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First and second thoughts on a ballet?

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Oberon started a thread called "Changing Your Mind" on the NYCB board (link below):


and I thought this is an issue that could do with expanded treatment. Have there been instances when you changed your mind about a ballet you initially disliked (or initially adored)? And in instances where you didn't alter your first opinion, how long did it take before you decided, "I really don't like this" or "No, it's not me – this sucks." Or did you know right away?

I may as well confess -- one of the first ballets I ever saw was Giselle. Couldn't bear it. That awful whimpering music, the capering peasants outside their picturesque huts, and what is her problem? A heart attack? a nervous breakdown? Both? The second act was better, but I certainly didn't want to sit through it again. I persisted, however, and eventually began seeing poetic meanings instead of taking everything too literally, which is what I was doing.

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Great idea dirac -- thank you!

I liked "Voluntaries" (Tetley) when I first saw it with the Stuttgart. (I saw it during my second season of ballet watching). I don't know whether it was because they gave it such a heartfelt performance (it was in honor of Cranko, who had recently and unexpectedly died) that later performances lacked, or because when I saw it again about 10 years later I'd seen so much Balanchine and Ashton in the mean time that I wanted more from choreography, but I no longer enjoyed it.

Going the other way, I didn't like "Sleeping Beauty" the first time I saw it. Didn't like the ballet -- dumb story -- didn't like the music. (I saw the National Ballet of Canada when it toured with Nureyev, and I saw a Sunday matinee cast, which was probably fourth cast in every role). The second SB I saw was by the Royal Ballet and I loved it.

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Yes, good topic. For me, because I don't have a baker's dozen of ballet years under my belt, I think my second thoughts have been more due to what companies I've seen perform the same ballets. As in say, ABT and NYCB performing Symphony in C... Didn't love ABT's at City Center a few years ago - I liked it but it wasn't a revelation or anything... But I felt as though I'd had an epiphany when I saw the NYCB perform it at the New York State Theatre.

Was mesmerized by the Bolshoi's Kingdom of the Shades, but could hardly sit through ABT's in their most recent production of La Bayadere....though I would have given my soul to Alina Cojocaru! :)

The more ballet performances I attend - and the more different companies I have the chance to see, the more I feel I'm able to really "see", if you know what I mean. I'd also have to guess that some of the "likes" or "dislkes" on first or second blush, are in part a matter of taste.

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Two ballets I initially disliked & came to love:

Opus 19 The Dreamer: Robbins ballet made on Baryshnikov & McBride. First viewing: interesting but minor piece, I thought. On subsequent viewings it became less interesting & no less minor; then avoided it .. UNTIL I saw it with Boal & Whelan. Zounds, what a difference! All of a sudden the poetry, melancholy & deep heart of the piece was revealed. With a lesser pair, I might revert to my earlier assessment but with an appreciation gained by the Boal/Whelan insight.

Spartacus: First viewing: "Oy, what a trashy piece!" Subsequently seen with Vassiliev & loved it. No less trashy a piece but fabulous trash! Now I'd love to see ABT do it. Four great principal roles.

It's amazing how the right cast can enlighten a work.

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Hated Swan Lake; now I love it. Reason? I grew up.

Liked Le Corsaire, now I don't. Reason? Saw it about 5 times in 7 days!

I'm that rare bird that no longer enjoys the Shades scene. Hard to believe, I know, but true.

Used to like only Rubies of Jewels but have slowly come to like all three parts, Diamonds being the latest addition after seeing Kirov, of all people, dance it this year.


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Used to like only Rubies of Jewels but have slowly come to like all three parts, Diamonds being the latest addition after seeing Kirov, of all people, dance it this year.

Giannina: did you not see Ghislaine Thesmar in Emeralds? After all those years of Mr B trying to teach Merrill Ashley some sort of lesson by casting her in Emeralds, along came Thesmar & what magic she brought to the piece. All of a sudden the French perfume became apparent & everything fell into place.

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Oh to be sure, that's all right! It's well within the bounds of fair criticism. Dancers who became eligible to dance that role were worthy of many respects. It's just that of the dancers I knew who did the part and didn't measure up, I expressed my concerns, and those concerns continue to this day, as more companies dance Jewels, and more dancers don't quite get it.

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Somewhere out there, someone is looking at Today's Goddess of Emeralds (there must be one) and saying, "Ah, but you never saw Merrill Ashley in the role"...)

