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Balanchine's Don Quixote: Worth a Revival?

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On 10/12/2018 at 9:52 AM, dirac said:

and I understand she was invited back to stage Don Quixote and refused, doubtless for perfectly good reasons. 

Farrell owns the rights to Don Q, or did (I don't entirely understand how the Balanchine Foundation works - it's possible she's since signed over 'her' rights to them? Same thing with Meditation). But at that point in time (when NYCB was considering doing Don Q again, back in the 90s or early 2000s, non?), she wasn't "invited" back to stage it - they asked if they could perform it (and she apparently said 'no'), because no one other than her had the rights TO perform it without going through her. I'm pretty sure this was pretty explicitly taken up in a New Yorker article, though I don't have the time to lay hands on where this was spelled out in detail. 

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4 hours ago, l'histoire said:

Farrell owns the rights to Don Q, or did (I don't entirely understand how the Balanchine Foundation works - it's possible she's since signed over 'her' rights to them? Same thing with Meditation). But at that point in time (when NYCB was considering doing Don Q again, back in the 90s or early 2000s, non?), she wasn't "invited" back to stage it - they asked if they could perform it (and she apparently said 'no'), because no one other than her had the rights TO perform it without going through her. I'm pretty sure this was pretty explicitly taken up in a New Yorker article, though I don't have the time to lay hands on where this was spelled out in detail. 

I'm quite sure you're correct.  When I read that Farrell was invited back to stage DQ and refused, I thought that couldn't be right.  Somehow this ballet without the original cast doesn't seem "viable".  Not that I ever saw it in the theater. Clifford has clips of it on youtube however.

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17 hours ago, Marta said:

I'm quite sure you're correct.  When I read that Farrell was invited back to stage DQ and refused, I thought that couldn't be right.  Somehow this ballet without the original cast doesn't seem "viable".  Not that I ever saw it in the theater. Clifford has clips of it on youtube however.

I didn't see Farrell's revival with her company, but I do remember reading a New Yorker (I think??) article about it. I wish I could find it now, I've been searching for it the past few hours & it's not popping up, so I gave up. Regardless, there was a lovely article after she revived it for SFB that described how *she* danced it, and how the people she coached danced it. There was a wonderfully poetic comparison between Farrell & her dancers. The description of Farrell in the role of Dulcinea was haunting. 

I'm not surprised she didn't "give" it to NYCB, which I think was the initial "Oh but we invited her to ..." invitation. The way she & others talk about it in the 'Elusive Muse' documentary, and watching her on screen, yeah - it's special for her. I don't blame her for going "No, you can't have it" to an organization that, based on New Yorker et al. publications, had actively turned her out (for whatever justified, or not, reason). 

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22 hours ago, l'histoire said:

I didn't see Farrell's revival with her company, but I do remember reading a New Yorker (I think??) article about it. I wish I could find it now, I've been searching for it the past few hours & it's not popping up, so I gave up. Regardless, there was a lovely article after she revived it for SFB that described how *she* danced it, and how the people she coached danced it. There was a wonderfully poetic comparison between Farrell & her dancers. The description of Farrell in the role of Dulcinea was haunting. 

I'm not surprised she didn't "give" it to NYCB, which I think was the initial "Oh but we invited her to ..." invitation. The way she & others talk about it in the 'Elusive Muse' documentary, and watching her on screen, yeah - it's special for her. I don't blame her for going "No, you can't have it" to an organization that, based on New Yorker et al. publications, had actively turned her out (for whatever justified, or not, reason). 

I don't blame her, either, but the opportunity was lost, perhaps permanently, to have "Don Quixote," with all the difficulties it presents, restaged with the resources of one of the world's great companies behind it -- and Balanchine's own company.

The 1965 footage of Farrell's third act solo is astonishing.

