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Leo Staats


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 08:33 AM

Katharine's question about "Sylvia" reminded me that I've been meaning to ask for ages about Leo Staats. I've only seen one ballet of his -- "Soir de Fete" -- on a taped-off-TV video -- and liked it very much. I know that Balanchine respected Staats. I know (or think I know) that he was the finest choreographer of his day in Paris. And that's all I know about him -- I'd like to know more.

Estelle (and others) what is Staats' reputation now? Are his ballets ever revived? From reading interviews with older dancers, can you tell us more about him?

#2 Estelle

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 10:28 AM

Well, the only ballet of him that I saw is "Soir de Fête", and it probably was the same program as what you saw on video (in a mixed bill with Massine's "La Symphonie Fantastique" and Petit's "L'Arlésienne", in 1997). I don't have the program notes here, but it seems to me that "Soir de Fête", which used to be one of the most often danced works of the POB's repertory (There are some inconsistencies about it in Ivor Guest's two editions of "Le Ballet de l'Opera de Paris": both include a list of the most often performed works in all the history of the company, the first one ending on June 30, 1976 and the second one ending on Dec 31, 1999, and "Soir de Fête" ranks 7th in the *first* list with 303 performances between 1924 and 1975, and 8th with 269 performances between 1925 and 1997 in the *second* list. So, as it seems unlikely that 34 "negative performances" were done between 1975 and 1997, one of the figures is false! Anyway, it used to be performed very often), hasn't been danced much in the last two decades. The POB school had danced it in 1985, but I don't know when the company had last danced it before 1997. No other ballet of him has been revived, as far as I know (the school danced "Le festin de l'araignée" in 1984 and 1986, but it was after Albert Aveline's production of 1939, not his original production of 1913). But well, the present direction of the POB doesn't seem very interested in the company's traditional repertory, to put it mildly, for example no Lifar work has been danced since 1996...

Here are the works by Staats in the POB's repertory, according to Guest's book:
-"Namouna" (1908, Lalo- the first production had been in 1882 by Lucien Petipa, but the music, which later was used for "Suite en blanc", was not very popular then with the ballet audience)
-"Javotte" (1909, Saint-Saëns- there's a nice photograph of him in the main male role, with Zambelli)
-"Les abeilles" (1917, Stravinsky)
-a new production of "Sylvia" around 1920 (it hadn't been danced since 1894), with Zambelli in the main role
-"Taglioni chez Musette" (1920, Auber, Boieldieu, Meyerbeer, Weckerlin)
-"Frivolant" (1922, Poueigh)
-"Cydalise et le chèvre-pied" (1923, Pierné)
-"La nuit ensorcelée" (1923, Chopin)
-"Siang-Sin" (1923, Huë)
-"Istar" (1924, D'Indy)
-"Soir de fête" (1925, Delibes- the main role was created by Spessivtseva, I didn't remember that!)
-"Orphée" (1926, Ducasse)
-"La prêtresse de Koridwen" (1926, Ladmirault)
-"Impressions de music-hall" (1926, Pierné)
-"L'écran des jeunes filles" (1929, Roland-Manuel)
-"Le rustre imprudent" (1931, Fouret)
-"Roselinde" (1933, Hirschmann)
-"Le rouet d'Armor" (1936, Piriou)
-"Iléana" (1936, Bertrand)

Staats left the POB when Lifar became its director. He died in 1952, and Jacques Baril's "Dictionnaire du ballet" says that he also made some choreographies for the music-hall, and that he was very involved in teaching.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 11:37 AM

Thank you so much for that, Estelle! Now I want to see some of it :)

I was interested to hear about Zambelli, too. I have a story about her. A friend of mine met her when she was VERY old. They chatted for awhile, and she mentioned that she had danced in the old choreography of "Giselle" (!!!!!), not the version we know from Petipa, but the original Paris version. He asked if she could show something, and she thought she could. They put on a record and she stood up and started to dance, took a step, and then sat down, shaking her head, very sadly. "No, I can't," she said. "I have forgotten now." Dance is so horribly ephemeral!

