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Everything posted by Alexandra

  1. Question: what do people feel about so-called "contemporary ballet," "modern ballet," "ballet moderne," "crossover dance," etc.? Nobody's come up with a good name for it, but I'm thinking of either works created by modern dance choreographers for ballet companies OR the hybrid ballets, those that are part ballet technique, but also modern dance. E.G., anything that isn't "classical" or "neoclassical" (Petipa, Ashton, Balanchine, Fokine, Bournonville, etc.) People usually have strong opinions about this, either loving, or at least generally enjoying the ballets and seeing this as the way ballet will be in the future OR disliking them, or at least not liking them as well as "classical" ballets and worried that this is the way ballet will be in the future. There are, of course, middle grounds. What say you?
  2. You all have my spine tingling now! I agree -- there are so many. Here are the first few that come to mind. The moment in Giselle, right at the beginning of the mad scene, when you realize that, once again, she's not going to get out of this alive. The moment at the end of Sonnambula when the Sleepwalker's toe touches the poet's body (when Kirkland did it, you could see the shiver run down her spine). I share Steve's opening of Serenade; the curtain, and the first movements. The opening diagonal in Symphony in Three Movements always gets me, too, and the lifts in the finale of The Four Temperaments. The Sylph's death scene (in La Sylphide) Once upon a time, Black Swan and the Rose Adagio could be guaranteed to produce thrills, if not chills. alexandra
  3. Well said, Paul. I absolutely agree that the slip in standards has started at the top. And I think the world was a much better place when the great companies toured. I would like to comment on something you wrote, though. You asked: "Does anyone have an experience of such ballet performances more than a few times in their lifetime?" Yes. Yes. Yes. That's what's so maddening about the current situation. Three, four, five nights in a row. Several times in my life, an entire week of absolutely top of the line, everything working, performances. I can remember when I was so excited about upcoming performances that my heart would be pounding -- and this is not rosy memories of youth, or the fact that I was naive at the time. They were scattered throughout my ballet going. It's not that the first two years I remember as perfect, and everything has been downhill since, by any means. It's been up and down; just many more ups 15 and 20 years ago, and many more downs in the past five to ten. It is very true, thought, what you say, that the magic can happen anywhere. It's like books. I don't think "The Poky Little Puppy" rivals Shakespeare now, but it sure was great at the time! alexandra
  4. In further defense of Adolphe (who was a second-rate composer, but, I think, a first-rate ballet composer), I'd like to point out his historical role. Before him, we are told that ballets were a collection of tunes -- this was not because the composers were dumb, but as an aid to story telling. If the two leads were falling in love, the score would helpfully drag in "We're Falling in Love," or whatever the popular tune of the day along that theme was. When the villain began to skulk along the parapet, they'd lurch into "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Etc. Adam's score for "Giselle" is credited with being the first (at least major) ballet score to use leitmotif, recurring themes (I know you know this, Ed) associated with action or character. The daisy-picking theme is repeated during Giselle's mad scene, for example, but there are many occurrences in the score. And the hunting horn incorporated into the score was, one reads, an advance. I imagine other orchestras play the way the Danish one does, although I haven't heard it. Usually one doesn't hear great orchestras play ballet music -- which is one of the problem. The Bolshoi, using the Kennedy Center's pickup orchestra, made Raymonda sound gorgeous; I'd trust them to do Minkus in a way that would sound new and wondrous to me. Copenhagen plays Coppelia differently than any other orchestra I've heard, too. Instead of being pink, fluffy frou-frou music, it sounds brash, Hungarian, masculine. My theory on this is that, like so many other things there, the way of playing was handed down. Other places, most places, musicians who are not used to playing together, who are not of a rank that enables them to enjoy a symphonic orchestra career, and with minimal rehearsal time with a strange conductor play music which, one reads, many of them despise. (I will never love Prokofiev because I have heard him hacked to death by the Kennedy Center "orchestra" more times than I can stand to remember.) Most of the Giselles I've heard sound sickly, although I've never loathed it. (Now, Don Q and Paquita, that's oom-pah-pah music.) Now Adam's score for the short-lived "Last of the Mohigans," that I'm not sure I could defend. Alexandra
