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How viable is the ROMANTIC/CLASSICAL distinction today?-- and how do weuse or misuse it?


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#1 bart

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 05:03 PM

On another thread, sandik responded as follows to a post by cubanmiamiboy --

[R]epertories have shifted and the Romantic works (both originals and their descendents) are performed far less often than in the past. Although my local company did add Giselle to their rep a couple years ago (they've done Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty for several years now) it has been ages since I've seen Les Sylphides performed by a fully-professional company, either in a home season or on tour. I think there are a multitude of reasons for this, not the least of them the development of neoclassical ballet.

You may want this to spin out to a separate thread, but I'll ask here since I'm already here -- is the distinction between classical and romantic ballet a viable one today (not just as a divider between chunks of the historical rep)? Do people think of Giselle differently than they do the Petipa classics (never mind that most of the material we know of Giselle was restaged and revamped by Petipa...) or do they just think of it all as generically old?

Sandik's question -- "Is the distinction between classical and romantic ballet a viable one today" -- made me sit up and actually think. I'd add a related question: How do we use -- or possibly misuse -- these terms ourselves?

Many Ballet Alertniks will know the historical categories "romantic" and "classical" as they apply to ballet and can probably locate them on a time line.. We can most likely think of a "look" associated with each category, as well as at least a few characteristic steps and gestures. We can probably list some major works in each category.

I have to confess -- and this is a purely personal response -- I tend to think of romantic as a stage in the development of classical -- almost like one of those species that evolve but never quite make it, eventually petering out while leaving beyond a small surviving rep, a "look," a "feel," some gestures and steps, and a lot of history. In other words, I tend to identify and think of "romantic ballet" mostly in terms of the ways in which it deviates from --- or leads up to -- "classical ballet." My favorite romantic ballets tend to be those already showing qualities which later would be central to the "classical" tradition. (Robert Greskovic, for example, describes Giselle as an example of "Mature Romanticism," Bayadere as "Romantic Turning Classical," and Swan Lake as "Romantic Classical")

Another way I use the term, when talking to myself, is to categorize individual dancers by placing them on a kind of imaginary spectrum ranging from "romantic" to "classical." For example, Ulanova as a "romantic" classical dancer and Plisetskaya definitely not.

#2 Birdsall

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 05:48 PM

As I'm sure you know, Romanticism is one of the most important periods in Literature, music, etc. in my own personal opinion, and I think Giselle definitely has thematic and musical similarities to the opera La Sonnambula, for example, as well as Romantic literature. In fact, years ago before I was even into ballet I saw Giselle for the first time and thought, "I can tell this is from the Romantic period. It is so dainty like La Sonnambula but with a darkness concerning nature....." I think it definitely has a very different atmosphere than most of the classical ballets.

I'm sure you are speaking strictly in terms of ballet, and ballet does seem to be a different ball of wax due to the fact that choreography isn't easily preserved but it pains me to hear Romanticism described as a stage that did not evolve or survive! LOL That pains me!!!! LOL It is one of the greatest eras of art that happened to Western Civilization, in my opinion!!!! Posted Image

#3 sandik

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 06:00 PM

I'm sure you are speaking strictly in terms of ballet, and ballet does seem to be a different ball of wax due to the fact that choreography isn't easily preserved but it pains me to hear Romanticism described as a stage that did not evolve or survive! LOL That pains me!!!! LOL It is one of the greatest eras of art that happened to Western Civilization, in my opinion!!!! Posted Image


I have to smile at this -- when I taught dance history, every era we covered was my favorite at the time!

Thanks to bart for shifting this over, and bringing up some juicy thoughts. I've got to sort through some R&J notes, but will be back on this soon!

#4 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 10 February 2013 - 08:03 PM

Oh my, on my...the Romantic ballet and its sylphs, Willis and spirits of the forest ...the moonlight and the crosses...the red lips, the white ethereal skirts and lilies, the 3 meters floating, mauve cloaks and the smoking machine...darn, I'M IN BUSINESS NOW!! Posted Image

#5 ballet_n00b

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 06:57 PM

So if I understand correctly, in ballet romanticism preceded classicism?
This is surprising to me as in music it is the other way round.
It's also funny because musically all the ballets mentioned are comfortably within the romantic period/style.
Being relatively inexperienced when it comes to ballet, I never picked up on a difference in style.

