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Balanchine's Don Quixote: Worth a Revival?

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22 minutes ago, Emma said:

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 

That was an issue with the original production, despite press coverage that explained that it wasn't and talked up the Nabokov score.  Even if that had registered, they expected light-hearted comedy and big tricks to a similar kind of music.  They certainly weren't expecting a religious ballet.

 

22 minutes ago, Emma said:

(I haven't seen Peter Martins' Romeo & Juliet, but I've heard that complaint about it from friends).

Martins used the Prokofiev score, but the production dropped an intermission, like his "Sleeping Beauty."

It's rare for choreographers of Romeo and Juliet to no use the Prokofiev*, but, at this point, the Macmillan version is generally what the expectation is in the bigger markets, unless there is a different local version that is what the audience expects, like Tomasson's version for SFB.

*A notable exception was Kent Stowell's lovely "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet," for which he and then Music Director Stewart Kershaw created a pastiche score from a number of works by Tchaikovsky.  PNB played up the Prokofiev score when they replaced it with the Maillot "Romeo et Juliette," which was a different kettle of fish choreographically.

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Yeah, I didn't mean that the score for R&J was different (although to be fair all I've seen from any R&J production is Kathryn Morgan's videos), but my friends were certainly not impressed and were expecting a much more moving and emotional production, more classic ABT than NYCB does a full-length story ballet.

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On 10/22/2018 at 4:32 AM, 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. 

Couldn't they do a revival that is similar in scope to the ENCORES revivals that City Center does? Fewer sets and costumes, limited rehearsal. If they don't want to use the theater they could stage it in a studio at SAB and just invite company members and interested intellectuals/ballet historians... but VIDEOTAPE IT FOR POSTERITY, like they do with the Balanchine Trust rehearsals. The YouTube videos of DQ are beautiful, but the Govrin solo is so dark, and her costume so dark that I can't see anything. Farrell was lucky to be wearing white.

As I understand it, the Choreographic Institute works on a similar level (limited rehearsal time, studio environment, NYCB dancers paid scale during non-working weeks).

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One issue I could see about reviving Don Q is all the variations they have for other dancers. Balanchine's Don Q may be a love letter to Suzanne, but he also gave gifts to many prominent dancers of the company. It was a time capsule of the company in 1965 in more ways than one. NYCB is a big company but this would involve massive amounts of rehearsal time, and might be more of a time commitment than Suzanne is willing to make. 

Edited by canbelto

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There are others who could teach their stuff: Patricia McBride, Suki Schorer, Pat Neary, Gloria Govrin, Mimi Paul, Frank Ohman, et.al. The bigger problem, as evidenced in the past when they did the Dream Scene on its own, is that is doesn't really make sense out of context. The Dream Scene is reflective of and responding to what happened to the Don in the previous acts - particularly the Act II humiliations. And the divertissements are performed before the Spanish Court.  Dazzling as it all is, the audience is left hanging... 

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9 hours 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.

I say eccentric because a new production would probably take weeks of work for the dancers,  taking time away from rehearsals of other works,  and cost millions of dollars for building the sets and costumes.  All for a ballet that wasn't  much liked when the creator was alive,  with a story and music that was despised by many.   Philanthropists like to back projects that will enhance their image.  Putting tons of money into projects that are likely to prove unpopular is not their usual MO.  Still,  producers manage to find backers  for production after production  of Merrily We Roll Along - a show that's never going to be a hit,  despite its  much-loved Sondheim score - so maybe if NYCB tries hard enough,  a backer can be found for reviving Balanchine's Don Quixote.

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Presumably the sets and costumes made for the National Ballet of Canada production still exist, so that work wouldn't necessarily have to be done from scratch, and the NBoC rents out its productions quite readily.

Presumably video recordings of that production were also made. Obviously, not all of the original interpreters participated in the rehearsal process, but the dancers were coached thoroughly by Farrell.

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If Danilova can restage (and improve upon) Petitpa's Coppelia, why can't Farrell restage (and improve upon) Don Q? Would that be a massive undertaking, yes. Is it likely to happen, no. But it would be nice :)

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6 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

Presumably the sets and costumes made for the National Ballet of Canada production still exist, so that work wouldn't necessarily have to be done from scratch, and the NBoC rents out its productions quite readily.