There's a gorgeous photo, by Costas, of Balanchine working with Ashley in Emeralds. It's in his new book about Balanchine (I posted a notice about it on the Books forum about a month ago) and also the cover of this month's DanceView. :)

The "used to like it, now sick of it" category could be one of its own. There are some perfectly fine, small works -- Ashton's "Wedding Bouquet," Balanchine's "Who Cares" and "Slaughter" -- that I saw so many times in quick succession that I'd like a break. Ashton's "Les Patineurs" was an ABT repertory staple and we got 3 or 4 performances a year of it here for at least a decade. They finally "rested it" -- and Joffrey picked it up without dropping a stich :) (Actually, I thought Joffrey's was a better production, better designs and a wonderful Blue Skater). But I would have liked it even more if I'd had a vacation.

Back to changed opinions, I liked what Giannina wrote:

Hated Swan Lake; now I love it. Reason? I grew up.

I was already "grown up" when I stumbled upon ballet, but I do think one's taste matures with exercise :)

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In response to Mel's last post (got pre-empted by an intermediate post):

And how odd that the Kirov in their last Met outing, didn't "get" either the Emeralds or the Diamonds sections, only the Rubies, at least with the Vishneva cast.

Perhaps with Lopatkina this was corrected, as one would have thought Diamonds would be a piece of cake for them.

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Of the casts I've seen, probably the only one who "got" Emeralds (but ended up making something of her own, not Violette's) was Stephanie Saland. I thought Ayupova made a creditable early try, but I'm not sure she has the right aura to give the role what it needs.

Maybe the reason Thesmar succeeded was (ahem) because she was French and therefore (like Verdy) brought ALL THAT to the role?

My first Theme was with a very young Merrill Ashley. I thought it was a pointless exercise. Only when I saw it danced by a ballerina who seemed to understand (and convey) Theme's Imperial style did it begin to make sense. Still, it is not one of my special, prized Balanchine works.

Agon took a while to grow on me, but still, I prefer the two pd3s and sections with the whole cast to the pdd.

Who Cares has been a round-trip journey for me. Loved it at first sight for its joyfulness and exuberance, then thought it was slight, but finally grew to appreciate its inventive moves and to appreciate that exuberance (in the right context) is a legitimate dance value.

Goldberg -- like it less and less with each viewing. In the old days, I think the prospect of Renee Estopinal reappearing to present the Theme kept me interested, at least in part.

Chaconne -- loved it immediately. Then Balanchine changed the end, and some of the magic left. Still love the ballet enormously, but I don't feel the company advancing AT me in the finale and sweeping me up into its midst.

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I've grown to like lots of ballets either more or less over time, but only once have I had an instantaneous conversion. The first time I saw the Bolshoi's Golden Age I thought it was dreadful; the second time, days later, the curtain went up on the Tea for Two bit (beginning of Act 2?) and I fell in love, just like that, and had to spend the next interval hiding in corners to conceal my foolish grin. I've never seen it since and have no idea which way it would strike me now!

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When I first saw "Serenade" (on video, it was about one year after I started being interested in ballet, and I had seen very few live performances), my first reaction was quite lukewarm. Well, no plot, no sets, so few male dancers, that was a bit new for me. But after some further viewings (an advantage of video over live performance...) I loved it more and more and now it is one of my favorite ballets. :blink:

And about "Jewels": it took me some time to enjoy "Rubies", I had first seen it alone (performed as "Capriccio" by the POB) and I had found it a bit odd (and also I didn't like that much the music), and I really enjoyed it more when seeing it inside the whole ballet, perhaps partly because of the contrast with the other two parts. Also I enjoyed more "Diamonds" last season than when first seeing it about three seasons ago (and it was the opposite for "Emeralds", but this time not because of the ballet itself, but because the new casts were in my opinion weaker than the previous ones).

zerbinetta, it's nice to hear about Thesmar's performances in "Jewels"- I became interested in ballet long after she retired, but have seen so many photographs of her and also the video of "La Sylphide" in which she is quite lovely, and wish I could have seen her on stage in her performing days (I just saw her once in a coaching session).

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zerbinetta: what I saw was what is called now a "Passeport" at the Paris Opera: it's a kind of free event which is organized regularly and generally there is a ballet master or teacher coaching some young dancers of the corps de ballet in a part of a ballet which is currently performed or will be performed soon. When I saw Thesmar it was in Lacotte's "Paquita".

If I remember correctly, she also is one of the teachers of the company (they are about seven, most of them being former principals) and sometimes helps staging some ballets.

