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Theme and Variations controversial staging, Havana/12.


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#1 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 04 December 2012 - 11:30 AM

I just came across this very interesting exchange of comments in a Cuban ballet site about the recent re staging of T&V done for Viengsay Valdes and Osiel Gounod for the gala offered to Igor Youskevitch during this past Havana Ballet Festival. I think you will like what it's been discussed here.


C.Peón

Posted November 19, 2012 at 1:54 a.m.


Cuban television just transmited the gala featured as a posthumous tribute to Igor Youskévictch on the 23 Ballet Festival of Havana. As I could not go to the theater, I was able to see it now . One of the choreographies presented was "Theme and Variations", created especially by the great George Balanchine for Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch, an extremely complex work from a technical, artistic and musical standpoint. It's well known known to lovers of dance the anecdotes of what happened during the preparation of this immortal piece, like the challenges thrown at the dancers by the choreographer, thinking they could not do with the steps required. Alicia and Igor, as it is known now, faced the challenges without much difficulty. For that reason, my question is...how is it possible that there were Viengsay Valdes and Osiel Gounod the artists chosen to dance such work on such occasion? In my humble opinion, both are the least suitable as interpreters of this arduous ballet. It is necessary and indispensable, if you remember rightly- (even knowing that it will be impossible to achieve perfection)- to have dancers who possess adequate academic training, even more in the case of the female variation. This is not to state that they were ineffective, but I think they are rather suitable for other choreographies for example, as interpreters of "Don Quixote" or "Coppélia". Again, the case of "Theme and Variations" was not a good choice.



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Carlos Ortega

Posted November 19, 2012 at 9:00 PM


I would like to explain to C. Peon that for this staging the original version of the ballet was carefully reconstructed by Alicia Alonso herself. "Themes and Variations" has been continuosly danced around the world, but from the its premiere to date and by decision of many companies and dancers who not dared to plunge the technical challenges put the master, the choreography has suffered severe changes and alterations in order to minimize the risks involved if danced in its original form.
Hence, Alicia decided on this occasion to stage the ballet with the same steps of its premiere night for which going to old preserved video materials was necessary.
One thing is the line and another is technique. Ballerina Viengsay Valdes does not has a "perfect line", which is often not necessary to dance certain ballets. Even further...many times those so-called "perfect lines" ballerinas lack the proper technique. In the case of this staging of T&V, this absence did not detract at all from her brilliant interpretation.
Valdes is considered today by ballet teachers, by Alicia herself, and by national and international ballet criticis a dancer with great confidence and technical mastery, so it was logical that she was chosen for such a task. Osiel Gounod is a living example of the ascending branch of our BNC male dancers.
Maybe many viewers ignored the technical challenges that this ballet had, and the way it had been continuosy-(and wrongly)- morphed into the bland academic posturing in which is oftenly presented today, so watching it live in the theater I had the opportunity to face for the first time since way back in the days, the daunting choreography and the daring final minutes collecting the super efforts made by interpreters to made honor to the original strong choreography in a decent way.
Any of our first dancers could had assumed such challenge, but it was a safety card to put Viengsay in there, as it was.



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C.Peón

Posted November 20, 2012 at 4:10 PM


It was never my intention to diminish Viengsay Valdes or Osiel Gounod, IMHO. I know they are excellent dancers certainly having demonstrated it in the past, but they were just not suitable for this ballet. I say this with great respect to both. Please do not feel attacked as it was not even remotely my purpose. Thank you!



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Carlos Ortega

Posted November 20, 2012 at 8:37 PM


Dear C. I didn't feel attacked at all. I'm from the old ballet days days when going to see a ballet performance was a gift from the gods, no matter who danced. Actually, your name name reminds me of a great soloist called Clotilde Peon. Many times I saw her dance. In those days we used to have great dance marathons of 12 showings of Swan Lake and the same with the rest of the classics.
The analysis that I make about choosing Viengsay and Osiel is a little deeper, and I do not rely on my personal taste and criteria, but rather on information that came to me via other viewers.
On more than one occasion when sketches were made of the future gala to Youskevitch it is said that Alicia mentioned that for this time all of the original choreography steps were to be put back in place in homage to his former dance partner and his centennial, Alonso stated that the ballet had been gradually undermined for the sake of easiness and that she felt it was her duty to 1-honor the fact of such piece having been dedicated to her by the maestro and 2-honor the challenges imposed by him to the dancers taking the roles.

