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petperj

Classics for Beginners

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petperj    21

Hi everyone, I've lurked here a little while, but I've finally decided to join to make a post. There’s some overlap with the initial question in the existing Mariinsky thread, but I think my question here is different enough to warrant a separate post. However, if I’m mistaken or have broken some forum rule, my apologies and I can remove this post.

(oh, and apologies in advance for the wordy post!)

I never really thought ballet was something I would enjoy. However, at the start of the year my girlfriend and I decided to see Les Enfants Terribles at the Barbican, admittedly mostly drawn to Philip Glass’ score.

I know the reviews haven’t been that great but it absolutely blew me away. Since then I’ve made an effort to catch more. We went to see Woolf Works and Ballet Black both of which I enjoyed (my highlight so far is undoubtedly part 3 of WW), and picked up tickets for the Bausch triple bill, the Human Seasons/Flight Pattern show and Rain.

However, I’m aware that these are all modern ballets/dance and now would like to dip my toe into a classic. I’ve spent some time reading online but find it a little difficult to sieve through the information, mainly because I have no real frame of reference, and because I haven’t really found something that explicitly talks about different ballets/companies aimed at beginners.

So, does anyone have advice for a classical ballet to see for someone who’s a real newbie? Based on the threads here and elsewhere I’m considering the Mariinsky Swan Lake, Don Quixote or Bayadere or the ENB Le Corsaire, but am open to any suggestions really.

Thanks in advance, and apologies for any mistakes in terminology.

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Mary    1,346

petperj I really agree about Woolf Works-wonderful!

 

I would go for the Mariinsky Swan Lake. That is the most famous classic ballet, but it is famous for a reason which is that it is great! and  of course the Marinsky are a great company.

Live screenings are an easy way to see more. The Bolshoi's  next one is on 9 April for example. That would give you a sight of the 2 great Russian companies and you have done RB already...well on the way...

 

My other tip is- check out the Royal Opera House website which now has a lot of background material on ballets in the rep.

 

What a lot of fun you have in store.

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zxDaveM    3,404

As a transition from more contemporary dance/ballet, you could do worse than go see the Royal Ballet in Balanchine's Jewels, which arrives in early April. I think it would be an excellent stepping stone from what you've seen, to the ultra classical shows you have on your radar for the summer

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alison    6,037

Welcome to the forum, petperj, and there's absolutely no need to apologise :).

 

I'm going to disagree with Mary and say that I personally wouldn't go for the Mariinsky Swan Lake, for two reasons: i) it's had (virtually?) all the mime excised, which to my mind turns it into a semi-abstract ballet, and ii) it has a happy ending - or at least it did last time I saw it, which was admittedly probably 15 years ago!  Both are no-nos to me (and anyway I tend to try and warn people off Swan Lake as a first ballet, although technically it wouldn't be one in your case).  Personally, La Bayadere would tempt me more - although you should perhaps be aware that (unless they tweak it this time around) Russian productions ... how can I say it ... still tend to portray race in a way which more culturally-sensitive audiences in the West often find uncomfortable in the 21st century.  Don Quixote should be good, too: both combine Classical set-pieces for the corps de ballet with brighter and more character-ful dance, in case you find full-on Classicism too much :)

 

I'm not sure whether ENB's Corsaire is scheduled for performances any time soon.  We also haven't had next season's announcement for the Royal Ballet yet, so difficult to predict what they will be performing, and you've just missed their run of Sleeping Beauty.

 

Do let us know what you decide, and we'll look forward to reading your experiences, should you decide to post them :)

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Jan McNulty    11,299

Birmingham Royal Ballet are doing their fabulous Sleeping Beauty next year...

 

I might suggest Coppelia (also being performed by BRB next year) as a good classic beginner, or perhaps Giselle ... both have plenty of story.  BRB's Nutcracker is the best of all too.

 

If you want something more contemporary I can do nothing better than recommend Northern Ballet's new Casanova!

