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Two Lilac Fairy Questions

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Hans, I agree with you that Petipa's gold variation is far from negligible, though I find all those raccourcis a touch unrelenting. In my ideal production it would be transposed back where it belongs in Act III, alongside a new Sapphire variation "stylized to the epoch"--to quote Mikhail's telling phrase. Because gold has a confident hardness, its Odilish, irremissive run of balances would fit the subject well. I don't agree with Roland Wiley when he says that this choreography is appropriate to a vision.

De gustibus non est disputandum, for, unlike you, I find those cross-torso crescent port de bras in the Ashton variation utterly magical-- inverted, prolonged versions of the "beauty" formula in classical mime. And I love the stretto that piles them up toward the end. Only Ashton--or Balanchine--could have conceived of something so rhyhmically pregnant and yet contained.

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Re Lilac variations in the Sergeev notations. The one marked "Marie Petipa" has some pointe work but is simpler than the second version. I'll look at the second version and compare it to Grace's notes, etc. In its new-old version of BEAUTY, the Kirov comes up with a Lilac variation that is neither of the notated versions. I don't know where it came from. I believe they claimed it was the Marie Petipa version from the notation, but it's not.

These were my impressions of the Kirov's new-old Lilac variation when I saw it a few years back:

The Kirov's Lilac Fairy variation follows neither notation, although claims have been made that their Lilac Fairy dances Marie Petipa's version. While the floor plan of the Kirov's variation follows that of Marie's, the steps differ from the notation. For example, the Kirov's Lilac begins with a diagonal of large jetés, traveling from upstage left to downstage right. The notation, however, offers the following first combination: after a starting pose with left foot tendu front, the ballerina steps forward on the left foot and piqués on the right foot in a low arabesque. Stepping through to plié on the left foot, she performs a pas de chat, leading with the right foot, to finish en face in fifth position, left foot front. She now steps to her right side, piqués on the right foot and brings her left foot to coupé front, while making a half turn to the left to face the upstage left corner. She pliés on her right foot, as her left leg moves to a low à la seconde, presumably while finishing the turn. (The lack of a left turn sign in the notation – indicated by a minus sign in parenthesis above the feet and legs stave – makes this turn slightly ambiguous.) She steps to plié-coupé on the left foot and is ready to begin again. The entire combination is performed three times. No jeté is indicated. The Kirov's final combination of penchée arabesques also is not given in the notation.

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I heartily second that salute to Doug and to Grace, Alexandra. Huge bouquets of roses for both of them from all the grateful readers at this site. I am going to try out Doug's MP enchainement to the music later on and see what I think of it. It's a bit abstract for me to grasp in a vacuum. And while we're on Beauty, something came up when, inspired by Doug and Mel, I was reading Wiley a few days ago. He prints Vzevolozhsky's libretto for the ballet in an appendix. V states that in the Act II pas d'action Aurora is accompanied by her friends. In all productions I have seen, the corps has comprised nymphs or dryads, presumably conjured up by the Lilac Fairy. However, in the light of the libretto, it would probably make sense to parallel their costumes with those of Act I, after sneaking in a few extra dancers since the choreography demands more than octet in the corps. In the Cape Town Beauty, Aurora wore a blue version of her pink Rose Adagio costume for the vision scene (I can't remember if the RB Aurora did the same), but the corps danced in shredded ultramarine Romantic tutus that identified them as immortals rather than sleeping companions.

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Well, I have seen more spectacular enchainements in my life, but I certainly think the Marie P version gets off to a good start. I piqued at bar 3 after the anacrusis--I hope that's right--and I didn't know what to do with my arms, so I used the Odette's unfurling bras during the pas de chat, since the LF's wisdom should embrace the world. I like the fact that so much of this sentence is en face--it gives the variation the right security and frontality (instead of those hair-raisingly unpredictable doubles-pirouttes-cum-sissonnes in the alternative).

And in the course of this afternoon's little exercise in dance archaeology (thanks entirely to Doug--I can't thank him enough!), I made a discovery that I should have made long ago--viz., that the LF's variation is an amplifed IV-V-I C major cadence, just as the Nutcracker adage is an amplified G major scale. That means that she quite literally has the last word, and in the "cleanest" of all the keys in das wohltemperierte Klavier.