#2 Helene

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Posted 04 December 2012 - 05:05 PM

Men leave for North America and Europe, and Alonso and the school keep producing more to take their places. I can imagine Gounod in that Youskevitch role.

#3 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 01:05 AM

Men leave for North America and Europe, and Alonso and the school keep producing more to take their places. I can imagine Gounod in that Youskevitch role.


That is why once I said that if the Cuban ballet company could have kept all the emigrees, both men and women-(the Carreno brothers, Acosta, Sarabia, the Feijoo sisters, Reyes, Boada, Almeida and many more)-it would then be the best company in the world.

On a different note, I hope someone will post a recording of that staging at one point on YT.

#4 Natalia

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 04:32 AM

Isn't Osiel Gounod the young dancer who wowed so many of us during last year's tour to the Kennedy Center? He danced COPPELIA PDD at that time + Espada and/or Gypsy Lead in DON Q. If it's the same fellow, then Osiel Gounod is most certainly capable of triumphing in T&V!!!

#5 California

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 05:05 AM

Can you give us a few examples of choreography that has been "simplified" from the original?

One passage that has become seriously degraded (although this is not really a change in the choreography) is the series of gargouillades in the female variation. Kirkland in 1978 showed what they could look like. But in performances I've seen at SFB and elsewhere, the woman barely leaves the ground and the step is unrecognizable.

Alonso is shown coaching T&V in a video made by the Balanchine Trust many years ago. It's not available for commercial distribution, but is in the collections of many research and university libraries. I saw it many years ago, but don't recall details of simplification or restoration of the choreography from that. Do others?

#6 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 06:49 AM

Can you give us a few examples of choreography that has been "simplified" from the original?

One passage that has become seriously degraded (although this is not really a change in the choreography) is the series of gargouillades in the female variation. Kirkland in 1978 showed what they could look like. But in performances I've seen at SFB and elsewhere, the woman barely leaves the ground and the step is unrecognizable.

Alonso is shown coaching T&V in a video made by the Balanchine Trust many years ago. It's not available for commercial distribution, but is in the collections of many research and university libraries. I saw it many years ago, but don't recall details of simplification or restoration of the choreography from that. Do others?


I can't really tell you much about in terms of specific steps, but from what I got in the last MCB staging, I noticed a general slowed down feeling to it, particularly in the female variation. I recall the ballet being somehow faster, sharper, edgier...with not too much ondulating port de bras as I saw here. The finale also suffered,in my personal view, a slowing down. I recall it as a rather crazy tableaux, with faster turns, and almost no time to realize what was going on. It could be the fact that I really got to get deep into its structure via video here in the US-(Kirkland/Misha)-and so what I had as memories somehow became a fast blur, but I honestly feel that the whole ballet is being danced slower anyhow.
About the gargouillades, they are always a challenge to the ballerina,and not only in this ballet. Let's take, for example, Ivanov Sugar Plum Fairy variation. Clips show the gargouillades clearly in the diagonal sequence as performed by Markova, whereas Danilova chooses to do simple pas de chats. Leslie Collier also do them, but I'm not sure Yoshida does...(gotta check the video, as I might be wrong...)

#7 Helene

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 09:35 AM

Gounod danced Basilio to Valdes' Kitri in one of the Vancouver, BC "Don Q" tour casts.

#8 Drew

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 01:50 AM

Can you give us a few examples of choreography that has been "simplified" from the original?

One passage that has become seriously degraded (although this is not really a change in the choreography) is the series of gargouillades in the female variation. Kirkland in 1978 showed what they could look like. But in performances I've seen at SFB and elsewhere, the woman barely leaves the ground and the step is unrecognizable.

Alonso is shown coaching T&V in a video made by the Balanchine Trust many years ago. It's not available for commercial distribution, but is in the collections of many research and university libraries. I saw it many years ago, but don't recall details of simplification or restoration of the choreography from that. Do others?


Even at ABT Kirkland danced the revised version done for her when Balanchine reset Theme and Variations as the final movement of Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. Gargouillades were added to that version--a case of the ballet being made (from a certain perspective) more difficult. I assume that Alonso stages the ballet as it was staged for her and I believe that at ABT the dancers also dance the Alonso/ABT version though Kirkland did not do so.

