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Alexandra

Petrouchka

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I'd like to start a regular series of discussions of specific ballets -- a kind if mini-ballets in detail, or Ballet of the Week. It would be fun, and useful, to have a database of material on different ballets.

I showed the video of Petrouchka (Paris Opera Ballet does Diaghilev) to a class (adult education) recently and it made me think about the ballet all over again -- I hadn't in years. I've never seen a live performance that convinced me the ballet was great, but this one on video did. (It looks 5 times as good on a big screen!)

50 years ago, there were a lot of people who thought Petrouchka was the great ballet of the 20th century. I wonder how many people would say that today?

Most of what I've read talks about the superficials -- the local color, the swirl of color in the designs, the acting of the principals -- or the psychological -- how the dolls aren't dolls are all, but metaphors and types. I think they're fine topics for discussion, as well as the structure, how Fokine so clearly defined those dolls in movement.

Coming right after Sleeping Beauty, realizing that Petrouchka was 20 years after Sleeping Beauty, it did seem like a different world.

Any thoughts on Petrouchka (Fokine's version)? First off, how many have seen it, what companies, what productions? Did you enjoy it? Do you think it's a great ballet, or not?

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I first saw "Petrouchka" in the POB video you mention (with Mongne, Loudières and Guizerix). I liked it, but was a bit disturbed by the music at first (I was not familiar at all with Stravinsky at all then). Then I saw a second video, filmed in the 1970s at the POB, with Nureyev, Pontois and Jude (and Peretti as the charlatan)- and, silly me, let my parents convince me that since I already had a copy of "Petrouchka", they could record something else over once I had seen it-,now the probability to see it again on the French TV is about zero, and I feel like beating myself when I think about it! :)

I saw it live only twice, both times with the POB: once in 1997, with Belarbi, Muret and Bridard, and once in 2001, with Hilaire, Maurin and Guizerix. When I saw in 1997, it was a re-discovery for me, and I really was charmed. I can't really explain why- except that I really, really love the Benois designs (indeed it's hard to find designs as great as those of the Ballets Russes era), the liveliness of it all, the myriad of little details which make that there are new things to notice each time... I was a bit less enthusiastic with the second performance, perhaps because I liked Hilaire less than Belarbi (his acting looked a bit excessive to me) and on the whole the atmosphere was less convincing- but it still was my favorite work of the evening. And I hope to be able to see it next October at the Chatelet by the Kirov.

About Sleeping Beauty: it's a bit funny to think that the Bluebird became the Charlatan! :D

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I've seen ABT and Joffrey productions of Petrouchka.

Gary Chryst was the title character my first time. Charthel Arthur was the Ballerina Doll and Christian Holder, the Moor. For you Manhattan dance students it might be interesting to know that Diana Cartier was the lead Nurse Maid.

I saw Michael Smuin and Karena Brock in the ABT production, and Nureyev as Petrouchka over thirty times with Joffrey, on broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre and at New York State Theatre. In those performances, Gary Chryst was the magician.

At one point, Mr. Joffrey brought in Massine to rehearse the ballet. Mr. Massine made additions to the crowd scenes that were interesting but later removed. I was told that those additions had been his own choreography.

Petrouchka was one of Mr. Joffrey's favorite ballets if not his most favorite. He would once in a while show up in the crowd scenes.

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I wonder if there have been many objections to the racist portrayal of the Moor? :eek:

Of course, you could say that about many ballets [Raymonda, anyone?] but Petrouchka is more obviously so. Not that I necessarily agree, either...I can see both arguments.

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In the early days of staging "Petrouchka" with the Joffrey, Yurek Lasowsky was brought in to stage it. Lasowsky had been one of the great Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Petrouchkas, and remembered their production vividly. As a boy in Seattle, however, Joffrey had met Massine while serving as a super in the ballet. He always remembered that, and when Massine appeared to be free, he was brought in to "tighten and sharpen" the production. Lasowsky was furious!

The Joffrey production had a lot of detail to it, including a working carousel, and the best damn bear costume that money could buy. It was a wonderful thing, and made the wearer sway and waddle like the animal is supposed to naturally. I oughta know - I was inside it on at least one occasion when glebb saw us do it.

In all the PC rush of the day, the Moor seems to have escaped much notice. It may be because he's part of another minority culture folkway?

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Glebb and Mel, I was hoping you'd find this thread and chime in.

I'm sometimes the world's densest viewer, but I didn't "get" that the Blackamoor was "black" for years. To me, he was a doll. (I had a "mammy" doll when I was a child, modelled on Dinah Belinda in the Raggedy Ann books and made out of black out curtains. Child of the South though I was, she was never "black" to me. She was just another doll.) It wasn't until I read the "how dare they do this in the 1970s" stuff that I thought of The Moor as "black." Of course, he's a stereotype -- a carefully characterized stereotype: sexual, aggressive, and stupid. The Ballerina Doll isn't very bright, either. My view on this is that Fokine was *using* the stereotype to tell the story, not in the intention of furthering it, or expressing a personal opinion on a group.

