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Wish List of Good Ideas for Good Ballets

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Inspired by something Leigh wrote on the Music you're afraid they'll choreograph to thread -- "I'm a little scared at how zesty our creative energy is in plotting these horrors. Why is dreaming up the awful always more fun?" -- I pose this question.

If you could advise -- or hire -- the choreographers of the world to make ballets for you, what would you ask them to do? If you dream of new ballets, whether or not there are choreographers around to make them, what do you dream? NO FUNNY ONES HERE, PLEASE :) Just serious ideas.

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While this thread is mounted with what is obviously the best of intentions, I fear it won't attract the same amount of attention as one dedicated to Perfectly Dreadful Ideas. The problem is, that most of us have a very definite idea about what our pet projects should look like, and we're (well, at least I am) a little reticent about handing the idea over to anybody (well, maybe not Chris Wheeldon) for fear of what they would come up with!:eek:

So come on, gang! Prove me wrong!;)

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Dear Alexandra,

This is exactly the thing I was wondering about when I first started to read the posts on this ballet site. I was wondering to myself... why in the world are these people spending so much time and creative energy talking about a new kind of "Giselle from Hell"??? (this was the title of a very popular post on this site)

Don't they realize that these thoughts could soon find their way on stage! Its like participating in creating the things you hate. I don't get it.

So I very much appreciate your comment "why is dreaming up the awful always more fun". Its a great question in itself.

But to get back to this post, I would just say to my creative crew... "I don't care what you do", "just make it beautiful and inspiring". I would tell them, OK, you can have dark characters in the production, but please, let them keep their dignity. Darkness is there for a reason... so the dark things are OK. But, if we want to be truthful in our ballet, the beauty will eventually overcome the darkness.

Ballet is so good at lovely things so why not keep it lovely and inspiring. Don't we all need some inspiration in these times? If people don't want lovely things... let them watch TV. Keep the ballet for beautiful things.

"Make it lovely, make it beautiful, make it fun".

That would be the instructions to my creative team.

Thanks Alexandra

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Seriously folks -

Please leave this thread non-comic. It inhibits other people. We've got a funny thread down the hall, so to speak.



This is Alexandra speaking:

I'm editing to add to this post, so that we keep all the Sister Mary Attila comments in one place :) Comic posts, or posts mocking other people's suggestions, on this thread will be deleted (posts mocking other people's posts, when they occur, which thank god is rare, are always deleted). What may seem funny to one person is Truth to someone else, and we want people to feel free to write what they think and feel. Thank you! (And apologies to Leigh for hijacking his post.)

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I agree that the ballet that I would most want to see is a beautiful ballet...music, scenery, costumes and choreography all in balance. I would like something that is a delight to the eye to see and the ear to listen to. Vague I know. It's something that is hard to articulate but when you see it you know. What I know distracted me mightily in Peter Martin's Swan Lake was the jarring colors of the costumes and the scenery.

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I'd second the "something beautiful" comment -- wouldn't it be nice to have a festival where every choreographer was told to make something beautiful? It would be interesting to see 12 different ideas of beauty, for one thing!

Ronny, I think the reason that threads like "Giselle from Hell" are so popular is because it's been open season on the 19th century repertory for 20 years now, and so those of us who see a lot of ballet performances have seen so many revisions, reworkings, rethinkings, very few, if any, of them improvements, that those posts were made in that spirit. There's also the Hex approach -- it's very unlikely that any professional choreographer would take an idea from an internet message board and use it for a ballet. But on the off chance one might be tempted, perhaps fear that someone would KNOW the source of a particular vile idea -- "Hey! That idea for the Wall Street Giselle came from Ballet Alert!" -- would be so humiliating that posting one's worst nightmare is, in a peculiar way, insurance against never seeing it on stage.

HOWEVER, wish lists are a different matter. I think it might be useful for dance professionals to see what audience members really want to see -- so please, post, whether it's a festival of "beautiful" ballets, or something of a different vein entirely.

Another idea for a festival for me, if I won the lottery, would be to commission scores for full-length ballets by young composers, working with a choreographer. I'd also have to spring for workshops on narrative form, because, as there are so few good models now, I don't think young choreographers can be expected to know how to construct a narrative ballet. But I think the lack of good, danceable (affordable) scores is one of the things holding back narrative ballet. I'm personally tired of seeing reworkings of 19th century novels and would like to see choreographers try their hand at contemporary stories -- IN BALLET. (Modern dance has been doing this successfully, although not frequently, for decades. It presents a different challenge for ballet.)

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Alexandra, many years ago the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian had an exhibit of objects that the curators considered 'beautiful'. That was the only criterion for exhibit -- the one or two objects in their collection that stirred them. It was fascinating to see what they picked as the most beautiful shell, fossil, rock, human artifact, etc. And why. I think each object was accompanied by the curator's rationale.

