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  1. As far as the three sections of the score of Swan Lake about which a somewhat opaque question was asked by ecriveur my answer is as follows. In traditional productions of Swan Lake the first section of the score which introduces themes the audience will hear later in the ballet is treated as an overture played with the curtains closed. In some productions the stager may ill-advisedly use the music as an accompaniment to a dumb show in which the audience is shown Odette bewitched and transformed into a swan by Von Rothbart. This has the unfortunate effect of reducing the theatrical impact of Odette's mime sequence in act 2 in which she tells the prince of her situation. As there is no mystery to be resolved the mime sequence counts for next to nothing.. The second section describes the bustle of the preparations for the celebrations of the prince's birthday. In Petipa's production and traditional ones which retain his first act's choreographic structure it accompanies the entrance on stage of groups of dancers and individual characters including the prince himself in a procession like sequence. During the music the audience was intended to have time to register the entrance of the dancers admire their sometimes sumptuous costumes and acknowledge the prince's arrival on stage. In Petipa's original production the third section of the score, the waltz was the first serious bit of dancing in the ballet. The music accompanied choreography for the corps which took the form of the big production number involving large numbers of dancers for which, it would seem, Petipa was much admired by St. Petersburg audiences It seems to have been one of the few sections of the ballet which received favourable comment when the full ballet was first seen in St Petersburg in 1895. In these scenes the choreographer was less concerned with giving his dancers a space in which to dance freely than filling the stage with a large body of dancers and moving them through a series of floor patterns in which the emphasis was on the numbers involved, keeping the mass mobile and displaying the dancers at different heights and in different planes. Although only the floor pattern survives the Ratmansky reconstruction of Swan Lake gives a good idea of the effect Pertipa sought to achieve in such scenes. Possibly the most accessible version of Petipa's big production numbers is the reconstruction of his Jardin animee scene in the Bolshoi's current Le Corsaire. I trust that this helps
  2. ecriveur. You may not have liked Ian MacMillan's response to your initial enquiry , you may even have found it a little frustrating, although I can see no reason why you should have done so, as the answer was succinct and to the point as far as the question you posed is concerned. Communication is a two way process and if you do not think that you have received an adequate response to a question the solution is to set out more fully the precise nature of your enquiry, the background to it and why you think that the answer you have received is inadequate. The reason I say this is because what someone asking a question may perceive as a refusal to deal with their enquiry is more often a failure of communication on the part of the questioner than a refusal to answer the question that was asked. It is a basic rule in effective communication that it is the recipient of a message who actually determines its meaning rather than the person who sent it. This means that the question you have posed is not the one that you may believe you have asked but the one you are perceived to have asked. We are none of us mind readers and are only ever able to answer the question we believe has been asked. If someone has a genuine enquiry which they don't believe has received an adequate response the solution is to ask a supplementary question in which the exact nature of the enquiry is set in context and expressed with greater precision. The solution is not, and never has been, to engage in insults and name calling.
  3. If I understand you correctly Helen it seems that while you enjoyed the performance you saw on Wednesday you want to rework Coppelia to turn it into something it was never intended to be and for which Delibes foolishly made no provision in his score. I suspect that one of the reasons why the choreography for this ballet looks old fashioned and odd to some is that it retains many of the features to be found in ballets created earlier in the nineteenth century because unlike Sleeping Beauty it has not had the dubious benefit of having Soviet heroic style male choreography grafted onto it at any time. Much of the choreography we see in the de Valois production dates back to the version of the ballet staged in St Petersburg during the 1890's. That the version of the ballet currently in repertory at Covent Garden has choreography which retains significant elements of late nineteenth century dance vocabulary including mime sequences is not, in my opinion, a defect but rather a strength as it means it retains its connections with the theatrical conventions of the period in which it was created. The mime sequences enables the characters to inform the audience about matters which are relevant in furthering the narrative . I am far from sure how you would achieve this in any other way. as what the characters have to say is not the sort of thing that is easily conveyed by expressive dancing. Coppelia was first staged in Paris in the late 1860's a time when male dancers had virtually been banished from the Paris Opera stage. If you had seen it in its original form you would have seen Franz treated as a travesti role performed by a female dancer, a tradition which was continued , as I understand it, by the POB until the the ear;y 1950's The version which the Royal Ballet performs derives from a staging of the work first seen in St Petersburg in the mid 1890's in which Ivanov and Cecchetti are said to have had a hand. Perhaps the most important innovation of that production was to depart from the French performing tradition of treating Franz as a travesti role by giving the role to a male dancer. This made it necessary to create a pas de deux for the third act which would give both leading characters their expected solos and coda. The ballet was modified over a century ago to accommodate the presence of a male dancer in the role of Franz and his choreography reflects what male dancers were performing in the 1890's rather than what they came to dance after the Revolution. In the de Valois production the music used for this is taken from sections of the ballet's score which had become redundant. I am not sure that you could give Franz more opportunity to dance without rewriting the libretto. He can hardly dance in the second act as he spends most of it unconscious after drinking Coppelius' wine. The third act contains the masque of the hours and there is no music to spare unless you intend to cut the participation of the corps and soloists and if you were to take that course of action you might free up some music but little of it would seem suitable for Franz to dance to. I have to say that I do not understand why people have suddenly taken to saying that the sequence of dances celebrating the bell makes no sense. We need to remember that the church bell was the first piece of technology which regulated the the day's activities telling people when it was time to get up, time to pray, time to work and time to rest and relax. Thus in the ballet we have the night hours followed by Dawn and Prayer which are in turn followed by the working day. As far as the strangeness of some elements of the choreography is concerned mime and clear, crisp, fast footwork are as much part of the vocabulary of classical ballet as steps of elevation are. Watching someone doing petit batterie accurately and at speed can be extraordinarily exilharating in performance, To eliminate such steps and replace them with the sort of limited dance vocabulary which has today become the standard format of most of the male variations to be seen in the nineteenth century repertory deprives both dancers and audiences of the opportunity to experience a significant part of the vocabulary of classical ballet in performance . l don't think that old choreography should be changed merely to meet the expectations of the audience because they have become used to seeing other steps which they consider more exciting and more modern as this diminishes the art form. The whole point about dancing the historically significant ballets which de Valois called "the classics" is to enable the audience to see the best of the ballets created by the great choreographers of the past; experience their work as living theatre and to enable today's dancers to test them selves against the technical challenges posed by the great dancers of the past in the choreography created for them. Altering the the choreography denies the dancers and the audience of the opportunity to experience and engage with the great works of the past in something approaching their original form.Refusing to engage with the past in this way was an approach to the arts which the late Jonathan Miller's once described as "provincial".
