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What are the Classics with a big C?


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Following on from the discussion on the television thread (and not wanting to go too off-topic on that thread) I wondered what are considered to be the Classics with a big C.

 

Are they the ballets from the Petipa era in Russia?  Would they include the romantics such as Giselle and Coppelia?  Where does Fille fit in?

 

Classics with a big C starter for 10:

 

The Sleeping Beauty

The Nutcracker 

Swan Lake

La Bayadere

Don Quixote

 

I look forward to hearing people's thoughts.

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Raymonda?

 

I am editing because the list above was added at the same time as I was posting!  I think that you need to specify the choreographer for Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet - and I don't really think any of them are Big C classics.  I definitely think that Mayerling, Fille and Ondine are also not Big Cs.

 

I'm afraid it is only the 19th century works that qualify - even though so many of them are not pure 'Petipa'.  Just to use classical ballet steps in a ballet such as Mayerling or Manon does not, IMHO, make them Classics.

Edited by jm365
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Following on from the discussion on the television thread (and not wanting to go too off-topic on that thread) I wondered what are considered to be the Classics with a big C.

 

Are they the ballets from the Petipa era in Russia?  Would they include the romantics such as Giselle and Coppelia?

 

A-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y !

 

Add La Sylphide, Raymonda and Les Sylphides.

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I think Swan Lake absolutely has to be first on the list. Followed by Sleeping Beauty. Then Giselle. After this I would put Don Q. Then all the other classics to me are Nutcracker, Coppelia, La Bayadere, Raymonda, Le Corsaire. After this list in my opinion anyway, come the next level. Shall we say, semi classics? For me they are Les Sylphides, La Sylphide, Fille, R+J, Sylvia. There are probably more but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. 

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I'd define the classics (with big C) as those that have stood the test of time, and basically sell out every time they are performed. So, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker for sure, possibly La Bayadere at a pinch.

A more modern classic would be Romeo & Juliet which certainly sells and will keep doing so; then the rest are down to personal taste I reckon. I'd always include Giselle, and La Sylphide (which has been running in Denmark for what seems hundreds of years!!), with La fille mal gardee included simply because its darn near perfect.

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The Firebird and Petrouchka as they are both complete works of art. Neither ballet is perfect but the marriage of score, choreography and design make both works something special. I suppose I should add Les Noces to the list.

 

I am not overly keen on these works but I would regard them as classics.

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The Classics: Would add Paquita, La Sylphide

 

20th Century Classics would include Fille (as this is the definitive version), Mayerling...

 

Paquita would be "Classics" if it survived. Unfortunately, it didn't, only some dances survived saved by Vaganova. Lacotte's Paquita is a pastiche, not even a "reconstruction".

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Just a thought - if one were to use the definitions that apply (more or less) in music, wouldn't the Tchaikovsky ballets be "romantic" rather than "classical"?  Is there an inference in this thread that there's a substantial difference between "classical" and "the Classics" - Discuss!

 

(I will now get back into my box.)

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I agree with that Ian.  There is a big difference between classics and classical.  Some works, particularly the Tchaikovsky ones fall into both categories. The ones I listed above, Firebird etc, are classics without being classical.  there are classical works which aren't necessary classics.  A fair bit of Balanchine's work might fall into this category as well as some of Ashton's.  Whether you regard works like Les Patineurs or Les Rendezvous as classics may be a subjective point but they are certainly classical.

 

I love the romantic classics, Giselle and La Sylphide being first amongst them.  I admire what I regard as the Imperial classics, the big 3 Tchaikovsky works, Don Q, Raymonda, Bayadere and Corsaire but don't necessarily like all of them.  I must confess that I find Sleeping Beauty a bit of a drag these days unless you have really stellar principals.

