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Aurora and Emploi

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Re: Odette's port de bras and neo-classicism, I would disagree that Odette's arm positions indicate a **particular** development or "looking ahead" beyond Ivanov's attempt to make Odette resemble a swan. Notated port de bras from the late -Imperial era is quite a bit different from what we consider classical or, more specifically, Vaganova port de bras today. Photos from the era jive with various notated arm positions: there seems to have been a lot of variety in port de bras and the aesthetic was also different from what we might think. For example, palms were often turned toward the audience when arms were raised, wrists were often flexed, arms in high fifth were sometimes crossed over the head, etc.


Doug Fullington

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First to Andrei, I'm very sorry, I only just now saw your post. A look at the times indicated that you were writing your reply at the same time I was writing mine -- I didn't mean to ignore it.

I'm glad you made the distinction between your view and what may be a contrary general view -- I've been trying to do the same, of saying what I think is generally accepted here, and where I disagree with it, but it seems to change with every generation, and my "teachers" in this area are people in their 60s and 70s.

I've always been troubled by "neoclassical" too. I think it's another term that's misused. It originally meant a sort of classicism-by-the-rules and referred to Noverre's era, the Enlightenment, as we call it, when artists and philosophers were rediscovering classicism and, instead of "reinventing it," as we like to think we're doing, they were very concerned that they try to copy it as exactly as possible. In the 20th century, at least in America, "neoclassism" came into being, I think, because writers had to deal with Balanchine and didn't see his works as "classical" in the way they saw "Swan Lake" as classical. Hence, it means New Classicism. (I think writing about Balanchine came first here, but I may be wrong. It's later you hear the little voices saying, "And Ashton's own version of 20th century neoclassicism." I'll bet they both thought they were just doing ballet.)

Doug, thank you for your information on port de bras -- I hope you'll continue to have the time to read these threads and comment, because you have a perspective none of the rest of us have. As late as the 1940s, Bournonville port de bras was very rounded, the arm at brow-level, shading the brow (like the big picture hats women wore at the turn of the last century). The tiny pieces of film evidence I've seen of older Russian classical dancers -- like Spessitseva's Giselle -- are rather wild, certainly not controlled and neat.

A friend of mine who's watched "The Dying Swan" molt over the decades thinks that Odette got more "swanny" after "Dying Swan." To further confuse "employ," the way the terms "classical" and "romantic" are popularly used now, a "classical" Swan Queen (as Gregory and Fonteyn were) were less overtly swanny than a "romantic" Odette (Makarova).

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I'm still backing my opinion, then more I thinking of it. What is the neoclassicism? It's attempt to create a new shape using the old form. In "Swan Lake" it's not just port de bras. Look at Odette variation. All movements there are classical, but the same time new from the very beginning. Ivanov refused to make any virtuoso combination for the sake of the character. Besides, it's realy techniqually challenged even now. The first part - developpé, double rond de jamb, tombé, which perfectly fit the image of the bird trying to soar, I never saw in any other ballet. The second - two fermé, pas de bourré and fast battement passé in arabesque, commonly used, but pas de bourré done unbeat and it makes all sequence unstable, like this creature run to you and freeze, waitng for your tenderness. The last part looks like normal tours piqué en dehors, but Ivanov doesn't allow to ballerina go off the pointe after double tour and it takes off all bravura effect, usually associated with finished pirrouettes. I'm sorry, but it's clearly a new approach to build a character. Of course, as Alexandra mentioned before, Ivanov, probably didn't know, what he did come up with, he "was just making dances", but he opened window for Fokine with his "Dying Swan" and late on for Lopuhov and Balanchine.

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I wouldn't quibble that it's a new approach to building a character, although we don't have the whole repertory to look at. (I will say that I think there are things like this in Bournonville. The only one I can think of at the moment are James's solos in the second act. The first is similar to the steps in the first act reel, more ground-rooted. The second is almost a trying out of flight, and the third is much more wild, and free and open, so that James is flying with the Sylph.) On the term "neoclassical," I don't know if that was used in 19th century Russia at all, but that doesn't mean that Petipa and Ivanov (George Jackson wrote an article for DanceView long ago suggesting that Act II is really Petipa), or Bournonville, or Saint Leon, weren't using classical vocabulary to express emotions; I think they were. I'd also suggest that that's what the "new" genre (semicharacter classical) added in the early 19th century was for -- to combine classical steps with acting or character steps.

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About Odette and employ, does anyone know if Odette was nobility before she came under Baron von Rothbart's spell? I ask because I remembered Alexandra's writing on another thread the comment of a French person that the liberal use of arched backs in Russian ballet is a throwback to folk dancing (this is a paraphrase; my apologies for any inaccuracies). Therefore, if Odette was not nobility, perhaps this is a second, although not necessarily the chief reason for her unusually flexible port de bras/corps. (One could also infer that being turned into a swan during the day gradually chips away at her noble mien, but that doesn't seem very nice to swans, which are very majestic creatures, IMO.) I notice that Odile doesn't seem to use her back the same way Odette does (Odile has one or two attitudes to the back while looking up at the ceiling, but it doesn't appear to me to be a natural position for her--more like something she affects to fool Siegfried).

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I believe Odette is a Princess; she mimes, "I am a Princess" to Siegfried when she introduces herself.

My French friend's comment was more about what he thought about Kirov style than anything to do with the ballet. (The view, obviously not shared by everyone :) that the comparatively straight French back is "superior" because it is free of the "peasant" folk dance elements that became part of Kirov style. Now, before you throw bricks, remember all the nasty things Maryinsky dancers used to say about the Bolshoi....)

Your comments about the difference between Odette and Odile are very interesting, I think. It could be to denote a difference in character -- nowadays, the ballerina tries to be as different as possible in the two roles, which rather destroys the point that it's two different women, with the second one imitating the first -- obviously much much more difficult to do.

It also, however, could be a difference in choreographers, if it is true that Ivanov choreographed the second act rather than Petipa. (Something that several scholars are at least a bit skeptical about.)

As always, good eyes, CD :)

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