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1/24/03 NYCB's performance and history?


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We attended last night and saw, among other things, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" - all I can say is WOW! Maria Kowroski was unbelievable in that role of the "Strip Tease Girl" - what legs, what dancing, what allure! I've read about her performances on other sections of the board...and now I understand. Amazing, truly. Damian Woetzel was none to shabby himseelf - he really is awfully good at the acting part of their performances, besides being an accomplished dancer...and in this case a tap dancer! If you've never seen this ballet, you really ought to try - it's very different from most...very much like a non singing musical... Jason Fowler and Stephen Hanna were very humorous in their performances as the bartenders...both they and the policemen, played by Antonio Carmena, Aaron Severini and Daniel Ulbricht were excellent to - great precision and humor. Not to mention the rather Nureyev-like parody of Morrosine, played by Adam Hendrickson... :)

I know it came from "On Your Toes"... Can someone tell me a little history of "On Your Toes"? I know it's a Rodgers and Hammerstein production...why did I think it was Jerome Robbins?

Next: Someone please tell me what "Davidsbundlertanze" means - David's dream dances? Many people seemed to like this piece...I did not, generally speaking. Right now, I'm most interested in its title. Seeing Kyra Nichols was a real treat for us, though, I must add.

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BW - Davidsbundlertanze = "Dances of David's Band" - Robert Schumann titled his song cycle after a cast of characters he had used in his work before (in "Carnaval") These imaginary characters were created by him to aid in the war against Philistinism. In Davidsbundlertanze, they were limited primarily to the extorverted Florestan and the introverted Eusebius. No one is absolutely certain if Balanchine was attempting to reference specific characters or the Florestan/Eusebius duality in the dancers onstage, but it is known that the Luders/von Aroldingen parts (Askegard/Nichols I'm assuming in your casts) were called "Robert and Clara" by Balanchine. There are echoes in their dances of the life and times of Robert Schumann himself (hence including his name in the title) and his wife and former pupil Clara Wieck.

I don't know Slaughter offhand quite as well, but I believe On Your Toes is from ca. 1938. Tamara Geva was in the original cast, and the version we see was by and large rechoreographed in '68 by Balanchine for Farrell and Arthur Mitchell. There are other ballets in the musical (one called "Princess Zenobia" which spoofs Scheherezade). On Your Toes was revived again on Broadway (with, I think, additional choreography by Peter Martins) in 1983.

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Incidentally, Tamara Geva was Balanchine's first wife. And as for the "League of David," I've been reading about it lately, and there really was a group of romantic (as in romantic movement, not people in love) thinkers who gathered, and thought of themselves as a league. Schumann was among them. So there are layers of reference in the music, and more layers in the ballet, as Leigh Witchel explained. When you look at it, you don't need to know all this, though of course it is interesting. Balanchine also had intense relationships with two of the original ballerinas, so that also plays into what you see. I think of the ballet as being a kind of reminiscence--as if all the men were Balanchine, and the women various people in his life, at various times. Another something to remember is that Balanchine had a German nanny as a child, and a German wife (Vera Zorina, not her real name, which was Brigitta). I don't think the ballet is really tied down to any of these people in a specific way--I just think those notions can be felt in it.

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I did a little research into On Your Toes, using Frederick Nolan's biography of Lorenz Hart. Here is what I learned:

On Your Toes was originally conceived as a film musical, an RKO vehicle for Astaire and Rogers. They wrote an outline and a few songs about a former vaudevillian who gets mixed up with the world of ballet and a temperamental ballerina before returning to the sweet girl he really loves. Astaire was intrigued, because he’d never worked with Rodgers & Hart, but ultimately rejected the idea because he felt that the public wouldn’t accept him in anything but a top hat, white tie and tails. (He would later change his mind, of course; Shall We Dance contains some similar plot elements, and Astaire actually plays a ballet dancer! The stage version of OYT salutes Astaire in its title song.) R&H took the idea back to Broadway, and Hart asked Balanchine to do the choreography, to which he enthusiastically agreed. Here is Nolan’s summary of the plot:

Junior, son of vaudevillians Phil and Lil  Dolan, forsakes his hoofer heritage and goes to Knickerbocker University to study music; there he meets and falls in love with co-ed Frankie Fayne.  Their fellow student Sidney Cohn is writing a a jazz ballet, “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue;” Frankie’s friend Peggy Porterfield tries to sell it to a Russian ballet company.  The prima ballerina, Vera Barnova, is attracted to Junior and wants to do the ballet (and thus snare Junior), but Sergei Alexandrovich, the head of the company, says no.  Complications ensue, with Junior plunged unreadily — and ruinously — into a performance of the “La Princesse Zenobia” ballet.