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I didn't  know much about ballet or Balanchine when it premiered,  but I recall that the reception for his Don Quixote was lukewarm,  not considered a great success.  Possibly that's why it wasn't  re-staged in later years.  Besides seeing NYCB's Nutcracker as a child,  I remember seeing Noah and the Flood on television,  which was definitely a flop.  Even Balanchine had his misses from time to time.

Edited by On Pointe
Clarity

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One of the reasons posited for the cold reception to Balanchine's Don Quixote was that it was to a score by Nabokov, which was, apparently, hit or miss and modern, and not the Minkus with the happy story that most people expect when they hear Don Q.

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2 hours ago, dirac said:

I don't blame her, either, but the opportunity was lost, perhaps permanently, to have "Don Quixote," with all the difficulties it presents, restaged with the resources of one of the world's great companies behind it -- and Balanchine's own company.

The 1965 footage of Farrell's third act solo is astonishing.

Not the same thing as New York City Ballet, but at least it was staged with the National Ballet of Canada....

The footage you mention is astonishing.

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3 hours ago, Drew said:

Not the same thing as New York City Ballet, but at least it was staged with the National Ballet of Canada....

Obviously it didn't stick on that occasion either. No doubt the company thought the attempt was worth making, not least because it would attract the interest of major dance writers, and ADs always seem to be looking for narrative ballets. But since the piece fell out of the repertoire once again, this probably has little to do with the fact that the National Ballet of Canada is not New York City Ballet. A bigger problem would be that no one could possibly replicate Farrell's performance. Ultimately the ballet itself and the music are probably to blame.

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I must say after watching those Farrell clips that I can't imagine anyone else doing this ballet. It should be noted that when Farrell returned to NYCB Balanchine tried reviving Don Q but ultimately dropped it from the repertoire. For one his relationship with Farrell had evolved and the ballet just didn't sell well no matter how many tinkerings he made.

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1 hour ago, canbelto said:

I must say after watching those Farrell clips that I can't imagine anyone else doing this ballet. It should be noted that when Farrell returned to NYCB Balanchine tried reviving Don Q but ultimately dropped it from the repertoire. For one his relationship with Farrell had evolved and the ballet just didn't sell well no matter how many tinkerings he made.

That is exactly how I feel. Farrell created that role, and without her it's another ballet. 

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It's not just that she created that role. It's that the whole ballet was such a time capsule of Balanchine and Farrell's relationship in 1965 and the ballet such a personal love letter to Farrell that I think it loses its impact without her. Actually it lost its impact when she returned to the company as by then their relationship as I said was much different. He tried to revive it, made lots of tinkerings, and gave up. 

This is what Arlene Croce (a Balanchine loyalist if there ever was one) had to say about the 1975 revival: "There is very little besides Farrell to justify the maintenance in repertory of his full-evening work Don Quixote. Farrell has little to do until the final act, where she fully recaptures her old brilliance and adds to it a new gift of dramatization. Up to that point she has outgrown the role, and the ballet is stale and boring." 

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There's also a crazy set of variations by Marnee Morris -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueQe78uYntE

The music is definitely a problem, like watered down Stravinsky in parts (and Nabokov had the gall to write terrible reviews of Shostakovich's musc and treat him badly on his US tour). 

But the contemporary reviews, even Denby's, show problems with the structure which Balanchine kept fiddling with, righting one section at the expense of another. There was also the discomfort it gave the City Ballet audience to see Balanchine himself, or the Balanchine character, humiliated on stage. 

Croce ("Visions" March 6, 1978) calls it an indispensible Balanchine work, especially with Farrell, but a wildly uneven work. "Its lows (which includes most of Nicolas Nakokov's score) can be very low, but its highs stratospheric." She says it derives less from Cervantes than from Orpheus, Fairy's Kiss, and Sonnambula, its bleak tone Chaplinesque (perhaps like Limelight's). Maric B. Siegel also did a long probing peice on its "weird theatricality" and the differences between the younger and older risk-taking Farrell in it, and how that shifted the earlier too-close-for-comfort worshipping pupil to master relationship for her.

