Tag Archives: tchaikovsky pas de deux

Challenging Changes and Audacious Authenticity

23 Jul

I’ve been reading up on reviews and such for the Bolshoi’s production of Coppélia that is currently showing at the Royal Opera House, which is a new reconstruction from a Stepanov notation score of Petipa’s original.  The Bag Ladies wrote a post that included a link to a fascinating article from The Arts Desk, featuring the man “restoring” Petipa ballets, Sergei Vikharev.  It’s all supremely interesting, but unfortunately wasted on me because most of the Petipa ballets I’ve only seen one or no production of (I can hardly believe this debauchery), let alone be familiar with the details and choreography to know the differences in “after Petipa” versions and any reconstruction (none of which are on film yet anyway).  I hope in depth discussions about Coppélias are taking place in London as we speak, meanwhile I’m going to keep splashing about in the kiddie pool.

What I do take away from the article though is a question of what exactly does authenticity mean to the world of ballet?  Rather than lead you to believe I have some coherent answer stewing in me brains, I’m just going to say up front there really doesn’t seem to be one.  Some ballets do well with change while others simply can’t be touched.  There’s no clear formula to decide what’s allowed and what isn’t and it seems no great choreographer’s work, whether classical or contemporary is completely invulnerable to change.  There’s no gauge to say whether any of the changes are good or bad, but we discuss these changes anyway and that friends, is what makes art history so special in comparison to plain history.  Regular historians have to argue with each other over the truth while art historians can just argue for fun…or really, to present a certain interpretation of an idea.  It’s all quite intangible and makes for better conversation because we have the luxury of learning to accept differing ideas on the same topic.  Meanwhile, history seeks to uncover one, unbiased truth and I find that incredibly boring (needless to say, history was never my best subject).

I was surprised to read in the article that there was a lack of support for Vikharev’s work (and even more so that money was part of the reasoning behind it) because I don’t think Vikahrev is trying to monopolize Petipa ballets; to me it seems to be more of a responsibility to expand ballet’s history.  I think part of the problem is the word authenticity itself—to claim one version as “original” or “authentic” is to imply that anything else is not and while everything else is indeed “after Petipa,” many new stagings of these ballets have built their own, admirably strong traditions (like Balanchine did with his after Petipa choreography).  As cliché as it sounds, we really do have to look at the past to be able to see the future.  These new reconstructions can help us see how ballet has changed and thus give us that ballet can indeed continue to evolve as a classical art form.  The only way to know where you can go is to know where the heck you came from.

Nobody knew the importance of change better than Balanchine.  In my own obsession with (or as I like to call it, “amateur studies”) of the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, I’ve seen many of these changes and not just in historic versus contemporary performances, but within older performances that included changes made by Balanchine himself.  He created the pas de deux on Violette Verdy and she herself had this to say in a documentary:

If he didn’t like what you did with it right away, and he’d say ‘I think I need to change it’ [And you say] Oh Mr. B. I love this, I’ll make it look good, I promise, I’m going to work. [Balanchine would say] ‘No dear, I have another one [step]’ because he knew, maybe there was something better there to be done.

I’ve seen footage of Verdy, the originator of the piece which debuted in 1960 as well as the television debut with Melissa Hayden and Jacques d’Amboise in 1962 and already there were changes in the choreography.  DISCLAIMER: Okay so if you’re a casual reader who may not be too familiar with ballet terminology, you may want to choose your own adventure and skip right to the animations because it’s about to get really confusing or if you know the terms and want to skip the details anyway (a valid lifestyle choice) please feel free to do so.  For example, in the coda fouettés were never in the original choreography.  Verdy would perform a series of consecutive attitude turns (en dehors) followed by a quick series of tour sautés en arabesque.  When Hayden performed, Balanchine had her do fouettés but start out with slower ones and gain speed.  Fast forward a bit and Patricia McBride performed what has become sort of the standard and what I used to call the “fouetté steppy-step.”  I looked this up in the dictionary and it’s a mouthful—“fouetté rond de jamb en tournant en dehors, emboîté en tournant sur les pointes.”  I have a little side complaint with this because nobody does this with the speed and accuracy of Suzanne Farrell (understandably so) but what many ballerinas end up doing is cheating the second half of the emboîté en tournant.  They do the fouetté, step onto the right foot en pointe but they cheat with the left leg and plop straight into plié to do the next fouetté.  It’s kind of sloppy to me…but anyway here’s a couple of animations for the visual people:

