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odinthor

Why So LIttle Massine?

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odinthor   

A simple question:  Why is there so little Massine around?  What little I've seen of his choreography I've found exciting, sensitive, distinctive, intelligent, stageworthy, and--even in the light stuff--deeply-felt and masterfully composed.  I'm in the middle of reading his autobiography, and my appreciation of him is redoubled by becoming aware of not only what he observes and the depth and breadth of his reflections but also the varied richness of his output over so many years--so many works I had never even heard of before.  Surely it is time, and past time, for a Massine renaissance, surveying the rare pieces as well as the better-known ones...

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The Paris Opera Ballet has performed Le Tricorne with some regularity, though not since 2009. On YouTube I've run across video of the Farruca performed by Patrick Dupond, Kader Belarbi and José Martinez. Apart from some of the work he did in films, the POB's Tricorne, with Belarbi and Françoise Legrée, is one of the few Massine ballets readily available on video (with sound); I remember that the Hollywood version of The Gay Parisian was included in a DVD set of The Maltese Falcon, and Spanish Fiesta was included in a DVD of In This Our Life. The POB has also performed Symphonie Fantastique (1997), Les Présages (1989) and Parade (1979).

 

In 2005 when Alexei Ratmansky was director of the Bolshoi the company staged a Massine bill that included Le Tricorne, Les Pésages and Gaîté Parisienne. At the gala the Bolshoi staged at Ratmansky's departure, the Farruca from Le Tricorne was danced by Ruslan Skvortsov. But I don't think the Bolshoi has performed any Massine since. 

 

The Joffrey Ballet last performed Parade, such a notable revival in 1973, in 2003 and Les Présages in 2007. Were any other Massine works in the Joffrey repertoire?

 

I wonder whether it would even be possible to revive any other Massine balets, given that he died 38 years ago, and most of his ballets had fallen out of the repertoire long before that.

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Very helpful, volcanohunter. Thank you! I'm pretty sure that Robbins said long ago that seeing the Joffrey's Parade revolutionized his own thinking about ballet. It would be very interesting to see a revival of that one. I saw an exhibit of Picasso's costumes for Parade at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia in 2016, but the Barnes seems to have removed their press releases on this. I don't recall if they were reconstructions of the costumes or the actual ones and who has custody of them. Here's a news article on them:

http://www.mcall.com/entertainment/arts/mc-picasso-barnes-philadelphia-great-war-20160323-story.html

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odinthor   

I'm sure I saw The Good-Humoured Ladies performed at the L.A. Music Center, albeit quite some time ago (late 1970s?), though I can't quite recall the company (Joffrey?  ABT?).

 

And--this is a pretty watery statement, but for what it's worth--in something I read in the last day or two (M's autobiography? something I ran across on the net?), I believe it was M himself who stated, with relief, that one of his more obscure pieces had been set down in notation (I forget which), and there seemed to be some implication that others of his output had also been notated.

 

At the very end of his life (about the time I was seeing The Good-Humoured Ladies ), for the Marin Ballet he was preparing (re-choreographing?) none other than The Nutcracker, which would be an ideal show for Massine.  That's not so terribly long ago.  Does anything remain of the notes or ideas for this final effort of Massine's?

 

Edit:  This is of interest:  http://massine-ballet.com/html/revivals.php

Edited by odinthor
Add Massine URL

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sandik   

Joffrey performed Tricorne in the 1970s, and then got Parade, and much later, Presage.  (alas, the company seems to have scrubbed their website of most historical information -- those pages are still on the WWW, but you have to rummage around)  Massine made much of his repertory for the Ballets Russe, but it didn't necessarily get shifted to ABT. 

 

Much of his work required very strong character dance skills as well as classical technique, a combination that doesn't really happen very often any more.  Gaite has had the longest life, but ABT seems to have their production (with Christian Lacroix designs) on hiatus.

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miliosr   

A side Massine discussion has been going on in the San Francisco Ballet forum:

 

http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/topic/42673-1978-and-today/?page=3

 

The Rome Opera Ballet just performed Parade and Pulcinella in Italy. So, some of Massine's works are still revivable:

 

https://bachtrack.com/review-parade-pulcinella-rome-opera-ballet-teatro-grande-scavi-di-pompeii-july-2017

 

Gary Chryst, who played such an important part in the Joffrey revival of Parade during the 70s, is still alive and has even done character parts at ABT in recent years. Presumably, he would be ready and willing to assist in an American reconstruction. If only there was an artistic director of an American company with the imagination to restage it . . .