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ninamargaret    236

You've certainly thrown yourself in at the deep end! The suggestions you have received seem excellent to me. But I think one of the best pieces of advice to give is to make sure that you see as much dance as possible. Also see some of the foreign companies that visit us.that way you will start to learn how bodies work, how they can express emotion, and you will be able to start deciding why you do, and don't, like.As you will have seen on this site tastes vary widely,but the important thing is that we all enjoy ballet and have built up our knowledge mostly 'just watching '

 

Good luck

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petperj    21

Wow, Mary, Colman, zxDaveM, alison, Moomin, Janet McNulty and ninamargaret thanks so much for taking the time to make such thought-out and helpful responses! :) When I posted I was hoping to get a reply or two, especially given the time, so this is really beyond what I was expecting! As a newcomer, ballet can sometimes feel like a somewhat intimidating art-form to get into, so it's really nice that there are forums like this one where people are helpful and friendly to newcomers.

 

Thanks for the kind words, suggestions and comments on the different possible classics to try out. I also hadn't thought about watching something like Jewels as a 'stepping stone', or seeing ballets on DVD/cinema, so thanks also for these suggestions too. You've given me a lot to think about, so I'm glad I have some time before some of these go on general release. I'll be sure to post once I've taken that plunge into the classics.

 

Thanks again :)

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FLOSS    3,631

Petperj,

 

You have so much to look forward to as you explore  the works of the great twentieth century choreographers and the nineteenth century classics. We all have our favourite choreographers,our favourite ballets and when it comes to the nineteenth century repertory our favourite versions of those works. I am uncertain about recommending a single nineteenth century ballet for you to see. I think that it might help to make a few comments which I hope will help you in your exploration of the repertory.

 

I am not sure that I would immediately leap into the nineteenth century repertory without trying a few twentieth works which might prepare you for the Petipa ballets and help you  get your eye in. Jewels sounds like a very good starting point to me. It is three separate ballets each of which was created as a homage to a particular school or style of classical dance and is intended to evoke their special qualities. The first ballet, Emeralds, evokes the slightly distant,understated cool elegance of the French school; the second Rubies, evokes the energy, attack and the quirkiness of the American school. largely created by Balanchine himself, and makes a passing reference to the ebullient dance you might see in a Broadway show, say one choreographed by Jerome Robbins;the final section Diamonds, is a homage to the late nineteenth century Russian school full of the grandeur and formality of imperial times in the choreography for the soloists and  the corps de ballet. as it processes round the stage.

 

As far as the nineteenth century repertory is concerned don't give up if you find that your initial experience does not entirely please you. You may wonder what all the fuss is about after your first visit but remember that the more you see the more you will come to appreciate this type of ballet. Try another one or at least another performance by a different cast. You will be surprised by the difference that a change of cast makes to a performance and your enjoyment of it. The dancers have have all learned exactly the same movements but cast "A" will irritate you while cast "B" will move you to tears. Sometimes just the replacement of one person will completely transform your experience for good or ill. .

 

I came to full length classical ballets via one act ballets many of which used a dance vocabulary extremely close to the one used in the late nineteenth century ballets but my first experience of the "classics" was not that fulfilling. I know that the first time I saw a nineteenth century classical ballet I was more than a little bemused that the work in question did not have a straight forward narrative line which told the story of the main characters succinctly but that it seemed to be interrupted at regular intervals by other dancers who portrayed characters who seemingly had nothing to do with furthering the plot or by larger groups of dancers whose main function seemed to be to hold up the action.

 

 I soon learned that it is not just the performances of the named dancers in the leading roles which make these old ballets work. It is their structure, geometric architecture and floor plans, the choreographer's musicality and the sheer detail and inventiveness of the choreography which makes these works capable of giving greater and greater pleasure with repeated viewings.Whether you watch the older melodramatic ballets Petipa reworked after 1890 or the new ballets he devised from 1890 onward  you are watching ballets whose structure was dictated by the need to display the latest Italian guest star ballerina and the desire to display the dancers of his own company performing in roles and styles best suited to their individual gifts. It is this which makes repeat viewings so rewarding.

