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romantic pas de deux for same-sex couples


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#46 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 05:12 PM

Now you've jogged my memory. Back in 1969, I believe it was, the Joffrey did a ballet called "Elegy", music by Andrezej Panufnik, choreography by Gerald Arpino. The story was of a Confederate officer brought to execution (what he did to merit that is not quite clear - he must have been a spy out of uniform, and has been permitted to wear it to his execution, but then, he'd hang and not be in front of a firing squad, but I digress). The major part of the ballet was flashback, involving the soldier, Maxilimiliano Zomosa, his wife, Noel Mason, his daughter, Charthel Arthur, and his son, Peter Kahrmann (an actual small boy). There was a lot of establishing what these people meant to one another; a lot of partnering went on between Max and Peter, largely involving the son's standing with both feet on one of his father's shoulders, and other assorted oddments that you couldn't do with an adult, even a short one. The flashback faded away at the end, back to the firing squad.

Now as to a choreographer who would incorporate a short-arm inspection into a ballet, we'd need a choreographer with a complete lack of taste and good sense. I suggest myself.;)

#47 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 08:26 PM

I actually had to do a google search to confirm that meant what I was afraid that meant.

You learn something new every day. Whether you want to or not.

#48 Alexandra

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 08:49 PM

That story rings a bell, Mel -- is it Ambrose Bierce? And I think it was a short film, too. One ballet I don't think would be on my short list for revivals :)

As for the term, since this is a family site, we won't discuss it further (although you've all been wondrously discreet so far) :)

#49 Paul Parish

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 10:30 PM

"Incident at Owl Creek" sounds likethe story it was based on....

A few years back, here in San Francisco, Joe Goode did a beautiful duet with a prodigy-gymnast, who was still quite a small and delicate-looking boy but was fearless, talented, and highly trained-- the boy's name is Willis Bigelow, he's a dancer as well as a gymnast....

the dance was a kind of "whoops-a-boy" thing, like an idealized memory from your childhood of having fun with your father -- there were some fantastic lifts and even more fantastic tosses and catches, and hte sentiment was playful, loving, and true-to-life -- the kid wanted his dad to really swing him, and it was roller-coaster exciting, while at the same time the choreography was such that it was emotionally startling -- what I mean is, it didn't just look like fancy tricks, the phrases were actually lyrical and hte tricks were worked in so they didn't look like tricks but had dramatic impact.... SO there was a kind of family romance to that, wholesome and bittersweet....

I'm also waiting to see a short ballet romantic duet for 2 men, suitable for a gala, to "There's a place for us"

#50 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 04:16 AM

The story does sound like "The Incident at Owl Creek Bridge", but we may never know for sure, as James Howell, who did a lot of story concept for Arpino in those days, is dead.

Kahrmann still remembers his part, and his interrelation with the other members of the cast. He actually collected the strongest positive review of the production from Walter Terry, writing in the old Saturday Review. A problem would be in getting music to work with. It's a Panufnik symphony (#3?), which is not currently available in recorded form. There were some witty and observant things in this production, a small example being the hoop skirts worn by the ensemble women which were so long that they required the wearers to glide along in bourrées en pointe if they were not to drag their hems on the ground.

It might make my list for revivals, as Civil War reenactors are a fairly sizeable minority audience, but they might do what I did in my initial memory of the work, e.g. "That blouse is the wrong cut! What kind of rifle-muskets are those, they don't look right?! Where did they get those dinky shoes? and so forth...."

#51 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 14 December 2002 - 09:22 PM

Revisiting Paul's original query:

I was listening to a favorite pop artist tonight, Stephin Merritt and one of his incarnations, the Magnetic Fields. Merritt is openly gay - although so sullen about it (and life in general) it's almost comic and very New York; if people talk about his gayness, you simply couldn't mistake which sense they meant it. There's only one possible meaning of the word with him.

He's also a great pasticheur. In 1999, he came out with a triple CD set, 69 Love Songs, which is just that - 69 songs about love in as many genres as possible from folk rock to ballad to tin pan alley to punk to eurosynth to pop to rock and roll to scottish folk to. . .

One of the songs, "When my Boy Walks Down the Street" is a rock song done in a late 60's - early 70's style - fuzzy guitars and big sound. It's done absolutely straight (erm, so to speak) except with lines like "Amazing, he's a whole new form of life/Blue eyes blazing, and he's going to be my wife."