The New Yorker review cited upthread mentions that the National Ballet of Canada built it as a three-truck production (i.e., the sets, costumes, etc. can all fit in three trucks) to make it easily rentable. 

Edited by fondoffouettes

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17 hours ago, On Pointe said:

 All for a ballet that wasn't  much liked when the creator was alive,  with a story and music that was despised by many.   Philanthropists like to back projects that will enhance their image.  Putting tons of money into projects that are likely to prove unpopular is not their usual MO.  

I suggest that popularity really wouldn’t be the point of any revival, although it would be nice if it didn’t play to empty seats, and anyone willing to contribute to a revival of Don Q would presumably go into it with the knowledge that such an endeavor would be more for the benefit of the art form and a fuller understanding of Balanchine than to draw crowds. Perhaps such a philanthropist would not be so much eccentric as quixotic, as it were.

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It might be a better idea to digitally restore and enhance all of the available footage of the ballet.  Even that would cost a great deal,  but the end product would allow serious scholars and fans to get a glimpse of the past without tying up the current company.  

(I wonder if any footage exists of The Figure in the Carpet,  a ballet commissioned by an oriental carpet company.  It had a pas de deux created for Arthur Mitchell and Mary Hinkson of the Martha Graham Company,  dancing on pointe,  perhaps the only time Balanchine choreographed on a black couple,  to my knowledge.)

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1 hour ago, On Pointe said:

(I wonder if any footage exists of The Figure in the Carpet, 

There was a short segment of Diana Adams in it in the Balanchine bio produced by PBS.

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On 10/22/2018 at 3:19 AM, Drew said:

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:

Drew, I sincerely hope I didn't offend you. I absolutely understand the value of looking at things that aren't looked at often - I've literally made my career on things (plays, in this case, which are sometimes not so different than ballets) that haven't ever been seen, or published, or written about since the early 1950s. They're not necessarily great, but they are valuable (but, as I said upthread, I can make more sense of *some* of their value because I have scripts, which are not all equivalent to ballet - how do you make sense of a ballet without dancers in front of you doing it, or at the very minimum recordings? Notations are ... not really sufficient, at best. Yes, I realize there's a recording of the Don Q premier, which helps a bit. What would we be saying if there was nothing?). I'm not saying it wouldn't be "useful" for NYCB to revive it, but the question remains: what does it replace? What does that do to ticket sales? A "suite" sounds like an appropriate replacement. But then, we weren't discussing how to excerpt it to make it more palatable. 

I agree 100% with Gottleib's assessment that one SHOULD be able to revisit an entire corpus, but how often does that happen - for a company, and more importantly, an audience? Capitalism is dreadful & I hate to think of artistic groups deciding on what-to-do-when-and-how based on a financial logic, but let's face it, that has a lot to do with programming choices. How many of the current NYCB ticket-buying audience is willing to purchase tickets for a revived Don Q because "You need King Lear all the time, but every decade or so you also need Timon of Athens" (I grew up in the DC area & don't ever remember seeing Timon of Athens advertised by the Folger, though they've performed it in the past couple of years). It's an "academic" mindset because people who spend a lot of time thinking about these things recognize the importance, but the people who are buying the tickets don't necessarily.

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5 minutes ago, l'histoire said:

Drew, I sincerely hope I didn't offend you. I absolutely understand the value of looking at things that aren't looked at often - I've literally made my career on things (plays, in this case, which are sometimes not so different than ballets) that haven't ever been seen, or published, or written about since the early 1950s […]

I agree 100% with Gottleib's assessment that one SHOULD be able to revisit an entire corpus, but how often does that happen - for a company, and more importantly, an audience? Capitalism is dreadful & I hate to think of artistic groups deciding on what-to-do-when-and-how based on a financial logic, but let's face it, that has a lot to do with programming choices. […]

I wanted to respond to your question, but I wasn’t offended and don’t disagree about the financial pressures facing companies. I was thinking, though, that more could be said —and has been said by critics and even fans on this site who saw the revival—about why Balanchine’s Don Quixote might be worth the resources it would take to revive periodically.  (Pretty plainly not everyone agrees.)

