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Subject: "Stravinsky Staged: Another Take." Archived thread - Read only
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Brendan McCarthymoderator

03-05-01, 10:39 AM (GMT)
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"Stravinsky Staged: Another Take."
   “Stravinsky Staged” is an inspired programme, which works on many levels. While the three ballets have their composer in common, they are also inter-leafed in various other ways. It is particularly apt enterprise for the Royal Ballet, which played such an important part in conserving The Firebird and Les Noces.

While The Firebird may be the first modern score, it is an essentially nineteenth century spectacle. Leanne Benjamin was a compelling Firebird last night (May 2nd). Her dancing was superbly edgy, and she is a fine actress. I had some cavils about the Danse Infernale, whose ethnic roots are very visible. The corps did not seem completely comfortable and it will be interesting to see what the Kirov makes of it this summer.

There were some strong individual performances in Agon. Zenaida Yanovsky is a completely persuasive Balanchine dancer, very assured and very sassy. I would like to have seen her with a partner other than Acosta in the pas-de-deux. The problem was not his dancing, but rather his very strong stage presence, and lack of nuance, in a pas-de-deux in which the woman is dominant. (I had seen Arestis and Stepanek from the second cast at a rehearsal; the symmetries in this alternative combination seemed better). However the overall account of Agon was less than the sum of its parts. It is probably unrealistic to expect the Royal Ballet to look equally at ease in every genre it explores. That said, this was a creditable Agon and it was good to see it.

Interestingly Balanchine was dismissive of Nijinska’s choreography for Les Noces, arguing that its mass movements and pyramidal formations amounted to little. Both Balanchine and Nijinska make very distinctive use of pointe, albeit in the service of sharply different ends. While Balanchine used pointe in exaltation of woman, Nijinska may have been using pointe (as Gerald Dowler suggests in an excellent piece in the latest Dancing Times) to evoke the images and icons of Russian Orthodox saints by elongating the dancers’ silhouettes.

Of the three ballets Les Noces seemed at once the most primitive and the most completely modern. The performance was a triumph. With the strength of her performance in Agon still fresh in the mind, it was intriguing to see Yanowsky virtually anonymised as the Bride in Les Noces. While Nijinska, like Fokine, quotes from folk idioms, she does so in a more stylised way and the performance was a stunning piece of ensemble dancing from a very committed cast.

If one cared little for dance, the night would have been memorable for the music alone. John Carewe, the conductor, had absorbed himself in the scores and the choreography, and had taken pains with the dancers. It showed in a luminous orchestral account of The Firebird, and a spine-tingling Les Noces. Nights like this justify the Royal Ballet’s very purpose.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Stravinsky Staged: Another Take. Ann Williams 05-05-01 1
     RE: Stravinsky Staged: Another Take. Brendan McCarthymoderator 06-05-01 2
         RE: Stravinsky Staged: Another Take. Stuart Sweeney 06-05-01 3

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Ann Williams

05-05-01, 06:18 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Stravinsky Staged: Another Take."
In response to message #0
Brendan - I really enjoyed reading this informed review of the RB's Stravinsky programme, which I also saw and loved. I do agree with your point that the evening would have been worthwhile for the music alone, and especially for the sublime 'Firebird' score.

I was fascinated by your comment that Balanchine didn't think much of Nijinska's choreography for 'Les Noces' (how dare he!). Could you enlarge a little on this?

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Brendan McCarthymoderator

06-05-01, 01:35 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Stravinsky Staged: Another Take."
In response to message #1
   Ann - how very generous of you! The source was Richard Buckle's biography of Balanchine ("George Balanchine - Balletmaster", Hamish Hamilton, London 1988, p. 39). Here's the relevant passage:

"Diaghilev celebrated the opening of his first real London season since The Sleeping Princess by giving Stravinsky's Les Noces on the first night at His Majesty's Theatre. Balanchine heard for the first time the amazing cantata that had been begun before the war and was finished a decade later only after various experiments in orchestration. He thought Nijinska's choreography, with its mass movements and pyramidal formations, amounted to little, "the music was so great and complete"".

Page 167 of Buckle's biography gives a flavour of the personal relationship between Balanchine and Nijinska:

"Balanchine respected Mme Nijinska, though he did not like her choreography. When she attacked him with the words "I always thought you were such a gentleman. How could you do Le Baiser de la fee when you knew I had done it?", Balanchine replied:
"I am a gentleman. I let you do it first".

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Stuart Sweeney

06-05-01, 03:15 PM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Stravinsky Staged: Another Take."
In response to message #2
   Julie Kavanagh records that Balanchine, when asked whether he had learnt anything from Ashton, replied - Yes, always rinse the plates before leaving them in the sink for the cleaner.

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