  5. I think Grant was a bit too old for that film. One of the problems with a lot of the videos is that when TV came along, there was an understandable desire to capture the great dancers -- unfortunately, most of them seem to have been between 45 and 60! I've never seen more than five minutes of Fonteyn on video that do her justice, for example. I'm too lazy to look him up, but I think Grant was born in 1925, and I think the Cinderella was filmed in 1969 (?), so he was 44. His Tirenio in the film of Ondine is better. I just trust contemporary accounts that he was a very strong and unusual dancer. Also, a British accounts say that he gave the jester a sense of irony that hasn't been seen since. Sorry for dragging the point out, and I don't mean to quibble for the sake of quibbling. It's interesting -- and scary -- to realize what an impact a video can have. A whole career comes down to a missed pirouette, and that's what becomes history. Alexandra
  6. Thanks very much for the exclusive, Steve -- and a great exclusive it was, too. That was a terrific picture of a rehearsal! Giannina, is the Russian National Ballet there yet? Is it doing Sleeping Beauty? alexandra
  7. Oh, Ed, have you heard Giselle live or just on tape? It's a lovely score! The best Giselle I've heard was in Copenhagen, where the orchestra (the country's leading orchestra) played it as though it were a great score, and so it sounded like one. It never sounded pretty, and the tempi were brisk -- unlike Russian tempi, which tend to drag out everything. Giselle's death, especially, the suddenness of it, the confusion of the villagers, all the characters' emotions swirl around in that score, and the first act curtain was one of the most dramatic I've ever experienced. I think you're absolutely right that many musicians condescend to ballet music, and sometimes it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. They think the music is second rate, and they play it as though it's second rate, ergo. . . . alexandra
  8. I agree. There's a place for all kinds of ballet. I'd like to write something that might explain my rather harsh position on matters of standards, and that is from having watched ballet now for 25 years and seen things which were considered appalling when they were first done now be considered standard. I do NOT mean this in the cliche'd sense of what was once avant garde is now run of the mill, but the way style has eroded, the haphazard casting that is now all too common, etc. Nothing at all is wrong with a small company, or group of dancers, touring and playing missionary to small towns. (Although this, too, can be done with honor. Read about Fanny Elssler's tours through an unpaved America in the 1840s, or Pavlova. Part of the experience was to bring what was first-rate in every way, like "Birgit's Feast," if anyone saw that film. It doesn't matter that we're in the ugliest, dreariest, most desolate town in the world; we're going to have table cloths and silver and good food if we're going to call it a feast. A lot of my reaction to "substandard" ballet, in any sense of the word is also based on my observations of ballet politics, and particularly the role critics play -- and particularly either uninformed or sometimes, I'm afraid to say, rather unscrupulous critics can do harm. When the Down at Heel Ballet swirls through the Ozarks bringing joy wherever it goes -- that's great. When it comes with a press kit heralding it as "Perhaps our nation's premiere small troupe," or "What ballet should be," or "The ballet of the future," I see skulls and crossbones. Make sense? Related to the question of expectations, another problem is what happened to "Stars of New York Ballet," or whatever they ended up calling themselves in London last summer. To the dancers, this was a small pick up company, something to do on summer vacation. Dozens like them. But they were billed as Stars of the New York City Ballet, and Londoners took that seriously. When they turned out not to be all stars, or even dancers currently with NYCB, there was, shall we say, confusion and disgruntlement. A few more thoughts to put into the mix. One of the most gracious performances I ever saw was Merle Park dancing with the Metropolitan Ballet of Washington, a now very defunct company. Audience of maybe 12. Lisner Auditorium, taped music. She danced three solos. It was quite odd. I was new to ballet and couldn't figure out what was going on -- a bunch of kids earnestly clunking through "classical" numbers and then this Royal Ballet ballerina coming on and doing Aurora, and two other things I've forgotten. You didn't get to see real ballet, but you got to see a real ballerina, and that would give people a standard against which to measure subsequent performances. alexandra
  9. Wouldn't it be nice if the tickets were cheap enough so that we could all go every night? When I started, as I noted elsewhere, I could stand for $2 a night. And at the Kennedy Center, there's only one line of standees, right across the back of the orchestra, so it's the best "seat" in the house. As for multiple performances, it's one of the things non-ballet people really don't understand, as Marc said. I remember offering my extra ticket once to a friend for "Giselle" -- Kirkland and Baryshnikov, if you please. "Didn't we see that one last year?" she said, as she declined. Alexandra
  10. Yes. Preferable, as Marc said. And, as Sean said, it's quite complex. But again, I wouldn't blame the economics of touring completely on the orchestra. There is one large company which shall remain nameless that has the problem of the dancers' contracts stating that they have to have a single room. In addtion to the other costs mentioned earlier. Barb, I/we are not saying that small companies should have orchestras or not exist. And, also as stated before, there are some programs where tape is appropriate, or at least not as inappropriate as, say, for Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty -- or, I would say, most Balanchine ballets. There's been some silliness on the musicians' side, too. I remember when Twyla Tharp was working with ABT, there was picketing by members of the Musician's Union about the use of taped Sinatra -- something about there being many, many singers equal to Sinatra who should sing live. So yes, it's complicated. As for the taped = bad, I'm afraid I was unclear about what I meant. It's not that taped = bad, it's that if a company wants to be a first-rank company, they need a first-rank orchestra -- and first-rank dancers, repertory, etc. Hope that makes more sense. Alexandra