The Joffrey, of course, finessed this by having the Moor danced by a black dancer (the excellent Christian Holder.) That worked at the time -- I wonder what Holder thought about it. Which is worse, watching an oversexed stupid maniac doll, or being told, well, since you have the same skin color, you get to dance him?

When I watched the Paris video, I thought of this angle quite consciously. To me, the characterization -- both in the choreographer and of the dancers -- are so vivid that The Moor is an individual: a powerful man who always gets the girl, is The Winner, compared to Petrouchka's The Loser. The Ballerina doll, cold, seductive in a Lolita way, doesn't represent all women to me, either.

Estelle, I had some questions for you, if you would, after I update another couple of hundred user post counts :)

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In my youth I saw "Petroushka" in Maly Theatre, St. Petersburg with Valery Panov. I was too young to understand how great this work is, except I like him very much and I was in shock in the last scene, when Magician picked up the dummie from the floor after Petroushka's death. Few years ago I saw it again with the same company and can tell the ballet is very well preserved. The dancers know what they are doing on the stage, they were able to embody Fokine's idea of creation the dance from crowd's movements, as an ocean wave it's bringning dancers on the spot lights and eating them up, sowing us the birth of every movement. I don't have a program and, unfortunately, don't remember who have to be credited for this restaging, but probably the roots have to lead to Leontiev, who brought "Petroushka" in Marinsky in 20th. I didn't see the current version of Mariinsky so far, which was done by Viharev.

On the video I saw Paris Opera with Mongne and the choreography is different. I used to dance "Petroushka's room" scene in Mariinsky's concerts, which was showed to me by MalyTheatre's artists and it's absolutely different. Much more jumps, different musical accents, almost every note was choreographed, even running across the wall was not just running, but pas de bourre with special accent down that goes against your arms movements. I doubt in some arms movements of corps de ballet of Grand Opera also, they not Russians at all and I think Fokine couldn't possible make them.

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I was predisposed to love this ballet many years before I saw it as my grandmother, who I adored, used to tell me the story. I'm not sure if she ever saw a production and if she did I suppose it was by the Ballet Russe on tour. But her family came over from Russia at the turn of the last century and the story clearly meant something to her.

I saw the Joffrey version with Chryst a number of times and he is my favorite Petrouchka. I found his performance more moving than Nureyev's which I also saw at least once live. The Joffrey did a great job with this ballet, the atmosphere and the detailed characterizations were wonderful. Now, this would be a revival I'd like to see.

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I have always loved the first production I saw of "Petrouchka" (and not just because I supered in it many times) It was the Ballet Theatre version that had Massine, Eglevsky as the Moor and usually Lucia Chase or Nora Kaye as the ballerina. I have felt about the Moor the way you have, Alexandra. For me, he was just a character who happened to be black. On occasion, Sol Hurok would show up on stage leading the bear by a chain. I have long considered this a great ballet. Everything comes together and is outstanding---the score, the sets, the choreography, the drama. A wonderful theatrical piece.

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I just found this discussion of Petrouchka and it brought back memories of when I danced the ballet. I was very young-maybe 10, and we brought in Vitale Fokine to set it. According to him, the ballet was about Communism, and how the government controlled it's people. Obviously, they couldn't just speak out and say that, so artists would create many pieces in a very convoluted way, to get the point across.

It was fascinating, being able to work with Vitale-however, he did have a confusing way of describing things!! Classes and rehearsals with him were interesting!!

Clara :D

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Err, I don't understand how Petrouchka could be about Communism, as it was created something like 6 years between the October revolution? :(

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Well Estelle, all I can say is that Communism was my word.

Perhaps he said government. I will admit to my memory being a bit foggy but others who were there remember him saying similar things. :shrug:

The main idea that came across to all of us was that it was about the control the government had over the people, and the helplessness they felt. For example, the picture of the magician in Petrouchka's room. That was the symbol of the government. He shakes his fists at the picture, yet doesn't rebel directly against him.

He falls in love with the ballerina who symbolizes freedom.

I am sorry but I don't remember much more about it. What I can remember of his stories did have a strong impact on me.

Clara :(

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(Deep whiskey baritone) Holdit!Holdit!Holdit! Mam'zelle, ici de meme chose as over dere. Youze got it? OK. (Clara, who is that?)

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Why Vitale, of course!! That sounds like about as much sense as he ever made to me! I remember that he loved my face...don't know why but he said I looked like a little Russian peasant. I remember that I couldn't understand his corrections in class but I would try something else and he would smile and nod, so I guessed it was correct!

Oy vey, the cobwebs of my brain!!! :(

Clara :(

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I loved taking class from him. He was like a favorite uncle.

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I'll second that!! Let's have a toast!

Clara

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Za vyashe zdarovya, Vitale Mikhailovitch, here's to pleasant memories! :(

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I showed the video of Petrouchka (Paris Opera Ballet does Diaghilev) to a class (adult education) recently

Where did you teach this class? Are other classes of this type generally available? I tried to take one at Juliard but it was canceled.

