Alexandra

What do you REALLY think about Benno?

33 posts in this topic

Benno had been giving his walking papers by the time I got to ballet. The only glimpse I have of him is on a video of the Royal Ballet from the 1950s.

Some companies still keep a character named Benno, but have him dance in the pas de trois. (WRONG. Benno is a seconde danseur noble and does not dance. The male role in the pas de trois is classique.)

And, of course, some companies junk him altogether and replace him with a Jester. (Not the place to bash Jesters; he'll get his own thread later.)

Who is Benno? Why was he there? Is there any way for him to be brought into the 21st century, or will he fade off into the mists?

Share this post


Link to post

For one thing, I don't think Benno was introduced to help Pavel Gerdt with the rigors of partnering. This is often the rationalization of the first lakeside scene's pas de deux a trois. Gerdt was still partnering on his own five years later. His Solor was notated in 1900 and his partnering included many lifts, some one-handed! You go, Pavel!

Share this post


Link to post

Thank you, Doug! I agree, absolutely. I think this nasty rumor was started by Americans and Englishmen who saw Swan Lake and couldn't figure out why the "star" wasn't dancing a lot, people who thought of "dancing" only as allegro dancing.

Several writers have pointed out that Benno's presence in the pas de trois is a structural parallel with the "black swan" pas de trois -- where Von Rothbart once had a major role. More of what Petipa's ballets used to look like, when they all looked slightly different.

Share this post


Link to post

And Benno doesn't spare his principal much; he does promenades with Odette, while Siegfried does all the lifts!

Share this post


Link to post

Benno is Ralph Bellamy.

Share this post


Link to post

do you mean in the sense that odette is rosalind russell and siegfried is cary grant? :)

Share this post


Link to post

The only Benno I have seen is the Trockadero's, so I am certianly not qualified to make any judgements, but I would love to see him back, just to see what it might have been like. Someone, I forget who, said that with him, Siegfried stood back more and looked adoringly at Odette, which would help focus the audience's attention on her and her reactions. Two people partnering her might also make her look more fragile, which would help characterize her.

I think I remember seeing or reading that in the original Swan Lake, the hunters partnered the swans during the second act. (Presumably dropped in the early English productions because of lack of men.) Having real men, in real shoes--not the fake ballet boots--contrasted with the swans in point shoes would make them look more magical, I should think. It certianly worked in the Kirov new/old Sleeping Beauty, when Desiree was wondering around the vision scene in heeled boots.

Share this post


Link to post

Cargill, in the notations of Swan Lake, the hunstmen are present throughout the lakeside scene. Doesn't Balanchine's one-act SWAN LAKE include hunters?

Share this post


Link to post

I believe in "The Red Shoes," the white act includes the huntsmen. They were cut from the British production because of the War (they had very few men during those six years.)

Doug, I can't remember huntsmen in Balanchine's, but I may just not be remembering correctly. New Yorkers who see it regularly will know (I just didn't want to ignore your question :) )

Share this post


Link to post

Yes, indeed, the Balanchine one-act Swan had huntsmen, and they were more active than are the ones in the present redaction of the work.

Share this post


Link to post

OK, I'll date myself. The very first Swan Lake (Act II) I ever saw was the Balanchine 1 act with Maria Tallchief and Nicholas Magallanes. There WAS a Benno and he was there for the pas de deux (ok, pas de trois). I think the Royal Ballet had a Benno for a while - my memories of that are dim.

As for who Benno is: Siegfried's best friend? assigned companion (spy for the QM)? just another high-born guy who's grown up around the palace? My secret theory is that Siegfried and Benno are "friends" in the intimate sense of the word, and that's why Siegfried is so dismayed at being told he has to get married - or else Benno is his partner in extra-curricular escapades outside the palace walls, and Siegfried doesn't want to give up his freedom. :rolleyes:

Share this post


Link to post

Benno was in the RB production up till 1963, I think, and in the touring RB version later than that - though he may not have assisted in the pas de deux. Also, I'm almost sure I've seen the huntsmen partnering the swans in Act2 in the 50s and 60s, though I may just have been so deeply imprinted by photographs that I'm imagining it. The current RB production has a Chief Friend who is Benno in all but name, and the BRB's production has a Benno - he dances the pas de trois.

