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Whose Dream is Dreamier?

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Poll: Whose Dream is Dreamier? (23 member(s) have cast votes)

Whose Dream is Dreamier?

  1. The Dream by Ashton (27 votes [42.86%])

    Percentage of vote: 42.86%

  2. A Midsummer Night's Dream by Balanchine (36 votes [57.14%])

    Percentage of vote: 57.14%


#1 Manhattnik


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Posted 09 June 2002 - 06:44 PM

Given that this Spring ABT and NYCB will each be presenting a balletic rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream, of which each has its vociferous partisans, I've decided, in the interests of good-natured critical inquiry, to give us all an opportunity to stand up and be counted on one side or the other of this great artistic divide. I've decided not to have a choice for "both are equally good, but in different ways." Life, after all, is about making choices.

Please feel free to give us your reasons, preferably in voluminous detail.

We'll follow this up with our next poll: Who's got the best Bottom?

#2 glebb


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Posted 09 June 2002 - 07:24 PM

Now don't forget how much I love Balanchine and NYCB but my vote goes this way in order of my favorite Dreams.

1) Ashton

2) Bruce Wells

3) Balanchine

#3 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 June 2002 - 08:31 PM

I actually like both, but just because I loathe Lanchberry's arrangement of the Mendelssohn with a passion (I think he wrote it with a hacksaw) my vote goes to the Balanchine.

#4 sylvia


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Posted 10 June 2002 - 05:34 AM

I adore the Ashton version. It's probably one of my favourite ballets so when I saw PNB dance Midsummer when they came to London it was impossible to be objective. I disliked it intensely. I missed the narrative, the humour, the beautiful choreography. I have a video of PNB as well and haven't managed to sit through the whole thing without getting bored. It's been a while though, I should try again.

#5 Manhattnik


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Posted 10 June 2002 - 06:26 AM

I missed the narrative, the humour, the beautiful choreography. I have a video of PNB as well and haven't managed to sit through the whole thing without getting bored.

I felt the same way when I saw the PNB broadcast. Except for a gorgeous rendition of the Act II pas de deux, that performance was extremely flat. For instance, you certainly couldn't tell from the "low-impact" version of the scherzo that it's one of the most brilliant bits of male choreography ever. I get goosebumps whenever I'm lucky enough to see Peter Boal dance this role, and I know people who will make a special trip to NYC just to see his Oberon.

I think to a large degree people prefer whatever version they've seen first, which is certainly understandable. There's a lot to admire in both versions; I particularly like how Ashton made Titania and Oberon into fairies -- they're true lightweights, on many levels. (My favorite part of The Dream seems to have become Bottom's wonderful "soliliquy" after he awakens.) There's a certain decorative, ornamental prettiness in Ashton's work here, which, although quite sophisticated and beautiful (with quite a bit of moving imagery), doesn't strike to the heart of the story and the music quite the way Balanchine's does. (For one thing, Balanchine actually gives us a wedding march at the Wedding March.)

I like it that Balanchine's a bit ideosyncratic and a contrarian in the choices he makes. It's very obvious to use that gorgeous Mendelssohn to fashion a beautiful, romantic (to a degree) duet between Titania and Oberon. Balanchine, of course, has no Titania/Oberon pas de deux, and chooses to make the grand center of the ballet the duet between Titania and Bottom, which, despite its many humorous touches, remains one of the most moving dances about love I've ever seen. I don't think I'll ever forget how heart-achingly serene yet totally smitten Kyra Nichols was when she danced this at the gala last Fall. (It's an extra treat that the Divertimento pas de deux is also one of the finest Balanchine ever made.)

I think Balanchine tells us, well, me, with his Dream to look more deeply -- at the story, the music, the movment, which cuts my NYCB-trained eyes to the quick (terrible metaphor -- sorry about that), in a way Ashton's doesn't.

Of course that's not keeping me from looking forward tremendously to seeing Kent and Acosta again tonight.