  4. I hate to point this out but the heroic prince who wins Aurora by combating and vanquishing evil is alien not only to the ballet which Petipa, Tchaikovsky and the Director of the Imperial Theatres created but to the Perrault tale on which it is based as in his tale the trees and brambles surrounding Aurora's castle part of their own accord as the prince approaches them. The heroic prince who had perhaps begun to insinuate his way into the Royal Ballet's production is very much a Soviet invention. Florimund is a prince and thus worthy to receive Aurora's hand in marriage. He does not have to prove his worthiness to win his bride by engaging in combat with the malign forces which bewitched Aurora He may be a bit dim but he is the right prince in the right place at the right time and as such all he has to do in the ballet is to answer the Lilac Fairy's question correctly and work out how to restore Aurora to consciousness which requires him to engage his brain which in itself seems to be something of a challenge. This is a fairy tale rather than a tale of chivalry thus his actions are sufficient to entitle him to her hand.
  5. The reason why the mime is unfamiliar is that it is not the mime which Karsavina learned and later taught to others . Her mime for Giselle's mother was no doubt what was seen in theatrical performance at the time she danced Giselle but it is essentially an edited version of the mime originally created for the ballet. I have no idea whether Petipa or an earlier ballet master at the Mariinsky revised and shortened the mime passages nor why the mime was adapted . A number of possibilities present themselves ranging from a shift in audience tastes which had made them more interested in the dance elements of the ballet than the mime passages; a ballet master wanting to accommodate another set of dances and finally the company accommodating the loss of a character dancer who had been particularly effective in delivering lengthy passages of mime. It is unlikely that we shall ever discover the real reason for the change. It is quite simple for us as Ratmansky's production is using an earlier fuller version of the mime passages just as Pacific North West Ballet's did in its 2014 production. As far as speed and clarity are concerned I imagine that Ratmansky is taking Adam's markings seriously and that he is trying to get his dancers to transition from other action into mime and from mime into other action as seamlessly and smoothly as possible rather than getting them to draw attention to the mime passages by stopping before and after they have delivered them. Ratmansky's source material is not only drawn from the Stepanov notation and material from the Russian archives he is also using material from at least one Western source namely material which a man called Henri Justament used when staging ballet in France in the mid nineteenth century. There is a great deal of material relating to Justament's career staging ballets safely housed in two European archives . However the notebook containing the material relating to Giselle is in neither of them. It came to light in Frankfurt some years ago and fortunately its value was recognised. Its importance lies in the fact that the Justament material predates Petipa's version of Giselle, the source of all modern productions of the ballet, by thirty or more years. Although it is now disputed at one time it was thought that the Justament notebook had been used to stage the last revival of Giselle at the POB before the Franco-Prussian War. What ever the date when it was being used Justament's Giselle notebook brings us much closer to Giselle in its original form than the standard Petipa version of the ballet does. The 2015 Petipa Conference held in Bordeaux was told that the Justament material had been used by Pacific North West Ballet when the company staged their Giselle in 2014 with both Doug Fullington and Marian Smith acting as advisers on such matters as the text, performance style and mime. Marian Smith spoke about the structure of ballets in the 1830's and 1840's describing them as not unlike operas of the same period. She told the conference that at the time of Giselle's creation mime played a far more significant part in a ballet's structure than audiences are used to experiencing today with a balance of about 40% mime to 60 % dance being quite usual. She spoke of Adam's deep involvement in the creation of the ballet saying that he had been present in the rehearsal room as the ballet was being created and that the score not only incorporated the action of various characters such as Albrecht knocking at Giselle's door but that it followed French speech patterns and was, at times, literally music which spoke. She said that they had discovered that the Justament material, in which passages of mime are written out in full, did not fit the traditional score but when they obtained a copy of the violin reduction used by the ballet master Titus who had staged the ballet in St Petersburg in 1842 they discovered that the mime fitted the music in the reduction perfectly. What we see on stage will of course represent Ratmansky's own artistic choices.I wonder whether he has been brave enough to abandon the anachronistic press lifts in favour of showing Giselle gliding across the ground ? The streamed performance in January is certainly something to look forward to seeing. Let us hope that the Bolshoi bring this production with them when they next visit London.
  6. Modern choreography does not have to be "tossed out " but it would be rather nice to see dancers and their coaches approaching ballets made in different centuries by different choreographers as if there were stylistic differences between them much as musicians would if they were playing music by Mozart and Berg in the same programme. One of the complaints that Clement Crisp made at the turn of the century was that the company danced everything in exactly the same style regardless of who the choreographer was as if there was no difference between a nineteenth or mid twentieth century work. I am far from convinced that high legs are needed in MacMillan's Manon as I am pretty sure we would have noticed them in the mid and late 1970's if they had been there. My recollection is that neither of the ballerinas who played a part in the ballet's creation raised their legs much higher in this ballet than they would have done in any of the other roles they danced. I suspect that our idea of what MacMillan's Manon should look like, or does look like in performance is the product of watching a generation of dancers heavily influenced by Guillem's performance style applying her aesthetics to pretty much everything they dance.
