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story ballets vs plotless ballets


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 08:37 PM

I didn't think you sounded harsh, Ballet Nut -- and certainly not offensive. Just realistic :(

#17 BW

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 03:42 AM

Don't worry BalletNut - no apologies needed!:) Perhaps, my use of the word "harsh" should have had a little smiley face next to it. I can see I misunderstood your earlier post. :) My apologies to you! When I read the first one, I felt you were just lumping all new attempts into one vast "dung" pile ;), now I can see better what you were driving at!:(

#18 Helena

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 04:14 AM

I absolutely agree with Cargill. Most "fairy tales" actually have quite a lot to say - that is the reason they are immortal. Many, or even most, of them were not originally aimed at children, and are more properly called "folk tales". It depends on the level you choose for interpretation. I don't mean pseudo-Freud, either, but metaphors about the great truths of life.

#19 BW

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 04:53 AM

Helena, thanks for bringing back up this issue about fairy tales and folk tales! This was one of the other offshoots of this discussion that I meant to follow-up on: their value as vehicles for illustrating, as you said, "The great truths of life."

It certainly seems to me that in all the different cultures we have in our world, that each country's folk tales have a universal theme...I suppose, when you get right down to it, that all fiction stems from this same universal theme. Makes me think of my husband's comment about opera when he compared it to "big time wrestling"!:( It does seem to boil down to good and evil... However, I would much prefer to watch a well done story ballet than WWF Smack Down any day!!

#20 Ari

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 10:24 AM

I didn't mean to imply that fairy tales or folk tales have no meaning or depth, BW. Obviously they do, as cargill and Helena have pointed out (and it's for this reason that ballets based on such works can be so moving). I was just trying to distinguish them from the kinds of literature that explore motivations and situations in depth and/or deal with a social, cultural, or historical milieu that is very difficult, if not impossible, to convey through dance and gesture. These were the problems that liebs had with Onegin, and that I've had too with some other story ballets.

A good choreographer can take an ordinary moment in a story—say, a young girl meeting her suitors—and turn it into a poetic essay on growing up and a brilliant classical dance number at the same time. But I can't imagine how he'd have shown a hero with a complex personality challenging his best friend to a duel and then, defying convention, killing him.

#21 BW

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 11:57 AM

Ari, I've never seen Onegin, but I do believe you and Liebs when you tell me that the ballet just didn't work. I guess, I felt that you were saying in your earlier post, that the major story ballets were all pretty much "fluff" and although on some levels they may be...on other levels we could probably read a great deal into Siegfried's relationship with his mother!:D

But seriously, your point about complexities of a deeper sense are well taken... I guess this is why we don't see Dostoyevsky's novels turned into ballets...yet. ;)

Thanks for your clarification!

#22 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 12:18 PM

But seriously, your point about complexities of a deeper sense are well taken... I guess this is why we don't see Dostoyevsky's novels turned into ballets...yet.


Oh BW, but we do. I believe it may have been Valery Panov that took "The Idiot" and turned it into a ballet two decades or so ago.

And therein lies some of the conflict between story ballets and plotless ballets. A story ballet gives the hapless choreographer one more thing to screw up. And it can really be screwed up big. If you have gone to see Eifman's season at City Center, I'd be curious to see your take on it. He does story works, and they've been hailed nationwide as Alexandra notes. And you'll forgive my prejudice, but to me they rise to the level of barely competent, barely coherent reinventions of the wheel (I'm amazed when people call his recyclings of Bejart or Mats Ek clever and daring). But others really love it. So there's another take on the issue.

#23 BW

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 02:46 PM

You know, Leigh, right after I posted that I thought: hmm, I wonder about Eifman... I'm too much of a neophyte to have heard of Valery Panov, but I stand corrected!:D

I thought about going to see Eifman, but although I do live right outside the city it is still an effort to get there for things that don't thrill you...at least in your expectations of them, anyway... You know, I haven't even read the articles about his works - my NYT Arts and Leisure and Weekend sections await me!

So, was ballet version of The Idiot really bad? Not too uplifting, as I recall.

#24 liebs

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Posted 03 April 2002 - 05:24 PM

I saw "The Idiot" and even Nurevey's performance couldn't save it. I think it was done by the Berlin Ballet and also had Eva Evdokimova as the heroine and a spectacular set featuring a train. I didn't understamd the plot then and don't remember it now, so some summer I'll have to read the book.

