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Richard Jones

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  1. Jaana Thanks for your reply - I hope you enjoy the show. I haven't seen Cinderella for a long time, but remember a very 'Russian' ending (I'll say no more!). Richard
  2. Herewith some info to help your enjoyment/impress your friends. Sergei Prokofiev (b 1891) first showed an interest in writing for the ballet when he met Diaghilev in London in 1914. Diaghilev asked him to write a ballet for his company, the famous Ballets Russes, but the result, Ala and Lolly, (from Scythian mythology) was rejected by Diaghilev. The composer, not wanting to waste his efforts, turned the score into The Scythian Suite for concert performance (though that was later choreographed at the Berlin State Opera). Prokofiev then turned to writing a ballet based on a Russian story; this was Chout (French spelling for the Russian for ‘Buffoon’). The first version of the musicwas ready in 1915, but it was the revised version (1920) that was presented by Diaghilev in Paris in 1921 when the fortunes of the Ballets Russes began to revive after the 1st World War. In 1927 Diaghilev presented Prokofiev’s Le Pas d’Acier (generally referred to in English as The Age of Steel). Choreography was by Massine. This has no continuous plot but shows scenes from Soviet daily life, ending with machine dances in a factory. It was intended as a tribute to the constructivist art of the new USSR. In 1929 Diaghilev presented Prokofiev’s next ballet, The Prodigal Son, again in Paris. This turned out to be the last commission for Diaghilev before his sudden death in August of that year. The Prodigal Son was choreographed by Balanchine. Prokofiev was not overjoyed by the style of the choreography, which he thought contained too many tricks derived from the circus and acrobats; the story is presented in an expressionist style, a strong contrast to Balanchine’s neo-classical interpretation of Stravinsky’s Apollo of a year earlier. Despite the brilliant success of his music in the West (listen especially to his 3rd piano concerto), Prokofiev never really felt settled away from his native Russia. After producing another ballet score, Sur le Borysthène, for Lifar in Paris (f.p. 1932), he returned to the USSR in 1933. This was not an easy time for creative artists in Russia; the doctrine of ‘socialist realism’ had just been propounded and the arts were more and more heavily controlled as Stalin’s grip tightened. An important ballet of this era was The Red Poppy, first produced at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1927. The music for this ballet was written by Glière, with whom Prokofiev had studied in 1902. Set in China, it tells of a dancer who, having been exploited by a Chinese capitalist, gives her life to save the leader of the revolutionary crowd, allowing revolution to prosper in China as well as among the Soviets. The ballet was often revived in the USSR, but the title was changed to The Red Flower to avoid associations with opium! During the 1930’s Prokofiev turned to writing film music, producing the brilliant scores for Lieutenant Kijé (1934) and Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938). In 1936 he produced that great favourite for children of all ages, Peter and the Wolf, for orchestra and narrator. In the same year he provided the dance world with what has become one of the most popular of ballet scores, Romeo and Juliet. The project had started in 1934, at the suggestion of the Kirov Theatre (now known as the Maryinsky, its former name) in Leningrad. The Kirov then backed out, and a contract was signed instead with the Bolshoi in Moscow. When Prokofiev finished the score, the Bolshoi considered the music unsuitable for dance, so attention turned back to the Ballet School in Leningrad, which was considering the score for its bicentenary. They decided against it. The first performance was therefore given in Brno, Czechoslovakia in December 1938.The Soviets eventually caught up with the action when the ballet was produced by the Kirov in 1940 with choreography by Lavrosky. Composer and choreographer had met in 1938, when some changes were made to the score. The leading dancers for the première were Ulanova and Sergeyev. In 1941 Prokofiev began work on the massive opera, War and Peace. He also continued to write much other music including his most heroic symphony, the 5th, in 1944. Nevertheless, despite its success, he was among those condemned in the Soviet press for ‘formalism’ (i.e. a suggestion that his music was too intellectual, emphasising form as opposed to content, and resulting in sounds that are too ‘modern’ and discordant). Along with others, he was