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Whose Dream is Dreamier?


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Poll: Whose Dream is Dreamier? (1 member(s) have cast votes)

Whose Dream is Dreamier?

  1. The Dream by Ashton (19 votes [46.34%])

    Percentage of vote: 46.34%

  2. A Midsummer Night's Dream by Balanchine (22 votes [53.66%])

    Percentage of vote: 53.66%

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#16 Ari

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Posted 10 June 2002 - 08:29 AM

While Midsummer is not among my favorite Balanchine ballets, I prefer it to Ashton's because, as you said Manhattnik, Balanchine goes deeper and shows us some of the darker aspects of the play. I often feel that Ashton tends to skim the surface of things, and the way he responds to Mendelssohn's fairy music—all that scurrying and twittering, then the freeze on the chord—is just the sort of thing I mean. The "decorative, ornamental prettiness" you mention is a problem I often have with Ashton; it robs his choreography of true classical grandeur and implies that ballet is frilly stuff. I do like a lot of Ashton, especially La Fille, but the more I see of his work, the more problems I have with it.

#17 glebb

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Posted 09 June 2002 - 07:24 PM

Now don't forget how much I love Balanchine and NYCB but my vote goes this way in order of my favorite Dreams.

1) Ashton

2) Bruce Wells

3) Balanchine

#18 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 June 2002 - 08:31 PM

I actually like both, but just because I loathe Lanchberry's arrangement of the Mendelssohn with a passion (I think he wrote it with a hacksaw) my vote goes to the Balanchine.

#19 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 11 June 2002 - 10:43 AM

It's not just moving around individual pieces in the Lanchberry arrangement, there is no sacrosanct order to incidental music. It's the fact that the individual pieces are not presented intact, most particularly the Overture and Scherzo, which are sliced to ribbons and reassembled with all the grace of Frankenstein's monster (to stay in period!) I happen to love that music and I want to hear it. All of it. In some way that at least resembles the Mendelssohn and no, I don't find the fact that Balanchine (and Irving, I assume) used a portion of the Overture before the curtain and the recommenced it remotely a problem. I still get to hear the Overture intact.

I do find it funny that Alexandra finds the repeated mime annoying - I happen to love the repeated mime, to paraphrase Arlene Croce, it reads like many arguments, the same things are said, but somehow faster and more vehement. Which just goes to show you (like the almost even split in the votes as I write), everyone has a personal take on this issue. I really love them both, the Ashton's skimming style (I think the fairies are brilliant) and Balanchine's magical bugs and magnificent Act II divertissement (which I consider quite major in his canon); but if I have to make a choice, I'd only love the Ashton more with earplugs.

#20 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 June 2002 - 07:24 AM

It's interesting that Gottlieb sees Oberon and Titania this way in Balanchine's ballet. I never saw their relationship as having Chuck 'n Di kind of strife, but something even more old-fashioned; an arranged alliance that was sexless from its beginning. They've always had separate bedrooms.

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 June 2002 - 10:34 PM

To me, the transcendental performance exists on film, but not the filmed version of Midsummer's. That commercial film is worth watching, but will probably feel dissatisfying to most viewers. THe ballet does not transfer well to film, some of the film gimmicks (sudden appearances et al) seem contrived. The soundstage also feels very cramped, the ballet has no air. To get a good look at Villella and Farrell though is worth it - Villella's beats are astonishing.

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.]

#22 Michael

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Posted 17 June 2002 - 04:37 PM

A big difference is that Balanchine's Dream is two acts. Of Balanchine's ballets that come to mind immediately (I could be missing one), only Coppelia and the Nutcracker were ambitious enough to be Two Acts. (Does Copellia even have Three?). In all three ballets, the concluding act is essentially a divertissement or series of divertissements. In Copelia it is the festival of the hours (and a wedding or bethrothal?), in the Nutcracker it is the apotheosis of Candyland, and in Midsummer Night's Dream it is the wedding of Theseus and Hypollita and of the others.

