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Subject: ""Excelsior" - Ballet de la Scala de Milan - Paris, 12th Janu..." Archived thread - Read only
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16-01-02, 08:08 PM (GMT)
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""Excelsior" - Ballet de la Scala de Milan - Paris, 12th January 2002"
   LAST EDITED ON 16-01-02 AT 09:36 PM (GMT)

LAST EDITED ON 16-01-02 AT 09:19 PM (GMT)

"Excelsior" by Teatro alla Scala de Milan :
a choregraphical composition, historical,allegorical,...fantastique.. in two parts, six acts and 11 scenes.
Creator : Luigi Manzotti (1881). La Scala - Milan production from December 1999.
Opera National De Paris, Matinee January 12, 2002

Music : Romualdo Marenco
Choreography : Ugo Dell'Ara after Luigi Manzotti
Scenery & costumes : Giullio Coltellacci
Light : Marco Filibeck

Obscurantism : Riccardo Massimi
Light : Gilda Gelati
Civilization : Sophie Sarrote
Slave : Maurizio Licitra

"Excelsior" ??? Oh ! Terrible kitsch, old-fashioned..you can't call this a ballet....they shouldn't stage this anymore...."
Lots of negative sounds around me...so, I was prepared ! I only can go and see 'what I can get'... a lucky combination with a 'duty'-visit offered me an afternoon to spend in Paris. I know : a matinée : no *big* names as Durante, Bolle, Guerra...so my expectations weren't that high !

It's a whole job to tell something about it.. so forgive me if it turns out a bit messy and repetitive.
At the beginning I didn't know how and where to start and at the end.....I couldn't stop either

And..yes, it IS old-fashioned and kitsch but in the ambiance of being at the Palais Garnier, the enthusiastic "La Scala"-dancers offered me a wonderful time....it was fun and...totally nuts. at the same time.
It is very colourful with an enormous number of artists and students of the La Scala-balletschool.
But...from my point of view, it's more entertainment rather than ballet...
Some parts, I can compare with a Parisian 'revue' or an American parade with funny costumes, special effects and a 'would-be' cheerful, lighthearted music. Too much 'marching-band' to my taste (I wasn't prepared on that !), but also some good imitations of machinery-sounds.
Sometimes a fast, flashing show ...it must have been a revelation 120 years ago !
The production was gigantic at that time : about 600 performers, horses and an elephant on stage. That exuberance is not possible anymore, so we had to content ourselfs with about 100 artists on stage...still impressive !
The scenery was really mad, something you find overhere in little old theatres of Christian schools but acceptable in the red velvet and gold-interior of the Garnier.
If you know a little bit about Italy you 'can' understand : I even saw some reminiscence towards there medieval plays and the importance of flags '.... Sometimes it was like the ballet was squeezed in between all the complicated changements of the numerous 'scenes' and lots of mime-parts.
To be honest....at the end I felt like I choose a slice of cake-with too much whipped cream- and it was too big for me ...

Thanks to an earlier review of Susy : http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_01/jan01/s_rev_lsm_1200.htm, I was a bit informed and -as usual- the programme-booklet was elaborated with intresting illustrations and some necessary background info.
As the 'introduction-voice' stated : Excelsior is a kind of choreographical composition that guide us through te various important discoveries of the late 1800s. So, with a bit of imagination you're in an 1880s theatre packed with ladies in silk crinolines and bustles, gentlemen in formal frock coats, ready for the 'show'. Oh dear, how uncomfortable that I forgot my fan...but lucky I have a 'front-row'-seat...so I'm not behind an elaborate hairdo...

Part One
Act I
1st.Scene : ' Obscurantism'
All is starting in the dark ages of the Inquisition.
Light, representing Progress and the Genius of Humanity, breaks the chains with Obscurantism
The latter, in a black, narrow-fitted outfit with a skeleton-portrayal, moves sneaking low to the ground
I learned that this character was only a mime-role in the original version but re-styled into a dancing one ,it results in a lot of pas-de-deux with Light.
The ever recurring struggle between these two is the constant in this performance.

2nd.Scene : 'Light'
In front of Obscurantism is the gazed curtain with golden beams of the Genius and we see an impressive line up of artists...in a rigorous geometric pattern-position.
Gilda Gelati, fragile in a ice-white fluid dress and a sparkling headdress, shows Obscurantism the Kingdom of the Geniuses who illuminate Humanity through their works....and the 'show' takes a start, pompous music and lots of dances. All 'symbols' are represented, we see 'Science', 'Peace', 'Courage', 'Perseverance', 'Invention' to name a few.... and last-but-not-least : 'Civilization'.
Civilization, danced by Sophie Sarrote, in a mid-lenght, white tutu and the symbol of the house of Savoy on her chest.
All girls, very colourful in combinations of mintgreen/pink, pink/fuchsia, pale blue/green and appropriate symbol-headdresses in gold gave us a twirling show...at one time I thought to see a kind of waterballet !
The choreography and 'costumes' (?) for the men were dreadfull. They looked as they came from another planet in their wrestler-outfits and they only served as 'background'.

