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Russell and Stowell Head Balanchine Rescue Project

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Mme. Hermine posted an article from today's The New York Times about the Balanchine Foundation's Balanchine Rescue Project, whose purpose is to find dancers and archival tapes to reconstruct as much of the lost ballets as possible. Francia Russell and Kent Stowell are heading this project!


“Barbara Horgan had been trying to persuade us for a long time to have more to do with the Balanchine Foundation,” Ms. Russell said from Seattle, referring to Balanchine’s longtime personal assistant, who is the chairwoman of the foundation board. “She gave us three months after retirement to decide, and in the end we couldn’t say no to such a wonderful idea.”

Since the project focuses on works from the 50's through 70's, I can't imagine a more inspired choice: Russell has been staging the Balanchine versions she knew from that time, both as dancer and Ballet Mistress for Balanchine, and Stowell was an active dancer in the company as well.

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Roslyn Sulcas's article refers to "the 16 ballets that remained on [Ms. Russell and Mr. Stowell's] list after eliminating those for which no records existed." Since I probably saw many of them, I'm curious as to what they are. Aside from excerpts, the only mention in the article is of "Gaspard de la Nuit." I have yet to recover from the insensitive reviews out of the Edinburgh Festival over the Farrell Ballet's "Don Quixote" and can well imagine a similar critical outcry over "Gaspard." Robert Weiss gives a hint of this by calling it "unique" in the Balanchine repertory...it's interesting that he was still so experimental at 70." Right! The only problem is that critical opinions over what constituted a "Balanchine ballet" were well-formed by then, and by now have calcified into a distorted hagiography. I'm all in favor of recovering as much as possible of the lost Balanchine. We should keep in mind, however, that it may not look as we expect.

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Phrases llike "he remembered everything" and "clearly remembered" can be warning signs when the research is being conducted by the wrong people. One of the aspects that is impressive here is the use of serious (even scholarly) methodology of checking, evaluating, collating, and comparing different sources if information. The participants seem to be quite sophisticated about what they are doing. Given dance's reputation as one of the more ephemeral of the performance arts, this seems a wonderful use of resources on the part of the Balanchine Foundation. :blush:

And, sometimes, wonderful coincidences occur:

Although Mr. Weiss clearly remembered the set and costumes, and a lot of Balanchine’s instructions, much remained unclear. Then, with the help of new technology, a miracle happened: a film of “Gaspard” from the Ravel festival, thought to be unusable because it was so dark, was digitized. Now a complete staging of the work seems feasible.

I am less confident that a reconstruction of Chant du Rossignol -- based on 70-year old memories of a dancer who was 14 at the time the ballet was made on her -- would be equally accurate.

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Actually, I think that depends a lot on the dancer in question... there are some people who remember choreography decades later as if they had learned it "yesterday", it's just in their bodies like muscle memory... when they hear the music, they practically feel their muscles twitch... and then there are others where it's a more fluid memory and subject to more interpretation. I tend to think there is a kind of phenomenon like "photographic memory" for dancers who are quick studies for learning movement... the kind who can watch a whole ballet once and then a few hours later show you whole sections of the choreography. I think they are rather rare, but they do exist. And for some elderly people, what they did when they were 18, they can remember very clearly compared to what they did yesterday. Of course, having that kind of memory doesn't always mean you're a good coach, as that's a special kind of communication needed to inspire the appropriate interpretation of the steps. From what I am given to understand by dancers he has coached, Frederic Franklin seems to have both the memory and the communication skills.

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Leigh brings up an interesting question. It seems that no new Interpreters's Archive videos have been filmed recently. I would hate to see this project stalled in place of the new project, worthy though it is. Just from an audience members viewpoint, the Interpreter's Archive videos are wonderful for looking at Balanchine's ballets with new and grateful eyes.

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These videos are available in several libraries across the country -- not just in NY.  Check to see if a library near you has them.

And if your local library does not have them, request that they do an intralibrary loan. That's how I managed to view them out here in the boondocks. :angel_not:

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