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I recently saw as much of Excelsior as I could stomach. I'm just wondering... how much of their production is authentic, or is it basically brand new choreography? It seems as if there are, for the most part, clear-cut distinctions between the long mime scenes and long dance scenes without much intergration between the two. Was this typical of 19th century Italian ballets? This question might be a little off-topic, but could this be the type of dancing that appeared in spectacles such as The Black Crook? Cutesy novelty dances, allegorical scenes, circus-like music, and choreography consisting of the corps de ballet doing the same several steps in unison while forming geometric patterns? I assume that the audience for Excelsior would have been more of a "popular" as opposed to a "classical" audience. Actually, parts of Excelsior are delightful, and I bet it's lots of fun in a live theater... on video watching the whole ballet it just seems a bit too much of the same thing.

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I just watched the whole thing last week :) I've seen a 13-minute clip of a touring production from 1913, and, based on that (which may be equally inauthentic) there are numerous changes, most obvious being that the Spirit of Light and the Spirit of Darkness were mime roles (female and male, respectrively). The other is that the stage is on two levels (there's a hint of this in the contemporary version). There are platforms on the wing sides and across the back of the stage, upon which entirely different (but complimentary) choreography is being performed. !!!! You are exactly right, John-Michael; from what one reads, this is very like "The Black Crook" and "The White Faun". Lots of novice and quasi-dancers, and a few true technicians.

Cecchetti created (I write without checking) the role of the Savage (I know he danced it).

Another difference is that in the 1913 version, there's a big group dance for maidens and cave men. The men, dressed like cave men, have clubs. At first, they're used for war and rape. But as civilization progresses, they become pistons. They're still used to pull the women towards them, but for a commercial rathere than physically rapacious purpose. (I was also watching the 1990 version of the Kirov's "Sleeping Beauty" and some of the same steps and movements are in the garland dance. "Sleeping Beauty" had been staged in Milan, so I don't know whether the italians borrowed this from Beauty, or the dance is from an older ballet.

I think the ballet was taken seriously -- not as a pop entertainment. It was conspicuous consumption brought to the ballet. It's just not top of the line choreographhy. There were several other ballets of this type in Italy, one oof them being "Sport" with golf, tennis and cycling routines.

(In the current DVD of "Excelsior" I must admit I'm partial to the dance of the lampshades, which light up at the end. They don't make 'em like that anymore!)

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I just watched the whole thing last week :) I've seen a 13-minute clip of a touring production from 1913, and, based on that (which may be equally inauthentic) there are numerous changes, most obvious being that the Spirit of Light and the Spirit of Darkness were mime roles (female and male, respectrively). The other is that the stage is on two levels (there's a hint of this in the contemporary version). There are platforms on the wing sides and across the back of the stage, upon which entirely different (but complimentary) choreography is being performed. !!!! You are exactly right, John-Michael; from what one reads, this is very like "The Black Crook" and "The White Faun". Lots of novice and quasi-dancers, and a few true technicians.

Cecchetti created (I write without checking) the role of the Savage (I know he danced it).

Another difference is that in the 1913 version, there's a big group dance for maidens and cave men. The men, dressed like cave men, have clubs. At first, they're used for war and rape. But as civilization progresses, they become pistons. They're still used to pull the women towards them, but for a commercial rathere than physically rapacious purpose. (I was also watching the 1990 version of the Kirov's "Sleeping Beauty" and some of the same steps and movements are in the garland dance. "Sleeping Beauty" had been staged in Milan, so I don't know whether the italians borrowed this from Beauty, or the dance is from an older ballet.

I think the ballet was taken seriously -- not as a pop entertainment. It was conspicuous consumption brought to the ballet. It's just not top of the line choreographhy. There were several other ballets of this type in Italy, one oof them being "Sport" with golf, tennis and cycling routines.

(In the current DVD of "Excelsior" I must admit I'm partial to the dance of the lampshades, which light up at the end. They don't make 'em like that anymore!)

Thanks for the info. That's interesting to read about the Sleeping Beauty and Excelsior connection. It's also interesting to read about it being taken seriously... maybe the La Scala production just seemed to me to have its tongue firmly placed inside its cheek. Maybe what I meant wasn't so much solely pop entertainment, but that it seemed to be trying to reach everyone that could potentially be in the audience. Sort of like a G&S operetta transferred to ballet. For dirty old men, there are the pretty girls in tights. For seasoned ballet goers, there are the purely classical bits. For children, there are the special effects and character dances. For middle-brow audience members, there is the upbeat music and self-consciously edifying allegorical scenes. For the least sophisticated audience members, there are the spectacular special effects and costumes. Not that the appeal is that strictly defined and compartmentalized, but with the endless variety there seems to be a little something for everyone and, before you're able to get bored with one part, something else comes along.

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Excelsior was a they-don't-make-'em-like-that form that doesn't exist anymore called an "extravaganza". Offenbach took his Orpheus in the Underworld of 1858 and re-imagined it as one of these something-for-everybody shows in 1875, hence the two different overtures. There were also ballets in the latter version that weren't in the original show.

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John-Michael, I think the current production IS tongue iin cheek (as are contemporary productions of "Le Corsaire," based on a poem by Byron, and which brought tears to the eyes of its original viewers.

