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Rebellion at the Maryinsky

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#31 Ed Waffle

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Posted 15 May 2000 - 06:19 AM

Dale wrote: “And while we've touched on this topic, as a musician, I find it interesting that people in ballet think nothing of changing choreography or tempos to suit themselves ("Well, the choreographer would want me to look good, right?") while in music that just doesn't usually happen.”

While it doesn’t happen for the musical proletariat laboring away in the pit, it does from the podium—and very often, in opera, from the stage, of course.

The conductor of a symphony orchestra seems to have pretty free rein regarding tempo, phrasing, dynamics and other things that go into creating the sounds that we hear. Compare a recording of a Mozart symphony performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Solti with one performed by the Hanover Band, for example.

In opera, which may be more closely related to the discussion at hand, it seems that very little of the core repertory is sung and played as written. The notable exception is Wagner, but that is dealt with by simply cutting a lot of it. In much of the nineteenth century Italian rep, performance practice that has developed over the years is as important as what the composer actually wrote. Audiences find it strange if the Lucia or Violetta or Leonora they are hearing does not take interpolated high notes that were most definitely not written by Verdi or Donizetti.

None of which is bad. Much of what we hear on the lyric stage today was written for specific singers and specific opera houses. The works were created with certain artists in mind, which does not mean that they should not be performed today. It is even more true with some ballets, it seems. If a Balanchine work was created on Farrell or Tallchief or some other legendary dancer, other dancers with different gifts should not be kept from interpreting them.

Music is a living art especially the ballet and opera wings of music. While some singers or dancers may want to make changes to a work based on less than noble reasons, my experience is that it is generally done for what are thought (by the singer or dancer) to be sound artistic interpretations.

Whether they actually are sound, of course, is another matter entirely.

"The great pleasure in hearing vocal music arises from the
association of ideas raised at the same time by the expressions
and sound."

Joseph Addison, "The Spectator", 21 March 1711.

#32 Dale


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Posted 15 May 2000 - 07:02 AM

Originally posted by Ed Waffle:
None of which is bad. Much of what we hear on the lyric stage today was written for specific singers and specific opera houses. The works were created with certain artists in mind, which does not mean that they should not be performed today. It is even more true with some ballets, it seems. If a Balanchine work was created on Farrell or  Tallchief or some other legendary dancer, other dancers with different gifts should not be kept from interpreting them.


I don't think I wrote that they shouldn't. Balanchine changed steps to suit dancers many times. My arguement is that just because a dancer is comfortable with a slow tempo, markings and the intent of the choreographer (especially one whose creations are wedded so to the music) should not be ignored. In the "Balanchine Lives" documentary, the dancers learning Theme and Variations said they forced themselves to stay with the tempo and not slow things down. Not ever dancer or singer is suited to ever part. And a dancer doesn't have to change a ballet just because it was made on another.

And while Opera does feature changes (high notes brought down etc..), instrumental music really does not (except for the odd case). Very rarely. I've listened to several different recordings of, for example, Beethoven's 9th, and, yes, different conductors do have different interpretations, but they don't change notes or turn a largo into an allegro (again, I add, not very often).

You mentioned that changes are not usually made by the orchestra. Well, isn't the corp de ballet sort of like the players of the orchestra? The example I used had the corps complaining about a change Isabel Fokine wanted to make. In the past, I played Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorsky but orchestrated by Ravel. This is the popular version. But Leonard Slatkin was researching all the other (over 70 he told us) orchestrations of the piano piece. So he had us play one by some Russian guy (sorry, I forgot his name). At no time did the tuba player stand up and complain that the bass clarinet now had his solo. Or the trumpet player go up to Slatkin and say, "Well, Maestro. I've always played the solo at the opening, and even though this guy gave it to the flute, we've always done it the other way." We might have thought it Posted Image but we did as we were told.

Bringing this back to the Kirov thread -- Andrei, you made a good point about the corps dancers. (And Eric, don't be so picky Posted Image

[This message has been edited by Dale (edited May 15, 2000).]

#33 Natalia


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Posted 15 May 2000 - 09:34 AM

C'mon, Eugene! Purchase a copy of Beaumont at Dave Leonard's shop, please, and read about the greatness of "Daughter of the Pharaoh" in 19th-century Russian ballet history. Posted Image I'll join the Kirov dancers in requesting that the company not go too gah-gah for Balanchine. It's fine for the former Imperial Russian Ballet to dance works such as "Ballet Imperial" (which it has yet to add to its rep) or "Theme & Variations," "Tchaikovsky pdd," "Symphony in C" and "Jewels" (esp. "Diamonds"). This sort of tutus-and-tiaras Balanchineana suits them perfectly. The same cannot be said for "Apollo" or "Serenade," I'm afraid.