violette suzanne

Observe: Violette Verdy on top, performing attitude turns en dehors followed by tour sautés en arabesque and Suzanne Farrell on the bottom, performing fouetté rond de jamb en tournant en dehors, emboîté en tournant sur les pointes, both at the same moment in the music.

It is somewhat normal to change bravura steps in a grand pas de deux but there are also many stylistic changes throughout that Tchai Pas has gone through over time.  Hayden didn’t do the partnered penchée in the pas de deux and d’Amboise’s variation actually had an extra forty-eight counts!  Arms differ on the fish dive, whereas Farrell would dive face first, many ballerinas extend their arms forward.  The final exit offstage includes an overhead lift where the man lifts the woman underneath her back and she extends one leg forward and one leg behind her in attitude but it is often changed now so that she tips completely backwards and extends her front leg to the ceiling.  Personally, I like the forward version because it gives the effect of this huge, flying leap and the tipped back version tends to look a little awkward to me, like a caveman hoisting his latest kill but like I said, no right answers when it comes to these changes.  I’m just scratching the surface here, but you get the idea.  What I’d like to know is why hasn’t Verdy’s original interpretation been revived?  Yeah, I went there.

Three different fish dives: Hayden & d'Amboise left, McBride & Baryshnikov center, and Farrell & Martins on the right. Note the differences in arm and leg positions as well as the positions of the men. d'Amboise is lunging forward with his weight on his front leg, Baryshnikov on his back leg while presenting his front foot in tendu and Martins in an upright pseudo-first position. Each couple presents a completely different line and aesthetic, and all of these dancers worked directly with Balanchine.

Anywhodle, there are more controversial, substantial changes like the whole Bournonville versus Lacotte La Sylphide.  The Bournonville is the real deal, “authentic” if you must, while the Lacotte is what it is and seemingly less liked.  In the case of Bournonville’s La Sylphide, I think the choreography was so stylized it’s hard to imagine the same story being told a different way.  However, old or new even masterpieces can see a little change, as Lady Deborah MacMillan mentioned in an interview that when the English National Ballet (I think) did Manon, there was new choreography she had never seen before and she was in full support of it.  So it seems we’re forever blessed and cursed with conflicts between originals and obscurities, authentic versus standard but in the end it’s always giving us something to talk about and that’s the most miraculous thing about the classical arts.  I think it impossible to find something that is so rewarding, the more you invest into studying it…because maybe every Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux being performed today is a LIE.

Steve’s letter to Santa

22 Dec

In the spirit of the holiday season, I thought I’d do my own little dance-related wishlist.  Looking back over my posts, there were a lot of things I asked for…various DVD’s, requests to choreographers to use certain songs, that sort of thing…but due to the fact that I’m one of those “in the moment” type of people who doesn’t care to remember the past and is incapable of visualizing long term plans for the future, I would like to take this time to do a Christmas list that addresses my immediate needs.

Dear Santa,

If you fulfill my requests on my list somewhat soon, I shall leave for you Der Dutchman chocolate chip cookie dough.  While I have concerns regarding your obesity, it is scientific fact that Der Dutchman makes the best chocolate chip cookies on Earth, therefore I am resorting to this most luxurious bribery out of desperation.  Forget your health…I have demands.  Needs.  Things that have to happen or my world falls apart (and not like that movie 2012, which I think is a ridiculous exploitation of apocalyptic hysteria).

