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Serenade. Ballet of the Week 11/14/03

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New York City Ballet is about to launch its Balanchine Centennial Season, and I thought we might do our own Centennial observance by taking a ballet a week and discussing it.

Why not start with Serenade, Balanchine's first American ballet (1934). There are photos from the first rehearsals -- very eager, rather hefty young women. The ballet has changed over the years. I'm sure many here on the board know those stories and I'll leave you to tell them!

Lore, questions, favorite performances......your experiences with "Serenade," please.

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SERENADE is my favorite ballet. I have seen it dozens of times danced by everyone from Karin von Aroldingen to Wendy Whelan (the latter only once, that I know of)...when the curtain goes up, my heart goes to my throat and stays there the whole time. Twice I have seen SERENADE immediately after major romantic break-ups and it was both depressing yet also reassuring.

Usually I am unable to speak after seeing it; once I came out onto the Promenade after a performance and burst into tears. And I'm not the crying type...at all.

I find Kyra Nichols ideal in the central role...so vulnerable & luminous. Kowroski and Kathleen Tracey have been gorgeous recently in the Angel role (who gave the role that name? surely not Balanchine?) but the beauteous Alexopoulos remains vividly in my memory. And at present I really am impressed with James Fayette in the second male role.

The unmatched beauty of the music, the arresting sight of the girls when the curtain rises...there can be nothing that compares.

Needless to say I will be there next Tuesday...with a box of tissues. I'm getting chills just thinking of it.

Edited by oberon
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a picture is worth 10,000 words?

how about 30,000 = 3 pix.

i'm HOPING to post 3 historic photos of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo version c. 1940 on the ballet history topic, where i have the option of posting pictures.


Edited by Alexandra: Thank you, rg! I've moved them from the Ballet History forum onto this thread (and, with apologies, made them smaller).

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Ruthanna Boris, c. 1940, in one of the Jean Luçat designs from the ballet's early period.

i have corresponded w/ ms boris about this pose and she confirms that indeed it was an improvizational pose of her own devising, and not a moment from the ballet itself.


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according to CHOREOGRAPHY BY GEORGE BALANCHINE, p. 118, costumes by Candido Portinari were designed in 1941 for the american ballet caravan staging, the costumes for the 1948 new york city ballet production were uncredited. the catalogue gives 1952 as the year of karinska's costumes.

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I'm surrprised no one has ever done Serenade in the original costumes. It would be fascinating to see -- There's a sentimentality and romanticism with the current costumes (I don't mean either word in a negative way) and I think the ballet would have another look entirely -- I'd also wonder what the lighting was like? I've seen several productions of Serenade in the past few years that have what I've called -- and I do mean this in a negative way! -- "pool side" lighting. It's as though someone has taken Balanchine's description of the way he lined up 17 women "like orange trees in California" and used that as a lighting cue. Yet, perhaps originally it was danced in bright light. (But bright light and long blue ballgowns don't go!)

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Someone does have the original Karinska costumes! Or atleast one of the original productions of the 60's. Yvonne Mounsey received them from NYCB when visiting and saw that they were (I believe) putting them in permenant retirement. She asked if she could have them, and they said yes. That is atleast what I was told. My BD danced in Serenade at her Westside Ballet spring concert in 1999. Patricia Neary set ithe ballet on these students. I remember my bd getting her costume with the name Rosemary Dunlevy in side of it :wub: Most all of them had names inside of them from the original nycb wearer. IT made this even the more special for these aspiring students.. They were very old and I remember taking a few home to do repair work with great caution and respect. The tulle on some of the skirts were torn and there were small holes in the bodice material as well. Although these dresses looked ragged up close, you could not tell their age on stage with the beautiful lighting. The performances were exceptional I must say and one my bd will remember for a life time. Serenade has always been one of my very favorite Balanchine ballets.

