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Posts posted by Ari

  1. See, maybe I am totally off track, but when I first saw Les Sylphides, I was struck by the ideology behind the sylph, more than by "the fact she should be white because M. Fokine's environment was majoritarly white so therefore, sylphs for the next thousand years should be white".

    I hope you were not attributing such a sentiment to me, sylphide. The point I was trying to make was that we as as society may have trouble seeing non-Caucasian dancers in ballets that were made in Europe at a time when their culture was the opposite of diverse, and that this attitude is one that is in the process of changing. Such an attitude need not be racist: I remember when European critics wrote that (white) Americans couldn't dance the 19th century classics because they lacked the culture. (As recently as the 70s, Clive Barnes wrote that Balanchine preferred European dancers in his Liebeslieder Walzer because Americans just couldn't understand it -- a strange remark considering that Balanchine made the ballet for his own company and cast it mainly with Americans.) As I also mentioned, the debate over color-blind casting has been prevalent in the theater for some time now, but it's not unusual anymore to see non-Caucasian actors in Shakespeare.

  2. Since this is a difficult (painful) subject for most people, myself included, to address head on...I'll go further and admit that as a teenager I used to wonder "but can one really picture a black dancer as [insert name of this or that classical role]?" -- Stupid (or worse) as it sounds, I didn't really register the Dance Theater of Harlem as a counter example because I had only seen them dance Balanchine and other contemporary choreography and perhaps, unconsciously, because I knew it wasn't an integrated company.  Fortunately, exposure to Christopher Boatright dancing Romeo with the Stuttgart Ballet and later to the thoroughly integrated National Ballet of Cuba dancing all the Classics (Swan Lake, Giselle, Coppelia) gave me an entirely different view of the matter--and I came to realize that what I had thought was a matter of "artistic" taste was really based in assumptions, habits, and prejudices that I had never looked at adequately.  Of course, I speak only for myself -- but I think it wouldn't be a bad thing if the ballet world could broach these issues with a little less defensiveness.

    Perhaps the difficulty you had in imagining a black dancer in a 19th century role, Drew, had to do with the fact that all the ballets that have come down to us from that time are very European. Maybe imagining someone of African descent as a European was too jarring. I don't think this is prejudice, exactly. Nineteenth century Europe wasn't integrated the way it is now; on the contrary, it was, culturally, very homogenous. (And this was a time of rampant nationalism, when the French would have been insulted to have been compared to Germans, etc., let alone non-Europeans.) Ballet isn't the only art struggling with color-blind casting. It's been an issue in the theater for years. (On the other hand, black singers have performed leading roles in opera for a long time.)

    It's interesting that when the Dance Theater of Harlem staged its own versions of some 19th century works, they adapted them in various ways. With Act II of Swan Lake, all they did was substitute blue swan costumes for white ones, since Mitchell said that he thought white tutus would contrast too vividly with the dancers' dark skins. With Giselle the company went further, setting the story in the Louisiana bayou at a later time. I thought it worked wonderfully well.

    My guess is that we as a society need some time to accustom ourselves to the idea of non-Caucasian performers in works that are regarded, culturally and historically, as artifacts of European civilization. Fifty years from now people may look back at us and wonder how backward we could have been.

  3. But yes, I must hunt down the book by Benois.

    The Benois book was reprinted in the 70s as a trade paperback by Da Capo Press, but it's currently out of print. There are some used copies available through Alibris and Abebooks, but it's also worth keeping an eye out at used book stores.

    Both of those sites also list copies of Benois's memoirs, which I don't believe I've read. Has anyone? How does it differ from Reminiscences of the Russian Ballet?

  4. Irina Sitnikova was another petite and  exceptionally pure dancer who also experienced Z & T's fate.

    Sitnikova was a beautiful dancer. She was included in the company's 1989 New York season and was one of the most memorable dancers, for me. I heard she had a baby a couple of years later and always assumed that she was older and/or more interested in a balanced life of career and family, which was why we didn't hear more of her. How sad that her talent wasn't recognized as it should have been.

  5. Ari -- you may know more about this than I -- did the Kirov reconstruction look to you like the Royal's old version (i.e. pre Ashton/Macmillan/Dowell)?

    I do think the Kirov reconstruction at least claimed to seek a level of literal archeological faithfulness that the traditional Royal production never, to my knowledge, did.  The Lilac Fairy solo is an obvious difference and the Royal also had, over the years, various little additions by Ashton, including an awakening pas de deux (that I assume this production will not include) that signaled that the Royal thought of Beaty as "theirs."