#4 Estelle

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 03:44 PM

I had forgotten to add "La Péri" to the list of Staats' ballets, he had staged a version of it in 1921 or 1931 (the sources differ about it... Also, some say it was danced by Spessivtseva and Peretti, other by Bourgat. Perhaps he staged it twice?) The "Dictionnaire du ballet moderne" (1957) has a rather long article about him, and says that "La Péri" was revived in 1951.
It says he started studying with Francis Mérante (either it's a typo and they meant Louis, or it's a relative of Louis...) at the POB school, first appeared on stage when he was 16 in "La Maladetta", and choreographed his first ballet at the same age. He was born in 1877 and died in 1952 (and taught in his school of the rue Saulnier until his death). Besides his activites at the Opera, he also worked for some time at the Théâtre des Arts. In the same book, there is a short article about "Cydalise et le chèvre-pied" (the plot is about a young faun falling in love with the dancer Cydalise), and there's a nice drawing of the sets of "Soir de fête" by Jean-Denis Malclès in the "Opéra de Paris" entry (p. 254).

Zambelli surely is a very interesting character too! She was a central figure of the POB for decades- people called her "La Grande Mademoiselle" (I don't know if it is coincidence, but it also was the nickname of a historical character of the 17th century, the duchess of Montpensier, a niece of Louis the 13th with a strong personality). She was the last of the Italian ballerinas hired by the POB, and also the last foreign ballerina dancing on the stage of the Maryinski in 1901. She retired from the stage in 1930, when she was 55 (!) and was the director of the POB school between 1935 and 1955. She died in 1968.

The anecdote about the early version of "Giselle" is quite sad... And at the same it's fascinating to see how far away in the fast one can get in only two generations: there still are some people who studied with Zambelli (for example probably Claude Bessy).

By the way, another (earlier) figure of the Paris Opera who seems quite fascinating is Saint-Léon. It's a pity so few of his works remain (I've no idea which parts of the modern versions of "Coppélia" are similar to the original version), for he seems to have been a real genius.

#5 cygneblanc

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 03:45 PM

Alexandra, I'm afraid you have been already aware of that but here's what Odette Joyeux wrote in her book " le monde merveilleux de la danse" (the wonderful world of ballet" about Carlotta Zambelli.
She was known as Mademoiselle. She was born in 1877 in Milan, Italy and became an "Etoile" of the POB in 1894. She has been desribed as a very focused woman with a great determination, . She wasn't looking to be an eminent personnality of the parisian life and disliked both eccentricity and turbulence. She was a very demanding women who didn't know the word" fatigue" and gave her whole life for the POB.
I will look tomorrow in some of my books for the Giselle issue

#6 Estelle

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 03:53 PM

cygnebland, it seems that we were posting at the same time! I'm looking forward to reading your post about the performance history of "Giselle" (unfortunately, many of my books still are at my parents'home, including a "L'avant-scène ballet-danse" about "Giselle" which could be useful). I don't know when it was last performed at the Paris Opera in the "original" version. I know that Mouravieva danced it in 1863 and Grantzow in 1866, but I don't know if it was performed again until the Ballets Russes period. Also, Lucien Petipa died in 1898, five years after Zambelli's arrival in Paris, so who knows...

#7 katharine kanter

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 03:06 AM

Perhaps what the world is waiting for, is a storm of revivals.

It is such a bore hearing managerial types say there is nothing left to dance - except of course Spleena Crouch, Splatts Egg and Crans van Bananen - when there are dozens of un-danced pieces lying about gathering dust somewhere. They must be put up before the people who know the parts, die off !

And, frankly, does not a little "Paquita" go a long, long way ?

Revive everything, except what is manifestly rubbish, give it half a dozen performances to see whether it can stand on its tiny twinkletoes, and if it can, let it fly. Rotate it in repertoire every three or four years. Contrary to what Official Opinion would have us believe, surely not EVERYTHING choreographed by the POB's eminent ballet masters of the last century has been unredeemable dross ?

I'm not sure whether the financial aspect is as serious as we are led to believe. I mean, do Spleena Crouch and her lot for example, work for free ?

What matters is the dancing, the steps, and how they are executed, not scenery and costumes, and anyway, the POB has a vast store of whatnots that could be recycled into new productions. Who gives a fig, if the dancing is good ?

Nor does it matter that most of these things may not be full-evening pieces. If it's well danced, the public will flock in.

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 03:25 AM

I'm not sure about now, but Balanchine used to grant rights to companies he particularly liked to dance his ballets under what's called a "sweetheart contract", where the stated royalty was one dollar. I really doubt the Trust does that any more. As to others, I really doubt they work under that kind of contract, either.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 06:36 AM

I do know of examples of young, contemporary dance choreographers in the States who, while not exactly working for free, are known to be considerably less expensive than others. And I have been told that both the Tudor and Balanchine trusts have sliding fee scales; (I haven't investigated that independently.)