All in all it sounds exceedingly difficult to revive, except with a master theater director who could carefully rebalance the parts to whole, and a great cast. (Croce thought Luders was the best Don Quixote after Balanchine.) And who is there who could do the Farrell role today?

[Added: I posted this at the same time as canbelto so there's a bit of overlap in our responses.]

Edited by Quiggin

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As I recall Croce also said that Don Quixote was an important ballet to have seen as part of the Balanchine oeuvre. NYCB alone among companies would have the resources and the reasons to bring the ballet back once in awhile. Plainly, Farrell thought it was worth reviving.

There's also that delicious little Pas de Deux Mauresque, now also available on YouTube thanks to Clifford.

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Here's some clips of Suzanne in Don Q. Amazing is an understatement.

 

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I would add the "compared to what" meter. A flawed Balanchine work--even a very flawed one--with a problematic score that includes, nonetheless, some fabulous choreography (I'd never seen the Morris variation before!) and is of certain interest to anyone seriously interested in Balanchine...seems a more compelling artistic gamble for a ballet company, especially for New York City Ballet, than a lot of what gets produced--and just maybe worth reviving every now and then even if I agree with Quiggin that

13 hours ago, Quiggin said:

All in all it sounds exceedingly difficult to revive, except with a master theater director who could carefully rebalance the parts to whole, and a great cast. (Croce thought Luders was the best Don Quixote after Balanchine.) And who is there who could do the Farrell role today?

When I say "worth reviving" -- I don't have to make the practical calculations of a ballet company director. But ideally...yes, and I would love to see it. I was please the National Ballet of Canada produced it, though I wasn't able to see that production and hoped they would revive it so that I might get a chance. And New York City Ballet seems an obvious home for the ballet--perhaps under a new director Farrell would be interested? But again, I don't have to make the practical calculations involved.

(I like to see the Royal Ballet reviving Ashton's Ondine from time to time for similar reasons even though it has always gotten a mixed reception that even includes some of the same problems -- eg the score. And, in fact, the Royal has revived it from time to time. Not often.)

Edited by Drew

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2 hours ago, Drew said:

I would add the "compared to what" meter. A flawed Balanchine work--even a very flawed one--with a problematic score that includes, nonetheless, some fabulous choreography (I'd never seen the Morris variation before!) and is of certain interest to anyone seriously interested in Balanchine...seems a more compelling artistic gamble for a ballet company, especially for New York City Ballet, than a lot of what gets produced--and just maybe worth reviving every now and then ...

IIRC, one of the constant features of the reviews of Farrell's revival of Don Q was that "hey it's nice to see the genius not at his best, in an emotionally important moment" (someone upthread I believe described it as a "time capsule" - it does seem so, when looking for the transcendent). But, I think of Acocella's review of it from the New Yorker ("Backstory," 25 July 2005), where she is discussing the solo we are all raving over & how Farrell  ("She") differed from her ("they") dancers:

Quote

They made it psychological. (“Get up, Don Quixote! We’ve got to get out of here!”) She made it spiritual. (“Get up, Don Quixote! Life is hell. Heaven is waiting. Get up, so you can die at home.”) Farrell has said—and proved—that she doesn’t look for performers who dance the way she did. Nor, if she looked for them, would she find them. No one has ever equalled her in fearlessness, or in metaphoric power. But she has at least taught her charges the sort of thrillingly elliptical phrasing that Balanchine taught her. “I want pulsing, pulsing,” Balanchine told her as he coached her in the Act III solo. She clearly told her Dulcineas the same thing, and in this freighted role they pulsed like there was no tomorrow. It wasn’t Farrell, but it was a lot.