I've also been thinking of the gold waltz transposition, and it seems to me more and more likely that Petipa wouldn't have made the change without duress--Tchaikovsky was just too celebrated in 1889 to be messed with in this way--and that the duress must have originated with Brianza. I can think of two possible scenarios, one benign and one malign. In the first, Brianza is walking down a corridor, and hears the gold waltz being played on a dancing master's kit in one of the studios. Because the waltz has affinities with Tchaikovsky's Italianate efforts in the genre--those in the Children's Album and the Fifth Symphony, for example--CB stops short, and, in a rush of nostalgia for her homeland, says, "Che bella melodia. Io la voglio!" And Petipa grudgingly obliges.

Or--and here I am thinking of that horrible occasion when Pavlova physically attacked Karsavina, in ostensible outrage at her loose bodice, but in actual jealousy of her pirouettes--there is a run-through of the ballet quite close to the premiere, and Anna Johansson receives huge acclaim from the company for her gold fairy waltz. CB, casting a baleful eye on a possible rival for the glory of Act III, says, "Che bella danza. Io la voglio!" And again Petipa grudgingly obliges, stripping AJ of her solo, and giving the brilliant, applause-catching variation to his ballerina.

I have absolutely no idea what sort of personality CB had. If she was a monstre sacre like Nureyev and Mathilde K, then I'd go with the second option. If she was kind and self-effacing like Bruhn and Tamara K, I'd go with the first.

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Mel, I meant to ask you, but it slipped my mind: Do you know how the Queen of the Dryad fouettes rather than the Odile ones came to be called "Italian"? I would have thought that Legnani's mastery of the 32 would have made the latter more likely candidates. It's a pity that ballet didn't follow figure skating in naming steps after their inventors--salkows et al. Attitudes derrieres would be Giambolognas and sautes sur la pointe Vazems, etc. etc.

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I'm wondering if I may revive this topic.

This past November / December Peter Wright's Beauty was reprised by the Dutch NAtional Ballet, and PW came over to coach the dancers in the mime parts (among other things).

In this production Lilac is a mime role. From Prologue through Finale she wears a big big dress which even requires her to turn her back to the audience when walking back during the curtain calls. Walking backwards (as all the others do) is impossible.

In a rehearsal talk PW said the Lilac Fairy role was "a very important role" and that's why she didn't dance. Oh, methought. So why does Aurora dance? Her role is fairly important too.

I checked my Wiley, which has a Petipa list putting Marie Petipa in the Waltz in the Pas de Six (hardly a walking piece); but there's also a review of the first production which seems to point to a dancing Lilac Fairy.

PW claimed Karsavina had handed down this mime Lilac to him.

Let me say I love a lot about this production, but I would be interested in some input on this Lilac matter. Did Marie Petipa dance or didn't she?


BTW Sofiane Sylve, now of the NYCB, was a spectacular Aurora in this run. These were her last performances as a DNB dancer and she was beauty and beast in one body.

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rg and/or doug will be able to cite chapter and verse on this, but until they see the topic (and thank you for reviving it!) I think the Lilac Fairy both danced and mimed, and a substantial part of her role was mime. (She wore heeled shoes in the mime acts and toe shoes when she danced, I think.) Perhaps PW meant that the Lilac Fairy has been cast as a Super Soloist, when the role is more important than that.

I've come to see Lilac as a danseuse noble role. Petipa was reviving the old ballet feerie tradition, updating an 18th century form, I think. And by those rules, the noble genre danced only stately measures and was responsible for telling the story in mime.

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I'm surprised to hear that anybody is still falling to the interpretational error generated by the discovery of a picture of Marussia Petipa in her Act I "chemise" costume in the 70s. Instantly, productions sprang up that had seven fairies in the prologue instead of the actual six, with Lilac being relegated to pure mime. In the prologue, Marussia wore her "tarlatine" or tutu, and danced a variation that was notably easier than the one currently known in most productions. Or maybe she danced another one, also easier than the modern one. There are two notated in the Sergeyev/Stepanov notation, and neither one is the one we mostly know today, which may date from ca. 1912, and emanate from Feodor Lopukhov.

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Thanks, Alexandra and Mel.

Alexandra: I'd seen your use of the term danseuse noble before, and of course the Lilac variation in the Prologue pas de six is a Valse Noble.

Mel: In the Wright version the waltz variation with those delightful sissonnes is indeed danced by a seventh fairy whom Arlene Croce (who over the years made a pretty penny bashing the Wright Beauty) chose to call the Fairy of Surplus.