First, I would like to request some kind of recorded performance of Frederick Ashton’s ‘Symphonic Variations’.  There was one, and now there is not.  I used to watch it every other week or so, for the glory of Cesar Franck and the purity of Ashton’s choreography.  I loved the whole production, and especially the costumes.  Because my routine of regular ‘Symphonic Variations’ viewings has been maliciously cut off, the undue stress has caused a couple of minor breakouts of dyshidrotic eczema on my right hand.  The last time I had such blisters was when I was in elementary school (a stressful time for all), and being without ‘Symphonic Variations’ is like trying to go backwards from enlightenment.  My body is unhappy, and its resistance is manifesting into this chronic, incurable disease, that doctors know little about and can only treat the symptoms.  Therefore it is of utmost importance that the ability to see this ballet is restored to me in some way.  I would even be happy if nothing else on my wishlist is granted, so long as this first request comes to fruition.  Things just won’t be the same until we are reunited.

But…I said I had “demands” and “needs.”  I am therefore bound to writing multiple requests to reflect the aforementioned use of plurals.  My second item is a video of Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev performing the ‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux’.  I know she has performed it before (at the International Ballet Competition in Luxemburg) so it is surely in her repertoire.  Unlike many other Russian ballerinas who seem to struggle with Balanchine-speed allegros, Natashenka moves like lightning and really, I mostly want to see her leap fifty feet into the air and land in a fish dive when her partner catches her.  Strong he must be…but capable she is.  And I’m loving on the growing partnership between her and Ivan Vasiliev.  He’s grown on me a lot recently and I like his rawness, but sometimes it’s the “flaws” draw me to a dancer because it almost highlights what they do well.  He’s proof that great dancing isn’t about who has the biggest splits and all that nonsense.  I laughed when I read he thinks his height is a flaw compared to the limby, gazelle-men we often see in ballet and he measures himself everyday, a short man complex if you will, at an “unfortunate” 175 cm (5’9”).  I’m thinking “child, you don’t even know short” (and he is a child…just a baby bunny at a spring green twenty years old!).  He’s still taller then I and I have the gangly limbs…like a deer in an awkward adolescent phase, doomed to never grow out of it.  Except he can do 21 pirouettes (his record…I can’t even visualize how that happens) while I…cannot.  At any rate, I love their energy, and would love to see them do the ‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux’ which I’ve decided (at least for now) is my favorite of all the grand pas.

Also, this is kind of a strange one…but Santa; I need some help writing a libretto.  Well, maybe not actual help writing it, but I have a top sekret one in mind that I’m doing some research for, and it would be awesome if it were successful someday.  I think it’s bizarre that one would write a libretto in their spare time and I really don’t even know how exactly it’s done, but I’m doing some reading and hopefully I’ll come up with something of interest.  How it gets into the hands of the right people is another matter altogether, but it’s something I’d like to do.  I’m not the kind of person who can necessarily envision specific choreography, but I do have an abundance of ideas swirling in my head for ballets I would like to see…so why not write a libretto?  I could always use more strange hobbies.

And now for some miscellaneous smaller, important wishlist items:

I would also like to request that people start filming a prima ballerina besides Svetlana Zakharova.  Egads, she gets everything!  Some of her performances I’ve seen online have left me indifferent to her dancing, and I get the feeling that without the hyper extensively extended hyper extension she’s a dancer with less substance than others.  I’ve been wanting to watch ‘The Pharaoh’s Daughter’ for a while, but the only DVD available is of her, and I’d really prefer someone else (but it’s a ballet that has little chance of being released again.  I think only the Bolshoi stages it anyway).  It would just be nice to see a little more variety instead of shopping online for the “not Svetlana Zakharova version.”

I also have my eye on the black New York City Ballet tote bag.  I carry a lot of crap sometimes and I’m all for more opportunities to shout from the rooftops how much I love ballet.  While not the most extroverted of people, you can bet I’ll talk a stranger’s ear off about ballet given the opportunity.  Other companies make these pink monstrosities…leave it to New York to do something simple and sleek in black.

And finally, I would really like to just take class, all the time, all day.  Perform?  No.  Just take class and soak in the learning like a sponge.  After being inundated with the philosophy that academic learning is always the first priority, I’d be happy if the only learning I ever do from now on was in the physical realm.

That is all; give me a sign when you’re ready to make things happen.  I promise I’ve been morally sound this year.

Love,

Steve