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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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