I thought Wright's logic: it's an important role so it can't be a dance role, was particularly delicious. However I wonder what Karsavina's role in this story is. Looks like it's one of those examples showing that oral traditions are rather hazardous. Perhaps you can't always trust the old folks.


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I thought Wright's logic: it's an important role so it can't be a dance role, was particularly delicious.

I can certainly undertand how that sounds odd. However, it sounds as though PW is an ardent Noverrist -- again, placing the ballet in the context of its time, that it was an 19th century version of an 18th century ballet feerie. Noverre (and his contemporaries) assigned the most important roles to the noble genre, and they carried the story through mime. He believed that dance was divertissement, mime was to express the emotions. And so the most important characters did not "dance" in the way that we understand dancing. (The "all dance" 20th century has, in some ways, broadened our view of what dance is, and in others narrowed it.)

Also, there's an oral tradition that the original Lilac Fairy variation wasn't much of a variation, and the assumption was made that this was because Marie Petipa "couldn't dance" or "was only a character dancer" (implying that Marius had put his inept daughter into an important role because of nepotism). The "noble genre" roles often LOOK simple because they were about line and placement and had to be danced perfectly; it was the perfection, the quality, that was judged, not the quantity of terms.

Because the noble genre had been lost in Western Europe, it was reinterpreted as "character dance" in the 20th century. This is, I believe, an error. The dances in the second act of Sleeping Beauty, for example, are court dances, not character dances.

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The oral tradition is only somewhat borne out by the Sergeyev scores. True, what is there is not as virtuosic as the variation done by Lilac today, but requires clean clear lines and beautiful fluid expression. IMO, Marussia must have been a considerable dancer with the aplomb of the earlier Romantic ballerinas.

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This would of course be quite apt when Tchaikovsky was knocking himself out, too, with what Benois called Passé-ism. Obviously, the funny thing about Beauty is that in some respects it harks back to older forms, and yet it was a giant leap forward, both as a musical score and as a choreography. I'm probably mixing up things, but didn't Balanchine later say: "forward to Petipa!"?

I've been thinking about your Noverre thing, Alexandra. At the time I thought it best not to go and talk with Wright (I would have had to fight the question "why doesn't Lilac get her Prologue Waltz?" all the time). However in Beauty too much of the core action is danced anyway - the Rose Adagio for one thing - to call his version Noverrist.

I have to say though that apart from the Fairy of Surplus taking over the Waltz, the Lilac role (given a good cast) is invariably quite moving in the PW production. The stateliness does work. As I said to my favorite Lilac of this run (Sarah Fontaine) I absolutely believed she was the source of all good.


Edited by Herman Stevens
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I think it's Lopokhov who said "forward to Petipa" and he said it at a time of experimental choreography; so he was saying to go forward is to look back. He was also roundly criticized at the time, by some, for wrecking Petipa. :)

The Rose Adagio is a very old form -- it's one of the few pas d'actions still in repertory. In Russia, the four Princes are usually, still, principals, Princes, and one will often read, in American reviews, at least (and hear from fans) "Oh, what a waste! They don't do any dancing." Again, it depends on your definition of dancing.

I don't mean at all that Wright is trying to revive Noverre or takes him literally, just that he's read him and is familiar with that world.

I'd like to see the Wright production -- thanks for telling us about it. It sounds as though it's one of the "traditional" stagings that still works.

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In Russia, the four Princes are usually, still, principals, Princes, and one will often read, in American reviews, at least (and hear from fans) "Oh, what a waste!  They don't do any dancing."  Again, it depends on your definition of dancing.

In the Dutch NB production the "Four Cavaliers" are usually taken from the upper tiers of dancers, too - and one or two principals were pretty unhappy getting to be a Rose Adagio Cavalier rather than the Prince who gets the Girl. In the end it didn't matter because it turned out many dancers were laid low by the flu when push came to shove, and everything had to be reshuffled.

Thanks for putting the 'forward to Petipa" quote right.


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Here, the Four Princes are often the fourth-but-one tallest boys in the corps (the tallest man being the King, just like we did in kindergarten) And often young men without good partnering skills, which gives you some awful Rose Adagios, where they all are stacked up like vertical pancakes, back to chest, and she has 13 seconds to let go of one and grab the next.

Hans has that Lopokhov quote in his sig line, so HE may be able to put it in context, which I can't.

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