissance d’Apollon. L’enfantement saisit Leto. Elle jette ses bras autour d’un arbre, elle appuie ses genoux sur tendre gazon et l’enfante bondit à la lumière. Deux déesses accourent pour saluer Apollon, lui donnent pour langes un voile blanc et une ceinture d’or. Elles lui présentent le nectar et l’ambroisie et l’emmènent vers l’Olympe. Fin du prologue : Apollon reste seul, il danse (Variation). Fin du prologue ; nouveau décor : Apollon reste seul, il danse (Variation). A la fin de sa danse apparaissent Calliope, Polymnie et Terpsichore : Apollon confère à chacune d’elle un don (Pas d’action). Ainsi Calliope devient ,use de la Poésie; Polymnie; de la Mimique et Terpsichore celle de la Danse. Elles lui présentent tour à tour chacune son art (Variations). Apollon les accueille par une danse en honneur de ces arts nés (Variation). Terpsichore unissant la Poésie à la Mimique trouve la place d’honneur a côte du Musagète (Pas de deux). Les autres ,uses se joignent à trois autour de leur chef (Coda). Ces scènes allégoriques se terminent par une Apothéose où Apollon conduit les muses, Terpsichore en tète; au Parnasse qui sera désormais leur demeure.

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pherank, I wish I could answer your question about the names of the dancers who portrayed the deesses. But thank you for the video link to the 1960 performance. I grew up on this version and can still remember vividly my unexpected excitement the first time I saw Apollo sucking in these deep breaths of air during the unwinding. The current shortened version of the ballet is great and wonderful, but the effect on me is more like that of a piece of beautifully wrought jewelry under glass in a museum. The long version, as performed in this video, gives life, breath, and development to the story of the god. I watch it often

Some readers may not know that the video is available on dvd: Jacques d'Amboise: Portrait of a Great American Dancer. For those interested in the early days of the NYCB, this also includes a duet from Still Point (with Melissa Hayden); Afternoon of a Faun (with Tanaquil LeClercq), Filling Station (where you can get a look at Todd Bolender, Janet Read, Shaun O'Brien, and Eddie Bigelow among others, and the finale of Stars and Stripe (Melissa Hayden).

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Great quotes, Guiggin. Thanks very much for those. It would be nice to have an accurate translation from the French - perhaps one of the other Forum members can help us out. For now, Babylon.com will have to suffice for me. ;)

Bart: I agree that the d'Amboise DVD is a must-have glimpse at a great time in American ballet. I think that's the only DVD with a complete performance by LeClercq. At least that I've been able to find. It's hard to believe that is the state of things, but then there are plenty of Balanchine ballets that went over well with audiences, but are now completely lost to the world. It's the nature of the beast.

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Stravinsky's statement is pretty much a straight-forward summary of the plot -- although he refers to the ballet as "une piece sans intrigue," meaning (if I am not missing some other connotation) "a plotless work."

It's amusing that the Google translation translates "langes" as "diapers," a rather anachronistic expression given that the ballet takes place at the beginning of civilization. For those of us who have seen Balanchine's revision for NYCB, the reference is clearly to "swaddling cloths" and to the old practice of wrapping infants tightly in lengths of cloth,

We've had discussion here about the prologue, but I can't recall if this particular statement of Stravinsky's has been quoted. --

The ballet opens with a short prologue representing the birth of Apollo. Leto is about to give birth . She throws her arms around a tree; she kneels on the tender grass; and the child bursts into the light. Two goddesses run forward to salute Apollo., giving him a white garment with a golden belt. They offer him nectar and ambrosia and lead him towards Olympus. End of prologue.

It's odd how this description omits most of what we actually see Apollo doing in this section. How different is the disoriented, straining, uncoordinated, and powerfully energetic newborn Apollo that we actually see.

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"Diapers", I like that!

I'm pretty sure that Balanchine also intended the ballet as an expression of the artist's journey, so deviations of "plot" from the Greek myths probably wasn't a problem for Mr. B. Thus Leto and the tree, etc. get left in the dust for other more useful metaphors.

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...

For those of us who have seen Balanchine's revision for NYCB, the reference is clearly to "swaddling cloths" and to the old practice of wrapping infants tightly in lengths of cloth.

Reynolds focuses this more narrowly as to place:

After Leto gives birth to Apollo, he appears completely wrapped in winding cloth (this Russian custom is supposed to keep the child's body straight), then begins to live and breath and soon pirouettes himself out of his bandages, appearing almost naked.

...

It's odd how this description omits most of what we actually see Apollo doing in this section. How different is the disoriented, straining, uncoordinated, and powerfully energetic newborn Apollo that we actually see.