 

No one has mentioned The Dream which I would have thought could claim to be both, not least as it is now being performed by so many companies. Classical ballet may well have found its zenith in Symphonic Variations or Theme and Variations (to give but two examples) but the wider public hardly flock to see either.  Their loss in my opinion but I do hope the cinema broadcast of the Ashton Triple bill in June will help to rectify that.

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I think we should indeed be careful not to confuse "Classic" with "Classical".  For me the definition of "Classic" is something first class of its genre with enduring appeal.  e.g. there would be nothing wrong with talking about a classic Morcambe and Wise sketch.

 

Generally people seem to refer to anything using pointe shoes and classical technique as "Classical" in much the same way as one would talk about Classical music as opposed to Pop (or other genre).  Only people with more specialised knowledge break down into subdivisions, e.g. Classical music can be baroque, classical, romantic etc.

 

Have to go now, will add more later.

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I am treating the word "Classic" as meaning works of continuing value and not simply my favourite ballets as you will see they are not confined to works in which there is point work. So here goes.

 

Nineteenth Century Classics.

I apologise but I find that I am not able to be controversial or innovative here. I think that Madam chose the pick of the crop with her selection from Nicholas Sergeyev's notated ballets. I will show my working out at least as far as the nineteenth century classics are concerned. These five ballets are significant in the development of ballet, historically, choreographically and musically.So I'm afraid it's  Madam's technical touchstones which head the list

 

Giselle

Coppelia

Sleeping Beauty

Swan Lake

Nutcracker

 

Giselle:- An early Romantic Ballet which for a long time was believed to be the oldest ballet in the repertory still being performed. Adams's score for Giselle is said to be one of the first to be composed specifically for the ballet in which it is used rather than patched together from pre existing music and popular tunes to create "music which speaks". That is music which because of the audience's familiarity with the lyrics of a song or the original theatrical context of the music being quoted would, when they heard it, apply that knowledge to the  action of the ballet being performed.Adam's score composed in the rehearsal studio as the ballet was being created  uses musical themes for the characters which are almost like leitmotifs. The choreography for the ballet is now thought to contain considerable elements of Perrot's original choreography rather than being reworked in its entirety by Petipa.  

 

Coppelia:-The last of the great French ballets with original choreography by Saint Leon which comes down to us as reworked by Petipa and a marvellous score by Delibes which alludes to folk dances and melodies which stands head and shoulders above the average ballet score of the period..

 

Sleeping Beauty (1890):- The first of the ballet scores which Tchaikovsky wrote for Petipa, This ballet was as much the creation of the francophile Director of the Imperial Theatres as that of its composer or choreographer, as it was he who wrote the libretto, decided the place and period in which it should be set, designed costumes and gave directions for the design of the sets.This ballet marks a watershed in Petipa's career. At the age of seventy two Petipa abandoned the melodramatic story ballets he had been making and restaging, and embarked on creating choreography to complex music written by a major composer rather than ballet hacks. The dances he created for this work changed the course of ballet history as the combination of the designs, the music and Petipa's choreography persuaded a group of young intellectuals that ballet was capable of being a serious art form. The choreography embraced the technical advances  which had taken place in Italy and expanded the dance vocabulary available to twentieth century choreographers.Many major twentieth century choreographers drew inspiration from Petipa's works and reused his ideas, Ashton " took private lessons "with him while Balanchine openly admitted the debt that he owed him and the ballets from which he had "stolen" his ideas. Petipa left his mark on twentieth century classical choreographers even those, such as Fokine, who rejected his ideas and pursued a style which was less obviously dependent on bravura technique for its effect.

