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The Four Temperaments

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My local library doesn't have a huge selection of ballet videos but I did just borrow a tape with NYCB dancing The Four Temperaments. I believe it was taped in 1977. Edward Villella introducing each dance. I can't believe that after all this time I'd never seen the ballet in its totality. I was only familiar with a few clips here and there. Well. What an amazing ballet. I absolutely love it. It is so interesting and clever and wow.

Villella explained how the ballet works before they showed it -- how many of you were familiar with the structure of the ballet before seeing it? Did it make any difference in your enjoyment of it once you learned the structure? (I often ask a similar question with art. You can enjoy a painting not knowing anything about its artist, origins, meaning but it can enhance your viewing of it once you know.)

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piccolo, this sounds like one of the three Dance in America programs from the mid-seventies that showcased Balanchine's choreography. They've been re-released as the Balanchine Library series, sans the introductions, which I think is an unfortunate omission. Villella's commentaries were written by Arlene Croce if I remember correctly and if you're interested in an extended analysis, I'd recommend her long review of The Four Temperaments collected in Afterimages which discusses the revival.

I'm of two minds about reading this kind of interpretation before seeing something for the first time. On the one hand, it can prepare you for what you're going to see, but on the other hand it can inhibit your own response (especially true in the case of a writer with Croce's firepower – you start to see things her way whether you want to or not).

I also liked this particular video. I thought the ballet came across well, although the massed grouping of the finale doesn't have the impact it would in the theatre.

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Strange that this topic came up at this time. I have just watched my tape of "Four Temperaments" with Merrill Ashley and Daniel Duell dancing the Sanguinic segment. Ashley is about as close to perfection as one can come. In class Balanchine is reported to have said, "Watch Merrill" in order to see how something is done correctly. Watch this; it certainly is how something is done correctly. Duell is a great partner for her; his strength during the lifts make her appear weightless. Such beauty.

Along the same lines, I also watched Monotones II, my favorite ballet. Took Hans' dead-choreographer test and came up Ashton. It's my week!


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Oooo, dirac, thanks. I will look that up.

Yeah, you could go either way. I don't usually bone up on ballet before I go, but I certainly do when I go to the opera. With art, I usually go with the initial response, then read up on it, then look at it again -- of course, this is easy because it only takes a few moments to look at a painting.

Giannina -- Yes, the version I saw was with Merrill Ashley. She is wonderful. I got her Dancing With Balanchine book from Amazon's used book service -- it took them 7 months to get it for me but I'm so glad I have it now!

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I suppose my first 4T's came at the perfect moment, when I was still a pretty new balleto, just ready to see structure. I was stunned. Bing, bing, bing -- so many principles (which I could not have described at the time) became evident. Structure, musicality, the many ways a single step could be done . . . It really opened so many doors to understanding the art and craft of choreography. :D

In her book (which I loved), Ashley describes her difficulty in 4T's doing the fourth-position jumps exactly as Balanchine wanted them. An interesting insight into the piece.

Piccolo, I once had a conversation with a painter (whose dog was in my dog's playgroup), who said that he would spend an afternoon at a museum studying three or fewer paintings. I was astonished, only because as an amateur, I also preferred to spend time with a small number of paintings. When possible (and it isn't always), I like to take a quick survey of an exhibition and then return to immerse myself in maybe four or five favorites.

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The last time I was at the Musee D'Orsay, I trotted in practically averting my eyes from everything else on my way to visit the Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe, which I had been reading about in some detail. I stayed there in front of it until it was time to leave. That to me is a real luxury--to just take in one thing, eyes wide open. Okay, I admit it, it made me cry.

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As an aside, I just remembered that there were four Balanchine segments, not three, but one hasn't been shown again because they couldn't get releases from all the dancers, apparently. Too bad.

Yes, Ashley looks beautiful on the tape, doesn't she? I think she looks better in Four Ts than in the Ballo della Regina tape, although the latter is pretty awesome, too.

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I'm glad you've discovered Four Ts; it's one of my favorites. Whenever I see it I'm struck by how new it looks -- I can't imagine what it looked like in 1946 (with or without the original sofa-like costumes, which I would actually like to see in action some day). My ideal Evergreen Ballet Evening would be Ashton's Scenes de ballet, Balanchine's FourTs, and Nijinska's Les Noces.

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Dirac, the four shows were released, but Allegro Brilliante and Rubies were taken out of their episodes. The tapes are 1)Tzigane/Divertimento No. 15 adagio/Four Temperaments; 2) Jewels/Stravinsky Violin Concerto (without the Rubies pas de deux with McBride and Weiss), 3) Chaconne/Prodigal Son, 4) Ballo della Regina/Steadfast Tin Soldier/Elegie from Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3/Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux without Allegro Brillante.

According to an old Village Voice article published when the first of these tapes were released by Nonesuch, those two ballets were kept out for varying reasons not released. The two, while invaluable to us now, probably don't show Farrell or McBride at their best. Maybe that is why they were not released. However, people do have them off TV and in Librarys. I know there is one at Columbia U. because I used to watch it there :lol:

Personally, I love these tapes. Re-thought for the studio by Balanchine, they really capture the ballets' spirit, if not the stage experience. I prefer the style of recording to stage recording, such as seen for Baryshnikov's Don Q or Le Corsaire. The whole series that was done this way, including Martha Graham and Paul Taylor (I think their was one or two more modern dance ones) are also very fine. Although they didn't carry over the Villella commentary, the store bought tapes do have inserts that give a little background to the tapings.

As for the Balanchine, the casts are culled from the best dancers at NYCB during the mid-70s. I think the 4Ts is a very strong performance, especially Ashley.

As for Art, I guess I try to get the best of both worlds If I'm seeing a story ballet, I try to read just enough so that I'm not going, "Who's that? Why is he doing that? I thought she loved him, not the other guy..." But then it's nice to do some research and possibly see it again. For museums, I do the same and then go back and look closely at the few that really caught my eye. And I always buy the exhibit book, to pour over the plates and read the text without feeling rushed.

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3 hours ago, canbelto said:

Kurt Froman has put out an archival video of 4T's with Tanny as Choleric. Wow the original ending was so very different from the final ending! What does everyone think?


Quite a surprise! I think most readers of this site know about the other two versions -- pre-Dance in America filming and after. PNB does the pre version, reportedly with Balanchine's permission. But the tape shows a very different concept. Not sure it works, but it's nice to see yet another example of how Balanchine revised his own work over the years.

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This is great, canbelto, thanks for posting. I prefer the exhilarating later ending, but this one has its interest. I'm not sure that I see the woman as being "bounced" up and down, but the image of human sacrifice is interesting. I was reminded of photographs of the "Metastaseis" portion of "Metastaseis and Pithoprakta."

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6 hours ago, canbelto said:

As a reference, here is the final ending Balanchine chose:


And here's the 1964 version. My understanding was that Balanchine was concerned about the "flattening" effect of the TV screen for the 1977 Dance in America taping and made changes. Back in the theater, he liked the revisions so much he kept them. But PNB was allowed to do the earlier version, as that was the version Francia Russell knew: https://www.pnb.org/repertory/the-four-temperaments/


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