Whose Dream is Dreamier?
Posted 11 June 2002 - 11:37 AM
I find the second act music for the Balanchine version jarring. The sophisticated Mendelssohn of the rest of the work gives way to the juvenilia of the String Symphonies, but it is seriously overweighted by the rest of the score, and the pas de deux, no matter how gloriously danced, cannot stand up to the coup de théatre of the first act pas de deux of Titania and Cavalier.
Posted 15 June 2002 - 02:14 PM
"I get goosbumps 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"
This will be the first chance I have had to see Balanchine's Dream. I am not sure when casting will go up, but I imagine someone already has a pretty good idea who will dance Oberon/Titania opening night?
I am hoping I'll be lucky enough to see Peter Boal!
Posted 15 June 2002 - 09:52 PM
Posted 17 June 2002 - 04:37 PM
In staging the wedding as a separate act, the basic structure of Balanchine's Dream is that of the Shakespeare. The Play begins and ends with Theseus and Hypollita (and Hypollita really does call in her hounds) and by preserving this balance, and by staging the Divertissement to Mendelsohn's String Symphony introduced by his Wedding March, while utilizing the Mendelsohn Midsummer Night's Dream overture almost integrally as Act I, Balanchine has achieved a wonderful overall structure.
The Balanchine in my view is so lovely for its magical atmosphere of the Twilight of Midsummer Eve. (Has anyone else read Salka Valka by Laxness?). The Butteflies/Fireflies dance to a slow, elegiac, melodic theme which is repeated three times. The Theme opens Act I, Closes Act I, and Closes Act II. The Butterfly/Firefly theme, with its large corps of children, and the use of the Children as Sprites in back of the Scherzo, are the heart of the ballet. It is a ballet carried by its corps passages and that magic of the twilight. The wonderful solos and principal roles rest on that solid foundation.
Note that this same musical theme, which Balanchine repeats for his Fireflies, is squandered by Ashton as a pas de deux for Hermia and Lysander.
Posted 22 June 2002 - 07:13 AM
He doesn't pick a winner between Dream and Midsummer (nor set up a contest), but some of his comments on both may be of interest to those who've been interested in this thread.
Posted 22 June 2002 - 07:24 AM
Posted 22 June 2002 - 09:57 AM
Ashton's, on the other hand, is a fairy world with its own rules. We can't really understand their relationship -- it's the same, only different. But I'd argue that the final pas de deux is NOT about Romantic love, but about restoration of balance of power. (I once was watching a video of Martha Graham's "Night Journey" at the same time I was seeing "Dream" and the pas de deux in both works share a similar interest in sexual power struggle.) The point is that if Titania and Oberon are quarreling, life is rough for mortals. They're the personification of those unseen forces in nature that we can't control, but whose actions -- and, in fantasy, loves and squabbles -- mean we may marry the wrong person.
What I really liked about Gottlieb's piece (in addition to many of his comments and, I think, astute observations) was the way he treated Dream/Midsummer, recognizing the distinctive elements, as well as worth, of both. Were this poll phrased differently, I'd vote "both, why choose?" I like the poetry and the theatricality of the Ashton and think it's an excellent ballet, but I'd be perfectly happy seeing good performances of the Balanchine.
I think the Ashton and the Balanchine reflect their different approaches right down to the title -- Ashton's is a distillation and isn't attempting -- or advertising -- that it's telling the whole story. It also comes from the British theatrical tradition -- which is why the score doesn't bother me. It fits with the period, it's what they did with plays in the 19th century. To Ashton, the music was 19th century, oh, what fun. Let's make a 19th century Romantic ballet. And he used characters as well as steps, gesture and mime from that world. To Balanchine, the music -- as in the structure of the score -- was more important. Both approaches work, to me.
"The Dream" was a piece d'occasion, intended for a gala to celebrate Shakespeare's 400th birthday. According to David Vaughan, the Big News at the time were the two other ballets -- a revival of Helpmann's mimidramballet "Hamlet" and a new work by MacMillan based on the sonnets -- I forget the title. "Dream" was panned in England (too old fashioned, not enough sex, too fussy) and praised as a masterpiece in New York (choregraphy!! my god, choreography!!!)
What's been interesting to me in reading this thread -- and in conversations I've had with friends over the years about this issue -- is that those who saw "The Dream" in the 1960s and '70s, when the Royal made frequent visits to New York and Ashton's vision of ballet was accepted as viable, like both ballets. People who haven't grown up watching Ashton don't. (I'm sure there are exceptions to this, as there are to anything...)