#6 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 07:50 PM

On another thread, sandik responded as follows to a post by cubanmiamiboy --

Do people think of Giselle differently than they do the Petipa classics (never mind that most of the material we know of Giselle was restaged and revamped by Petipa...)


Yes. Maybe I can't see past those long Romantic tutus and those low Romantic buns, but Act II strikes my eye in a different way than a Petitpa white act does. But the Romantic ballet that feels really different to me is Bournonville's "La Sylphide." Only the Sylph and her sisters dance on pointe, and the pointe work thus has a real theatrical purpose: you know James is communing with something otherworldly for real. Flesh-and-blood Effie and her companions dance up a storm -- but in character shoes, and it matters. By the time we get to Petipa, pointe work has lost that flavor of specialness.

#7 Quiggin

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 08:48 PM

So if I understand correctly, in ballet romanticism preceded classicism?
This is surprising to me as in music it is the other way round ...


I sort of think of the period from 1650 to the early 19th century in ballet as Classical and after that as generally Romantic. The Modernist period, a kind of clean-up exercise, follows with the ballets of Diaghilev, Picasso and Satie. But it's much more complicated than that.

Le Corsaire is based on a poem by Lord Byron, so it's genuinely Romantic.

Coppelia and Nutcracker are based on dark ETA Hoffmann stories (Dr Coppelius, a Fritz Lang Dr Mabuse character, appears in both of the originals) and are in the German romantic tradition. But Coppelia – like Don Quixote – is a comedy, with blessings and fertility scenes at the end.

Sleeping Beauty could be in the tradition of a Shakespearean Romance, like Pericles or Winter's Tale, which restore something – family or kingdom – that was almost tragically lost.

Swan Lake and Giselle pivot on wrong choices by the lead guy – are they Romantic?

La Bayadere is Romantic, although it does contains a classical scene, like an encapsulated Erechtheum, in the middle act.

And somehow I never think of La Sylphide as being tragic. James makes a mistake but it's a kind of nutty one and it only affects him. Light Romantic?

#8 Birdsall

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 08:58 PM

So if I understand correctly, in ballet romanticism preceded classicism?
This is surprising to me as in music it is the other way round.
It's also funny because musically all the ballets mentioned are comfortably within the romantic period/style.
Being relatively inexperienced when it comes to ballet, I never picked up on a difference in style.


Yes, kind of weird, b/c we do tend to think of classicism as being in line with the Enlightenment in Literature and Music and then Romanticism was a reaction to that. It was anti-rationalism and put mystery and emotions and passion as the important thing, not the brain........this is all general and not saying anything everyone doesn't already know. But you can also use classical to mean antiquity......

But I had the same reaction as you did......the ballet terms do not quite fit with the periods in Literature or Music as strange as that seems. But Giselle and La Sylphide do seem very romantic containing the same style as Romantic literature, in my personal opinion. It is mainly the term "Classical Ballet" that confuses everything, b/c to most students of any of the other arts they would assume classical comes before Romanticism......Maybe it should be called Post-Romantic! LOL

#9 sandik

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 11:43 PM

You're right -- the standard assumption in the development of the arts in general is that romanticism is an outgrown and a reaction to classicism. On the face of it, ballet would seem to be out of sync with that structure -- the period we refer to as the Romantic Era, which generally is assumed to begin with Robert the Devil in 1831 and La Sylphide in 1832 and end with Coppelia in 1870, comes before the Classical Era, which begins with the ascendance of Marius Petipa after he moves to Russia and ends with the innovations of Fokine. But if you take a look at the larger context, I think we've been watching a continuing oscillation between expression and abstraction in dance, so that the formalism of the Court Ballets was followed by Noverre's emphasis on expressive movement in the Ballet d'Action that is translated into Romantic Ballet. At the end of the Classical period, we see a shift back towards the expressive elements in the work of Fokine and other choreographers associated with the Ballet Russe, which shifts again with the rise of Balanchine and the development of neo-classicism.