The song works. He's taken a convention and our expectations and turned it on its head, but at the same time he's stuck to the form, and you can tell he really likes the form. The words are different, the sounds are the same.

I know I said earlier that the conventions of ballet leave it without a vocabulary to deal with same sex partnering. Maybe with a little audacity and a lot of affection that can be turned into a virtue. Start with something simple and less earth shattering than lifts, supported turns, or costuming. How one person asks another person to dance; how one person offers his/her hand - how another person receives it. It's one of the most beautiful things in ballet. Now mix up the genders, but do it with the same courtliness and gallantry that ballet always has. Don't fuss over it, just do it.

What would something as simple as that say? I wouldn't know if it worked until I got into a room (with the right dancers) and tried it, but maybe taking the most loved conventions of ballet and hewing to them with genuine affection has possibilities of its own.

#52 Alexandra

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Posted 15 December 2002 - 07:52 AM

It's a shame this idea didn't interest Ashton, because his male-male danced conversations were so direct and so natural -- but father/son, friend/friend. But the convention he used in "Enigma Variations" might work here. Each character begins his/her dancing with a walk, and the walk defines the character. The walk very quickly leads into dancing, (walk walk walk dance) and the dancing grows out of the walk. I thought it an ingenious way to denote character -- and it goes along wiith what Leigh was saying above.

#53 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 December 2002 - 04:17 PM

And it proceeds from things that Elgar and Jaeger used to do together. They'd go for long walks on which they would do nothing else except discuss Beethoven. People coming upon them found the conversation impenetrable and uninterruptable!

#54 Paul Parish

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Posted 17 December 2002 - 10:00 PM

leigh, I hope you do that dance.....

and certainly, that moment of offering the hand is big drama and he approach to it can be so sensitive -- the pas de deux in Diamonds, the pas de deux in Robbins Ravel Piano COncerto in G MAjor, there's such courtship in the approach and retreat before the hand is ever offered....

#55 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 26 December 2002 - 07:31 AM

Although it's not "ballet" in the strictest sense of the word, Mark Morris' "The Hard Nut" does contain a very moving pas de deux for Drosselmeyer and the Nutcracker Prince. Is it romantic? I'm not sure, but it is certainly very tender -- and the word "doomed" has never once entered my mind while watching it (although "farewell" has). I think it's one of the high points of the whole evening -- along with that fabulous and fabulously joyful dance of the snowflakes.

#56 Alexandra

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Posted 26 December 2002 - 09:59 AM

True, Kathleen; there are a lot of examples in modern and contemporary dance, but it seems as though no one has yet figured out how to use the ballet vocatulary to do a romantic pas de deux for two men.

#57 Paul Parish

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Posted 26 December 2002 - 03:57 PM

Kathleen, I agree with you, that pas de deux is one of hte most beautiful and mysterious dances in that wonderful ballet -- and (unlike say, the hilarious but VERY modern-dance-y Waltz of the Flowers) it is very classical -- turned-out, lifted, a supported adage with slow grand pirouettes with grand extensions....

I don't know how to begin to say this, but it also seems a truly profound dance: partly because it happens to that deeply mysterious music, but even more because the dance seems to be a tremendously powerful ritual-transformation -- it's like a birth, the young man comes into being, becomes real somehow, in that dance. I don't know how to describe my feeling, except to say that it was TREMENDOUSLY important: Drosselmeyer's love for Clara (uh, Marie) is being poured forth and, being embodied in the youth, receives an acceptable separate life of its own, which is draining for Drosselmeyer but necessary, and the dance has the flavor of Hindu-buddhist myth -- like a reincarnation happening before our eyes, as if the youth is somehow an emanation of Drosselmeyer and emerges as a manifest separate entity in the course of hte dance, like Krishna as a manifestation of Vishnu --

So in a way it's a romance, but not one in which two become one but rather one in which one becomes two, with God's blessing....

Something like that.....

It's also got an element of renunciation, as if he's giving up his love for the youth to give her to Clara, as when the Marschallin gives up Octavian to Sophie in der Rosenkavalier... the older folk are making way for the new and literally sending them on their way..... THe Marschallin actually says "in Gottes Namen" as she does it. I feel there's some such spirit in Drosselmeyer's action.

Well, there's more mystery .. since the whole duet is repeated heterosexually (to different music, but almost exactly the same movements) at the end of the ballet as the climactic pas de deux for the young man and Marie.... where it "means" something else, and certainly feels different, though it still feels so tender, esp to revisit that lovely moment where "she" balances leaning her cheek on his hand....


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