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When The Curtain Opens. What Are The Best Opening Images?

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Edward Villella, talking about Serenade during a curtain-raiser this afternoon, said that the opening tableux in this ballet is the "most beautiful" of any ballet. After seeing this twice in 2 days, I'm inclined to agree.

This got me to thinking about the images we see when the curtain goes up -- not the scenery, but the placement or opening movements of dancers. Which of these openings have been especially thrilling or moving to you?

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Bart, when I saw the topic description, before I'd read your first paragraph, the image that came to mind was Serenade. SO I guess I have to agree with you.

"Artifact I" (Forsythe) also makes a tremendous opening statement -- and every time the curttain (kamikaze curtain) goes back up, the image is arresting. I'll never forget it.

Paul Taylor's "Last Look"

Merce Cunningham's "Summerspace"

The empty stage at the beginning of Robbins's "Glass Pieces"

"Mozartiana"

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"Summerspace" is a beauty, alright. Having seen Merce's "Sounddance" last night, I can't forget the sight of the gorgeous gold swags used as backdrop, and the sight of the dancers in matching gold tops bursting out of them. For those who don't know it, or who want a reminder, swags and costumes can be seen here.

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Almost as thrilling as the opening of Serenade for me is that of Symphony in Three Movements. And although I prefer Apollo with the birth scene, I find the version which opens with the fully-formed god and his lute more immediately exciting.

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Balanchine's RAYMONDA VARIATIONS; the Elisian Fields section for the start of CHACONNE, RUBIES. SERENADE, NUTCRACKER-ACT II, SYMPHONY IN C.

LES SYLPHIDES

LA SYLPHIDE (Bournonville)

SCENES DE BALLET & SYMPHONIC VARIATIONS (Ashton)

[and ill the others i'm now drawing a blank on...]

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Two always come to mind:

Rubies... it's so simple yet it always seems ravishing...

Allegro Brilliante, the movement that starts before the audience can see it, seems to fascinate more than seems rational.

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Serenade is my most memorable....and its closing curtain as well.....

Most recently, Wheeldon's opening of his "Swan Lake" for PABallet....a stunning pose of ballet girls a la Degas.

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Balanchine, Symphony in C, when the lighting is done correctly, simplicity in brilliant white.

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Chris Wheeldon's "Corybantic Ecstasies" has a great opening...

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I agree with those above, especially "Serenade" and "Rubies." I'd also add "La Bayadère" (POB/Nureyev production), the harem scene in "Abdallah," and DTH/Holder's "Dougla"--always stunning....I'm sure I'm forgetting others!

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Agon's silent opening -- the four men, their backs to the audience. They turn suddenly to face us just as the music begins. It has to be a complete surprise (even if you've seen it before).

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I think Serenade is in a class of its own -- the arrangement of the dancers, their pose. It draws you into another realm.

The opening of Chaconne (Elysian Fields) is closely related, if very different in mood, with a company of women, each looking up toward an upraised arm.

Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream -- with the lone, tiny bug opening the evening.

Thinking of various ballets and their opening moment brings to mind those which show the background story behind a scrim. This technique seems to place a bit more distance between the ballet and the audience. Now I see why I find these scenes so distracting.

The opening of Etudes (after the five plie children) with the silhouetted dancers at the barre is very striking.

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Agon's silent opening -- the four men, their backs to the audience. They turn suddenly to face us just as the music begins. It has to be a complete surprise (even if you've seen it before).
Sometimes it's more surprising than others -- the men turning to face us and the start of the music aren't always in sync.

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Alas. I do remember a few of those, farrell fan. And sometimes the turning is a little out of sync, too. On those occasions, I guess it's best to live in our memories. :off topic:

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Bart, when I saw the topic description, before I'd read your first paragraph, the image that came to mind was Serenade. SO I guess I have to agree with you.

That was my immediate reaction, too! There are many, many ballets that I love but Serenade is the only one where the opening tableaux is so ravishing that it takes your breath away every time, no matter how many times you've seen it

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Like many of you, I gasp when the curtain goes up on Serenade, and Symphony in 3 Movements.

But in the past few years, I've also been thrilled when the curtain goes up on some of Wheeldon's work: MERCURIAL MANOEUVERS, AFTER THE RAIN and POLYPHONIA for example. He has such a strong graphic sense.

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Balanchine seems to have a way with curtain openers, doesn't he? I agree about Serenade, Rubies, and Symphony in 3 Movements.

I also like the opening for Glass Pieces very much, myself.

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Yes, Balanchine does seem to have a knack for this. I was just thinking about the opening of the second part of Liebesliederwalzer, too.

Alas, this topic has a downside -- reading about the openings I've never had a chance to see.

Among the openings I've never really liked -- most of those full-length classical ballets where people wander about, make entrances, etc. I know you have to establish characters -- here's te Prince/ there's his tutor; oh, those must be the court ladies/ here comes the Queen -- but it's something you put up with until something interesting really happens.

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In itself the opening of this ballet is a beautiful image, but when Theme and Variations is a closer in a triple bill, especially when preceeded by neoclassical works, when the curtain rises on all of those glittering tutus, the effect is as impressive as the opening of Symphony in C.

I also very much love the two ballets that open with a mortal sleeping in a chair: Le Spectre de la Rose and La Sylphide.

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Alas, this topic has a downside -- reading about the openings I've never had a chance to see.

Ha, ha. But isn't everyone in that same boat?? I guess second best to being there is sharing the images.

Richard

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Yes, Balanchine does seem to have a knack for this. I was just thinking about the opening of the second part of Liebesliederwalzer, too.
Here is Arlene Croce's description of the second part opening, from an essay called "The Pleasure of Their Company" originally published in Playbill (Jan-Feb 1970), reprinted in Afterimages, and quoted in Repertory in Review:
I have never been able to experience the rise of the second curtain, on those girls now suddenly frozen on toepoint, without a tightening of the heart. The piano ripples in an upward scale, the pose breaks, and the action begins again at twice the speed of anything up to that point. The gesture seems redoubled in size and sharpness. What's odd is that the new sweep and scale of movement don't bring a sense of liberation; they bring a sense of anxiety, maybe because the theatrical tension has been heightened."

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Pas de quatre!

Much agreed! Especially when properly lit, the dancers appear to be frozen in time. That first breath before the movement begins is truly beautiful.

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