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Reimagining Ballet Stories


Tom47

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I like almost everything about ballet.  The exception is some of the stories.  For fun I imagine how these stories could be altered.  In most cases I would not change very much, however, the one story I would change a lot is Le Corsaire (see the post Re-Imagining Le Corsaire).  As it is the season for “The Nutcracker” I decided to write about that ballet even though I like the story as it is.  What I thought about was to now and then change the nature of the party during the first act from a Christmas party to a Hanukkah party.  Other than the party and the Christmas tree there is nothing in the ballet that means it has to be about Christmas.  For those who don’t know much about it Hanukkah is a holiday in which gifts are given and where people gather together and it occurs during the colder part of the year when there could be snow.  It actually overlaps with Christmas at times.  The growing tree would be replaced with something else - possibly a menorah or maybe a dreidel.  Everything else could be the same.  What I would like would be to have maybe one production of the Hanukkah version around the time that Hanukkah starts to partner with the Christmas version.  There could also be a Kwanzaa version.  In the Jewish calendar Hanukkah always begins at sundown on the 25th of the month of Kislev and this year Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 10 of the common calendar.  

 

Tom,  

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Imspear, thank you for the link on The Golden Dreydl.  

As I wrote earlier I like the Nutcracker ballet and I like the story, much more than the original book.  One thing I like about it is the diversity in the second act with dances of various nationalities.  However, I have read that some of these dances may be, from an European point of view, stereotypes of the culture they are meant to represent.  These would be the Chinese/Tea and the Arabian/Coffee dances.  The Chinese dance can appear somewhat silly in some productions and the Arabian dance can be suggestive of a harem dance.  Instead of using pointed index fingers (I have no idea where that comes from) or tiny steps for the Chinese dance, movements from traditional dances of that nationality could be adapted for ballet.  For example, I’ve seen a number of traditional Chinese dances on youtube and in many of them the dancers wear very long sleeves which are flung outward.  Also, there is a Peacock dance that is generally performed by a solo female dancer, but I have seen it performed by a female/male couple.  And no makeup to make the dancer “look” Chinese.  Perhaps the music could also be slowed down a bit.  As to the Arabian dance the Bolshoi Ballet has had a female/male couple perform this dance and I have also seen a solo male do it.  Most interesting is that Tchaikovsky was inspired by a Georgian Lullaby in composing the music to this dance.  This suggests the possibility of having a female dancer and a number of children come on stage and as the adult dances the children slowly “go to sleep” to the music of the lullaby.  Lastly I would make the mice cutier and without masks - just makeup and “Mickey Mouse” ears - and with the exception of the mouse king no one gets killed.  I don’t feel these are crucial changes and I don’t want to make a big deal out of them.  

Tom, 

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One thing I don’t like in stories is when an innocent person dies.  Two such ballets are Giselle and La Bayadere.  In both cases the title female character is deceived by her lover.  The mad scene in Giselle is particularly sad to me, but I’m not sure how it could be changed without completely rewriting the story.  What is redeeming is in the second act Giselle’s spirit joins with the other Wiles and I imagine she has an afterlife with friends she can sympathise with and be relatively happy with, however, I feel the wrong male character dies at the end.  La Bayadere is similar, but in that case the Kingdom of the Shades act is just a drug induced dream of Solor.  I would do away with the scene where he smokes himself into a stupor and in that way portray the Kingdom of the Shades as “real” in the same way that the Wiles are portrayed as “real.”  In this way Nikiya could be imagined to have an afterlife with friends in the same way I can imagine Giselle to have.  Also, I would not like Solor to end up with her as he did not have the courage to reveal that he loved her, which would have resulted in Nikiya taking the antidote.  Neither Albrecht nor Solor deserve to be with their forsaken loves.

Tom,

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Another ballet in which the female title character dies is La Sylphide.  While she is not completely innocent, as she tried to take James away from his intended bride Effie, the young Sylph does not deserve this end and her fate is not a result of her actions, but of James’ unkindness.  I would eliminate the fortune telling witch to simplify the story and instead of the sylphide losing her wings and dying, she would fly away with the other sylphs as she and James realize that she is too ethereal and erratic for them to be happy together.  While Effie is upset and bewildered at James’ sudden disappearance she seems to recover quickly and goes and marries Gurn, so she seems happy at the end.  I like the Sylphide in this ballet even though she acts in a selfish, spoiled, non-caring way, because she is also fun loving, impulsive, free spirited and childish.  I saw a 1972 production of La Sylphide by the Paris Opera Ballet, which had “flying” Sylphides in the second act.

Tom.  

