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Subject: "What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th ..." Archived thread - Read only
 
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Brendan McCarthymoderator

01-07-01, 09:29 PM (GMT)
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"What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
 
   As a curtain raiser to the Kirov’s Fokine programme this week, the Friends of Covent Garden and of the Kirov arranged a study evening at the Clore Studio last Thursday. It was presented by the excellent Richard Glasstone and there was an opportunity to see two Kirov principals, Zhanna Ayupova and Viktor Baranov dance the Waltz in C Sharp Minor from Chopiniana.

Richard Glasstone portrayed Fokine as a considerable moderniser, quite as radical in his way as Isadora Duncan, who was born three years earlier. However, Fokine insisted on the worth of classical training. It was in the realm of expression that he was revolutionary.

The tradition in which Fokine grew up was that of the court ballet in which dancing was not meant to be expressive. Instead the execution of movement and patterns (“just lovely dancing”) was all-important. In the 1880s visiting virtuoso dancers from Italy had brought to Russia a gallery of new “tricks”. While Petipa originally thought them vulgar, audiences were enthusiastic. Petipa incorporated these “tricks” into Sleeping Beauty, which marries French elegance with Italian virtuosity. Artists sought increasingly to incorporate their 32 fouettes into every ballet, irrespective of whether this was right for the context. Fokine railed against this. He spent much time in the Hermitage Galleries and considered how wrong the subjects in the paintings there would seem in traditional ballet postures.

While Richard Glasstone’s lecture was entitled “What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”, he suggested that it was, if anything, more helpful to restate his topic as a series of negatives.

· Don’t look for virtuosity in Fokine ballets unless it is appropriate to the character. Harlequin in Scheherazade is a case in point.

· Don’t look for mime. Glasstone instanced the ludicrous contortions of the mime for the phrase “Call the judge here”, found in an Ivanov ballet.

· Don’t look for too much pointe. Fokine uses pointe only when it is appropriate to the character. In Petrushka pointe is used for the ballerina doll with the specific intent of making her look stiff. In Chopiniana those on pointe are sylphs and fairies.

· Don’t look for polkas and mazurkas. Fokine hated rigidly formulaic ballets. He insisted it was possible to dance to music other than dance rhythms.

· Don’t go to Fokine for tutus. He hated them, dismissing them as ‘upturned parasols’. The original costumes by Golovin and Bakst for Firebird did not portray a traditional ballerina in a tutu, rather an oriental and exotic creature in pantaloons. The tutu emerged in Goncharova’s subsequent redesign. Fokine would not have approved.

· Don’t go to Fokine for pas-de-deux. Pointe started first to be used by Taglione in La Sylphide. By the 1870s the Italians had developed the blocked shoe – this allowed the pirouette. Fokine hated the steel pointe. Pas-de-deux developed out of pointe and the need to support the ballerina. Where two dance together in Fokine’s choreography it is “for each other” and not to show off to the audience.

· Don’t go to Fokine if you believe, like Balanchine, that “ballet is woman”. In the nineteenth century the role of the male in ballet was completely degraded. The subject matter of romantic ballets placed woman at the centre. Pointe work further reduced the role of the male. In Degas’ representations of dancers there are no men. While Bournonville in Copenhagen was affirming the male tradition, the male role in Coppelia in Paris was being danced en travestie by a woman. Fokine placed the male dancer back in the forefront. In Le Spectre de la Rose ninety per cent of the dancing is for the man. Diaghilev’s early success was with Prince Igor, which strongly featured male dancing.

· Don’t look for heavily drilled corps de ballet in Fokine. He hated regimentation of the corps. In Petrushka Fokine has 100 dancers on stage doing individual things – pouring from a samovar, cracking open sunflower seeds. Each dancer is unique.

