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The entrance of the Shades? How fast? How slow?


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In a review of the Bolshoi's London season, Judith Flanders writes (in the Times Literary Supplement, August 24 and 31):

When the Kingdom of the Shades scene begins, there is always a moment of shock, before I remember that the Russian ballet companies take the entry much faster than we are used to in the West -- it was Nureyev, in his 1963 staging, who slowed it down, giving it a gravitas that Ludwig Minkus's rumpty-tump accompanying music signally lacks.
Flanders also doesn't like the double-ramp used in the Grigorovich program, which leads her to the following image:
[the Shades] intersect at odd angles -- they look more like small white cars buzzing along a busy junction of the M25 than single-minded spirits of the dead.
Any thoughts? Is this an accurate account of tempo inconsistences in Bayadere productions? Any examples you can share with us? Which speed do you prefer?
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I prefer it faster. With 32 women traveling down that ramp and winding around the stage, a relatively quick tempo gives us plenty of time to become hypnotized by the vision without putting us all to sleep. Sometimes I wonder how the Royal Ballet corps keeps from turning to stone--on the video with Darcey Bussell, the music crawls along at the speed of a snail, and they all dance a full count behind it during the entrance! Makes the Maryinsky look positively peppy. :)

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Harvard's Sergeev Collection includes several handwritten piano scores of the Shades scene. One of these gives a tempo marking of "Molto moderato" for the Shades entrance. Another gives a metronome mark of dotted quarter note equals 60 (i.e., the pulse is equal to one second). This last source shows evidence of being copied in Riga in the 1920s and later used for Sergeev's staging of the scene for Mona Inglesby's International Ballet, a production that apparently did not make it to the stage (correct me if I am wrong).

Where there is evidence, I generally find that turn-of-the-nineteenth-century tempi were faster than today's tempi for the same music.

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to address the point of the ramps, the multiple, zig-zag arrangements with the shades descending from 'a rocky place' dates from the ballet's 19th century stagings, so, like it or not, the bolshoi's production would seem to be honoring the scheme of Petipa's plans. just because this british writer prefers what england knows of the royal ballet's nureyev staging doesn't make that version more 'authentic' or whatever.

i was surprised when i first note the kirov's more brisk, fevered pace for the entrance, having been brought up on the royal's more measured tread. but it - the kirov's version - had a theatricality all its own that won me over.

re: previous stagings of the 'kingdom of the shades' in the west, there seems to have a been a few precursors to the full full-fledged staging mounted by nureyev.

spesivtseva danced one, with serge peretti, in a seemingly much reduced staging, for a gala in paris in the mid-1920s.

n.sergeyev toured something called 'the rajah's dream' which may or may not have included the now famous 'shades' scene'.

most recently, i notedin a 1911 british theater publication, a sense of gorsky's THE DANCE DREAM (sometimes called THE DREAM DANCE) which included the music of minkus and had a scene looking, in the fewl photo illustrations i've seen, very much like the rajah's palace of LA BAYADERE and which may or may not have gone into the shades's scene as the 'dream' scenes proceeded.

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The Rajah's Dream seems (again from the Harvard scores) to have been the shades scene preceded by a brief prologue that introduced the Rajah (a Solor-type character) and, if my memory is correct, included a characters solo, a la Fakir's dance. Sergeev made notation sketches of a very reduced version of shades, with about 12 in the corps. These dates from the 1930s, Paris.

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