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Balustrade


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 30 April 2002 - 08:12 PM

The first night of the NYCB season included Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and in honor of it, I'd like to talk about its predecessor.

In 1941, Balanchine made Balustrade to the same music for the Original Ballets Russes. The surrealist scenery (including glowing trees and the eponymous balustrade) was by Pavel Tchelitchew and the cast included Tamara Toumanova, Paul Petroff and Roman Jasinski.

There isn't much information available on Balustrade - it's not in good sources like Repertory in Review because it wasn't performed by NYCB. Balanchine states in his book of ballets that he didn't recall the work, but Stravinsky is quoted in the same section on Stravinsky Violin Concerto (here called only Violin Concerto) that Balustrade was "one of the most satisfactory visualizations of any of my theater works."

Are there any other sources for what the original work was like? Did anyone see it? Is Violin Concerto at all related to it? Atm, you've been our eyes for an awful lot, did you see this one?

#2 Dale

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 04:05 AM

There's an eight-minute silent film of Balustrade in the NY Performing Arts Library. I've never seen it but I plan on getting to it one day :P

In an interview with Toumanova in "I Remember Balanchine," TT said something (I don't have my books and journals with me now) about Balanchine telling her that he was going to give her a gift, a lovely necklace of a ballet. And that was what she always thought of the ballet as a piece of jewlery that Balanchine gave her. She did wear a black onyx necklace, as well as long jeweled gloves with black beads on them. The reviews said the ballet was very sexy.

I read about the ballet in a couple of books about the Ballet Russe as it was done for a group that was called, "The Original Ballet Russe." I'll try to go through my books and come up with actual quotes, if somebody doesn't get to it before me :)

#3 Dale

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Posted 01 May 2002 - 08:34 AM

In the book, "The Ballets Russes; Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo 1932-1952" by the late Vincente Garcia -Marquez, there is a whole section devoted to Balustrade.

The structure appears to be totally different than the later version. The the cast list is as follows: Toccata -- Tatiana Leskova, Roman Jasinski and corps de ballet; Aria I -- Galina Razoumova, Paul Petroff, Sonia Orlova, Irina Zarova, and corps; Aria II -- Tamara Toumanova, Jasinski, Petroff; Capriccio -- entire cast. According to Taper's book, there was only three performances.

A few notes from the book: Balanchine told the New York Times that the ballet "has no story but is a contrast of moods in movement and color. It is not an illustration but a reflection of Mr. Stravinsky's music." There is no scenario, but there were suggested atmosphere and characters...

The scenery and costumes (by Tchelitchev) "suggested a fantasy garden, and the costumes, fabulous garden creatures. The decure consistd of a low, white balustrade in persepctive two (in Lillian Moore's words) `pale, macabre, skeleton trees of which the artist is so fond' lite in red against a black background."

Corps -- grey tights, tops with batlike wings and bandeau-like headpieces with two circles suggesting owl-like eyes. Leskova --- blue dress with painted veins and a tree branch headpiece; Razoumova -- chiffon dress in shades of pink and grey; men in both -- jackets with veins painted on puffed sleeves, small headpieces with leaf motifs and tights. TT -- black sleeveless dress with a georgett skirt fringed down the center and long black gloves (all with rhinestones) her partners were all black.

The choreography evidently had groups that broke off in trios or other larger groups and would move quickly into patterns.

The second trio is described as "a trio in which the female dancer's legs hooked in various positions around her partners' waits." Because of the black costumes and dark lightning, the audience could make out only heads or other parts of the body when the light hit the stones.

The end bult to a large finale. TT said, "it was like an ocean, a crecendo of waves composed by dancers in motion, but always with a strong sense of symmetry."

There is quite a bit more in the section, but it is hard to tell from the words what the ballet looked like or how much the 2nd version copied or differed. Some of the reviews said that Toumanova's role was an extension somewhat of her ealier part in Cotillion -- the strange mysticism.

#4 atm711

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Posted 02 May 2002 - 11:15 AM

Leigh---"Balustrade "was a few years before my time---I do remember the marvelous photos of Toumanova in the ballet. Richard Buckle has the following gossipy notes in his biography of Balanchine:

"Toumanova was back in New York with the deBasil Company. One night, after she had danced 'Swan Lake' Balanchine brought Stravinsky and Tchelitchev to her dressing room. 'We want to give you a present--a diamond necklace,' he said. 'This was a figure of speech for a ballet to Stravinsky's Concerto in D for violin and orchestra. The dancers were to be only partly visible, like apparitions, dreams, insectlike or vegetable creatures appearing out of a dark night.