 

Nutcracker (1892):-The second Vsevolozhsky  venture. Arguably Tchaikovsky's greatest ballet score.Petipa was too ill to work on this ballet as he intended so that the choreography,what little survives of it, is attributed to Ivanov. Ivanov's choreography for the kingdom of snow was highly regarded but it is said that too little was notated to make anything other than the floor plan capable of restoration. The grand pas de deux was made for Antonietta dell'Era who was arguably the greatest of the Italian technicians to visit St. Petersburg.While Sir Peter Wright's version retains the Ivanov choreography for the Grand pas de Deux I think that I would happily settle for the 1960's.Vainonen based version Nureyev set on the Royal Ballet

 

Swan Lake:-The Tchaikovsky score was written for Moscow where the ballet was first staged. It is said to have been a disaster. It was the success of Ivanov's choreography using some of the score for a Tchaikovsky memorial concert which prompted the creation of the ballet. In the final version it was Ivanov  who created the white acts while Petipa worked on the first and third acts.This new new version required quite a bit of rearranging of the score.Interestingly it is Petipa's choreography which has most often been reworked. Here I want two versions of the ballet. The first is the version which the RB  danced immediately before the Dowell production was staged with its Ashton interpolations including the act 1 waltz, his act 3 choreography which includes the dance of the fiancees and his fourth act. At the moment my second version  would be pretty much the text used in the Dowell production with the Bintley waltz replaced by the waltz Ashton created for the Touring Company; there would be no drunken officers or boorish behaviour by Benno or Siegfried during act 3. As far as the designs are concerned I would like something without bling and with a light coloured floor in the third act so the dancing is visible. In short less atmosphere more visibility. 

 

As far as the rest of Petipa's output is concerned I am not so sure, as with the exception of Raymonda, the music for these other ballets is of no great quality.My problem with Raymonda is that the story, even in the restored version is the sort of narrative that gives ballet a bad name. I think that the solution is to put both Nureyev's Raymonda Act 3 and Balanchine's Raymonda Variations  on my list

 

.La Bayadere is a possibility despite its score by Minkus but I would just as happily settle for Nureyev's staging of The Kingdom of the Shades with a full thirty two Shades.Although I am curious  to know what the pre Soviet, pre-Chabukiani version looked like I am reluctant to include the entire ballet in my list of classics.

 

 Le Corsaire is another possibility but then for me the music has to be played in he right order; the ballet must not be staged in any of the Soviet rewritten versions or as jolly japes and the Jardin Animee, a wonderful set piece if you can run to the large cast needed to do it full justice, has to be performed in its original form and with its original forces.This probably means that I shall have to exclude it from my list on the grounds of impossibility and hope that the Hochausers continue to insist on it being shown here on Bolshoi tours.

 

As far as Don Q is concerned the music is of no great interest to me, I don't find it at all amusing and I am not sure who is actually responsible for the choreography as it has come down to us. It's not Petipa because he got really upset about what Gorsky did to his ballet particularly the destruction of his floor plans. But then it's not really Gorsky either as,Bolshoi programme notes suggest that virtually every twentieth century Russian choreographer has made a contribution to its text. Here again I think that I am happy to wait for occasional Bolshoi tour performances.

 

The only ballet/ballets that I would definitely add to the list are by Bournonville. At the very least I must include both La Sylphide and Konservatoriet. However I am going to be greedy and add Napoli and A Folk Tale to my list. I am fascinated by the Bournonville performance style and his dance vocabulary. Basically I'm a sucker for terre a terre dancing.

 

Here is my list of Twentieth Century Classics which I am  afraid is long enough to keep a ballet company busy for years and cause it difficulty in keeping the works listed part of its current repertory.

 

Ashton

Fille,Cinderella,Sylvia, Romeo and Juliet,Ondine,Facade, Les Patineurs, Les Rendezvous,Dante Sonata, Les Apparitions, A Wedding Bouquet,Symphonic Variations, Scenes de Ballet,Les Illuminations,Daphnis and Chloe,La Valse,Enigma Variations,Monotones I and II,,The Dream, Thais Pas de Deux,A Month in the Country , Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan and Rhapsody.

 

Balanchine

Apollo,Serenade, Symphony in C,Four Temperaments, Jewels, Theme and Variations, Concerto Barocco, Ballet Imperial and Liebeslieder Walzer.