  7. Ecriveur I hope that you don't wander off . You only learn by watching ballets, preferably in live performance so that you get an idea of the different quality of movement which individual dancers bring to a role, asking questions and reading the occasional book. The book about Tchaikovsky's ballets by Wiley which Angela has recommended is one of the best another that you might like to read is "The Ballet called Swan Lake" by Cyril Beaumont. I think that you have asked a very interesting question but as Angela has said what a composer writes on a score to indicate the style in which his music is to be played and the vocabulary he employs, even when composing a ballet score, may have little or nothing to do with the same word when used in the context of a ballet company where it may have a very different and very specific meaning . The word " sujet " when used in the context of a ballet company denotes a specific rank in a company's hierachy. As the composer and the choreographer fulfill two very different functions in the creation of a ballet I can not imagine any circumstances in which a composer's markings would indicate the rank of dancer who should dance to a specific section of the score. If a choreographer works in collaboration with a composer in the creation of a ballet then whether the score is to be an original composition or a score cobbled together from existing music it will usually be the choreographer who will indicate the type of music he wants and the duration of each section of it. It is the choreographer who decides who dances what and how it is to be danced. If a specific type of dancer is required for a role who brings a special quality of movement say exceptionally clean footwork and real attack or great lyricism providing a necessary contrast to a series of variations then the chances are that the names of the dancers who created the roles will be recorded somewhere as an aide memoire for future revivals. I wonder whether the main problem in answering your question is that the list of the various musical sections in the first act score of Swan Lake which you have provided seems to refer to the original version of the score which was used at the ballet's Moscow premiere rather than the version we are used to hearing in the theatre accompanying performances of the ballet which Petipa and Ivanov created ? Petipa supplied Tchaikovsky with minutage for Sleeping Beauty on which they collaborated but played no part in the creation of the Moscow production of Swan Lake and only seems to have become sufficiently interested in the score to contemplate making a ballet using it after the composer's death. His interest in the score seems largely to have been prompted by the success of Ivanov's choreography, for what became act 2 of the ballet, which was performed at the St Petersburg tribute to Tchaikovsky held after the composer's death at which extracts from a number of his works for the theatre were performed. The point here is that the score which Tchaikovsky wrote has undergone any number of transformations since it was first written. In order to create a serviceable score for his new Swan Lake Petipa undertook a major overhaul of the original score, cutting some numbers completely and moving some sections of music into other acts in order to arrive at a score that would suit his needs as a choreographer and meet the expectations of the local ballet audience about structure and content. Before you mourn this as an act of outrageous musical vandalism I think that it is only fair to point out that Tchaikovsky was aware of his lack of experience as a ballet composer at the time that he wrote his Swan Lake as he is reported to have said later that had he been aware of Delibe's score for Coppelia he would never have dared to write his first ballet. One or two choreographers have tried using the score in its original form or at least restoring some of the cuts which Petipa made. I shall take the Royal Ballet's dealings with the score as an example of what I am talking about. The company's first production used the traditional version of the score. I believe that the Helpmann production staged for the Royal Ballet in 1963 for which Ashton supplied quite a bit of new choreography including a completely new fourth act used a score closer to the original version than we are used to hearing at ballet performances. MacMillan's new production of the ballet first staged in the early 1970's restored the traditional ordering of the numbers and moved the pas de quatre, which Ashton had created for the first act in 1963, to open the third act and replaced Ashton's fourth act with Petipa's original version. A further revision was made in the late 1970's when Morrice restored Ashton's fourth act to the ballet. Dowell's production restored the traditional score and the production which replaced by Liam Scarlett has reverted to tinkering with the traditional score. All of this tinkering can make it difficult to answer questions on specific aspects of the original score because most of us are more familiar with the score of this ballet in a revised version, the traditional text, or a revised version of the traditional text in the context of a theatrical performance of the choreography for which it was created than with hearing an orchestra playing the original score in the concert hall. I am a great believer in hearing a ballet score in the context of a ballet performance where you experience the score in the theatrical context for which it was created. In the concert hall you only ever experiencing a percentage of the possibilities which the score presents. The dancers are not a distraction their performance , if the choreographer is sensitive to the score, enhances what you are hearing. I have no idea where you live or what versions of the ballet you have access to but if you ever find yourself within striking distance.of a company performing Ratmansky's reconstruction of the ballet you should try and see it .
  8. I did not want to muddy the waters too much by going into detail about de Valois' hesitations, missteps and miscalculations on the way to achieving national institution status for herself and her companies in a piece attempting to put Stretton's appointment as Artistic Director into some sort of historical context. I did not want to talk about the financial relationship between the ballet and opera companies and how costs were allocated to each; why the most recent book on the company's history mentions that in 1988 for the first time the opera company's ticket sales surpassed those of the ballet company or the financial imperatives which might have influenced some of the decisions made during Dowell's directorship such as the decision to part company with some of its more experienced female dancers for the simple reason that with so little solid information you could easily put two and two together and make twenty four. As far as de Valois is concerned I agree that her insecurities are revealed when you look at her dealings with those such as Karsavina who had an undisputed claim to be part of the Imperial Russian ballet tradition or that they are more than a little surprising in someone who had achieved so much, but as they say " There's nowt so queer as folk " and personal insecurities are often the oddest of all. It is very difficult to believe that Edris Stannus suffered from imposter syndrome but the facts support the view that at some level she did. Shearer's account of de Valois' anger on discovering that she had been consulting Karsavina on her performance of Giselle and the interpretation of the role reveals not only her pettiness and her favouritism but also her failure to act in the best long term interests of the organisations she had created. It is more than a little uncomfortable to contemplate what de Valois let slip through her fingers. Richard Buckle writes about Karsavina showing him lengthy mime passages from the old ballets and her demonstrations coming as a revelation of how expressive and moving those mime passages could be. We know that she gave lectures to students at the school because Mason mentioned one when she attended an Insight Evening and yet no one bothered to record them in more permanent form for future generations. Apparently no one ever thought it might be helpful, if only to demonstrate the way in which performance style had altered over the years and continued to change, to film her demonstrating or coaching for archival purposes. As far as de Valois' working relationship with Volkova is concerned de Valois really should have been more pragmatic in her approach to a woman who was probably at that time one of the greatest teachers anywhere in the world and accepted whatever Volkova was prepared to offer the company and, or, the school such as teaching the final year in a class of perfection, if only for a few sessions each week I am quite prepared to accept that the company's foundation myth and the founder's myth about herself have been modified and improved so much over the years that she now appears never to have made a single mistake on the route from performing on the end of every pier in England to getting to Rosebury Avenue and moving from there to Bow Street and that each of her successors as director who has broadly followed her formula concerning the company's mix of repertory has not only enhanced their own reputation for ability, sagacity and directorial flair but has burnished hers so much that she no longer appears as the pragmatist,which she undoubtedly was, but has been transformed into someone with such unbelievable foresight that she scarcely seems human.
