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CharlieH

Peter Martins’ Ballets - Which Will Stand the Test of Time?

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I’m opening a thread to continue a discussion about the possible future programming of Martins’ many ballets, created created before and after he took over NYCB’s direction upon the death of Balanchine in 1983. That’s a long time and a lot of ballets!

My vote for “best ballets” that should remain in the rotating -active rep, because of their musicality & excitement factor:

Fearful Symmetries

Hallelujah Junction

Barber Violin Concerto

 

In the Petipa vein, I like his Sleeping Beauty and The Magic Flute.

On the opposite side of the spectrum...what should be retired forever? Hmmm...Ocean’s Kingdom? Red Violin? R+J? How about that Ray Charles gem that was telecast around 1990?

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I was at the premiere of Fool for You, and left before it was over -- not even Ray Charles could salvage it for me -- to catch the train home rather than wait 50 minutes in Penn Station.  Other televised Martins works are the Beethoven' pas with Nichols and Luders, Valse Triste with McBride and Andersen, Sophisticated Lady with Farrell and Martins, and the central movement/pas from Ecstatic Orange with Watts and Soto.  (It was on the same program as Barber Violin Concerto.)

Looking at early Martins:

At one point, Calcium Light Night was included in Ivesiana, but I haven't paid attention to its history for a while.  I did like that pas de deux work, whose name I've forgotten.

I don't think A Schubertiade was done much after a typical premiere cycle, but Songs of the Auvergne had a longer history.  The Magic Flute was performed at SAB and then made it to NYCB, and it was charming.

PNB soloist Ezra Thomson has choreographed a work to the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos, and it will premiere this Spring in Seattle.  I'm wondering how much the music will jog my memory of Martins' version for Watts, Soto, and Andersen.

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2 hours ago, CharlieH said:

I’m opening a thread to continue a discussion about the possible future programming of Martins’ many ballets, created created before and after he took over NYCB’s direction upon the death of Balanchine in 1983. That’s a long time and a lot of ballets!

My vote for “best ballets” that should remain in the rotating -active rep, because of their musicality & excitement factor:

Fearful Symmetries

Hallelujah Junction

Barber Violin Concerto

 

In the Petipa vein, I like his Sleeping Beauty and The Magic Flute.

On the opposite side of the spectrum...what should be retired forever? Hmmm...Ocean’s Kingdom? Red Violin? R+J? How about that Ray Charles gem that was telecast around 1990?

I agree about Fearful Symmetries and Hallelujah Junction, though I saw such a great performance of the latter I may have been snowed. I remember thinking that Adams Violin Concerto was also one of his stronger works and I wonder if Calcium Light Night wouldn't hold up too. (I am also a firm believer that many Martins' ballets would look rather better in the context of companies other than New York City Ballet. That may be damning with faint praise, but still there is a lot of mediocre rep out there to which I would prefer several Martins' works...even among those that are not his very best.)

 

Edited by Drew

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Drew, Calcium Light Night was surely one of Martins’ earliest hits, if not the first. His La Sylphide is fine since he kept 90% of the Bournonville.

E Johnson, I have to agree about Reliquary! I’d also “ban” Friandises (where each dancer was seemingly asked to excecute his/her best move at the end!), Ash, Ecstatic Orange, Them Twos, Thou Swell, Jazz...ok, maybe save that one for the Wynton Marsalis score.

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Thanks for the great topic. I too think Sleeping Beauty is here to stay, and I have no problem with that except for adjusting the tempi here and there. I believe they will eventually redo Swan Lake (maybe not for a while). I too am fond of The Magic Flute. It is uncharacteristic Martins in some ways. Mr. B was still alive and may have  been offering guidance. In any even I find it delightful. I'd dump Romeo & Juliet.

Fearful Symmertries & Hallelujah Junction are enjoyable works IMO.  Barber Violin Concerto is what I can a "one time" piece. It's charming and lovely the first time, but after that it seems less and less interesting. I remember enjoying Calcium LIght Night years ago and enjoying it, but I haven't seen it in many years.