Edited by miliosr

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42 minutes ago, sandik said:

Gaite has had the longest life, but ABT seems to have their production (with Christian Lacroix designs) on hiatus.

 

It turns out Boston Ballet did it just last year.

 

 

1 hour ago, odinthor said:

At the very end of his life (about the time I was seeing The Good-Humoured Ladies ), for the Marin Ballet he was preparing (re-choreographing?) none other than The Nutcracker, which would be an ideal show for Massine. 

 

Supposedly these bits are credited to Massine, though the grand pas de deux looks very much "after Ivanov."

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f64djiQg51M

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5454pJunOHw

 

Mam'zelle Angot has been performed by the Royal Ballet as recently as 1980.

 

Has a revival of Choreartium ever been attempted in the United States?

Edited by volcanohunter

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1 hour ago, sandik said:

alas, the company seems to have scrubbed their website of most historical information

 

:offtopic:And not just the website. :(

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sandik   
4 hours ago, miliosr said:

...

 

Gary Chryst, who played such an important part in the Joffrey revival of Parade during the 70s, is still alive and has even done character parts at ABT in recent years. Presumably, he would be ready and willing to assist in an American reconstruction. If only there was an artistic director of an American company with the imagination to restage it . . .

 

Does anyone know off the top of their head who owns the rights?

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sandik   

 

Thanks for the Gaite clips -- those costumes have aged better than I thought they might.  And I'd forgotten that Lorca Massine is still staging -- I imagine that he holds the rights to all the works.

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odinthor   
1 minute ago, sandik said:

 

Thanks for the Gaite clips -- those costumes have aged better than I thought they might.  And I'd forgotten that Lorca Massine is still staging -- I imagine that he holds the rights to all the works.

 

 

Yes, it looks like it; or Theodor Massine.   See http://massine-ballet.com/html/revivals.php :  "For revivals the original Léonide Massine Ballets of the Ballets Russes and Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo have been documented on film and are available for remounting of these ballets.  In addition the Massine Ballets have to be restaged in cooperation with a repetiteur approved by the Massine Estate.  Restagings have been conducted by Lorca Massine, www.lorcamassine.com.  Please send all enquiries to Mr. Theodor Massine."

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miliosr   

The Joffrey's Fall 1974 repertory (10/09-11/08/74) included Massine's Le Beau Danube, Parade and Pulcinella. There was even an all-Massine evening with all three works.

 

The rest of the Joffrey's pre-1950 repertory for that season included Bournonville's William Tell Variations, Fokine's Petroushka, Jooss' The Green Table and Limon's The Moor's Pavane. How's that for a repertory?

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odinthor   
3 hours ago, miliosr said:

The Joffrey's Fall 1974 repertory (10/09-11/08/74) included Massine's Le Beau Danube, Parade and Pulcinella. There was even an all-Massine evening with all three works.

 

The rest of the Joffrey's pre-1950 repertory for that season included Bournonville's William Tell Variations, Fokine's Petroushka, Jooss' The Green Table and Limon's The Moor's Pavane. How's that for a repertory?

 

Outstanding and exciting!  I'd feel honored and enriched to see such offerings today.

 

I'm fairly sure I saw the Joffrey in L.A. about then doing at least Parade, Petroushka, and The Green Table.  (And maybe I've just forgotten the others; it was about then that I started attending ballet, and I wouldn't yet have been hip to the significance of the various choreographers and their works.)

 

And so, anyone who has any sway:  Start talking up Massine, and the serious stuff (I wonder if his own choreography of Sacre du Printemps is recoverable...?) as well as the light pieces.  We can't let Massine fall by the wayside...

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sandik   
4 hours ago, miliosr said:

The Joffrey's Fall 1974 repertory (10/09-11/08/74) included Massine's Le Beau Danube, Parade and Pulcinella. There was even an all-Massine evening with all three works.

 

The rest of the Joffrey's pre-1950 repertory for that season included Bournonville's William Tell Variations, Fokine's Petroushka, Jooss' The Green Table and Limon's The Moor's Pavane. How's that for a repertory?

 

I'd forgotten about the Danube -- trying to catch hold of what made Gaite so popular and nurture it.  (and now that I think about it, that pattern has shown up several times in our corner of the world.  Think of all the ballets that Dances at a Gathering and Deuce Coupe have inspired.)

 

The Joffrey was my most regular exposure to ballet early on -- they toured regularly to Seattle, with a wide repertory.  It was a great introduction to the work.