#34 Alexandra


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Posted 15 May 2000 - 09:58 AM

Jeannie, there really is something in the water here Posted Image I was going to post a reminder about Beaumont ("The Complete Book of Ballets") over the weekend and didn't have time. There's a very long entry for "Pharoah's Daughter," which was considered one of the greatest of Petipa's ballets. For those who have access to a copy (it's in libraries, too, though hard to find, and expensive now, in shops), browse through the rest of the great 19th century Russian repertory.

#35 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 15 May 2000 - 12:01 PM

Returning a bit to the original topic, doesn't it sound surprising to anybody that one of the complaints was about the endless tours? We all know that the Kirov Ballet is continually on tour, but on the other hand soloists shouldn't be complaining about that, since it means money for them.

Any comments on that?

#36 eugene



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Posted 15 May 2000 - 06:15 PM

I have not seen Pharoahs daughter so I should not critize it but it sounds pretty bad! It sounds more like grand spectacle then art. But I reserve judgement till I see it.

I also saw Glass Pieces and I really liked it! One of the best modern ballet I have seen. It is a masterpiece in my view!! Now if only the Kirov would do that!

There is nothing wrong with a museum but there a not really enough masterpiece to make the museum worth while - new work is so important.

BTW Opera companies now do not cut Wagner (thank god!). I saw Gotterdamerung in NY this May, (Wagners longest opera). I notice that there were no cuts. In fact James Levine slow tempo ADDs another half hour to it making close to 6 hours . Most other conductors can do it in 5 and half hours

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Posted 15 May 2000 - 06:59 PM

Dale, I see what you mean about bad tempi. The thing is, with a symphony or concerto, it's the music played by the orchestra that comes first. In a ballet, the dancing comes first, and in opera, the singing comes first. It has been common practice since the 19th century to, if a dancer cannot do a certain step, interpolate something else. Many, many Russian ballerinas have done piqué turns instead of fouettés in Swan Lake, but it doesn't mean they should not have been doing Swan Lake in the first place, because they might be a fabulous Odette/Odile, yet simply unable to do 32 fouettés. I have also been to rehearsals where NYCB dancers have asked for a slower tempo, and they got it. Whether they would have gotten it in Balanchine's time is another matter, but it is generally accepted that if a dancer simply cannot dance quickly enough, the tempo should be changed.
There is less flexibility with instruments. As far as I know, most of them have a fixed range, and the composer does not generally write notes for a flute, for example, that s/he knows a flute cannot play. (Tell me if I'm wrong here.) Likewise, you'd have to be insane to write a D above the highest C on a piano because no one would be able to play it. However, dancers are different. Darcey Bussell does wonderful grands fouettés; some dancers do not. There are at least 3 versions of Medora's variation in Le Corsaire because so many ballerinas with differing abilities dance Medora. Your example fits in here: a flute probably could not play precisely the same notes as a trumpet, so wouldn't the solo be altered accordingly by the composer? S/he is the one arranging the music after all, just as a balletmaster/mistress arranges the dances~~therefore, if s/he wants to give Medora to, say Julie Kent, but she can't do the fast Corsaire variation, he substitutes the slow one, which is better suited to her abilities.

Eugene, take your comment about Glass Pieces. Substitute "Giselle" for "Glass Pieces." Substitute "NYCB" for "the Kirov." Frightened, yet?


#38 Ilya


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Posted 15 May 2000 - 07:38 PM

Yes, Marc, the complaint about touring did sound a little odd to me. It used to be that everybody wanted to go on tour, especially to the West. (Andrei, please feel free to correct me if I am imagining things here.) In fact, people were left out of tours as punishment. Has the situation changed so drastically? Or was this demand, again, as Andrei put it, the case of them not knowing what they wanted?

As to the youngsters having always been favored at the Mariinsky, I don't think that the rebels' careers can be compared to the current generation. As I recall, Ruzimatov was left out of an important tour of the US when he was 23---which is close to the retirement age at the Mariinsky these days Posted Image. He's still only 36. Not using him and other "old timers" in important new productions, not giving them premieres, not creating new ballets for them is both unfair to them and to the public, as well as financially unwise: they are still major box-office "hits" all over the world.

