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Fancy Free - threatening?


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#16 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 12:12 PM

Go here for a video clip of the section of Fancy Free under discussion. 

 

NYCB 1986 Lourdes Lopez / Joseph Duell / Kipling Houston / Jean-Pierre Frolich

 

I really do find it more menacing than playful  -- there's plenty of menace in that music, that's for sure -- but of course your mileage may vary.

 

It also occurred to me as I re-watched it that Robbins and Bernstein might actually have intended the passage to have some darker undertones -- i.e., that they were aiming for something more complicated than the Hallmark Channel version of shore leave. 



#17 sandik

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 12:56 PM

Fancy Free is a great example of how an art work both illustrates and is defined by its time.  Most of the productions I've seen, starting from the 1970s, have taken that interchange fairly lightly.  As it starts, the boys (and they play often as boys in that moment) are teasing and the girl is amused.  As the scene develops, the teasing becomes more aggressive and the amusement transforms into frustration.  The redeeming aspect comes at the end where the woman stands up for herself more overtly and the men realize they've gone too far. 

 

But I have seen this where the potential for confrontation goes further, and although I believe that you can frame the encounter in different ways, the potential for aggression is always there.  Remember Robbins' work in West Side Story, and the implied violence in the confrontations between Anybodys and her own gang, as well as Anita trying to warn Tony that Maria's brother was looking for him.



#18 dirac

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 12:59 PM

Yes, it was the NYCB production (although not that particular cast) that Croce was discussing in the review referenced in my earlier post. There is always the possibility that Robbins saw it and decided he liked it. I would suggest with all due respect that a cheerful, fancy-free version of "Fancy Free" would necessarily deserve the Hallmark Channel designation, however. LIghtheartedness isn't necessarily sappy (or aggressively hearty, which is a problem with the movie version of "On the Town").

 

Found the Croce quote in full:

 

NYCB dancers have no skill in the throwaway gesture. When the sailors tease the girl with the red shoulder bag, the action that at Ballet Theatre can look ad lib is so precisely set and executed that it becomes harsh: these boys might be muggers. And Martins and Saland massage the tender little pas de deux into an explosive sexual encounter.

 



#19 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 02:02 PM

I didn't mean to imply that a purely lighthearted version of "Fancy Free" would necessarily be sappy. But watching the video, and especially, listening to the music again made me think that Robbins and Bernstein might have wanted theses sailors to have a little more edge to them than they would likely have had in a conventional musical. 



#20 vipa

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 02:23 PM

Found the Croce quote in full:

 

NYCB dancers have no skill in the throwaway gesture. When the sailors tease the girl with the red shoulder bag, the action that at Ballet Theatre can look ad lib is so precisely set and executed that it becomes harsh: these boys might be muggers. And Martins and Saland massage the tender little pas de deux into an explosive sexual encounter.

 

 

Interesting, because if we're going back to Martins and Stephanie Saland, Robbins was probably there coaching.



#21 dirac

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 02:44 PM

Robbins may not have seen it the way Croce saw it, or not minded it, or maybe he over-coached, or a bit of all of those. Perhaps also a matter of casting. I have a hard time seeing Martins fitting easily into that role and Saland was perhaps too glamorous?



#22 sandik

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 02:49 PM

I always thought that Croce put her finger on an interesting distinction.  The ABT dancers had been performing this work in pretty much an uninterrupted line from the time it was made for them, and were coached by people who were coached by people -- they would be getting nuances that the NYCB dancers likely didn't get. 



#23 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 03:24 PM

Robbins may not have seen it the way Croce saw it, or not minded it, or maybe he over-coached, or a bit of all of those. Perhaps also a matter of casting. I have a hard time seeing Martins fitting easily into that role and Saland was perhaps too glamorous?

 

I recall Martins' sailor as being rather more knowing than he is often portrayed today. Think of something along the lines of the gypsy prince role Martins originated in Balanchine's "Tzigane" or his sailor in the Royal Navy section of "Union Jack."  



#24 Stage Right

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 03:31 PM

I see it as a flirtatious episode, in the context of its time. It certainly has never bothered me as a woman, although other things I've seen in entertainment certainly do. Definitely not threatening.



#25 Jack Reed

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Posted 18 July 2014 - 10:35 AM

The 1986 clip linked to above seems to me to reflect the new style NYCB was adopting then - remote and efficient - and I can see why some would pick up an air of remote and uncaring threat toward the girl in yellow - I think Houston barely indicates (in the closeup at 7:46) his character's moment of reflection with the slightest tip down of the head, but just barely.

 

I think once again that it depends a lot on qualities of the particular performance, and Robbins's presence was no guarantee that the original qualities would be restored.  He had very different dancers in the mid-1980s from the mid-1940s, and probably felt very personally about them, too, and this may have gone some way to dissuade him from imposing another way on them; and he was always changing his mind anyway.

 

An extreme example of that, in another ballet, comes to mind.  Around this time, or a few years before, both NYCB and ABT showed his Interplay, and the difference was vividly obvious from the get-go:  At ABT, we saw the cast pose in silhouette against the illuminated backdrop when the curtain went up, while at NYCB, the stage lights had already come up, revealing the dancers more personally. The qualities of the dancing were different, too, in the way we're talking about.

 

There's another Fancy Free clip on YouTube which doesn't show the purse episode but does indicate some of the contrast in performing styles:

 

 

 

(We are getting some ABT dancers' rendition of Fancy Free here in Chicago in August, at the Chicago Dancing Festival, and in October, when ABT puts on "An All-American Celebration".  I'm looking forward to it; I think it's Robbins's best ballet, and I think they own it.) 



#26 sandik

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Posted 18 July 2014 - 12:11 PM

After watching the clip above, I stumbled onto this as well, with commentary by Tyler Angle -- nothing specifically about the potential for aggression, but some interesting discussion of the ballet as a work about three guys.



#27 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 18 July 2014 - 01:13 PM

NYCB added "Fancy Free" to its repertoire in 1980, and Robbins, who was in charge of the revival, presumably selected the cast. With the exception (I think) of Kipling Houston, all of the cast members in the 1986 video I linked to above (Stephanie Saland, Lourdes Lopez, Joseph Duell, Kipling Houston, and Jean-Pierre Frolich) were in either the first or second casts in the original 1980 revival. 

 

I'm guessing that the 80's cast danced the ballet the way Robbins wanted it to be danced then, for good or ill. 



#28 sandik

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Posted 18 July 2014 - 01:14 PM

 

I'm guessing that the 80's cast danced the ballet the way Robbins wanted it to be danced then, for good or ill. 

 

 

Oh, I imagine so.



#29 Stage Right

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Posted 18 July 2014 - 01:42 PM

The above comments are interesting, because I saw ABT dance it well before the 1980s. I saw nothing remotely threatening about it--it seemed quite lighthearted and carefree, but perhaps the 10980s/NYCB version is "darker".




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