Talisman Pas De Deux…

Talisman? It seems that this is the year that everyone and their mom is competing and or working on the variation from The Talisman. But, the reality is, and I hate to be the one to pop the bubble, no one is doing the variation the variation from the Talisman. Originally the Talisman 1889, and was presented as a 4 act ballet. Thank goodness that it didn’t survive. In 1895 Petipa revived the the Talisman as a 3 act ballet and had two male principal roles, one of which was created by Enrico Cecchetti. Then in 1909 it was revived by Legat, who asked Drigo to add new orchestrations to the original score, and the role that was once Cecchetti’s was danced by Nijinsky.

Anyways, this goes back to what I was saying in the beginning, Talisman Pas De Deux has nothing to do with the Talisman. in 1955, Pyotr Gusev constructed together a  pas de deux. The musical score to the pas de deux is broken up into the following:

  • Entrée- the Valse des spirits from the Prologue of The Talisman
  • Adage- an adagio from the final act of the Talisman
  • Male Variation – Variation of Ta-Hor from Act 2 of the Pas d’action from the Pharaoh’s Daughter (And if you ask me… the Pharaoh’s daughter’s variation is much harder than the jazzerina tricks used today… but that’s neither here nor there)
  • Female Variation – the Pizzicato of the Black Pearls from the Pearl
  • Coda – a waltz coda from the first act of The Talisman

Then more recently, Kremlin Ballet condensed the The Talisman with Talisman Pas De Deux to create Vasily Madvedev’s The Talisman Grand Pas D’ensemble.

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(http://www.jackdevant.com/iana-salenko-ivan-vasiliev-and-troupe-of-kremlin-ballet-in-the-talisman/)

Okay, so what is this post really about? Okay, truthfully it is about the costuming and the choreography.

Talisman_-Vayou_-Vaslav_Nijinsky_-1909
Cropped photographic postcard of the danseur Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) costumed as the God Vayou in the dancer/choreographer/teacher Nikolai Legat’s (1869-1937) revival of the choreographer Marius Petipa (1818-1910) and the composer Riccardo Drigo’s (1846-1930) ballet Le Talisman.

But wait… The male variation’s costume actually comes from the Legat staging from the Principal’s Character is titled Hurricane… And then some how we have taken Indian Maharajah and turned it into some sexy little greek number… And then instead of doing his actualy variation, we are going to borrow the Pharoah’s daughter (another “ethnic” ballet) and still white wash it?

Originally the costuming for the female in The Talisman was harem pants and then for the pas de fleurs: a tutu; which transferred from shorter romantic to platter. Some still use this idea for the costuming.

BUUUUT….

So somehow, we decided to strip the Talisman of all it’s Indian culture and just turn it into a “less ethnic” ballet and make it Greek or Roman?

Buuuuuut…. So, the choreography/music we see today is actually from Petipa/Drigo’s the Pearl and because that’s the case, the variation should be performed in an oyster shell? White Perle is done in a white tutu, black pearls are not done in black tutus…

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Just some food for thought…

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Fantastic Five: 5 Really Great Male Variations

In the world of ballet, variations define a dancer’s career. As artists a variation is the one moment where technique, artistry and years of daunting rehearsals finally meet. A 2-3 Act ballet is carried by the principals, and the defining moment for them are their variations. For a female in the role(s) Odette/Odile, she is first pushed emotionally, and technically as Odette. Then in a ferocious breath she seductively attacks with stamina, the role of Odile. Then, she has to turn back int Odette, and die. Exhausting. I mean not only does the prima have to act, change roles, act some more, she also has to do two full on PDDs and do an epic 4th act finale. Pretty impressive.

When it comes to the men in ballet, their variations are always kind of bland. It is usually two jumping passes, followed by two pirouette combinations, executed by flawless double tours or entrechat sixs, and then some have a quality menage added in. Either way, these variations have turned into like… the most redundant yet insanely tricked out performances. Like Roberto Bolle cranking out 40 Entrechat six in Giselle… Or Daniil Simkin’s insane turning combos for Corsaire… Or Osiel Gounod in … like every variation. (If you don’t know who he is… youtube that $h!t… it’s like insane.)