Misunderstandings between Junior and Frankie follow.  “Can a good man be in love with two women at the same time?” he asks Peggy.  “Only if he’s very good,” she tells him.  Meanwhile Vera’s other swain, ballet dancer Morrosine, is in trouble with gangsters, to whom he owes money.  Peggy confronts Sergei and threatens to remove her million-dollar patronage unless “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” is performed.  Junior is chosen to dance it over Morrisine, who pays a hit man to bump off “Juniorvich Dolanski” during the performance.  Warned that a gangster is in the audience, the exhausted Junior has to keep on dancing till the cops arrive.  Of course, true love conquers, and it all works out just fine.

Balanchine is quoted in the book as saying that the “Slaughter” ballet was Hart’s idea. The original cast was Ray Bolger as Junior, Doris Carson as Frankie, Luella Gear as Peggy, Monty Wooley, in his acting debut, as Sergei, and Tamara Geva (replacing the originally announced Marilyn Miller) as Vera. George Abbott wrote the book and directed.

During reheasals, a friend of Hart’s named Bender was much in evidence; he liked to hang around the young male dancers. He was so occupied during a reheasal when Balanchine, awaiting the overdue entrance of the Nubian slaves for the Princess Zenobia ballet, called out, “Ver de hell is de zlaves?” Hart sang out, to the tune of “There’s a Small Hotel” (the show’s best-known song),

Look behind the curtain

You can see six slaves and Bender

Bender’s on the ender

Lucky Bender!

The show opened to great reviews and was one of Rodgers' and Hart’s biggest successes. It was revived on Broadway, to similar success, in the early 80s, with Natalia Makarova as Vera. The recording of that revival (sans Makarova, who had a non-singing role) was recently re-issued on the Jay label and can be ordered from Amazon using the link at the top of the page. It’s the only recording that contains the complete music to Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.

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As Leigh has suggested, Balanchine called the ballet "Robert Schumann's 'Davidsbundlertanze'" for a specific reason -- the ballet is about Robert Schumann and his relationship with Clara Schumann (Charles Askegard and Kyra Nichols in the January 24 performance). A possible way of looking at the ballet is to regard the three other couples as representing various aspects of the Schumanns' life together. The ballet is a progression toward madness and oblivion, propelled by the forces of philistinism, sometimes known as critics :) , who brandish their quills and then recede. According to Bernard Taper's biography, Balanchine had intended for these quill-bearers to be drowned in a great flood, but that proved technically impractical.

In her memoir, "Split Seconds," Tamara Geva wrote, "I doubt that anyone will dispute that 'On Your Toes' was a milestone in the history of musical comedy, changing the format, eliminating the chorus line, and incorporating dancing into the story." The 1982 revival starred Natalia Makarova until she was injured by some falling scenery. She was succeeded by Valentina Koslova. Unfortunately, the show's run coincided with Balanchine's final illness.

While we're talking history, let's not forget the history of "Square Dance," which opened the program on Junuary 24. At its premiere in 1957, there were fiddlers and a square dance caller on stage. Twenty years later, the musicians were in the pit and the caller was gone, never to reappear for NYCB, although a caller is sometimes featured in other companies' productions.

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According to the catalogue of Balanchine's works, a revival (of GB's actual choreography, not "after") was done in 1954 for Broadway (I believe Zorina was the star).

A film was done of On Your Toes, also with Zorina and Eddie Albert in the leads (Lew Christensen and Andre Eglevsky appear in the Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ballet). It sometimes pops up on TCM, but usually at around 5am. There is a snipped of the "Princess Zenobia Ballet" in the film "That's Dancing." The Slaughter on Tenth Avenue in the film of On your Toes differs than what we see in the 1968 ballet for Farrell and Mitchell. A lot less high extensions and the dancing at the end is more "Broadway." I'm also pretty sure Albert does not do the tap dancing at the end - you just see his feet then flashers to his face scanning the audience trying to find the gangster.

In the 1983 revival, there was additional choreography by Peter Martins.

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Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! :) What a wonderful source of information! Interestingly, today I was speaking to someone who had studied music and piano, and she had brought up Schumann's spiral into madness and thought that the dark, quill pen wielding figures might have been his "demons"...and as Farrell Fan has explained, in a away, they are just that. ;)

I'm also glad you brought up "Square Dance" as I thought Peter Boal, in particular, was superb...but how I would have loved seeing it done with a caller and a fiddle player! I'm sorry that they don't do that anymore.

I also thank you for your details in re Valentina Kozlova... I knew she had danced in the revival but until your mentioning it, FF, no one had mentioned it. I can bet she was a show stopper.

Thank you all so much for the details...I really did find "Davidsbundlertanze" a bit obscure. If only they had included some notes in the program!! This, for me, was an example where you could really have used them.

Again, thanks to all of you... I am going to reread everyone's comments, for sure.