· Don’t look for lots of glissades and bourrees for their own sake. The movement has to be right for the character. The characters of Petrushka and the Moor evolve from their movements. Fokine wanted ballet technique to train the body; but he insisted that choreographers should use the whole body expressively. Ballets should not be set in stone, but should be expressively true to the music. However, Glasstone suggested gloomily “Fokine must turn in his grave daily and it’s getting worse”. It is necessary, he said, to have a determined director and willing dancers, who will sublimate their wish to be “tricksy”. Fokine worked out in great detail the characteristics of his characters – but today’s dancers tend to get the bare bones, while missing the detail. It is very hard, said Glasstone, to get dancers to take an interest in the detail.


Richard Glasstone then set out the background to Chopiniana (later Les Sylphides). By 1907 Glazunov had orchestrated several pieces by Chopin and Fokine was keen to choreograph them. He did each scene in character – with the exception of the Waltz in C Sharp Minor, which he choreographed as “pure dance”. In 1908 Fokine completely reworked this draft, keeping only the pas-de-deux. This pas-de-deux is an exception in Fokine; elsewhere it is used to dramatic purpose (as in La Carnaval).

Until the nineteenth century, dancers wore heeled shoes and pannier skirts. The 1832 La Sylphide used the first ballet skirt. It was bell shaped so that the dancer could lift her leg. By Degas the ballet-skirt had reached mid-calf. It was the drive to virtuosity that drove the further movement to the tutu, which Fokine so despised.

Fokine saw lifts not as lifts per se. Instead the girl/sylph/firebird was attempting to fly away and the male was attempting to catch her. It was the Bolshoi in 1956 that brought the first high lifts. In the early performances of Sylphides the steps were danced more quickly than they are now; performance has become more mannered with the years.

The evening was an excellent “consumers’ guide” to Fokine. Until now I had only seen Richard Glasstone on video. Watching him ‘live’, I was struck by his pleasing combination of intellect and quiet natural authority. He must have been a superb teacher.

The Kirov’s Fokine programme consists of three ballets, Chopiniana, Scheherazade and The Firebird. It runs at the ROH from Wednesday 4th July to Saturday 7th July at 7.30 pm with matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2.30.


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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Pete 01-07-01 1
     RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Brendan 02-07-01 3
  RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... martinjay 02-07-01 4
     RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Brendan 02-07-01 5
         RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Pete 03-07-01 6
             RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Lynette H 03-07-01 7
                 RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... alison 04-07-01 8
                     RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Amy 04-07-01 9
         RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Jane S 04-07-01 10
             RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Brendan 05-07-01 11
                 RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Jane S 05-07-01 12
                     RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 2... Brendan 06-07-01 13
                         Ballets of Mikhail Fokine. Kirov Ballet, ROH, 7th July 2001 Brendan McCarthymoderator 08-07-01 14

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Pete

01-07-01, 11:58 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #0
 
   Brendan

Thank you for condensing this incredibly interesting evening so well. It was a real treat seeing Ayupova & Baranov in the pdd (Can you recall the name of the pianist?)

Richard Glasstone's account of this amazing 'evolutionary, not revolutionary' figure was absolutely riveting. It would be interesting to see Firebird danced in its original Golovine design wouldn't it?


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Brendan

02-07-01, 05:52 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #1
 
   Thank you Pete. The pianist was Ludmilla Sveshnikova, who played the solo piano part in several performances of Rubies. Not too sure about the Golovin Firebird costume however. From what stills I've seen, it seems incredibly cumbersome. I quite like the flaming red tutu designed by Goncharova.


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martinjay

02-07-01, 08:44 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #0
 
   Brendan,

Thank you for this post. As I am not a Friend, I hadn't heard about the event, but will find your summary most useful in preparing for the matinee on 7 July.

Martinjay


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Brendan

02-07-01, 09:25 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #4
 
   Only after I had written the original piece on the Clore evening, did I notice that the Kirov attributes its Firebird designs to Bakst and Golovin. Yet the dancer photographed in the publicity material appears to be wearing the tutu more usually associated with the Goncharova designs.

In his talk, Richard Glasstone argued strongly for the authenticity of the RB's Firebird. It was staged for the company by Grigoriev and Tchernicheva, who were supremely well placed to know the original. Can anyone cast light on the 'DNA' of the Kirov's version? Where did it come from? Who first taught it to the company? How do the costumes differ (if at all) from the RB's version? How does the staging differ?


