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Differences among Petipa ballets


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 01 June 2001 - 10:02 PM

Thank you for that, Doug. I think the point about variety is one that might spark an interesting discussion. I think all audiences want variety, and Petipa gave it to us all in one ballet. Now, we'll have a wildly varied mixed bill, but without the unification of style and aesthetic that made Petipa's ballets both diverse and harmonious.

The differences in the actual variations I find fascinating, and I'm sure others do, too. I'd be perfectly happy for you to teach us about them :)

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 09:33 AM

I'm with Doug and Drew on this one. I think Doug hit it with his comments that planting Petipa's name on something is mere marketing, and I agree with Drew that the "notes" (steps) are integral to the work. What goes on in ballet could not go on in music, not merely because music has a more accessible notation, I think, but because the music audience (including critics) is more educated. Dance people -- fans and critics -- get sold the Brooklyn Bridge month after month, it seems.

Ashton's "Fille" is one example of a revival that's rechoreography. It doesn't pretend to be Petipa, although it doesn't pretend to be completely original either. (Much of the "stage business" is from prior productions.) But Ashton was a choreographer, and his ballet could stand on his name. Same with Balanchine's Nutcracker and Coppelia. (I don't know if the Royal still has the Ivanov reconstruction, done with John Wylie, that did use the Stepanov notation in rep or not.)

Otherwise, the interest in these "revivals" is because of the desperate need for new classical choreography. If the same energy were put into that as in the new Faux Classics, I think we'd be better for it, but I think the revivalists aren't skilled enough to do that. Hence they dig up the past. There are ballets from the past that I would adore to see, but not through the imagination of a less-than-master choreographer guessing just which four-note theme Beethoven may have used open that lost symphony -- to go back to Drew's reference to Acocella's article.

#18 Alexandra

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 12:14 PM

Thanks, Jeannie. I'm sorry if I implied that Lacotte was revising without the proper notation in the program. I didn't mean to. I think we've all acknowledged that the productions are popular, but I do think the point that Doug raised, that it's a question of marketing, is a good one. To coarsen his point a bit (sorry, Doug) we know that champagne sells, but we're not allowed to market ginger ale as champagne. In ballet, that rule doesn't apply.

I do think there is an element of trying to piggyback off Petipa's name. If I, a bad painter (and I am a very bad painter, or at least was the last time I tried it, in third grade) can't sell my portraits either because portraits are out of fashion or they're no good, but can wiggle into a niche because, say, everything Leonardo did burned and now exists only in descriptions by writers, I might not have a market for my own "Girl with a Smile," but would get a lot of attention for: "Revived! Years of painstaking historical research and mixing original Renaissance paints: Leonardo's Mona Smiles Again." Except it wouldn't look like the "Mona Lisa" -- and wouldn't even if I could actually paint.

I don't have any problem with people liking the revivals. (And I don't think anyone was trying to say that.) If I'm given Kool-Aid and I've only had water, I'll love it. If somebody says, "Psst. Have you tried champagne?" I might like it better. I won't know about the champagne if I'm only given the Kool-Aid. Of course, I may well prefer the Kool-Aid, but at least I'll know.

[ 06-08-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#19 Alexandra

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 02:11 PM

Okay! It's much better than Kool Aid. :) The point that I think Drew, Doug and I have been trying to make isn't about whether something is enjoyable or not. I think that often happens when dance reconstruction topics come up. They were trying to get at what is actually being constructed, or reconstructed, or made up out of whole cloth and passed off as something it's not.

#20 cargill

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Posted 04 June 2001 - 08:50 AM

Doug, I certainly agree with you about the dangers of imposing grand philosophical schemes on 19th century entertainment, but do you think I am out of line in feeling that the Kirov's new old Sleeping Beauty was making a comment on the importance of mercy versus justice? I thought the extended King's mime scene made his decision to spare the knitting ladies so much more key to the ballet. Carabosse, after all, was only asking for justice, since she was insulted, but the King, who was within his rights to have the knitting ladies hanged, was able to rise above justice to forgive them. And inviting Carabosse to the wedding seemed to reinforce that idea, unlike the more apocoliptic good vs. evil versions based on the Royal Ballet's version.

I hadn't realized that the Maryinsky version was redesigned. I seem to remember some of the original reviews (read in translation only!) were somewhat critical of the costumes. Was it redone when Vzevolovsky left?

