January 22, 2007
We interrupt the knitting to bring you some dance!
Apollinaire Scherr, dance writer at Newsday and proprietor of Foot in Mouth and I have been talking over there about Sleeping Beauty. I’m going to take the liberty of continuing my responses here, because it gives me something to put on my own blog (daily content is a chore!)
Apollinaire and I are coming at this from slightly different angles, which can make things constructive. One of the most useful dance discussions I had with a friend was over Boris Eifman, a choreographer I loathe. By the end of the discussion, I loathed his work no less, but I understood why she liked it. It may not have convinced me, but it helped me see another point of view.
I’ve seen versions of Beauty by most of the major companies: ABT’s Macmillan version, about to be supplanted by McKenzie/Kirkland, NYCB’s version by Martins, the Kirov’s “New/Old” version as well as the Soviet one, POB’s version by Nureyev as well as an earlier Nureyev setting for National Ballet of Canada, and the Royal Ballet’s current version, which I saw five times this year. My aesthetic for the ballet is probably most shaped by that last version.
To me, the widest gap between Apollinaire and I (and if the conversation travels down this road, great!) is between innovation and advocacy. I think both of us see advocacy the same way – as illuminating the text. I also agree with Apollinaire that a stager has the right to forego absolute fidelity to a text; in dance, that’s impossible anyway because there isn’t a concrete text. But I think we’d draw the line at acceptable variants at different places, with me being more traditional in outlook.
To take the example at hand, I don’t think the court/fairy dichotomy in Beauty that Apollinaire suggests is constructive, primarily because Beauty is about the court - in many ways it’s not-so-subtle propaganda for the glories of monarchy. The fairy world may be eternal, but in some ways it is in fealty to the court. I don’t like the entrances at NYCB either, but that’s because the wing everyone enters (mid stage right) is way too tight. It feels as if the King and Queen enter separately because there is no room for them to enter together. In the Royal version the fairies enter through colonnades at the back – the main entryway for most other characters. It works quite well. The change I would make there is architectural rather than choreographic; have a grander entryway.
Carabosse’s music. After having seen the Royal version and then NYCB’s version shortly after I noticed the large cuts in the music Martins takes for the first time. In fact the first time I heard them, in 2004 awkwardly edited into a tape at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, I didn’t even know where the music was from, a rather poignant reminder that tradition is What You Are Familiar With. That said, I don’t think the music was conceived for dancing, as I believe Carabosse was not conceived as a dancing role. In the Kirov reconstruction of the version from 1903, Carabosse is played en travesti by a man. Also, once you’ve heard it enough, you can hear the difference between music for mime and music for danced steps, though as Bournonville said, mime is dance for turned-in feet. I do agree the music moves, but I think that movement is for Carabosse’s attendants. It diminishes her stature to have her dancing.
Giving the prince the entre’acte as a variation. Careful. I’ll point to two examples of an Act II variation. Nureyev’s has already been discussed. It’s really awful. Ashton also has one to a brief portion of an excised Sarabande that was made for Anthony Dowell. It’s much more modest; yet many of the old-timers who recall the 1946 production *hate* it (as much because it necessitates the Prince not wear his long red coat, which they loved). I don’t have that historical allegiance, but of the Princes I saw, the only one out of five that could do the variation justice was Rupert Pennefather. A true prince can show as much character standing still as in motion. Cast the role correctly and the variation is unnecessary.
Posted by Leigh Witchel at January 22, 2007 6:22 PM
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