DANGER! DANGER! Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux!

30 Sep

Initially, when I watched The Turning Point, Lucette Aldous’ cameo as the Black Swan  was my favorite little performance snippet, but I’ve since had a change of heart, to Suzanne Farrell in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  I think I didn’t know enough about the Tchaik to really appreciate it, but in the past I have really liked Balanchine’s more classically styled works, like Theme and Variations (still trying to find a way to see this on video again…harrumph!) and Diamonds being my favorite of the Jewels (coincidentally, also me birthstone).  The weird Stravinsky stuff is ok…just not my favorite, because I prefer the classical vocabulary.  I do like Apollo, and Balanchine’s ability to create different styles in his Stravinskian ballets compared to the vastly different Tchaikovskian ones speaks greatly of his much heralded musicality.  However, I still find a lot of Stravinsky music to be too atonal and downright creepy.  Like horror movie soundtrack, and as much as I used to enjoy horror movies, or rather, taking my friends to horror movies so I could laugh at them being scared, it turns out I’m a scaredy cat too.

Anyway, I was really fascinated by the story of the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, as the mysteriously lost music from Act III of Swan Lake, and written for Anna Sobeshchanskaya, who didn’t like the original music (apparently because someone else used it…Billy forbid!).  She had Petipa choreograph a new pas de deux to music by Minkus, but Tchaikovsky himself was all “oh no he didn’t!” and refused to let someone else’s music tarnish his masterpiece score.  So he wrote new music to correspond with the choreography Petipa had already done for Sobeshchanskaya, and everyone was muy happy.  It was later dropped and because ballet is ballet the score was “lost.”  Thirty years later it’s found in the Bolshoi Theatre’s music library, and Vladimir Bourmeister used it in his staging of Swan Lake for the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre Ballet in 1953.  It was then brought to the attention of Balanchine, made its debut in 1960 and has since taken on its own identity as a Balanchine ballet.  Balanchine redid or did his own version of a lot of classical ballets, but I think the ones before him still stand as the dominantly known versions, while the Tchaik is rarely associated with Swan Lake now and it’s Balanchine’s choreography that takes the cake.  Although Bourmiester’s production is still done, like La Scala here with Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle here:

Although I’m a little confused here because the music for the pas de deux and male variation are the same between Swan Lake and Tchaik, but the female variation and coda are different. AwKWaRd!  It’s a nice pas de deux for Swan Lake though, but there are a few reasons why I prefer Balanchine’s plotless Tchaik.  One being how the codas aren’t so formulaic.  You can’t go wrong with “man jump jump pose, bravura step, a manège of some kind, enter woman 32-fouettes, man turns a la seconde, woman manège, end with finger turn/grandiose lift.”  It’s a proven formula that has worked time and time again, but there are always other ways to express movement and musicality, and Balanchine doesn’t stick to a particular structure…the woman might run in and do a little something, then the man, maybe a partner assisted something, maybe a something else in a “your turn, my turn” kind of deal, so it allows for more variety and to some people, it adheres better to musical phrases rather than chopping things up into chunks.  He also throws in some spice by taking things and doing them in new ways like fouettes which are in Tchaik, but instead of 32 straight there’s a series of a fouette into two little piques with a half turn (or as I like to call them, “fouette steppy-steps”), and then ending with a few regular fouettes.  What I like about it is how the fouette steppy-steps are peanut butter and jelly with the pizzicato of the violins.  It just makes more sense.

However, the BEST part of the choreography is the “death drop fish dive of doom.”  Instead of the run-of-the-mill fish dive where the ballerina is dropped from a lift and the man bends forward with her, sinking on the back leg into a plié, the Tchaik version has the woman leap into the air where the man catches her at the apex of the jump, and then drops her forward while mostly staying upright, and she ends with her face just inches from the floor.  So the action in a regular fish dive is more of a “drop and then lower,” while the fish dive of doom is a “launch and then swing,” kind of like those swinging pirate ship rides at amusement parks.  Pas de deux can be generally categorized into three types:  an expression of love, someone is either dying or already dead, or a celebration.  Tchaik would be a celebration, and I love how the fish dive of doom adds an element of danger.  If I ever meet a six and a half foot sasquatch, I’m definitely going to ask if we can try this out, because it looks like fun so it must be a good idea.  I can’t post a video, because of legal reasons having to do with the movie, but here is an animation.

fishdiveshort

Anyway, because it is Balanchine, of course videos are almost impossible to come by thanks to the Balanchine Trust.  I know, I complain about them all the time, but I do get what they’re trying to do.  They want to make sure Balanchine ballets are reproduced with authenticity, and I don’t dispute that.  But honestly, who in the world is going to try and stage a Balanchine ballet from a YouTube video?  I don’t think any artistic director would really stage a ballet that they couldn’t coach, so of course they’d bring someone in, and it’s kind of a slap in the face to them to make it seem like they wouldn’t have the wits to do just that.  Not to mention anyone could rent a Balanchine Nutcracker, copy choreography out of it and there’s no way the Trust has spies that attend every Nutcracker in the world during Christmas (or do they?).  Plus the advertising…if you think about it, I never would have even known about Tchaik had I not taken the time to go to the library, rent a movie that was made before I was born, with no prior knowledge of the fact that it even contained Tchaik.  That’s a considerable amount of effort just to see a MINUTE of ONE ballet.  If I want to see the entire thing, these are the opportunities available to me:

  1. Fly somewhere to see it live.
  2. Fly to New York and go the Library of the Performing Arts
  3. Purchase a DVD of Pas de Deux or Dancing for Mr. B for $26.99
  4. Track down an out of print VHS of Peter Martins: A Dancer

I would really love to see Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins dance the whole thing since The Turning Point only shows a minute of the coda, but it’s only availabe in Peter Martins: A Dancer and nothing spells accessibility like “out of print VHS.”  Were it not for The Turning Point, chances are I’d never do any of the above, unless I happened to be in town when a company was performing Tchaik, and only the alignment of the stars can tell us when that would happen!

