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Met Opera Ballet

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Today, I just happened to be at a biz meeting at 11am across from Lincoln Center and I passed a throng headed into the Met. I stopped someone and asked where everyone was going. Dress Rehearsal of Madam Butterfly was the answer. Damn...and I had to go to a meeting.

When that was done I walked over the Met and it was intermission and I went in to the ticket taker and asked him what I could do to get in. He reached in his pocket and gave me a ticket to row B center grand Tier. WOW... talk about luck!

At the next intermission I spotted Beth Bergman who is an opera photographer talking to a lovely women. I politely interrupted to thank Ms Bergman for something and joined in the conversation. I was introduced to the other women who said she was a former ballet dancer for the Met. That made sense as she had a dancer's body.

But that got me thinking. Is the ballet in the Met Opera productions more akin to formal ballet or like Broadway dancing? I have seen dance in Met Opera productions... like the Zeferelli La Traviata, but I never thought of it as ballet.

So my question are... What is the dancing at the Met Opera... how is it choreographed etc. Do they outsource the dance or have an in house company? Is there any "real ballet" in opera?

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There is real ballet in the opera, but you have to look for it.

Balanchine and his company were the Met Opera Ballet for a few years in the 30's, with Balanchine as choreographer. It wasn't a happy collaboration, and there's a fascinating description of those years by Lew Christensen in Barbara Newman's Striking a Balance.

Kyra Nichols danced in a ballet in the Act III of La Traviata within the last few years; I'm sure someone in our NYC contingent will know who the choreographer was.

There were three triple bills in the '80's that included two operas and one ballet: in 1981 Satie's Parade, Poulenc's Les Mammelles de Tiresias, and Ravel's L’Enfant et les Sortileges -- Balanchine's version was on the same inaugural Ballet Society program as Four Temperaments -- and a Stravinsky Triple Bill of Le Sacre Du Printemps (ballet), Le Rossignol (opera), and Oedipus Rex (opera). Damien Woetzel danced Harlequin in Parade during in the 2002 revival; the 2002 choreography is credited to Gray Veredon.

In the 2003 revival, the Ashton version of Le Rossignol was presented, danced by Julie Kent and Damien Woetzel, as reviewed by Susan Reiter for danceviewtimes. Reiter lists the revival choreographer for Le Sacre du Printemps as Doug Varone, replacing original choreography attributed to Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux. I remember at the time of the triple bills, which I saw in their original incarnations, there were choreographer crises, and neither choreographer who got the program attribution completed the final version. I just don't know if the records were ever updated to note the final choreography.

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There are dancers and house choreographers on the roster:


If they need more dancers, they hire them separately. Ballet dancers appear as everything from extras, when elegance is needed, or where they are essentially extras but do extra movement -- a classic is to have a dancer slink around the leading man, like in Rigoletto -- to the acrobat/dancers who depicted the two opposing armies in Rinaldo doing 1.5 back layouts landing on their stomachs -- Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey stood on scaffolds on either side of downstage and did vocal battle at the same time -- to stylized and national dances, to the big walzes (like in Eugene Onegin) to in-opera ballets to full-out ballets, sometimes simultaneously with singers. Sometimes star ballet dancers are hired, like Nichols, Kent, and Woetzel, -- I just remembered that Gary Chryst was the original Harlequin in Parade -- but mainly the dancers provide day-in-day-out support to the stage picture, and dance the built-in ballets when the music isn't cut, like in the Triumphal Scene in Aida, or Walpurgisnacht Ballet, or the ballet music from Don Carlos that Balanchine used for Ballo della Regina.

On the triple bills, I believe they did give a chance to one of their house choreographers, but I'm not sure if he finished a ballet that someone else started, or if he left off before it was finished. Bringing in Ashton choreography was in honor of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the choreographer's birth.

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In September of last year Christopher Wheeldon choreographed "The Dance of the Hours" for the Metropolitan Opera production of La Gioconda. The lead dancers were brought in from outside - Angel Corella and Danny Tidwell (sigh!) alternated the male lead and Letizia Giuliani danced all performances of the female lead.

The corps de ballet was the Metropolitan Opera's own dancers. It was not easy choreography and they performed very well.

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