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Differences among Petipa ballets

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Ha-ha, Juliet!! Ok, Ok...I was lucky enough to see DOCH FARAONA last year and it *is* a visually stunning production...Cecil B. DeMille -style sets & costumes....of such splendor that any major ballet company would be proud to own them. No, there were no giant lotus flowers...but there is a cute monkey swinging from the trees (the role of the child Balanchine many years ago, by the way)! Anyhow, I would love to see Doug (or another Stepanov-notation translator) set the correct steps on some major ballet troupe. Sets-costumes-music exist, in some Bolshoi attic.

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I'm with Doug and Drew on this one. I think Doug hit it with his comments that planting Petipa's name on something is mere marketing, and I agree with Drew that the "notes" (steps) are integral to the work. What goes on in ballet could not go on in music, not merely because music has a more accessible notation, I think, but because the music audience (including critics) is more educated. Dance people -- fans and critics -- get sold the Brooklyn Bridge month after month, it seems.

Ashton's "Fille" is one example of a revival that's rechoreography. It doesn't pretend to be Petipa, although it doesn't pretend to be completely original either. (Much of the "stage business" is from prior productions.) But Ashton was a choreographer, and his ballet could stand on his name. Same with Balanchine's Nutcracker and Coppelia. (I don't know if the Royal still has the Ivanov reconstruction, done with John Wylie, that did use the Stepanov notation in rep or not.)

Otherwise, the interest in these "revivals" is because of the desperate need for new classical choreography. If the same energy were put into that as in the new Faux Classics, I think we'd be better for it, but I think the revivalists aren't skilled enough to do that. Hence they dig up the past. There are ballets from the past that I would adore to see, but not through the imagination of a less-than-master choreographer guessing just which four-note theme Beethoven may have used open that lost symphony -- to go back to Drew's reference to Acocella's article.

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I totally agree, Alexandra. Perhaps I didn't mention that, for "Doch' and 'Paquita', the programmes (playbills) credit *only* Pierre Lacotte as choreographer. The programmes go on to explain that the ballets are "in the spirit of Petipa" (or something to that effect).

Needless to say, it would be preferable to stage a 'Paquita' or 'Doch' from the notations. However, I (and many others, judging from enthusiastic ovations in Paris & Moscow) thoroughly enjoy the "in the spirit of Petipa-style" productions as beautiful works of art, in and of themselves.

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Thanks, Jeannie. I'm sorry if I implied that Lacotte was revising without the proper notation in the program. I didn't mean to. I think we've all acknowledged that the productions are popular, but I do think the point that Doug raised, that it's a question of marketing, is a good one. To coarsen his point a bit (sorry, Doug) we know that champagne sells, but we're not allowed to market ginger ale as champagne. In ballet, that rule doesn't apply.

I do think there is an element of trying to piggyback off Petipa's name. If I, a bad painter (and I am a very bad painter, or at least was the last time I tried it, in third grade) can't sell my portraits either because portraits are out of fashion or they're no good, but can wiggle into a niche because, say, everything Leonardo did burned and now exists only in descriptions by writers, I might not have a market for my own "Girl with a Smile," but would get a lot of attention for: "Revived! Years of painstaking historical research and mixing original Renaissance paints: Leonardo's Mona Smiles Again." Except it wouldn't look like the "Mona Lisa" -- and wouldn't even if I could actually paint.

I don't have any problem with people liking the revivals. (And I don't think anyone was trying to say that.) If I'm given Kool-Aid and I've only had water, I'll love it. If somebody says, "Psst. Have you tried champagne?" I might like it better. I won't know about the champagne if I'm only given the Kool-Aid. Of course, I may well prefer the Kool-Aid, but at least I'll know.

[ 06-08-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Alexandra - Here's a teeny-tiny friendly poke :):

The POB 'Paquita' was better than Kool-Aid! It was Spanish Freixenet, compared to Dom Perignon.


Back to main topic...

Actually, I am quite interested in Doug's original theme. What are the best versions of Petipa (or Petipa revisions of Romantic French/earlier Petersburg) ballets out there? How many continue to be danced...in full-length versions or in excerpts?