One problem is that the company has truly glorious works in the rep that are not seen enough. Other than Sleeping Beauty & Swan Lake, which are full length ballets that sell tickets is it worth keeping Martins in the rep.

Final note - I know it's been stated before but to his credit, Peter Martins did not fill the rep with his choreography the way he could have as Director.

 

 

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I'd keep Barber Violin Concerto for the same reason I'd have kept In Memory of:  to hear those violin concertos :)

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5 hours ago, Helene said:

At one point, Calcium Light Night was included in Ivesiana, but I haven't paid attention to its history for a while.  

How was that done?? I like Calcium Light Night, but I think I'm glad I didn't see that combo. Or did you mean done right before or after Ivesiana? Was this while Balanchine was still alive?

I've liked a few other Martins things well enough. From what I've seen of regional companies, I'm guessing Drew makes a good point that a lot of his stuff shows up a lot of contemporary work.

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the "Revisions" heading of the entry from the Balanchine Catalog on line notes the following:

Revisions: New York City Ballet: 1955, HALLOWE'EN replaced by ARGUMENTS (second movement of String Quartet No. 2, 1907); later that year ARGUMENTS replaced by BARN DANCE (from Washington's Birthday, 1909); 1961, OVER THE PAVEMENTS and BARN DANCE eliminated, IN THE INN rechoreographed, ballet presented in the order CENTRAL PARK IN THE DARK, THE UNANSWERED QUESTION, IN THE INN, IN THE NIGHT; 1978, Peter Martins's Calcium Light Night (also to Ives) included in several performances presented in the order CENTRAL PARK IN THE DARK, IN THE INN, THE UNANSWERED QUESTION, CALCIUM LIGHT NIGHT, IN THE NIGHT.

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Thank you, rg!

If it was 1978, I didn't see it live, and until I saw this entry, I would have sworn I was had been there.

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Thanks, rg. "You learn something every day."

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I think his very straighforward adaptation of La Sylphide will stay. 

Barber Violin Concerto.

His Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake because they are full-lengths that sell lots of tickets.

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17 hours ago, Drew said:

I  remember thinking that Adams Violin Concerto was also one of his stronger works,,,

 

I never saw that one but remember having read mostly-positive reviews about it at the time.

The Waltz Project might be added to the “keepers” list. I saw it ages ago soon after the premiere, which garnered nice reviews.

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1 hour ago, canbelto said:

I think his very straighforward adaptation of La Sylphide will stay. 

 

.....and that's the only thing that should stay....:cool:

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2 hours ago, Helene said:

That's it:. The Waltz Project!  Thank you, @CharlieH!

You’re welcome. 

Besides Martins’ take on the 19th-c classics, we’re up to about five or six ballets worthy of retaining at NYCB: Barber Violin, Hallelujah, Fearful, Adams Violin, Waltz + maybe Calcium Light. Slim pickings for a 40 year output. Martins may end up being the Lifar of NYCB.

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33 minutes ago, CharlieH said:

Martins may end up being the Lifar of NYCB.

Oh, my goodness -- this is so pointy!   In so many ways!

(I agree that his Sylphide was a lovely production, and The Waltz Project was very much of its moment)

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We are so spoiled by the ridiculously high batting average of Balanchine, Robbins, and, more recently, Ratmansky and Peck (and some would include Wheeldon) in our NY-centric world that the purposes of a house choreographer gets lost in the dust.   Those include putting new -- and usually cost-effective and efficiently created -- works into the pipeline, creating roles that show and/or grow the dancers, creating pieces d'occasions, and providing décor and costumes for new choreography by emerging choreographers. (At least out here in Seattle, they raid the costume shop often, and sometimes companies can rent or sell productions, even if they no longer perform the works.)  If the ballets stick, they stick, but they may have served very important purposes along the way.