And about differences of style within Petipa ballets which have been lost, I think it is too bad that ABT dropped Medora's character solo on the boat. It was done in the Boston production and was just charming, and was a refreching break from all the classical pointwork.

#21 wjglavis

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 10:14 AM

I was fascinated by what you had to say, Doug - and am still trying to absorb it all. (And very interested in James' comments too, of course!)

Presumably, some of the increased difficulty in the choreography had something to do with improved technique. So, for instance, when a ballet was brought back into the repertory for Kschessinskaya, it would be changed to show off her talents. (And there's an oft-quoted passage of Bronislava Nijinska's in which she describes helping to carry the Lilac Fairy's cloak - danced by Maria Petipa - and seeing her [character] shoes with their little heels. Wiley talks about there being choreography for two different variations - one for Maria Petipa, and a more difficult one for someone else. Is the more difficult choreography anything like what is danced today???)

I don't know if you (or James) can answer these, but I have some questions about Sleeping Beauty.

1. Nijinska talks about the HUGE difference in the way her brother danced the Blue Bird - have you found anything in your researches to back up her statements?

2. Balanchine gives a very detailed account of his memories of Sleeping Beauty as regards stage effects. Some of these things are still done (like the disappearance of the Wicked Fairly's disguise) but I would like to know more about some of his other effects. In particular:

- Fire - he mentions this in conjuction with Carabosse's disappearance at the end of Act 1. (And I know they used fire at other times at the Maryinsky because you hear about it in Faust, as well.) Do you know anything about this? Is there anything about it in the notation??

- Balanchine also mentions being 'a cupid on one of the carriages in the final act'
What carriages? What cupids?

- And at the very end, he mentions a huge and wonderful staircase, with fountains on both sides of the stairs, so that there was a sort of waterfall effect all the way down the stairs. The Russians used fountains at lot (and still do) but I've never heard about this particular effect from anyone else.

I'm sure I could come up with a lot of other questions (!) but I'll try to restrain myself.

Many thanks for introducing this very interesting subject.

- Wendy

#22 wjglavis

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 05:50 PM

Thanks so much for your detailed answers, Doug - especially for your thoughts on the Lilac Fairy - which were really helpful. And I'll certainly try to learn more about that 'liquid fire' Mel.
- Wendy

#23 Juliet

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Posted 07 June 2001 - 08:48 PM

Dear Kevin McK:

Should've spent the money on Pharoah's Daughter rather than the Pied Piper.......
give Cleopatra a run on the Egypt theme....
lots of special effects, (but please spare us any inflatable lotus blossoms!),
kiddie corps,
a whole line of coordinating stuff to make the marketing people go pitter-pat,
you wouldn't have to do any of your own choreography ,
goddesses and divas are a lot more appealing these days than rats.

Think of the possibilities! You could bring it to Washington instead of Nutcracker....we'd love it!

[ 06-07-2001: Message edited by: Juliet ]

#24 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 02:04 PM

i think that one april there was an article on ballet.co.uk that spoke of a 'lost' third act of giselle, but on investigation it turned out to be an april fool's! (though not immediately obvious).

#25 Drew

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Posted 07 June 2001 - 07:35 PM

Lacotte's version of Pharoah's Daughter (or Paquita for that matter) may be wonderful and perhaps Kevin Mckenzie should aquire it -- I have no opinion on this -- but I don't see how it can be called a "revival" or a "classic" when the CHOREOGRAPHY is almost entirely new, albeit "in the manner of" Petipa etc. If ballet is in any respect a serious art form on its own account, the "steps" very much do matter. There was a recent thread discussing an article by Joan Accocella addressing "revivals" of Nijinsky's ballets and discussing this issue...To use Accoccella's example, what would it meant to "revive" Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on the basis of some written descriptions of the premier, some records of the composer's tempi and keys, and maybe some indications of the orchestration but gee...um...er...having almost none of the NOTES. Nineteenth-century choreography may not be as "autonomous" as music (a complex question), but choreography is the substance of balletic art if the art counts for anything substantive at all.

Again, this is not an opinion on the artistic merits of Lacotte's productions -- I haven't seen them, though I remember Jeannie's glowing report on Paquita! -- but how can they be thought of as revivals? I admit, though, that I personally find it pretty questionable for a performing art to try to renew itself by doing pastiche versions of its older repertory. If the occasional production works (as Lacotte's do, in the eyes of many), of course that's great.