 

1 hour ago, odinthor said:

 

And so, anyone who has any sway:  Start talking up Massine, and the serious stuff (I wonder if his own choreography of Sacre du Printemps is recoverable...?) as well as the light pieces.  We can't let Massine fall by the wayside...

 

Golly, I'd have no clue where to start for his Sacre.  Especially since Graham basically choreographed her own material as the Maiden.  I don't know if any of that work made it into her own version.

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odinthor   

My word.  A Parisian friend, on seeing my recent Facebook blather about Massine, writes to me and tells me that one of his clients worked with Massine in one of the late incarnations of the Ballet Russe, has broached my interest to the client, and the client wonders if I have any questions.  If I get any answers of interest, and can relate them without any breach of confidence or privacy, I'll share them here...

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Quiggin   

Massine's light ballets were popular enough in the US and England in the 1930s, but the big symphonic ballets were controversial among critics.

 

The debate was whether choreography should tightly follow each musical phrase with an equivalent choreographical phrase, as in Massine's work, or whether the choreography should be oblique or contrapunctal to the music, as in Ashton, Nijinska, and Balanchine (:Constant Lambert). 

 

In 1937 Edwin Denby credits Massine with being the master choreographer of the day, brilliantly inventive, able to create the equivalent of multiple voices in music with the entry of many characters at once. But he also says he doesn't enjoy his work, that there is an abstract nervousness that doesn't add up to any humaness. He thinks Aleko the best of the work (John Martin's choice is Choreartium).

 

Denby, in "A Briefing in American Ballet" (1948), also says that being cut off from its cultural sources in Europe during the 30s and 40s was disasterous for the Ballet Russe and its style of dancing and choreography. There were no longer (as Sandik points out) the kinds of character dancers to bring off the older novelty pieces. And once you had Rodeo, Fancy Free, Billy the Kid and Merce Cunningham's The Seasons being presented, Massine's symphonic work didn't seem to have much resonance for younger American audiences.

 

From the Massine site above, a clip of Choreartium revived by Baravian State Ballet, with a discussion in German that seems to refer to Massine's influence on Cranko and Neumeier (and intriguingly something about Thomas Mann?). (Begins at 6:10)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYB38YVv7lQ&feature=youtu.be&t=6m51s target=

 

A good example of the almost maddening complexity of Massine's choreographic constructions - Symphony Fantastique -

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KxsAoiegLM

 

Edited by Quiggin

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odinthor   

Thanks, Quiggin, for that excellent overview and discussion of Massine!

 

Massine is mentioned in various places, I seem to recall, as being extremely inventive; it's probably a case of having so much to give, and wanting to pack it all in.  He became aware, as time went on, that his complexity could be daunting; or at least I recall in his autobiography several remarks from him to that effect.  In talking about a revival of his Mam'zelle Angot, for instance, he writes, "In the course of producing this ballet [...], I found that much of the original choreography needed simplification.  I also altered much of the ensemble grouping so as to give a less fragmentary background for the principals [...]" (p. 231).

 

I enjoyed that dynamic Symphonie Fantastique clip, thanks, and found it rather enthralling (isn't that part of the rehearsal filming video they did, the one that I believe had Erik Bruhn early in his career, as a non-principal?).  My read on Massine's conceptualization is that, whereas we're used to focusing on particular dancers or small groups, he imparts the experience as we experience the wall of sound of a symphonic work:  Not violins and trumpets and flutes etc. picked out of the tapestry of sound and enjoyed separately or in little consorts, but all together integrally simultaneously as a unit.  An interesting personal vision!

 

Edit:  I just ran across the following interesting paragraph, which expands on a passage in Quiggin's post:  "Andre Levinson, the prestigious Franco-Russian ballet critic noted for his partiality to the classical tradition, congratulated Massine on his achievement in Les Femmes de bon humeur: 'The inspiration of this humorous ballet is so adroit, the execution so homogeneous and free from constraint, the whole so well composed that I freely surrendered myself to the sweetness of living that exquisite hour of forgetfulness.' He considered the ballet 'a living and original work where the past only appears in the form of a distant suggestion, an echo softened by the passage of centuries.' (Levinson once had severely criticized Fokine for relying in his ballets on 'ethnography and archaeology' when reconstructing the past.)  Levinson admired Massine's choreography for combining 'a sense of delicacy with a feeling of fitness in which the laws of the classic dance are rarely abrogated, its normal movements distorted and parodied, heightened and dispersed by the rhythm.' He described Massine's style as 'perpetuum mobile, a movement falling on each note, a gesture on each semiquaver, a continual fidget to which we owe the breathless and spirited animation of The Good Humoured Ladies; now, this restless style, with its insistence on distorted or broken lines, is bound to the imperative of polyrhythmic musical movement or tyrannical syncopation that a Stravinsky imposes on the orchestra'" (quoted from Massine a Biography, by Vicente Garcia-Marquez, pp. 101-102).  Thus the "abstract nervousness" of Edwin Denby.