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As many may know Sheherazade does not appear in the ballet Sheherazade.  Instead it is the backstory to that of Sheherazade and the 1001 Arabian Nights.  The primary character in the ballet is Zobeide, the favorite wife of the sultan.  I see Zobeide and the other Odalisques as slaves, who have to pretend to care for the sultan, but who have desires of their own.  Zobeide in particular is in love/lust with the golden slave.  This is emphasized by Zobeide stealing the key and letting the Golden Slave out.  I enjoy Rimsky-Korsakov’s music very much and like most of the ballet.  What I would do away with is the sultan.  It could be made into an “abstract” ballet with no story and only a general theme dealing with the Arabian tales or just completely abstract.  I do like the dance between Zobeide and the Golden Slave and would keep that and then extend the dances at the beginning and end to take up the time left by the removal of the sultan.  The dance between Zobeide and the Golden Slave is the most erotic dance in ballet that I have seen.  What I like is the equality between the partners during this dance.  Both Zobeide and the Golden Slave are enjoying themselves equally and they are shown to equally participate in the sexual act.  Also, in the version with Yulia Makhalina and Igor Kolb, at least, they are dressed similarly with both showing the same amount of skin and the dance motions of both are similarly sensuous.  Yulia shows Zobeide to be happy during this dance since for the moment the Odalisque is free to do what she wants.  However, that is only for the moment as Zobeide and the other Odalisques are eventually punished for acting to fulfill their desires.  That is what I would change.

Does anyone know if the music of the ballet is in the same order as it was written by Rimsky-Korsakov or what order it is in.  It seems to me that the dance of Zobeide and the Golden Stave is to the music of the Festival in Baghdad, The Sea and Shipwreck, however that is at the end of the original music while that dance is in the middle of the ballet.  

Tom,

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Not all ballets dealing with romance turn out tragically.  In particular three, La Fille mal gardee, Don Quixote and Coppelia are romantic comedies.  My favorite, feature length, non-Tchaikovsky ballet is Don Quixote, at least the Mariinsky Ballet version with Olesya Novikova and Leonid Sarafanov.  Not only are they great dancers, but it is easy for me to think they are in love and maybe that is because they are.  They are married and have 3 children. 

There is not much that I would change in the stories of these ballet, although I feel a little sorry for Dr. Coppelius in that he wanted so badly for his doll to come alive.  What I would do is, as a surprise, have Coppelia come out dancing near the end of the ballet showing she became a living woman (after all this is a ballet and in a ballet magic could happen) and Dr. Coppelius, overjoyed, embraces her .  Also, with or without this change Swanhilda should think twice before marrying Franz since he is not too trustworthy.

Tom,

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Thoughts about Swan Lake:  To me it is the most dramatic ballet because of its music and its story; unlike Solor and Albrecht, Siegfried is not at fault for being unfateful since he was tricked and if you do not like the ending you can see another version and hopefully get one you like better.   The first version I saw of Swan Lake had Siegfried die fighting Rothbart and to me that seems the most authentic version.  According to the Marius Petipa website that is not the original ending.  In the 1877 production due to Siegfried’s not wanting ever to be separated from Odette, they both died.  Then there is the happy ending, from the 1950s, where Rothbart is defeated and Odette and Siegfried live happily ever after.  

Again according to the Marius Petipa website, In the original version of the ballet, Odette was not cursed to turn into a swan during the day, but instead she and the other swans were born swan maidens who willingly become swans when they want to.  I like that idea better, but I don’t know if it would make much of an actual difference in the ballet.  One thing I might change involves Odile.  When watching one version of the ballet I thought Odile seems a little remorseful in deceiving Siegfried.  That most likely was wishful thinking on my part, but it is something I would add.  In some versions Siegfried goes hunting for the swans in the company of others.  I prefer Siegfried going alone as it makes it more mysterious and dramatic. 

Tom,

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The idea of sex role reversial interests me.  The movie “The Tempest" (2010) with Helen Mirren in the role of Prospera, instead of Prospero is an example of this.  This movie was directed by and the screenplay was written by a woman, Julie Taymor.  So, I thought about a version of Swan Lake, where the sexes of all of the characters were reversed.  Perhaps Prince Seigfried becomes Princess Brunhild, Odete and the other swans are male instead of swan maidens and Rothbart is a sorceress.  I’ve seen Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake with male swans, but in that case the sex of the other characters are not reversed, also while I enjoyed the dancing I felt the story as too harsh.  The story I am suggesting would remain the same as with female swans.  Some might feel that a princess would not go hunting for swans at night, but that is something that would make the revised story more interesting for me.  Also, I would give it the happy ending in which Princess Brunhild defeats the female Rothart.  Why not?  Then there is the question of the costumes for the male swans.  I would not want tutus or the costumes in Bourne’s version, they seem too harsh for me.  