 

Cranko

Onegin, Jeux des Cartes/Card Game, Romeo and Juliet and Les Brouillards which is for me Cranko in a nutshell.

 

Fokine

Firebird, Petrushka and Les Sylphides.

 

Graham

Lamentation and Appalachian Spring.

 

Lander

Etudes 

 

MacMillan

Song of the Earth. Romeo and Juliet, Manon, Mayerling, Gloria and Requiem.

 

Massine

La Boutique Fantasque, The Three Cornered Hat and Choreatium

 

Nijinska

Les Biches and Les Noces.

 

Robbins

Dances at a Gathering, Afternoon of a Faun.and The Concert

 

Tetley

Pierrot Lunaire and Voluntaries

 

Tudor

Dark  Elegies, Lilac Garden, The Judgment of Paris, Gala Performance and Pillar of Fire.

 

Modern Masters Twenty First Century Masters..

The only one that I am sure of is Mark Morris. I find Wayne McGregor short on dance vocabulary and that his works don't bear repeat viewing while Liam Scarlett is too young to know who he really is. He is still trying on other people's persona and choreographic styles While with Wheeldon I think I still need time to determine whether his works have real staying power. As for Ratmansky I feel that I have not really seen enough of his work over a lengthy period to know whether they have staying power and will bear repeat viewings over a lengthy period. I sometimes think that some of his works are too busy and have too much going on. His Romeo and Juliet seemed to have a step for every note and bordered on the obsessive. I sometimes wonder whether his claim to being remembered in the future will be in connection with his reconstructions rather than his original work?.But Morris in at least one piece has proved his staying power. I have not seen enough of his work to produce a definitive list but here is my selection.

 

Morris

L'Allegro,Il Penseroso and Il Moderato. Although this work was created in the last century Morris is still alive and may well make many more great works. Only time will tell whether ballets like Beaux or Seneca have the staying power required of a classic. His choice of music is eclectic and he is inventive and exceptionally musical.

Edited by FLOSS
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@ FLOSS

 

Your information about Giselle and Coppélia is surprisingly misleading in several ways, I am afraid. Adam's score was certainly not the first one that was composed specifically for the ballet it was used in, Burgmuller should be mentioned as well, as the composer of Pas-de-deux des paysans, and Coralli is responsible for much of Giselle's choreography. Coppélia's original choreography for the first two acts survived almost intact and can be marvelled at in the April 2001 performance by lovely Charline Giezendanner (available on  DVD) while Petipa's choreography is quite uncertain (just compare Burlaka's reconstruction with the Danilova-Balanchine version); Delibes' score for Coppélia is certainly not the only great ballet score of the period -- what about Delibes' other balletic scores? What about Adam's (earlier) and Saint-Saëns' (later) balletic scores ?

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Definitions are really important. Do we mean classic generally as in “judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind” or in some way more specific relating to the “classical” period or “classical” technique?

 

My understanding is that, in ballet, the classical period normally refers to the Imperial Russian Ballet at the turn of the 19th century. By this definition, ballet’s by Tchaikovsky and Minkus, and choreographed by Petipa and others, are “ballets of the classical period”. La Sylphide, Giselle, Ondine, and Coppelia are all “ballets of the romantic period” coming out of Paris and London in the early to mid 19th Century and associated with the broader romantic movement in the arts. 

 

The problem is that these sorts of periodisation are leaky. Le Corsaire is technically a “ballet of the romantic period” first staged in Paris in the mid 1800s, but with modern productions mostly drawing on Petipa’s “classical period” revivals. La Fille Mal Gardee has a “classical period” staging and Ashton’s staging. As Ian said, Tchaikovsky is a “romantic” composer by musical periods who composed for “classical period” ballets. 

 

I wonder whether any of these labels are really that useful outside of discussions of history. After all, Peter Wright’s Nutcracker is based on a story by a “romantic” author, danced to music by a “romantic” composer, with “classical” choreography revised in the 1980s. 