    Well, this is a complex subject. I hope that ballet scholars with greater knowledge than me will jump in here.

    I never saw the Messel production danced by the Royal (except on film) so I can't compare it to the Kirov's reconstruction. But I do know that both versions used Nikolai Sergeyev's notations as a base. Konstantin Sergeyev, who staged the Soviet version that Russian audiences are so familiar with and love so dearly, went his own way -- what Tim Scholl, in Sleeping Beauty, a Legend in Progress, calls "drambalet," "one that well represents the Soviet ballet's hobbyhorses of the postwar period."

    Beyond the N. Sergeyev choreographic notations, the two productions differ quite a bit, partly because de Valois and Ashton were intent on fashioning the ballet to suit their company and their style -- as everyone who stages Beauty, or any old classic, for their own company, IMO, must do -- and partly because the Sergeyev notations, and the memories of the Imperial era ballerinas they had access to, were all that they knew of the original production. I'm sure they would have been grateful for the historical information that was available to the Petersburg stagers in 1999. They probably would not have used it all, since they were interested in creating a Beauty specially tailored for their company, but I'm sure they would have welcomed the opportunity to pick and choose which aspects of the original to include in their own production. The Kirov/Maryinsky, by contrast, doesn't have the problem of adapting the ballet to their company, since it was made for their company! The issue for them was rather how much of what was done in 1890 is still viable today.

    Another difference between the productions is that the Royal's was staged when Sergeyev was still alive, and apparently he changed his mind a good deal. The Kirov's production was done after his death, from his notation.

    Incidentally, in his book Scholl argues forcefully that the Lilac Fairy always had a variation in the Prologue (actually, the Sergeyev notation indicates two). She wore a tutu in that act and danced on pointe -- there are photographs.

    Once again:  will someone be specific about what makes the Messel designs so worth restoring?

    Bart, when people say "the Messel production," they're using it as a shorthand for the whole production, not just the costumes and scenery. This production is famous and holds a special place in ballet history because it preserved, better than any other production at the time, Petipa's choreography and the whole team's (Petipa, Tchaikovsky, Vsevolozhsky) ideas about the ballet. At the time this production was mounted (1946), ballet in the Soviet Union had taken off in its own direction -- one that did not preserve the glories of the Imperial ballet era -- and no other company in the West was bothering to step into the breach. The production is famous for other reasons, partly having to do with Messel's designs -- it was the ballet that de Valois staged to mark her company's move to Covent Garden, where it became Britain's National Ballet, and it signalled a dazzling end to the era of wartime privation with gorgeous, colorful, lavish costumes and scenery.

  6. So why go back to Sergeyev/Messel if the aim (realistic or not) is not  to return to their own models and keep references to alternative variations out of the picture?

    But isn't the Kirov's "historical" Beauty based on the Sergeyev notations? (Nikolai Sergeyev, not Konstantin, who made the Soviet version.) That's what Natalia was talking about on another thread when, before the announcement of this new production was made and we assumed that the Beauty the Royal would be bringing here next year was the Makarova production (which was based on the Konstantin Sergeyev version), she said how ironic it would be if the Kirov brought the 1890 version -- because for years we associated the Royal with preserving the historical record and the Kirov with going its own way, and this would be the reverse!

    Amy, the "Messel version" is the first, famous production of The Sleeping Beauty that Nikolai Sergeyev helped Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton stage for the Sadler's Wells Ballet (as it was at the time) and that the company brought to America in 1949.

  7. I gather that the reason for the new garland dance in Beauty is that Monica Mason wants to incorporate children.

    Thanks for posting that, Alymer. I was wondering why they weren't using one of Ashton's versions -- he did two, didn't he?

    It should be interesting to see what aspects of the Kirov's "historical" Beauty Mason and Newton will use in their new/old version. I can't imagine that they won't be influenced by it. Surely, from now on, all traditional productions of Beauty will have to take this reconstruction into account?

  8. While I'm delighted that the Royal is getting back to its roots in Beauty, I wonder how the Messel designs are going to look today. When ABT used them in the mid-70s, they looked old-fashioned, and this is 30 years later. While they were wonderful for their time, tastes change. The Royal's announcement says that Peter Farmer will adapt the original designs. It should be interesting to see what he'll do.

  9. To believe in the safety and permanence of the court world is to be deluded.  The happy ending reestablishes "order" -- but you only have to look at the King, Queen and oddly assorted courtiers (some gentrified animals, too) perched awkwardly on a radically curved platform, to get the impression that the happy wedding celebration will not be the final act of this story.