  9. I asked for my earlier post to be deleted because it was too long and far too repetitive, or so I thought, and I had not finished editing it , culling the unnecessary words and reducing it to some semblance of order before I inadvertently hit the send button . I did not think that thirty minutes would give me sufficient time to cut the unnecessary verbiage so I asked for the entire text to be removed for which I think that you should all be very grateful indeed. Here is what I intended to say about the company's "Time of Troubles". I have tried to avoid writing a potted history of the company but I am not sure that I can avoid saying something about the company's early history if only to explain what with the benefit of hindsight, now seems to be the totally inexplicable decision to appoint Ross Stretton as the company's Artistic Director. We know what happened as a result of his appointment but those who appointed him thought that he was the solution to a very real set of problems which the company was then facing. I am sure that everyone who reads this site has a fairly firm grasp of the broad outline of the company's early years but in order to understand the problem's real or imagined that Stretton's appointment was supposed to solve you have to understand a bit about the company's creation myth and its sense of artistic identity. In order to do that we have to go back to the company's beginnings. Everyone knows that a few years after she established her school de Valois founded the company which after several name changes and much hard work and artistic achievement became the Royal Ballet. That company gave its first performances in 1931. De Valois who had danced for the Diaghilev company picked up most of her knowledge and ideas about running a ballet company from her time working for him. Although between 1933 and 1939 she acquired and staged five major nineteenth century ballets for her dancers with the assistance of Nikolai Sergeyev, the former regisseur of the Mariinsky company, at no time did she intend that her young company should merely be a repository of ancient repertory, She intended that her company should be a created one creating its own repertory for its audience. Each of the old ballets she chose for her company's repertory were major works which had played a significant role in the development of ballet and the music written for it . Her choice of name for these selected works " the classics" set them apart from the company's potentially ephemeral new creations and enabled her company to tap into an established artistic tradition and pedigree. She knew that a good music director was an essential element in the potential success of her endeavour and appointed Constant Lambert to that position when she secured the services of Frederick Ashton as the company's choreographer she knew that she had acquired a " real choreographer". What she cannot have known was that in Ashton she had acquired the services of a major choreographer who would create a series of masterpieces for her company and establish and shape its performance style for the best part of the next sixty years. As so many Western ballet companies today have a core repertory which includes some nineteenth century works it may be difficult to grasp how novel and radical it was to include full length nineteenth century ballets in a company's repertory. Inserting a single act from one of them in a mixed bill otherwise composed of newly created works was not so unusual as Diaghilev had done this when he got Nijinska to concoct Aurora's Wedding for him. The acquisition of her five "classics" was intended to raise the technical standards of the company's dancers by requiring them to dance choreography created for an earlier generation of gifted dancers and then maintain those standards at an appropriate level by dancing the same works, in whole or in part , at regular intervals but it had an added bonus. It exposed Ashton to the very best of the Russian nineteenth century choreography and repertory and enabled him to study it at close quarters as well as dancing in it. It enabled him, as he later put it, to take "private lessons with Petipa". This historically significant nineteenth century repertory provided her dancers with important technical and artistic development opportunities and her resident choreographer with a complete education in ballet construction of which they took full advantage. Another unintended consequence of the acquisition of these historically significant ballets was that it gave the company a ready made opera house repertory which was to come in handy when it was invited, post war, to become the resident company at the Royal Opera House. After the move de Valois established a new ballet company at Sadler's Wells which was to tour the country and also provide a training ground for young and inexperienced dancers and choreographers where they could develop and make their mistakes away from the stern gaze of the critics attending performances in Bow Street. Each director has acquired new repertory for the company but until comparatively recently these works have been major works which have a deservedly established place in the repertory rather than choreographic off-cuts assembled for the company's dancers. When Massine's new ballet company folded in the late forties de Valois acquired his ballets La Boutique Fantasque, Le Tricorne and Mamz'elle Angot and later at about the time of the twenty fifth anniversary of Diaghilev's death she added Fokine's Firebird and Petrushka to her haul. When Ashton became director he acquired Balanchine's Serenade and Apollo as well as getting Nijinska to revive her Ballets Les Biches and Les Noces for the company. He also allowed Nureyev to try his hand as stager and choreographer, his Nutcracker, which was not treated as a Christmas fixture,was in the company's core repertory for years and was only dropped, it seemed to me , when the company no longer had the dancers to do it justice. His staging of the Kingdom of the Shades was so satisfying to watch. MacMillan also added a handful of major works to the company's repertory. The important point to make is that these acquisitions were made against the background of the company's own creativity not as a substitute for it. Well into the late seventies it seemed that the announcement of each season's bill of fare included the promise of a new work by Ashton or MacMillan and sometimes by both of them or the revival of a major Ashton work because he felt that he had the right cast for it. The company did not feel as if it was treading water as it did increasingly under Norman Morrice or worse stagnating as it came increasingly to do during the years of Dowell's directorship. I don't want to make it sound as if I think that Dowell is the villain of the piece or that everything that went wrong at the company during his directorship was entirely attributable to him a great number of his problems he faced were legacy problems or manifestation of things going wrong elsewhere in the system.The decline in the company's technical standards which I think is all too apparent in some of the recordings made during his directorship could not simply be solved by hiring stars to fill the leading roles. Weak technical standards are something, it seems to me , which are only remediable if you identify the source of the problem and address it. Whatever was, or was not, going on at the school Dowell was also facing the problems which MacMillan's disbanding the Touring Company, in a cost cutting exercise, had created. Its closure had deprived young talented dancers of an organisation which gave them stage experience in major roles , perhaps weekly for as long as a tour lasted, away from London and the critics. MacMillan did not come up with an effective replacement for this training ground and seemed to be content to work with a group of dancers he had selected. Eventually another company was established to tour outside London but dancers no longer moved between the two Royal Ballet companies as freely as they had once done . Its remit did not extend to the development of the next generation of dancers and choreographers in the way that the old Touring Company had done. The cumulative effect of this lack of training ground manifested itself during the directorships of both Morrice and Dowell, As far as its long term consequences are concerned the disbanding of the old Touring Company as part of a cost cutting exercise was by far MacMillan's biggest mistake one much bigger than not creating the role of Isadora on Seymour was ever going to be. The response of MacMillan's