 

That leaves us with the productions that we think are best, which is wonderfully fertile ground for arguements! With that in mind, the critics have called both Wheeldon’s Winter’s Tale and Akram Khan’s Giselle modern classics, which seems premature to me. 

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FLOSS, I realise this is a personal choice but can you explain what appears to me a drastic undervaluation of Balanchine? To me Agon and Symphony in three Movements and... and... and... are out of sight more valuable than Brouillards or Voluntaries, yes, and some of your Ashton choices as well!

Edited by Jane S
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FLOSS, is this list based on/drawn from a selection of those ballets that you, yourself, have personally seen?  

 

I agree with PdQ above, that other choreographers vis a vis ballet should be added.  I, myself, would want to see DeMille added and know that a number of her works are in the BRB rep.  Most certainly I would imagine Bouronville would surely HAVE to be included ... and what about Neumeier?  

 

The selection of the Balanchine - acknowledging that the man did choreograph 420 ballets - is surely somewhat lacking (How can you NOT include things like Agon or Divertimento No. 15 or Ballo or his La Valse (which I prefer over Ashton's as it is so much more dramatic - much as I prefer Ashton's Dream to Balanchine's) or Square Dance or Brahms/Schoenberg (the third movement of which is a one act ballet unto itself) or so, SO many others) and perhaps even more so in the case of Robbins.  I'm not certain that I, myself, would put 'The Concert' - as enjoyable as it is - amongst the top rank of what you deem his 'Twentieth Century Classics'.  Surely things like Opus 19/The Dreamer; In G Major, In the Night, Fancy Free, The Cage, Brahms/Handel (which he did with Tharp - who - if you are going to speak about BALLET - and female choreographers - in the 20th Century - must surely at least get a mention), 2 and 3 Part Inventions, Goldberg Variations, Glass Pieces, Four Seasons - to name but only a very few - might nudge ahead.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Jane S. The Balanchine ballets which I listed are ones that I regard as an "Essential Balanchine Survival Kit" other works hover on the margins but  are never completely included or excluded. Agon is a wonderful ballet but there are occasions on which I don't want that degree of choreographic or musical rigour which suggests to me that it may be a ballet which is not quite as universal in its appeal as might be supposed. Again I think that to describe a ballet as a classic it has to bear repeat viewings which means that I feel that I have to have seen the ballet in question in live performance and on more than one occasion to be able to justify including it in my list.

 

You will both be shocked to hear this but I think that the only time that I have seen Symphony in Three Movements was when San Francisco Ballet came to Covent Garden which must have been at the turn of the century and it clearly did not register with me then.Was it because it was a bad performance ? I don't know. All I know is that I have no impression of the ballet whatsoever, let alone a lasting one, as a result I don't feel able to include it on my list.

 

Bruce, as far as Robbins is concerned I have not seen as much of his works as I might have liked and I have not had the same opportunities to see his works on home turf as you have had. I chose to include The Concert because successful comic ballets which bear repeat viewings are extremely rare and there are occasions when you don't want an entire programme of ultra serious ballets.

 

I am afraid that my selection reveals just how superficial and lacking in intellectual rigour my tastes are. As far as Petit is concerned I find him very dated. It's a case of it's always 1950.Whatever it is that appeals to those of you who would add him to the list just passes me by and while Forsythe may not be dated I find him clever but of limited continuing interest.

Edited by FLOSS
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I am afraid that my selection reveals just how superficial and lacking in intellectual rigour my tastes are.

 

If that's true of you, FLOSS, it's true of me - because your lists are spookily similar (in fact pretty well identical) to what mine would have been!

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Jane S. The Balanchine ballets which I listed are ones that I regard as an "Essential Balanchine Survival Kit" other works hover on the margins but  are never completely included or excluded. Agon is a wonderful ballet but there are occasions on which I don't want that degree of choreographic or musical rigour which suggests to me that it may be a ballet which is not quite as universal in its appeal as might be supposed. Again I think that to describe a ballet as a classic it has to bear repeat viewings which means that I feel that I have to have seen the ballet in question in live performance and on more than one occasion to be able to justify including it in my list.

