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When would you redesign a dance?

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Seeing the Graham company tonight prompted this question. There were times when some of the dances seemed dated, not by the choreography, but by the costuming.

How do people feel about that? Is that part of the history of the dance, or does it actually change a dance - after all, costumes that were once supposed to be avant-garde or hip are retro in two decades.

Would you redesign or recostume a work, and if so, when and how?

Fire away!

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Good question, Leigh. After seeing the new costumes for Jardin aux lilas recently, I would say emphatically no! However, I guess that would depend on the effectiveness of the original costumes. I have seen a lot of works that I felt would benefit greatly from different costumes. But, if the original ones work, are really right for the ballet as I felt those for Jardin were, I see no point in changing them. It really messed up that ballet for me.

When the whole production is changed and put into a different period then of course the costumes must change too. (Which, as we all know from recent Lac productions, does not always work either :D ) But, if the ballet is maintained like the Tudor works, then I believe the costumes should remain the same.

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While I never saw it performed originally, and it's only a slight, but originally in Concerto Barrocco the dancers wore black, instead of white.

I can't imagine it in black, to me the white just adds to the uplifting of the music.

Another black/white is the corps in Swan Lake. Granted Balanchine's wasn't full lenght, but I like the black Swans, they seem a bit more menacing

The new costumes for Martins Jeu de Cartes, didn't make me like the ballet any better, but I did like the newer costumes.

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I am all for changing the costumes and updating the look. I can't imagine seeing 'Concerto Barocco' in the original Eugene Berman designs. Fortunately, I never saw this production , but I believe they were short blue tutus. I did, however, see it in black leotards--correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is the first time Balanchine used the black/white look (a look I still prefer). So many of Balanchine ballets have benefited from costume changes, particularly '4 Temperaments'. The Seligman costumes were truly a disaster. And then there is 'Serenade'--a ballet that has many different costumes. The real poetry of the ballet finally came through with the current costuming. Anthony Dowell has some interesting thoughts on this subject in todays NYTimes. I am sure it is on one of the links.

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If the choreographer is still around, I think there's a lot less question about a re-design, or even re-choreographing - but I say that with great care. I think Balanchine's last version of Apollo (in '78-9 with all the cuts) is arguably not the best of them and people were howling about the way Martha Graham's work looked under her own supervision at the end of her life.

My own theory about resetting a work is that the person who is doing the resetting ought to function as an advocate for the work, literally. His or her actions and setting should be there to state a case for the work. Yes, there will always be the brave and bold New Thinkers who need to give us the Deconstructed Swan Lake in an Asylum but they are not resetting a work, they're cannibalizing it. And if it's good enough, there's a place for that, but to return to the discussion. . .

In order to advocate a piece of choreography, one has to be bold enough to decide what the original intent of the work was, in many contexts. What was the story, if any, why was it made, what was the intended effect? My feeling, then is, you make whatever small adjustments are necessary to calibrate to that effect given the passage of time. Was the ballet meant to be chic, but the costumes are now retro? Maybe small changes, like shortening the skirts or using a lighter or heavier fabric will bring it up to date. Maybe even a new hairdo. And, since I change steps all the time in my own work if it doesn't look good on a dancer, I would expect (not that it's true, alas) that anyone entrusted to set and advocate a work should know the difference between a step that's integral to the work and one that can have an analagous substitution.

I'm forcing the person resetting the ballet to be an artist in his or her own right, but maybe that's what should be expected of them after all. That's exactly why you can't just reset a work from a videotape, because changes and adjustments have to be made in order to keep the ballet looking the same!

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Leigh, your Les Noces was a project where, I thought, the tensions and questions introduced by the act of redesign were a big part of the statement, shaped the decisions, and for the audience, fused the sensory experience with the intellectual one.

For me it took a production that dealt with the transition from agrarian to machine ages and placed it in the context of our present transition from machines to information and genetics. And then sort of stood back to see what happened.

Did you learn anything from doing that ballet that would be relevant to this conversation?

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Rolling back this chat a few posts, about the Ian Falconer designs for Jeu de Cartes, I thought Falconer was nothing less than a miracle worker. With his clever and cute, but not overly so, costumes, he's become a real alchemist, transforming a middle-drawer Martins ballet into something that actually seems witty! I enjoyed the ballet much, much more with the Falconer designs, although I had expected to be lulled to sleep in the finest tradition of Martins' choreography.

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To answer Keith (this thread is playing leapfrog with posts!) I'd have to state at the outset that when I chose to do Les Noces, I made sure I had seen the Nijinska (but I was only able to see it on tape - I watched it twice), but I was creating a work entirely out of whole cloth; I wasn't trying to reset Nijinska's Les Noces, or even follow the original libretto.

Some of what I recall from 1996 might be useful in illuminating a choreographer's motivation. I made Les Noces not to improve on the Nijinska or in any attempt to replace it, but because I couldn't get the music (especially the final notes) out of my head. I was obssessed with it. Before I went into the studio to make the dance, my original plan was to have four couples, with each couple taking more of a lead in one of the four tableaus. (In today's modern society, EVERYBODY'S the bride and groom!) Within three days I dispensed with that, because of the music. I could try and individualize the work as I might, but Stravinsky wrote a ritual, and that (a concept that moved much closer to the Nijinska) is what I ended up choreographing.

When the designers (Matthew Mohr and David Quinn) checked in with what I was doing, the costume suggested became a stark uniform - a Mao Jacket. This had more resonance than I realized for people, as did a rope that Matt provided as a set element. It was given to me because of the immense braids of the original design. Being Jewish and making a ritual, when I made the final wedding dance, not only did I separate them (which followed the Nijinska, but not consciously), I placed the rope down the stage to divide them, which was a reference to the mechitzah in an Orthodox shul. And yeah, genetics did get mixed in at the end - I had to figure out how to get the rope offstage, so I made a ritual. The dancers brought the rope together and then moved apart in a formation drawn from mitosis and meiosis.

My reaction to further viewing of Nijinska's work after mine premiered was similar to Robbins' - I recall reading somewhere that after seeing hers he thought that he never "got it" in his version. I'm glad I rushed in where angels would fear to tread, and it's good that there is a Les Noces that can be done with a smaller cast than the Nijinska, but one day if I had a large enough company, it would be a dream of mine to acquire her version and present it unaltered.

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Thanks to pumukau and especially to Leigh for your wonderful posts.

Mine is minor in the extreme. The first time I saw black costumes for "Barocco" was in a televised performance of the Pennsylvania Ballet many years ago. I found the costumes somewhat jarring because they were not what I had come to expect from NYCB.

However, Ballet Chicago Studio Company, whom I saw just this weekend, also uses black costumes. This time, I found them far more flattering to the dancers and not a distraction at all. Perhaps I was just so glad to see the ballet again that the color of the costumes paled into insignificance.

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