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A Modest Proposal

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All I want to see is somebody to do something easy. A simple, traditional, unmuckedwith four-act Swan Lake After Ivanov, and/or Petipa, with the 1895 score and traditional costumes. It's gotten to the point now where hardly anybody under 40 remembers a production of this description. We've had so many New! Improved! versions that feature Freud, fainting by the graveyard or not, sexual stereotypes, the war (not the latest one, maybe the Crimea, God wot!), cruelty to animals, and for all I know the kudzu infestation in the American South, some of them have been so strange and infra-dig. Please, will somebody do this ballet right, so that we don't lose a generation that knows what a real Swan Lake looks like, so that they can at least recognize the next parody!:D

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As far as I know, the Kirov still does a traditional version...well, maybe not so traditional when Zakharova dances it:rolleyes: but I agree, I would like to see more widespread good Swan Lakes. They don't all have to be exactly the same, but some respect for Petipa would be nice.

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I think I read somewhere that the very first Swan Lake (the bad one at the Bolshoi) did not have the suicide in it but that it was added by Petipa. Am not too sure about that, though, as I think Balanchine said it. I am not crazy about the Maryinsky's jester or dancing Rothbart, and I think its ending is anticlimactic, but as far as I know, it is the most traditional Swan Lake today, unless the Bolshoi does a better one (haven't seen it). Anyway, I don't really care whether they die or not in the end as long as Rothbart is defeated somehow, preferably in a very dramatic way to match the overwrought music.

I also read somewhere that the suicide was considered by nineteenth-century audiences to be a happy one, as Odette and Siegfried ended up together in heaven, and Odette did not have to be a swan forever, &c, but am uncertain as to how true that is, too. Maybe it's sort of like the ending of Bayadere--everyone dies, but Nikiya and Solor get to live forever in a castle in the sky. Of course, it implies that their love would not be possible in this world, which is not exactly a happy thought...besides, ABT does the suicide version, and it looked kind of comical to me. I expected to see Odette and Siegfried bounce up and down repeatedly on that trampoline, going higher and higher until they jumped right up into the afterlife. It didn't help that the path up to the "cliff" looked a bit like an obstacle course and I kept wondering if they would trip on the way up. Talk about anticlimactic.

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That actually sounds like it might be interesting: using ballet to promote one's political views:). However, they should just make their own ballet rather than drown Swan Lake in an oil spill.

Question: Why is it only inferior choreographers who make up their own versions of the classics?

Answer: If they were good choreographers, they'd choreograph their own ballets and wouldn't need to steal someone else's rightfully earned fame and prestige.

The classics are classics for a reason: they're good. They do not need to be updated any more than the Mona Lisa needs glittery eyeshadow and a tube top. If you want to say something about today's culture, do something original. No one remembers choreographers because they did some version of a classic--that just reminds everyone how good the original was. Choreographers are remembered for creating their own works.

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Just had the pleasure this weekend.

Calling it classic would be an understatement. A near replica of the standard routines handed down from Petipa and Ivanov's 1895 version, it offers little that's new or innovative. What raises the balletic bar are the crispness of its execution and engrossing drama of its characterizations

Click for full review


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Hans, I agree that classics are classics because they're good. However, part of their magic is that every generation can relate to them. I think many classics can and, to a degree, should be able to withstand changes, updates, revisions, whatever you like to call it. I think this affirms the worth of a classic as a classic. In fact, the Mona Lisa is a case in point. The Mona Lisa's worth as a classic was not decreased by smeone reproducing it and painting a moustache on it - it probably elevated the iconic status of the Mona Lisa. The same goes for R&J and West Side Story. I'm sure there's a never ending list of classics in every art form that have been the source and the basis for other works of art. I'm sure you'll agree with me that a creator who is unaware of the history of his art form is a very handicapped creator.

(However, I don't think that someone going to see Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake should think they are seeing the classic Swan Lake. I agree with Mel's original post that to recognise a take-off, you have to be familiar with the original.)

BTW, is it really that difficult to see a fairly traditional SL in the USA? Don't all the touring CIS companies have traditional Swan Lakes?

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G, that's good news coming out of Alabama!:D Thanks for the tip!

GWTW, many CIS companies tour with a Swan around, but it's often a Gorskyized version, which is traditional in feeling, but again, I can hear Petipa calling from the Beyond, as he did when he watched Gorsky restage one of his (Petipa's) works, "Someone tell that young man I'm still alive!" In Gorsky versions, I can still hear the Petipa calling out for benediction. Also, the versions that tour tend to be light-duty in decor, which is another important aspect of a really successful Swan Lake. It's not that I'm ungrateful, but yes, a traditional Swan is getting that hard to find in the US.

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Well, the Alabama review mentioned a jester, so it is not that pure! There are several things I really find lacking about the Kirov version (not just Zakaharova's dancing), the jester, of course, the silly, prancing Rothbard, and the ending, but they also drop the mime, so there is no real story, just some extra flapping. I also thought the Kirov way of merging Acts 1 and 2 diluted the magic, because, to save an intermission, I guess, it had the Prince's park turn into the lake, without him having to go anywhere. For me, it seems if he can see the lake everyday, there is no sense of a scary, mystical place. (One of the many, many things I don't like about ABT's production, too.) I think the Royal Ballet's version is pretty straight choreographically, but of course the concept is ridiculous, and having Siegfried prance around at the beginning of Act 3 like he swallowed the jester is absurd. Anyway, I agree with Mel, I would love so much to see a real Swan Lake.

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Phew! When I read the title of this thread, Mel, I was afraid you'd closed ranks with Clement Crisp and were proffering an even darker (or shall we say crisper?) solution to the "child performer" problem. I was therefore relieved to find you merely grousing about the latest Swan Take.

In the theatre we have had to endure a generation of Boinkin' with the Bard...In the spirit of Misery Loves Company, I offer up the following memorable Shakespearean Follies:

A Midsummer's Night Dream done as a Star Trek episode, with Puck "transporting" the lovers to their assignations. Oberon as Kirk; the rude mechanicals as aliens. Gave "no sign of intelligent life" a whole new meaning.

A Julius Ceasar where Ceasar appeared festooned in balloons, each one to be pricked by a pin-pushing senator. Lend me your ears...and earplugs, please.

A schitzoid Macbeth in which the same actor played both Mr AND Mrs Macbeth. Director's notes implied Old Will had written the first inner war between the sexes. Most amusing.

I'll stop there. To dredge up any more of this drecht puts a sour edge on my morning...

Hopefully you will have taken some solace in the new found awareness that not only do you suffer for your art, but your art is suffering for you.

With a wink,


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Watermill, I love your Shakespearean horrors. They bear witness to the fact that, no matter how bad you think it's gotten, They are out there, working tirelessly to insure that you are wrong.

I wrote a Swan Lake piece once (several computers ago, so it no longer exists) in honor of a Kennedy Center season which boasted no less than SEVEN productions in one season. (The person who programmed the dance offerings then obviously believed in the "Swan Lake Sells" school of thought.) It seemed funny at the time, but everything I wrote has come true in the intervening 15 years, except that the Bring Back Benno! movement has stalled badly. (The piece was about a Swan Lake convention with Swans from all over the world as delegates. Several were "interviewed" and told about their very own home versions -- and how they got to the Kennedy Center.)

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