On the other hand, if actual notation exists for some lost "classics" and if an artist with enough creativity and musicality to bring notation to life were to appear on the scene to stage those works (big ifs), the possibility for genuinely enriching ballet's heritage would be greater than some pseudo-revival. I don't mean a pious attempt to make everything exactly as it was (impossible anyway and, in my opinion, not even desirable) -- but stagings that would at least try to give one more of a genuine sense of ballet's choreographic heritage.

#26 Drew

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Posted 08 June 2001 - 09:51 PM

I was very interested in Jeannie's list -- do we know enough to have a sense of how Petipa developed into the Petipa of Sleeping Beauty? One comment I overheard about Lacotte's Pharoah's Daughter (putting aside, for now, the "steps" question) was that the choreography occasionally looked more French/Bournonvillesque than Petipa, and the person speaking speculated that this was because the ballet was an "early" Petipa spectacle and that was what Lacotte had in mind.

This is really third hand information; I'm not kidding when I say I overheard this conversation...but I notice Doug made some analogous remarks early in this thread, and I am curious if ballet historians have a sense of when and how Petipa developed into the distinctive geometry and pointe work of his later choreography?

Related question re Vivandiere; I saw the Vivandiere pas de six many, many years ago in a Joffrey II production; I vaguely thought it was St. Leon or some other French, pre-Petipa choreography and it certainly looked (to my eye) somewhat Bournonvillesque, with fleet and bouncy footwork. Is this a case, like Giselle, where the version we have is based on a Petipa revival? Or is Jeannie referring to something different?

Croce (to the best of my memory) once alluded to Petipa as having developed the ballerina's adagio (and developed point work accordingly) and she specifically contrasted this to Bournonville. I'm curious what sense we have of when and where this happened in Petipa's work -- of where, when, and how his version of the French tradition diverged from Bournonville's.

P.S. I'm a little nervous that I've just betrayed some appalling ignorance of well known ballet history...so apologies ahead of time.

[ 06-09-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

#27 James Wilkie

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 03:38 AM

This is an excellent thread to have started. I am currently studying The Sleeping Beauty for my A-Level exams and it has become apparent as to how many variations there are on certain aspects of the ballet.
No two productions are the same in terms of choreography whether that be because a dancer or choreographer as changed a step to suit the dancers body type and facilities. I as a student dancer am very interested in the reconstruction of 'Original' ballets- Kirov Sleeping Beauty and Bolshoi Pharohs Daughter. I think it is a brilliant idea to restage these versions so that we can see what are heritage is, although this brings up other questions as to whether this is correct. For example in the Kirovs Sleeping Beauty they went back to their 1952 version when parts of the ballet were unclear, resulting in ballet of 1890 style mixed in with Soviet style choreography( which I do not have a problem with incase I may have offended).I must write a link, there has been a brilliant article written about this reconstruction on Marc Haegemans Web page.(Doug did you by any chance write this as I thought it was brilliant had has given a bit more background knowledge for my exam. Thank you!)
Also one other ballet I find that has so many variations on is Giselle. If you look at the male variation in Act Two it is never the same. Recently I saw nearly every night of the Royal Ballets Sir Peter Wrights production and every different male had a different solo so as to what the choreographer had wanted has been lost.
I am a huge fan of Giselle as I think it is one of the most taxing ballets for the dancers as there are so many feelings and emotions that have to connect with the audience. It is the one ballet that I long to dance. For me I would very much like to see a reconstruction of this ballet but I fear that this may not be possible. Also another final note on Giselle is it true that there may possibly have been a third act to this ballet that got lost on the way, as I have heard people disscuss that there was at one time another act. Fact or Fiction!

