volcanohunter

New York City Ballet in Montreal, vols. 1-5

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Oh, I want to add that the short interviews with Balanchine in French, are enjoyable as well. I think that's the first time I've seen/heard footage of him speaking French.

If the CBC interviewer is the same one that appeared in the clips in the Tanaquil Le Clercq film, he is... René Lévesque, more famous as being the leader of the Quebec separatist movement and premier of Quebec. (he was a journalist before he went into politics). Just a little bit of Canadian trivia for you!

Interesting, I'm not certain if the interviewer is credited, and he mostly stands with his back to the camera facing Balanchine (which is a little odd). Balanchine's French is pretty good; however, he forgets certain terms and then jumps into American English to express himself more succinctly. Ah, to be multi-lingual. ;)

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I was there the night of the donkey mishap in Union Jack. As I recall, the curtain closed, then the stage director said quite politely over the public address system: "Ladies and gentlemen, please give us a minute while we clean up our act".

That must have been pretty darn funny, although perhaps some people in the upper rings couldn’t see what precipitated the interruption. The New Yorker’s article itself, with lines like

My son was petrified. I have pictures. He’s now forty-seven, and Giorgio is dead.
had me cracking up laughing.
But back to the Volume 1 DVD. I saw Orpheus danced in 1992 and 2012, and I’ve seen the Live at Lincoln Center broadcast with Martins and Aroldingen and read about how the ballet is lost or all but lost on the larger stage, especially without the original cast and Balanchine’s coaching. It’s a ballet I’ve very much wanted to like but have never been entirely taken by until now. Goldner writes that the dance of the Furies is “a silly dance.” Not to me anymore, not on this recording. I’m especially pleased, after having seen all the George Platte Lynes photos, to finally see Magallenes and Moncion in moving pictures. They do not disappoint!
Ironically, I think the black and white filming helps as well. To my mind, the orange of Orpheus’ leotard has always distracted from the gravity of the story.

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But back to the Volume 1 DVD. I saw Orpheus danced in 1992 and 2012, and I’ve seen the Live at Lincoln Center broadcast with Martins and Aroldingen and read about how the ballet is lost or all but lost on the larger stage, especially without the original cast and Balanchine’s coaching. It’s a ballet I’ve very much wanted to like but have never been entirely taken by until now. Goldner writes that the dance of the Furies is “a silly dance.” Not to me anymore, not on this recording. I’m especially pleased, after having seen all the George Platte Lynes photos, to finally see Magallenes and Moncion in moving pictures. They do not disappoint!

Ironically, I think the black and white filming helps as well. To my mind, the orange of Orpheus’ leotard has always distracted from the gravity of the story.

I would have been ecstatic if Le Clercq had been dancing as Leader of the Bacchantes, but I'm finding this version of Orpheus to be engrossing just the same - I think it will grow on me with time. I've watched Serenade, Concerto Barocco and Agon multiple times. I think I agree with what you are saying regarding the black and white presentation - it does force us to focus on other things, since there is no color scheme to be lost in, or bothered by. I find the blurry picture to actually work in Serenade's favor: whenever the dancers turn on pointe their tulle skirts whip about in a grainy, cloud-like blur that I find aesthetically pleasing. Reminds me of the photos of Lillian Bassman.

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I think Orpheus is certainly different from the typical Stravinsky/Balanchine collaboration: the music is static and often seemingly without momentum, and hence so is the movement - more like a musical drama with movement rather than the type of ballet we are used to seeing. I think the music is one of Stravinsky's greatest scores and quite beautiful.

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Orpheus is one of my favorite ballet scores. And I too love the swirling skirts in this recording of Serenade, but there, for me at least, the black and white recording drains some of the ballet’s atmosphere, as does that unfortunately busy backdrop. Does anyone know if the backdrop was a one-time-only, made-for-TV choice? I don’t see it in any photos, although in some you can’t tell. I don't find any written references to it.