At last count (& from the top of my head), following are the Petipa ballets that continue to be performed, complete or excerpted. Please add to the list, Doug & others, if you know of other Petipa-era ballets being performed in Russia or elsewhere:

- Paquita

- Venetian Carnival ("Satanella pdd")

- Doch Faraona

- Corsaire

- Little Humpbacked Horse

- Naiad & Fisherman

- Vain Precautions/Fille mal Gardee

- Esmeralda

- Vestalka (I've seen excerpts at Vag.Acad.))

- King Candaule-Diana & Acteon pas

- Don Quixote

- Roxana (excerpts now in Don Q)

- Bayadere

- Markitanka (Vivandiere pas de six)

- Diable a Quatre (excerpts at Vag. Acad)

- Coppelia

- Giselle

- Sylphide (Petipa's revision of Taglioni version)

- Talisman

- Sleeping Beauty

- Nutcracker (Ivanov...but of the petipa Era)

- Swan lake

- Cavalry's Halt

- Kalkabrino (solos performed at Vag. Acad)

- Raymonda

- Harlequinade

At least portions of all of the above are still performed somewhere. What may I be missing? I'm interested in knowing what our travelers/scholars may have seen, that is unusual? Where are these excerpts performed? How accurate are they?

[ 06-08-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

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Okay! It's much better than Kool Aid. :) The point that I think Drew, Doug and I have been trying to make isn't about whether something is enjoyable or not. I think that often happens when dance reconstruction topics come up. They were trying to get at what is actually being constructed, or reconstructed, or made up out of whole cloth and passed off as something it's not.

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I totally agree with this attribution problem (I guess the 19th century ballet composers suffer the same problem - Adam, Minkus, Drigo and the likes, the attributions often turn out to be inaccurate). Former Kirov soloist Kirill Melnikov once suggested to set up a Petipa Trust in order to protect his work. Yet (thinking about what the Mariinsky had recently done), almost with the same breath he didn’t consider it a good idea to go all the way back to the original "Beauty", disapproving not so much of having "the original steps", I guess, but more of all that goes along with it and which, in his opinion, makes it look old-fashioned (mime, costumes, head dresses).

I am all for reconstructing the original (in music as in ballet) and I have enormous admiration for people working on it. But not the way the Mariinsky has handled the reconstruction of Petipa’s "Sleeping Beauty". Far too much of: "We have the notations and we could have changed that too, but we still preferred to keep the other variation" and all that. Sorry no, that’s a museum of candles and oil lamps, advertising in neon.

If you decide to go back to the original and you possess the proper sources, means and knowledge, then you have to go all the way through with it, otherwise it falls between chairs and still isn't what it pretends to be. And if you can re-produce everything as it was originally done, then I would like to see it performed as it was originally performed. Not just the steps, also the style and the aesthetics of the time.

This will demand extra research, but only then we will have our 5th Symphony as Beethoven intended it. :)

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These are such good points - thanks, everyone. Thanks also, Jeannie, for the list of ballets.

My initial point had been to discuss the differences within Petipa's oeuvre - how one ballet differed from another when originally presented. As we all know, a variety of changes have been made to the ballets over time. Distinguishing characteristics of individual ballets have been blurred. Part of the benefit of research into original or early productions is finding what made each ballet 'tick' in its time. If I were able to reconstruct ballets on a regular basis, I would certainly approach each one somewhat differently based not only on the available sources but on the particular aesthetic of each work and when/where it was created.

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I was very interested in Jeannie's list -- do we know enough to have a sense of how Petipa developed into the Petipa of Sleeping Beauty? One comment I overheard about Lacotte's Pharoah's Daughter (putting aside, for now, the "steps" question) was that the choreography occasionally looked more French/Bournonvillesque than Petipa, and the person speaking speculated that this was because the ballet was an "early" Petipa spectacle and that was what Lacotte had in mind.

This is really third hand information; I'm not kidding when I say I overheard this conversation...but I notice Doug made some analogous remarks early in this thread, and I am curious if ballet historians have a sense of when and how Petipa developed into the distinctive geometry and pointe work of his later choreography?

