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"Lost" Balanchine Ballets


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#16 Manhattnik

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 02:38 PM

The problem with putting Suite No. 3 in the Masterpieces drawer is that it can serve as a model and a standard. As I remember it, Croce wrote that Balanchine was putting steps to music and calling it a ballet -- something that could be said of much "son of Balanchine" ballet today.

I'm not sure what Croce's point was -- I'd consider most ballets to have "steps to music." Some just have better steps and music than others. I certainly don't think of Suite No. 3 as a "steps-to-music" ballet. There's so much loose, free-form, running-and-emoting, especially in the Elegie, which I've come to think of as a little masterpiece (even though critics thought of it as over-the-top kitsch when it was premiered).

Anyway, I'm digressing.

I'd really love to see The Figure in the Carpet.

#17 Jack Reed

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 03:39 PM

Years ago, I learned a ballet called "Card Game" was going to be danced in Boston, and, thinking the lost Balanchine ballet had been found, I went there to see it, breathless with naive excitement. It turned out to be a non-ballet by nobody, and I fled the scene of my disappointment, arriving on the planned New York leg of my trip ahead of schedule. Practically running to the sanctuary of the New York State Theatre, I saw - "Don Quixote", every moment of which seemed to my eye to be the work of a master, if overall not his best, but all of which seemed to my ear to be unbearably ugly. (Croce's term for the score by Nicholas Nobakov, the novelist Vladimir's brother and Balanchine's friend, was "earsore", as apt an expression as any she's used.) But even with that, I felt at home again because of the quality of the movement I saw onstage.

PAMTGG (for "Pan Am Makes the Going Great", the airline-commercial theme (!) its composer, Roger Kellaway, expanded for the ballet) I looked at a couple of times at Ravinnia, the Chicago Symphony's summer season site north of Chicago, when I had a fever. I mention that in charity to the ballet, but I don't think the fact of my fever fully accounts for how thin PAMTGG seemed at the time, with the corps lined up across the stage to "fly" dancers in body-surfer poses across on their outstretched arms, and other "flight" motifs. Friends in New York told me the cost of all the clear Lucite "luggage" piled up on stage meant that this was not merely a mistake, it was an expensive mistake.

If a ballet is on videotape or kinescope film, it can't really be lost, but when we think about the Balanchine-Stravinsky collaborations, one we usually forget is "The Flood", which I saw in its original televsion version around 1960 and many years later in another version on stage at the NY State Theatre. Short as it was, it had only one short dance number, which was pretty effective. Otherwise, it caught up the hapless corps this time under a huge blue tarp which they were supposed to animate in wave motions, and in another scene dealing with Eden I recall a huge Serpent, animated by a dancer inside.

These recollections lead to the question whether Balanchine, who easily produced lots of vibrant choreography, could only devise other stage business that creaked, but I remember seeing a "kinescope" of an NBC Opera Theatre production of Mozart's "Magic Flute", directed by him, that seemed to me to make fine use of the little screen to present an enlivened staging of that opera, without dance. And of course there are the superb early scenes of "The Nutcracker". But that's another story for another time.

#18 Jack Reed

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 03:55 PM

In defense of "Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3", let's remember that its last movement, nearly as long as the first three together, is "Theme and Variations", to superior music, and absolutely top drawer, in my view; and in support of the remark about "Elegie", I think it is better than good enough to put on by itself, as MCB has done. It draws me in.

#19 Alexandra

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 06:03 PM

Originally posted by Manhattnik:


I'm not sure what Croce's point was -- I'd consider most ballets to have "steps to music." Some just have better steps and music than others. I certainly don't think of Suite No. 3 as a "steps-to-music" ballet. There's so much loose, free-form, running-and-emoting, especially in the Elegie, which I've come to think of as a little masterpiece (even though critics thought of it as over-the-top kitsch when it was premiered).


I remember being very puzzled by the "just setting steps to music" comment when I first read it, as I did much of what Croce wrote. I generally liked what I saw, wanted to think that what I was seeing was "as good" or better than what had come before, etc. The ballets were certainly better than anything else I was seeing. What's the problem?

I think she meant that the fourth movement ("Theme and Variations") was a ballet, a distinct, concrete work within a frame, while the rest was filler. I like the first movement too, and can remember almost nothing about the second and third. But the point was that although this section or that might be nice to watch, it was a bolt of very fine silk that hadn't been made into a dress or waistcoat yet.

#20 liebs

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 07:56 PM

I know I saw Don Quixote twice, once with Luders as the Don. It was a long, complicated ballet and even the twice that I saw it had different dances in it. Balanchine seemed to be tinkering with it up to the end. I don't remember the score being painful but I don't remember the score either. The dances for Farrell were extraordinary as was her performance and some of the imagery (the over sized books, the scenes of the Don in the Court) was also beautiful. It was not a masterpiece but it was clearly the work of a master choreographer.

#21 Alexandra

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 08:12 PM

Yes, I think he tinkered with it a lot. I had a friend who was a little pig in it! (I never asked for details.)

#22 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 09:35 PM

I remember coming home on leave once, and going to meet Lourdes Lopez before she was in the company up at SAB. I asked her what had happened to Don Q this season. She replied, "Well, he's put a snake lady in the palace divertissement." I said, "Oh, goodie, a snake lady - just what it needed!" :rolleyes:

#23 cargill

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Posted 25 June 2001 - 08:29 AM

One ballet I would love to see again, which is still listed on the NYCB web site's repertoire, is the Haieff Divertimento. It was revived for the Balanchine Celebration, and danced the season after than, and then jsut disappeared. It was a leotard ballet, and I guess people thought it too similar to 4Ts, but it had some wonderful choreography, especially, as I remember, for the men. And the music was very good. If it's not done soon, I supposed it will be lost again, which is a shame. It had a small cast, and seems like it would suit a smaller company perfectly.
The Sylvia pas de deux was danced at NYCB for a year or so after the Balanchine Festival, but except for Kyra Nichols and Judith Fugate, it didn't seem to be danced very well. I think they have dancers now who would look very good in it, and it would make a nice change from some of the other pas de deux they keep doing, like Romeo and Juliet and Zaklousiki!


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