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BW, don't worry about not seeing the caller. I might be in the minority, but I found - having seen the later version first - the caller annoying after a while. At first, it is interesting to see that, yes, the ballet really does use "square dancing" as well as baraque court dancing. You see the evolution of the dance form. But then I was just thinking, "Oh, be quiet. I can't hear the music!"

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According to the notes in the jewel case of my Decca Original Cast recording (CD) of the 1954 production of "On Your Toes", the revival opened at the 46th St. Theatre on October 11, 1954. Vera Zorina and Bobby Van starred. (A very young sounding) Elaine Stritch caused a sensation with her rendition of "You Took Advantage of Me".

I saw Makarova, George De La Pena, Lara Teeter and Dina Merrill (Kitty Carlisle Hart also did Dina's role) in the 1983 revival which was a great success and ran two hundred more performances than the original 1936 production. Starr Danias, a cast member, took the lead in matinees while Makarova starred. After Makarova (who was hurt while performing at The Kennedy Center) left the broadway production, she was replaced by Galina Panova and Valentina Kozlova. I know that Starr Danias did not perform the lead while Panova starred.

My CD notes state that Balanchine's choreography for "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" and the "Princess Zenobia Ballet" was re-created by Donald Saddler for the 1983 production.

I think this is the same Donald Saddler whom I saw in the recent production of "Follies" on Broadway. He portrayed half of a famous ballroom dancing couple. They danced while their young ghosts, on stage at the same time danced (sometimes right through chairs), in a brilliant production (IMO) of "Follies".

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BW - Ballet Review is available in a few bookstores, but is difficult to find. The Lincoln Center and NYCB gift shops are probably a good place to try.

This thread has subscription information.

As a parenthetical note to all - do try our search function, it's the fourth button in the top right corner. The answer you're looking for might be only a click away.

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The Ballet Review article "reads" the ballet chiefly in terms of Balanchine's demise, viewing it as a farewell to ballet, beloved figures in Balanchine's life, and basically everything else. There are seveal interesting points -- suggesting, for example, that the Quill Guys are kin to the top hatted figures familiar at funerals in times gone by, and are harbingers of death, not necessarily symbolic of critics attacking Schumann's work. The piece also suggests that the character originally danced by von Aroldingen is a "companion" –not necessarily a wife or representation of Clara Schumann. I thought the author was straining a bit for originality, but it's definitely worth a read. (It also views this ballet as Balanchine's last great work, which statement admirers of "Mozartiana" might find worth debating.)

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Thanks Leigh, I'd actually been to their website and that email address didn't work.:cool: Guess I'll resort to the phone and/or the NYCB bookstore...

dirac - appreciate your synopsis. My unlearned reaction when I saw it was that they were exactly that the"harbingers of death" and definitely felt a funereal twinge as they made their tophatted entrance...I could almost hear the horses' hooves on the cobblestones... Unfortunately, I did not really care for the ballet - whether this was due, in part to Askegard's costume and portrayal ...or just the general piece, I cannot say. :( Naturally, I am speaking here in regard to my emotional response...not specifically to the choreography, but the ballet as a whole.

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Yes, BW, Francis Mason is the editor. Subscription rates for individuals are $23 for 1 year (four issues) or $41 for 2 years. The address for subscriptions is Ballet Review, 37 West 12 Street, Apt. 7J, New York, NY 10011.

Incidentally, when I got the Fall issue I put it aside intending to get to it later, and I didn't know about the Davidsbundlertanze article till ATM711 and dirac mentioned it. Thanks to them, I've now read it. I found it interesting but a little far-fetched.

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I have a video of DBT which I rarely watch because it always leaves me emotionally drained---especially the PDD by Farrell and D'Amboise near the end of the work. I have always looked upon the work as the passing of one's youth and creativity--and the older I grow and the more friends I loose, the more poignant it becomes. Balanchine with a touch of Tudor?

In the aforementioned article by Adam Pinsker he writes the following:

"In the final duet, when the leader moves into the darkness and toward the sea after bidding farewell to his companion, she is left standing with her back to the audience in an attitude of grief. When I recovered f rom this deeply moving ending the first time I saw the ballet, I realised this recalls the ending of Tudor's 'Lilac Garden'. when the lovere is left alone center stage with his back to the audience. The whole ballet is reminiscent of Tudor in a number of ways. The series of duet conversations recalls 'The Leaves are Fading', Tudor's penultimate ballet. The use of gesture, seamlessly wedded to classical technique, is Tudor's signature, and here at the conclusion of the ballet Balanchine has once again recalled his colleague, whom he has always admired."

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It is very moving, even on video.

Arlene Croce wrote a piece on the ballet when it premiered which is collected in "Going to the Dance" and may be in the most recent anthology as well, I don't recall. She brought up Tudor as well, although not in the same detail.

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