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But "Don Quixote" is not "Timon on Athens" in regards to the rest of Balanchine's work, or another "Pan Am Makes the Going Great." It's a rather central piece. It might be like "Orpheus" in the way "Orpheus" doesn't quite work (and really doesn't relate to "Apollo" and "Agon" as was once the programming intent) but is important to see once in a while as an example of a surrealist influenced ballet. The recent revival of "Danses Concertantes" showed some interesting ideas and geometries Balanchine was working on in 1944 and looked (at least from the clips) like a nice  companion to Justin Peck's and Alexei Ratmansky's angular and brightly costumed works.

The other thing is that Balanchine's "Don Quixote" is much closer to Cervantes than the very light Petipa/Gorsky Don Q, which is based on a few incidental chapters and in which Don Quixote appears only as a minor character.

I don't really worry about a revival taking away other resources – and there would probably be a lot of extra interest to bring in a few extra ticket buyers. Perhaps doing a whole act rather than a series of excerpts might work. But a good theater director, like whoever helped Christopher Wheeldon with "Winter's Tale" (Nicholas Hytner?), would be essential.

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I saw Balanchine's Don Q when the National Ballet of Canada revived it, and it is one of very few ballets I have ever walked out of. Just dreadful.

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7 hours ago, Quiggin said:

The other thing is that Balanchine's "Don Quixote" is much closer to Cervantes than the very light Petipa/Gorsky Don Q, which is based on a few incidental chapters and in which Don Quixote appears only as a minor character.

I mean, I've always gotten the impression this is one reason the ballet was/is disliked: people walk in expecting one thing, and get something totally different. I study various 20th century adaptations of one play, which was originally written in the late 16th century; the primary "adaptation" (which has generally been wildly popular) that has been passed down since then could probably be said to be like Petipa's "distillation" of the original Don Q novel. That 16th century play is also radically different from its late 14th century source material. This is just how things work - cultural workers take what they like, interpretations take root, and so here we are, with more focus on Kitri's variations than the Don & Dulcinea. The latter isn't necessarily "better," just different. 

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Or even real-time:  I'm listening to "Tosca" from the Metropolitan Opera, and in the intro, William Berger said that Puccini and his librettists, Illica and Giacosa, distilled the Sardou play to focus on three characters:  Tosca, Cavaradossi, and Scarpia, cutting out a lot of other characters, and Sardou reportedly told Puccini that the opera was better than his play.

Edited to add:  Ratmansky's "Don Quixote" makes Don Quixote and Sancho Panza more central to the ballet.  The entire, long prologue shows Don Quixote recruiting Sancho Panza.

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27 minutes ago, Helene said:

Or even real-time:  I'm listening to "Tosca" from the Metropolitan Opera, and in the intro, William Berger said that Puccini and his librettists, Illica and Giacosa, distilled the Sardou play to focus on three characters:  Tosca, Cavaradossi, and Scarpia, cutting out a lot of other characters, and Sardou reportedly told Puccini that the opera was better than his play.

I'm not surprised. Here's a quote from one of the critics I study, re: 16th century drama, which is often incredibly long, dense, and stupidly complex (seriously, the "origin" play I l study has 34 acts. Thirty four. That's a lot! We're talking 18 hours at a minimum to get through the whole thing!):

Quote

“While writing plays, these feudal period literati often forgot that plays were meant to be staged so people could watch. [They] didn’t give much thought to the structure of the libretto, and on the contrary, often made the plots excessively complicated … the result being there was no way to stage the whole play, only excerpt a few scenes.

I mean, isn't Don Q read against Balanchine's maxim that "there are no mothers-in-law in ballet"? Don Q (the novel) wasn't MEANT to be a ballet (I have the same issue with things like Mayerling - you're seriously making a ballet about THAT? Well, godspeed ...). I appreciate that Mr B. gave Farrell this love letter, but I don't think Balanchine's focus on the Don & Dulcinea is any more admirable than Petipa picking out the parts he was interested in. They're just artistic decisions about what to focus on in a work that was never intended to be presented to audiences in such a manner. 