Anyways, as a cultural historian who has to spend a lot of time reading *really not good* cultural products (far worse than Balanchine's Don Q, I assure you), yes, there is much to be learned by things that don't quite work (or don't work at all). I've built my career on studying things that weren't terribly successful, actually, because they are often more revealing than the "hits." As I like to remind my students, "I don't care if you LIKE it, that's not why we're watching or reading it." But obviously, someone going to ballet for an evening of pleasure is not going to want to pay money to see something they aren't going to like for some educational reason. The big problem is, unlike the plays I deal with (which I can just read in script form - it loses something, but I can still take in something the original author wanted to convey), you can't just "read" a ballet without having it in front of you, with dancers. Even if you have notations: way different than dealing with a drama script. What IS the answer for ballet? I really don't know.

But ultimately, they CAN'T "revive" it without her permission, at least as far as I understand. 

Edited by l'histoire

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26 minutes ago, l'histoire said:

IIRC, one of the constant features of the reviews of Farrell's revival of Don Q was that "hey it's nice to see the genius not at his best, in an emotionally important moment" (someone upthread I believe described it as a "time capsule" - it does seem so, when looking for the transcendent). But, I think of Acocella's review of it from the New Yorker ("Backstory," 25 July 2005), where she is discussing the solo we are all raving over & how Farrell  ("She") differed from her ("they") dancers:

Anyways, as a cultural historian who has to spend a lot of time reading *really not good* cultural products (far worse than Balanchine's Don Q, I assure you), yes, there is much to be learned by things that don't quite work (or don't work at all). I've built my career on studying things that weren't terribly successful, actually, because they are often more revealing than the "hits." As I like to remind my students, "I don't care if you LIKE it, that's not why we're watching or reading it." But obviously, someone going to ballet for an evening of pleasure is not going to want to pay money to see something they aren't going to like for some educational reason. The big problem is, unlike the plays I deal with (which I can just read in script form - it loses something, but I can still take in something the original author wanted to convey), you can't just "read" a ballet without having it in front of you, with dancers. Even if you have notations: way different than dealing with a drama script. What IS the answer for ballet? I really don't know.

But ultimately, they CAN'T "revive" it without her permission, at least as far as I understand. 

The last point is the reason I was hoping a new director might be able to make it happen at NYCB.

You can't expect audiences to sit through productions as a scholarly duty, but is that all Balanchine's Don Quixote was with National Ballet of Canada or all that it would be at NYCB today? Responses at the time of the former revival, including on this site, gave me the impression that at last some audience members found it to be considerably more than that...(Perhaps I also have an overly idealized view of the potential interests of NYCB's home audience.)

Edited by Drew

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9 minutes ago, Drew said:

You can't expect audiences to sit through productions as a scholarly duty, but is that all Balanchine's Don Quixote was with National Ballet of Canada or all that it would be at NYCB today? Responses at the time of the former revival, including on this site, gave me the impression that at last some audience members found it to be considerably more than that...(Perhaps I also have an overly idealized view of the potential interests of NYCB's home audience.)

I've never read a review of the ballet as anything other than a curiosity (you know, the sort of thing academics might enjoy ...). I personally think Farrell revived it because (a) she's the only one that can and (b) it's a personally important ballet to her, which is fair enough to me. I'm glad she got to coach some people in the role of Dulcinea, just like I'm glad she got to coach some people in Meditations. Of course, all the reviews find beautiful parts in it, but does anyone speak of it as a viable, revivable production? I haven't seen one review that even gestures towards that as a possibility - maybe you have. If so, I would love to see them (really). I do believe "seeing" is an important part of understanding choreographers oeuvres, but this is the difficulty ballet faces. There's a very complicated triangulation that goes on deciding what to stage & when. 

I'm sure there are things NYCB's home audience would find interest in. But it's a big, elaborate, full-length ballet - we're not talking reviving "PAMGG." What will it replace on the schedule?