Has anyone else ever reimagined a ballet story?  I would like to hear of it if you have.   Also what do people think about Bourne's Swan Lake?  That is a case where the story was re-imagined.

Tom,

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Recently I came across something that gave me a new outlook on the story of the ballet La Sylphide.  Originally I saw the sylphide as impulsively falling in love with James on what happened to be the young man’s wedding day.  Thus, I saw the sylphide as maybe not really caring too much for James.  But, this 2 minute video explaining a mime scene in the first act shows something different: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=728TQeVyIJk.

Based on this video the sylphide has loved James and cared for him since he was a boy.  Also, as she has been protecting him since he was five and while she may be young for a sylph, she is likely to be older than James.  Earlier I wrote that I would rather the sylphide did not lose her wings and die and now with this new information I feel even stronger about that.  She seems a caring being.  Further, this new information brings the story of the ballet more in line with the story that in part inspired the ballet - “Trilby, ou, Le lutin d’Argail” (1822) by Charles Nodier.

Returning to Swan Lake, I have a question.  The ballet sometimes has four acts and sometimes has three with the first act divided into two scenes.  It seems to me that the four acts make more sense or if not that then two acts with both the first and second acts divided into two scenes.  The three acts don't make sense to me.  My question is why in the three act case is the first act divided into two scenes, but second and third acts are not? 

Tom,

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I have realized that I was in error when writing about the ballet Giselle, as I had assumed that at the end of the ballet Giselle continues to be a Wilis, but then I read on the Marius Petipa website that at the end “The Wilis are forced to disappear and Giselle, whose love has transcended death, is forever freed from their power and returns to her grave to rest in peace.”  I find this ending to be unsatisfying.  As I wrote earlier, I would rather that Giselle’s spirit joins with the other Wiles and have an afterlife with friends she can sympathise with and be relatively happy with.  I feel Giselle would rather dance than “rest in peace.”   

I then found the two paragraphs that Heinrich Heine wrote about Wilis in his “De l’Allemagne” that when read by Theophile Gautler partly inspired the ballet Giselle. Those paragraphes can be found here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40837168?seq=1.  While the description of the Wilis in the two paragraphs is that they died before their wedding-day this death was not necessarily due to them being betrayed by the prospective groom, so they are not necessarily vengeful for that reason and that does not seem to be the reason why they cannot rest peacefully in their graves. Instead the Wilis rise up and gather on the highway because they could not satisfy their passion for dancing while alive.  That is not because of any betrayal.  In the entry on Giselle in the Marius Petipa website it is explained that because Giselle forgave Albrecht and protected him, she is “forever freed from their power [the Wilis] and returns to her grave to rest in peace.”  However, this does not necessarily follow if within her there still remains that passion for dancing which she could not satisfy during life.  So, the ending as described in the Petipa website does not fit the description in Heinrich Heine’s paragraphs as quoted above.  What I would do is have Giselle’s sprite join with a group of nicer and kinder Wilis who like to dance and who are protectors of nature, but who do not venfully dance men to death.  This seems to me to fit Giselle’s character as I see her as a kind and caring person.  More information about this can be found at the topic “Wili, Vila, Rusalka, Mavka,” here: https://balletalert.invisionzone.com/topic/46073-wili-vila-rusalka-mavka/.  

Tom,

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MidSummer Night’s Dream is a complex story and I feel the two modern ballets dealing with it are harmed by trying to tell too much of the story.  However, Mendelssohn’s music, which I enjoy, gives impressions of the characters in the story instead of telling the story.  So that is what I would like the ballet to do.  It could start with Mendelssohn’s Overture, Op. 21, written in 1826 then continue with his Incidental Music, Op. 61, written in 1842.  Dancers would be on stage when the music suggests their characters and not necessarily in order of the story.  During the 13 minute long Overture many of the characters in the ballet would at some point be dancing.  This would start with the fairies.  Here is a short video 3.5 minute video from the 1935 film “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” that gives an example of how that first scene could be like:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlZ5oGibiDc.  Of course that is a film, but I feel it could be adapted for the stage, with some dancers lying down and covered by “stage smoke” at the beginning.  As the Overture continues other characters, such as the lovers and the Mechanicals, could enter and leave.  This clip from the film suggests what the Scherzo scene (5 ½ minutes) of a ballet could be like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4S-eNAWitE.  There would be an equal number of female and male fairies.