successor Norman Morrice, to the lack of adequate training ground seemed to be to cast promising dancers in major roles on a sink or swim basis. Each promising dancer would in turn would be treated as the flavour of the month and cast in everything and be abandoned almost as quickly the first time they showed any sign of faltering. I have no idea how much freedom of choice Dowell had in reality when selecting the repertory to be danced each season or how it was to be programmed but David Vaughan suggested on a number of occasions that one of the things that Dowell could have done to remedy the company's shaky technical standards was to programme some of the company's early repertory such as Coppelia and Ashton's early works such as Les Rendezvous and Les Patineurs as a way to raise standards. Dowell had been a great dancer and is, as I understand it, is a great coach but I am not sure that his previous experience had prepared him for the job of running the company and the problems which came to a head during his directorship. The more I think about it the more I have come to the conclusion that how well a director is judged to have performed in post is largely a matter of luck and the extent to which their previous experience has provided the individual concerned with the tools suited to dealing with the specific problems which now need to be resolved . In quieter rimes with fewer major challenges to face Dowell's skill set might have been more than adequate and his directorship deemed largely successful. As far as the great falling out which derailed what appear to have been Dowell's plans to revive a number of Ashton's neglected works there is some evidence to suggest that it was the reaction of his friends as much as those of Ashton himself to the news that Dowell's new Swan Lake would drop most of Ashton's additional choreography which led to the souring of relations between the two men. The most that came of Dowell's plans was the successful revival of the long neglected Ondine and discussions between Ashton and Grant Coyle about the revisions which the full length Sylvia required to make it stage-worthy. I don't think that designing for ballet was one of Dowell's strengths and yet redesigning existing works and restaging the classics was a feature of his directorship. Not only did we get new productions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake with fussy unsatisfactory designs but in the years following Ashton's death the re-design cure was applied to at least three of his ballets. A meeting of the Ballet Circle was told by Ashton's nephew that this was because the opera going Board could not understand why the ballet audience was prepared to watch old ballets in old designs over and over again. It seemed that they had somehow got the idea that these ballets needed a bit of sprucing up to encourage ticket sales. The ballets selected for this indignity were Les Rendezvous, Daphnis and Chloe and Rhapsody. The new designs for Les Rendezvous destroyed its character, charm, mood and floor plan in the process. Daphnis and Chloe which Ashton and Craxton his designer had set in a parched modern Greece in which the old gods were still powerful with the women wearing costumes which amplified their movement was now diminished by its new designer's clever references to ancient Greece which distanced the audience from the action of the ballet and gave the women chiton style costumes which restricted their movements rendering the bacchanale which ends the ballet a very damp squib indeed. Rhapsody's new designs should not have been at all controversial as no one had liked the original ones but although no one could agree about what its designs should look like everyone seemed to agree that they should not look like Bauhaus designs. Put simply the background to Stretton's appointment was the apparent failure of the institutions which de Valois had founded to adjust to changed circumstances by renewing themselves, training and developing the next generation of company stars, retaining their services and the collapse of the company's creativity. From its foundation in 1931 until MacMillan's death in 1993, the company had enjoyed unprecedented creativity in a wide range of ballet styles classic and expressive, comic and dramatic. Many of the works which Ashton and MacMillan made for the company had proved to have real staying power, some came to be acknowledged as company classics while others came to be seen as twentieth century classics which were admired by ballet fans at home and abroad. All of which added to the prestige which the company had earned abroad through its performance of de Valois' nineteenth century classics. The impact on the company of suddenly ceasing to be the creative force which de Valois had intended it to be can not be over stated. The death of Ashton and MacMillan within five years of its other without an obvious creative successor to make compelling new works for the company made it seem as if the company had dwindled into being yet another choreographic museum like all those other companies whose artistic directors were little more than museum curators. Dowell, I think said words to the effect , that the company suddenly knew what it was like to be ordinary. The late David Drew spoke of the impact on the company's sense of identity of no longer having a unique repertory created by its own in-house choreographers in its back catalogue which set it apart from other companies; having to adjust to sharing some of its most successful dramatic ballets with other companies and the knowledge that the next season would not bring the possibility of a major new work for the company's dancers to perform. Then there was the school which had apparently run out of steam; a company which had somehow managed to lose five male dancers and seemed no longer capable of creating its own stars. Of course not all of this was attributable to the artistic decisions made by Dowell but it was very easy to think that the problems of the company and the school were largely the result of selecting the directors of these institutions from an already limited pool of real talent by further restricting the pool of candidates by seemingly insisting that they had to have strong Royal Ballet connections. If you put all of this together you may perhaps understand why the interviewing panel might have viewed a candidate from outside the charmed circle of the Royal Ballet family as having considerable potential. Perhaps someone not so emotionally attached to the company's glorious past would prove capable of taking the necessary remedial action where someone more closely attached to the institution and its repertory would hesitate and fail to cure the patient. Then there are other factors that need to be considered. They include Michael Kaiser's plans for the company during the closure of the ROH and that it is unlikely that Kaiser and Stretton were completely unknown to each other as I think Kaiser has since claimed. They were both involved in the arts in New York at the same time and most artistic worlds prove on close inspection to be rather more small and incestuous than they do at first sight. Generally they prove to be interconnected worlds in which most people have heard of each other. aonputatind have some knowledge of their professional reputation or at the very least know someone who has that knowledge. Michael Kaiser was brought into the ROH to sort out its finances and create a leaner more economically minded organisation. As I understand it as far as the ballet company was concerned his plans included cutting the company's overheads. The plans for the company and its post closure future which Kaiser revealed to Dowell included disbanding the ballet company during the ROH 's closure for refurbishment and hiring a new company on new contractual terms and conditions when the theatre was once more available for use. The new contractual terms, as in the US, would only provide an income for the part of the year during which the dancers were employed. The inducement intended to secure Dowell's acceptance of the plan was that he would be able to hire the five best dancers in the world. Dowell baulked at this plan and he and Anthony Russell Roberts undertook urgent research to see whether the terms of the company's Royal Charter required it to be resident at the opera house. As we know the company was not disbanded and instead went on its travels around London. I seem to recall that Dowell was reported as saying that he could not accept the proposed terms as he was afraid that, if he had done so, de Valois would have risen from her