Part of the disjunction comes from the fact that the Romantic period in literature comes just before romanticism enters the dance world -- you can see some of those influences (fascination with 'the other' and foreign influences, enthusiasm for nature) at play in the early romantic works like La Sylphide, Napoli, and Giselle. Add to that the fact that romantic ballets were not often created to romantic music, and you can see why the labels sometimes feel pretty arbitrary. Nevertheless, within dance itself, we've sorted our works into fairly tidy groups -- my question now is, do these distinctions still apply today, or does it fade with the general idea that these are "old" works?

(personally, I think it's still a germane distinction, but I'm wondering as I look at current dances and listen to current audiences how much of a difference other people perceive.)

#10 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 11 February 2013 - 11:48 PM

So if I understand correctly, in ballet romanticism preceded classicism?


As a general understanding, and without getting into too complicated stuff, it is considered that Taglioni's La Sylphide-(lost, 1832 but recreated in 1972 by Pierre Lacotte and back into the repertoire of POB), Grand Pas de Quatre-(lost, 1845, recreated by Dolin in 1941 and back in countless companies ever since)-along with the surviving Bournonville's La Sylphide-(1836)-and Giselle-(1841)-are the very few examples of the romantic ballet period we can count on today. The Romantic era can also be seen as a pre-Petipa era. 1847 marks the date of Petipa's first choreographic attempt in Russia, a revival of Paquita. From then on, all the way to the never premiered La Romance d'un Bouton de rose et d'un Papillon-(scheduled for 1904)-and right before the 1910's French break trough of Fokine's The Firebird, many of us tend to denote the classic ballet period.

#11 bart

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Posted 12 February 2013 - 11:52 AM

Romantic and Classical seem to be categories, in ballet at least, that have different meanings for different people in different situations. I'm inclined to be persuaded by Quiggan's comment:

I sort of think of the period from 1650 to the early 19th century in ballet as Classical and after that as generally Romantic. The Modernist period, a kind of clean-up exercise, follows with the ballets of Diaghilev, Picasso and Satie. .


However, as Quiggan concludes ...

... it's much more complicated than that.


One genre of ballet definitely associated with Romanticism is ballet blanc. I've been skimming through some ballet books and came upon this, from Balanchine and Mason's 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. It comes from the chapter on Les Sylphides, an early 20th century work clearly conceived as an act of homage to Romantic ballets of the early-mid-19th century.

No one knows exactly when the first ballet blanc, or white ballet, was first performed. It is probable that this kind of ballet, which involved a new conception of dance based on ethereal atmosphere, soft music, and diaphonous white costumes, was first performed before La Sylphide; but it was La Sylphide, and the dancing of its ballerina, Marie Taglioni, that made the ballet blanc famous.


Include those qualities in a ballet with a plot based on, let's say, Byron or Hoffmann, and you have something close to what cubanmiamiboy, in an earlier post, referred to as

Oh my, on my...the Romantic ballet and its sylphs, Willis and spirits of the forest ...the moonlight and the crosses...the red lips, the white ethereal skirts and lilies, the 3 meters floating, mauve cloaks and the smoking machine..

.

Most of us, I bet, would include other things in our idea of "Romantic" as well.

-- characteristic movements and poses, involving wrists (gracefully curved or drooping) , head (often tilted), eyes (so often cast downward or glancing to the side), upper body (very flexible), feet often but not always on pointe (softer, gentler than the typical pointework was to become later on,) , etc.. As in this print of Marie Taglioni:

http://en.wikipedia....-in-zephire.jpg

-- idealized, almost always tragic love that is passionate but rarely sexual;

-- librettos that intertwine real-life and unreal worlds, mortal life and afterlife;

Or am I wrong about this? Also: what am I leaving out? Also: who are the great "Romantic" dancers -- in style and type, even if not in repertoire -- from the days of Taglioni to today?