 

One of the great features of these nineteenth century ballets is the extraordinary inventive use which the choreographers made of the corps de ballet. There is something very impressive in seeing a large group of performers dancing in unison like a single being. Ivanov's lakeside white acts for Swan Lake and Petipa's Kingdom of the Shades in which the female corps de ballet snakes its way down a series of ramps representing the Himalayas repeating the same combination of steps over and over again until the last dancer in the line is on the flat stage are thought by many to be alone worth the price of admission when a company has a corps of the quality which the Mariinsky possesses.If you decide to dip your toe into either Swan Lake or La Bayadere remember that they are both best seen from above so you can admire the choreographer's floor plan and the patterns he has created.

 

A simple warning. Watching classical ballet can be terribly addictive. But you if you have been looking at this site over any length of time you have may already have come to that conclusion by yourself. 

Edited by FLOSS

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Quintus    1,038

I see you have tickets for the ENB triple bill.  I saw the full rehearsal last night and the Pina Bausch Rite of Spring in particular is superb - you're in for a treat.

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petperj    21
A simple warning. Watching classical ballet can be terribly addictive. But you if you have been looking at this site over any length of time you have may already have come to that conclusion by yourself. 

 

FLOSS, thanks for such a thoughtful and lengthy response. Apologies for the delay in responding but I've only just had a chance to read through it properly. It's very helpful, especially in getting me to think more about 'how' to watch ballet. I've also been watching a few of the interview/rehearsal shows that ROH put onto youtube which have been illuminating.

 

Something I'm starting to realise is that, probably more than other 'live' artforms, the seating location has a huge impact on how I experience a ballet. Most of the time I tend to go for cheaper/higher seats and while that means I can't see faces so well, it does mean you get a sense of the geometry and forms from the movement/relative locations of the dancers in a completely different way to the shifting layers that I've seen when watching from closer in at the lower levels. I haven't yet gone multiple times to see a single show; partly for monetary reasons and partly because there are so many things that I haven't seen for a first time yet, but I'm sure it's not long until I start trying to see a show twice just to experience it from above and lower levels.

 

 

I see you have tickets for the ENB triple bill.  I saw the full rehearsal last night and the Pina Bausch Rite of Spring in particular is superb - you're in for a treat.

 

Thanks Quintus. I went to see the ENB triple bill over the weekend and the Rite of Spring was simply magnificent. Despite the massive expectations, and having watched clips online, seeing it for real was such a wonderful and visceral experience. The combination of the dance, the staging and the music was overwhelming in a way that I haven't had at the theatre/concert in a long time. I have little doubt that it will be one of my highlights for the year.

 

I also thought it was brilliant that the preparation of the soil was done with the curtain up; it gave the interval a real sense of ritual and helped to build the anticipation in a way that you wouldn't have just grabbing an ice cream in the foyer while stagehands work behind closed doors.

 

The one negative I have is that I saw it the day after the Human Seasons/After The Rain/Flight Pattern triple bill at the ROH, and I really wish I'd left at least a day between the two. I really enjoyed ROH triple bill. In particular, Flight Pattern was every bit the exciting and emotional spectacle that people have said and it lingered in my mind until the Rite of Spring; it seems my brain can only handle one ballet at a time.

Edited by petperj

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petperj    21

Apologies for reviving a long-dead thread.

 

A while back I started this to get some guidance from board members for going to my first classical ballet and thought to say thanks to those that kindly responded, and give some feedback in case anyone finds this thread searching for advice on ballet classics for newcomers.

 

Following the posts here and a little more reading, we decided to get tickets for the recent Mariinsky Swan Lake in Covent Garden. Before this we saw one act of a recording of Jewels, which some posters mentioned might be a helpful touching point between the more modern dance we had seen and a full on classic.