Edited by l'histoire

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Don Quixote is not really about the Don and Dulcinea either. Dulcinea is a passing fancy for Don Quixote. The core of Don Quixote (the novel) is in the symbiotic relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho, and the way they start to take on characteristics of the other, and also a tableau of 15th century Spain.

Balanchine's Don Q as I understood it also added way more religion to the character than Don Quixote the novel character has. The earthy humor of Cervantes' novel as well the genuine insight into humanity is not really there either.

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2 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Don Quixote is not really about the Don and Dulcinea either. Dulcinea is a passing fancy for Don Quixote. The core of Don Quixote (the novel) is in the symbiotic relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho, and the way they start to take on characteristics of the other, and also a tableau of 15th century Spain.

Balanchine's Don Q as I understood it also added way more religion to the character than Don Quixote the novel character has. The earthy humor of Cervantes' novel as well the genuine insight into humanity is not really there either.

I'm an East Asian specialist, and have never read Don Quixote in its entirety, though I think we were forced to read excerpts in HS. Regardless, I appreciate you highlighting that Balanchine had his particular twist/emphasis, just as Petipa has his .... Much like many of the sprawling works I read, it seems well-nigh impossible to distill the "entirety" into an evening's ballet, so you have to pick some angle. One reason I'm such a Balanchine devotee: one doesn't have to have these conversations watching Concerto Barocco or Serenade. 

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How far did you get, kbarber?  Before you walked out.  I'm just curious, because the first Act, in those days especially, was certainly trying.  It picked up considerably in Act II, especially the Divertissements, and the first Scene of Act III, even without Farrell - there's a glimpse of her in the "Elusive Muse" documentary - where the "Dream" turns into a nightmare is, for some of us, a cumulation of much of what has gone before.  As Rock points out, above.  But the Divertissements needn't have the Spanish court; aren't we good enough?  Stage them for us.  TSFB staged Mauresque alone; I liked it, like the lady behind me one night in Edinburgh said she did, and it has some of the best music.  (Some like the Dream music too.)  

Here's some discussion provoked by the Edinburgh performances - I trust you are thinking of the Toronto ones a year later - and I'm embarrassed so much of it is from me, but there are some ideas from my betters, some of which, like the idea that IIIi is dependent on previous action, show how unfair extracting a suite would be:  https://balletalert.invisionzone.com/topic/21161-sfb-to-perform-don-quixote-at-edinburgh-festival/?do=findComment&comment=189776

 

Edited by Jack Reed
Giving Rock credit and expanding on his points

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3 minutes ago, l'histoire said:

I'm an East Asian specialist, and have never read Don Quixote in its entirety, though I think we were forced to read excerpts in HS. Regardless, I appreciate you highlighting that Balanchine had his particular twist/emphasis, just as Petipa has his .... Much like many of the sprawling works I read, it seems well-nigh impossible to distill the "entirety" into an evening's ballet, so you have to pick some angle. One reason I'm such a Balanchine devotee: one doesn't have to have these conversations watching Concerto Barocco or Serenade. 

Well I've read the novel twice, cover to cover, and it really is an undanceable novel, if that makes sense. There's just so many stretches of the novel that are Don Q and Sancho traveling through Spain, meeting people and talking, sharing ideas and gradually almost fusing into one person. It's a great achievement of literature but I've always thought that great novels make poor dances.

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On 10/24/2018 at 5:05 PM, Helene said:

There was a short segment of Diana Adams in it in the Balanchine bio produced by PBS.

There's about 1:10 of it on Youtube currently, after a still image of Balanchine rehearsing Union Jack, where, the narrator tells us, Balanchine put some of what he made to that Handel music:

  And here's an interesting discussion some of us had here about Figure, and what's left of it:

https://balletalert.invisionzone.com/topic/34109-balanchine-working-with-dancers-in-the-figure-in-the-carpet/

It appears there's much too little left of that one to revive it.  Only the treat of the way NYCB danced then, especially Adams!  

But there is that entire preview film of the premiere of Don Quixote; if no one fronts the money while Farrell (and some of the dancers she trained in Don Q, like Magnicaballi and Ogden and Mladenov) is still among us, that may be our only source for what we need if we would better comprehend this unique work of Balanchine's art.

Edited by Jack Reed

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