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Cranko "Romeo & Juliet" in HD, Stuttgart 2018

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Posted (edited)

There are a few people who say that MacMillan blatantly copied scenes from the Cranko version of the ballet but I think that the truth is that once Western choreographers had seen the original Lavrovsky version of the ballet, they tended to stick to a similar sequence of scenes, not that there is really that much leeway for anyone in the English speaking world to depart from the narrative or the characters found in Shakespeare's play. Most of the time the score itself dictates what action should be set to it. The  music for the ballroom scene and the balcony scene could hardly be used for anything else but the choreographer still has choices to make. The real choices for the choreographer include whether to make the dancers' movements a poetic lyrical  expression of individual emotion in which case the scene has to be kept intimate and relatively small scale or whether to make the whole thing epic and large scale. The other decisions to be made include whether, and to what extent to use a realistic approach to the story telling.                                    

Ashton is the only choreographer who I can think of who was not influenced by seeing the Lavrovsky version of the ballet. He made his original version of the ballet for the Royal Danish Ballet in the early fifties before the Soviet version had become well known in the West, However when Ashton came to restage his Romeo and Juliet for English National Ballet in the 1980's  he chose to incorporate the iconic image from the Lavrovsky  version of Juliet's headlong rush to Friar Lawrence's cell her scarf flying behind her, but then he was not averse to alluding to iconic visual images from great performers of the past.

Of course everyone making a ballet based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet using Prokofiev's score and choreographic material derived from the classical danse d'ecole  has the same range of codified steps and body movement available to them. But each choreographer makes their own decisions as to which elements, if any, derived from ordinary, everyday body language he wishes to use and because every choreographer has an individual way of using the classical vocabulary and a personal response to the score to which their choreography is set the musicality and the dynamics of their choreography, even if they were to use the same steps would look very different and create different emotional responses in the audience.

Ashton's approach to the narrative is less concerned with large scale representations of the society in which Romeo and Juliet live and far more concerned with the characters caught up in the tragedy as individuals. If Ashton's approach to the tragedy is poetic and lyrical then MacMillan's is large scale and attempts to be cinematically realistic. Cranko's version lies somewhere between the two, more lyrical than MacMillan but less poetic than Ashton and not alluding to the text of the play in his choreography. Both Ashton and MacMillan include a number of direct references in the text in their choreography, Ashton shows the audience Tybalt as " prince of cats"' MacMillan shows the audience Romeo and Juliet's "holy palmer's kiss" and before the final act was altered gave the audience sight of the crypt as described by Juliet in the play.

Now of course every one making a ballet using choreography derived from the classical danse d'ecole has the same steps available to them but because of the personal way they use those choreographic elements and the input of the dancers on whom their works were created there is no way in which you could confuse the versions created by Ashton, Cranko and MacMillan with each other, or, I think take seriously the accusation that MacMillan had blatantly copied Cranko's ballet.  If the borrowings were as blatant as sometimes suggested then it is surprising that Cranko took no action against MacMillan in the courts. The really strange thing is that I don't recall that sort of allegation being raised during the 1970's when Cranko was alive and the Stuttgart Ballet were regular visitors to London and audiences were able to examine and compare the MacMillan and Cranko versions in some depth.

Having said that I would not be averse to putting the MacMillan version into storage for a decade or so and having the opportunity to see the Ashton version staged in full by a company who could afford to do so and danced by casts who took it seriously and could do it justice.

 

Edited by Ashton Fan

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Posted (edited)

The story I have heard repeated and I wonder if it can be sourced: Cranko went to see the MacMillan with a friend, who said afterward: gee, I would love to see yours, too, some day. Cranko: you just did. Urban legend? Any basis for this report?

Here's some documentation: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2008/mar/30/dance

To see Romeo and Juliet, in particular, is to be reminded of the scale of Kenneth MacMillan's debt to Cranko, who was his mentor. MacMillan's 1965 version for the Royal Ballet, the piece that, more than any other, saw his ascent to the choreographic top table, borrows so liberally and unambiguously from Cranko's version that at times the eyes widen in disbelief. At the moment in Act 1 when Juliet discovers she's got breasts, a whisper of recognition ran through the audience on Wednesday's opening night. Gesture for gesture, note for note, the scene is almost identical in both versions. Everybody steals - Cranko's version owes much to Leonid Lavrovsky's 1940 production for the Kirov - but this is more fervent homage than most choreographers permit themselves.

Edited by California
some documentation

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59 minutes ago, California said:

Cranko's version owes much to Leonid Lavrovsky's 1940 production for the Kirov

There is only one original, the motherlode - Lavrovsky's R&J. A spiritual experience, an exceptional amalgam of story, composition and choreography. Regrettably, my Juliet, Diana Vishnyova, has hung up her pointes.

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On 8/16/2018 at 8:52 PM, California said:

The story I have heard repeated and I wonder if it can be sourced: Cranko went to see the MacMillan with a friend, who said afterward: gee, I would love to see yours, too, some day. Cranko: you just did. Urban legend? Any basis for this report?

Jann Parry's MacMillan biography "Different Drummer", p. 284

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On 8/16/2018 at 7:32 PM, Ashton Fan said:

If the borrowings were as blatant as sometimes suggested then it is surprising that Cranko took no action against MacMillan in the courts.

They were friends! Cranko repeatedly invited MacMillan to Stuttgart to create new works. Yes, he was angry, but I think Cranko was a rather generous person who'd leave it to posterity to judge instead of going to court.

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