#6 cargill


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Posted 10 June 2002 - 08:23 AM

I agree to a large extent with Manhattnik that whichever version a person saw first will be the favorite, and since I was very familiar with the Ashton dream before I saw Balanchine's, that is the first in my heart. But of course, they both have great choreography. I do think, though, that just on dramatic structure, Ashton wins. His story is clearer (we know why Puck is getting the flower), there is no extraneous scene shifting--no "now in another part of the forest, Oberon, too, is dancing", since Ashton's character's so logically are located in one place. And Ashton makes is clearer who the magic creatures are and who the humans are (though Balanchine has the spine tingling moment when one of the women is surrounded by the bugs and thinks she is alone.) It always bothers me in Balanchine that Hypollita is the one to create the magic fog when she is one of the humans, wonderful though her solo is.
And Ashton's Bottom is a much more developed character, and has that wonderful mime scene once he has changed back, which can be just so moving.

#7 Ari


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Posted 10 June 2002 - 08:29 AM

While Midsummer is not among my favorite Balanchine ballets, I prefer it to Ashton's because, as you said Manhattnik, Balanchine goes deeper and shows us some of the darker aspects of the play. I often feel that Ashton tends to skim the surface of things, and the way he responds to Mendelssohn's fairy music—all that scurrying and twittering, then the freeze on the chord—is just the sort of thing I mean. The "decorative, ornamental prettiness" you mention is a problem I often have with Ashton; it robs his choreography of true classical grandeur and implies that ballet is frilly stuff. I do like a lot of Ashton, especially La Fille, but the more I see of his work, the more problems I have with it.

#8 Manhattnik


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Posted 10 June 2002 - 09:16 AM

It always bothers me in Balanchine that Hypollita is the one to create the magic fog when she is one of the humans, wonderful though her solo is.

Amazons aren't magical? Tell that to Wonder Woman!

(Uh oh. Considering the recent vast success of Spider Man at the box office, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before some enterprising artistic director decides to give us Wonder Woman, the ballet!. Hmm. I see ABT. I see Dvorovenko and Meunier alternating in the leads....)

#9 bobbi


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Posted 11 June 2002 - 04:26 AM

This is a hard question because I really do enjoy both. However, that being said, if my life choice would have to be either or, I voted for the Balanchine version. With a fresh performance at ABT last night (with Kent and Acosta) in mind -- and having enjoyed it thoroughly -- I will list, in no particular order, why I choose Balanchine's version over Ashton's.

(1) Over and above all, Balanchine visualizes that wonderful music better than Ashton; the main example for me is what Mr. B did for Oberon with the Scherzo music -- highly original and a challenge for the very best dancers (remember Misha couldn't really meet the test). Ashton divides the Scherzo music between Oberon and Puck. The choreography for Oberon is standard danseur noble stuff; and Puck and this music are just not a match.

(2) The transition from actor to donkey is very awkwardly handled in Ashton's version. You literally see him at the back of the stage for quite a while getting into his donkey outfit. In Balanchine's version, it's just magic. Also, the moment when Tatiania falls "in love" with the donkey is not particularly funny in Ashton's version. In Balanchine's version, after more than thirty years of watching, I still chuckle when the donkey looks straight at the audience holding the fairy queen and seems to say, "What's this?"

(3) Of course, Ashton's version of the love pas de deux does not equal in my view what Mr. B did in Act 2. To me, that pas is one of the most exquisite of pas in all of ballet. Ashton's doesn't come close.

(4) The earthly lovers in the Ashton version have too much violence during their quarrel scenes: They actually slap each other. There is only one hint of that in Mr. B.'s version when one of the lovers pulls back on a kick. I found much of the stage business awkward in Ashton's version.

(5) Of course, there's so much more actual dancing in the Balanchine version.

I'm sure I could come up with more specifics, but all that being said, I'm really glad we will have two versions in New York now, but I really do prefer Balanchine's version.

#10 Manhattnik


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Posted 11 June 2002 - 06:04 AM

Thanks, Ari and Bobbi, for giving voice to many of the nagging feelings I've had about this Dream/Dream business for a long time. I saw Kent and Acosta in The Dream the first time they did it here, and it was, indeed, lovely. But I agree with everything both of you've said. I would probably rank Ashton's scherzo higher than just "standard," but it's not even close to Balanchine's which is just one of the Great Moments in ballet as far as I'm concerned, at least when danced by a Villella or a Boal.