    Well, that's the modern view, but it wasn't that of Petipa, Tchaikovsky, Vsevoljozhsky, and the others who created the ballet in 1890. They made a ballet that celebrated a highly stratified social order with autocracy at its head. Of course, we don't see that today (the ballet would hardly be popular if we did), but we do see an ideally ordered universe, and that is what Bjornsson failed to create.

  10. Amplification has been used in Broadway musicals for years now, without any reasonable justification that I know of. My guess is that producers, if challenged, would argue that today's singers haven't been trained to project in the same way that the older singers were, but I don't buy that. If you want a career on Broadway, as so many people do, you train yourself to meet its demands. Perhaps the answer lies in the increasing use of film and television stars who have not had years of experience on the stage. Producers want them for the box office, and they do bring in audiences.

    But for someone who isn't used to blaring amplification, the results can be painful. I staggered out of Movin' Out convinced that I'd be needing a hearing aid from then on. :)

  11. I suspect the poor quality of choreography in opera ballets can be traced to the uneasy relationship between the two art forms. They started out as one and the same and then, amoeba-like, split in two, but have been forced to cohabit ever since. Neither side is entirely happy with this state of affairs.

    Leaving aside the fact that finding good new choreography these days is rare enough in ballet companies :crying: , I suspect that many choreographers are reluctant to work in opera because they resent being asked to provide some light refreshment where the audience has come for the heavy main course. It reinforces a prejudice that exists in some quarters that ballet isn't a serious art form but a fluffy interlude for girl watching. (In this regard I've always considered Kenneth MacMillan's insertion, in Mayerling, of an operatic interlude, to be a great in-joke. I think this was payback time. :blink: )

    By the same token, I don't think opera companies want their audience to take the ballet too seriously, because it's not what they do. They want the crowd to come for the singing. The experience of Balanchine and The American Ballet at the Met may have been an extreme example of this, but I don't think it was unrepresentative.

    Ballet and opera companies share houses and, in many cases, orchestras, and outside of North America they coexist at the same time, divvying up the week's performances. In that relationship, the opera is always king. They get more performances and the choicest dates, and when the dancers are expected to do some service to the opera companies, well, it just makes matters worse. It's only natural for ballet companies and choreographers to resent this.

  12. The NYCB orchestra was once considered the best ballet orchestra in the country, but that is no longer the case. In an interview last month in the Toronto Globe (no longer available online for free), violinist James Ehnes spoke of attending a performance:

    Ehnes, whose wife is a ballet dancer, has no good memories of his last visit to the company's Lincoln Center home, where he was appalled by the state of the orchestra.

    "There are some great players there, but the orchestra was horrible," he said. "It was hard for me to sit through."

    Has the orchestra changed? Was it always bad? Has it always been good? How has it been affected by different music directors, conductors, artistic directors, labor disputes?

    I'd be especially interested in the views of musicians, professional or non.

  13. I wanted to PM you to say Thanks, and originally I wanted to PM people about "my message", but I could not because the system won't permit me for some reason.

    Sierra, you need to be a full member before you can PM other members. It takes 30 substantive posts to be considered a full member.

  14. I just watched the DVD "Dancer's Dream: Raymonda" (which was wonderful, btw), and Romoli was one of the three Abderamans. I thought he was the best -- he had a wonderfully sensuous, pantherine way of moving that contrasted nicely with the upright classical Jeans de Brienne.

    But from what I gather from this thread, étoiles are traditionally the Jeans of the ballet world -- that is, danseurs nobles. Is that the case?

  15. What bothers me are costumes (and scenery) that impose a theme that is at odds with the choreography. Prime examples of this are the Royal Ballet's current Swan Lake and its (mercifully) late production of Sleeping Beauty. The choreography of both productions carefully hewed to the historical record, but the scenic design was the product of a completely different imagination. It's been a while since I've seen the SL, but I recall it's being set in 19th century Germany and having Freudian overtones (I don't think Freud ever works in ballet, but that's another subject). The swan tutus, too, were not the traditional short stiff Classical tutus but droopy, wispy dresses that obscured the dancers' lines. As for the Maria Bjornsen costumes and sets for the late unlamented Beauty, all I can say is that they were so violently out of keeping with the ballet -- so unclassical -- that I could not see past them to the choreography. Not that I should have had to try, for the designs in any production of Beauty aren't mere decoration but one of its most important elements.

  16. Chauffeur, I'm sure you are the envy of everyone on this site! I can think of few things I'd rather do than tour Europe to see ballet and other cultural events.

