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Alexandra

Great Swanhildas of the past

21 posts in this topic

Alexandra Danilova, Margot Lander, Inge Sand, Margot Fonteyn, Svetlana Beriosova. None of these have I seen, but I've read about them. Fonteyn and Beriosova wouldn't seem to be ideal Swanhildas, but they danced the roles quite young, I believe, and I have friends who saw them and admired them greatly. Danilova was THE great "American" Swanhilda.

Any others? Who are the great Russian and French Swanhildas? AntoP, does Coppelia still exist in Italy? Any great 20th century Italians?

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For me, Patricia MacBride will always own Swanhilda. It's very hard for me to imagine a more perfect dancer for the role.

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Miyako Yoshida of the Royal Ballet is as good a Swanhilda as I've ever seen. She is a natural comedienne in addition to being spot-on, technically. I'm sure that she'll bring these qualities to another great comic role - Lise in FILLE MAL GARDEE (next month at Kenn. Center).

A long time ago (20+ years), I saw a film of Lis Jeppesen's Swanhilda in the Danish version. Jeppesen imbued the role with a natural girlish 'charm' that was very special. Sure -- the technique was fine but that wasn't the point. She was Cute in the best sense of the word.

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Just a note -- we'll get to dancers of today eventually, but please keep this thread to Swanhildas of THE PAST. McBride and Jeppesen are rather recent past, but they are no longer dancing the role, so that's okay. But please, no one still dancing the role, until we've gone through the history and choreography parts. :)

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I don't suppose there is anyone around who has seen her, but from reports and pictures Adeline Genee seems to have been adorableas Swanhilda. I don't know whose choreography she danced, but I would have loved to have seen her at the Empire!

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I'd have to check some references (I attended a performance of "Coppelia" by the POB school a few weeks ago and the program notes are very informative) but one name which seems to be associated with Swanilda (French spelling, without "h") is that of Solange Schwarz (1910-2000). It was said to be her favorite role, she chose it for her farewell performance in 1957, and she even called one of her daughters Swanilda!

I also remember reading about Carlotta Zambelli (1877-1968) in that role, and Lycette Darsonval (1912-1996).

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All the high praise for Danilova's Swanilda is not in the least over-stated. Her 2nd act toyshop scene was pure delight. I loved her nonchalance towards Coppelius when he was trying desperately to please her; and then teasing him unmercifully as she broke into a Scottish or Spanish dance. Of course, she was also fortunate to have Frederic Franklin as her Franz. Over the years I have avoided most Coppelias--but I regret not seeing McBride--I think she could have competed favorably with my remembrance of Danilova.

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I'm going to mention Ann Jenner of the Royal Ballet. She was a wonderful comedic actress and shone in works such as Coppelia and La Fille. She was also a very fine dancer. I used to love the expression on her face when she, while pretending to be the yet-immobile doll, would peer at Coppelius while he was busy consulting his book of spells.

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I do agree about Ann Jenner. She was superb in everything I ever saw her in, and a great favourite with audiences. Nobody ever expressed joie de vivre better. I have always felt she deserved to be much more famous than she was.

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I saw Fracci when I was a little girl and remember loving her in it -- especially the Act II, in which (as I remember) she utterly transformed herself from dance to dance. I don't know if this would be my "grown up" opinion...and this is not one of the roles that people typically mention when they mention Fracci...but my memories of Act II are still sort of alive, so I'll stand by it!

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For me,the best Coppelia was Alicia Alonso.She had a wry sense of humor that fitted the role well and was very in keeping with the style of the ballet.I only saw her on video.I think that both Lesley Collier and Yekaterina Maximova should have been given the chance to interpret this ballet.Their styles were perfectly suited to this role:short,soubrettes,and with a comic flair.It is a pity they never danced it.

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I'm joining this chorus rather late, but I wanted to say...yes, yes, yes: Mcbride was truly a sensational Swanilda. Probably the best I've seen. It doesn't hurt, of course, that she danced the production I love best!