In my own 'harmless modifications' production, Benno would be Siegfried's younger brother - the extrovert one, who does all the things that Siegfried (introverted, serious, conscious of his future responsibilities) doesn't dare.

Share this post


Link to post

I had never thought of it that way - Benno is sort of a Mercutio cognate to Siegfried's Romeo! A good idea!

Share this post


Link to post

In the 1958 Paul Czinner film of Act II of "Swan Lake" with Margot Fonteyn (who also does Firebird and Ondine in the other two segments) and I think Michael Somes, there is a Benno and he assists in the PDD.

Share this post


Link to post

Was Benno not in the ABT/Blair production in the early 70's? I don't have the original program, but I seem to remember a Benno, although not in the pas de deux.

Share this post


Link to post

I saw an Act II with a Benno once. Richard Thomas' school, with Judy Fugate as Odette. My impression of the second partner was along the lines of what Alexandra said -- focusing more attention on the ballerina -- specifically because the presence of two partners made it less necessary for one to keep walking around. It made the pas much smoother. On the other hand, there was something a little kinky about it.

It corresponds, I think, to the pas de deux a trois in Corsaire -- with the slave doing the a terre partnering and the "prince" doing the heavy lifting. Metaphorically -- the ballerina being "elevated" by her lover -- it makes sense, but it is counterintuitive to our more literal, 21st century minds.

Share this post


Link to post
Was Benno not in the ABT/Blair production in the early 70's?  I don't have the original program, but I seem to remember a Benno, although not in the pas de deux.

Yes, I saw that production a lot. The huntsmen , including Benno were on stage at the start of Act 2, but they ran off pretty quicly.

In the ABT video with Makarova and Nagy, Terry Orr is visible on stage at the start of the lake scene. But he leaves and has no part of the pdd.

Richard

Share this post


Link to post

I performed the role of Benno twice in northern Virginia, and I danced the Act I pas de trois, but not Act II. I suspect that I'm Classique, which makes me appropriate for the Act I pas de trois, but not for being called "Benno;" however, I can't blame the company as I was one of precisely two male dancers. Can't say I wouldn't have minded doing the promenades in Act II, though. :)

Share this post


Link to post

The Blair production opened in NYC with Paul Sutherland as a sort of Benno Lite.

Share this post


Link to post

I wonder what it was like originally: how much of a relationship, in mime of course, htere was beween the melancholy prince and Benno. I see them as parallel to Hamlet and Laertes -- the best friend, the person he can really confide in, the guy he stays up all night talking philosophy with.... Siegfried is like Hamlet, isolated by his position and doubly isolated by his temperament -- he needs a friend.

The idea that you'd confide all your anxieties about politic, the state of the state, with your girlfriend is a pretty recent notion.

Think of Pierre and Andre in War and Peace -- they talk abou t the deepest things -- the freeing of the slaves, what kind of justice is possible, should a man marry, what they long for, what should you DO with your life (which is Siegfried's problem in a nutshell). Their intimacy is really powerful, each is the ONLY person in their whole world the other can confide in, though Pierre can really talk to Natasha, still, not at the leel hse can with Prince Andre....

in none of the versions that we see is the friendship developed at all - -and it may have been only indicated originally. But there's plenty of testimony that Gerdt's prince was a very sympathetic person. It's as necessary for the prince to have a friend as it is for Odette to have swans.

The pas de trois could have been a drama of many emotions, including the prince's separation from benno and transferral of his hopes for intimacy to Odette. It would have been less like the Fred and Ginger pas d'action in which he persuades her that she can trust him, which it basically is now.

Edited by Paul Parish

Share this post


Link to post

Danilova had a Benno with the Denham Ballet Russe, and it was usually performed by Leon Danielian.