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Yes, exactly! Of course, the Super Curator could ensure, in the mythical Ballet Festival of Beauty, that 1) a range of tastes was included and 2) a preponderance of the participants would not be likely to choose a rotten fig, comlete with worms, as his ideal object of beauty :) (That is, if the Super Curator were taking the idea seriously.)

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Thanks Alexandra for that explanation of the "Giselle from Hell" post. I feel good about it now knowing that it is serving a good cause. So now "I get it". Hope you don't mind me being so blunt, but it's the way I learn about these things. And this "festival" idea is a great one. I like it a lot.

This is MORE about my dream ballet:

I would tell my talented group to come up with a title for the ballet that would bring in new people. Perhaps a ballet about some famous person.

And if they were able to come up with a title that could bring in new people I would want to use that opportunity to "advertise" other great ballets. To give an example, let's say that there would be some way to have a dream scene in my ballet in which we see a short scene from "The Sleeping Beauty". It would be a little of Tchaikovsky's music and it would let people know that there is an ORIGINAL "Sleeping Beauty" out there that they have never seen. (I just suspect that most people have only seen the Walt Disney version) So I would want them to know that Tchaikovsky did it first.

And I would take the opportunity to educate in other ways also. If we can get new people into a ballet perhaps we could have a scene in which one of the "stars" of the ballet could do some "ballet practice" and show some basic ballet steps to show how the steps are done and used in dance. I think this could be woven into the ballet story somehow.

In the back of my mind I feel that if something can be produced that has an interesting title, is beautiful and also educates...then there would be a good chance to get PBS interested. If we can entertain & educate all in one package... wouldn't this be a winning combination?

It should be possible, don't you think? It can be done, don't you think so?:)

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I'm not much for taking bits of this and bits of that, ronny -- nothing wrong with it, just not my cup of tea. I also can't think of a great choreographer who set out to educate. One of the things I learned in a film class I took in college was, "don't set out to make a movie to end war, and never set out to make The Great Movie About War. If you do you won't make art. Make a story about one person, or a group of people, caught up in a war, and maybe you'll get lucky and it will turn out to be great."

So that's my take on that one :) I do not write that to discourage dreams -- dream on :)

Other dream ballets? What do you want to see when you go to the ballet. We can approach it from that angle -- what NEW work do you want to see?

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OK, maybe I will throw in one of my pet projects: Many may recall Jean Erdman's dance-musical The Coach with the Six Insides from 1966. It was based on James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. Erdman treated it with modern; I think it's a good, if challenging basic idea for a ballet. I'd look to Margo Sappington as a choreographer. She's good at handling narrative. I think the designer should be Thomas Gallagher, late of VH1-TV (he was one of those who dreamed up "pop-up videos"). Music: I don't know - has William Bolcom ever written expressly for dance?

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Dvorak's "American" Quartet, which is so pretty, suggests endless expanses and, like so much of Dvorak, is sublimely danceable. (I'll admit the Scherzo is problematical for me. I may just lop it off). I've seen it choregraphed a few times, but haven't seen on stage what I'd heard in the score.

My "American Quartet" is intimate in scale, with simple costumes (women are skirted). The dominant motif of my second movement is renverse. It's a modest little piece -- happy and sweet.

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i like ballets you can laugh at - we need more, just because there are so few of them.

what do i mean? well i love watching the trocks, but that's not what i meant...

i mean works like elite syncopations, the concert, ...what else is there, that's REALLY funny? you've probably had a thread on that... (there is also a kylian work with 'jokes' in it - is it symphony in D? - but that never worked for me.)

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alexandra posted: "I think it might be useful for dance professionals to see what audience members really want to see "

are you aware that gideon obarzanek in australia (artistic director and choreographer of chunky move company) sent out a survey form to people, asking them what they wanted to see in his next choreography, then analysed the results and "gave the people what they wanted"!???

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This might sound spectacularly tacky, but I'm quite involved with the dance music scene here in little canberra (as in electronic music - raves and things) and I've always wanted to see what the result would be of choreographing a classical piece to some of the music i hear there.

Often in the genre 'trance', classical pieces are taken and twisted, layered (further) and added to with amazing results... the fact that its a DJ manipulating these sounds gives flexibility to 'composing' a score with the choreographer that i think would yield interesting results. More interesting than some of the things I have seen utilising 'electronic' (read jarring and obtrusive) music...

As to the subject of the piece, i'm undecided... Nothing that doesn't sound silly verbalised, anyway.

