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 11 June 2002 - 07:18 AM
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 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.
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 - 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 - 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 11 June 2002 - 09:23 AM
P.S. I write this as one who places Balanchine way up there above Ashton---it was not easy!
Posted 10 June 2002 - 08:23 AM
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.
Posted 11 June 2002 - 06:22 AM
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.
Posted 15 June 2002 - 09:52 PM
Posted 09 June 2002 - 06:44 PM
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?
Posted 10 June 2002 - 06:26 AM
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.
Posted 10 June 2002 - 09:16 AM
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....)
Posted 11 June 2002 - 06:04 AM
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.
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