 

We ended up going to an evening performance, after a long day traipsing around rainy London only to find -tired and soggy- that I had inadvertently booked standing tickets. The ones way at the back of the auditorium. The prospect of standing in wet shoes for 3 hours didn’t seem very enticing, and we briefly considered leaving but decided to stick it out in the end. We’re really really glad that we did.

 

Of course, from our cheap ‘seats’ the view wasn’t as great as it could be, but the 3 hours truly seemed to fly by aided, in part, by the way that the acts seemed to shorten over the course of the ballet. The dancing was by turns beautiful, exciting and sad, and while some of the sets seemed a little bland/quaint, the precision of the dancing completely overrode any minor niggles like that. Given how little experience I have of watching ballet I can’t say if the performance was truly great or not (it was the Saturday when Matvienko was Odille/Odette), but it certainly seemed amazing to me. And there was something quite awe inspiring about the way that a dozen dancers might hold a pose for several minutes only to suddenly move, as one, into another pose or start dancing.

 

A couple of quick questions;

 

1) I understand that the Mariinsky Swan Lake is different, having a happy ending. However, does this mean that in other ways the ballet is the same? If I go to see next year’s Royal Ballet Swan Lake for instance, would it be the same except for the final few minutes?
2) In act 2/3 when the prince sees Odile in the window after being enchanted by Odette’s dancing, Odile is shown as a video projection. Presumably this wasn’t possible when the ballet was originally written, so how would this have been done then?

 

We also went to see the Mariinsky Contrasts triple bill. I really didn’t enjoy the Carmen Suite except for the weird costumes. Infra was very good and ended particularly strongly, but it was the  Paquita Grand Pas which really blew me away. More than anything it seemed just really exhillarating & joyous.

 

Anyway, just wanted to end with saying thanks again to you guys for commenting and giving advice and being so welcoming.

Edited by petperj

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Shade    98

Glad you enjoyed your mariinsky visits. Productions of swan lake can be very different - the mariinsky production will not be the same as the bolshoi (grigorovitch), Royal Ballet, BRB (Wright), ENB etc. The Royal ballet will have a new production next year which you may wish to see . Ratmansky has a reconstruction for Zurich which looks interesting. There is much debate about "authentic" versions and reconstructions of the classics on ballet fora! With the celebration of Petipa next year there may be more discussion.

 

Some people do not like the Mariinksy production of SL because of the happy ending which does not match the wonderful music. It was "Sovietised". However, in my view it would be a pity not to see great artists such as Lopatkina,  and the corps.

 

before modern technology another ballerina would appear as Odile in the window, and still does I think in some productions.

 

glad you liked Paquita - it was my favourite too and it may be years before we see it again.

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zxDaveM    3,404

As a rule of thumb for Swan Lake, most companies will do act 2 (the lakeside, white act) pretty much the same, but with maybe slightly different patterns for the corps, and 2 or 4 'big' swans, and the white costumes can vary (and everyone disagrees what are the best style of costumes! :-)  ). Act 4 back at the lakeside, again usually similar, except whether they have 'happy' endings (whether Rothbart killed, or defeated by the lover's deaths). Act 1 varies most, but maintains some key elements in all, to setup the rest of the ballet and a wide split about the 'jester' - many loathe, many like. Act 3 (black act) can vary a lot outside the grande pas de deaux for the lead couple, in costumes and steps for the national dances. But whatver company you see, as long as its a competent orchestra, the music is always sublime!

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Amelia    901

petperj wrote:

" In act 2/3 when the prince sees Odile in the window after being enchanted by Odette’s dancing, Odile is shown as a video projection."

Shade wrote:

"before modern technology another ballerina would appear as Odile in the window."

 

It is just vise versa: Odile is the Black Swan who enchants Siegfried while the white swan Odette appears in the window.

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