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I wonder if there have been many objections to the racist portrayal of the Moor? :eek:

Of course, you could say that about many ballets [Raymonda, anyone?] but Petrouchka is more obviously so. Not that I necessarily agree, either...I can see both arguments.

I was shocked when I first saw, "Excelsior", and then I saw "Nutcracker" and I wondered about the difference between reporting accurately, making an homage, and making a racist statement. Is it racist to report that certain cultures were portrayed in a certain way in a certain time, given the context? Is Fokine and his co-creators (including Benoit) commenting on the character and/or treatment of the Moor and the Clown by his portrayal? Are we too precious to observe without having a p.c. censor intervene? I don't think every presentation of caricature is per se racist, or should be forbidden, if they are not allowed to be used for detrimental propaganda, but rather, are viewed within context or as part of the whole.

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The Joffrey production had a lot of detail to it, including a working carousel, and the best damn bear costume that money could buy. It was a wonderful thing, and made the wearer sway and waddle like the animal is supposed to naturally. I oughta know - I was inside it on at least one occasion when glebb saw us do it.

I could not tell if the bear in the Bolshoi production was real or not - the costume was that good.

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I could not tell if the bear in the Bolshoi production was real or not - the costume was that good.

I had the same response to the one in the BRdMC production I saw here in Chicago in the mid-50s. I think today the way the dancer inside the costume moved is due some credit for achieving that little mystery!

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I could not tell if the bear in the Bolshoi production was real or not - the costume was that good.

I had the same response to the one in the BRdMC production I saw here in Chicago in the mid-50s. I think today the way the dancer inside the costume moved is due some credit for achieving that little mystery!

Yes, of course.

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Well Estelle, all I can say is that Communism was my word.

Perhaps he said government. I will admit to my memory being a bit foggy but others who were there remember him saying similar things. :shrug:

The main idea that came across to all of us was that it was about the control the government had over the people, and the helplessness they felt. For example, the picture of the magician in Petrouchka's room. That was the symbol of the government. He shakes his fists at the picture, yet doesn't rebel directly against him.

He falls in love with the ballerina who symbolizes freedom.

I am sorry but I don't remember much more about it. What I can remember of his stories did have a strong impact on me.

Clara smile.gif

I have a hard time understanding how the ballerina could symbolize freedom as she is portrayed, unless one defines "freedom" as lacking control or knowledge (and the associated pain or struggle of decision-making). Some define death as freedom, due to the release from physical pain and mental and emotional strain. However, the ballerina is a puppet, kept in a closet, held up on pegs or fixed to a pole, and then taken down to entertain others. She has limited freedom of movement, or freedom to move in certain manners and between certain boundaries. She is perhaps happy to be an object of affection, admiration, or desire, which gives rise to certain freedoms, as well as certain restraints. She seems happy in her "Garden of Eden", and does the limitation of knowledge render her free in a desirable way? Is this the kind of freedom sought by the Clown? Are you suggesting that the Clown and the Moor seek or abuse freedom, including political freedom and the expression of political will, without understanding its risks and rewards?

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I wonder if there have been many objections to the racist portrayal of the Moor? :eek:

Of course, you could say that about many ballets [Raymonda, anyone?] but Petrouchka is more obviously so. Not that I necessarily agree, either...I can see both arguments.

I was shocked when I first saw, "Excelsior", and then I saw "Nutcracker" and I wondered about the difference between reporting accurately, making an homage, and making a racist statement. Is it racist to report that certain cultures were portrayed in a certain way in a certain time, given the context? Is Fokine and his co-creators (including Benoit) commenting on the character and/or treatment of the Moor and the Clown by his portrayal? Are we too precious to observe without having a p.c. censor intervene? I don't think every presentation of caricature is per se racist, or should be forbidden, if they are not allowed to be used for detrimental propaganda, but rather, are viewed within context or as part of the whole.

This is, of course, a variation on the discussion that we often have about artworks that use the conventions of their time, only to have those conventions change after the work is made. The continuing difficulty that schools have with books like Huckleberry Finn is just one example of our conflicted feelings -- I don't think anyone, including the educators and families who object to including the book on high school reading lists, would claim that it is bad literature, but that it is based in a problematic time.

(you can include Balanchine's La Sonambula to the list of works that have stereotyped characters in them)

I just saw a revision of Petrushka this weekend by the contemporary choreographer Donald Byrd, made for Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle. He extends the original work in several directions, setting it in an actual carnival (the audience wanders around the booths in the first act), substituting a minstrel show-style Interlocutor for the Charlatan, and a series of fairly sleazy sideshow acts for the magic act. The physical style of the three puppets is true to the Fokine, but the actual steps are mostly different. Byrd has been tinkering with works from the historic repertory for some time (he's made revisionist versions of Giselle, Sleeping Beauty and Miraculous Mandarin as well as Petrushka) and often mocks or twists the conventions of their original periods. In this Petrushka, his Interlocutor is an African American, and his Moor is danced by a biracial man, in blackface and wearing a large dildo (made, I think, from wicker) Byrd delights in pushing buttons, and he's done it here again -- how this relates to current productions of the historic staging is worth discussing.

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