Whether that version has been simplified or not at ABT over the years I couldn't say; I always found Theme and Variations one of their better efforts--certainly my favorite ABT Balanchine and presumably not a coincidence the ballet was created for ABT, since the company had people who knew how to keep it alive. However, I haven't seen it done there since Gillian Murphy made her debut as the ballerina which I'm guessing must be well over 10 years ago. And I also don't know what version the Balanchine trust 'authorizes' or what version San Francisco dances.

#9 Quiggin

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 02:59 PM

From what I remember of the Theme & Variations tutorial video – with Alicia Alonso as coach, Angel Corella and Paloma Herrera as pupils and significant input from Josefina Mendez – Alonso doesn't as much emphasize speed as differences in tone, in particular between bravado, for-the-audience parts and quiet and private moments ("like a bird splashing through water, Paloma"). Maintaining these contrasts would seem to be important to bring off the ballet. Anyway it's a great video, with nice anecdotes by Alonso, and I think it would be a great resource for anyone who is going to coach or perform in the ballet.

I don't think I've seen gargouillades done in San Francisco, or at least memorably, except by Tina LeBlanc in Square Dance. They must be hellishly difficult. Regarding the Sugar Plum Fairy diagonal that Cristian refers to, my 1953 Dictionary of Ballet Terms, which acknowledges help from Fonteyn, Danilova et al, notes that –

At the beginning of the last diagonal of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the dancer should perform a pas de chat with gargouillade and détourné, which she repeats three times, then a posé into arabesque and a pas de bourrée. This whole sequence is performed three times. Many dancers perform simple pas de chat without gargouillade.


And here's an interesting note on the origins of Theme and Variations from Alex C. Ewing in Bravura: Lucia Chase & American Ballet Theatre

In the case of Theme and Variations it was Max Goberman, Ballet Theatre's music director, who suggested combining the final movement of Tchaikovsky Suite 3 with Balanchine as choreographer to give Ballet Theatre a classical ballet that would particularly show off the dancing skills of Igor Youskevitch.


Balanchine completed the first movement in seven hours, just before the company left on tour. He did not dedicate it to Alicia Alonso with whom, according to Duberman, he was cross and who he characterized as a "mythical ballerina." It was however, thanks to the combination of choreography and Alonso's and Youkevitch's technical and interpretive skills, a brilliant success. According to Kirstein it was Balanchine's great breakthrough after fifteen years in the United States wandering from job to job.

#10 Helene

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 03:49 PM

I suspect the majority of dance professionals woud have been grateful to wander between well-paying gigs on Broadway and Hollywood at the tail end of the Great Depression and through the 1937 recession, the lead up to WW II, and most of the duration of the War. Some of them would not have been living and spending in the moment and might have been able to save enough to susidze their own non-commercial works, like Twya Tharp has done recently.

#11 California

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 04:00 PM

I suspect the majority of dance professionals woud have been grateful to wander between well-paying gigs on Broadway and Hollywood at the tail end of the Great Depression and through the 1937 recession, the lead up to WW II, and most of the duration of the War. Some of them would not have been living and spending in the moment and might have been able to save enough to susidze their own non-commercial works, like Twya Tharp has done recently.


I understand that Balanchine used one of his biggest Hollywood checks to commission the score to Four Temperaments by Hindemith. But yes, he was fortunate to be working steadily through the '30s.

#12 carbro

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 04:58 PM

Even at ABT Kirkland danced the revised version done for her when Balanchine reset Theme and Variations as the final movement of Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. Gargouillades were added to that version--a case of the ballet being made (from a certain perspective) more difficult.

At around that time, my friends were complaining about the changes in ABT's Theme. I'd never seen ABT's Theme before the Kirkland era. But now they do the same version as NYCB.

And I also don't know what version the Balanchine trust 'authorizes' or what version San Francisco dances.

If The Trust has a consistent policy, it would be the last version, even if the last version contains changes made specifically for a particular dancer. I am glad that I remember, for example, in the Embraceable You pas from Who Cares?, the pre-Watts flat-footed promenade. Unfortunately, I don't have reference points of an earlier version of Theme.

#13 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 09 December 2012 - 07:15 PM

It would be interesting then to see this staging done for Valdes in film. It is well known that the "mythical ballerina" has never followed the Trust' policies. A pre-Kirkland T&V showing sounds like a gem. I think I read somewhere that Mr. B wanted to give the role originally to Mary Ellen Moylan.