And not only does Ashton dilute the effect by sharing the "good music" between Oberon and Puck, but there are those really distracting flashes of Bottom doing I know not what under the tree with Titania.

Regarding the Ashton's mime between Oberon and Puck, I swear it looked to me that they were going to turn someone into a raging bull, after seeing Puck mime goring Oberon. I didn't get it. Still don't.

I don't mind the "episodic" nature of Balanchine's Dream. It's about what I'd expect from a man who worked in films -- he's just cutting from one scene to another. And it's interesting for me to see that Ashton integrates the storytelling mime with the dance much more tightly than Balanchine, who's often content to do "now we act, now we dance." Although it sometimes seems to be "received wisdom" that the former approach is aesthetically superior to the latter, in this case I find I like the Balanchine approach better. Ashton is quite skillful about grafting together mime and classroom steps (if you see someone performing an entrechat six while shaking his fist, it's probably an Ashton ballet), I find, at least here, Balanchine's approach works better for me; you learn as much about Oberon's impetuous character from those amazing sisonnes battus as you do from his mime.

I'll also mention that the way Balanchine handles the whole "mortals can't see fairies" business is just brilliant, with Puck handing -- oh, I forget which lover -- leaves which she plucks as if off a tree, to dab at her tears. I think that's one of the things about Balanchine's Dream I really admire: the deft and rapid way he establishes so much of the story, so quickly. In this one scene we learn that fairies can see mortals, but not vice versa. We learn that there's at least one very unhappy mortal lover drifting about in the woods, and we learn that Puck is not above taking advantage of his invisibility for his own amusement, yet he's not without compassion (he could easily have tripped her instead of offering her something on which to dry her tears). It also offers some food for thought in its depiction of someone so utterly sunk into her own misery that she probably wouldn't have noticed the fairies even if they weren't invisible.

I don't want to sound like I'm belittling Ashton -- he's made some truly beautiful works, and I think Fille is a little masterpiece. But at Ashton's Dream, I laugh and smile; at Balanchine's, I laugh and cry.

It's one of my big regrets that I didn't see Baryshnikov's Oberon, if only to confirm my suspicions that he would have a very hard time of it indeed. I still remember his near-death experience in Tarantella.

#11 Alexander



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Posted 11 June 2002 - 06:22 AM

Admittedly, it's been a while since i've seen Balanchine's version but there are many reasons why I think, I prefer Ashton's. Lanchberry's maltreatment of the score is horrendous, but you still have the sound and the atmosphere of Mendelssohn's music and Ashton really responds to that period with his delightful and delicate choreography for the fairies. He's a master at storytelling and characterization for Oberon and Titania, obviously, and the format and the pace of the narrative is so tight and so convincing an entity as opposed to the massiveness of Balanchine's.

Both are masters, sure, but Ashton's work is just more inspired and more innovative even if - on surface - it 'just' looks like a sentimental and entertaining period piece.

#12 Helena


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Posted 11 June 2002 - 07:00 AM

I think there's a complication here. Does the music reflect the play, or is it (as many would say) merely pretty crowd-pleasing Victorian stuff? (Actually, some of it was pre-Victorian, since he composed the Overture when he was only 17, in 1826, but it was completed after Victoria came to the throne.) And if it doesn't really reflect the play, given that Mendelssohn was too young to have a deep understanding of it, should the choreography reflect the music or the play? I'm not giving any answers here, just thinking on paper.

#13 Alexandra


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Posted 11 June 2002 - 07:18 AM

Good question, Helena. I haven't had time to do more than quick answers (on other forums) and don't have time today for a lengthy one, but I wanted to make a few points.

Mendlssohn's music was not initially a score, but individual pieces meant to be played at intervals during performances of the play. So, while I'm not a fan of Lanchberry generally, he can cobble it together in any way he wants; he's not violating a symphony. And the pieces were put together so that Ashton could handle the story in dance.

