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My copy of Lynn Garafola's magisterial new biography of Bronislava Nijinska (titled La Nijinska) has arrived.

 

I skipped ahead to Chapter 16 where Garafola discusses the Royal Ballet's major revivals of Les Biches and Les Noces in the mid-60s. In Garafola's retelling, Frederick Ashton comes across as the real hero of these revivals as he commissioned them at a time when Nijinska's fortunes were at a very low ebb. Garafola quotes this lovely communication from Ashton to Nijinska in 1964 before she arrived in London to restage Les Biches:

 

"It has always been one of my favourite ballets and I look forward with extreme pleasure to seeing it again, and to having you among us . . . To my way of thinking it is essential that the Royal Ballet should have a masterpiece in its repertoire from one of the greatest choreographers of our time."

 

Ashton signed it, "Your ancient pupil, Freddie."

 

The source notes for Chapter 16 mention that Les Biches was programmed with Les Patineurs and Marguerite and Armand at the first performance. At subsequent performances, Les Biches appeared on the same bill as Les Sylphides and The Dream. How about those as mixed bills at the ballet?

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9 hours ago, miliosr said:

My copy of Lynn Garafola's magisterial new biography of Bronislava Nijinska (titled La Nijinska) has arrived.

 

I skipped ahead to Chapter 16 where Garafola discusses the Royal Ballet's major revivals of Les Biches and Les Noces in the mid-60s. In Garafola's retelling, Frederick Ashton comes across as the real hero of these revivals as he commissioned them at a time when Nijinska's fortunes were at a very low ebb. Garafola quotes this lovely communication from Ashton to Nijinska in 1964 before she arrived in London to restage Les Biches:

 

"It has always been one of my favourite ballets and I look forward with extreme pleasure to seeing it again, and to having you among us . . . To my way of thinking it is essential that the Royal Ballet should have a masterpiece in its repertoire from one of the greatest choreographers of our time."

 

Ashton signed it, "Your ancient pupil, Freddie."

 

The source notes for Chapter 16 mention that Les Biches was programmed with Les Patineurs and Marguerite and Armand at the first performance. At subsequent performances, Les Biches appeared on the same bill as Les Sylphides and The Dream. How about those as mixed bills at the ballet?

In our dreams. 

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Thanks for beginning this thread, Miliosr. I received my copy of La Nijinska last week, just in time to bring it along on a working trip to Bogotá! It’s a biggie - all 497 pages - the product of many years of meticulous research around the globe, including the main Nijinska archives in the US Library of Congress (Wash, DC). Just two chapters in, it’s a fascinating read so far. 

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1 hour ago, Jeannette said:

I received my copy of La Nijinska last week, just in time to bring it along on a working trip to Bogotá! It’s a biggie - all 497 pages 

Yes - you could use it as a door stop!

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Lynn Garafola spends some time in Chapter 16 discussing the contrasting critical receptions to the Les Biches and Les Noces revivals in London and New York. The two revivals received raves in London but the reviews in New York were cooler.

 

When the Royal Ballet performed Les Noces as part of its 1967 performances at the new Met, Clive Barnes, then the lead dance critic for the New York Times, compared it unfavorably to the version Jerome Robbins had created for American Ballet Theatre two years earlier. Interestingly, Robbins himself was far more impressed by the Nijinska version. Garafola quotes him telling the choreographer's daughter years later that "he never would have created his own ballet to the same Stravinsky score" if he had seen Nijinska's version first. But as Garafola also notes, Les Noces hadn't been seen anywhere in the thirty years prior to its revival in London in 1966. So, it was an unknown quantity for a large part of the dance world.

 

Garafola again credits Frederick Ashton for his "inspired leadership" in engaging Nijinska to revive Les Noces and compares the revival to Aurora awakening from her long sleep. Alas, in 2022, it would appear that "Aurora" has fallen back into her deep sleep again.

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Ballet West has scheduled Nijinska's Les Noces for their upcoming season. On their website they give the title in English as well as French which seems a sensible accommodation to audiences in the U.S. (For those unfamiliar with the company--they are based in Salt Lake City, Utah.)

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7 hours ago, DrewCo said:

Ballet West has scheduled Nijinska's Les Noces for their upcoming season.

That is good news! As long as a dance work lives somewhere - it lives.

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I don't dispute the fact that certain works in the Royal Ballet's repertory cost a lot to stage because of the musical resources they require but I think that if the director wanted to do so he would find a way  to stage them.  Cost increasingly seems to me to be little more than a convenient excuse for not staging certain ballets in the company's twentieth century repertory as it is one which it is very difficult to challenge without access to the accounts. If Kevin  wanted to stage works like Daphnis and Chloe, Les Noces and The Song of the Earth on a regular basis he would find a way of doing so. If he valued these works he would programme these ballets on a triennial revival schedule and either ring fence money in his budget to cover the cost or try to establish a syndicate of people who would be prepared to assist in covering the cost of such revivals.

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I agree that the financial arguments for not doing something are mere pretexts. Certainly, the Royal Ballet was able to find considerable monetary resources to throw at The Dante Project and Like Water for Chocolate. But at least those can be considered (qualified) successes.

 

A better (worse?) example would be American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and its inability during Kevin McKenzie's 30-year tenure to restore Anthony Tudor's one-act The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet to repertory. The reason given is always cost. But that can't be true given how ABT could find the money for such big-budget bombs as David Parsons' The Pied Piper, the multi-choreographer Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison, Robert Hill's Dorian, Gelsey Kirkland's Sleeping Beauty and even some of Alexei Ratmansky's more outre offerings.