I've been restraining myself, too, from the utter predictability of mentioning Gelsey Kirkland, but will restrain myself no longer! I saw her dance this twice, at two very different times in her career, and loved both performances. The first was during her very first week of performances with Baryshnikov at the Kennedy Center (Fall '74?). I saw a Friday night Coppelia, the second one they danced together. I am being that specific because it just seemed like one of those nights when everything on stage comes together perfectly. (Clive Barnes reviewed this performance and he said exactly that.) Even the rest of the company seemed, during the ballet, to be watching Baryshnikov and Kirkland with a kind of giddy pleasure. And the two of them were absolutely sparking off each other. Kirkland -- not in my memory a consistently great balancer -- stayed on pointe in arabesque seemingly forever in the Act III pas de deux, while Baryshnikov watched her with a kind of gleam in his eye. It was fabulous. And, I guess I should add, since we're supposed to be reflecting on the ballet Coppelia, that it perfectly embodied and even enhanced the gaiety and joy of the ballet. They were having so much fun. Years later I saw Kirkland dance the ballet with Charles Ward. As I recall this performance it had more pathos and delicacy, though less dazzle, than the earlier one -- this was an older and more waif-like Kirkland albeit at a time when her technique was completely and happily intact. Ward was very tall, handsome, fair, and boyish and I thought he partnered her quite well. They had two especially beautiful overhead lifts in (I think) Act III, where he lifted her way high over his head, holding her about the waist with her leg in retire, and as he let her down, the closer she came to the ground the more slowly he moved her through the air, so she just seemed to drift like a feather to the ground -- utterly weightless. I know Swanilda is not "about" overhead lifts and weightlessness, but it was beautiful -- and I do remember finding her a terrific Swanilda all round, her Act II (a bit like Fracci's) very effective in its shifting character tones...

[ 05-26-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

[ 05-28-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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Regarding the role of Swanilda - I was piano soloist with the NYCB when Mme. Danilova staged her role for Pat McBride - and played for many of those rehearsals. Also I played again for Danilova in Geneva when she again staged much of the ballet and taught her role for that company (Balanchine was Artistic Director, and Patricia Neary was Director.) Danilova was a joy to watch - she could dance much of the choreography - and was most explicit when teaching the various 'acting sequences' - such energy. I also thought Pattricia McBride was a wonderful Swanilda as was Gelsey Kirkland who also danced the role at NYCB.

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Welcome to the board, DDianne--it is so interesting to hear these things. A great many of us are very interested in ballet history--and recent history, while bringing us up short to realize that what WE remember is now "history," is no less valuable than that which is 100 years old. Please feel free to share thoughts, opinions, and reminiscences--

[ 05-27-2001: Message edited by: Juliet ]

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I'd also like to welcome you to the board, DDianne. I've had an opportunity to hear you play (for Balanchine Foundation coaching sessions of Agonwith Melissa Hayden) so it's a treat to have you share your thoughts and recollections as well.

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Reviving this old thread as I'm trying to "connect" with COppelia in preparatioon for the MCB upcoming performances.

I think Lydia Lopokhova was considered a great Swannilda, and I believe reading in her biography that that was the last role she ever performed...

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Can't thank you enough, cristian, for reviving this thread. There are so many discussions from Ballet Talk's early days that should be revived so that members who are relatively new to the Board can have a say.

I LOVE pndbc's post, which combines Danilova (a great Swanhilda by all reports) and McBride (ditto).

Regarding the role of Swanilda - I was piano soloist with the NYCB when Mme. Danilova staged her role for Pat McBride - and played for many of those rehearsals. Also I played again for Danilova in Geneva when she again staged much of the ballet and taught her role for that company (Balanchine was Artistic Director, and Patricia Neary was Director.) Danilova was a joy to watch - she could dance much of the choreography - and was most explicit when teaching the various 'acting sequences' - such energy. I also thought Patricia McBride was a wonderful Swanilda as was Gelsey Kirkland who also danced the role at NYCB.

I remember McBride in that first season of performances. I'm not generally a fan of soubrette ballet, especially the attempts at humor, but McBride was a delight -- a real natural in this kind of role, both as an actress and as a dancer.

I wish I had seen the young Fonteyn as well. Like McBride, she had the ability to make charm, innocence, and an irrepressible sense of fun seem like spontaneous aspects of her own personality, not attitudes learned in front of a mirror.

pndbc's reference to Kirkland is intriguing. I assume this refers to the ABT version. Did anyone see her dance this part, especially when partnered by Baryshnikov?.

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pnbc's reference to Kirkland is intriguing. Did anyone see her dance this part, especially when partnered by Baryshnikov?.

Would love to know about it too..! And btw...what happened to that fragment of Kirkland in the PDD with Misha that used to be on Youtube...? She was MAGNIFICENT on it!! (I suspect she would have been MY ballerina would I had had the pleasure to watch her live.. happy.png ) Her sautees on pointe at the end of the variation, as well as her balances were beautiful there...