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.

#23 felursus

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Posted 23 June 2002 - 09:47 PM

Like Alexandra I, too, grew up with Balanchine's "Dream". Then I saw Ashton's and fell in love. I think I fell in love with the very Englishness of his interpretation - Shakespeare was, after all, an Englishman.

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.

#24 Sonora

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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!

#25 Helena

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Posted 11 June 2002 - 07:00 AM

I think there's a complication here. Does the music reflect the play, or is it (as many would say) merely pretty crowd-pleasing Victorian stuff? (Actually, some of it was pre-Victorian, since he composed the Overture when he was only 17, in 1826, but it was completed after Victoria came to the throne.) And if it doesn't really reflect the play, given that Mendelssohn was too young to have a deep understanding of it, should the choreography reflect the music or the play? I'm not giving any answers here, just thinking on paper.

#26 sylvia

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Posted 10 June 2002 - 05:34 AM

I adore the Ashton version. It's probably one of my favourite ballets so when I saw PNB dance Midsummer when they came to London it was impossible to be objective. I disliked it intensely. I missed the narrative, the humour, the beautiful choreography. I have a video of PNB as well and haven't managed to sit through the whole thing without getting bored. It's been a while though, I should try again.

#27 Paul Parish

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Posted 22 June 2002 - 02:18 PM

Fascinating discussion -- the tiny details caught in the cracks -- like "Baryshnikov's near-death experience in 'Tarantella'" -- are as arresting as the arguments......


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.

#28 Paul Parish

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Posted 24 June 2002 - 02:35 PM

By the way, I would love to see the film Leigh describes -- what a wealth of archival material you all have in New yOrk, my fingers itch...

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.")

#29 balletstar18

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 08:29 PM

I prefer Ashton's "Dream" over Balanchine's. I saw both this spring season at lincoln center, and think that balanchine's was a little too long and repetitive. lots of kids running around and mime, while Ashton's condensed all of that into a much shorter ballet, which allowed us to see other pieces in the same performance.

#30 bobbi

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Posted 11 June 2002 - 04:26 AM

This is a hard question because I really do enjoy both. However, that being said, if my life choice would have to be either or, I voted for the Balanchine version. With a fresh performance at ABT last night (with Kent and Acosta) in mind -- and having enjoyed it thoroughly -- I will list, in no particular order, why I choose Balanchine's version over Ashton's.

(1) Over and above all, Balanchine visualizes that wonderful music better than Ashton; the main example for me is what Mr. B did for Oberon with the Scherzo music -- highly original and a challenge for the very best dancers (remember Misha couldn't really meet the test). Ashton divides the Scherzo music between Oberon and Puck. The choreography for Oberon is standard danseur noble stuff; and Puck and this music are just not a match.

(2) The transition from actor to donkey is very awkwardly handled in Ashton's version. You literally see him at the back of the stage for quite a while getting into his donkey outfit. In Balanchine's version, it's just magic. Also, the moment when Tatiania falls "in love" with the donkey is not particularly funny in Ashton's version. In Balanchine's version, after more than thirty years of watching, I still chuckle when the donkey looks straight at the audience holding the fairy queen and seems to say, "What's this?"

(3) Of course, Ashton's version of the love pas de deux does not equal in my view what Mr. B did in Act 2. To me, that pas is one of the most exquisite of pas in all of ballet. Ashton's doesn't come close.

(4) The earthly lovers in the Ashton version have too much violence during their quarrel scenes: They actually slap each other. There is only one hint of that in Mr. B.'s version when one of the lovers pulls back on a kick. I found much of the stage business awkward in Ashton's version.

(5) Of course, there's so much more actual dancing in the Balanchine version.

I'm sure I could come up with more specifics, but all that being said, I'm really glad we will have two versions in New York now, but I really do prefer Balanchine's version.


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