grave and haunted him for daring to impose part time employment on her company's dancers . De Valois had been the first ballet director in the UK to guarantee her dancers full time employment. I leave it to you to decide whether and to what extent Kaiser was actively involved in securing the post of artistic director for a preferred candidate. It seems unlikely that Kaiser was planning to return to the US at the point that initial arrangements were being made to recruit Dowell's successor. If I recall correctly in the unexpurgated version of his autobiography Sir Peter Wright says that he was expecting to be involved in the recruitment process and had been assured that he would be consulted only to discover that the appointment had been made without any involvement on his part. Time may reveal whether Kaiser was more involved in recruiting Stretton than he now likes to admit and whether he saw Stretton as providing another opportunity to put his grand cost cutting plan into operation. What evidence there is surrounding Kaiser's involvement in Stretton's appointment is purely circumstantial and we may never discover the truth of what happened but circumstantial evidence is quite capable of providing a plausible explanation for apparently unconnected incidents and events. Stretton's directorship was extraordinarily short lived and far from successful which makes it unlikely that anyone with a reputation for restoring ailing arts organisations to financial health is likely to mention their involvement in his appointment in their memoirs or their manuals on how to be a success running arts companies. As you will find in the footnote below it was not as if a few discreet enquiries would not have provided some useful information about Stretton's leadership style. The official history of the company published at the time of the company's seventy fifth anniversary is, understandably, a trifle opaque when it comes to this stage in the company's story . There is little about the recruitment process which secured Stretton's services, his short time in post or his departure. We shall not learn anything near the truth until all the participants in his recruitment are safely dead. In much the same way that everyone involved will have to be safely dead before we discover what really went wrong at the RBS during the late 1970's, 1980's and 1990's; whether the main company's apparent inability to renew itself was entirely attributable to what was happening at the school or whether the disbanding of the old Touring Company with its remit as a training ground for young inexperienced dancers and choreographers was the root cause of the company's difficulties in renewing itself. I can't help thinking that if Stretton had not been brought down by allegations that he was casting young, relatively inexperienced dancers in exchange for sexual favours his programming and casting policies would have led to his eventual departure. Perhaps he saw himself as a a man on a mission to transform the company in double quick time . His programmes were far from enticing; his choice of repertory ignored the company's history and suggested that he intended to transform the company into a sort of ABT on Thames. He is said to have refused to listen to advice from those within the company who had a sure grasp of local tastes and an understanding of the company's history and repertory. Choosing Nureyev's staging of Don Q to open his regime was far from diplomatic as it was essentially the work which de Valois had refused to let him stage. Casting it with young inexperienced dancers who were not ready for it and relegating the mature performers who could dance it to the end of the run was singularly inept. A short while before his departure I attended a performance of a mixed bill which included From the Forgotten Land and The Leaves are Fading and I have never seen such a dispirited group of dancers on the opera house stage. They all looked as if they longed to be put out of their misery and that being shot would have been a blessing. I saw them a few days after Mason took over as acting Director and the difference was palpable. She came on to announce a cast change and did not get any further than saying "My name is..." before being drowned out by rapturous applause and when the curtain rose the dancers looked as if the Covent Garden stage was the only place they wanted to be. I think its called leadership. Footnote. The first time that I heard the name Ross Stretton was towards the end of Dowell's final season when a couple of Australian ladies in front of me in the day ticket queue suddenly asked me why the Board had appointed Stretton to be the company's next Artistic Director? Well I had to admit that I knew nothing about that decision so they asked me whether no one in the UK world of dance had noticed the number of Australian dancers who had suddenly arrived to work in Britain or had asked themselves why they were here? Again I had to admit my ignorance. They then proceeded to tell me that those dancers were almost certainly working here to get away from Stretton who was known in the company he was then running as "Stress Rotten" . They were equally certain that as Stretton was coming to work in London the bulk of those dancers would be going back home to work. Finally they said that they were surprised that no one involved in the selection process had made any enquiries about his professional standing and reputation in Australia as there were plenty of people there who would have been more than willing to let them know about the problems they were likely to encounter with him The Classics Although the company acquired a number of major twentieth century ballets during the tenure of its first four directors it acquired no more full length nineteenth century ballets . De Valois declined Nureyev's offer to stage Don Q for her company; Ashton allowed him to mount a short lived Raymonda for the Touring Company which was quickly abandoned ;a new Nutcracker for the main company based on Vianonen's staging plus two one act display piece stagings derived from the full length La Bayadere in the form of "The Kingdom of the Shades" and a staging of the final act of the full length Raymonda as "Raymonda Acr III". The important thing to understand is that at no time did de Valois intend that her company should become a choreographic museum or that its artistic directors should be reduced to the status of museum curators. It was only when the creativity dried up and the company became just like every other company with the death of MacMillan that the company came resemble a choreographic museum with the acquisition of the Baryshnikov Don Q and Markova's staging of La Bayadere during Dowell's directorship Dowell's Freedom Choice A comment made by Zoe Anderson in her history of the company to the effect that in his last season he was able to programme the works he wanted suggests that in earlier seasons he had far less freedom of choice in the matter.
  10. Sebastian, The information about the original costume design for Violente is most interesting as the crowned salamander was the personal emblem of Francis Ist the French king responsible for boosting the French tourist industry by building a number of chateaux in the Loire Valley including Fontainebleau which is probably the chateau most strongly associated with him and seen as epitomising the French architectural and cultural style of the early sixteenth century. The crowned salamander appears all over the place in his chateaux sometimes accompanied by his personal motto "nutrisco et extinguo" which translates as " I nourish and I extinguish." It seems to me that if we are to unravel the symbolism and meaning to be attached to the gifts which the fairies confer on Aurora at her christening we have to know exactly what the original costumes looked like and in particular what symbols, if any, appear on them.I expect that those who first staged the ballet anticipated that the St Petersburg audience was sufficiently culturally knowledgeable and sophisticated to pick up all the allusions and symbolism contained in the designs and in the choice of fairy tale characters who appear as guests at the wedding in the last act. Whatever the precise message Violente's costume design was supposed to convey to its first audiences it is pretty clear that it ties in very neatly with the original set designs for the Prologue which were not painterly but very place and time specific. The new easel painter designs for the second production of the ballet seem, perhaps unwittingly, to have begun the process of concealing the work's original intent.