Share this post


Link to post
Some companies still keep a character named Benno, but have him dance in the pas de trois. (WRONG. Benno is a seconde danseur noble and does not dance. The male role in the pas de trois is classique.)Who is Benno? Why was he there? Is there any way for him to be brought into the 21st century, or will he fade off into the mists?

I'm not used to a second "danseur noble" on the "Love Duet" PDD.(In fact, i've never seen any live performance with a "PDD a trois"). But i think that I wouldn' mind to see a production that uses this concept. I would find it exotic...different, AS LONG AS HE DOESN'T BECOME TOO DISTRACTING FOR THE LOVE STORY , but i guess his insertion can be too confusing to be worth it. As for the character itself, i don't really care too much about it...

Share this post


Link to post
I wonder what it was like originally: how much of a relationship, in mime of course, htere was beween the melancholy prince and Benno. I see them as parallel to Hamlet and Laertes -- the best friend, the person he can really confide in, the guy he stays up all night talking philosophy with.... Siegfried is like Hamlet, isolated by his position and doubly isolated by his temperament -- he needs a friend.

The idea that you'd confide all your anxieties about politic, the state of the state, with your girlfriend is a pretty recent notion.

Think of Pierre and Andre in War and Peace -- they talk abou t the deepest things -- the freeing of the slaves, what kind of justice is possible, should a man marry, what they long for, what should you DO with your life (which is Siegfried's problem in a nutshell). Their intimacy is really powerful, each is the ONLY person in their whole world the other can confide in, though Pierre can really talk to Natasha, still, not at the leel hse can with Prince Andre....

in none of the versions that we see is the friendship developed at all - -and it may have been only indicated originally. But there's plenty of testimony that Gerdt's prince was a very sympathetic person. It's as necessary for the prince to have a friend as it is for Odette to have swans.

The pas de trois could have been a drama of many emotions, including the prince's separation from benno and transferral of his hopes for intimacy to Odette. It would have been less like the Fred and Ginger pas d'action in which he persuades her that she can trust him, which it basically is now.

Uh, I always thought Hamlet's best friend was Horatio, who was at school with him at Wittenburg, not Laertes who is at school in Paris (and I think slightly younger?). Before that ghost shows up, I guess Hamlet and Laertes were friendly enough, though maybe strained because of Hamlet's interest in Ophelia. Afterwards, of course, both lie dead on stage, and Horatio is left to clean up.

Nice point about Pierre and Prince Andre.

Share this post


Link to post

Now that the discussion is resurrected - a question. If Benno was Siegfried's confidant (not a bad idea) narratively and a parallel to von Rothbart in Act III choreographically (also interesting) what do we do with him in Act III? Why isn't he there warning Siegfried, "Say, you know this girl doesn't look like Odette. I mean, I danced with her too." The necessity of having Siegfried without good counsel might have been another reason he didn't stick around in productions.

Share this post


Link to post

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=24299

I saw an Act II with a Benno once. Richard Thomas' school, with Judy Fugate as Odette. My impression of the second partner was along the lines of what Alexandra said -- focusing more attention on the ballerina -- specifically because the presence of two partners made it less necessary for one to keep walking around. It made the pas much smoother. On the other hand, there was something a little kinky about it.
I dimly recall productions like this. Before the pdd, Benno tries to get Siegfried to move away and continue the hunt. During it, he mostly hovers, rushing in to support Odette at those brief moments when Siegfried withdraws from her to think.

I love the image of Benno as Ralph Bellamy. (Thanks, dirac, for the comparison. :) ) To characterize him in too much detail, to give him an elaborate back story, or to make him too important in Siegfried's emotional life, would distract without adding much.

How much explanation is really necessarily? Princes do tend to have companions, favorites, and courtiers. Benno, Jester, Tutor -- what a crowd! The kind of elaboration that works in 19th century novels -- with their enormously longer time frame -- would not work on a ballet contemporary stage.

Share this post


Link to post