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Serge Lifar's "Icare"

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Apparently, Lifar did a major revision of this piece in 1962. Here's a portion of a review of POB's performance in Washington D.C., 1993 (Anna Kisselgoff, NY Times):

The two outright successes were "Suite en Blanc" (1943), Serge Lifar's increasingly persuasive brand of plotless neo-Classicism, and "Le Rendez-Vous" (1945), a very early excursion into poetic realism by Roland Petit, complete with sex and murder. This staging comes off smashingly, thanks in part to its photographic decor by Brassai and a breathtaking cameo by Cyril Atanassoff, a former star with the company.

Lifar's "Icare" (1935), was more problematical, despite the committed performance in the title role of Patrick Dupond, the home-grown superstar who succeeded Rudolf Nureyev as the company's artistic director in 1990. Lifar, the star of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes who directed the Paris ballet troupe for nearly 30 years after 1929, tended to create vehicles for himself, but he was equally interested in ballets as esthetic pronouncements.

"Icare" is not helped by either aspect. The choreography's dramatic focus on the protagonist has been diluted by the new virtuosity that Lifar sanctioned in a 1962 revival when he was no longer dancing. But essentially, "Icare" is not merely a retelling of the Greek myth about Icarus, son of Daedulus (Francis Malovik), who flew too near the sun and fell to earth.

The ballet is above all a manifesto, designed to prove Lifar's theory that dance is independent of music. Yet Lifar, in effect, did for ballet what most modern-dance pioneers took for granted: he choreographed without musical support and in this case added a percussion score (by Arthur Honegger and J. E. Szyfer) that tallied with the rhythms he indicated.

Mr. Dupond, almost always airborne in a taxing role, had a heroic desperation that was even poignant as he finally ended the ballet in an image intended to recall a plane crash: a twisted wreckage of a man, one arm outfitted with a transparent wing still pointing to the sky.

The true drama of this allegory about man's ambition to aspire higher than his nature was expressed in the 1962 Picasso set that replaced the 1935 design by Paul Larthe: a blood-red blotch of a falling figure suddenly moves downward on a scroll toward the stylized waves.

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Estelle would be best informed to reply here.

overall, it seems POB has kept Lifare's ICARE on and off the boards w/ some frequency.

the co. toured it to the States at one point in '93 or at least so did to the Kennedy Center (see the Kisselgoff rev. excerpted above).

more recently as part of a mixed prog. called Lifar/Malandain, POB danced Lifar's SUITE EN BLANC and LES MIRAGES as well as an ICARE-related new work, by Thierry Malandain called L'ENVOL D'ICARE w/ music by Schnittke (during the 2006/07 season).

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I was interested to read, in a 1935 NY Times piece, the following comments from Lifar's Manifesto on "pure dance," which refers directly to Icare:

By its rhythmic nature, the dance is self-sufficient; music is not an essential auxiliary. The dance requires a basic serving to accentuate its rhythm, but the basis need not necessarily be musical, since one can dance equally well to an accompaniment of tambourine, castanets, etc.

A ballet of whatever kind, musical or not, must spring from its own origins, and not from music. Music must be the servant of the ballet, rather than the contrary. He danced the title role well, however, and won an ovation from the audience.

Full text of LIfar's Manifesto is here. (Scroll down a bit.)


The U.S. premiere was in 1938 at the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC. Lifar danced the title role. (Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo). Lifar was credited as "choreauthor." John Martin, the Times's dance critic, wrote:

The theory underlying this approach is certainly no innovation, having been examplifed some fifteen years by Laban and Wigman in Germany. Truth to tell, Lifar's theory is rather more sound than his practice, for his rhythms are obvious and commonplace.

He danced the title role well, however, and won an ovation from the audience.

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