Alexandra

What do you REALLY think about Benno?

33 posts in this topic

The kind of elaboration that works in 19th century novels -- with their enormously longer time frame -- would not work on a ballet contemporary stage.

...which resulted in various simplifications of some "Pas de deux a trois" to just PDD,(e.g Medora/Conrad/Ali ,Odette/Siegfried/Benno, Odile/Siegfried/Von Rothbart and so on) and cutting of dances for corps who are characters themselves, (e.g the nymphs of "Diana&Acteon" from the whole "Pas"). I would say that this is fine if these characters insertion tend to be too confusing for the story and not very strong choreographically.

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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.

In DVD of the Royal Swedish Ballet's Swan Lake Benno, performed wonderfully by Johannes Ohman, is in Act III -- in fact, he appears in all four acts. He is the only one who knows of the new pressure Siegfried faces going into the ball. Had he never met Odette, it seems possible the prince would have gone on and picked a bride. Now though there isn't a chance of that happening, and he has to be nervous about how the queen will react.

Benno, along with a partner and two other couples, provide entertainment until the princesses' arrivals. While dancing with a bride candidate, Siegfried at one point turns away from her and Benno urges him to continue, aware of the tension mounting between the prince and Queen Mother. Benno is the one who makes Siegfried aware of the late guests coming as the situation is about to get explosive, perhaps as relived as Siegfried for the interruption. When Siegfried races offstage with Odile after her arrival with Rothbart, Benno looks after them with a confused expression, "It LOOKS like Odette, but I'm not sure... Is it even midnight?" He seems to watch her wearily throughout the rest of the act, yet has no opportunity to talk to his friend. When the ball is in chaos as the triumphant Rothbart and Odile leave followed by a stricken Siegfried, Benno approaches the Queen Mother for a moment and then rushes off after his friend to help. ...Only to be too late.

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What I find very interesting was that the character of Benno was in the original Reisinger-choreographed version from 1876, but is completely missing from the two "reference" versions known in Russia today (the Konstantin Sergeyev 1950 variant of the original Petipa/Ivanov 1895 version and the Vladimir Bourmeister version from 1953). I think that change was done because Benno is pretty much a superfluous character in the ballet itself by Russian standards.

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Never seen a live Benno myself... :)

Edited to add: Although for some reason, the few clips that I've seen of another original Pas de Trois morphed to a PDD-(Odile/Sigfried/V.Rothbart)-looks appealing and interesting to me...

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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.

Princes did not dance flamboyantly, simply because it would not be in keeping with their 'noble' station in life which they were portraying. The Russian court audience would most definitely have disapproved to see a parallel to their own position without the dignity and decorum which their station in life required. Choreographers of the time would have been fully aware of what could offend and set variations accordingly and rarely with the degree of exhibitionist “allegro” dancing which it is suggested that Englishmen who saw Swan Lake wanted.

As someone who witnessed the change in the romantically schooled ‘danseur noble’ portraying Siegfried to become a show-off virtuoso, I do not particularly remember any London balletomanes wanting to know why, to quote “why the "star" wasn't dancing a lot..” and ” … people who thought of "dancing" only as allegro dancing.”

But then, the 1960’s changed everything.

The classical ballet tradition of 19th century Russia follows the status quo established by courtly behaviour. That is why male dancers were divided as, 'danseur noble', 'demi-classical', 'demi-caractere', etc. and the delineations were very rarely crossed. (1)

Sadly this tradition is no longer followed and the farm boy can be seen impersonating a prince on ballet stages. This is not snobbery; it is a re-statement of an art form, which reflects the symbolism of the characterisations presented with the values of a different age and a different appreciation.

Classical story ballets are established by the period they are set in and interpreted through a 19th century art form. Any lessening of their established ‘aesthetic’ of the original creation debases and makes us as an audience, guilty of allowing an art that has a refinement being transformed at times into entertainment.

Regrettably so far, there is no similar movement to rescue 19th century classical ballet from excesses in style of performance. to mirror the success that Baroque operas and music have so successfully achieved against a whirlwind of abuse when the movement was in its infancy in the 1960’s.

As to Benno, no one saw anything wrong with his place the scene with Siegfried and Odette it was accepted as part of the 'the artistic form' of classical ballet story telling. Parallels what parallels? What

matches what?

Regards

Leonid

(1)

Notable examples that broke the rules were Perrot and Saint-Leon who both were unsuitable in appearance for danseur noble roles, but then of course they were appearing in their own created ballets.

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Leonid, I agree with you completely about the Russian Imperial era idea of the danseur noble, but what I wrote above I have read in several British and American reviews and books, including ballet history texts, and in interviews with dancers. (That there was a view that Siegfried did not have virtuoso steps because Gerdt was in his 50s when he created the role, and that Benno took part in the pas de deux because the aging Gerdt needed the assistance.) I"m not saying this view is correct, but it is in many books and articles.

Unfortunately, I think "Swan Lake" has changed so that it can't be put back, and each generation seems to misunderstand it more and more. I hope I'm wrong on that one.

We had many discussions on this board when it was younger about employ, in both 19th century works and 20th century neoclassical works. The specific definitions of each genre have changed with each century, but, I agree with Leonid, the tradition is depleted.

Edited by Alexandra

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The 1877 production made quite a bit out of Benno, having him provide mime dialogue with Siegfried, even to the point already mentioned in Act III, where a newspaper article made a humorous speculation on what they were talking about, along the lines of,

"Look at her, does she not look like Mlle. Karpakova?"

"I don't know, Siggy, she looks different. Do you think it's her dress or something?" :)

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Princes did not dance flamboyantly, simply because it would not be in keeping with their 'noble' station in life which they were portraying. The Russian court audience would most definitely have disapproved to see a parallel to their own position without the dignity and decorum which their station in life required. Choreographers of the time would have been fully aware of what could offend and set variations accordingly and rarely with the degree of exhibitionist “allegro” dancing which it is suggested that Englishmen who saw Swan Lake wanted.

The French had a long tradition of wanting exhibitionist "allegro" dancing, and it was the strength of the Italian School. Was this limited entirely to demi-charactere dancers?

I wonder how the transition to communism, which produced ballet rife with the contradictions of the glorification of aristocratic heroes and the aristocracy, and the religious sacrifice of the peasant girl to the cad aristocrat, influenced what the hero/protagonist could and should be seen doing. As Doug Fullington pointed out in his great presentation on "Balanchine's Petipa", the biggest changes to "La Bayadere" happened in the 40's, and Western audiences assumed that the touring productions were original Petipa choreography, when, in fact, they were quite different, as the reconstructed versions he did showed.

Notable examples that broke the rules were Perrot and Saint-Leon who both were unsuitable in appearance for danseur noble roles, but then of course they were appearing in their own created ballets.

Certainly Nureyev was no aristocrat, and he extended the exhibitionist allegro dancing to the limit or beyond in his own choreography and stagings.

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