Act II
3rd Scene : 'The first steamboat'.
A mainly mime-part taking us to a party on the boarders of the river Weser. One feels in Disneyland : two rowboats on stage and lots of cheerful character-dances on polka & mazurka-tunes and twirling colourful skirts. But fear to get unemployed end up in a fight between the rowboat-men an the inventor of the steamboat. Light comes to rescue him.

4rd Scene : 'Brooklyn bridge, New-York'.
An exponent of invention and progress : a moving train on the iron bridge and a passing steamboat on the river beneath makes an impressive night-scenery in dark blues. Obscurantism is defeated by Progess.
The public must be impressed about this in the early days.

5th Scene : 'Labo of Mr.Volta'.
A postcard-like view on Lago di Como, dated 1799. A mime-part with Alexander Volta in his labo. After numerous, vainly attempts, he succeed : Electricity is born an we can celebrate with a solo of Light, a triumph on the fall of Obscurantism.

6th Scene : 'Electricity'.
We can't stop progress anymore ! In a somptuous scenery of the Telegraph Square in Washington, 16 telegraphists emerge on stage : highblue trousers and red-with-gold liftboy-like jackets, their telegrams up in the air. A cheerful 'galop'-dance and you can't believe your eyes when 10 elegant dancers with lamp-shade skirts decend from the stairs. What a feast ! Here, the "Electricity-fairy" = Lightning absolutely has to made a solo. Well, I was quite impressed by Raffaella Benaglia , thought she danced her part with panache in a steelblue fluid dress. It all ended up in a 'grande finale' for the first part : fluorescent telegrams and garlands of light. A triumph of Light that sends Obscurantism on the run.

I really couldn't imagine what we were up to after the interval.
Afterall, I found the second part far more interesting because there were some dancing-highlights !

Part two.
Act IV
Although I have difficulties to place the character of the Slave in this ballet, I think it was a welcome addition through the years. At least it offered us a nice 'pas de trois' between Light, Obscurantism and the Slave.

7th Scene : 'Desert-storm'.
An amazing backdrop, in combination with a gazed curtain we had a hazy sight on a caravan of men, women and children at the mercy of the storm. Obscurantism is triumphing again but Light symbolises the rescueing phare.

8th Scene : 'Suez canal'.
Imposant stairs and the front of a ship traversing the Suez Canal.
A funny Cosmopolitan 'pas de cinq' : Civilization dances with people from around the whole world.
The children in the audience were particularly moved by the funny dances of the Chinese, while I liked the Oriental dance of Luana Saullo and so did the public, they send her a warm applause. The La Scala children -disguised as little negro-servants- offered an impeccable ritmic underlining. A pitty we couldn't see their enthusiastic faces properly, but there were a lot of *sparkling* eyes
It's not possible to stop triumph now ! Civilization is having a nice 'grand pas de deux' with the slave and after another 'ensemble-dance' Obscurantism is again defeated by Light and the Slave.

Act V.
9th Scene : 'the Cenisio tunnel'.
A mime-part about the tunnel-through between Italy and France. In a scenery of rocks and the necessary buttress-work, the Italian workmen are in despair when they don't hear any longer the noises of their French collaborators. Suddenly there is a 'break-through' and huge blocks are rolling on the stage : exuberant meeting and Light triumphants again.

10th Scene : 'a mark of honour to Ferdiand de Lesseps, engineer of Cenisio tunnel'.
Obscurantism has lost all power and assists at the triumph of Light.
In an allegoric scenery of clouds, Light shows him the reunited people of the world and Obscurantism vanished into the earth. We can celebrate with a pas de deux between Civilization and Peace.

Act VI.
11th Scene : 'Apotheosis'.
What's in a name !
Stairs over the full-lenght of the scene, the clouds disappear and one sees a rayonant earth on the backdrop.
A triumphant pas de deux between Civilization and the free Slave. Light and Peace opening a tribute to Civilisation on an amalgam between marchingband music and the French can-can (?), the corps in midlenght white tutu's and military jackets, proud presenting the flags of their nation..... an impressive "grande finale"with a heartwarming wish from the La Scala-students (this time in sailorcostumes) : "PAX".

