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Alexandra

Fokine, Petipa and La Bayadere

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This is mainly a question for those who have seen the current new-old production of the Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet's La Bayadere.

I'm struck, by the photos I've seen, and by reading about it, how close it is to Fokine's work. This is the production he would have grown up with. Everyone isn't on pointe. There's a mixture of classical, semi-classical and character dance, each style appropriate to the person dancing it.

Where did the rebellion come from?

I know that distance makes everything look the same. I've seen some films of Ruth St. Denis's work that make me think, "But that's Fokine!" (a thought that would make both Ruth and Michel F apoplectic, I'm sure). The time of the production was a time when the difference among styles that look very similar to us today were strikingly apparent to dancers and teachers (the Legat clan, of the school of Johansson, found Cecchetti coarse!)

A friend of mine who'd gone up to see La Bayadere said that intermission talk in his circles had touched on this question -- people saw Cleopatra, Tamar, Scheherezade, not to mention the Polovotsian dances, in La Bayadere.

Anyone have comments on this? If anyone can see the rebellion -- aside from length, of course; Fokine was a reductionist, and in that way the polar opposite of Petipa -- I'd be interested to read it.

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Fokine may have been rebelling against the geometric formality and abstraction of some of the Petipa set pieces (like the Shades scene or the absolutely charming and adorable lotus dance for children on point). And Fokine did object to the formal mime, didn't he, wanting a more natural way of moving. And the structure of Petipa's pieces, having the different dances come on as party pieces, so to speak, without any relation to the plot, like the tom tom dance (I forget what it was called). Yes, choreographically it did call the Polovotsians to mind, but it has no bearing on the plot, and can just as well be left out. I of course loved every minute of it, and I do love Scherezhade too, but structurally, not just time wise, they are very different.

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An interesting question, Alexandra. I am not sure that Fokine would necessarily have objected to the fakir dance in Bayadere, Cargill, for it represents an effort at couleur locale, like another dramatically irrelevant dance, the dance of the nursemaids in Petrushka. The source of his rebellion, in my opinion, is much more deep-seated. Even though Gorsky tried to Fokinize La Bayadere, his efforts were foredoomed by the score, a "number" ballet analogous to the "number operas" that Wagner displaced with Sprechgesang. Fokine (at his most typical--which isn't Les Sylphides) is Ballet's Wagner, choosing the "Sprechgesang" of plastique above the coloratura of the high-density, tessellated Petipa variation. He dilutes their choreographic content to make the phrases looser, more lyrical, more continuous--and, because less physically taxing, more prolongable. To realize these effects, he typically chooses tone poems or "unnumbered" ballet music. And, as a result, he loosens the grip of the dance upon its music, as Wagner had loosened the grip of the voice upon the melody that had hitherto been its home. Rimsky or R Strauss would never have saluted Fokine, as Auber saluted Petipa, as "[un homme] qui fait ecouter [sa] musique avec les yeux." As the children of Fokine, we have even developed a complex about choreographic "micky-mousing" and avoid it at all costs. So much so, that when I see a variation by Kenneth Macmillan, I often find that the only point of congruence between choreography and music is their shared duration. Many dances, I feel sure, are now conceived in isolation from the music to which they are eventually attached.

I find an hourglass pattern in the focus of nineteenth-century ballet. Bournonville and Perrot stress legs and feet at the expense of the upper body; in Petipa the ideal balance and crossover occurs--richly embroidered ports de bras, nuanced eyelines and epaulement AND delicate footwork--while in Fokine attention shifts to the torso and the arms at the expense of the feet--or at least the sort of feet that can execute Petipan petits pas. His contempt for the classical tutu makes this clear, for he raged at Goncharova for discarding the Firebird's trouser suit a la Golovine.

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