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the dancer and the dance

Paul Parish

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This is a new member of the family, dancers you'd like to see in a dance--

This version is about the dances where you just KNOW the people dancing them now have not been coached right, or are dancing a version of the piece that's been adapted so may times for new dancers that it's lost its character.

Top of my list right now is what Lew Christensen's great ballerina Nancy Johnson looked like as his Sugar Plum Fairy. Which means, how do you phrase that dance? Where IS the dance in that dance? Violette Verdy has said that she loved that variation, so it must have real poetry -- and I would have loved to see her do it. But I wish to God I could have seen Johnson. The dance has a secret -- it's a paradoxical thing: an allegro that's really rather slow, a crystalline dance that's actually very soft, so the timing, the articulation, and the grace is EVERYTHING -- which is in character for the lady in question.

Next on my list is Marie-Jeanne in Concerto Barocco, then comes Nijinska in Papillons -- has ANYBODY seen Papillons? And of course Danilova in Apollo. When she put out her hands, in what spirit did Lifar lay his head in them?

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Diana Adams in Agon.

Tanaquil Leclercq in both Afternoon of a Faun and Ivesiana.

I know exactly what you're talking about Paul. There's a certain plate tectonics of how a ballet in performance moves against time and its cultural matrix; a slow imperceptible shift as attitudes change, conventions change, even bodies change. Sometimes ballets deteriorate, sometimes they just change. But it would be fascinating to see what the original idea and context was.

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I would love to see all the Petipa ballerina and soloist roles -- fairies, Odette/Odile, Aurora.

This isn't an original, but it's 100 years ago now -- the Elfeldt film of Ellen Price de Plane doing the Sylph. I wrote about it once saying "She is round and merry and never knew Giselle, and the feet flick from under the skirt like a serpent's tongue, a fitting image for a temptress."

Nothing I've seen live matches those feet -- no one is even trying to do feet like that. Because the tutu is nearly floor length, the only weapon she has is her feet -- the legs aren't visible. And the arms are rounded as tendrils, and very free.

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Off the top of my head, Robbins, Lang, and Kriza in Fancy Free (and Janet Reed and Whatsername, too). I would imagine that there would be a lot of stylistic differences, and wonder also if the distance there is between today's dancers and the dance vernacular of the time has changed it much.

I second Paul's mention of Marie-Jeanne in Barocco. Actually, I'd like to see her in Ballet Imperial, too, and I understand she carried Serenade by herself at one point. She must have been awesome.

Camargo. Marie Salle.

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oh my! where to begin!?

the original cast of pas de quatre.

legnani in swan lake!

spessivtseva in giselle, definitely.

karsavina in carnaval.

pavlova in the (dying) swan, or almost anything else.

jumping through the centuries:

monica mason in rite of spring

beriosova in les noces

nerina in la fille mal gardee

seymour in les deux pigeons

makarova in swan lake

the more time i sit here, the more i will think of...

merrill ashley, in anything she was 'good' in - my curiosity is piqued by her book 'dancing for balanchine'

more of ana laguna - maybe in something that WASN'T mats ek's!

lots more of my favorite, alessandra ferri


erik bruhn, live, in anything

baryshnikov, at his classical peak - i only saw him live with white oak

more of fernando bujones

actually, i think i've lost the plot - or missed your point...


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Well, Grace, I'd like to see any of those, too -- Karsavina in Carnaval! How I'd like to see a good production of Carnaval!!! Have you?

But the urgency to this thread, for me, comes from seeing dances where you feel deep-down certain that the impulses the dance is founded on have gotten lost -- and you wish you could see what it was like with the performers who really "got" it.... which is, probably, usually the dancer it was made for, though this is REALLY a guessing game, so you can guess all you want -- educated guesses are the best --

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On another thread, Leigh spoke of "Agon" as being a time capsule of the 1950's. I can't quite see that YET--but I will keep it in mind with further viewings. However, if ever a ballet was a time capsule of its time--it has always been the original cast of "Fancy Free" (the other two are Muriel Bentley and Shirley Eckl). I have never been satisfied with any of the later casts I have seen---not through any fault of the dancers. What is always missing for me are the intangibles--the aura and the feeling of New York City during the war years. On another note, I did see Marie-Jeanne in "Ballet Imperial" and was decidely disappointed. Her performance was marred for me because of the way she looked!--The costume was unflattering--she looked too broad in the waist and her feet looked like Size tens--although her footwork was very sharp and neat. I did come to admire her in 'LeBaiser de la Fee"--where she portrayed the Bride--she seemed like a Romantic dancer in this part and would have fit neatly into 'Giselle' I have often wondered if this "Balanchine Dancer" had missed her calling and should have danced a more varied repertoire.

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Slightly off topic, I can't recall who made the joke about Marie-Jeanne (Pelus') feet, but I recall reading somewhere someone calling her "Paddlefoot Pelus"! So she did have big feet.

Maybe it's easier for people who didn't live through an era to neatly place it in a time capsule, atm? It sure doesn't mean I'm right.

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thanks paul - i knew i hadn't 'got' it. :)

still, it was fun, musing.

about carnaval - i have only ever seen it once, many years ago - when i was too inexperienced to have much of an opinion. it's a ballet that has all but disappeared, isn't it?

maybe we could play 'casting carnaval' in another thread!

now that i understand better what you are on about, i'll give it some thought.

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Staying with the discussion of Fancy Free for a moment: the current 'Spanish' variation as danced at NYCB is my pet peeve about coaching - especially the parts where the sailor runs his hand up his leg and side, looks at it, and runs it back down. I remember it from ABT in the 70s (or 80s - it all runs together as I get older). But I distinctly remember a sort of humorous self-eroticism (not sure that's the exactly right word) that is now totally lacking in the City dancers. This surprises me, because I seem to remember Peter Martins doing it acceptably when he danced the role briefly.

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