The matinee-audience showered the dancers with a massive applause, cheering here and there....flowers ended up in the orchestra....
Thank you La Scala for your enthusiasm

Somehow it's difficult to describe it all, there is too much going on on stage...lots of details...so I was constantly loosing concentration .... Hmmm....afterall I wasn't impressed by the dancing... it is obvious that a lot of the choreography in this performance has been revised over the years...bits of dance has been added..the mime-parts are somtimes totally out-off place.....so one has to consider it rather as an accumulation of events and dances....every reason is a good one to dance !
There is a lot of enthusiastic, show-off, ensemble-dancing : strictly symmetric and well-balanced, you like it or you don't.... Think the corps de ballet did a good job on this, no more and no less.
And - on the opposite we had the numerous pas-de-deux and solo's. I liked Sophie Sarrote in her role as Civilization, think she is an accomplished dancer and her part was the most demanding of the whole performance. But I was not convinced about Gilda Gelati as Light...until I read somewhere that is was the choreography of her character that obliged her to dance in that style ! And I like also to mention the beautiful Oriental dancer and Lightning , somehow they have moved me and in this kind of performances you really don't need a 'big name'.

A few minutes later I stepped out of this bombastic world into a dark, chilly and hectic Paris........I think we have lost a dream hundred years later......

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  RE: "Excelsior" - Ballet de la Scala de Milan - Paris, 12th ... katharine kanter 17-01-02 1
     RE: "Excelsior" - Ballet de la Scala de Milan - Paris, 12th ... Viviane 17-01-02 2

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katharine kanter

17-01-02, 10:11 AM (GMT)
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1. "RE: "Excelsior" - Ballet de la Scala de Milan - Paris, 12th January 2002"
In response to message #0
   Made an effort to go twice. Survived Act I twice, survived Act II only once. I think you've covered the ground nicely !

Although the mime scenes, especially the one with Denis Papin, inventor of steam-power, were quite beautiful, the more so as the Italians are good actors and mimes, and no-one would deny their ear for music !

On opening night, the POB's Five Star Generals were all there in the audience - M. Legris, Mlle. Platel, Mlle. Guérin and so on. A daunting sight, from the wings... We were all a little concerned that La Scala's management may not have been precisely buoyant at going out on POB home territory, and that "flight into trivia", as I've noted elsewhere, was felt to be the better part of valour.

The only thing I'd contribute, if I may, is that the IDEA of the ballet, is simply marvellous ! PROGRESS ! We NEED MORE OF IT !

We talked about that IDEA for a ballet (there were about six of us the Opéra at Garnier together) at length afterwards. We had the idea that it would be exciting to do a ballet about other discoveries, and most appropriately to the ballet, the CONQUEST of SPACE.

A "pas des dieux et des déesses", and a "pas des héros", with the finest dancers representing the Soviet and American pioneers, and then the Moon Landing, the International Space Station today, with one of the more aerial POB lovelies (Myriam Ould Braham ?) as Claudie Haigneré ? The feather-light Irina Zhelonkina from the Maryinski, as a rather more aethereal version of the Russian lady first in Space, and whose name I have for the moment forgot ? Room amongst the "dieux et déesses" would have to be found for the Danes in all of this, despite the fact that they've unfortunately nothing to do with the space programme, because they do have the dancers for it...

Does anyone have ideas for suitable libretti ?

Be that as it may, when Bournonville said "the dance, is an expression of joy", whether he might have had Luigi Manzotti's choreography in mind, is a moot point. In this particular case, the dance has been an occasion for an outright belly laugh, which may not be quite the same thing.

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17-01-02, 01:02 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: "Excelsior" - Ballet de la Scala de Milan - Paris, 12th January 2002"
In response to message #1
   LAST EDITED ON 17-01-02 AT 01:20 PM (GMT)

Katharine,amazing that you even managed to see it twice!
I agree : the Italians are wonderful actors and the mime-scene with Papin was the best far-out, although the 'machinery' used in this scene was rather banal and the 'demolition' of the steamboat gave me an embarassed smile. I rather had the feeling that those mime-insertions were cutting the whole thing into pieces, there was no balance between mime and dance.
Knowing that Manzotti was initially a mime-artist himself we can guess that these scenes -were at the time- very important ?!
It's impossible to figure out what has been conservated of the original creation....given that there is so much left of notations and meticulous descriptions...even the remains of a film !
A pity I hadn't enough time before the performance to go and see the exhibition around Excelsior.

Indeed it's a WONDERFUL theme and one should cherish it....but sadly : what asthonished audiences in 1880s, we have lost...there is little 'amazement' left in our society !

Whatever could have been the reason for bringing Excelsior to Paris, I think it was primarly because of the historical connection between Italy and France in this creation. Knowing that one has built a special theatre in Paris for this production, says enough.
La Scala-ballet has had some very tough years with constantly changing directors. Past year there has been a lot of changements in the involved balletmasters too.
I think we need to give them some time now.

And..please, don't hesitate to tell us how you are doing with your 'Conquest of space'-ballet !

Want to add that there is a good article on Excelsior "Les temps modernes" by René Servin, in the French magazine 'Danser'

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