compelled to ‘confess’ his faults in an open letter to the Union of Soviet Composers. Prokofiev’s music had often adopted a hard-driven style, with pungent harmonies involving strange twists and turns, and exhibiting a somewhat sardonic sense of humour. However, it was back in 1929 in the score for The Prodigal Son, that Prokofiev had begun to show again a more lyrical side to his character. Lyricism abounds in Romeo and Juliet (1936), along with his other attributes. In his youth he had indeed been regarded at times as far too dissonant and avant-garde (Ala and Lolly has some particularly strident sounds). The music for Cinderella was begun in 1940, but other commitments during World War II delayed work on the project. The ballet was first produced at the Bolshoi in Moscow in November 1945, with choreography by Zakharov (the libretto was by Volkov). The review of that production in Pravda was written by another great Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch, who remarked that “Balletic art has taken an important step forward”. In 1946 the ballet was staged in Leningrad. Prokofiev himself said of the ballet that the main thing he wanted to portray was the poetic love of Cinderella and the Prince, the birth and flowering of this love, the obstacles that stood in its way and the dream of happiness that finally comes true. He worked closely with Volkov on the dramatic aspect of the ballet, and said that although Cinderella exists in fairy tales of all countries he wanted to present her as if from a genuine Russian fairy tale. In the Russian version there is usually a stepmother, a character who does not appear in English versions. Like Frederick Ashton before him, Ben Stevenson adopts the English pantomime tradition of the stepsisters being played by men. Stevenson also omits the Prince’s search around the world, and changes the order of some of the music in the ballroom scene. The first performance of this version was given by The National Ballet at Washington, D.C., in April 1970. Reviewing the production in the New York Times, Clive Barnes was highly complimentary about the “unaffectedly classical choreography” as “a model of good taste”. The ballet was thought to be strongly influenced by Ashton, “yet not slavishly so”. Prokofiev’s last ballet was based on another Russian legend, The Stone Flower; the story is based on fairy tales from the Urals. Life in the USSR was still very harsh, and fairy tales made for at least one way of escapism in those grim days. The score was completed in 1953, and a production was prepared, with choreography by Lavrosky. Sadly, Prokofiev did not live to see the première at the Bolshoi in 1954; ironically, having suffered so much under the Soviet regime, he died on the same day as Stalin in 1953.
  3. This post prompted me to look up some details about the ballet. I found that the original Paquita was produced in Paris in 1846 with Grisi in the title role, five years after her success in Giselle. The music was by Deldevez and the choreography by Mazilier. The ballet is set in Spain at the time of Napoleonic occupation. Paquita, a Spanish gipsy, saves the life of a French officer, Lucien. They fall in love, but their marriage appears to be impossible because he is a nobleman - until it is revealed that she is also of noble birth......(!) The first Lucien was Lucien Petipa, brother of Marius, who produced Paquita for his St Petersburg début in 1847. Petipa (M) asked Minkus to compose new music for a Pas de trois and Grand Pas in 1881 (which is what is commonly heard today). The interesting parallel with the original is that the book upon which Bizet's Carmen is based was written in 1845 by Mérimée; another French story about a Spanish gipsy, but with rather different results!
  4. I was fascinated to read Victoria's list, partly because I go along with much of it, and partly because I was interested to see that Enigma travels well; I wondered how it would be received outside the UK. The thought of seeing Tudor's Romeo and Juliet is enticing; from all I've read about his interpretation of the story (and the music of Delius) it sounds to be one I must see - but we still don't see enough Tudor in his native land. On the other hand, Bintley doesn't seem to feature yet; have Still life at the Penguin Cafe and The Protecting Veil been seen in the USA? I would personally want a stronger dose of Balanchine; certainly Apollo and Symphony in 3 movements - I could easily mention a few more! Is there a problem with Robbins ballets at the moment? I would at least want to include The Afternoon of a Faun. I would also like to see a revival of (or new choreography for) Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale - a sadly neglected score.