  11. This programme with its old fashioned approach to the construction of a mixed bill provides a snapshot of the company in the final years of Ashton's directorship and the first year of MacMillan's tenure when it was still very much Ashton's company, as it was to remain for some considerable time after his retirement, as its leading dancers were performers who had been formed artistically by dancing Ashton's choreography throughout their professional lives. This is true of every single dancer even those whom we more readily associate with MacMillan such as Lynn Seymour were at least as much his dancers as they were MacMillans. The programme contains technical and stylistic challenges for today's dancers with their improved technique and more athletic approach to performance style and also to management which has largely abandoned casting according to the categories of dancer types within which Ashton generally worked as it now seems overly inclined to cast ballets on an "anyone can do anything" basis and on the ability of individual named dancers to sell tickets rather than their suitability for particular roles. The current approach to casting can produce pleasant surprises but it can also produce unpleasant ones. Getting the casting wrong in a ballet which was originally designed with contrasting types of dancers providing colouring, light, shade and nuance to its performance does enormous damage to it. Ballets only really live in performance and if you see your favourite dancer in an infrequently performed ballet in which he or she has been miscast you will almost certainly decide that it is the work which is at fault rather than those choosing the casts. It is worth remembering that fifty years ago at the end of Ashton's directorship casting was undertaken with considerable care and every effort was made to cast the right dancers for the roles to be filled and considerably less concern was expended on development opportunities. The dancers of fifty years ago were capable of encompassing and meeting the technical and stylistic demands of all three of these works. Concerto is a ballet deliberately devised to highlight technical deficiencies particularly a lack of precision, elegance and musicality . MacMillan made it to save him the trouble of attending daily class to assess the technical health of the dancers in his Berlin Company. I hate to point this out but however wonderful you may find MacMillan's expressionist narrative works they provide ample opportunities for those whose classical technique is in less than pristine condition to make a terrific impact on audiences by enabling dancers to conceal their technical deficiencies, lack of elegance and precision, by emoting their way through performances. Concerto is not that sort of work it is a ballet concerned with elegance, precision and musicality using classical dance vocabulary with a few stylistic twists including steps drawn from more popular styles of theatrical performance. It is not a work in which a dancer can rely on a vigorous approach to the choreography to get through the ballet. The height of jumps , the number of turns and stage persona are not enough to enable a dancer to make an impact in this ballet which demands authority, precision, elegance and ease and in which no dancer escapes scrutiny . The streamed cast was by far the best. It is not a question pf who your favourite dancer or dancers are. It is about the ability to reproduce the choreography in an authoritative manner and in a style that the choreographer would recognise as what he intended. Whether or not you approve the management's choice of the ballets included in this programme, and some of the national critics did not the first and last pieces i are essentially tests of the current company's ability to perform works in two contrasting classical styles which its dancers would at one time have encompassed with consummate ease. Both ballets are a test of the dancers' authority, elegance, precision and musicality. The middle work is an exercise in the application of classical dance vocabulary and natural body language to the depiction of the characters of Elgar's friends pictured within the score. although I have heard several people say that it is "not typical Ashton" but what you think of as typical of this choreographer's output is almost entirely the result of the decisions of a handful of Artistic Directors about which of his works to revive. Enigma is the second of his works to create a series of vignettes of closely observed characters in a well delineated provincial society. The main difference between A Wedding Bouquet " and Enigma is that the former is a comedy and the latter is an attempt to evoke rural Worcestershire at the end of the nineteenth century and populate it with real people. I think that the cast in the streamed performance is about the best that the company can manage at present. it is a shame that those dancers are not going to have the opportunity to develop their roles. As far as Raymonda Act III is concerned I wish that all the named soloists in the four female variations in the performances I attended had been less tentative and had performed as if they knew that they were there by right rather than by chance.
  12. For those who attended yesterday's dress rehearsal when a considerable number of cast changes were announced after the house lights went down but were not on display anywhere, that I could see , I obtained the following information from the staff manning the main desk in the foyer. Some of the substitutes were obvious because the dancers concerned were instantly recognisable others were not. I am not sure that I have ever noticed Yu Hang before although I must have seen her dance under the category of "Artists of the Royal Ballet" on a number of occasions. Carabosse Mendizabal replaced Cowley Prologue Fairies Crystal Fountain Turk replaced Stock Woodland Glade Yu Hang replaced Kaneko Act 1 Aurora's Friends Hinkis replaced Stock and Roscoe replaced Turk Act 2 Countess McNally replaced Pajdak Act 3 Florestan and his Sisters Gasparini replaced Stock. Someone asked whether the dancers appearing with Hay and O'Sullivan were destined to dance with the same leading couple throughout the run. I think it most unlikely as all the divertisements are self contained involving two or three dancers at most and thus easily transferred from one cast to another. At the last revival Kevin was still ringing the changes until the end of the run. Some of the changes were clearly carefully calculated and intended to stretch individual dancers others were the result of illness and injury, all were fascinating. I can see no reason why Kevin would want to keep each cast as a self contained unit and events such as illness and injury will inevitably upend some of his best laid plans. The other complicating factor is that they are also performing Coppelia which is far from being a one woman show as the company needs to field strong authoritative soloists for both Dawn and Prayer. Prayer is one of those apparently innocuous solos which really separates the merely promising but not yet arrived from the those who are technically and artistically equipped to tackle anything. When the ballet was last revived I only recall Yanowsky really passed the test which the choreography presents.
