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RB choreography of SL Act IV in the 1960s

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Looking at this video of Nureyev and Fonteyn dancing SL in 1966:

I haven't seen the choreography from around the 13:30 mark in other productions, or later RB productions, although I'm sure I'm missing something. I find it quite lovely. Around 14:14 through 14:45 especially, there is something about it which strongly evokes for me their first meeting in Act II. Does anyone dance these steps today?

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This is not a Royal Ballet production at all, this is Nureyev's version for the Vienna Ballet. It was never performed by the RB.

For the record the Royal Ballet changed productions in the 1960's from their traditional version to one by Robert Helpmann that included a prologue showing Odette transformed into a swan. I'm not sure of the dates, but eventually it was dropped and they went back to the former production.

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Thank you for the correction, much appreciated. Do you know if anyone dances Nureyev's version today?

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I think the Paris Opera Ballet dances a production by Nureyev, though I haven't seen it myself. Nureyev frequently had second thoughts about his productions so there is no guarantee the POB SL resembles the early Vienna one

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I've seen POB's, La Scala's and Vienna's productions. I believe La Scala is the only other company besides POB and Vienna that dance his version. La Scala's production is virtually identical to POB's. However, the Vienna production (his first) is on a much a smaller scale compared to his recensions for Paris in 1984, and when he mounted it in Milan three years before his death. In Garnier and Milan the corps work, formations etc. are much more detailed, varied and intricate than in Vienna, especially in the last act. The final pdd in Vienna before the finale is also less evolved. The differences between Vienna and the other two companies are as follows:

  • In Vienna the Tutor is a separate character and doesn't double as Rothbart.
  • Odette isn't transformed into a swan by Rothbart during the overture as she is in Paris and Milan.
  • In Vienna the character dances' music of Act 3 are repeated where the composer had ended them, so they're longer than they were intended to be.
  • The black swan pdd music uses the original 1877 score. This is the music for the pdd from Act 1, (aka the music Balanchine used for "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux"). The Stanislavsky Ballet's Vladimir Bourmeister production also uses this music. La Scala has also danced Bourmeister's version.

The similarities are:

  • The Act 1 waltz is everlasting, using every repeat that the maestro wrote.
  • Siegfried's difficult center work Act 1 variation.
  • A ton of dry ice and the stage devouring blue sheet (the lake) that drowns him.
  • In Vienna, Odette bourrees away remaining under Rothbart's spell and he wins. In Paris and Milan they both fly away.
  • The Paris and Milan productions focus on Siegfried's psychological state. It's a Freudian take on the character.

The Bolshoi's Grigorovich version tries a similar psychological approach . IMO Nureyev's concept is much more effective than Grigorovich's current edition.

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The history of the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake is a bit more complicated than has been suggested. I think that the most important thing is that when changes are made to the choreographic text the audience is always told exactly what has been changed and by whom.

The Vic Wells Ballet danced its first Swan Lake in 1934.In setting the choreographic text Nicholai Surgeyev used the choreographic record that he had brought out of Russia. He mounted a second production for the company in 1943 in which it would appear that the Pas de Trois was in Act 3 rather than Act 1.In 1952 there was a new production which is described as "Sergeyev's production revised by de Valois". This production saw the Pas de Trois in Act1 and the first of Ashton's additions to the text in the form of a Pas de Six in Act 1 ,which I understand found its way into the Touring Company's production, and the Neapolitan Dance danced by Alexander Grant and Julia Farron.

The next production was staged by Robert Helpmann with designs by Carl Toms. It received its first performance in December 1963.It consisted of a Prologue and three acts and contained choreography by Ashton,Nureyev and Fay. Ashton contributed a Prologue,a Waltz for twelve dancers and a Pas de Quatre in Act 1.He provided a Dance of the Guests ,Spanish Dance,Neapolitan Dance for Act 2 and a completely new Act 3.Nureyev provided a Polonaise for Act 1 and a Mazurka for Act 2 while Maria Fay set the Czardas in Act 2.It does not say so but this must be the production in which Benno ceased to be an active dance participant at the lakeside.A lot of the Ashton choreography for this production found its way into the Swan Lake that Markarova mounted for ENB. This was recorded and issued on DVD starring Schauffus and Hart.Unfortunately the camera man preferred close ups of Mr Schauffus to the dancers performing.the Pas de Quatre. The cast in this section includes a very young Leanne Benjamin.