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Just came across Robert Garis' reminiscences of Patricia McBride's Swanilda (1974).

Everything about this Coppelia seemed to me new, fresh, and clear ... But above all shone McBride's performance. .....t was not her individuality but her lucid and vivid normalcy that made her the right vehicle for what Balanchine was exploring in Coppelia -- the relation between mechanical movement and natural movement; the discipline of classic ballet; the relation between dancer and choreographer.

[ ... ]

"[W]hen McBride, as the flesh-and-blood Swanilda pretending to be the doll Coppelia, pretended to come to life to an oboe melody that resembled a Bellini aria, .... [she] gave herself to this movement with with simple sufficiency, entirely without irony, so that when irony arose, as it poignantly did, it came from the action itself, as we saw (though Dr. Coppelius did not) that the life he thought he had created came not from his art but from the everyday life of a village girl who was jealous of her lover's infatuation with the doll the doctor had assembled. [ ... ] A minute later I was shaken by the violent Spanish dance into which McBride erupted when Dr. Coppelius tried to distract her energy -- she had been winding up all the dolls -- with a Spanish shawl, then ravished by the Scottish dance inspired by the plaid scarf he finds for her next. I remember recalling seeing McBride look down at her dancing feet, and thinking "Danilova showed her how to do that"-- as I confirmed later when I saw Danilova teaching the dance at the School of American Ballet.

Then I found my way to Arlene Croce, writing about a Royal Danish Ballet performance in 1966. The Swanhilda was Solveig Ostergaard ("the company's most outstandingly gifted demi-caractere ballerina").

Ostergaard is magnificent -- not heartless as Swanildas generally are, but with a child's ardent heart for destruction. Swanilda's rightness, her invincibility, is in Ostergaard's bold, floating, high-chested jumps, the most beautiful jump any woman in ballet has, next to Kolpakova. But when she did her doll dance, all mad yellow curls and quivering, contorted wooden limbs, I though of Chaplin's dance with the balloon in The Great Dictator,

Ostergaard, until I read this, was just a name to me. No one has mentioned her yet on this thread. Was anyone able to see her Swanilda? Was Croce right about her?

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pndbc's reference to Kirkland is intriguing. I assume this refers to the ABT version. Did anyone see her dance this part, especially when partnered by Baryshnikov?.

Yup...back a few posts in this thread--from when it was originally started in 2001--I describe bits from two quite different Kirkland (ABT) Swanildas I saw including one w. Baryshnikov...I won't repeat what I wrote--the memories were closer in 2001 anyway. But I will say she was wonderful both times.

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Great Swanhildas I should have liked to have seen? Genee is definitely at the top of my list, followed by Lopokhova, Nerina,Beriosova and Jenner. Not necessarily a great Swanhilda but an intriguing one De Valois who took over from Lopokhova. As to the impact that Genee had on her audiences according to Ivor Guest there were people in the audience at the Vic Wells initial performance of Coppelia whose response to Mrs Keynes was that she was not a patch on Genee.Clearly her 1906 Coppelia had left a strong impression on those who saw her. Someone asked whose choreography she danced, well, according to Guest, it was devised by her uncle, a dancer, who adopted her when she was a child.

Great Swanhildas I have seen. I think the best was Brenda Last a dancer who lit up the stage with her first entrance in every ballet she danced and had a technique that was so quick and clean She was also a great Lise and danced that role more times than anyone including Nerina.I also loved Barbieri and Hatley in the role. It was in SWRB repertory for years but not danced at Covent Garden,for some reason, which is why we never saw Collier as Swanhilda.As far as recordings are concerned ICA Classics have issued a DVD of a number of ballets in which Nerina appears. One is a heavily cut two act Coppelia with Nerina as Swanhilda and Helpmann as Coppelius. The cuts make you wish that it included act 3 as the dancing is so full of life.

Here is a story about the RBS Covent Garden matinee that you might enjoy.In 1976 the ballet was Coppelia Susan Lucas was Swanhilda and David Bintley was Coppelius,at nineteen he was one of the best I have ever seen. The performance was great fun but one of the critics chose to point out that Lucas had wobbled a bit when she performed the section with the mirror. Nerina wrote a letter which was published in which she suggested that the critic concerned did not know what he was talking about. As I recall she said that if anyone knew what was, and was not, easy to dance it was her rather than the critic and that far from being easy to dance it was very difficult to perform that section really well and she had not noticed the defects that the critic claimed to have observed.

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