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Marie Jeanne RIP

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this particular publicity hand-out of Marie Jeanne in BALLET IMPERIAL is stamped: NEW YORK CITY BALLET and comes from THE SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER archive, dated NOV 24, 1953 - apparently for an Opera House appearance in August.

some years ago i observed an Interpreters Archive videotaping session w/ MJ about BALLET IMPERIAL. (i don't think this session was ever formally finished as an archive tape for lack of sufficient infomational footage); MJ couldn't recall overmuch but i vividly remember her comment about her solo to the cadenza of the concerto: she looked at what Merrill Ashley did for the current version and said that she didn't really remember what she did originally but that what Ashley had learned wasn't it, and that she could say her 1940s version "was all twisty."


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I missed Marie-Jeanne, too, attending my first NYCB performance several years after her retirement in 1954. I've always regretted this. Her chapter in I Remember Balanchine confirms your memory regarding Ballet Imperial, rg.

Ballet Imperial was no masterpiece, and it didn't killl me [unlike Concerto Barocco, which did] except for the opening cadenza. It was extremely uncomfortable. Usually George never did anything that was uncomfortable, perhaps because musically his choreography was perfection. But the cadenza in Ballet Imperial was difficult in an uncomfortable way. George just threw it in, and I don't know if I did what he wanted -- those crazy things that he would invent. I was never sure that I was going to be able to do it. And it wasn't technically difficult, reallyl. It was just a crazy thing. Of course there were some passages taht were hard: there were a lot of sauts de basque on the qay. But I enjoyed doing those things. So do all five-year-old ballerinas! It was the same in the Bizet Symphony in C, where I did entrechat dix, which nobody does today.

A number of other contributors to I Remember Balanchine refer to Marie-Jeanne's impressive technique, strength and speed Here's John Taras:

Balanchine worked closely with Marie-Jeanne in choreographing both Concerto Barocco and Ballet Imperial. She was an extraordinary girl. She was very energetic, strong. Oddly enough, she was not tall. A great many people think of Balanchine ballerinas as being Amazons or giantesses, but she was quite small. She had very long legs and very long feet, so when she was on pointe, which was quite often, she looked tall. She did not have much neck, but she had a strong upper body. I've never seen anyone who had her drive. If you had seen her in Ballet Imperial, and then saw the people who came after -- and there were many graet dancers who came after her -- I feel you never saw Ballet Imperial, unless you had seen Marie-Jeanne. It was done for her, that'[s what the ballet is about.

[ ... ]

I think that's also true of Barocco, which was also done for her. Barocco has become rather a tepid, bland classical work now [the late 80s]. And it was a jazzy work when we first did it. Full of odd hips, odd turned-in things that you don't see anymore. All the dances have syncopation that lies under the Bach music. And now it's rather romantic and lyrical. It became diluted. I think the same thing is true of Ballet Imperial, that the characterization came -- I'm totally convinced -- entirely from Marie-Jeanne's body and from her personality, and from the way he used her. She was terrific.

Like several other ballerinas of her period, Marie-Jeanne felt that Balanchine ballets were no longer danced as they were when they were created. From the obituary in today's Times:

Marie-Jeanne occasionally returned to ballet to rehearse young dancers in some of her old Balanchine roles. She created a striking impression in 1996 when she supervised members of the New York City Ballet in a videotaping of “Concerto Barocco†for the George Balanchine Foundation. After watching them perform the ballet as they had learned it, with changes of style and tempo that had crept into the production over the years, she commented: “Very lovely. Lovely dancing. But it’s not ‘Barocco.’†Then she briskly proceeded to give them meticulous coaching.

The obituary is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/03/arts/03m...?ref=obituaries

I'm glad there are so many verbal memories of, and tributes to, dancers of Marie-Jeanne's generation. What an incredible loss that almost no movies survive from the period of Balanchine's early work. We have to depend on imagining. Still photography is no replacement for video -- but it can help. Your photo, rg, is an icon that gives us a hint of a Marie-Jeanne's strength, power, precision, sleekness and energy, even though we cannot see her in motion.

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It's a treat to see the "ancient" costumes for BI again. What I considered the "original" costumes when I was a student were actually the Royal Ballet's (Beaton?) ones with the white wigs and the sashes. The "merely old" ones were the Ter-Arutunian/Karinska production from the 60s, and of course, today we just have the "Concerto #2" costumes. I think something important's been lost.

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the '50 production for the Royal Ballet was designed by Eugene Berman, see below:

Ballet imperial: Chor.: George Balanchine; mus.: Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (Piano concerto no. 2 in G major); scen. & cos.: Mstislav Doboujinsky. First perf. New York, Hunter College Playhouse, May 29, 1941, American Ballet Caravan.

:New production: New York, Broadway Theatre, Nov. 1942, New Opera Company.

:Revival: New York, City Center, Feb. 20, 1945, Ballet russe de Monte Carlo.

:First perf. with revised 2nd movement: London, Royal Operqa House, Covent Garden, Apr. 5, 1950, Sadler's Wells Ballet; scen. & cos.: Eugene Berman.