What next: a 14-year-old Mariinsky principal?

Marc, I do recall that Vaziev used to be called "Company Manager" and Ruzimatov "Deputy Artistic Director". Whatever happened to that, indeed.

#39 Manhattnik


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Posted 16 May 2000 - 10:47 AM

If the Kirov's other tours are like their visit to the Met last year, I can certainly understand the complaints. Remember, they started off with a dress rehearsal and four of those long, killer Sleeping Beauties in, what, three days?

The corps and soloists danced admirably, for the most part, but many were clearly exhausted by the last few performances, and I don't think it was simply because they had been up all night enjoying the pleasures of NYC.

I get the feeling that one aspect of these tours is to earn much-needed foreign cash, and I can understand if some of the Kirov dancers might feel like they're sweat-shop workers with toeshoes.

#40 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 16 May 2000 - 04:10 PM

Shame that Petipa never created a ballet called "Wotan's Daughter" or "Valkyrie Lake". These would surely have been great art, even today. And we would have got our money's worth in time spent at the theater, providing that they were unedited of course Posted Image.

#41 Juliet


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Posted 16 May 2000 - 05:22 PM

And James Levine could have made certain that they went on for as long as possible....

#42 Ari


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Posted 16 May 2000 - 06:16 PM

On the issue of changing ballets to suit different dancers, I think the nub of it is that it depends on how you do it and how far you go. It should be okay to alter some steps if the person doing the altering maintains a clear vision of what the ballet is and how to keep it that way. But when someone changes the choreography so drastically that the ballet is deformed and is no longer recognizable as the ballet it was, that's when you've gone too far.

That's why it's easier to change around the full-length story ballets, because changing the choreography of certain variations doesn't have that much of an effect on the total ballet, which is made up of a variety of things--classical dance, character dance, mime, stage effects, etc. In later ballets like Balanchine's, which are completely dance-driven, you risk killing the ballet if you tinker inexpertly with the choreography. Balanchine, of course, knew exactly how far he could go in changing the choreography because they were his own ballets, but anyone else who tries that has got to be very, very careful. Ballet is so fragile, so hard to get a grip on.

I think that's why so many people bridle at the notion of a ballet company as a museum. Paintings and sculpture are physical things that remain constant through the ages, but ballets are much more delicate creatures. We've all seen bad performances where we come away shaking our heads and saying, "That wasn't [Les Sylphides/Episodes/Pillar of Fire/whatever]." And that's why we worry so much about preserving great choreography and authentic styles of performance.

#43 Natalia


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Posted 17 May 2000 - 10:08 AM

Marc - Not that I want to give my friend Eugene more "fuel," but, believe it or not, Bournonville made a "Valkyrie" ballet! Have you seen it, Alexandra? I know that the CD for the ballet music is available...not Wagner but some Danish composer.

- Jeannie

#44 Alexandra


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Posted 17 May 2000 - 10:15 AM

Bournonville made many serious balles on historical and mythological themes. The Danes dumped them all in the 1930s when Harald Lander (considered the savior of Bournonville ballets, for reasons which make sense only to Danes) became director. He revived the Valkyries, making it look, according to contemporary critics, like a "cartoon." "The style, the style," one mourned. "It is from the world, and it has nothing to do with Bournonville or Hartmann." "The Valkyries" hasn't been done since the early '30s. "The Lay of Thrym," of which a contemporary English critic (Edmond Gosse) wrote that it made ballet in the rest of Europe seem a trivial thing, was reconstructed in a ghastly staging in 1990, probably precluding any of these ballets from being revived, although several are in completely notated form and could be revived.

You will read in Danish history books that the ballets were out of fashion, but that does not seem to be true. The people who took over the company didn't know how to stage them. Lander was adept at comedy, and did cute, very naive little ballets or Ballet Russe imitations that were extremely popular. He was hailed as the Great Danish Choreographer. One of his works remains in repertory.

#45 Donald Gray

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Posted 21 May 2000 - 11:16 PM

Before this topic is retired I'm curious to know why the Kirov chose the "tutu" ballets of Balanchine instead of an evening of 4T's, Episodes, Orpheus or ? Wouldn't the black leotard works have given them another dimension that they don't already have? Do they feel the Bezart ballets are sufficient for this?

Thank you.

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