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with regard to decor for SERENADE, to the best of my knowledge it was performed without decor since 1936, when "Scenery by Gaston Longchamp" was done away with.

a MoMA exhibition a few years back of stage designs included Longchamp's gouache showing the 1935 background, probably commissioned by Kirstein; it was strikingly deco and almost futuristic in its sleek and somewhat spare configuration and uncanny space-defining elements.

the only sense of a setting with NYCB came in the form of 'piece d'occasion' 'unit' set of plexi-tubing (by Philip Johnson) in place throughout the '81 Tchaikovsky Festival, where the movable elements were specially arranged at a strong art-deco-like diagonal for SERENADE.

i haven't yet seen the CBC setting.

it would seem that in most cases Balanchine agreed, or at least didn't object, to some special decor behind his ballets when they were filmed for tv. Peter Harvey, who designed the original JEWELS, was mostly responsible for the sometimes eccentric sets behind the ballet's in the Dance in America/Choreography by Balanchine series.

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Thanks, rg! Looking up “Scenery by Gaston Longchamp,” I see the Oxford Dictionary of Dance says the ballet was indeed performed without scenery after 1936. In the background for this performance there appear to be curtains and swags as well as a painted backdrop of clouds. This scenery is not credited.

I've seen a picture of that 1981 Phillip Johnson set somewhere. I didn't know it was rearranged (if I understand you correctly) for Serenade.

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yes, if my none-too-precise memory serves, the movable unit Johnson set, vertically hung plexi-tubing, was arranged and re-arranged for various ballets during the festival.
Kirstein's 'vision' for the scheme was an "ice palace" tho' i don't recall anyone's really seeing the end result(s) as such once in place. i rem. vividly that when the tubing was unpacked and about to be hung in the background it reeked of whatever those plastic fumes are called and more or less left some stage workers running for the exits until the stuff could be aired out and acclimated to the auditorium.

thus for SERENADE i esp. recall an arrangement that set the tubing at a strong slicing diagonal across the back of the stage against, again if mem. serves, a blue cyclorama - lit by Bates.

btw, can you tell me here, KFW, if the visual description you give above comes from some writing about the ballet or from a photo/illustration?

w/thanx.

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I must not have been clear, rg. I was describing the Montreal television performance.

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Dance Chronicle ran a series of articles by Peter Harvey about working with Balanchine, and they include his descriptions of the Dance in America projects.

(volume 20, numbers 2 and 3 1997, and volume 21, number 1, 1998)

One of the elements he discusses is the difficulty that the television camera has in showing movement that travels through space. If the camera shows the entire performing space in a fixed shot, it's usually too far away to see the individual dancers. If the camera gets close enough to see more details, then they either follow the dancers around (making it hard to tell where they are in space and where they've been going) or they focus on a smaller area, looking at the dancers as they pass through, but missing everything that happened before and after they entered the picture. The compromise is to create some kind of design in the background so that, if the camera follows a dancer around, the passing scenery gives the eyes enough information to be able to locate the performer in the space.

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The Serenade TV backdrop: a painted cyclorama with much silk bunting above and below the cyclorama

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The 'cinematography' is not bad given the limited abilities of the equipment - the camera work is not intrusive or distracting. The only part that doesn't quite work for me in Serenade is (unfortunately) the ending - the director switches to an overhead camera view and things get rather claustophic looking:

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Claustrophobic or not, that last shot is from a very interesting point of view -- we don't usually see things over the shoulders of the participants like than in contemporary productions of Serenade.

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Claustrophobic or not, that last shot is from a very interesting point of view -- we don't usually see things over the shoulders of the participants like than in contemporary productions of Serenade.

The shots of Adams, up close, are very dramatic, but we lose the shape of things - the final arrangement of bodies in the procession is very stirring, if you can actually see it. ;)

But the camerwork mostly obscures things and reduces the whole impact of the finale. But that's really the only part that I found bothersome in that ballet. Agon is well filmed - almost always from the front, as I recall.