Edited by odinthor
To add illuminatory material!

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sandik   
On 8/12/2017 at 6:46 PM, Quiggin said:

From the Massine site above, a clip of Choreartium revived by Baravian State Ballet, with a discussion in German that seems to refer to Massine's influence on Cranko and Neumeier (and intriguingly something about Thomas Mann?). (Begins at 6:10)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYB38YVv7lQ&feature=youtu.be&t=6m51s target=

 

A good example of the almost maddening complexity of Massine's choreographic constructions - Symphony Fantastique -

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KxsAoiegLM

 

 

Thanks so much for the links -- as we've all discussed here, it's really difficult to get a handle on Massine's work with so little material available.

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odinthor   

Asking forgiveness for presenting a wall of text--I'll restrain myself after this--but I've run across a page which I feel puts across the essence of what Massine was doing with music vis-à-vis dance.  (From Massine a Biography, by Vicente Garcia-Marquez, p. 122; the text relates to 1919, London.)

 

"[...]  In the evening the company presented its first performance, Les Femmes de bonne humeur, with a new, more realistic décor by Bakst. To Diaghilev's immense relief and deep satisfaction, Les Femmes and its dancers were a sensation. The ballet's cinematic movements and simultaneous action were a revelation to British balletomanes. Wrote The Observer: 'The merry adventures are unfolded with a rapidity of action that only perfect precision can sustain, and it is this precision with which every gesture is linked to its accompanying musical phrase that is the secret of this remarkable feat of stage production . . .  The result is not only a brilliant work of art, but the most exhilarating entertainment. Wordless wit is not easy of accomplishment, but Massine's choreography has attained to it.'  Still, the work's distinctive style and rhythm took the general public by surprise, and even ballet aficionados found it a bit puzzling. The dance historian Cyril Beaumont described his own first impression: 'I was not sure whether I liked the ballet or not. The unusual speed of the performance was a little bewildering, and I could not get accustomed to the jerky, puppetlike quality of Massine's choreography, so different from the rounded and flowing movements of Fokine's compositions.' Only after repeated viewing did he determine that Massine's 'dances did far more than accompany the music and accord with its rhythmical structure; they really translated the spirit of the music in terms of choreography.'"

 

This is just what I get from Massine:  Not dancing accompanying music, but dancing which is a representation of the music and its spirit, an incarnation of the music in dance terms, a presentation in which the music and the dance have become one.

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sandik   
3 hours ago, odinthor said:

This is just what I get from Massine:  Not dancing accompanying music, but dancing which is a representation of the music and its spirit, an incarnation of the music in dance terms, a presentation in which the music and the dance have become one.

 

And now I'm wondering if there are any contemporary choreographers that people feel have a similar relationship with music?

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Quiggin   
On 8/7/2017 at 4:13 PM, California said:

... but the Barnes seems to have removed their press releases on this. I don't recall if they were reconstructions of the costumes or the actual ones and who has custody of them. 

 

 

The Parade costumes no longer exist. John Richardson who is writting a several volume biography of Picasso says the last time he saw the Manager's costume was in 1955 at an exhibit Richard Buckle put together. He said it was a cubist masterpiece – whereas the Joffrey reconstructions looked like "fake Picassos" (he was speaking as an art historian). He thought that they might have been tossed out after the show.

 

The original choreography also apparently no longer exists. Massine on the 1964 revival of Parade (for Bejart?):

 

Quote

I had kept all my notes for the original production, but though they were useful in helping me remember the structure of the ballet and some of the movements of the characters, they did not provide me with the whole of the orginal production, so I had no choice but to recreate them completely. I did not regret this, for I was able to use an infinite variety of steps and gestures which I had not discovered in 1917.

 

from My Life in Ballet - via George Dorris' review of the Massine bio

 

The Barnes foundation is apparently rebuilding their website, so hopefully that info will be back.

Edited by Quiggin

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