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The Stories Behind Six Ballets:

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Alexandra and anyone else who might be able to help:

There are two ballets for which I am particularly interested in knowing how the original differed from what we generally see now. First what were all of the dances originally in the second act of "The Nutcracker." Generally there is Spanish Chocolate, Chinese Tea, Russian Trepak, Arabian Coffee and sometimes Mother Ginger, as well as the Waltz of the Flowers and the other well known dances which come after that. However, I recently saw a Rochester (NY) City Ballet production which included English Toffee, French Mints and Italian Ice. I seem to remember that Italian Ice was danced to music from "The Sleeping Beauty." Also is Mother Ginger considered to be French?

Next, I've noticed there are different endings to "Swan Lake," basically one being tragic and the other happy although not for Rothbart. While I like the happy ending better I feel that the tragic one is more "authentic." Does anyone know what the original ending was? My guess is the tragic ending.


Roland John Wiley's Tchaikovsky's Ballets is a very good source on these works as they were originally performed. Cyril Beaumont The Ballet Called Swan Lake is an older classic also worth a look.

(If you use the Amazon search box at the bottom of this website's page a small percentage comes back to the site.)

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Well tomorrow, June 20, in North America is the Summer Solstice, which some consider being Midsummer Day and Night, although others consider it to be on June 24. The Summer Solstice is the day which has the longest daylight. It makes sense that people, in the past before electric lights and even candles, would celebrate this day as then when It got dark it really got dark. What is even more special and magical about this Midsummer Night is that it also has a full moon, so our friends Titania, Robin Goodfellow, Oberon, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote, Mustardseed and the other fairies will have good light to frolic in. Maybe there will be a quartet of lovers who will find themselves all mixed up and a group of amateur actors rehearsing a play. In Europe and some other parts of the world this Summer Solstice comes a day later on June 21 and those who live below the equator will have to wait six more months.


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Roland John Wiley's Tchaikovsky's Ballets is a very good source on these works as they were originally performed. Cyril Beaumont The Ballet Called Swan Lake is an older classic also worth a look.

(If you use the Amazon search box at the bottom of this website's page a small percentage comes back to the site.)

Beaumont's work is valuable, and sometimes difficult to find. I would also recommend Ivor Guest.

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Beaumont's "The Ballet Called Swan Lake" was republished in paperback by Dance Books in 2012 so it should not be too difficult to find a copy.

The happy ending to the ballet is an alteration dating back to Soviet times. It is one of a number of "improvements" made to the ballet after the Revolution in order to convert a work created for a knowledgeable, elite,cultured audience into one that would appeal to a more proletarian one. At the same period and for the same reason the mime passages disappeared from the Petipa ballets performed in Russia. While in order to hold the audience's interest, as they might get bored by all the processing about that occurs in Act 1 Swan Lake a new character, the Jester, was added to the cast of characters in an attempt to hold the audience's attention.

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Thank you Sandik for your information and for the recommendation of Ivor Guest.

Ashton Fan, thank you for your information on Soviet ballet not only in regard to the ending of Swan Lake, but also in regard to the mime passages and the Jester. One of the thing I notice in the first act of that ballet is how Prince Siegfried expresses his melancholy, which shows to me that he is desirous of something that is missing from his life, but does not know what it is or how he can realize this desire. This to me is the essence of the 19th century Romanic Idea.


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Prince Siegfried expresses his melancholy, which shows to me that he is desirous of something that is missing from his life, but does not know what it is or how he can realize this desire. This to me is the essence of the 19th century Romanic Idea.


This is indeed one of the core ideas of Romanticism, as it's expressed in 19th c ballet, starting with Taglioni's La Sylphide (and honestly, probably even earlier).

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Sandik, thank you for your contribution, your point is important and I agree with you.

To All, while I feel I know more about ballet (I was self taught) than the average person I do not know anywhere near as much as the contributors to this forum. I do feel that I have somewhat of an understanding of the concepts dealing with the arts in general and the following contrast between Romanticism and Neo Classicalism is based on that general knowledge and is meant to be in regard to all the arts. As with all else I write I recognize that I could be mistaken and would appreciate any corrections.


Motivation is based on emotions

Nature ultimately is more powerful than human kind

Emotions are expressed

When there is tragedy it is due to the failure of humans

No underlying rules instead chaos

History and mythology of the existing European nations, Fairies, Wiles

The Exotic particularly North Africa, the Middle East and India

Non ballet examples: Beethoven's Sixth Symphony "The Pastoral" premiered December 22, 1808 and Theodore Gericault's "Raft of the Medusa" (1819)

Neo Classicalism:

Motivation is based on duty

Human kind is ultimately more powerful than Nature


When there is tragedy it is due to fate

Simple underlying rules such as in geometry and mathematics

History and mythology of the Classical Cultures, Roman and Greek


Beethoven' Fifth Symphony premiered December 22, 1808 and David's "Oath of the Horatii" (1785)

I don't mean to say that every work of art can be clearly put in each category. There are other categories and some works are a blend of both.