#14 Quiggin

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 07:11 PM

I think I read somewhere that Mr. B wanted to give the role originally to Mary Ellen Moylan.


Yes, I found it in I Remember Balanchine. Mary Ann Ellen Moylan –

Around this time Balanchine and Oliver Smith asked me to lunch at the Stork Club. They told me they wanted me to come to Ballet Theatre where Balanchine would make a new ballet, Theme and Variations, for me and Igor Yousekevitch. The music was Tchaikovsky. I thought for a minute and said no. I had an opportunity to go back to Ballet Russe and dance all the big old roles and I preferred that. Balanchine was astonished, I think.


Youskevitch in the same anthology talks about the arguments he and Balanchine would have over the interpretation, whether it would be romantic, as Youskevitch was pressing for, or "abstract," as he says Balanchine wanted.

#15 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 08:30 PM


I think I read somewhere that Mr. B wanted to give the role originally to Mary Ellen Moylan.


Yes, I found it in I Remember Balanchine. Mary Ann Moylan –


Isn't her name Mary Ellen, Quiggin....?

Anyway, here are the three excerpts I translated for an older T&V thread. It is about Alonso reminiscing on its staging.

[size=4]Mme.Alonso on "Theme and Variations"-(I)

[font=Comic Sans MS]"In 'Theme and Variations" Balanchine kept testing me all the time, establishing a kind of fight in between my technical strength and his choreography. So he would ask me, for instance:
G.B-'Miss Alonso...do you think you could do entrechat-sixes here...?'
A.A-'I'll do them..'
...and then he would say...
G.B-'So, could you now do pas de chat en tournant..?'
A.A-'If you want me to, of course I'll do them..'
...and like that, on and on he would keep torturing me , adding new steps, new difficulties, just to see if I would say 'No, I can't ' at one point, but... I never gave up! That's why the version of 'Theme and Variations' that was presented in the premiere was technically and musically very, very complicated. When other ballerinas danced the role later on-(some of them friends of mine like Maria Tallchief, who was Balanchine's wife)-they would tell me 'But Alicia, how did you let him put this or that in the choreography...?!; Now we are all in trouble!', I would just answer: 'Well, what could I do...?; It was your husband who put it there, Maria!...
Another thing that I can't forget is that with 'Theme and Variations' Balanchine made his debut as a conductor, and besides the historical importance of it I will always remember it because the tempo he chose was MADLY FAST. We all ended up breathless!" [/font][/size]

[size=4][font=Comic Sans MS][font="Arial"][size=4]Alicia Alonso on "Theme and Variations".(II)[/size][/font]

[size=4][font="Arial"]Youskevitch's variation:[/font]

[font=Comic Sans MS]"The variation that Balanchine made for Youskevitch, so celebrated by the critics, had its evolution during the early staging phase of the work. Initially, I remember that Balanchine created a variation very par terre and technically simple, based on positions and designs on different angles of Youskevitch body line. Then he overheard that Youskevitch wasn't particularly pleased with it, because he considered that it had few technical complexities. Balanchine accepted the challenge and said:

G.B: 'All right, we will do a variation based on three different choreographic themes', and it resulted in what probably is the variation with the highest technical virtuosity among all those that he created for his men[/font][font="Arial"]"[/font][/size][/font][/size]

[size=4][font=Comic Sans MS]Alicia Alonso on "Theme and Variations" (III)

"In 'Theme and Variations' Igor and I developed a hard and passionate work, achieving our own particular concept of the PDD, essentially with a distinctive expressive feeling. We wanted to be like a dialogue, very warm and personal and way far away from the form being established by Balanchine. That's why we couldn't avoid , on the execution of the new choreography, interpreting it in our own personal way, as much as what the enormous technical demand would allow to. We decided that we were to give a sense of dancing to the melody, to express a sensibility, to follow a theme, to achieve a humanization, or in other words, to make a duo between a man and a woman. As it was expected, Balanchine noticed the shift right away, but for some reason, he didn't criticized us; he kept staring at what we did in silence...and he respected it. At the end of the first rehearsal he just told us:

G.B-'It is not exactly what I'm asking for...but I like it..." [/font][/size]

[font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif] [/font]
[font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][size=4]This is the thread in question.[/size][/font]


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