Didn't think my notes belonged added in on the thread about all of the Guggenheim 2015 Works and Process lectures... but thought I'd share what little I remembered from this lovely evening. I was there on Sunday, perhaps some others could add in and/or correct... please do correct, i've probably got half of it down wrong.
From the announcement
It was recorded on video, so at least it exists in the archive somewhere. Even if they couldn't allow the Balanchine performances available over the internet, it would be wonderful to get the lecture and the Petipa performances.
Cameron Grant played for the demonstrations, which was a great pleasure for the audience.
PNB corps de ballet dancers Angelica Generosa and Kyle Davis did a very nice job bringing the Petipa to life. (there was much commentary afterwards murmured about among the audience at the reception that PNB must have riches to have such dancers only in the corps)
There is something about these bones of lost performances of an earlier era... the imagination comes into play... one almost sees a vision of what might have been and perhaps reality could never have congealed in such a way... but this is maybe the attraction of legends... how might Nijinsky have floated... how lightly would the original Harlequin have managed those steps?
The lecture was kindly underwritten by Stuart Coleman and Meryl Rosofsky.
On the screen was a photo of Alexander Shiryaev as Harlequin, although it was György Kyaksht in the original (whether there is a photo anywhere of Kyaksht... ?) One looks at the choreography and imagines how it might have suited Kyaksht... he must have been buoyant ;) with an easy ballon for these steps to look capering... I have been hunting youtube all evening for a version of assemblé to a deep demi plié or grand plié... I feel I have seen this step done so, and wonder if it were for Harlequin or something else... but youtube can be like the ocean and it's tides... sometimes like flotsam amazing clips come to view, but when you go back months later to find them, ... well... good luck. And so, for all I know, the assembly to deep deep plié was for some entirely different number/era.
Doug Fullington gave an interesting brief history of Commedia della' Arte... how it started with stock characters of two old men and their two male servants... improvised outdoors... and that Harlequin inherited his trickster character from a devil character in medieval theater... Gradually more characters were added, included female characters, (played by women!)... it died out in Italy but was preserved in France where more characters (including some of those we think of as standard characters where added... I think he was saying Pierrot)
Eventually the words gave way and it became a pantomime or dance form... (one can see how this might have suited traveling players... one wouldn't have to make the jokes work in all languages?). Pierrot went from the stupid servant (how did those long sleeves work for a servant?), to a romantic character always mooning about, in the service of love...
The Harlequin & Columbine in the Ivanov/Petipa Nutcracker were originally a he-devil & she-devil in the libretto but by the time of the premiere they had been replaced with the commedia characters... however the ominous tone in the music remained (it seems it was originally done to the music usually used for mechanical soldier doll)... [hey, is Satinella a she-devil?]
Fullington mentioned that Commedia della'Arte was unscripted and improvised... had it been scripted it would have been Commedia Erudita... [if I quite heard that right]
Petipa (or the libretto?) has a fairy give Harlequin a slapstick magic wand with which he will be able to get what he wants (Columbine... who evolved from a soubrette to an "idealized woman" character... while Pierette was created and filled the soubrette niche)... later on this fairy is disguised as a notary public and marries Harlequin & Columbine. (I promptly missed the next few sentences as I tried to imagine a fairy disguised as a notary public)...
The older Harlequin variation had tours a la seconde in the old style where the supporting foot sort of stays flat on the floor in plié and "hops" (without any elevation... I think of these as "chugs" except they are turning not traveling).. instead of sailing around in relevé
The Stepanov notation often just notated the feet, nothing [or little] above the waist... i'm guessing it was intended as a memory cue, not as something to give a stager, who had never seen it, the choreography. The music speeds up in the tours a la seconde... in the Balanchine version, so do the tours speed up... it is so clear in the music, that even if it were not notated, one felt it should happen in the Petipa... (even before having seen the Balanchine... ) (or was this because it was played by someone familiar with the Balanchine version? Is it written in the score? My memory of what it sounded like doesn't serve to let me say if it were the interpretation or the score ).
However, the Columbine variation was notated by a student, Alexandra (and Fullington said the full name, mentioning that she signed the notation), who noted everything including the arms (? and epaulement? I'm not sure now exactly).... (I became distracted wondering if she did so because she wanted to remember exactly how it went herself... I was not clear if she were a student of the ballet or a student of notation... a ballet student might easily want to learn a variation just to try it themself!).
Angelica gave us the Columbine variation... very beautiful... one sees the dance through it's ghost... sparkling flittering fingers, the torso epaulement is not the contemporary alignment and the dancers mentioned not having the muscle memory for the coordination for it to feel natural.. saying something like somehow it works, but it is not the familiar coordination... I think the charm is tricky... the more subtle the charm, the more difficult to reproduce...like an accent from an unfamiliar era... one looks at the early films and though recognizable steps are discernable, the way the old dancers carried themselves is very different, different inclinations of the head, shoulders... a principal of that era would have known just how to evince charm in slight a lilt of the torso. The final position of the variation, perhaps fourth with the chest a little forward and the arms up ? (memory not quite serving), but I remember thinking at the moment that I bet it displayed the original tutu beautifully... those tutus were almost like a prop, I think.. with some steps entirely designed to make it flounce or tip the skirt at an angle to show it off....
Balanchine's variation to the same music is exquisite... so fairy like... made me think of that pas de deux in Midsummers with it's light touch...the variation was light and bourrée-ing... with lots of epaulement... and indeed the Midsummer's pas de deux was mentioned in the lecture and I believe Fullington said they were not made so very far apart in time. Tiler Peck did a lovely job of it. She seems to be good at confections. Perhaps too she is the right type for these Italian Ballerina virtuoso roles in 19th Century Russian Classical Ballet parts.... I would like to see her in more of them to see if the theory holds out.... I loved the way Balanchine had the speed of the bourrées change... a little bourrée turn that begins to turn faster... Also that partnered turn where Harlequin gets her turning and then steps away... a little as if he has just spun a top... Also enjoyed where she begins her fouetté independently and then Harlequin joins her to partner them further until he can capture her waist and hold her posed.
I'm guessing that in the pas de deux where they are both looking out & about, it is because it is a clandestine pairing? Her father does not want her to go to Harlequin who has no money. By the way, why is it called the Millions of Harlequin? Is it the colors of his costume, or the fortune he does not have?
Watching the Balanchine, I kept seeing Villella in the steps... it takes a particular personality to bring the right glint of the eye into the movement... I wonder what contemporary principal has the right spark to bring the part out... it needs a devilish grin, a light step... equal parts ballon and élancé perhaps...
And that... I am afraid... is all I remember.
However, one can find the Baryshnikov/McBride performance of Balanchine's Harlequinade at the White House in the Era of President Carter. It has the chorus of little child Harlequins & Columbines with slapsticks that Fullington also mentioned. (There! See? I remember one more thing!).