  11. I forgot I'd never seen the First Cast in the Dream. Sibley and Dowell in most anything, I guess. Olivier, I think Alexander Grant did Bottom, which is a big role in the Ashton version. He dances on point(e)! If we're going to do specific things that we want to see in addition to imaginary things, then I'd have to spend the first few days in Heaven at the Fonteyn exhibit: Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Daphnis and Chloe, if I could only have three. And I never got to see Ulanova or Plisetskaya at all -- Ulanova as Giselle and Juliet, please, and Plisetskaya in Don Q, and the two of them in Baksichirai. I suppose one's afterlife could not be complete without a glimpse of Nijinsky and Pavlova. I'd let them choose (anything but Spectre and Dying Swan). And Gerda Karstens' Madge, which can still give those who saw it shivers. And then there's the entire 19th century. alexandra
  12. Please continue the discussion about taped versus live music HERE. Please do NOT post any more replies under the first thread -- it takes about two minutes to load! (However, if you have the patience, you might want to read the last few entries; we have a musician and a dancer weighing in on this topic.) Thanks to both Jonathan and Olivier for your comments. Olivier, I agree that the economics are complicated. One of the things that never gets looked at is that administrative staffs (and salaries) of companies and theaters have ballooned since the grant-giving days began; compare the programs of 20 years ago with those of today. That's responsible for a lot of the rise in ticket costs, too. And yes, presenters should stick to their guns and only have live music. It is a problem. I remember that the Paul Taylor Company used to play a dinky little auditorium in D.C. to sold out houses -- for a week! Taped music -- scratchy taped music. Nobody cared. We'd sort of gotten used to the fact that modern dance companies used tape. Then they moved into the Kennedy Center and had an orchestra. It was sublime. The ticket prices tripled. The audience was reduced in directly inverse proportion. The dance students and college students couldn't afford to come any more. It was that simple. The audience, however, can't really be expected to settle this. We don't have control of all the variables. We can't say, for example, "I'll trade you seven outreach education people for a string quartet." And most people in the audience can't be expected to know about, much less understand, the issues. Most won't even know whether there will be a live orchestra or a taped one until they do or do not see a conductor. If the choice were put squarely: In Theater A, there is a great company with an orchestra and in Theater B there is a company without an orchestra -- and all other variables were equal (like, we're not comparing the Kirov to the Dry Gulch Civic Ballet), then maybe the audience could vote. I think also there is beginning to be a division, unfortunately, in ballet companies that has nothing necessarily to do with size. There is grand ballet, or serious ballet, and there is pop ballet. Most companies are a mixture of the two; almost all have some elements of both. Tape is not as offensive in the pop ballet rep. But the increasing dominance of tape (and pop ballet) intrudes on the rest of the repertory. Alexandra
  13. I'm going to close this thread, because it's so long it took my computer nearly two minutes to load it! Please continue posting on the Taped Music #2 thread. Alexandra
  14. It's interesting to see a lot of performances back to back, isn't it? I know the companies do it to save money (it's cheaper to just hang the sets once, apparently), but I think they do themselves a disservice. A ballet has to be pretty darned good to hold up to five or six performances in a row, and the company has to be very deep to be able to mount two or three casts on something so big. But it's a a great way to learn a ballet. My first year of ballet going I was determined to learn the repertory -- no videos yet -- and standing room was two bucks at the Kennedy Center. I saw "Sleeping Beauty" (old Stuttgart version, unfortunately, but close enough choreographically, if not stylistically to the real thing) seven nights running. One of the tests of a great ballet is that you see more of it each time. Sounds like you're seeing less. What's the audience reaction generally, Giannina? New Yorkers loved Corsaire; it was a megahit. But the few Europeans I knew who saw it were shocked at what they considered a low dramatic standard -- they didn't know how to mime, they didn't seem to understand they were supposed to be telling a story. Thanks much for the reports! At least you'll know the company when it's all over. Hang in there. Alexandra