    Details of the 2006-7 season for the companies you mentioned will probably be released around early spring of 2006 (it will vary from company to company). If you go to the forums dedicated to the Royal, POB, and RDB on this site you will see a sticky at the top of each page giving useful links, including their home theaters and booking information.

    As for your list, I would definitely include the first three. I haven't seen either the Stuttgart or the Dutch National Ballet in so long I can't say whether they are worth visiting, but others will be able to tell you much more. If you could arrange your trip to London at a time when both the Royal and the English National are performing, so much the better. It would also be a good idea to keep an eye out for tours to European cities by other big companies, especially the Russians. Both the Kirov and the Bolshoi often visit Paris during the school year. (Their seasons in London always seem to be in the summer.)

    One difficulty you'll have is that all of these companies share their home theaters with opera companies, and, unlike in North America, they perform at the same time. That is, the opera may perform on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights and the ballet may perform on Tuesday and Thursday nights and the Saturday matinee (the opera companies always seem to get more performances :( ). And all European ballet troupes operate on the "stagione" system, whereby they give a series of performances of one ballet or program, rather than offering a mixed repertory. So you'll probably be able to see only one program by each company, unless you're lucky. (POB, for instance, splits its large company into two and sometimes offers different programs at its two theaters.)

    Be sure to keep us posted on your plans. We'll all enjoy living vicariously through you! :party-smiley-017:

  17. The Russians here in Canada and in the U.S. (at least New York) have started to make up a large part of the audience for certain ballet performances, and it is clearly they who start the rhythmic clapping.

    This may mean we're in for some confusion. :( In the U.S., rhythmic clapping is considered rude. It's usually done as an expression of impatience, as when the audience is seated and the curtain doesn't go up.

  18. nycdog and others who share his views, let me tell you of my own experience.

    I started going to NYCB in the early/mid '70s. I'd never been a dancegoer before, and it all struck me as new and thrilling. Discovering that it was possible to make great art, art that could stand up to that created by Shakespeare, Mozart, Leonardo, etc., in choreography, was an absolute revelation to me. I loved it, and found more in it every time I went. I loved the dancers, and was excited by the new ballets. Even if they weren't deathless masterpieces, well, you win some and you lose some, right?

    I continued to attend, and towards the latter part of that decade I noticed that things were getting even better. There were a greater number of ballerinas, a greater number of exciting dancers at all levels. Performance quality improved considerably. Since I'd never known anything else, I was in heaven -- it was just getting better! Somewhere around that time I learned, from those whose memories went further back than mine, that this "high time" was actually the level at which the company had always performed. The early '70s had been a low point in the company's history, and the "old timers" were relieved that it was past.

    If I'd known, when I first started going, that the company was performing below its own standard, what would I have felt? Probably confused. Here I was, having the time of my life, discovering new things, only to be told that it was no good! But Balanchine's ballets are so sturdy that they can withstand even pretty poor performances, and enough of what was good came through for me to be able to enjoy them. And while the dancing may not have been equal to what it had been in the past, it was still on a high enough level to keep me happy.

    So what's the point of all this? Simply that I understand why you're so excited and happy about what you're seeing, and I understand why you object to anyone's putting a damper on your enthusiasm. But please, pay us old timers the respect of acknowledging that we may have a point in saying that standards at NYCB are not what they once were, and keep an open mind. That's really not too much to ask.

  19. I just watched this DVD and enjoyed it, though I'd rather own the disc of the complete ballet. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available in the US at this time. (I could have sworn I saw it listed by some online retailers a couple of months ago, though.)

    One thing that surprised me was that Nureyev didn't actually mount this production; it was staged after his death by Patricia Ruanne, one of his Auroras in the London Festival Ballet production. I was disappointed that the documentary focused almost entirely on the ballerina (Elisabeth Platel) with some perfunctory attention given to her partner (Manuel Legris) and the costume and set designers. Since The Sleeping Beauty is a ballet about the entire company -- the corps, demis, soloists, and (in productions that use them) children from the school, this gives an inaccurate impression to people who aren't familiar with the work.

    For those who have seen both productions, is the POB staging the same as the one Nureyev did for the National Ballet of Canada? That was my first-ever Sleeping Beauty, and it disappointed me tremendously. Thirty years and many productions later, I still think it's the worst version I've seen. POB deserves much better.

    BTW, I rented this disc from Netflix, which is slowly improving its ballet holdings. I've also rented The Art of Maria Tallchief from them, and Dancer's Dream: Raymonda, the Fonteyn Cinderella, and one of the Ananiashvili discs are in my queue. :thanks:

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