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Pete

03-07-01, 02:31 AM (GMT)
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6. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #5
 
   The original costume designs were by Korovine except for the Firebird costume by Bakst (which I agree looks very cumbersome). Korovine's costumes look almost Asian in influence.

The original 1910 set designs were by Golovine which were apparently destroyed by damp, hence Goncharova's 1922 costumes & set design. I can't recall the Kirov using the famous & fabulously colourful Goncharova backdrop for the finale (they certainly show no credit in the programme), though I may be wrong as I've only seen the Kirov version once.

As for the Firebird costume the RB and Kirov versions seem almost identical. Perhaps trivial, the original called for 'a magic tree laden wih silver apples', nowadays it seems the Kirov favours golden apples and rhe RB red apples (which are more audible when dropped!)

I too would be intrigued to learn about the history of the Kirov interpretation.


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Lynette H

03-07-01, 01:16 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #6
 
   There are some differences in the Royal and the Kirov's version of Firebird. The Kirov version has the previous princes who have attempted to free the princesses come back to life from being turned to stone - it's a nice little detail. I prefer the closing moments of the Kirov production - with the Royal's there's something of a hiatus as they rush off for the final costume change. In the Kirov's version, the backcloth is slowly raised, showing the spires of Holy Russia's churches growing before you: the last few minutes seem to flow more smoothly.


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alison

04-07-01, 12:48 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #7
 
   I agree totally with Lynette there.


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Amy

04-07-01, 07:33 PM (GMT)
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9. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #8
 
   Bakst also designed a second costume for the Firebird in 1919, according to Beaumont it was 'a short yellow ballet skirt, decorated with orange and gold motifs, and trimmed with orange feathers, .......a white tinselled cap, trimmed with long orange feathers,' could the Kirov be using that? The sets used in 1919 were the original Gololvine/Korovine ones, as were all the other costumes except that of the Tsarevich which was also redesigned by Bakst.


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Jane S

04-07-01, 09:57 PM (GMT)
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10. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #5
 
   I believe the Firebird was revived at the Kirov in 1993 as part of a project masterminded by Andris Liepa, and mounted with the assistance of Isabelle Fokine, the choreographer's granddaughter. There was a lot about it in the ballet press at the time, and a television film as well.

If you have access to back numbers of the Dancing Times, there's a long piece by Alastair Macaulay in the September 1994 edition, which goes into some detail about the differences between this and the RB's version.


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Brendan

05-07-01, 03:07 PM (GMT)
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11. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #10
 
   Jane - that is really interesting. I wonder how much of the Kirov version is Liepa's and how much is authentically Fokine's...


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Jane S

05-07-01, 03:17 PM (GMT)
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12. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #11
 
   I think the idea was that Isabelle Fokine had her grandfather's notebooks and was working straight from them. She ran into a lot of opposition at the Kirov when re-staging works they already had in their repertoire, when the Kirov dancers were most reluctant to change the way they'd been dancing them for years and years. I seem to remember that one of them (Lopatkina?) actually refused to do I.F's version of the Dying Swan, and in one London season they did 'their' version one night and I.F's the next. (Apologies if I've misremembered any of this!)


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Brendan

06-07-01, 10:05 AM (GMT)
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13. "RE: What to look for in Mikhail Fokine”. Clore Studio, ROH 28th June. "
In response to message #12
 
   I don't know that it belongs here (it isn't right for the daily newspaper links), but I have found an essay by Stravinsky, on "The Diaghilev I knew". It was published in the November 1953 edition of The Atlantic Monthly, an American literary magazine, and it is quite electrifying to read it at this remove. A quote:

"Diaghilev's repertoire is still the foundation of most of the ballet companies which have tried to succeed him. And what a strange thing! These ballets are given in nearly every country in the world -- with the exception of Russia! As far as I know, only Petrouchka (produced there ten years after it was created) has remained in the repertoire. The Firebird and Pulcinello were also given, but not for long. Truthfully, no one is a prophet in his own country!"