  15. And I agree with that, Paul. It all comes down to (may I bang my tin drum again) the integrity of the artistic director. A small company that tours, bringing ballet to people who couldn't otherwise see it, and has no pretensions to grandeur, can get away with a whole lot more, in my book, than Marc's example of, say, The Glorious Stars of the Fabulous Kirov Ballet, who comes with no sets, no costumes, and no music. I saw a "Bayadere" danced by a small Russian provincial company a few years ago that used (I am not making this up) a wheelchair ramp for the Himalayas, and, I swear, had all six corps de ballet members go it down three times. Just don't bring Bayadere, is the answer to that question. Back when Eliot Feld was trying to be a classical choreographer, he only used chamber music, something he could afford. (It's cheaper to rent a string quartet or a violinist than a whole orchestra.) So it can be done, even on a budget. I think what people are afraid of, and why I was so strict on the "if you want to be considered one of the big guys, you have to have real music" line, is that if more and more people start using taped music, people will get used to it. This is what always happens. A standard slips, people yell, and everyone is terribly upset the first year. The second year, less so, etc., until a decade later, the slipped standard has become the norm. The tie between ballet dancing and music is so deep and so spiritual, as well as practical, that many people will fight hard to keep it from happening. Alexandra
  16. I think this is a very good topic. I've thought of something similar, as a kind of video game. (I'm sure it would be technically possible but, like most things to do with ballet, economically impossible.) I'd like to see all the great dancers in all the roles I didn't see them do in real life, for starters. When I first got into ballet, I was just grateful that I'd caught a glimpse of Fonteyn and Sibley -- then it dawned on me that there were people who had had the pleasure of watching those dancers their whole careers. Gr-r-r-r-r. There are too many performances in that category to count, so I'll go with some "might have beens" or "should have beens." Sibley and Dowell in "La Sylphide." Ashton wanted the ballet for the Royal in the '60s, but the Danes wouldn't give it to him. Svetlana Beriosova and Henning Kronstam in anything -- they were supposed to be a partnership, and several people tried several times to "matchmake" them, but chance and politics intervened. Makarova and Nureyev, together or separately, in the Balanchine repertory. The Bolshoi dancing the Massine symphonic ballets. The Kirov in an all-Balanchine season. Gelsey Kirkland in all the roles that should have been her birthright. I'm all out of money now. Alexandra [This message has been edited by alexandra (edited 02-07-99).]
  17. Paul, it's not that they "can't" go on tour. It's that if they want to be considered first-rate companies the standard is still live music, for all the reasons that have been stated here. While I don't subscribe to everything Arlene Croce wrote, I do agree with much of it, and the Croce line that applies here is: "Ballet is good only when it is great." There is a lot of truth in that. Alexandra
  18. Oh, Giannina. I totally sympathize. The worst part of it all is -- there is no revenge! I had a similar experience. The first year I went to ballet, I saw all the performances of the Danish ballet in DC, but they weren't bringing all the repertory there. So I went to New York because I wanted to see "La Sylphide." This was not an inexpensive undertaking, and I was not rich. When I got there, having purchased my ticket in advance, I found a sign in the lobby that said that "La Sylphide" had been replaced by Flemming Flindt's absolutely ghastly "The Triumph of Death." Which had been inflicted on Washington for four performances, one of which I had stood through. I did not stay. Alexandra
  19. Everything that's been said about the economics of using live music is, I'm sure, true. And in some cases (sorry, musicians), I think musicians have priced themselves out of the market. There was a movement in the '80s and early '90s for the "pick up" orchestras (like the one the Kennedy Center used) to become "real" orchestras, or be paid as thought they were a real orchestra, when, in fact, they are not. That aside, and with all sympathies to smaller, poor companies, if you want to play in the big leagues, you have to use live music. Or, said less crudely, a first-rank classical ballet company must have first-rank productions, dancers, and musicians. It's that simple. I have great respect for civic ballet companies. One of the nicest "Giselles" I ever saw was by a tiny, once-a-year troupe in Virginia, with imported principals (not stars), one 16-year-old boy as Wilfrid AND peasant pas, and a passle of girls who would never get into even a minor regional company. But the production was genuine, in the way a first-rate high school production of Hamlet is genuine, and the families and friends of the performers (the audience) got a very good idea of what "Giselle" is like. The bar re taped/live music is being bent all the time -- summer pick up companies, Soloists of the You Name It Ballet -- but, clear sound system and high tech aside, I agree with Marc. I'ts like playing soccer without a ball -- great analogy. We'll soon have virtual dance on the Net, too -- or we would, if there were enough dance fans to make it economically viable -- but it's not the same thing. Alexandra