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This might not be as contemporary as Katharyn's latest suggestion, but I have been thinking about the story of "Casabalanca" as a basis for a more "contemporary" story ballet.

Watching it yesterday with my daughter who'd never seen it before, I was struck by the fact that every time I see it I still feel the pull - the romance, the intrigue, the drama and the passion. Aren't these some of the needs and wants for a good narrative ballet? Can't you just see Rick and Ilsa, the evil Nazi Strasser...? ;)

I'm a sucker for a good melodrama - "Casablanca" has it all...and even a 13 year old who hasn't grown up watching old war movies felt the draw. As Time Goes By would make a very romantic pas de deux, don't you think?

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BW, movies might turn out to be better models for narrative ballets than novels -- at least they're already VISUAL.

Katharyn, I'm so happy to see you post -- you haven't been around in ages. The best dances sound silly when put into words, so you may well have something there!

Grace, I don't think we've had a thread on favorite comic ballets -- it's a good idea, and I'll steal it and start one :)

We've had companies here do audience surveys, too. I believe it was Cincinnati ballet a few years ago that had a Subscribers Choice program -- people had voted, and the top three ballets were put on the same program. ABT also did a poll a year or two ago that simply asked people "which would you rather see, a mixed bill or a full-evening work."

I didn't mean my statement "it might be good for directors to know what the audience wants" to be taken so literally. Like foreign policy, I don't think art can be decided by polls. :) But I do think there is a lot of guessing that's NOT based on data (not that an internet message board is data), such as young people ONLY like rock ballets, old people ONLY want to see "Swan Lake." I wonder if a young choreographer setting out to make a work would be surprised to learn that there are audience members who want to see something beautiful -- would that idea be scorned as silly and old-fashioned? Or would it seem new?

I taught a graduate seminar in aesthetics once where the students had never heard of Aristotle, never confronted the notion of beauty and that particular view of the purpose of art. They were intrigued.

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I've always thought that The Wizard of Oz would make a marvellous ballet. It's like a fairy tale: simple plot but with deep and universal themes (the search for a cure, the longing for home, the children 's notion that adults are all-powerful when they're just as vulnerable as they are), and the story is so well known that no one would have trouble following it. (It also has obvious box office potential, enough to make it a springtime Nutcracker.)

Trouble is, I'd insist that the company staging it gets the rights to the songs from the movie, so that they could have them arranged into a full-length ballet by a composer, and I doubt that the copyright holders would be willing to agree to that.

Dance-wise, it has potential both for classical set pieces (for Dorothy and Glinda the Good Fairy) and character (Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Wizard). The Munchkins would obviously be danced by children from the company's school (see what I mean by the Nutcracker comparison?). As for casting, Dorothy is a classical ingenue, a Margaret Tracey type (perhaps Megan Fairchild), Glinda is a warm, beautiful classical ballerina (Maria Alexandrova of the Bolshoi would be perfect), and the Wicked Witch of the West is a female Carabosse (now that Maya Plisetskaya is dancing again, could she be lured into a cameo?). Perhaps Herman Cornejo could dance the Wizard, who should be small.

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response for carbro:

alexandra wrote

Like foreign policy, I don't think art can be decided by polls.  But I do think there is a lot of guessing that's NOT based on data ...
obarzanek based his work on the data. he sent out a multiple choice questionnaire, asking things about plot (if any), number of dancers, gender of dancers, lighting, music (if any), and so on. i didn't see the result - only read about it - and i've pretty much forgotten. if there are other australians here, they might have seen it, or might recall better than i do.

i DO remember that, predictably, the work was no big success. but it was a cute idea!

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I love "The March of The Wooden Soldiers" and "The Wizard of Oz" - just saw them both the other night... Such a busy schedule I keep, eh?

Alexandra - your point about a VISUAL story is well taken! :)

So now we need a choreographer.

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Alexandra's observation that movies are already visual is well taken here. Best of all are probably silent movies, as they had to rely so entirely on the visual to convey their stories. Charlie Chaplin's melodrama A Woman of Paris could easily become a sort of latter-day Giselle.

A look at the silent movie catalogue shows us many movies which have made a successful transition from screen to ballet stage, even if they were originally taken from the legitimate stage. Now, Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments could be rough, but others, like "Jerusalem Delivered" have made the jump easily!

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Hmm. Movies to ballet? I think Christopher Wheeldon should be given a shot at "Barry Lyndon -- the ballet." All that gorgeous music Kubrick used is in the public domain, and there are endless dramatic scenes which would make great fodder for a dramatically inclined choreographer. I'm already envisioning the "Bathtub pas de deux," although I can't for the life of me think of who could do the Marisa Berenson role. Makarova coming out of retirement?

Knowing my luck I'd get the Bintley version.....

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