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I recently saw that infamous German film of Concerto Barocco, that rarely shoots the ballet from the audience pov for long stretches of time, and I was amazed at how different the internal structures seemed. The rhythms, the steps were the same, but the ballet seemed so different to me. I certainly wouldn't want it to be my only view of the work, but I'm grateful for the new view that it gave me. I have these DVDs but haven't been able to watch yet -- I have a feeling, from your comments, that I might have a similar experience with this.

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Dance Chronicle ran a series of articles by Peter Harvey about working with Balanchine, and they include his descriptions of the Dance in America projects.

(volume 20, numbers 2 and 3 1997, and volume 21, number 1, 1998)

One of the elements he discusses is the difficulty that the television camera has in showing movement that travels through space. If the camera shows the entire performing space in a fixed shot, it's usually too far away to see the individual dancers. If the camera gets close enough to see more details, then they either follow the dancers around (making it hard to tell where they are in space and where they've been going) or they focus on a smaller area, looking at the dancers as they pass through, but missing everything that happened before and after they entered the picture. The compromise is to create some kind of design in the background so that, if the camera follows a dancer around, the passing scenery gives the eyes enough information to be able to locate the performer in the space.

Very interesting, thank you. This particular design, to me, is a poor compromise because it distracts me from the sweep of the steps and the choreography, but now at least I understand the reason for it. I'm reminded of Cunningham and Charles Atlas sometimes spitting the screen between closeups and wider shots (I'm thinking especially of the 2003 Suite by Five), but that would ruin Balanchine.

Thanks for screen shots, pherank. I saved the Adams close-up.

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Cunningham made such wonderful, radical choices in his film and video work, with Charles Atlas and with Elliot Kaplan -- he fully embraced the ambiguity of the camera view, often creating entirely new works (Points in Space is one of my favorites). The Dance in American programs were coming at video from an entirely different perspective, and their approach to the aesthetic reflects that. I've seen some material about that process (including the Dance Chron articles above) but I'm really hoping that someone is working on a more in-depth analysis. I'd especially love to see an interview with Girish Bhargava, who edited many of the early programs. Editing is such a crucial part of dance film!

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Here's a couple more shots. At the end of the Elegy, when the Corps goes up on pointe, the lights fade out, so there isn't much to be seen there.

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I recently saw that infamous German film of Concerto Barocco, that rarely shoots the ballet from the audience pov for long stretches of time, and I was amazed at how different the internal structures seemed.

I've seen that one as well - and I was thrilled in the beginning, but I ended up feeling like a carrot had been dangled before me, and I was never really allowed to enjoy it. What an opportunity missed!

It's very true that camera angles and editing can tremendously alter ones experience of a subject. The problem is, too much camera artistry detracts from the dancing. What you see is cinema art (possibly), but propably not a good record of the dance performance. One art form is getting in the way of the other. We see that with painting everyday - a great painting is often a record of something entirely different than its 'subject'.

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I recently saw that infamous German film of Concerto Barocco, that rarely shoots the ballet from the audience pov for long stretches of time, and I was amazed at how different the internal structures seemed.

It's very true that camera angles and editing can tremendously alter ones experience of a subject. The problem is, too much camera artistry detracts from the dancing. What you see is cinema art (possibly), but propably not a good record of the dance performance. One art form is getting in the way of the other. We see that with painting everyday - a great painting is often a record of something entirely different than its 'subject'.

The portrait example is a good one -- most people working in dance film make a clear distinction between work that is designed to document a particular dance or artist, and work that uses dance as one element among many to create a specific film/video.

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...

Ironically, I think the black and white filming helps as well. To my mind, the orange of Orpheus’ leotard has always distracted from the gravity of the story.

Hmm. Having seen both DVDs 1 and 2 now, I've been thinking that Orpheus is the ballet that loses the most by loss of color. That goes to show you, different people will look at the same thing differently.