#12 AlbanyGirl

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Posted 15 February 2013 - 06:45 AM

This is an interesting thread and I want to think about it for awhile, but a couple of things coming readily to my mind are:

Giselle embodies something of the Gothic, too, doesn't it?, and Gothic is from the romantic era. I mean, the wilis are a bit vampiric ; and

Referring to Bart above,

Many Ballet Alertniks will know the historical categories "romantic" and "classical" as they apply to ballet and can probably locate them on a time line.. We can most likely think of a "look" associated with each category, as well as at least a few characteristic steps and gestures. We can probably list some major works in each category.

I have to confess -- and this is a purely personal response -- I tend to think of romantic as a stage in the development of classical -- almost like one of those species that evolve but never quite make it, eventually petering out while leaving beyond a small surviving rep, a "look," a "feel," some gestures and steps, and a lot of history. In other words, I tend to identify and think of "romantic ballet" mostly in terms of the ways in which it deviates from --- or leads up to -- "classical ballet." My favorite romantic ballets tend to be those already showing qualities which later would be central to the "classical" tradition. (Robert Greskovic, for example, describes Giselle as an example of "Mature Romanticism," Bayadere as "Romantic Turning Classical," and Swan Lake as "Romantic Classical")

Another way I use the term, when talking to myself, is to categorize individual dancers by placing them on a kind of imaginary spectrum ranging from "romantic" to "classical." For example, Ulanova as a "romantic" classical dancer and Plisetskaya definitely not.

I've always thought of Swan Lake as a classical ballet, however, it recently occurred to me that, in a way, it's kind of a ballet blanc, too, in its own way, with its woods and moonlight, swans emerging from the lake, etc. Just a thought that I need to think about for awhile, but I wanted to chime in and keep this delicious thread going.,...

~ Karen

#13 AlbanyGirl

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Posted 15 February 2013 - 06:47 AM

This is an interesting thread and I want to think about it for awhile, but a couple of things coming readily to my mind are:

Giselle embodies something of the Gothic, too, doesn't it?, and Gothic is from the romantic era. I mean, the wilis are a bit vampiric ;


Also, the scene in the cemetery, graves, i'm having chills just thinking about it.

#14 AlbanyGirl

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Posted 15 February 2013 - 07:39 AM


This is an interesting thread and I want to think about it for awhile, but a couple of things coming readily to my mind are:

Giselle embodies something of the Gothic, too, doesn't it?, and Gothic is from the romantic era. I mean, the wilis are a bit vampiric ;


Also, the scene in the cemetery, graves, i'm having chills just thinking about it.


Oh my, on my...the Romantic ballet and its sylphs, Willis and spirits of the forest ...the moonlight and the crosses...the red lips, the white ethereal skirts and lilies, the 3 meters floating, mauve cloaks and the smoking machine...darn, I'M IN BUSINESS NOW!! Posted Image


Actually, what I'm having chills thinking about is the thought of my first live performance of Giselle coming up this summer! So, to all Giselle lovers here, esp. to Cristian, I can't wait!!

#15 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 15 February 2013 - 01:17 PM

Actually, what I'm having chills thinking about is the thought of my first live performance of Giselle coming up this summer! So, to all Giselle lovers here, esp. to Cristian, I can't wait!!


At one point I have to do a proper homage to Giselle. I know my life long love for this ballet AND its character is very personal. When I was a very naive teen and still living in the provinces, Giselle went on tour to my local theater and after the revelation of that night I decided that I wanted to see much more of it, and thus had to move to Havana, which eventually happened. Then, during the dark 90's in Havana, Giselle was there, once again, countless times to brighten up my and my peers battered souls and it did help me go thru big time. I sort of feel her-(thru whoever is her physical incarnation at any given night)-as a kind, friendly spirit that always comes back to me to whisper "here I am once again, Cristian, and I will my best to make you happy tonight". When I saw Jeanette Delgado in the role here, I felt again that Giselle was still around...

dear...I know you will love her as much as I do.Posted Image


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