The problem with revivals is once they're out of repertory for a long time, there's the question of who can revive them, of course, but also, if the style of the company has moved in a different direction, it takes more time to get the company dancing the older repertory convincingly. And once they've been dumped into that dread Heritage Bin -- "Oh, God. We forgot to program the Heritage work. What should we drag out this year?" -- the ballets are not viewed as living things, but as obligations, and are often danced that way. It's too easy to bring them back for four performances, plunk them in between Virtiuosity Exercise 107 and NewNow Sexy Kickbutt Work 295, and when the audience does not leap to its feet demanding Heritage Work -19, they can say, "See, people really don't want to see that silly old stuff."

But this isn't just a Paris problem by any means. I think the only solution to this is to have a director who genuinely loves those ballets and can excite the dancers about them -- the dancers will then excite the audience. To use a Danish example, when Hans Brenaa staged "The Kings Volunteers on Amager," after it had been out of the repertory for 27 years and was presumed dead, the dancers loved it, and the ballet sang. When I saw it again in 1992, it was a soggy, lifeless thing. I spoke to two of the dancers about it. They didn't like it, they didn't have enough to do, it was "just mime." I talked to them about the older production and the woman said, "Yes, but that was Hans Brenaa, and that was a different time." Bring someone in who loves the ballets, he can get you to love them. Have a director who says, "Wow! Look at all these wonderful treasures I found in our attic. There's a great role for you, and you and you, and here's one for our young dancers," I think that could turn things around. The farther we move away from these ballets, the less likely it is to happen.

#10 cygneblanc

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Posted 19 January 2003 - 11:08 AM

Here are the infos I promised about Giselle.
It seems that the original version was performed for the last time in the POB in 1868. The first performance was on June 28, 1841 with Carlotta Grisi dancing Giselle. It was given until 1849 (89 performances). Then we have a 3 years break, and it was performing again in the POB in 1852 and avril 1853 (only 2 performances). Again a break (10 years) and it was played again in 1863 with some new sets and costumes. It was very sucessful and they kept playing it until 1868. Then it diseapeared and was scheduled again in 1924 because Jacques Rouché took on Olga Spessivtzeva and wanted to program Giselle for her, so he asked to Mr Sergeev to recreate it for her, according to the last version of Marius Petipa presented at The Marie Theater, with Alexandre Benois for the sets/costuming
I'm sorry, I don't have a lot of time, french students are having some exams at this time of the year and I have to correct what they wrote, and it isn't fun at all :)
For those who are interested in, I have found the infos in a book written by Serge Lifar, "Giselle apothéose du ballet romantique

#11 Estelle

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Posted 19 January 2003 - 12:38 PM

Thanks a lot for the information, cygneblanc! :)
So Zambelli couldn't have danced the pre-Petipa version of "Giselle" at the Paris Opera, as she came there in 1893. However, perhaps there were still there some people who had danced in the 1868 version and taught her some parts of it?

And I sympathize about the "corrections" (I don't know the right English word), it will be the same for me next week :rolleyes:

#12 Estelle

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 06:45 AM

A page about Zambelli's classes in the 1950s or 1960s, written by a former POB dancer (and former student of the POB school):

http://mapage.noos.f...ademoiselle.htm

By the way, the whole site is very interesting, with a lot of personal anecdotes about life at the POB school (at that time it still was inside the Opera Garnier), the "petits rats" who managed to climbed on the POB's roof, Lifar's teaching, some nasty mothers of students, the joy of being on stage in the operas, etc.

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 08:29 AM

What a lovely site! Thank you, Estelle. It's wonderful, the little pockets of things that are on the Net!

#14 Alymer

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Posted 09 February 2003 - 07:56 AM

With regard to the pre-Petipa Giselle; I watched last night a video about Serge Peretti; The last Italian. It's a fascinating document with all kinds of treasures, but in it he is shown teaching Nicolas Le Riche one of Albrecht's variations from Act II in the version he knew pre- Sergeev. So, I think it not impossible that Zambelli too would have known at least some of the choreography.

#15 Alexandra

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Posted 09 February 2003 - 08:19 AM

Yes. Back then, dancers wanted to learn their repertory :o There are Karsavina's stories about how her class de perfection would beg Johansson to "teach us the steps in the old ballets."


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