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Ismene Brown on Serenade/Sacre/Etudes

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Ismene Brown in the Telegraph on the Kirov's production of Sacre (Nijinsky via Hodson-Archer)

Misguided quest for Nijinsky's genius is a travesty

I am not seriously prepared to judge Nijinsky's genius - or the Kirov's performance - on the basis of this sort of thing. It is a travesty and it makes you believe that Nijinksy was a fraud, who parachuted on greater talents to create the work that sealed his reputation. The Kirov's acquisition of this contaminated object is a cardinal mistake, and they must dump it like a stone.

The costumes are certainly eye-watering; a community of Uzbek carpet-nomads, with long intricate braids, embroidered tunics and thick socks, set amid surprisingly gentle hills in Nicholas Roerich's original designs.

But these capers and skips in circles, these demure glove-puppet hands and pigeon toes, that crone bent double like a Grimm witch, those men shuffling in acrylic bear costumes, all this damn docility - is this the infamous Nijinsky revolution? If it is, then Fokine could have claimed plagiarism of his choreography, and Nijinska would be considered a greater dance-maker than her brother.

But these didn't happen, so this feeble, faux-naif stuff cannot be what Nijinsky wrote. With all due credit to the terrific Maryinsky music-making, no amount of celebrity ambulance-chasing can bring back something lost 85 years ago.

Actually, I think Nijinska is a greater choreographer than her brother, but that's another story :thumbsup: But I love the phrase "celebrity ambulance-chasing." That could sum up our age!

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I agree with Alexandra that Nijinska was the more talented choreographer. NOCES is brilliant!

Ms. Brown & the Kirov are a bit out of step. The SACRE reconstruction was first done with the Joffrey when it was still Joffrey NY/LA. Robert Joffrey died shortly before the NY season when it was first presented, which made it very poignant. Is it because the Kirov performs the reconstruction over a decade later that this is finally taking worth notice of? Talk about "celebrity ambulance chasing!"

Even if SACRE isn't an exact replica, I valued the opportunity of having at least an idea of what took place during that 1913 premiere night. Is it the first "modern" ballet? Possibly. More telling in the De Meyer photographs are the charatcters' twisted arms & fingers, pretty strong indications that Nijinsky was already schiziophrenic.

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It's the first London performance, and perhaps the first time Ms. Brown has had the chance to weigh in -- but even if she'd written about it before, it is the first London performance, and so reviewing it as if it's a new ballet (or new recosntruction) is kosher.

I do agree with you on "Les Noces." I know it's not fair to compare brother and sister, because we don't have any idea what Nijinsky's choreography looked like, but I've always felt that the delight in "Sacre" was all about how they rioted and then how they lost the ballet. It became a legend.

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Re: Nijinsky's choreography:

I know Joffrey/Chicago reconstructed JEUX, but does anyone know what happened to plans to piece back together TIL EULENSPIEGEL? Was it lack of funding, material, or interest?

Just like he did with LES NOCES (which I like as much as the original), Jerome Robbins also did a TIL ballet. I think this one is lost forever. The production photo hanging in the NYS Theatre lobby makes me wish magic could bring it back :wub:

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I think there was a reconstruction of the Nijinsky Til Eulenspiegel -- in Europe (Paris?) A friend of mine saw it, but I can't remember details. I think it was POB -- someone else will know, I'm sure. I think the main interest was in the sets, which could be reconstructed.

The Tli Eulenspiegel for NYCB was by Balanchine, with Robbins as Til. It disappeared early, and I've never heard of plans to revive it, but I'd be very interested to see it as well.

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That's correct, Brendan. Although I didn't see it, the previous season, in 2001, the Opera of Rome showed a triple bill called "Nijinsky ritrovato" with 'Jeux', 'Rite of Spring' and 'Till', all as reconstructed by the Hodson-Archer duo.

(Just a detail but Scheherazade is a reconstruction from Andris, not Maris Liepa.)

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"Till Eulenspiegel" was performed by the POB in the mid-1990s, under Patrick Dupond's direction. I didn't see it, but the reviews were a bit tepid, the most interesting point was the costumes, which indeed looked great on photographs, but the choreography wasn't very interesting (I don't know if it was because it was not well reconstructed, or simply because the original choreography was not especially good).

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Thanks, Estelle. I thought I'd remembered POB doing it.

I don't think there was really much to reconstruct. In Nesta McDonald's book about the Ballet Russe in England and America (Till received its premiere in New York, if I remember correctly) she said that Nijinsky was very ill at this time, and only choreographed his own part, with the other dancers filling in and choroegraphing their own material. It received very few performances.

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I think there are reconstructions of worth and onces that seem to be based on very little. Till and Jeux appear to be based totally on pictures and reviews. I believe there was a corps dancer from the Ballet Russe that said she remembered Jeux, but many found, after the press tried to interview her, she was probably not reliable. This is according to the articles out when the Royal performed Jeux, including the one by Acocella in the New Yorker.

Of those revivals, I can't imagine how a ballet can be reconstructed purely on photos. What would Agon look like if done that way or 4ts? A pose that lasts a second or two caught by a photographer...

But I think the constructions of Cotillion, Symphonie Concertante, and others are worthwhile as they are based on films, dancers memories, notated material etc...

I saw Sacre when the Joffrey perfomed it at City Center in 1988. I did not have the same reaction of Brown. And from reading articles written at the time, the ballet was reconstructed by more than Brown says in her article. There were dancers and the ballet mistress during the original time involved in the project. I also remember reading that although Nijinski did not notate the ballet as he did Faun, there were some materials of his found - things he did later in his life.

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