 

You will both be shocked to hear this but I think that the only time that I have seen Symphony in Three Movements was when San Francisco Ballet came to Covent Garden which must have been at the turn of the century and it clearly did not register with me then.Was it because it was a bad performance ? I don't know. All I know is that I have no impression of the ballet whatsoever, let alone a lasting one, as a result I don't feel able to include it on my list.

 

Bruce, as far as Robbins is concerned I have not seen as much of his works as I might have liked and I have not had the same opportunities to see his works on home turf as you have had. I chose to include The Concert because successful comic ballets which bear repeat viewings are extremely rare and there are occasions when you don't want an entire programme of ultra serious ballets.

 

I am afraid that my selection reveals just how superficial and lacking in intellectual rigour my tastes are. As far as Petit is concerned I find him very dated. It's a case of it's always 1950.Whatever it is that appeals to those of you who would add him to the list just passes me by and while Forsythe may not be dated I find him clever but of limited continuing interest.

 

Reading your comments above vis a vis the Balanchine all I can say is: Golly what 'margins'!  There are just so many wonderful works that reveal so much - at least to me - with repeated viewings.  What of the Stravinsky Violin Concerto?  Certainly I agree with Concerto Barocco being core.  I've watched the below film of the latter twice in the last week and been entranced.  These works may not be in the RB's rep .. of that I'm not sure ... I think the Stravinsky is ... but they are certainly in that of the BRB.  Have you not seen these with that wonderful company, FLOSS?  Happily I have.  I assure you there is no need to leave the UK in their instance.  Balanchine was so generous in his own lifetime.  Forget NY.  I know that is out of the realm of many BcoF readers' budget - much as it often is of my own now - and will - at least in the short term - become progressively more dear I fear.  

 

 

 

 

As to the Robbins, there too you don't need to go to NYC.  Many of these works - baring say 2 and 3 Part Inventions perhaps - are in the POB rep or even our own wonderful BRB.  Perhaps you have seen them there?  Also a goodly few are in HET Ballet's rep.  I know you went to Paris for the Ratmansky remount of Sleeping Beauty and you speak in your articles so very often with such direct authority of the world ballet scene I simply assumed that you had long travelled to cover it as part of the overall arc of that authority; on behalf of your passion.  Speaking for myself, I always think that it is crucially important to define one's boundaries when attempting to speak with authority.  It is so easy to be mis-read.  Thank you for going some distance here, FLOSS, in clarifying such.  It will help me - and I'm sure many others - in better defining your own terms and specific geographic frame of direct reference when reading any of your future notations or reviewing your past writings.  This will be most helpful when striving to put these things into a better perspective. 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Really interesting to read people's lists/thoughts :). I would add Act III of Napoli from the Bournonville repertory for "classics" both in the sense of enduring masterpieces that have entered the international repertory and in the sense of exemplars of the nineteenth-century ballet 'inheritance.' Act III because that seems to be what has survived genuinely intact and is often presented as a stand alone event. As Pas de Quatre mentions, there is probably more Bournonville that belongs on a list of classics--though much of it has become something of a specialty repertory for the Royal Danish Ballet.

 

I think that sometimes one has to step back a bit from one's personal taste/moods/experiences when trying to evaluate classics.  When it comes to plays I'm not always up for the emotional rigors of King Lear, but I don't doubt its status as a classic...Of course one can't step back too much or it just becomes a discussion of what works are most popular with the audience as a whole. I can't say I've ever seen a good performance of Lander's Etudes that I didn't enjoy, but I wouldn't call it a classic.

 

Awful performances can ruin the greatest ballet, though a good score helps avert the worst.

Edited by DrewCo
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