The key word though, is “almost” because I scoured YouTube and succeeded!  I won’t post links because I don’t want to get anyone into trouble, but I was able to download a clip and edit it so that only an excerpt of the ballet is shown, and the Trust seems to be okay with small excerpts.  I saw mostly variations and the coda from a few different performances, and it’s interesting that the Trust is so concerned with authenticity when each interpretation was vastly different.  For example, Darcey Bussell is immaculate, typical clean lines and articulate feet that you can expect of a dancer of Royal Ballet caliber, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.  The tempo was rather slow, and although the clarity in her fouette steppy-steps was amazing, it was just too dreamy for my tastes.  And the fish dive of doom was much different, with Zoltan Solymosi catching her like a feather, without much of a swing to it.  So there just wasn’t enough speed and danger.  Also, they chose to do the more common position with one leg in retiré, and the man in a wide plié while Farrell/Martins were in a straight position, with legs together as you saw above.  Ballet is meant to evolve from performer to performer, and with such changes I’m left a little confused as to why the Trust would claim ensuring authenticity as a defense for having videos removed.  I mean, if you want to get really picky, contemporary performances of Tchaik have some notable differences, like the woman’s entrance before the fouette steppy-steps, where women now do an Italian pas de chat, with an added tour jeté before bourée into the prep, while Farrell did a regular pas de chat, degagé into sous-sus fifth, bourée into prep, no tour jeté.  There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s pretty clear nobody’s trying to do it like one of Balanchine’s muses!

Anyway, the clip I selected isn’t the best quality (and I’m hoping it doesn’t get my YouTube account suspended…eek!), but the dancing is wonderful with Xiomara Reyes and Angel Corella.  The Cubans are always so jubilant and effervescent which makes Reyes a great pick for this (although even she lags behind just a hair on the steppy-steps!  Farrell does it best from what I’ve seen), and I thought this was a perfect role for Corella.  I’ve seen clips and he was “wow” in Corsaire, “HOLY SMOKES!” in Don Q, but I loved him in this the most.  He has a really infectious smile, and is just really buoyant and plain old happy throughout (and I like his little hoppy tours…whatever they’re called).  The reason why I selected this is because their fish dive of doom is by far the most exciting one out there.  I like the purity of line with Farrell/Martins straight body positions, but Reyes has some MAJOR air time and Corella dips her so close to the floor it’s cramazing.  Enjoy!

By the way, last night when I was downloading this video and editing it, it disappeared and was “unavailable” for a few minutes and I was totally creeped out and was almost convinced that the Balanchine Trust was after me.  It was totally Jennifer Garner in Alias.

Also, I should mention that it seems Miami City Ballet is doing it this season, so here’s an excerpt from them, and the Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse has some more substantial excerpts from the pas deux and variations for a better picture of what the entire pas de deux looks like.  It’ll have to do!

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3 Responses to “DANGER! DANGER! Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux!”

  1. Karena October 1, 2009 at 8:51 am #

    You can also see some of Tchai PDD on Violette and Mr. B–Violette Verdy coaching dancers in various roles. You see some rehearsal footage of her working with them, and some very fuzzy clips of Violette dancing. The whole DVD is pretty wonderful.

    • youdancefunny October 1, 2009 at 6:14 pm #

      Awesome! Thanks for the heads up, I’ll defos check it out!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. May I take your order? « You Dance Funny, So Does Me - December 15, 2009

    […] I only got interested in this whole mess because I myself got confused when I realized that there we…, neither of them being the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux coda, and was thinking which coda appealed to me the most.  Predictably, the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux is still my favorite of the three, even if I ignore Balanchine’s choreography.  Musically, I think it’s the most exciting, although I was curious as to what a Swan Lake Pas de Deux would look like to it.  As I mentioned earlier I don’t think it has ever been used in a Black Swan pas de deux, and it made me wonder if the 32 fouettés was a part of the choreography as well.  It’s possible that the same place Balanchine put the fouettés in the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (although he didn’t choreograph 32) is the same place where 32 fouettés could have gone because it’s long enough, but what makes that seem unlikely to me is the fact that in the other codas, the fouettés come pretty early on, while the possible break in the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux which is thirty seconds longer than the other two, is towards the end.  Regardless, my questions ended up being irrelevant because 32 fouettés didn’t enter Swan Lake until the 1895 revival by Petipa/Ivanov, which is post-Sobeshchanskaya, who used the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux version in 1877 (the original Swan Lake, by Julius Reisinger was not a success).  Well, at least I learned something. […]

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