  5. I'd choose Clio (or Melpomene if Clio is injured) for Calliope, Erato for Polyhymnia, and Euterpe for Terpsichore. Calliope appears with a writing tablet (good for history), and the music for her variation contains those dramatic 'stabbing' chords (which was what first made me think of Melpomene). However, the music is also based on that weighty verse form, the Alexandrine - there's a cello solo which almost sounds as if the phrases are too long: Stravinsky's sense of humour coming through. The music for Polyhymnia's variation moves more quickly; it's almost skittish. I could see Erato darting around to this (and it always seems to me that Cupid has a sense of fun, so perhaps Erato could follow his example). Euterpe as the muse of music and lyric poetry would seem to me to be the one most pleasing to Apollo - and the pas-de-deux is a very lyrical and gentle piece. I'm hope that Mr B, as a fine musician himself, would have approved!
  6. BW - thanks for your post. When I was typing my previous post I thought then of adding something on the original swan-icon, but didn't have time. So, just a reminder of Zeus, who had a habit of appearing in different shapes and forms to consort with a whole string of mortal women, and thereby beget many of the main characters that appear in Greek mythology. When he came to Leda, it was as a swan (poor Europa, by contrast, was carried off by Zeus in the form of a bull). Leda's children included the beautiful Helen. One of the benefits of these topics is that it makes you look up facts that might have been overlooked or forgotten. Referring to Balanchine's 'Festival of Ballet' (the UK version of his 'Complete Stories..'), Fokine apparently said that he composed it in a very short time. He had been playing Saint-Saens' "Le Cygne" on his mandolin when Pavlova came to ask him for a short solo for a concert being given by artists from the chorus of the Imperial Opera. He immediately thought that the swan would be an ideal role, as he looked at "the thin, brittle-like Pavlova". "It was almost an improvisation. I danced in front of her,she directly behind me. The she danced and I walked alongside her, curving her arms and correcting details of poses". Fokine's words are quoted from 'Dance Magazine' of August 1931. He also comments that The Dying Swan was his answer to his critics who accused him of 'barefooted tendencies' and rejecting pointe-work. Apparently he wanted to produce a ballet (Eunice, based on Quo Vadis, in 1907 - the same year as The D.S.) in which the dancers would work in bare feet (he was influenced in this by Isadora Duncan who had just visited St Petersburg), but this was not allowed by the Maryinsky authorities, so the dancers wore tights and had their toes, heels, and knees painted on what they were wearing! (from Oleg Kerensky). Fokine also asserts that The Dying Swan became the symbol of the New Russian Ballet....a combination of masterful technique and expressiveness..... the dance..should satisfy not only the eye.. but penetrate the soul". In 1934 he told Arnold Haskell that he regarded it as illustrating the transition between the old and the new...."a dance of the whole body, and not of the limbs only". Haskell himself wrote in 1938 that The Dying Swan was the manifesto of Fokine's new romanticism. "At the start Pavlova's path, Fokine's path, and Diaghilev's path were identical". Later, of course, they diverged. When Haskell first met Pavlova she asked "Are you on my side or Diaghilev's?". He said it was years before he understood the significance of the remark (after both were dead), and cites André Levinson as a critic able to understand the balance between Pavlova and Diaghilev. "There were sides and there should not have been" wrote Haskell. He also lists other interpretations of nature danced by Pavlova: The Dragonfly, The Californian Poppy, Autumn Leaves. I hadn't heard of these, but this is interesting, because early work in modern dance at the beginning of the 20th century was also sometimes inspired by nature.
