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Synopses by dance rather than story

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I'm seeing Swan Lake at ABT tonight, and while I'm familiar with it from several viewings, I realize I don't know all the right names for the various dances which occur through the ballet. Synopses tend to describe narrative action, but never list or discuss things like the Spanish dance, etc. It would be especially valuable to get such a list in order with the right names, and discussion of what to look for in each of these highlights. I can't seem to find these online. Thanks everyone.

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Doug Fullington, who runs the education programming at Pacific Northwest Ballet, gave a wonderful talk earlier this year outlining the various changes in the program order of Swan Lake, following the additions and deletions from the score, and the way a few of the variations shifted acts. You're right when you observe that it's much harder to find a synopsis of a work that uses the structure as an outline.

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does the question starting this thread ask if individual companies, ABT in this case, tend to offer breakdowns of the ballets in its repertory, that is, essentially house-program material before finding it in the theater?

if so, that depends on the company, i suppose, but such things as web-available information tend to more general in outline and scope.

if you mean are there places to find these things out, of course there are numerous reference books about the scheme for ballets, SWAN LAKE would have many such sources.

the problem would be for the interested part to be able to sort through what the ballet offers, in theory or as "original intent," regarding narrative, characters, and dance numbers, for lack of a better term, and what each current production chooses to retain and which to cut.

it's probably safe to say that with SWAN LAKE as the ballet in question, no two productions on stage anywhere today agree, character-for-character, individual dance for individual dance.

to note but one example, ABT's staging takes the ballet's scheme for the Rothbart character, and presents him not only in two guises, as the original libretto proposed, that is von Rothbart as an evil genie in the form of a owl and, for the ballroom scene, "in the guise of a guest," but also casts the role for two different dancers.

in Russian productions of 1877 and 1895, as well as in every other production of the ballet with links to its Russian beginnings, this double character is traditionally cast with one and the same dancer.

Roland John Wiley's TCHAIKOVSKY'S BALLETS is an invaluable resource but can be heavy going for an interested, novice ballet-goer seeking general, overview information about a particular, current production of SWAN LAKE.

with regard to the suite of national dances, i.e. Hungarian, Spanish, Venetian (or Neapolitan), and Polish, in the ballroom scene, such "divertissements" were a familiar part of balls in the time of SWAN LAKE's creation as well as in narrative ballets of the time. some productions try to make these "decorative numbers" part of the "action" by identifying them as "delegations" accompanying and promoting princess/fiancees being offered for Siegfried's hand, which is something of the case with ABT's staging, but some, as originally staged, present them as no more than entertainments for the guests of the ball, and incidentally, as opportunities for the ballet troupe in question to display its character/ethnic dancing schooling.

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Dear RG-

I am deeply honored to get a personal response from you - I have enjoyed your writing so much. Thank you.

Obviously, as you wrote, any listing of scenes/dances will describe only one production. Hopefully, for a beginner, it will describe something closer to a canonical sequence. What I would enjoy in addition to this plain listing by scene/dance would be emphasis upon which dances, and which moments within those dances, are considered the highlights, plus extremely brief notes on why they are as such. Your book has been invaluable to me as a beginner - but of course there are many ballets not covered. And such brief summaries in bullet or point form, accessible on the web, may be useful to others discovering ballet.




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there's no doubt that careful delineation of the scheme that you'd like to have for various narrative ballets would be of interest to some ballet goers, but the compilation of such notes, per ballet, per company, would demand, more or less, a reliable dance historian in the company's employ.

PNB is most fortunate to have Doug Fullington, as is BA! to have his voice here, but few other companies can claim such in-house expertise.

Fullington's notes for PNB's GISELLE, for example, with much input from Marian Smith, the historian who worked on the company's recent staging of the 19th c. ballet, are about as rich as any to be encountered nowadays as background to a troupe's repertory item.

Better, however, general and reliable notes when a historian is not on hand, that half-hearted attempts from sometimes dubious sources from companies who make an attempt to give historical information but who do so without real depth and can end up passing along misinformation in the process.

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