Related question re Vivandiere; I saw the Vivandiere pas de six many, many years ago in a Joffrey II production; I vaguely thought it was St. Leon or some other French, pre-Petipa choreography and it certainly looked (to my eye) somewhat Bournonvillesque, with fleet and bouncy footwork. Is this a case, like Giselle, where the version we have is based on a Petipa revival? Or is Jeannie referring to something different?

Croce (to the best of my memory) once alluded to Petipa as having developed the ballerina's adagio (and developed point work accordingly) and she specifically contrasted this to Bournonville. I'm curious what sense we have of when and where this happened in Petipa's work -- of where, when, and how his version of the French tradition diverged from Bournonville's.

P.S. I'm a little nervous that I've just betrayed some appalling ignorance of well known ballet history...so apologies ahead of time.

[ 06-09-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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Drew - Now that you mention it (or 'overheard' it)...the variations of the male soloists in the Act II Gnd Pas Classique (set in courtyard of a big temple) are quite Franco-Bournonvillean. Ditto the Markitanka-Vivandiere pas de six.

The marked change in 'Russian' technique--to incorporate Italian virtuosity and style-- came about (mostly) ca. 1886/87/88, after the initial appearances of the Italian virtuosi (in private Petersburg theaters, such as Kin Grust). This is a huge simplification...but I'm trying to get to the heart of the matter quickly. By the time that 'Sleeping Beauty' appeared in 1890, the Petiopa/Imperial Theaters style was quite different - it had evolved into the 'Petipa' that you & I recognize as such. I'm sure that Doug and others can elaborate on this 'Italian Revolution' in late-19th C. Petersburg ballet.

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I provided one of the male variations in DAUGHTER OF PHARAOH in the temple courtyard scene (it comes after the variation for two women that has all the chugs - the double tour at the end was added, btw). All of the Russian male variations that I have seen notated are of the French-Bournonville sort - and these were notated mostly in the first decade of the 20th century. I have examples from Petipa ballets (though not neccesarily choreographed by him?) and Gorsky.

I think Petipa 'as we know him' ultimately dates from the 1930s/40s/50s, during which time his ballets were revived and altered in Russia (although this process of alteration began earlier with some ballets) - again, a simplification, but this is what I am finding.

The only male variation that comes close to the sort we generally see today in classic full-lengths is Desire's variation from BEAUTY Act III, but even there the notated version seems to be a mix of old and new (it was the version danced by Sergei Legat). It is a ***very*** difficult variation, stamina-wise, and I've never seen it danced, although it is similar in part to some versions danced today.

All in all, I think Russian balletic style in the late 19th century was still very French and the Italian influence was incorporated to the extent it could be compatible with the French style. When I first started working with the notations, I kept thinking how like Bournonville so much of the dances looked. That is, of course, because the Bournonville style retains so many elements of the old French, and the style of 'Petipa' (via the Vaganova school, et al.) has lost much of that.

I am still trying to sort out these ideas and impressions, and I really appreciate all the input. :)

[ 06-10-2001: Message edited by: doug ]

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In the January 1967 issue of Dance Magazine

there is a artical that states that Fedor Lopukhov

claims the credit for the Lilac Fairy Variation

in sleeping beauty.The artical tells a story told

by Mariinsky balletina Elizaveta Pavlovna Gerdt

(who later trained M.Plisetskaya,E.Maximova and other dancers)

the story goes on to say the first interpreter of

the Lilac Fairy was Petipa's daughter Maria.Gertd states Maria Petipa

..."she was no longer young and her plump,heavy

torso was in striking contrast to her slender

beautiful legs in heel shoes.I knew from my

father that she never was a classical dancer and

never danced on pointe.The variation of the

prologue was therefore omitted,restricting the

part of the Lilac Fairy to a mine character.Later

when i took the this part from Lubov Egorova,

about 1910-12,she taught me the variation.Egorova

told me then that she asked Fedor Lopukhov to

produce the variation,which he did very skillfully......"

the artical goes on to say that this variation

known everywhere as a work of Petipa,was really

the work of Lopukhov.

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