If Firebird was indeed performed in the USSR, I wonder where and by whom.

The complete essay can be found in the Atlantic's archive at:
http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/53nov/stravinsk53.htm


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

08-07-01, 08:09 PM (GMT)
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14. "Ballets of Mikhail Fokine. Kirov Ballet, ROH, 7th July 2001"
In response to message #13
 
   The longer a ballet exists in the repertoire", Mikhail Fokine wrote in his memoirs, "the further it departs from its original version. After my death the public, watching my ballets, will think 'What nonsense Fokine staged!'."

Was Fokine prescient? The evidence of the Kirov's final programme in London is equivocal. The stage curtain was not the Royal Opera House's usual; it was replaced for the week by a special drape, entitled "Les Saisons Russes " with motifs from Scheherazade. Designed by Bakst for the original Diaghilev seasons in Paris, its use here was clearly intended to stamp the night with a extra patina of authenticity. But whereas Balanchine's works came to the Kirov vacuum-packed, the origins of this Fokine programme are more problematic.

Two of the ballets had been "restored" by Andris Liepa and Fokine's granddaughter Isabelle. I'm instinctively nervous when artists' grandchildren are mentioned, remembering the baleful influence of relatives and legacees of other artists. While I hesitate to judge the scholarship behind last night's restoration, there is enough reason to pause for thought.

In some respects the Kirov's Firebird was better realised than the Royal Ballet's version. The designs were more authentic, reverting to the originals of Golovin and Bakst in which the gates to the Kostchei's Magic Kingdom were placed in the middle of the stage. The Kirov's Danse Infernale was more spirited; the stage persona of the Kostchei more delineated. But Tatiana Amasova as the Firebird lacked the feral edginess of a Leanne Benjamin and her reading lacked nuance. There was not enough of the actress about her. Some of the lifts were suspect - too high and careless of the conceit that the Firebird is a flighty creature resisting capture. I missed the sullenness of the ultimate moment of subjugation. The climactic wedding lacked the solemn theatricality of the Royal Ballet's version. There is abundant evidence that the Royal Ballet's Firebird represents a scrupulous act of curatorship, and there is a near consensus that its choreography is very close to the original. Grigoriev and Tchernicheva, who staged it, were supremely placed to know Fokine's intentions. So were Karsavina the first Firebird, who taught the role to the RB, and Ernest Ansermet, who conducted the first RB performances, who had been the Ballet Russe's Music Director. I find myself a little surprised that the Kirov did not look to the preservers of this dimension of their heritage, as they did to Balanchine who so transformed other aspects of their heritage into a language for the years ahead.

While Scheherazade was great fun, it is hard to accept it as more than balletic kitsch. Diaghilev had turned his back on this ballet, partly because he had recoiled from its folklorism, but also because he believed it to be very much of a particular time, and associated with its original performers. As a result, there was been a discontinuity in the transmission of the ballet and last night's version was a reconstruction. Whatever Fokine intended when he wrote it, it has not weathered well. What once passed for exoticism now appears as low-rent cabaret. That said, last night's cast, Nioradze as Zobeide and Tsiskaridze as the Golden Slave milked it for every scintilla of campy excess. The audience loved it and the Kirov Orchestra's rendering of Rimsky-Korsakov's score was luxuriant, an absolute pleasure - as indeed was its reading of Firebird.

And so to Chopiniana. Here too there are issues of preservation, as over the years Fokine produced different variants of the ballet. In this case, we can rely on the Kirov's collective memory as the defining version of Chopiniana was made for the Maryinsky Theatre in 1908 and has been in its repertory ever since. It was Fokine's deeply felt homage to romanticism and it was exquisitely distilled by a cast, which brought not merely technical perfection, but layer and layer of insight. While there is a relationship between artistic and religious experience, every now and again the boundary blurs and an artistic moment precipitates something akin to a mystic state. So it was last night. It was a superb cast - Ayupova, Selina, Pavlenko and Kolb as the Poet.

For me the closing frieze of Chopiniana will be the lingering after-image of the Kirov’s London season. May they return soon.


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