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The nutshell concept I often use is that as an artform, dance has swung back and forth through time between an aesthetic that values direct expression, where an individual story or experience can evoke other, larger emotions in the audience, and an aesthetic that values a more formal and abstract approach, that can serve as a universal metaphor for the emotional world.

From the Dans d'Ecole to the Ballet d'Action and the Romantics, to the Classical works of Petipa and his cohort, to Fokine's more Stanislavskian approach, and then to Balanchine's neo-classical work, we seem to vacillate between these two points of view.

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Sandik, as I indicated before I do have the knowledgeable of the details of ballet and its development as others on this forum, in particular you, have. Therefore I have found your comments instructive, although I am still not that familiar with all of the terms. It appears to me that "Dans d'Ecole" means "in the school" so that seems to refer to academic styles of dancing. I know that Ballet d'Action refers to ballet primarily designed to tell a story. When I first read your post I wasn't sure how Ballet d'Action differed from the Classical works, but in thinking about it, it seems that in the ballets of the second half of the 19th century, while having stories also have a number of dances that do little to advance the story. I am not too sure as to how the Stanislavskian method is applied to ballet, but I feel that Balanchine's ballets, perhaps with the exception of his A Midsummer Night's Dream, tend to be more abstract and not as much about a story as ballets from the period before him. As I do not have the knowledge of dance that you have I would appreciate you letting me know where I misunderstood you.


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I would suggest you look through a dance history text -- I often used Susan Au's "Ballet and Modern Dance" in my history classes. It's a good overview of the development of the artform (and not as centered on American dance as some others are).

The Dans d'Ecole refers to the early iteration of the French school, after Louis XIV charged Beauchamps, his personal ballet master, to codify the work and create an actual professional class of dancers.

Jean-Georges Noverre was probably the most important advocate of the Ballet d'Action, with its emphasis on expression. It was a response to (and a rejection of) the more formalist aspects of the earlier school style.

Classical works generally create their expressive qualities through the manipulation of more abstract structures. They often separate the narrative/expressive aspects of the work in much the same way that opera is separated into aria and recitative.

George Balanchine is considered the premiere neo-classical choreographer -- he did not work in the same vein as Fokine, who was much more concerned with a kind of heightened naturalism (and was an admirer of Stanislavsky)

Two quotations that seemed to help students who were having trouble with this:

On 18th Century Neo-classicism:

"The creation or restoration of a static and harmonious society, founded on unaltering principles, a dream of classic perfection, or at least the closest approximation to it feasible on earth."

Sir Isiah Berlin

On romanticism:

Romanticism is "seeing who you are, and wishing you were something entirely different."

George Balanchine

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      The last act of The Sleeping Beauty ballet shows the marriage of Aurora and Prince Desire.  Present at the wedding are a number of guests including Little Red Riding Hood and the Grey Wolf, Puss in Boots and the White Cat, the Bluebird and Princess Florine, as well as Cinderella and Prince Charming.  It is fitting that Little Red Riding Hood, the Grey Wolf, Puss in Boots and Cinderella would be guests as their stories, along with the story of The Sleeping Beauty, could be found in the 1697 Charles Perrault book “Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l'Oye” (Stories or Tales from Times Past, with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose). 

      However, the stories of The Bluebird and Princess Florine and the one of The White Cat were not in Perrault’s book, but in a book of Fairytales by Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville Comtesse d’Aulnoy, born c. 1650.  The Baroness d’Aulnoy wrote at least two books about fairytales the first called “Contes de Fees” c. 1697 and the second called “Contes nouveaux ou les fées a la mode” c. 1698.  She is credited with originating the name “Fairy Tales” (Contes de Fees).

      Thus while Puss in Boots and The White Cat dance together they are not from the same story or even in the same book.  However, there is a similarity in their tales as both felines help the youngest of three brothers.  The story “The Blue Bird” is somewhat long and complex.  Princess Florine (named after Flora) and King Charming fall in love with each other after which the King is turned into a bluebird.  Following a number of trials including a long trip that Princess Florine goes on the lovers are married.

      It maybe that Charles Perrault published stories that already existed in some form.  For example a version of The Sleeping Beauty story was published in 1634, while it appears that the Baroness d’Aulnoy wrote her own stories.

      It is my understanding that in some, perhaps earlier, versions of the ballet Cinderella and Prince Charming dance their own pas de deux.


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