Edited by l'histoire

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Edited to add that this post and the one below are responses to L'Histoire asking if I had read/seen reviews that wrote about Balanchine's Don Quixote as something "other than a curiousity" or as a work that was genuinely worthy of revival:

Here is Alexandra Tomalonis--"a very rich complex work;" not an unequivocal rave certainly (though she goes so far as to write in favor of the score), but seems to me to be far from writing the ballet off as a mere curiosity:

http://danceviewtimes.typepad.com/where_were_you_sitting/2005/12/a-nearly-lost-m.html

John Rockwell also gave The National Ballet of Canada production quite a positive review in the NY TImes (and also speaks up for the music): "On Wednesday [the ballet] looked and sounded very good indeed, well worthy of a revival, even beyond the notion that anything Balanchine touched should be preserved." He also mentions the value of time's passage in enabling one to see past the Farrell/Balanchine dynamic:

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/24/arts/dance/balanchines-don-quixote-revived-by-his-dulcinea.html

Here is a link to discussions had by fans on this site (not professional critics unless they were incognito): 

 

Edited by Drew

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Let me add that Gottlieb in the Observer published a very mixed, often critical review of the Balanchine Don Quixote that still concluded in favor of reviving it from time to time:

"The lesson we just learned in Washington is that although we didn’t know we’ve been missing it since it vanished almost 30 years ago, Don Quixote does still matter, both for its own sake and because of its unique place in the Balanchine canon. When you’re dealing with a supreme master—a Shakespeare, a Mozart—you need to be able to revisit his entire corpus of work. You need King Lear all the time, but every decade or so you also need Timon of Athens. Otherwise your understanding of a genius like Shakespeare––or Balanchine––is diminished, and so are you."

https://observer.com/2005/07/farrells-revival-of-don-q-balanchines-gift-to-his-muse/

Edited by Drew

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Perhaps it would be possible and/or desirable to restage a suite of dances from Don Quixote,  rather than revive the entire ballet.  Farrell could curate.  If she is adamant that any revival is all or nothing,  most likely NYCB nor any other company will ever restage it because of the expense and deployment of resources,  unless some eccentric benefactor with money to burn pops up.

If her life and career had gone differently,  I think that Kathryn Morgan would have made an intriguing Dulcinea.

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I agree, @On Pointe.  At least have the suite coached and recorded for the Balanchine Foundation series, and there's got to be a Works & Process presentation in it, too. 

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If she is adamant that any revival is all or nothing,  most likely NYCB nor any other company will ever restage it because of the expense and deployment of resources,  unless some eccentric benefactor with money to burn pops up.

People who donate enormous sums to the arts pretty much have money to burn by definition. I do wonder why such a benefactor would be "eccentric"? I should think that one of the chief purposes of arts philanthropy is to support a project like reviving "Don Quixote," allowing people to see a flawed work that is nevertheless a significant one in the oeuvre of the art form's towering genius.

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1 hour ago, dirac said:

People who donate enormous sums to the arts pretty much have money to burn by definition. I do wonder why such a benefactor would be "eccentric"? I should think that one of the chief purposes of arts philanthropy is to support a project like reviving "Don Quixote," allowing people to see a flawed work that is nevertheless a significant one in the oeuvre of the art form's towering genius.

Even if a benefactor underwrote the production, there is the issue of ticket sales. I could see this being a big draw for balletomanes, at least in its first year, and less so for the casual ballet attendee. The company tends to only do full-lengths that sell quite well, unlike ABT, which seems more comfortable reviving full-lengths that are known to sell poorly but still have artistic value (e.g., Sylvia). 

I'd be in favor of a suite of dances, either for live performance or to be recorded, as On Pointe and Helene have suggested. 

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I'd argue if ABT invested in marketing like NYCB does, Sylvia would have sold better. I'm on the younger/newer to professional ballet side, and I hadn't heard of La Sylphide until NYCB restaged it and invested significant marketing into selling it. The house was packed. But perhaps that's an argument for another thread...

I think the problem with the NYCB Don Q is that the audience would expect the ABT Don Q, and would perhaps be disappointed when the score, among other things, is different (I haven't seen Peter Martins' Romeo & Juliet, but I've heard that complaint about it from friends).

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