"Will people understand?' asked Balanchine.

"Balustrade opened on January 22, 1941, with the composer conducting. To judge from old and rather bad photographs, the lovely designs of the genius Tchelitchev, not for the first time, ruined a ballet. Brigitta (Zorina) thought so. In retrospect, she wondered if it might have been while watching 'Balustrade' that Balanchine first realized how much his ballets would benefit if costumes were reduced to a minimum. There were only three performances: presumably 'people,' including Hurok and Col. de Basil, had not 'understood'."

#5 Dale

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Posted 04 May 2002 - 02:34 AM

De Basil's Ballets Russes by Kathrine Sorley Walker also devotes several pages to Balustrade. She pointed out that the critics (daily paper type) disliked the ballet, while dancers, other artists and learned observers admired it. I was also reminded that
"Irina Zarova" was Yvonne Mounsey, who is still active running the Westside Ballet School in Los Angeles. I wonder if she remembers anything of the ballet?

#6 pherank

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 04:05 PM

Are there any other sources for what the original work was like? Did anyone see it? Is Violin Concerto at all related to it? Atm, you've been our eyes for an awful lot, did you see this one?


The dance writer/critic Edwin Denby did mention Balustrade in one of his columns. Denby is often an entertaining read, as he always manages to sound like a 'regular American guy' trying to get his head around the performance in front of him (although he was a European trained, professional dancer himself).

Balanchine’s Balustrade, with a Stravinsky score and a Tchelitchev décor, was a ballet in the Diaghilev tradition, a collaboration of first-class artists where one can expect to feel movement, look, and listen with the same degree of sensibility. In such collaborations you can see the poetic quality of dancing better, because all the different aspects of the spectacle have been made by people who believe in its poetry. When there is only one artist working on a show at a time, there is mostly something pathetic and provincial about the theater; one feels too sorry for him to pay undivided attention. At any rate it is a fact that such collaborations created the Diaghilev tradition: the tradition that dancing can be as poetic (or, if you prefer, as serious) as any other art; the tradition that painters and musicians should not give up their character when they work for dancers; tradition that a dance evening is a natural pleasure for a civilized person.

Balustrade is danced to Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, music that seems to me easy to go along with from the rhythmic side. The choreography too is easy to go along with from the rhythmic side, as it is full of references to our usual show dancing, the kind you see anywhere from a burlesque to a Hollywood production number. I noticed two elements, or “motif`s": the upstretch on the downbeat, and one knee slipping across the other in a little gesture of conventional shame. The first, syncopated element Balanchine enlarges into the liveliest and lightest ensemble dances; the second element, one of gesture, he elaborates into a long acrobatic trio in which all sorts of “slippings across" are tried--of legs, of bodies, of arms--and this trio ends by a separation, the girl looking reproachful, the boys hanging their heads in shame. How strangely such a concrete moment tops the abstract acrobatics before it--a discontinuity in one’s way of seeing that is bridged by the clearness of placing and the sureness of timing.

Balustrade is complex (or “contradictory”) in this way as the eye adds up its successive phases. Its novelty is that it is not complex at each moment in the manner we are accustomed to. The individual dance role has almost no countermovement, no angular breaking of the dance impulse or direction. The impulse is allowed to flow out, so to speak, through the arms and legs, which delineate the dance figure lightly, as it were in passing--as they do in our show dancing. This is all something else than the “European” style of the thirties. There is in this new “undissonant,” “undeformed," or “one at a time” way of dancing a kind of parallel relation to Miss Graham's new modern-school manner in Letter to the World. Once more, dancing, like any living art, has moved ahead of what we had come to think of as the modern style, and this time without even any manifestos to warn us.

I must add that in Balustrade the costumes are elegant but annoying. Though they have imagination and a sort of super-Hollywood pruriency, the materials are such that after the first minute or so they look like a wilted bunch of rags cutting the line of the body at the knee, obscuring the differentiation of steps, and messing up the dance. And the trio costumes look too publicly sexy; they take away from this erotic dance its mysterious juvenile modesty. Still, it was right of the management to take a first-rate painter for a work of this kind; an artist’s mistake is infuriating, but not vulgar.
Edwin Denby, MARCH-APRIL 1941




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