  20. Thanks, Giannina. Please give a full report -- I love watching rehearsals. Sometimes they're more interesting than the performances -- because the dancers were winging it. I agree with Olivier; best guess is Gillian Murphy. Check the Ballet Alert! with the interview with Georgina Parkinson in it. As for Herrera, last time I saw her, her legs and arms were still all over the place. She's still awfully young -- but the endearing pride in and zest for dancing have been tamed. A friend said that ABT was turning her into their idea of a ballerina -- all the airs (I don't mean that she's stuck up, I mean the outward appearance, carriage -- as opposed to placement -- of a ballerina) with none of the polish. Alexandra
  21. Yeah! I'm glad somebody noticed Saskia Beskow. She's from the Royal Danish Ballet and was considered ballerina material when she was an aspirant -- but that was before everything got turned upside down there. Alexandra
  22. I'm responding to Leigh and Mary's posts on the first Great Dancers Thread (which I'll go close off after I've posted this. I'm sorry if this is confusing. It's just that when the threads get too long, they take forever to load.) On Leighs points, the idea of considering dancers cross-repertory is an interesting one, and full of pitfalls. Dancers can be wonderful in a certain repertory, or niche of a repertory, and not in others. I have to say I saw Woetzel with the NYCB soloists do the Black Swan pas de deux, and it was one of the least princely, least classical performances I've ever seen. Coaching problems, perhaps. I also remember when ABT did lots of Tetley that there would be dancers -- Clark Tippett, Kirk Peterson, Dennis Marshall -- who looked wonderful in Tetley, but then, when they turned up in classical (i.e., in that repertory, Petipa) roles, they looked -- well, much less wonderful. (Martine Van Hamel looked magnificent in both.) Now, this could be partly because dancers always look their best in roles that are fresh to them, that are either created roles, or virtually recreations -- i.e., they've learned them from a good coach or the choreographer rather than whoever is assigned Studio B from 3 to 4 that afternoon -- but for whatever reason, there was a clear difference in standard. What standards of judgment apply when determining a great dancer? I'd be very curious as to what people think about this. There are a lot of possibilities. Great range usually will suffice; mastery of, not just appearance in, a vast range of roles. Difficulty, as well. Someone who gives great performances in technically difficult roles will always beat out an artist who is only able to gesture and make an attempt at an arabesque, no matter how moving the performance is. Some dancers can be definitive and give Top of the Line for All Eternity-level performances in a few roles -- I'm thinking of Merrill Ashley (to switch genders for a moment) in Square Dance and Ballo. If you only saw her do those roles, you might call her the greatest ballerina you ever saw. If, on the other hand, you tell this to your friend who rushes out to catch her "Emeralds," you might have some explaining to do. On Mary's comment about lost opportunities, sadly, I agree. I saw five teenage girls who had the ability to be ballerinas at Washington Ballet during the 1980s who simply stopped dancing -- for reasons ranging from couldn't take the stress to hated the life, discovered boys, and fear of heights (i.e., lifts). Alexandra [This message has been edited by alexandra (edited 02-02-99).]
  23. Welcome, Leigh. I'm glad someone has stuck up for Darci Kistler. I know she's been injured a lot, but, after all, her injuries were not caused by roller blading or disco dancing, but by the overdancing she happily endured when extremely young. My position is that once a ballerina, always a ballerina -- that is, if you were a really truly ballerina, as I think Kistler was, you get to keep the title. Kirkland was injured more years than she danced, yet she was one of the finest dancers I've ever seen. Alexandra
  24. Katharyn, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your report. I think you have terrific instincts and a clear eye and, hardest of all, you have the patience to tell us what you're seeing. I hope you keep posting. Alexandra
  25. Thanks for such a good idea, Mary. I'd forgotten that Ferri did Red Riding Hood, but I do remember that performance. She alternated with another dancer I thought very promising, Rosalyn Whitten. Both were adorable, Ferri obviously the more talented. Whitten was pushed for awhile, then disappeared. Unfortunately, most of the dancers I loved in the corps disappeared -- or came to a bad end. I remember Deirdre Carberry at 15, and Nancy Raffa, both in the corps of ABT, both seemed to have great potential. And Roma Sosenko at City Ballet. And remember Marguerite Porter when she was so delicious as the chambermaid in A Month in the Country, and everyone thought she was the Next Thing -- and she was, but not the way it was supposed to be. Giannina, I remember liking Yeager very much when she was in the corps. She always danced as though she loved whatever role she was doing -- and not as though she was trying to get out of the corps, as so many others do. Her path to stardom began with Amor in Don Q, and she was wonderful. Then she did "The Throw Up Girl" in Rodeo. And then, instead of bringing her along slowly and carefully and in the appropriate roles, they did what ABT, no matter who the director was, did: decided she was a ballerina and plopped her down in just about everything except Swan Lake -- Sylphide, Sleeping Beauty, Don Q. More discoveries, please. Alexandra
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