Color would help us to tell who's who. Most of the men (except for Pluto) have costumes of similar form which differ only in color, and the copper and gold of Orpheus's puts our hero, our tragic hero, in strong contrast to the others, especially to his nemesis, really, The Dark Angel, whose gray costume we can distinguish from Orpheus's here only by the dark trim. (This angel is not heaven-sent, and turns out to be an agent of Orpheus's death.) Don't we relate differently - more warmly? - to this figure from our day-lit surface ground than to the somber characters - the Furies, the Lost Souls, the Dark Angel - who inhabit the nether world underground; he's more nearly one of us, so don't we pity him the more for that? (The lighting in the first and last scenes was warmer, too, as I remember, more like sunlight.)

(The Bacchantes, when they appeared in scene three, back on Earth, seemed bizarre to me, with their red and yellow hair - not lovely ladies, these! - shockingly costumed, but with a purpose, to "set us up" for their dismemberment of poor Orpheus. But Apollo's colors, brown trimmed in red, if I remember correctly, seemed appropriately magisterial when he appeared at the end.)

Edited by Jack Reed

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Jack, you should have been a critic. That all makes perfect sense of course. That's how the colors should function. The closest I can come to explaining my own preference is that the orange of Orpheus’s leotard – or copper and gold as you more accurately put it, making it seem richer already – detracts from the tragedy of the story.

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Jack, you should have been a critic. That all makes perfect sense of course. That's how the colors should function. The closest I can come to explaining my own preference is that the orange of Orpheus’s leotard – or copper and gold as you more accurately put it, making it seem richer already – detracts from the tragedy of the story.

Yes, Jack's comments are often spot on. But your criticism of the chosen colors is perfectly valid - humans react strongly to color. Unfortunately, we don't all agree that a particular color shade evokes particuar feelings or associations. And these things vary so much between cultures. Isamu Noguchi chose the colors, I believe.

Some people like seafoam green, and others, defintely not. ;)

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I’m especially pleased, after having seen all the George Platte Lynes photos, to finally see Magallenes and Moncion in moving pictures. They do not disappoint!

This is what I was thinking throughout "Orpheus." Both of them, but especially Moncion, are so vivid. The only time I'd ever seen Moncion, who was on the roster the first few years I attended NYCB, was as a very kindly Drosselmeier in "Nutcracker."

I had seen the same clips as everyone else of Diana Adams from the Balanchine bio on PBS, but to see her in a complete role was such a privilege. I can't wait until Volume Two finally gets delivered. Also, watching "Serenade," I could understand why Barbara Bocher fell for Herbert Bliss. The dancer who blew me away, though, was Patricia Wilde: what a dynamic dancer she was!

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Vol.3 has been announced on the VAI website: Scenes from Swan Lake, Coppelia, and Menotti's: The Unicorn...

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Replying to Canbelto's post (#33)...."Agon PDD between Adams and Mitchell as being more clinical than sexy.......maybe it was just Adams' personality"

I would go with that last remark. I saw quite a lot of Adams before she joined NYCB when she was a member of ABT---and I recall her in "Pillar of

Fire" where she had a small part (lover in experience) and she did not exude sex....she was fairly conservative emotionally in her dancing.

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Replying to Canbelto's post (#33)...."Agon PDD between Adams and Mitchell as being more clinical than sexy.......maybe it was just Adams' personality"

I would go with that last remark. I saw quite a lot of Adams before she joined NYCB when she was a member of ABT---and I recall her in "Pillar of

Fire" where she had a small part (lover in experience) and she did not exude sex....she was fairly conservative emotionally in her dancing.

It's wonderful to read those memories of a dancer many of us would love to have seen. Thank you. Adams told Robert Tracy in Balanchine's Ballerinas: Conversations with the Muses:

I wasn't often very animated, because I was usually intimidated. I would have given better performances if I had gotten more pleasure out of dancing. [ . . . ] I was a rather neurotic dancer, always anxiety-ridden.

She then mentions Farrell and Kistler in contrast.

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