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Wheat or corn?


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#1 cargill

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Posted 16 May 2001 - 12:46 PM

I was skimming through some things on Coppelia last night, and there seems to be some confusion as to which plant Swanhilda uses to test Frantz. Beaumont says corn, and another encyclopedia says wheat. As I recall, the plot summaries from NYCB and ABT differ, but I forget which says wheat and which says corn.

I always like that moment, because it reinforces the old idea that nature can tell us things, like the daisy in Giselle. But it seems that wheat is the more likely plant for Austo-Hungarian peasants to trust, since it was so important. Whenever I read that it is corn Swanhilda uses, I just have visions of Oklahoma. The corn fields of Hungary sounds wrong, somehow.

#2 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 16 May 2001 - 01:15 PM

I think this may be an example of the "two great coutries separated by a common language" phenomenon: although in the US the term "corn" is generally used to refer to the grain also known as "maize" or "Indian corn," elsewhere in the Engish-speaking world (with the possible exception of Australia) it's used to refer to ceareal crops generally, such as wheat or oats.

Kathleen O'Connell

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 16 May 2001 - 01:58 PM

Good question (it was #8, but that's ok :) )

I think Kathleen's explanation is right. But one still reads "ear of wheat," which confuses things further. (An "ear of corn" which, if shaken, would rattle, might be cause for concern.)

I also think Mary's point, that the ear of whatsit is a deliberate reference to nature -- peasants trust nature, we read newspaper horoscopes.

#4 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 16 May 2001 - 02:52 PM

The term "ear" is also used for cereal grains generally -- per Websters, "ear" = "the fruiting spike of a cereal ... including both the seeds and protective structures."

"fruiting spike" -- now there's a term to throw around at your next cocktail party!

I think I have now reached the absolute limit of my store of knowlege on things botannical ...

#5 Drew

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 08:44 PM

Cargill -- I don't know if you meant to imply this, but I've sometimes wondered if St. Leon didn't even intend the sheaf of wheat to be a distant echo of Giselle's daisy. Coppelia often seems like a comic replay of romantic ballet themes...

#6 felursus

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Posted 21 May 2001 - 09:51 PM

I never thought of it that way before, Drew, but it's a very good point. Actually there are a number of corresponding points (I didn't want to say "similarities") between the two ballets - perhaps intentional contrast. Giselle falls apart when she finds out that Albrecht isn't what she thought he was. Swanhilda is suspicious and goes to investigate. I THINK that if Coppelia had been a real girl, Swanhilda would have thought of a way to get even. Instead, she rescues Franz from his folly. If you think about superstitious, Hungarian peasants, she was a very brave girl indeed.

#7 cargill

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Posted 22 May 2001 - 11:24 AM

Drew, No I wasn't implying that it was a conscious imitation, I hadn't thought about that! It was more that was a similarity in both ballets, in that there are superstitions about the power of nature to tell the future. That scene seems to help locate the ballet in a specific time and group of people, and make Coppelia seem a little more solid--not that comedies have to have sociological content!

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 June 2001 - 06:44 AM

Back to the corn/maize item a bit, with contemporary illustration:

The French have for years been convulsed over the American taste for maize eaten straight off the cob. At Cannes, during the film festival, they boil up pots and pots of them, laughing up their sleeves all the time, as maize in France is traditionally thought of only as fit for fodder for pigs! :)

#9 MeGaNDaNcEr198521

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 07:08 AM

[font="Comic Sans Ms"]Personally, I think that it is wheat and not corn. When I was in the production it was wheat and that it what it will always be to me. I think that when different companies do the same production they are looking for a way to make the ballet their own. In order to distingish themselves from other companies. I also found this description of the ballet and it describes it as "Listen to the wheat" .

Coppélia - Synopsis of the Ballet

Suddenly a disturbance in his house propels a startled Dr. Coppélius into the village square! Not wishing to join the villagers, he returns to his house. The Burgomeister suggests that Swanilda "listen to the wheat:" if she hears anything when she shakes it, then Franz is her true love.

The Ballet Met

However I also found this synopsis from the ABT website:

The Burgomaster enters to announce that at a celebration the following day the Lord of the Manor will present dowries to all couples who wish to marry. Asked if she will marry Franz, the pouting Swanilda puts a sheaf of corn to her ear. Thus, according to old custom, the corn will tell her if her lover is faithful or not.

ABT

I also found this from the Ballet of San Jose Silicon Valley:

The priest, Father Jedermann, who arrives to bless the wheat harvest, tells the legend of the stalk of wheat, which when shaken will tell who is to be married. Only Swanilda hears the prediction of the wheat, but since she is still angry with Franz, she pretends to hear nothing. Franz listens and hears the wheat's message.

San Jose Ballet

I also found this:

Instead she will hold up an ear of wheat to her ear and if it rattles when she shakes it, then she will know that he loves her. When she does this however, it does not rattle. When Franz does the same thing he tells her it does rattle. She does not believe him and runs away heartbroken.

Classical Ballet Synopsis

As well as this:
He suggests the old custom of shaking a stalk of wheat to hear the special sound that will tell her that Franz still loves her. Everyone gathers around, but to their surprise, Swanilda hears nothing. Franz, of course, just laughs it off.

Cinemavii

From the results that I have found it seems that the general idea is that it is wheat and not corn that Coppelia uses.[/font]

#10 sz

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Posted 15 November 2006 - 01:09 PM

Danilova taught us (at SAB / NYCB) that it is wheat.

#11 rg

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Posted 16 November 2006 - 09:45 AM

having done NO specific research per se, i'm going to guess that perhaps petipa chose a stalk of wheat over an ear of corn becasue it was more elegant and wieldy.
i believe the 'original' intention(s) involved an ear of corn, but (i seem to recall that's what ivor guest's study on coppelia indicates, ditto a few historical essays on delibes' score) somewhere along the way the stalk of wheat became much more workable as a ballet prop, etc.
as noted, however, none of this comes from careful research.
certainly i've not seen any use of ears of corn in my time seeing the ballet - since the early 1970s.

#12 chiapuris

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Posted 16 November 2006 - 10:25 AM

One linguistic explanation (from my dictionary):

The use of the word CORN for any of various cereal plants or grains, such as wheat in England, or oats in Scotland.

#13 volcanohunter

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Posted 16 November 2006 - 11:18 AM

I think this may be an example of the "two great coutries separated by a common language" phenomenon: although in the US the term "corn" is generally used to refer to the grain also known as "maize" or "Indian corn," elsewhere in the Engish-speaking world (with the possible exception of Australia) it's used to refer to ceareal crops generally, such as wheat or oats.

I think Kathleen is exactly right. When Americans talks about "wheat" and Britons talk about "corn" they're actually referring to the same thing. Folk traditions tend to be very old, so it's unlikely that a ritual such as shaking the stalk would have incorporated a plant that had been introduced to the European continent just a few centuries earlier. However, if any choreographer got it into his or her head to reset the ballet in, say, Mexico, then it's conceivable that the heroine might even use an ear of maize instead :blink:

#14 rg

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Posted 16 November 2006 - 12:08 PM

i'm convinced that this is all the result of linguistic confusion.
it would seem swanilda's prop was always meant to be a stalk of wheat and 'corn' only came into the mix as a result of mis-translation into english of one growing thing for another.

#15 carbro

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Posted 16 November 2006 - 12:16 PM

I was schooled in the Wheat school, but when I think of the softness of cornsilk, I actually like the notion of it, rather than the stiffer wheat stalks, telling the truth.

Not to be contrary or anything. :blink:


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