Indeed, Stravinsky's (and Mason's and others') accounts are often at some distance from what we see, which makes me wonder whether Stravinsky's, say, is a description of the Balanchine choreography or a scenario he worked out for his own or for listeners' imagination, before or at least independently of Balanchine's work.

(Mason, for another example, says Leto sits on a high rock and gives birth to Apollo; a notable Apollo, Jacques d'Amboise, in I Was a Dancer, gives us his sketch of this, the first of three showing the evolution of the ballet's decor.)

What we see, especially when we see the version from before Balanchine's truncation of it, does deviate from what we read. (IIRC, Stravinsky's simple outline on the back of the sleeve for the Columbia LP recording of his Agon performance gets the divisions out of sync with what happens. At least, it's attributed to Stravinsky.)

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S. L. Grigoriev in 1953 remembers Apollo this way - with swaddling instead of diapers and with Leto on a rock:

In contast to Ode, Apollon Musagete was a great success ... Diaghilev was also very well pleased with Balanchine’s choreography. It had some rather ugly patches; but on the whole it was very well composed and consistently interesting. The ballet had no proper story. Indeed it was described on the programme as a piece without a plot.

... It was a mere succession of dances which the birth of Apollo was perhaps the most effective. His mother Leto was seen standing on a rock, beneath which was a grotto, and from this Apollo emerged in swaddling bands, of which he was then divested by a pair of goddesses.

Here are some stills of the 1928 production from Gallica.fr. In the first Lifar is turning away from Terpsichore, in contrast to Jacques d'Amboise in the 1960 Radio-Canada film. Danilova is perfection.

http://gallica.bnf.f...32119.r=.langEN

http://gallica.bnf.f...3200h.r=.langEN

http://gallica.bnf.f...3208t.r=.langEN

& an unusual photo from the Apollo program of Balanchine on a rooftop - E.T.A. Hoffmannish - in Germany? Added: I just came across another still from the same photo shoot - it's from Triumph of Neptune.

http://gallica.bnf.f...usses%22.langEN

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Here are some stills of the 1928 production from Gallica.fr. In the first Lifar is turning away from Terpsichore, in contrast to Jacques d'Amboise in the 1960 Radio-Canada film. Danilova is perfection.

Thanks very much for the image links, Quiggin. The Muses are hanging on for dear life!

http://gallica.bnf.f...3208t.r=.langEN

And the Balanchine image is hilarious. He looks like a Parisian dandy in the top hat.

I have a tiny image of the 1928 finale end pose, and there a rock is visible on stage - with a nice sun chariot mounted on the stage backdrop. Whether that little hill served as both Leto's rock and Mount Parnassus remains a mystery to me.

apollon_musagete-1928-original.jpg

It's always interesting to see so many different approaches to specific portions of the choreography (which of course was changing over the years as well). It really doesn't take much to alter the spirit/emotion of things as well as the symbolic meanings.

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THANK YOU THANK YOU HTANK YOU.

WONDERFUL images. New to me, and well, let's just say you've certainly made my day, QUiggin and Pheranc

WHAT IN THE WORLD is going on at hte foot of the mountain in the apotheosis? Looks like Pluto has arrived and upended the handmaidens....

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Hello Paul:

I *think* Leto returns at the finale with the two handmaidens and they pose at the bottom of the stairs/Mt. Parnassus. I'm not certain if Leto is the one who leans back and is supported by a handmaiden.

I don't have a clean image of this configuration, but you can see another view here:

apollo_stairs_parnassus.png

Personally, I love this enigmatic ending, as it fits with Stravinsky's apothéose score so beautifully. I love the pose of the Muses with bent leg en pointe. A great moment in art.

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In Cuba we inherited Apollo sans tights and with the headcaps for the muses, along with the rocky scenary.

Here's Eglevsky with Marjorie Tallchief, Barbara Fallis and Mme. Alonso as Terpsichore, 1946.

00Scan10001.jpg

CUBA14_J.jpg

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Thanks, Pheranc -- to me that looks likea revision, and not just a different moment in an evolving tableau -- in the 1928 picture, it looks like one of hte handmaidens is in handstand, with her head close to the knees of thekneeling person, and the big-haired person stands in the front of their triangle, facing away from Parnassus [as if she were sliding hte goddess down hte hatch, off to Hades? but that would be another ballet, 'persephone' ;)] anyway, s/he is definitely facing away from the big picture, supporting the legs of the upended goddess at hte calf -- no?

Christian, thanks for that wonderful picture -- who are they? THe second muse looks like Lorena Feijoo maybe have looked 20 years ago.