#25 BW

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Posted 04 April 2002 - 03:47 AM

Liebs, I look forward to reading your synopsis!;)

Thanks all for bringing your different points of view to this discussion - you've all helped me look at these two "versions" of ballet with a new eye.

Just wondering - can anyone tell me when the birth of the plotless ballet was?

#26 cargill

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Posted 04 April 2002 - 06:30 AM

I could certainly be wrong, but I think it is generally considered to be Fokine's Les Sylphides, though of course one could argue that Petipa inserted plotless ballets into his full-lengths. Jadin Animee, for instance, or the vision scene in Sleeping Beauty. Actually, that isn't too farfetched an argument, since Balancine riffed on those his whole life. But complete and plotless, I think would be Fokine. Of course, there were many one-act ballets, which haven't survived very well (Some of Bournonville's have), but they had plots.

#27 Alexandra

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Posted 04 April 2002 - 07:27 AM

What about 'Pas de Quatre" and Petipa's "The Seasons"? And Bournonville did several divertissements that were intended as curtain raisers to plays. One is "The Mandarin's Daughters" and was a Chinese chess game!

#28 Hal

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Posted 04 April 2002 - 11:36 PM

Well, I am a lover of dance. And story ballets just tend to get in the way of the dancing. I used to be much more adamant about it, but in my dotage, I have mellowed and am willing to sit through the Midsumers Nights Dream or Sleeping Beauty that Martins forces on us subscribers. But thankfully it is usually limited to one full length per spring season (and thankfully usually none in the winter). Oh an occasional Prodigal Son is tolerable and a rare Copelia or B's 1 act swan lake.

But although I enjoy seeing the beautiful costumes, it would suit me a lot better if they just put them on display in the lobby. The really neat ones aren't danced in anyway.

Thats not to say all costumes are terrible to see the dancers, the ones in Union Jack, or Vienna Waltzes, or 4 Seasons or the Concert or many others are both interesting and don't seem to interfere with the dancers dancing or the viewers viewing.
On the other extreme are the what must be 50 pounds of costume that the king and queen in Sleeping Beauty wear. So they end up as window dressing.

I went to a talk by Melissa Barak, the new wonderkind choreographer/dancer at NYCB. She said whenever she hears music she thinks of steps to put to it. That is what I want to see. How the choreographer can create beautiful movement to accompany the music.

#29 BW

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Posted 08 April 2002 - 10:48 AM

Hal, there are many costumes that I've seen that I do not care for and some of them are in Four Seasons! Neither am I fond of 50 lbs costumes on anyone, but I still enjoy story ballet's if they're well done. And, story ballet or plotless - a costume can still enhance the dance. I'm sure there are a few good costume designers around these parts that would back me up on this! :)

If only my French was better, I could say "To each his own"! :)

#30 Juliet

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Posted 08 April 2002 - 04:11 PM

Chacun a son gout, BW.

I am also a lover of dance., although I stoutly resist saying I am in my dotage and will do so when I am 80. I am also a costumer. I make a great variety, classical and modern, but all are danceable. Some roles, as the King and Queen in Beauty, are traditionally not dancing roles, but more for character portrayal....But you are correct in saying that a good dance costume should always have a sense of the body and the dance within it.

I happen to love story ballets, but I don't think it necessary to pan so-called plotless ballet because of it.
This is the wonderful thing about this country--no one 'forces' anything on you--Hal, your unwanted tickets for the ballets you don't enjoy would be very eagerly and gratefully received by any number of ballet students or others who cannot afford tickets. Rather than making yourself suffer any further in your life, you might call SAB (212-769-6600) and offer them your donated tickets. You might be able to get a tax writeoff, in fact. When the Paris Opera Ballet was here doing Bayadere a few years ago, my son was able to attend just because someone such as yourself who did not want to "be dragged to another costume-y ballet" gave the school their tickets and it was a most memorable experience for a young person. He is still grateful to the person who did it.

Interestingly enough, the award for the worst costuming/conception recently is not for the Slime Monster in the ABT Swan Lake, but for Eliot Feld's Organon for NYCB.....the aluminum jungle gym with Damian Woetzel in his Mowgli garb clambering across the stage , the great Twirling Parachute, the cute little black socks on the women. Vile. Plot or no plot.

The dancing is usually enough of a story for me, but like well-done illustrations for a book, the costuming is another element to augment the text.


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