:Revival: Milan, Teatro alla Scala, Mar. 25, 1952, La Scala Opera Ballet; scen. & cos.: Eugene Berman.

:New production: London, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Oct. 18, 1963, Royal Ballet; scen. & cos.: Carl Toms.

:Revival: New York, New York State Theatre, Oct. 15, 1964, New York City Ballet; scen.: Rouben Ter-Arutunian; cos.: Barbara Karinska.

:New production: New York, New York State Theatre, Jan 12, 1973, New York City Ballet; no scenery: new cos.: Barbara Karinska; lighting: Ronald Bates. Retitled Tschaikovsky concerto no. 2.

:Revised: London, Covent Garden, July 19, 1973, Royal Ballet; scen.: Terence Emery. Retitled Piano concerto no. 2.

:Perf. by Australian Ballet: London, Coliseum, Oct. 8, 1973.

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The "merely old" ones were the Ter-Arutunian/Karinska production from the 60s, and of course, today we just have the "Concerto #2" costumes. I think something important's been lost.

Were these the costumes with the royal blue sash on the ladies tutus? They were beautiful and very regal looking, perhaps that's why they were dropped when the Ballet Imperial title was changed.

I saw the archive video of Marie-Jeanne coaching Barocco. Her comments that it was more jazzy and compact makes me dearly wish that a video of her perfomance was out there somewhere!

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[Were these the costumes with the royal blue sash on the ladies tutus? They were beautiful and very regal looking, perhaps that's why they were dropped when the Ballet Imperial title was changed.

I think ABT still uses the formal tutus minus the sash and powdered wigs. And they call it Ballet Imperial still.

I haven't seen TPC #2 for a great long time. Could someone explain to me how TCP#2 differs from BI? Is it a mime sequence that was dropped. And are the costumes a different style from the short, stiff tutus of BI.


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it doesn't have her, but the library has this from 1943:

1 videocassette (U-matic, NTSC) (18 min.) : si., b&w ; 3/4 in.

Note Filmed in rehearsal. Directed by William Dollar. Choreographed by George Balanchine. Music by J. S. Bach. Cast?: Mary Jane Shea, Lillian Lanese, Francisco Moncion, and members of the American Concert Ballet.

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the change to Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 meant a change from tutus (for the women) and more formal tunics (for the men) to chiffon shifts for the women and lighter tunics and tights for the men, as well as the disappearance of any stage decor, in this case a view of the neva with the peter and paul fortress in the background.

yes the mime was dropped when the 'imperial' title was dropped.

nowadays the odd company calls it BALLET IMPERIAL - the Royal Ballet (i think), the Kirov. Miami City Ballet, ABT, but these versions w/ more formal costuming and in ABT's case imperial/ballroom setting, still use the 'concerto' 'choreographic text' as set forth in NYCB's 'new production' from'73, noted below in the NYPL cat. entry:

New production: New York, New York State Theatre, Jan 12, 1973, New York City Ballet; no scenery: new cos.: Barbara Karinska; lighting: Ronald Bates. Retitled Tschaikovsky concerto no. 2. (the shifts nowadays are those of gary lisz but basically they are the silhouette karinska's established.)

taras and marie jeanne attempted to show the mime at the interpreters' archive taping but i don't think they dwelled on it for very long.

the balanchine catalogue on line has further details.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet also performs "Ballet Imperial;" it was on this year's opening program. The staging is by Francia Russell. I believe it is the same version she staged for the Kirov in the late 80's, when Farrell staged "Scotch Symphony."

The online program notes say this about the decor:

All the imperial splendor of the original is now present, including elegant costumes, designed by Martin Pakledinaz, and a backdrop depicting a room of the Winter Palace with windows looking out upon the River Neva, by PNB scenic artist Edith Whitsett.

The lead ballerinas did opt out of the original, tall, spiky crowns from the late 90's, thank goodness.

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I'm pretty old, but not old enough to have seen Marie-Jeanne dance, which I really regret.

I attended an OBT performance last year, that featured a end of performance discussion with Marie-Jeanne. When I heard her name, I made sure that I would make the time to participate. With eyes not so sharp at seeing far-a-way anymore, the illusion that Marie-Jeanne gave was a very youthful one, maybe 20-30 years younger than her age. It looked as if she had reddish hair, which I thought very cool for an older woman.

She spoke with great energy and I ate up every word, smiling and delighted to see her. Christopher Stowell tried his best to introduce her and begin the discussion. With the majority of people not even knowing who she was, it was hard to get pertinent questions into her valuable memory vault.

I, being rather a shy person, decided to 'connect' with her by asking a question. I ended up asking two questions. My first question was "It is my observation that Balanchine golden era was not Suzanne Farrell's era, but the era when you were with the company. Do you agree with me?". She replied, "Yes, I definitely have to agree with you.". I also told her how delighted I was to see her and how beautiful she looked. I then asked if she ever considered writing a book, because she would prove a valuable link to that important period. She replied that a lot of people have been asking her that and that she may consider it.

It wasn't long before she died. I have an extensive Balanchine library and it truly is our loss that her book wasn't penned before her death.

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