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I think it is Feijoo, Paul. It amazes me how different the look of the ballet is when one compares that picture with those of the revised version. It is literally like watching another ballet. With no rocky props, the muses without the headdresses and simpler tunics, Apollo sans his tunic and sandals, and now with a ballet tight and no birth and ascension to Parnassus scenes, I don't know if I will even recognize it. I haven't seen the ballet in US, but for the pictures it looks very foreign to me. I'm also 99% certain that even the stylistic treatment of what I will see is different from the 1940's version Alonso retained in Cuba, and even probably different steps here and there too. It is a shame that there are not filmed clips of the Cuban version for me to compare it, because I'm not that familiar with the ballet the way I am with, let's say, Giselle, which I'm able to see whatever little changes take place from the modern versions I've seen to the Markova/Dolin staging presented by Alonso in her company. Still, I can tell right away that this is a different animal.

BTW...why would have been the rationale for Balanchine to cover Apollo's legs with tights for the revised version...? dunno.gif

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BTW...why would have been the rationale for Balanchine to cover Apollo's legs with tights for the revised version...? dunno.gif

Balanchine seems to be treating Apollo increasingly as a 'black and white' ballet, bringing it closer to Agon than Prodigal Son. More minimal, more primal, more pure. So it became a 'leotard' ballet that's just about the steps.

The Cuban ballet images are fascinating - thanks Cubanmiamiboy! They are definitely preserving an older version of the ballet for posterity: a happy accident. A bit like all the old American cars in Havana. Also, I see the danseur is wearing the same sort of leggings that Lew Christensen wore in the 1940s.

http://www.burntscarlet.com/downloads/Apollo_Lew_Christensen.jpg

Now for a different take on costumes: I happened upon these photos online (they may not be available long)

http://www.pendullumartwork.com/clients/labaronne%20fotos/Ballet%20Apollo/P1010167.JPG

http://www.pendullumartwork.com/clients/labaronne%20fotos/Ballet%20Apollo/P1010163.JPG

http://www.pendullumartwork.com/clients/labaronne%20fotos/Ballet%20Apollo/P1010061.JPG

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... ... ...

I *think* Leto returns at the finale with the two handmaidens and they pose at the bottom of the stairs/Mt. Parnassus. I'm not certain if Leto is the one who leans back and is supported by a handmaiden.

I don't have a clean image of this configuration, but you can see another view here:

I've always taken that to be Leto with the handmaidens; and Mason interprets her pose this way:

Leto, Apollo's mother, falls back in the arms of his handmaidens as she reaches up to her son in farewell.

But as for your image, pherank, it looks like the source of the first of d'Amboise's three sketches (pp. 188-9 of his book), complete with that striking chariot in the sky, except that he doesn't render all of the confusion Paul notes among the three dancers at the base of the rock, although he scrupulously shows the dark hair of the one who looks away from the tableau on it; indeed he omits the seated one.

I think now the dancer in the middle of the group in the 1928 image, with both arms extremely raised, is Leto, the dancer having lost the plot for the moment (Balanchine's penchant for barely sufficient rehearsal perhaps being already evident at this early date), or, to be more charitable, maybe the more familiar gesture, reaching toward her son, had not yet been set; and the dark-haired girl in the back of the group facing our left is, for the moment, in worse trouble, looking to me as though she, like Paul, is wondering what's going on, or, what's much the same thing, what her part in it is.

(d'Amboise's second sketch shows the same moment in another decor, the four principals having ascended a huge tree trunk in the shape of a triangle, much like the stair and its support to come later, and he has merely indicated three arms extended toward the principal group from a clump of figures at lower left. Behind the principals and their - structure - is a spare development of large branches of another tree. I thought it might be worth inserting this in case somebody runs across a photo of this decor, too!)

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Balanchine seems to be treating Apollo increasingly as a 'black and white' ballet, bringing it closer to Agon than Prodigal Son. More minimal, more primal, more pure. So it became a 'leotard' ballet that's just about the steps.

No, it didn't go that far, no leotards, not quite. But yes, Stravinsky's music gave Balanchine a pivotal idea:

In its discipline and restraint, in its sustained oneness of tone and feeling, the score was a revelation. I seemed to tell me that I could, for the first time, dare not use all my ideas; that I, too, could eliminate. I began to see how I could clarify, by limiting, by reducing what seemed to be myriad possibilities to the one possibility that is inevitable.

I'd say, rather, the leotard ballets which followed from time to time owed something to this source, perhaps. Whether the leotard ballets are all only just about the steps is, I think, up to us. As far as he was concerned, I mean. There's certainly plenty of pantomime in Apollo itself, though I wouldn't imply that it's just a story - that ending, for one thing, its sense of infinity or eternity. If this is a story, all we've got of it here is the beginning, and their ascent is the end of the beginning. (Leto may be bereft, but in awe as well. Aren't we?)

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