Ashton and Balanchine heard music differently and used it differently. As a ballet pluralist, one of the reasons I'm glad that ABT is acquiring Ashton is that I think it's good to have more than one model around, for dancers, audiences and potential choreographers. I hope the company sees the commercial potential of Ashton's 100th birthday coming up in 2004 and wants to do a Festival! (Tudor's musicality is similar to Ashton's as well, I think, which may be why ABT can make a good stab at dancing Dream and Fille.)
Posted 22 June 2002 - 02:18 PM
I've never seen Balanchine's Dream live, and haven't seen Ashton's since 1969 -- when SIbley and Dowell were Oberon and Titania, GOd what a pair. SO cool and magnificent -- very different from Villella and Farrell, whom I love in hte movie, but they're not STRANGE -- SIbley and Dowell were more like Allegra Kent and d'Amboise in the Act 2 pas de deux, which is one of the most beautiful and satisfying performances I've ever seen, and Kent is in the most lucid and transparent way quite otherworldly (though the rest of hte divertimento I don't find memorable).
Sibley and Dowell really cast a spell, the whole world of hte ballet emanated from them -- and they were weird, so cool, so profoundly tuned in to each other, it was like incest without the sex. They had such a rapport, it created a sense of strangeness and power that made them seem like creatures of another order of being. In their pas de deux, they had a sort of "wring hte dirty dishrag" turn where they're each holding both hands and make an arch and both turn under the arch, back to back, that -- if I remember right, it's been a LONG time -- seemed to wring the anger out of them -- each is supporting hte other, but he's supporting her more, and they become reconciled.....
Can Kent and Acosta possibly create such an atmosphere?
Denby's article about Balanchine's version is really helpful -- he was quite irritated by many aspects of it.... But hte great things in it are out of this world, the scherzo (Villella's Oberon, all those wonderufl chldren) and the 2 pas de deux.
Posted 22 June 2002 - 04:00 PM
I think your point about strangeness is very apt. At the DCA conference last month, David Vaughan showed the pas de deux from Dream in a very early film -- probably from its first season -- and, as Vaughan put it, Ashton had caught the menace in him that ran beneath the surface. So all of that stalking and lurking -- and that's what it looks like now, even in ABT's very good performances -- was much more with Dowell, and the scherzo all the more surprising (because authoritative menacing lurkers usually don't have speed) That contrast of Dowell's qualities is a metaphor for the strangeness, the other worldliness.
I've never seen a great Scherzo in the Balanchine. I believe in its existence, but I've never seen it. I've also seen very, very fine, but not transcendental, Act II pas de deux. Even in great ballets, performance can be key.
Posted 22 June 2002 - 10:34 PM
In the Library of Performing Arts exists a lecture demonstration filmed under the auspices of NYSCA - "Looking at Ballet" is the title I think. It's a filmed lecture demonstration of Colleen Neary and Paul Mejia as young students and Allegra Kent and Jacques D'Amboise as adult dancers. D'Amboise also functions as narrator. Kent is almost wacky in other parts of the film; a complete misunderstanding of what D'Amboise asks her to do at one point is left on camera and the demonstration veers close to a George Burns/Gracie Allen comedy routine. But to a piano reduction, without costumes, they do the divertissement pas de deux. And it is the most delicate, transcendent, magnificent performance that even on kinescope, shimmers.
[Postscript - I checked the Dance Collection catalog. The film is "Watching Ballet" and the call # is MGZHB 12-69 or 12-69A. It was filmed in 1963.]
Posted 23 June 2002 - 09:47 PM
However, I do have to say that I wasn't entirely pleased with the way ABT did the ballet. I think Joffrey did it more successfully some years ago. Perhaps I'm just fussy, but nothing will erase my memories of Sibley and Dowell, Alex Grant, Wayne Sleep, and even of Ann Jenner (as the fairy who finds herself alone on the stage at the end of the scherzo).
I'd be curious to know where the person (was it Manhattnik?) who said that he was disturbed by being able to see Bottom changing into the ass sat. One must remember that Covent Garden is a much smaller theater and that when properly done one should NOT be able to see the dancer transform himself. Of course if one spends a lot of time trying to figure out how it's done.... Also please remember, he's got to put on pointe shoes as well as don the donkey head.
I do admire many things about the Balanchine version - I do enjoy the evening - but I find much of it over-done. Sometimes I feel that there is a lot of padding in it - just for the sake of creating a full-length ballet.
Posted 24 June 2002 - 02:35 PM
There IS one tremendous excellence to the otherwise mostly disappointing Dance in AMerica/NYCB version of Balanchine's Dream, at least to me Adam Luders' cavalier in hte act 2 pas de deux is one of the most beautiful, noblest undertakings of such a part I've ever seen...... He's not calling attention to himself, but it's just staggeringly beautiful. (As the old joke says, "Madam, you pay for the restraint.")
Posted 20 July 2002 - 08:29 PM
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