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Serge Lifargrowing wealth of video of him on Youtube


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#1 Paul Parish

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 08:04 AM

Someone called Nickwallacesmith is posting lots of clips of Lifar on Youtube -- kind of a revelation to me. His musicality is remarkable. Much is in French or Russian, bt the clips are very interesting, intriguing --

San Francisco Ballet will stage Lifar's Suite en Blanc next season; his work is not well-known in htis country, and some dismiss it right away -- but the scholar-critic Mark Franko champions him, and we may come to see his virtues.

Be on the lookout...

#2 kbarber

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 09:23 AM

I saw Paris Opera Ballet perform Suite en Blanc (three times!) in Chicago earlier this summer, and ADORED it (as did everyone else in my group). It has to be performed with technical perfection, I think, but when it is, it is mind-blowing.

#3 Helene

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 09:23 AM

Nickwallacesmith also re-posted a lot of the Soloviev videos, many of which disappeared, maybe when Ketinoa's entire channel was shut down when the Balanchine Trust objected to a tiny minority of the videos.

NY audiences got a chance to see POB dance "Suite en Blanc" this summer.

#4 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 11:35 AM

Edited; Just taking a quick look at the comments on his videos, and wow...such hate and animosity toward him. No wonder the little interest in staging his ballets-(aside from the general perception of their low qualities...)

Anybody seen "Icare"...?

#5 Paul Parish

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Posted 22 August 2012 - 07:58 PM

The comments are partly motivated -- some of them -- by attitudes towards his collaborating with the Nazis during the occupation of Paris. Many condemn him for this -- but others say that his APPARENT collaboration allowed him to protect his Jewish dancers. He was certainly condemned right after the war, but after a year he was exonerated and brought back to Paris and put back in place. Mark Franko even suggests that the apparent coldness of Suite en Blanc has hidden defiance of the Nazis encoded in it.

I have seen "Icare" and it was stunning.

#6 Quiggin

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 02:47 AM

Paul Parish:

...others say that his APPARENT collaboration allowed him to protect his Jewish dancers.


Serge Lifar's activities during the war don't really look too good - out of sheer naiviety or who knows what. Look at this press release from Lifar in 1940:

NYT Jul 5, 1940
Goering Invites Parisian To Stage Ballet in Berlin

Paris July 2 (Delayed; via Berlin) – Serge Lifar, director of the Paris Opera Ballet, said today that Field Marshal Hermann Goering had visited him yesterday and invited him to stage a production in Berlin.

The Marshal appeared at M. Lifar’s office, where he is preparing to revive the ballet. M. Lifar said he told Marshal Goering he could make no plans for trips until the company has been reorganized.


Jean Babilee, whom Lifar claims to have saved, says of Lifar, “He was a mythomaniac. I admired him enormously as an artist, he was amazing, but he was a rather ordinary human being. He didn’t save me at all.”

Alan Riding in "And the Show Went On" says that even though Lifar sought out the Germans, he was not completely safe:

Yet Lifar was not safe from vicious attacks by the collaborationist press, with anti-Semitic weekly Au Pilori accusing him of being a Jew whose real name was Rilaf, an anagram of Lifar. The terms of his denial were not to his credit. He noted that he had studied at the Imperial Lycee in Kiev, which excluded Jews; that he had belonged to an anit-Jewish youth movement during the Russian Revolution; that his origins excluded all possiblity of Jewish blood; and that he was of pure Aryan blood. He added: “As for my ideas about Jews, they are well known.”


Another reason Lifar gets bad notices on Nickwallacesmith is that his dancing technique is not the most sterling. John Martin noted in the NYT in 1933 that "his elevation is good, but in no wise exceptional, and his balance is actually bad" - which you can see here in the Bluebird coda:

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

It will be interesting seeing Suite en Blanc here next season at the San Francisco Ballet, which looks, at least in video clips, like it creates an interesting art deco, bas relief arrangement of space. Reading old reviews in the Times of his works from John Martin to Alastair Macaulay doesn't seem to be too encouraging though. Martin say his Giselle - "which might be called 'Albrecht'" - "is by no means rich in poetry, and needs to be played with the greatest sense of style." High style what it all hinges on.

#7 Mashinka

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 03:43 AM

Suite en Blanc was danced here in London to great acclaim a few months ago by ENB with the divine Glurjidze in the ballerina role and Yonah Acosta in the mazurka - really thrilling stuff, but I saw Lifar's Phaedre in Paris last autumn and apart from the dramatic opportunities for the ballerina it was pretty dire.

Regarding the occupation, it was a grey area all round. I've read a biography of Colette by Judith Thurman and she writes at length on the subject, though sadly Lifar isn't mentioned, but Colette wrote an anti Semitic novel at the time whilst desperately trying to save her Jewish husband from the Nazis. He was in fact arrested and interned at one point with only Colette's personal pleas to the French wife of the German ambassador gaining his release.

Jean Cocteau for example, attracted a large number of German admirers although the official Nazi line towards him was condemnation, as I said, a very grey area.

#8 kbarber

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 04:25 AM

Quiggin, all I can say is don't be deterred by Alastair Macaulay's trashing of Suite en Blanc during POB's latest visit to NY. My jaw literally dropped when I read his review; I couldn't believe he and I (and all the other people who were on their feet cheering in Chicago) had seen the same ballet. I was at the ballet with some very experienced ballet teachers and when I asked them if I had missed something that should have made me hate it like Macaulay, the word they used was "hogwash".

#9 Quiggin

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 10:05 AM

Regarding the occupation, it was a grey area all round.