In 1971 there was a new production or perhaps it is better described as a revised production since there was not enough money for a new production. This was according to Zoe Anderson an amalgam of the productions danced by the Covent Garden company and the Touring Company.This production in four acts retained the Ashton additions of the Waltz and Pas de Quatre in Act 1;Dance of the Guests,Spanish Dance and Neapolitan Dance in Act 3 and his choreography for Act 4. Act 1 included de Valois' Peasant Dance and Nureyev provided a moody solo for the price at the end of the act. Designs were by Leslie Hurry.

There was a further revision in the 1972/3 season. The Prologue was cut.The Pas de Trois was restored to Act 1 while the Ashton Waltz was retained as was de Valois choreography for the Peasant Girl. The Pas de Quatre was moved to Act 3 where it joined Ashton's Spanish Dance and Neapolitan Dance.The Mazurka was dropped from Act 3 and Ivanov's Act 4 replaced the Ashton version.This version was danced until 1979.

In 1979 there was a new production under the supervision of Norman Morrice, the then director.Designs by Leslie Hurry.Act 1 retained the Ashton Waltz while Act 3 retained his Pas de Quatre,Spanish Dance and Neapolitan Dance and Act 4 reverted to his choreography. De Valois' Peasant Dance was retained in Act 1 as was Nureyev's Solo for the Prince.This production is the one that is available on DVD with Dowell and Markarova dancing the lead roles.Perhaps I should say that it is not an entirely accurate account of how the ballet was danced at that time since Markarova resolutely dances through the section that every one else mimed and in addition her Act 2 was regarded by most as impossibly slow and unmusical.It seems quite normal now. Strange how fashion operates in ballet.

In 1987 Dowell mounted his own production with designs by Yolande Sonnabend .It marked a return to the Ivanov/ Petipa version of the ballet.Originally Dowell had intended to include new choreography in Act 1 for the section which originally involved a maypole and retain Ashton's Neapolitan Dance in Act 3. However Ashton was sufficiently upset by the decision to remove all his additions that his Neapolitan Dance was not restored until the 1992/93 season some four years after Ashton's death. This version is available on DVD.A lot of people have loathed this production since its first performance. This has little or nothing to do with the choreographic text although the Bintley waltz is pretty twee and a very poor substitute for the Ashton one. Most people who dislike it do so because of the boorish behavior of the prince's friends and above all Sonnabend's designs which are pretty tasteless particularly in Act 3.

I have to say that it has always puzzled me that the RB has not been able to have more than one version of a ballet like Swan Lake available to it at any one time. The original version has to be available and shown regularly but the version danced by the company from 1972/3 or even better that danced from 1979 has great choreography in it. I will admit that I felt let down when I first saw the original Ivanov last act as I my first Swan Lakes had included Ashton's version.It is said that the audience would be confused but anyone interested in ballet would be interested in the other version or versions and the people who go just to say that they have seen Swan Lake will only feel cheated if they do not see the thirty two fouettes.

I imagine that many of you will be aware of Cyril Beaumont's book The Ballet Called Swan Lake originally published in 1952 and recently republished by Dance Books.But for those that do not. It is a mine of information.It contains accounts of the origins of the ballet and goes into some detail about the reordering of the score and the additions made to it to provide a score that met the choreographical needs of Petipa and Ivanov. It also contains quite detailed accounts of the text of the ballet as set by Sergeyev as well as details of alternative versions of some variations.Some former dancers of the RB have said that as students they used the detailed account of the choreography as a training resource.

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Wow! Great info! I actually find this sort of thing more fascinating (why did things changeover time) than actual reconstructions.

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Adding thanks for the timeline -- you're right when you observe that very few productions give specific credit to their various antecedents.

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