[ 06-02-2001: Message edited by: James Wilkie ]

#28 James Wilkie

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Posted 02 June 2001 - 02:30 PM

Thank you Doug for opening up this thread it has certainly been a very interesting one. I am looking forward to seeing the Kirov do The Sleeping Beauty when they come to London again unfortunatly it is after my exam but it will be interesting to see it again. I would really like to see Altynai Asylmuratova do it again as in my opinion she brought something very special to the role. I am to see Svetlana Zakharova this time as I missed her last time. Who did you like in the role of Aurora?
One thing I must ask is that when Rudolf Nureyev was staging La Bayadere for The Paris Opera Ballet it was said in a documentry that he wanted to stage a fourth act. Is this true? It would have been interesting to see what it would have looked like.
Doug have you seen Perm State Ballets The Sleeping Beauty because this was supposed to have helped the Kirovs production?
:) :) :) :) :) ;)

#29 James Wilkie

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Posted 05 June 2001 - 08:23 AM

Dale Thank you for giving me that insite to Zakharovas Aurora. I am looking forward to it. I am not sure as to whether I will like it because of her high extensions and I am not sure as to whether they are suited to the role of Aurora she has an incredible body that can do so much but I have my reservations, we shall what and see. I shall report back later! :)

#30 doug

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Posted 01 June 2001 - 03:20 PM

This is a thread, begun at Alexandra's prompting, to discuss differences between and within Petipa's ballets (also, Ivanov's and other those by other 19th-century choreographers, if we wish). I'll start with a few examples of my observations. The point, I think, is to try and look back to the original intent of the creators and see what the differences were within and among the ballets. Over time, obviously, things have changed - deliberate changes/practical changes/forgotten steps, etc.

A full-length ballet by Petipa was constructed to entertain on many levels and with a variety of dance styles and character types. His ballets included classical dances, character dances, children's dances, mime scenes and pas d'actions (danced scene which carried the action forward), among other elements, that I'm sure others can provide.

RAYMONDA is a good example. The opening of the first act included a lot of mime to set up the story of Raymonda and Jean d'Brienne, as well as the story of the White Lady, who protected the House of Doris. The many details of this opening scene have long been absent from productions of RAYMONDA. The scene includes dances as well, but not in suite form as they occur later in the ballet. The second scene includes a classical suite: pas de deux, waltz, 3 variations and coda, followed by a children's dance (not classical - they are bugs, like in Midsummer) and a lengthy mime scene between Raymonda and the saracen knight, Abderrakhman. The second act includes another classical suite, this time a pas d'action, in which Abderrakhman tries to woo Raymonda: adagio, 4 variations and coda, followed by a character suite, including a massed dance, a dance for little boys, a dance for a couple, then a Spanish dance for a lead couple and corps. A coda follows in which the character dancers return to dance, but it also functions as another pas d'action - Abderrakhman tries to kidnapy Raymonda. Jean d'Brienne arrives in the nick of time and kills Abderrakhman in a duel. Act III is the wedding, beginning with a procession, followed by a czardas (Petipa also added a mazurka shortly before the premiere), a formal children's dance, and a suite that can be characterized as a hybrid of classical and character dance: entree, adagio, 4 variations (no variation for Jeam d'Brienne - instead he dances a pas de quatre with three other men), coda. The apotheosis, depicted a tournament - yes, a medieval tournament (go figure), complete with papier mache figures!

I love the variety of these long ballets. I believe ballet was a broader form of entertainment in late 19th-century Russia than it is now. Perhaps less serious on a philosophical level?

As far as differences between the ballets, my comments stem from my work with notations of the ballets made in the 1890s and early 1900s. In the River variations of THE DAUGHTER OF PHARAOH, the most common steps were precipite and arabesque voyagee (we call them 'chugs' here in the States). Also single saut de basques. Very little pointe work. On the other hand, the Fairy variations of SLEEPING BEAUTY are almost all on pointe. The difference could be the time span between the creation of the ballets (1862 vs. 1890) or the fact that the River variations were essentially character dances and the Fairy variations are essentially classical. In the BAYADERE Shades scene from 1900, hardly a step is repeated throughout the scene - such amazing invention - the corps choreography is more demanding than we see now. I've found that steps and nuances that further distinguish the three Shade variations have disappeared over time - changed or forgotten. The most striking changes are Nikiya's steps in the coda. NOTHING like what we see today - the notated steps remind me of TCHAIKOVSKY PAS DE DEUX and SYMPHONY IN C, first movement (sissonne onto pointe, double rond du jambe, repeated on alternating legs - hops in fifth on pointe alternating with echappe onto flat feet). The manege of tour jetes was originally much more complicated - saut de basque, petit jete en tournant, grand jete, all repeated three times - beautiful!

One last example - Le jardin anime from CORSAIRE - no precipite, no arabesque voyagee - all balance, ballonne, waltz turns, emboite. The variation include small and large jumps and lots of pointe work.

That's a start. :)


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