I think it's pretty much black and white in many cases. It was a long war and people did waffle. However artists like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Samuel Beckett joined the Resistence - Cartier-Bresson escaping from German prisions twice.

With Lifar and his invitations to Goering and Hitler, it was much more than what he needed to do just keep the Opera Ballet going - which would have anyway been an attractive tourist destination for German soldiers. It was part naiviety but also Lifar's extreme vanity, which manifested itself rather dramatically on a 1938 tour when he challenged Leonide Massine to a duel in Central Park. Lifar was disgruntled that Massine wouldn't cut the solo part of a well-received dancer in Swan Lake. According to this October 1938 New York Times article with the long spooled title:

Lifar off to Paris; Threatens to sue / Reveals That He Challenged Massine, Head of Ballet, to Duel in Central Park / Charges He Was Miscast / He Denies He Was Jealous of the Success Achieved by Alicia Makova:

Mr. Hurok, the impresario, who has brought the Ballet Russe to America for several seasons, said the trouble between Serge Lifar and the direction of the ballet started at Drury Lane Theatre in London on July 12 over the performance of Giselle when the audience gave an ovation to Markova, as they were proud of her being English and the first ballerina of their nation since Taglioni appeared at Covent Garden in 1855.

“Lifar kept coming forward,” Mr. Hurok continued, “and trying to get the audience to applaud him, but they would not do it. The people wanted Markova alone. Finally two of the dancers held him back and the ballerina went to the footlights and the audience shouted themselves hoarse.”


Interestingly in Lifar's second duel, with Marquis de Cuevas in 1958 over changes made in Noir et Blanc, Jean Marie Le Pen was one of the seconds of the Marquis. It was fought out with swords and though Lifar lost and had been "pinked" with a scratch, he was happy enough and cried, “Blood has flowed! Honor is saved.”

Perhaps Neumeier missed the boat by building ballet around Nijinsky's life rather than Lifar's!

Quiggin, all I can say is don't be deterred by Alastair Macaulay's trashing of Suite en Blanc during POB's latest visit to NY.


I actually look forward to seeing it, thanks for the correction to Macaulay.

#10 Helene

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 11:14 AM

"mythomaniac" -- no kidding, as Newman's short interview with him in "Striking a Balance" shows.

#11 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 12:46 PM

Interestingly in Lifar's second duel, with Marquis de Cuevas in 1958 over changes made in Noir et Blanc, Jean Marie Le Pen was one of the seconds of the Marquis. It was fought out with swords and though Lifar lost and had been "pinked" with a scratch, he was happy enough and cried, “Blood has flowed! Honor is saved.”




#12 Paul Parish

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Posted 25 August 2012 - 07:41 PM

THis was officially a secret.... only 30 newsmen attended."

Thank you Christian. This was priceless.
And thanks, Quiggin, for that awful Bluebird. His musicality isn't bad, but his form is.... ouch. I thought at first it was just from hacving to see it en face,, from the wings -- but in fact from the front it was worse.

He was wonderful in Apollo, though, the snips I've seen.

And his partnering is very musical in the second half of this:


#13 Drew

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Posted 25 August 2012 - 09:52 PM

Balanchine was a defender of Lifar's dancing -- for example in Apollo -- and that is certainly good enough for me when it comes to Lifar's importance as a dancer especially at the most important time of his career. And I would love to see Suite en Blanc: critical descriptions and reports by fans, its lasting role in the French repertory, and even youtube excerpts suggest it is well worth seeing!

The Bluebird excerpt posted above is quite embarassing but it's a particular performance/rehearsal from a particular point in Lifar's career and also at a particular time in history. (What did Lifar's contemporaries look like in the role? I hope better, but perhaps not or not often, so...) However, I have always been a little skeptical one could judge musicality very well on youtube since I assume the sound and the image may not be perfectly coordinated. I guess one might get a hint.

I'm afraid, though, that I don't see much "grey area" (for example) in Lifar's more or less boasting of having been involved in an anti-Semitic organization during the Russian Revolution--even if he was making it up, which he may have been. I can feel human sympathy for the fears and pressures he experienced when called a "Jew" during the occupation and I can wonder how I myself would have behaved under similar pressures, but...

Regarding people who fought to protect a Jewish husband/wife, best friend, lover during WWII--that, in and of itself, does not prove much to me. To put it a bit brutally, antisemitism has never precluded having a 'favorite' Jew. A letter from Himmler recently turned up showing that Hitler [sic] intervened on behalf of his Jewish former commanding officer. And even if the issue is not someone's antisemitism, but public and private collaboration with an antisemitic regime in order to save a Jewish friend or lover, that's hardly unequivocally ethical behavior whether or not one finds it humanly understandable.

For obvious reasons, looking for prominent people with perfectly 'clean' hands in occupied Europe during WWII is not an altogether easy task. I have no particular animus against Lifar; I certainly don't think he is one of WWII's great villains. Not at all. And I myself do not believe one should judge his career as a choreographer or a dancer with an eye to these ethical/political questions. But one can still see the ethics/politics involved as pretty ugly.

#14 Marcmomus

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 08:21 AM

Domininique Delouche produced a film some years ago called "Serge Lifar: Musagete" available on the French Amazon site. It has subtitles in English. It consists of interviews with the likes of Yvette Chauvire, Nina Vyroubova, Jean Babilee and teaching sessions with them using POB etoiles like Legris, Guerin and Loudieres.There are short films of Lifar teaching and films of two dances: 'L'Adage' and 'Le Spectre de la Danse'.I was marginally better disposed towards Lifar after it. I still don't warm to his portentious style.

#15 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 09:16 AM

Babilee definitely goes at lenght about praising Lifar's beauty...




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