  7. Helena, thanks for your reply. Yes, I have heard the Lohengrin story (good one), as well as the rhyme about certain people dying before they sing - but I can't remember where that one comes from. Regarding The Swan of Tuonela, I have the programme notes for it from a visit to Bristol by the SWRB (as the touring company then was) in 1984. There were 2 nights (and a matinée) of Coppélia, 2 nights of The Swan, and 2 nights (+ matinée) of a mixed bill! I remember seeing the triple, because it included Petrushka (Alain Dubreuil in the title role), as well as Raymonda Act 3 and Bintley's 'Choros' (prem.1983) to an original ballet score by Aubrey Meyer. I haven't heard of it being done since - it takes its inspiration from ancient Greece. I can remember clearly that the set reminded me of the wall-bars in a school gym! (Likewise, I haven't heard anything of DB's 'Swan of Tuonela' since the 80's). The company list makes interesting reading now: the 'artists' include Leanne Benjamin and Russell Maliphant.
  8. A few more swan connections: Wagner's opera 'Lohengrin' (1850) includes a boat drawn by a swan. (The setting is early 10th century, and concerns events surrounding King Henry I of Germany and Count Frederick of Telramund). The boat carries Lohengrin, a Knight of the Holy Grail and son of Parsifal. It later turns out that the swan is really Gottfried of Brabant, enchanted into the shape of a swan. Gottfried eventually regains his original form and is declared rightful heir of the land by Lohengrin. Swans obviously have a sense of mystery because of the tradition that they only sing just before they die. Orlando Gibbons wrote a famous madrigal concerning that tradition (The Silver Swan); Grieg wrote a song on the same line of thought (The Swan). The famous composition by Sibelius, 'The Swan of Tuonela', was originally intended as a prelude to an opera based on the Kalevala. In Finnish tradition, the god Jumala reigned on earth as King over the Kalevala, Land of Heroes, at the beginning of the world. He created a Swan, which carried the dead heroes to new life; its home was the River of Tuonela. David Bintley made a ballet 'The Swan of Tuonela' in 1982, using the music of Sibelius, including 6 major symphonic poems connected with the Kalevala, part of the Karelia Suite, etc.
  9. 'La Source' (according to the ref. books) was actually a collaboration between Delibes and Minkus (before the latter went to Russia). Besides 'Coppélia' and 'Sylvia', Delibes wrote for the opera stage (esp. 'Lakmé'), and also included dances in his incidental music for the play 'Le Roi s'amuse' - music found in Arbeau's 'Orchésographie' of 1588 is used by Delibes for this play. Prokofiev first tried his hand at ballet music with 'Ala and Lolly' for Diaghilev (1914) - trying to carry on the prehistoric trend after Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' - but Diaghilev didn't like it after all so Prokofiev made it into a concert suite (The Scythian Suite). Eventually it was choreographed by someone else. There then followed three works for Diaghilev: 'Chout' (Fr. spelling of Russian for 'Buffoon'), 'Le pas d'acier' (Diaghilev's nod in the direction of Soviet constructivism), and 'The Prodigal Son' (the last work Diaghilev commissioned). With 'The Prodigal Son', Prokofiev became more lyrical (in places! - the bit about the drunken revellers leading the son astray is inevitably not at all lyrical, for instance, but I find it all very effective); however, Prokofiev wasn't too keen on Balanchine's interpretation of his music. Prokofiev then wrote 'Sur le Borysthene' for Paris (chor. Lifar). 'Romeo and Juliet' was written after his return to the USSR, to be followed by 'Cinderella'; his last ballet was 'The Stone Flower', which wasn't produced till the year following his death (chor. Lavrosky in 1954). Stravinsky didn't write a ballet to fill a whole evening, but he wrote a host of shorter ones! Not only that, but so much of his concert music has been choreographed that it was possible for NYCB to mount a Stravinsky Festival in 1972 (the year after his death) in which 31 ballets to his music were performed. His original ballet scores (with dates of first perf.) are: Firebird (1910); Petrushka (1912); The Rite of Spring (1913); The Song of the Nightingale - which was a re-arrangement of part of the music from an earlier opera - (1920); Pulcinella (1920) - based on music by Pergolesi (1710-1736) - it is now known that some of the music which formed the basis for this score was not by Pergolesi after all, though it hardly matters - Stravinsky wins through!; Les Noces (1923) - the score was complete, but not orchestrated, by 1917, and the music belongs to an earlier era; Apollon Musagete (1928) - which later had its name changed to 'Apollo'; Le Baiser de la Fée (based on Tchaikovsky's music) - (1928); Jeu de Cartes (1937); Scenes de Ballet (1944); Orpheus (1948); Agon (1957). In addition he wrote these scores which had strong choreographic elements: 'Renard' (comp. 1916) and 'The Soldier's Tale' (1918), are both described as burlesques; Stravinsky wanted the action to be mimed or danced with singers (in Renard) or speaker (in the Soldier's Tale) off-stage. Renard was first produced by the Ballets Russes in 1922 (Nijinska). Different productions of these have varying degrees of dance quality. 'Perséphone' was written for Ida Rubinstein (ch. Joos 1934) - she was originally an actress, so the leading role calls for the performer to recite as well as dance. The score involves a narrator, tenor soloist, chorus, children's chorus, and orchestra - you get value for money with that one (if it's ever done). 'The Flood', another theatre piece (a 'musical play') was produced by Balanchine for CBS TV in 1962. In 1942, Barnum and Bailey's Circus produced Stravinsky's Circus Polka, choreographed by Balanchine for '50 elephants and 50 beautiful girls' as 'an original choreographic tour-de-force'! The venue was Madison Square Garden. It had 425 performances! 'Danses concertantes' was not written as a ballet, but as an abstract series of dances for concert performance (f.p. 1942) but has often been choreographed, as have many others of his concert works. Happy listening!
  10. Don't forget that there are those of us in Europe who love Balanchine (and don't see enough of his work!). One thing that seems to bind together these great choreographers, whatever discipline they come from, is their musicality. On that note, I'd like to know whether the work of Richard Alston is known in the USA. How is it received? (I'm not proposing him for a greatest choreographer spot - in fact, since the death of both Balanchine and Robbins it's hard to see who matches up in the sheer range of work compared with these giants). [ March 06, 2002, 05:32 PM: Message edited by: Richard Jones ]
  11. Don't forget that there are those of us in Europe who love Balanchine (and don't see enough of his work!). One thing that seems to bind together these great choreographers, whatever discipline they come from, is their musicality. On that note, I'd like to know whether the work of Richard Alston is known in the USA. How is it received? (I'm not proposing him for a greatest choreographer spot - in fact, since the death of both Balanchine and Robbins it's hard to see who matches up in the sheer range of work compared with these giants). [ March 06, 2002, 05:32 PM: Message edited by: Richard Jones ]
  12. And isn't it Marie Rambert who is seen slipping quietly into a seat at the back of the theatre while Miss Page is dancing? There was a very interesting TV documentary here in the UK on Channel 4 some time ago about the director, Emeric Pressburger, who shows such sureness of touch in his direction.
  13. But Cyd had already had another name-change, because she danced in Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes (from 1939) under the name of Felia Sidorova! (She studied with Bolm). As we know, there is nothing new in this kind of name-change. One I like is John Cooper (c1575 - 1626), an English composer and viol player, who changed his name when he visited Italy; he became Giovanni Coprario, and kept the name when he returned to London. His pupils included King Charles I.
  14. Hello from Borodin! I tried going back over the "could be this, could be that" questions and changed the answers, one at a time. Borodin kept popping up, then Prokofiev twice, and Rimsky-Korsavov once. Well, Borodin was a chemist as well as a musician, so I guess I'm just as confused!
  15. Hello from Borodin! I tried going back over the "could be this, could be that" questions and changed the answers, one at a time. Borodin kept popping up, then Prokofiev twice, and Rimsky-Korsavov once. Well, Borodin was a chemist as well as a musician, so I guess I'm just as confused!
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