Another key purpose is to fill in the gaps around outside new choreography and in the rep and to fill the coffers.  Martins has done that with full-lengths, as has Ib Andersen for Ballet Arizona -- some wonderful work that is rarely seen outside of Phoenix -- Helgi Tomasson for SFB, and Kent Stowell did for PNB.  Victoria Morgan's productions are also performed in Cincinnati, where she is AD.

Andersen and Tomasson are still the Deciders in their company, so they revive and drop as they see fit, based on their company's needs, while Peter Boal has replaced some wonderful Stowell productions of Nutcracker -- a fork in the road decision, given the age of the décor -- Cinderella, and Romeo and Juliet with Balanchine or Maillot versions, and the only Stowell works that remain in rep are Swan Lake and Carmina Burana.  (I don't know if there are any plans to revive Firebird, which has dazzling decor.)  Of the shorter works, Stowell's "Hail to the Conquering Hero" was performed in Boal's first or second season, but not since then, and not that many of Stowell's one acts works were repeated often during Russell and Stowell's last decade (at least), as they had served their purpose.  (At least one went on the 1996 tour to City Center, maybe the boxing ring one.)  A bunch of Kudelka's work has been phased out of National Ballet of Canada's rep.  Webre's work has been replaced in DC.

Those are pretty common patterns across the world.

 

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39 minutes ago, Helene said:

We are so spoiled by the ridiculously high batting average of Balanchine, Robbins, and, more recently, Ratmansky and Peck (and some would include Wheeldon) in our NY-centric world that the purposes of a house choreographer gets lost in the dust.   Those include putting new -- and usually cost-effective and efficiently created -- works into the pipeline, creating roles that show and/or grow the dancers, creating pieces d'occasions, and providing décor and costumes for new choreography by emerging choreographers. (

Another key purpose is to fill in the gaps around outside new choreography and in the rep and to fill the coffers.  Martins has done that with full-lengths, as has Ib Andersen for Ballet Arizona -- some wonderful work that is rarely seen outside of Phoenix -- Helgi Tomasson for SFB, and Kent Stowell did for PNB.  Victoria Morgan's productions are also performed in Cincinnati, where she is AD.

 

I'm not sure about the overall batting average of Balanchine and Robbins.  They created a myriad of works which are either no longer performed either because the choreography is lost or because the work was not good enough to survive.  Only the truly great works continue to be performed worldwide.  Perhaps someone with more knowledge of the entire body of their work can comment further.

I'm not sure about the cost effectiveness of new works. Martins had a lot expensive flops. Most notably, there was one season when he hired Calatravo to create the designs for a few new ballets, the majority of which flopped.  Let's also not forget the Paul McCartney commission for Ocean's Kingdom, which will also probably never be seen again (thank goodness). But I think Martins at least made back all the money for the McCartney work because of the amount raised at the gala, where rich people were clamoring for tables in order to meet Sir Paul.  

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Is there anywhere I can see a list of all the Martins ballets? my google-fu isn't getting me anything, and my recollections of some of his works are pretty dim (as in i once thought Morgen and Stabat Mater were the same ballet. oops).

 

as for keepers: I  remember liking les gentilhommes and thinking it had a place in the rep.

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9 minutes ago, E Johnson said:

Is there anywhere I can see a list of all the Martins ballets? my google-fu isn't getting me anything, and my recollections of some of his works are pretty dim (as in i once thought Morgen and Stabat Mater were the same ballet. oops).

 

as for keepers: I  remember liking les gentilhommes and thinking it had a place in the rep.

If you go to nycballet.com and do a search for "Martins" in the upper right corner, it brings up what seems to be a pretty thorough list of his ballets (the first entry is his bio). See the link below.

And, I loved his Gentilhommes work. Saw it many years ago and thought it was a great opportunity for the men to shine.

https://www.nycballet.com/search/default.aspx?cx=014089268659530043236%3Arjoqv_mymzy&cof=FORID%3A11%3BNB%3A1&ie=UTF-8&q=Martins

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27 minutes ago, abatt said:

I'm not sure about the overall batting average of Balanchine and Robbins.  They created a myriad of works which are either no longer performed either because the choreography is lost or because the work was not good enough to survive.  Only the truly great works continue to be performed worldwide.  Perhaps someone with more knowledge of the entire body of their work can comment further.

