My stars, I do deClair de Lune

11 Sep

I’ve been looking for different recordings of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, the famous third movement of his Suite Bergamesque for piano.  Recall that I’m a nerd, so I like to find these different recordings, compare pianists, and pick a favorite.  In my quest, I keep coming up with the same damn version from the Twilight soundtrack (and if not that, the one from Ocean’s 11).  This young generation that now finds Clair de Lune so romantic and lovely needs to know two things.  One, Clair de Lune was a smash hit long before the likes of Twilight, which is what we classicists have been trying to imprint on the incorrigible youth, that much of their music is crap and they need to pay some respect to geniuses like Debussy.  Sure it’s fun to “bust a move” to whatever’s current and “hot,” but it’s about time somebody sit these kids down and tell them to actively seek the  development of an intelligent appreciation for music too (instead of waiting for things to show up in their favorite movies!).  Two, those of us who were dedicated fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are most annoyed that these whippersnappers seem to think Twilight is the be-all-end-all of vampire teen angst, and now it’s cascading into this trend of the “modern vampire” what with True Blood (which I’ve actually heard a lot of good things about) and The Vampire Diaries.  I’m going to say this here and now…let it be known, that in the realm of teen vampire comedy-drama, Buffy did it first, and Buffy did it better.

Anyway, since I’m one of those “music inspires me” people, I of course expanded my search to dance, and oddly enough there isn’t that much material on Clair de Lune.  Does it not inspire?  It seems as though many smaller companies will have a piece to it, but to the best of my knowledge, nobody has hit the nail on the head.  I found an ancient review of a “Clair de Lune” choreographed by Peter Anastos for ABT (danced by Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones) and it was a pretty scathing review:

Yet, finally, ”Clair de Lune” is bland. For one thing, interest in it wanes because of its length. It lasts 22 minutes, and that, considering its wispiness, is probably longer than it should last.

Moreover, ”Clair de Lune” is not so much a ballet about any particular young lovers, however romanticized or idealized, as it is a deliberately contrived example of the conventional pas de deux for young lovers. It fits a familiar category without revitalizing that category, and its real subject is not love or moonlight or spring nights or even the musical structures of Debussy. Rather, ”Clair de Lune” is a ballet about the glamour of ballet dancing itself and the glamour of ballet stars. But when glamour is the be-all-end-all of a work and not something that accompanies or grows out of other, and stronger, qualities, that work is virtually doomed to be insubstantial.

Ouch.  Needless to say, footage is unavailable (ABT doesn’t have much of a presence on YouTube anyway).  Maybe choreographers are intimidated by taking on such a well known piece, but I can’t get over the fact that there isn’t a really significant ballet to it.  It’s soothing and ethereal, the same qualities we look for in ballet dancers (although Balanchine once referred to excessive mooniness in ballet as a disease: “Gisellitis”), but perhaps it is the presence and strength of those exact qualities that make it so difficult to work with.  If Debussy could transcribe moonlight into music, then it’s going to take a pretty special choreographer to do the same.  People are trying though, and there’s no such thing as failure in art…just different degrees in impact.  I liken it to when someone hands you a silver platter, you had better make one hell of a turkey.  There just has yet to be one turkey to rule them all… one turkey to find them.  One turkey to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

I did find a couple of dances, the first being a solo(ish) by Enrique Gasa Valga of…well, I’m not exactly sure, but based on what I could scrape up I think he dances for the Innsbruck Ballet of Austria, but is also director of a company.  Kind of one of those wandering spirit types who seems to be everywhere all at once.  I have no idea who this guy is, just that he choreographed a modern ballet to Clair de Lune (ah the glories of YouTube).  It begins as a male solo, and kind of ends as a male pas de deux.  I say kind of because to me, it strikes me as a representation of having a conversation with your own reflection or even just yourself.  Like after a long day’s work you find that you’re talking to yourself at night, asking the moon for advice because nobody else is listening.  This is something familiar to me because my Chinese zodiac is the mouse, and we’re nocturnal by nature (if I had a choice, I’d go to bed at 4am and get up at noon.  Or 2pm).  I enjoy my nocturnal (well, crepuscular judging by the hours above) lifestyle and I think more people should try it because they would probably be surprised by how bright the moon is.  Anyway, the solo is part of a larger body of work and he has another solo that is a laid back New York easy-Broadway jazz kind of deal, so I can totally picture this business man dancing down the street, tired but slightly tipsy, when he stops and notices the moon, and his reflection in a dark shop window.  Er…if this were the 1950’s.

Next was a piece choreographed by Boris Storojkov, now ballet master of Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro (impressive resume, great traditional Russian background, yadda yadda yadda).  His Clair de Lune is more prototypical…male-female pas de deux and periwinkle unitards on a black stage.  While Valga’s used the original piano version, Storojkov opted for an orchestration.  Aside from a little “oopsy-do” where the ballerina put her hand down coming out of a lift, it was…nice.  I found it a little uncrystalized at times and there were moments where it seemed like choreography was just filling the space instead of doing something, but that’s probably one of the most difficult things about Clair de Lune; sustaining a silken line of tension in a song that epitomizes serenity.  It’s nice…like hot cocoa on a wintery day, but I don’t think it’s “the one.”  I do however, love the moment where they’re sort of playing with each other, where the male dancer does the arabesque turn into a renversé while she promenades in arabesque and goes into an attitude turn.  The echoing of the lines but in differing motions made it so seamless and then they synchronize and meet in an attitude in plié.  But I was a little disappointed when that was followed by two tour jetés which broke the spell.  However, the last minute, when it was not so skilly is when the dance became sublime.

I suppose we’ll have to wait for that earth-shattering Clair de Lune…but here’s something fun, Storojkov teaching class (Men’s?  With a few ambitious women?  I think it’s cool when the women jump with the men).  Cool to see a professional level class…love the “mandagge” and the petit allegros looked like fun!  But the grande allegros were SCARY.  I think the chances of me ever jumping like a man is under the “highly unlikely to impossible” column.

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