In Cyril W. Beaumont's Great Book of the Ballets, there is this bit of a review of the London production (by Italian dancers) in 1885:

"The lean and lissom primo ballerino Signor Enrico Cecchetti not only fairly astounds by his wondrous pirouetting, but dances throughout in such finished and graceful style as fairly to conquer the prejudice I have generally entertained against the masculine ballet dancer. In the plump and pleasing prima ballerina, Signora Adelina Roossi, he has a worthny co-adjudicator."

There must have been a camp element of this production, though, as Beaumont characterizes the review (iin the Illusttrated Sporting and Dramatic News) as "wriwtten in a half-humorous vein" -- or it may simply have not been to the writer's tastes, as it wasn't a drama. Excelsior was a spectacle, not only to celebrate the advances of Western Civilization, but the state-of-the-art technique of Italian dancers.

Perhaps these shows were, like variety shows, intended to appeal to a variety of audiences (all seated together in the same place on the same night). For the lover of classical dancer, there were the variations and ballabile. For the general public, there were scantily clad girls and explosive special effects. "The Black Crook" is considered in some books the first "musical comedy" and in others a classical ballet -- or at least, a play wiith singing and dancing annd speaking that also had several grand ballabiles of classical dancing. Prostitutes served as extras, but prima ballerinas from La Scala took serious dancing parts.

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ok, I saw a clip from this ballet on CAS and couldn't stand it. I don't think I even finished it all. It seemed a little uncanny and quite annoying.

I assume that the audience for Excelsior would have been more of a "popular" as opposed to a "classical" audience.

Maybe this is why I don't like it. I guess I'm just used to the 'classical' rather than the spritz of elite dancing and turns.

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Excelsior is on youtube. A PAL version of the dvd is also available for sale.

It would be interesting to know how much of the present version was true to the original. I did find this comment....

Book Review

"Two Balletic Sensations: Excelsior and the Ballet of the Nuns" by George Dorris

Dance Chronicle, Vol. 23, No. 3 (2000), pp. 329-337

In a book review of Excelsior: Documenti i Saggi/Documents and Essays by Flavia Pappacena George Dorris writes that there are extensive historical records, written and visual, for the ballet Excelsior.

"This essay leads to another in which Pappacena analyzes the structure of the ballet in terms of both technique and dramatic action. Much of this analysis is possible because around 1883 Cammarano prepared an elaborate set of notes, including detailed color-keyed diagrams of various ensembles, from which much of the ballet can be reconstructed. In addition to this remarkable document, which is reproduced in part in both color and black and white, the Theatre Museum at La Scala also possesses notes by Cecchetti that seem to reflect a slightly different version, at least in some numbers, and yet a third set by Eugenio Casati that uses French terms. Pappacena's contributions end with a discussion of Caramba's 1908 version, for which there are extensive visual records, including his costume designs, photographs, and the 1913 film by Luca Comerio based on this production. "

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Thank you, innopac, for that link. Among the interesting comments so far, I'd like to add a bit of historical context. From the bits I've scanned so far, this looks like a fascinating historical relic -- not only as a work of dance and spectacle, but as an statement of European self-confidence that became quite elaborate and bombastic in the Italy of that day. It may have been intended to appeal to a variety of interests ("something-for-everybody"), but I'm convinced that patriotism -- the attempt of the Liberal, bourgeois, and relatively new Kingdom of Italy to present itself as the equal of Britain, France, Germany, etc., on the European stage.

I agree with Alexandra's judgment:

I think the current production IS tongue in cheek (as are contemporary productions of "Le Corsaire," based on a poem by Byron, and which brought tears to the eyes of its original viewers.

The Eurocentric Milanese haut-bourgeois, on the other hand, were intended, I'm sure, to leave the theater with their patriotic faith in Italian achievement reaffirmed. Some, of course, may have given the whole thing a little :wink:

There are elements of a civics lesson. With characters like Luce (Light), Oscurantismo, Civilita, Lo Schiavo (Slave) and La Folgore (Thunder-bolt), you get the general idea even before the curtain rises.

In the video, the narrator of the prologue introduces the "the gigantic battle of the progress of light against the retrograde steps" with a bombastic and ironic tone. Audiences in the early 1900s would have, most likely, been meant to take this more literallly, and possibly been quite moved by it. ("Aren't we lucky to be participating in the best of all possible times.")

Mel, you mention that this kind of work was thought of as an "extravaganza." The first first words on the La Scala tape confirms this: "visione, coreografia, storica, allegoria, futuristica in due parti" One can't get much more "extravaganza" -- or ambitious -- than that. :D

Even if you don't have the time or patience to watch all 15 sections, please look at the interaction between Death (who I assume is Oscurantismo) and Light at the start of Part 2, the sprightly parade of nations (and flags) at the start of part 15, and the triumph of the slave -- now turned prince -- as he teams up with Light for the finale. :blink::P:o

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I enjoyed very much the optimism and idealism... the faith in the future... and the wonder at so much that we are blase about today. Excelsior may not be a Petipa ballet but it does take one back to another time.

And I was interested to find, when searching, the following comment about Manzotti’s Excelsior and Amor:

"These productions are closer to big shows than to traditional ballets, yet in spite of their artificial glitter, they had a real connection with princely entertainments of the sixteenth century, like the 1581 Ballet comique de la Reine." "Ballet: Incarnation of Allegory" by Marie-Francoise Christout and Fernando Bassan
Dance Chronicle
, Vol. 18, No. 3 (1995), pp. 427-435.

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