Somewhere on this site, I posted the results of looking through the Balanchine Catalogue and dissecting the data.  There are many works listed in the Catalog that weren't meant to be re-used, like the divertissements for various opera companies -- his main job with Diaghilev -- incidental dances for theater, mostly Shakespeare, commercial projects, like General Motors, and philanthropy, like the March of Dimes work.  None of these should be included in his batting average, in my opinion. Once those are eliminated, there are some works, like the much-lamented Cotillon, where the choreography was lost, and others where no one could remember the choreography, and Balanchine started again, like for various versions of Mozartiana, Danses Concertantes, various Raymonda ballets, and Caracole->Divertimento No. 15/Palais de Cristal->Symphony in C.

It would be easier to list the Balanchine works that were not good enough to survive.

Robbins is another story, with more limited output, and there are smaller works that aren't part of the general rep.  But given the % of his works that remain in the rep, many of which are considered masterworks or close -- Dances at a Gathering, The Cage, West Side Story Suite, Afternoon of a Faun, Circus Polka, Antique Epigraphs, Other Dances, Fancy Free, In G Major, In the Night, Opus 19/The Dreamer, The Concert, The Four Seasons, Mother Goose, Moves, Goldberg Variations? -- that 16 of 67 ballets listed on the Robbins Foundation site, which is hardly shabby, and there may be other works, like Brandenberg, which I've never seen, that I've heard great things about.  I seem to remember  a few other short works, as being in NYCB's rep.

Whether Martins' works were cost-effective were another story.  Part of that depends on total production cost:  if you don't have to pay Twyla Tharp $$$, you can spend more money on décor or music rights.  Part of that depends on whether donors were sponsoring new ballets, but weren't going to give that money to NYCB if they couldn't.  (Not everyone will give money for cleaning the carpets and buying toilet paper and the copy machine contract, and that also applies to Festival money, from rich donors and foundations.)  Part of that depends on the impact of his ballets being broadcast on PBS.   And a lot depends on what the dancers got out of his works, which is one of the main purposes of original choreography.

 

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6 hours ago, CharlieH said:

Martins may end up being the Lifar of NYCB.

And not even that as Serge Lifar's Suite en blanc is still regularly programmed in the European companies run by former and current Paris Opera Ballet etoiles. This season has already seen productions in Bordeaux, Moscow and Rome and next season will feature a production in Stockholm. Martins does not have a comparable work in his canon being programmed regularly anywhere.

"Time's erasing finger" will be cruel to the Martins repertory. It will be squeezed out at the New York City Ballet by the commitment to the Balanchine and Robbins repertories (which, after all, are the reasons for the NYCB's continued existence) on the one hand and the company's unquenchable thirst for new works and novelties on the other. Martins' repertory may live a half-life at the company for a time depending on who inherits the artistic director position. But there's not much demand for his work in the US the way there is for Forsythe, Millepied, Ratmansky, Tharp and Wheeldon. And there's even less demand for his repertory outside the US.

 

Edited by miliosr

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7 hours ago, Helene said:

And a lot depends on what the dancers got out of his works, which is one of the main purposes of original choreography.

Bingo

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9 hours ago, sandik said:

Oh, my goodness -- this is so pointy!   In so many ways!

(I agree that his Sylphide was a lovely production, and The Waltz Project was very much of its moment)

I mean this more as a sad reflection. Lifar & Martins both led major ballet troupes for many years, both suffered from “a whif of scandal” during their terms (for very different reasons/allegations), and were both highly prolific choreographers, yet a very small percentage of their respective outputs is -in Lifar’s case - still in the rep or - in Martins’ case - in danger of the same fate. 

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