  13. It may be a question of age but when a company says it is going to stage a mixed bill I expect to be given the the opportunity to watch a carefully selected group of dance works which are truly varied and contrasting in content style and mood. I also like to think that due thought has been given to the order in which the works are to be performed and who is to dance in them. Well, management has got the order right but I wonder whether it has spread the dancers a bit too thinly as far as casting is concerned as it has chosen to go for three casts for each work.As none of them were particularly well served when the company last revived them during Mason's last two seasons as director I should have thought management might have seen the need to make the strongest case for each of them by trying to cast each work from strength rather than giving a range of dancers the opportunity to have a go at them. I am not sure that all the critics think that the choice of ballets in this programme is a wise one because it smacks too much of nostalgia but it is interesting to revisit a group of works which were first danced by the company between 1968 and 1970 when the company was what it remained for at least a decade after Ashton's retirement , a company of dancers formed by dancing his choreography whether in his ballets or in his interpolations in the nineteenth century classics. Both the MacMillan and the Nureyev staging appeared quite regularly in the repertory of both Royal Ballet companies for many years, Enigma Variations was seen less frequently because it needed a cast which Ashton deemed able to perform it. A mixed bill like this one is an opportunity for management to display the range and depth of the talent in the company's ranks; the precision, adaptability and authority of its Principal dancers, soloists and corps and their collective understanding of the different choreographic styles required of them . But the challenge it poses is that in staging these works management is pitting the current crop of dancers against those of fifty years ago who definitely could dance these works stylishly with authority and flair. The run has only just opened and perhaps things will settle down a bit but the corps did not look as sharp as they should in Concerto a ballet which was once the sort of work that both Royal Ballet companies took in their stride and seemed incapable of dancing unstylishly. The corps look better than the corps did in 2012 but one official performance and an open rehearsal suggests that at present only some of the dancers on stage are able to produce the crisp precise finish which I recall was characteristic of the first and third sections of the ballet and gave those sections a sense of spritely, almost playfully sharp precision which contrasted so effectively with the middle section which is concerned with the beauty of simple movement. Perhaps they will have got there by the end of the run. I will reserve judgement on Enigma Variations until I have seen all three casts but I will say that I thought the first night cast were pretty good and I particularly look forward to seeing the cast lead by Avis and Arestis. Strangely it seems to be Raymonda Act III which is the most problematical element in the programme and yet in theory at least it is the ballet closest to the company's core nineteenth century repertory which makes it difficult to understand why the company appear to have difficulty with it. I seem to recall that when it was revived in 2012 the overall effect was somewhat lacklustre as well because although the leads were more than acceptable the soloists' variations failed to hit the mark. I don't think that any prior knowledge of the ballet's narrative would assist appreciation of the choreography of the third act. Raymonda's libretto is a paper thin excuse for dancing and is the sort of story line that gives late nineteenth century narrative ballets a bad name. It is its score and its choreography rather than its narrative which have kept it in the repertory in Russia. As far as the Nureyev staging is concerned he had already staged a short lived full length version of the ballet for the Touring Company when he came to stage the third act for the main company who took it to Helsinki before it was seen at Covent Garden. The choreographic text is Nureyev after Petipa which means it is a version which not only accommodates the changes in technique, style and taste which had taken place in Russia after the Revolution but it also reflects Nureyev's own personal tastes and choreographic preferences. Now just as in 2012 the soloists' variations came across as technical challenges which should be approached with extreme caution. The problem with that approach is that the variations which should register as displays of fearless technical prowess and mastery come across as merely muted, bland and dull. When it was first danced by the company Beriosova and MacLeary took the lead roles while the female variations were danced by Park, Sibley, Mason and Lorrayne. For years the variations were danced by junior Principals rather than First Soloists with the fourth variation usually danced by someone who had Lise in her repertory.If it were me I would not have worried about seniority when casting these variations I would have gone for suitability. Perhaps the dancers who are needed are lurking in the third cast.The female soloists were for the main part far too tentative and cautious. The point about the variations is that they are intended to be varied and contrasting in tone as well as challenging but the dancers should not look as if they are afraid of them They need to be danced with complete fearlessness and mastery. Magri was the only dancer among the soloists on opening night who displayed the necessary assurance and panache. It will be interesting to see who else comes up to the mark. I also think that the lead dancers in the Pas Hongrois should register as dancers with real stage presence who are full of personality rather than being merely palely interesting.
  14. mart , The one third discount for an early guilty plea is a pragmatic attempt to persuade defendants to plead guilty at the earliest possible stage of the criminal process and dissuade them from pleading not guilty gambling on the non attendance of the witnesses resulting in their case being dismissed. Rather than relying on variable local practices or the individual application of judicial discretion the rule guarantees a standard benefit for an early guilty plea across the criminal justice system in England and Wales. It has to be remembered that the later a defendant leaves pleading guilty the lower the discount the guilty plea will attract A defendant who only pleads guilty at the courtroom door when he know that all the prosecution witnesses have attended court.will generally, at best, receive a very small discount for his plea. I should like to point out that most ordinary citizens who know nothing about the law find attending court to give evidence a pretty traumatic experience even when they only have peripheral involvement in the case being tried. The rationale behind the sentencing discount is that the witnesses in the case , and in particular victims, have been spared the trial process and the experience of giving evidence and being cross examined on it. At one time the general rule about late pleas attracting a small sentencing discount was modified when late guilty pleas were tendered in cases involving vulnerable victims,child victims and child witnesses who by reason of their age the courts are required to protect. The rationale behind this being that not only is it a disgrace to abuse children it is also a disgrace to expose them to abuse during the court process something that was all but inevitable when a case went to trial and a victim was cross examined. The idea was that the victim had been spared the ordeal of giving evidence. and the defendant should be given some credit for this. Today when there are special measures which can be applied to receiving evidence from children and vulnerable witnesses the court may be less inclined to to give a bigger discount for a late guilty plea than was once the practice in this type of case. Please note I am writing in general terms rather than expressing an opinion on a specific case and I hope that you find it helpful. In general I think that the press and in particular the more popular titles do a very bad job in writing about this country's legal system and that criminal justice system and sentencing are particularly badly served. Unfortunately such news papers much prefer to generate the heat of outrage than to inform their readership.
  15. I hope that the following information will be of assistance. If you need to find out the likely running time for any opera or ballet which is in the repertory and is being revived in a production which has already graced the Covent Garden stage the ROH Performance Database is a good place to start. Although not every performance has a record of the time it took to perform generally with a bit of perseverance you should be able to find the information you need or at least something which will assist you. "We won't know until after the dress rehearsal" may be accurate in the case of an entirely new opera or ballet production . There have been opera productions in which it took longer to dismantle the first act set and put the second act set up than it did to perform the first act but those occasions are very rare. As a general rule that response is pretty pathetic when it is applied to a triple bill composed of one act works all of which have been performed at Covent Garden on a considerable number of occasions. The database gives the following timings for this bill :- 1 Concerto in 1979 and 2012 duration a pretty consistent 25 minutes 2 Enigma Variations duration in 2005 34 minutes and in 2011 35 minutes 3 Raymonda Act III duration in 2003 32 minutes and in 2012 35 minutes Plus two intervals almost certainly of twenty five minutes each gives a total timing of 2 hours 25 minutes.
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