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Zerbinetta, you hit the nail on the head when you remarked on the revelatory Boal/Whelan OPUS 19.

But then I saw Woetzel/Ringer and liked them alot...very different, of course. Ringer tends to bring something special to most of her roles; she doesn't just rely on her physical beauty. When she was cast in SERENADE I was a little wary but she brought not just vulnerability, but some sort of elusive "perfume" (bad choice of words?) I can't define to the role. And then in the joyous WHO CARES? she totally pulled out the stops and won 2 mid-ballet ovations. It isn't customary these days for an NYCB ballerina to be called out twice after a solo...but she was...both times I saw it...and also after the duet. Not bad.

Back to OPUS 19, I'd like to see Albert Evans in it...but with whom?? I used to see Albert dancing with Miranda Weese quite a bit but that combo seems to have vanished. But then, Albert is so under-utilized...

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The two ballets that I disliked most the first time I saw them, but came to love are strangely related.

When I was in Jr. High and early High School, my best friend loved the ballet. Her father was happy to drive us to Lincoln Center, drop us off, go crosstown, and work in his lab for a couple of hours before picking us up. Since she was related to the "wheels," when choosing performances, we followed her two strict rules: 1. Makarova was better than Fracci, so we went to performances with Makarova, and shunned those with Fracci, even though this meant we never saw Fracci's constant partner Erik Bruhn and 2. Because she was unable to guess which night Fonteyn and Nureyev were to perform with the Royal Ballet (and probably was "stuck" with Seymour or Beriosova, poor girl), we could never buy tickets where the casts weren't announced well in advance, in a full page ad in The New York Times. Hence, no City Ballet, and if ABT performed Balanchine in the early '70's, we never went.

In my junior year of high school, after my friend moved back to Japan, I went to a summer program, where the directors decided -- rightly -- to expose the group to some culture, but -- wrongly -- decided that the boys would be bored by the ABT triple bill. (Hello -- girls in tights?) So off to Philharmonic Hall we went. It turned out that this was the Saturday night in July '74 when Baryshnikov made his debut in Giselle, and it was 15 years before I could hear Bach's 5th Brandenburg Concerto without feeling a pit in my stomach. I'm not really certain what was on the original triple bill, but I remember this as the first time I missed Jardin aux Lilacs.

I did my post-college pilgrimage to the Boston area, where I was a Marketing Director's dream -- someone who heard an advertisement for the Boston Ballet, and because of the theme from La Sonnambula playing in the background, bought a ticket. Just on that turn of music, I had great expectations. But I turned into the Marketing Director's nightmare: I hated La Sonnambula, I hated the Bruce Wells piece to music by Ginastera, and I thought the classical showpiece (can't remember which) badly performed.

In the meantime, I had missed Jardin aux Lilacs twice more, once when it was dropped from the program, another time because my bus from Boston was very late. When I moved back to New York, I bought tickets to an ABT triple bill. Finally I was going to see Jardin aux Lilacs. Martine van Hamel came onstage, danced a little, and suddenly, her partner was carrying her into the wings in his arms. At first I thought, "how atmospheric," but then the stage was empty with the music playing, and the curtain came down. I read in the paper the next day that van Hamel had broken her foot on stage.

There was an intermission, and the curtain rose on Bouree Fantastique. After some cast switching Harriet Clark stepped into Tanaquil LeClerq's role, and she was witty and delightful, like champagne. By the end of the ballet, I was in love with Balanchine's choreography -- probably the biggest DUH of my life. I started attending NYCB constantly, waited years for La Sonnambula to be revived, and I've loved it ever since.

Jardin aux Lilacs was harder, because by the time I saw it, and with Pillar of Fire being one of my favorites, my expectations were so high, that I was bound to be let down. It took two more tries for me to appreciate the ballet, but now I look forward to it.

I keep trying to like Giselle, but I like neither the music nor the characters and don't love the style. So I see the ballet only if there's an angle: Dance Theater of Harlem's Bayou version, the Alonso-coached National Ballet of Cuba, ABT, because I was starved to see the company, and that's the only thing they brought to Seattle. I guess I don't hate it as much as I used to, because I do keep going. Not exactly a conversion.

I really did like Peter Martins A Shubertiade only after the third time I saw it in one week. Whether I like Dances at a Gathering depends on whether I found it a bore the last time (then I'm pleasantly surprised) or surprisingly good the last time (then I'm bored.) But seeing it so many times made me appreciate Jerry Zimmerman as a great Chopin interpreter.

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