The following parts of the Incidental Music are “March of the Fairies” 1 minutes, “Ye Spotted Snakes” 5 minutes (Titania and her fairy attendances), “Intermezzo” 4 minutes (Helena wandering through the woods; scared and searching for Lysanda and ending with the Mechanicals), “Nocturne” 7 minutes (all dancing slowly and eventually falling asleep on stage), Wedding March 5 minutes (all rise and march), “Funeral March” and “Dance of the Clowns” 3 minutes (The Mechanicals and their play), Finale, “Through the House” 5 minutes (all and conclusion).  This ordering of the musical parts are from a video (48 minutes) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upMKlLVblzY.  Below the video is a list of the selections.  This list can be used to “jump” to any of the parts. 

In addition within the 1936 film there is a scene where the human characters sing to the finale of Mendelssohn’s “Scotish Symphony” and while they are singing we see their characters described by their expressions.  See here (2 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET1FT0VDJow.  I feel this is very effective and a scene using this music and showing the dancers mime could be inserted into a ballet between the Overture and the Scherzo.  What I like most about Shakespeare’s play is the wording and in this case it might be worthwhile to have a few lines spoken offstage.  Two characters that I particularly like in the play are Puck and the Fairy who serves the Fairy Queen.  Here is a clip from the 1935 film showing the fairy, played by Nina Theilade and Puck, played by Mickey Rooney interact.  The video is 4 minutes long and the part noted starts about halfway through: https://www.tcm.com/video/359283/midsummer-nights-dream-a-1935-i-do-wander-everywhere.  Puck could be played by a female dancer to give a Peter Pan like image.  One character from the play who I would not want to be in the ballet is Oberon who I despise for what he does to Titania.

Tom,   

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I’ve read that in 1922 Broislava Nijinska danced the title role in “The Afternoon of a Faune”  No doubt Bronislava had no problem with the technical side of this as she helped her brother in the development of this part.  This intrigued me.  In the ballet the Faune is visibly attracted to the Nymphs in a sexual way and appears to try to pressure them into the act of sex.  On the other hand, the Nymphs are shy and they resist his advances.  This led to me thinking about reversing the sex roles in this ballet.  There is a myth about a Naiade - a water Nymph - who abducts a beautiful, young man named Hylas.  Hylas was an Argonaut, in myth a member of the crew of the ship the Argo.  In going on land one night to obtain fresh water Hylas came to a spring.  As he bent down to scoop water into a pitcher, the Naiade saw him “close at hand with the rosy flush of his beauty and sweet grace.”  With this Aphrodite made the Naiade’s “heart faint, and in her confusion she could scarcely gather her spirit back to her.  But as soon as he dipped the pitcher in the steam, leaning to one side [. . .] straightway she laid her left arm above upon his neck yearning to kiss his tender mouth; with her right hand she drew down his elbow, and plunged him into the midst of the eddy.”  Hylas cried out and was heard by one of his comrades, but was never seen again.  This story has only one Naiad seeing Hylas, but a description of another version of the myth is that “From the depths of the spring, the Naiads spied the beautiful Hylas as he leant over the surface of the spring. The Naiads decided that this mortal youth should be theirs, and so one Naiad, possibly named Dryope, reached up through the water, and taking hold of Hylas pulled him beneath the surface of the spring, causing Hylas to cry out in surprise.”  See here: https://www.greeklegendsandmyths.com/hylas.html. In both myths Hylas and Hercules were lovers.

There are many paintings of this episode, five of which can be seen at this link: https://www.tutorialathome.in/passionate-painting/hylas-nymphs.  One of the paintings is by a female artist - Henrietta Rae.  The two below Henrietta Rae’s are paintings illustrating the version with only one Naiad.

So, in “The Afternoon of a Faun” the male Faun can become the female Naiade and the female Nymphs could become Hylas and the male Argonauts, with the music and the style of dance remaining the same.  As to the story, it could be kept the same or replaced by the story of Hylas and the Naiade.  The re-imagined ballet could be called “La nuit d'une naïade.” 

Tom,

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There seems to me to be two versions of the ballet “Bolero,” one which is set in some type of tavern or cafe and in which there are more interactions between the main female dancer and the male dancers (I suspect that this is the original choreographed by Bronislava Nijiska) and the second which is more abstract, with simply a circle table that a woman dancers on and which the men dance around with little or no interaction between the woman and the men.  I have also seen the second version with a man dancing in the middle and with men dancing around.  A new take on this ballet could be to occasionally have a man dancing on the table surrounded by women as a gender switch.  Also, could anyone tell me if the first version of “Bolero” as described above is the original choreographed by Bronislava.

Tom,

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