(What stories these dresses could tell :wub: )

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Thanks rg, for that photo of Boris---it has always been one of my favorites. I always loved her performance in that role--in fact, the only time I ever sent flowers to a dancer was to Boris when she performed this role. I can still remember fussing over the color of the ribbons, to make sure they blended with her costume. Indeed, the ballet looked very different then. It took me a while to get used to the long romantic costumes and flowing hair of later productions. I am not so sure that I prefer the current version. I like what Denby said about the 40's version: "the sequences suggest a romantic personal grief but the dancers themselves remain clear and open as in the morning classroom". My first reaction to the unidentified couple is Danilova and Franklin--I did not see her, but I know she performed it very earlyin the 40's.

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That was my favorite role of Maria C's. The slow rotation in arabesque was stunning, but an equally special moment was her entrance in the first movement, balanced in arabesque, with the whirling arms.

An unforgettable single performance for me was in 1988, a tribute to Serenade's 50th Anniversary, I believe. On NYCB's stage, students from SAB danced it. Jenifer Ringer, the Waltz Girl, was propelled by such abandon, such sweep, such ecstasy! I don't think I've ever seen as moving a performance of that role before, and know that I haven't since. A keeper, for sure.

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Of course, this is one of the most beautful ballets, there are probably no words to describe the feeling it brings about in me.

PRODUCTIONS: When this topic came up, I thought that I must have seen this ballet done many times by many different companies. But I really had just seen it done many, many times by the NYCB. I guess I've seen almost every cast since my parents took me to the ballet in the early 70s. I also saw the Kirov do it twice in 1999 and by SAB when it has been presented. In addition, I've seen videos by an early NYCB cast, PNB, and POB.

I guess I tend to like NYCB in this. I think there's an earthiness and musical sensitivity to their performances. The ballet is almost surefire, so I did enjoy the Kirov, which danced this lighter - more like the vision scene of a full-length ballet. I thought they would emphasize the drama, but they didn't do it. NYCB digs in a little bit more, with a greater sense of abandon.

Hair up or down? It doesn't make much of a difference if the production is the older version with the hair up. I do like it down, I think it seperates the place of the last movement from the others. They are in that other world. According to Croce (and it makes sense to me), hair down in Balanchine's ballets represents fate, the man (maybe Balanchine) being guided by fate [the choreographer guided by the hand of the muse, by the music?]. This connects the last section to ballets such as the Elegie section of the Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, Meditation, the last section of Don Q., the Unanswered Question part of Ivesiana etc... The section where the "Dark Angel" guides the second man to the "Waltz Girl" now connects to the bit from Le Basier de la Fee Tallchief reconstructed, where the Fairy disguised as a gypsy with loose hair guides the Bridegroom off stage from behind.

DANCERS: I tend to like a lyric ballerina as the "Waltz Girl," a jumper or someone with a bravura technique as the "Russian Girl," and a glamour girl with presence (and a magnificent arabesque) as the "Dark Angel." Of course, over dancers' careers many have "graduated" from one role to another. In my early casts, Karin von Aroldingen did the 3rd role, but also the Russian section. By the early 80s, I saw her a lot as the WG. I saw Farrell at least once in the Waltz section, and I liked the early Kistler, Nichols, Mazzo, Karz, Nichols, Ashley and several others. The Russian dancer is tricky - I prefer one who really sticks the positions but also can be sensitive for the wonderous section where she (with four corps girls) goes down on the floor to that meditative music. I also like a good back, for when she gathers with the corps women and turns away from the audience. Nichols and Ashley were two I really liked before they moved on to the lead. Melinda Roy too. Then, I think it started with Watts, Peter Martins started casting a smaller dancer. While I liked Hlinka in the part, I thought the smaller dancer looks mismatched when the three women dance together in the last section. Maybe Martins was thinking of well being of the second man for when the Russian dancer flies in the air at him, but it looks so much better with a taller dancer. Borree, who is cast often in that part, just doesn't register well in the role. The casting of Somogyi makes a lot more sense.

I appreciated Calegari, Diana White, Alexopolous, and Kowroski were always great as the "Dark Angel." And Meunier at SAB and Part with the Kirov.

STORY OR NO STORY: The way I see this ballet depends on my mood, the orchestra, the dancers. I feel there's a hint or whiff of narative, but mostly the ballet speaks to me the way music speaks to me. It's like a language, when you're fluent, you don't translate it to English, but just speak it instinctively.

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