I don't understand the "there's no depth in the Ashton" point of view at all. To me, that's like saying there's no depth in Keats' "To Autumn" because it's just about fruit. Depth is what goes on below the surface, not what's readily visible. I also have trouble understanding what I've heard (more than read here) from aficionados of both ballets that The Other One isn't musical. I think they are two of the most musical choreographers who ever breathed -- but they use music differently. I think this must mean that the viewer has a particular association with a particular passage in one version or the other and finds the other version lacking because this passage, this way of matching a particular step or gesture to that particular musical phrase, is done differently in one version or the other. i

I'm the exception to the "whatever you saw first you like" rule, because I saw the Balanchine for years and never liked it -- didn't hate it, just never liked it -- and saw "The Dream" (first on video!) and loved it instantly. I do not think story ballets are Balanchine's metier. ("Harlequinade" is also at the top of my Don't Like It listl) To me it's bare, rather than spare, and pre-Fokine, steps set to music linked by a story rather than story-telling. (One thing that has always grated is the way he repeats the mime when there's a repeat in the score.) There's a lot of filler and although I like the dances in the second act, I don't want them there :D I understand the heaviness of the fairies -- Mendlssohn was German, hence, these are Germanic fairies -- but Shakespeare was English, and I prefer the Victorian fairies (matching the music in that way) of the Ashton. I think this is a key difference -- Balanchine's vision, as (almost) always is keyed to the music, and Ashton's is to the poetry.

Although there were always individual dancers I liked in it, the first time I loved anything about "Midsummer" was Darci Kistler's Titania. A colleague of mine wrote about her mellifluous dancing, and I couldn't better that. As in any Balanchine ballet, there are individual dances that are breathtakingly beautiful.

What convinced me that Midsummer could be an interesting ballet was the staging by PNB -- refreshed, recostumed and very well danced. (I haven't seen the video; this is from the company's visit to DC 6 (?) years ago.)

I think Ashton's "The Dream" is a poem more than a "story ballet" -- it wasn't intended to be a play or a novel. I also thnk it's is a very rich and wonderful work, and one of the masterpieces of the 20th century while, for me, "Midsummer" is a relatively minor work in a great choreographer's oeuvre.

The bottom line, for me, is that Ashton's is tighter, more of a piece. I'd say the same thing, in reverse, about the two choreographer's "La Valse." I enjoy watching Ashton's version, it's a good ballet, there are beautiful things in it, but it doesn't have as tight a frame as Balanchine's and I think Balanchine's ("La Valse") is the better ballet.

I hope I'll have time to write more about the Ashton later, or tomorrow.

#14 atm711


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Posted 11 June 2002 - 09:23 AM

Balanchine's 'Dream' was never one of my favorite ballets. I found much of it tedious and boring. I saw it originally with Hayden but I saw some of its redeeming features when I saw the sublime Farrell. I found Ashton's version very enjoyable and "tight". It moved swiftly and was never tiresome. I saw Ferri and Steifel, but could not get Farrell out of my mind.

P.S. I write this as one who places Balanchine way up there above Ashton---it was not easy!

#15 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 June 2002 - 10:43 AM

It's not just moving around individual pieces in the Lanchberry arrangement, there is no sacrosanct order to incidental music. It's the fact that the individual pieces are not presented intact, most particularly the Overture and Scherzo, which are sliced to ribbons and reassembled with all the grace of Frankenstein's monster (to stay in period!) I happen to love that music and I want to hear it. All of it. In some way that at least resembles the Mendelssohn and no, I don't find the fact that Balanchine (and Irving, I assume) used a portion of the Overture before the curtain and the recommenced it remotely a problem. I still get to hear the Overture intact.

I do find it funny that Alexandra finds the repeated mime annoying - I happen to love the repeated mime, to paraphrase Arlene Croce, it reads like many arguments, the same things are said, but somehow faster and more vehement. Which just goes to show you (like the almost even split in the votes as I write), everyone has a personal take on this issue. I really love them both, the Ashton's skimming style (I think the fairies are brilliant) and Balanchine's magical bugs and magnificent Act II divertissement (which I consider quite major in his canon); but if I have to make a choice, I'd only love the Ashton more with earplugs.

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