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It would appear that La Scala Milan has managed to scrape together sufficient Euros to stage a piece called LORE by Wayne McGregor using the score of Les Noces.  Paired with another McGregor work, it opened last night, 24 June.  An extensive Rehearsal photo gallery will feature in Sunday's Links:

 

https://www.gramilano.com/2022/06/photo-album-wayne-mcgregor-afterite-lore/

linked to:

https://www.gramilano.com/2022/06/lore-wayne-mcgregor/

 

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Posted (edited)

Chapter 16 of La Nijinska begins with a recounting of the Los Angeles ballet scene as it existed in the early 1960s. Nijinska had been teaching there for quite some time and her pupils had included the Tallchief sisters, Maria and Marjorie, and Tula Finklea, who became much better known as the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer star, Cyd Charisse. There were also many other distinguished ballet teachers in Los Angeles at that time, including Stanley Holden, David Lichine and Tatiana Riabouchinska, Eugene Loring and Carmelita Maracci.

 

Crash-landing into this world in 1964 was George Balanchine. With his success in New York assured and flush with funds from an enormous Ford Foundation grant ($6 million in 1963 dollars; $55 million in 2021 dollars), Balanchine was looking to extend his influence to the West Coast. As documented by Lynn Garafola, Balanchine gave a tactless interview to Los Angeles Times music critic Albert Goldberg in which he said (among other things):

 

"I will bring my people - the teachers, choreographers and technicians - to get things started here. We will try to teach the local teachers how to teach . . ." [Note: my emphasis]

 

This infuriated Nijinska, who fired off a letter to the Los Angeles Times (which they didn't print):

 

"Mr. Balanchine . . . allows himself to criticize insultingly the standing of the Ballet Schools of Los Angeles and their leaders; speaking of them as being lost . . . and he being the only one who can bring them forth into the light of civilization."

 

And:

 

"His interview also sounds like a monopolistic dictatorship . . ."

 

As Garafola notes, though, nothing came of Balanchine's proposed 'Ballet of Los Angeles' and it had collapsed by 1967. (Subsequent attempts by some of Balanchine's most fervent apostles to establish a Balanchine-derived ballet company in Los Angeles have also met with either failure or indifference: John Clifford's Los Angeles Ballet (1974-85) and Ballet of Los Angeles (1988-91), and, currently, Colleen Neary's Los Angeles Ballet.)

 

So much juicy news in this biography which would otherwise be lost!

 

Edited by miliosr
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4 hours ago, miliosr said:

 

As Garafola notes, though, nothing came of Balanchine's proposed 'Ballet of Los Angeles' and it had collapsed by 1967. (Subsequent attempts by some of Balanchine's most fervent apostles to establish a Balanchine-derived ballet company in Los Angeles have also met with either failure or indifference: John Clifford's Los Angeles Ballet (1974-85) and Ballet of Los Angeles (1988-91), and, currently, Colleen Neary's Los Angeles Ballet.)

 

So much juicy news in this biography which would otherwise be lost!

 

 

Nijinska's irritation with Balanchine is interesting to learn about -- I haven't started Garafola's book yet -- but non-Balanchine-derived ballet companies haven't had much success in Los Angeles either. At least not sustained success. I don't know the histories in detail but read, in an essay by Don Hewitt, that both Lichine and Loring tried to get companies off the ground without any long term success and despite the presence of so many good studios and dancers. And I remember myself that the Joffrey gave it a try for a number of years.....and then pulled out.

 

(Smaller contemporary ballet/dance groups have had some success... including L.A. Dance project and Barak Ballet both of which do have ties to Balanchine and NYCB. But a major ballet company? Los Angeles has not proven the easiest place to build that for anyone from any tradition....)

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9 hours ago, DrewCo said:

but non-Balanchine-derived ballet companies haven't had much success in Los Angeles either. At least not sustained success. I don't know the histories in detail but read, in an essay by Don Hewitt, that both Lichine and Loring tried to get companies off the ground without any long term success and despite the presence of so many good studios and dancers. And I remember myself that the Joffrey gave it a try for a number of years.....and then pulled out.

 

(Smaller contemporary ballet/dance groups have had some success... including L.A. Dance project and Barak Ballet both of which do have ties to Balanchine and NYCB. But a major ballet company? Los Angeles has not proven the easiest place to build that for anyone from any tradition....)

Why Los Angeles cannot sustain a ballet company (or, in the case of the present Los Angeles Ballet, sustain it at sufficient scale) is a topic in its own right. Probably the biggest reason (but far from the only one) is the sheer size of the Greater Los Angeles area, which sprawls across five counties and makes transportation a nightmare.

 

L.A. Dance Project does have a connection to the New York City Ballet (NYCB) via Benjamin Millepied and the occasional piece made for the company by his old NYCB colleagues, Justin Peck and Janie Taylor. But, at heart, L.A. Dance Project is a contemporary dance project; evidenced by Millepied's programming of works by such modern and postmodern dance luminaries as Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe, Martha Graham and Bella Lewitzky. (I can't speak much to Barak Ballet other than to say it's a micro company.)

 

Perhaps the most successful dance company in Los Angeles history is one of the earliest: Denishawn (Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn), which was the first "modern dance" company in the US. Not only did it give us the modern dance pillars Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman but it also featured a young dancer by the name of Louise Brooks. (Yes, that Louise Brooks.)

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