Now, there are a lot of male variations that are actually super musical, and super beautiful that are overlooked. Granted… Most of them are either Balanchine, or specific to a company’s repertory. BUUUUT… Regardless… We should take a look at these fantastic five variations for men.

1. “Name of Prince” Variation in ACT II… Paris Opera’s – Nureyev version gives the male two super beautiful variations in the second act. The first uses the music that Balanchine’s Nutcracker uses to bridge party and battle scene. It is a very long variation (7 minutes), but super gorgeous, and demonstrates that boys have arabesques too. It could be that Nureyev really reinvented the male, and as a male ballet dancer he was able to create roles for other men within the confinements of classical ballet. The second variation is from the music sometimes used in ACT III of sleeping beauty for one of the jewels. It is very classical as well but has really gorgeous enveloppe moments. Then, Royal Ballet also gives a super luscious, kind of sensual variation in the second act as well. As sensual as fairytale princes get.

2. Balanchine’s Apollo. Besides the fact that this is probably one of the only ballets with a male name as the title and has the title/leading role… With music by Stravinsky, Apollo never leaves the stage but has two brilliant variations. One is really raw, and the other is really refined. Balanchine cut the first variation and birthing, but people since have put both back in. Both variations are incredibly musical, one of the things that I adore about Balanchine. I think for a lot of male dancers who were trained in the Balanchine aesthetic, and for men in Balanchine companies, this ballet is used to really define their presence in the company. I think NYCB currently has Chase Finlay as the face of Apollo, and prior to him was Nilas Martins (both blonde… kind of suspicious) but, both made names for themselves in the role. David’s Dream Casting: Alexandre Hammoudi (aka Baby Daddy) in Apollo.

Edward Villella, retired artistic director of The Miami City Ballet, as Apollo in the 1950s at New York City Ballet. Photo by Martha Swope.
Edward Villella, retired artistic director of The Miami City Ballet, as Apollo in the 1950s at New York City Ballet. Photo by Martha Swope.

3. The Male Variation(s) from Sylvia. Besides the fact that the Delibes’ score is super danceable and kind of cute… (FUN FACT: the original production of Sylvia was created to open the Palais Garnier for Paris Opera, and the costumes were designed by Lacoste) In the Balanchine PDD, the male is variation is structured like a classical variation, but has really beautiful nuances added in. And like a lot of the classical-like Balanchine male variations (Tchai Pas, Theme and Variations), each one was modified so the steps vary by who dances/staged it. In the Ashton version of Sylvia, Aminta has numerous gorgeous variations. I actually think that the Ashton Version is only danced at American Ballet Theatre, and Royal Ballet. Paris Opera has a version of Sylvia, but it is more contemporary or modern, so it doesn’t count for this list. If we counted that… Then we would have to count numerous other new ballets like Chroma, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, every ballet created by Complexions, Cedar Lake and LINES, and the Cranko Ballets… Though… I really should count the Cranko Ballets… )

Roberto Bolle in Ashton's Sylvia. Royal Ballet. Screen shot off youtube. #boom
Roberto Bolle in Ashton’s Sylvia. Royal Ballet. Screen shot of youtube. #boom leg up.

4. The male variations in John Cranko’s Onegin are like beyond roles and somehow have combined real life and ballet. The music used for the male variations aren’t awfully heavy, and scary sounding. The variations also create this beautiful emotional prism for a male ballet dancer. All of the Cranko characters are always so dynamic. I’ve never seen it live, but have watched the full length on Youtube on five different companies. It is incredible. When I was a student, I never really wanted to dance Onegin, but now in retrospect it is so beautiful to me and I am like -_____-  (that is my Snorlax face)… Not that I was ever good enough, or would ever have been cast in Onegin… but still… a boy can dream.

5. The Liza Variation, from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Music by Gershwin. Probably one of the younger variations as it was choreographed in 1937, but it is super fun. Kind of jazzy, okay, super jazzy but really fun dancing. Seriously. If you ever have the chance to preform it, it is one of the must enjoyable variations to get through. It isn’t like trying to get through the male variation in Theme and Variations or random crazy turns from Corsaire. Did I mention, it really is just plain fun? And Baryshnikov in a Balanchine ballet = love. (Click Here = https://youtu.be/GnWxmELOcBI)

The Male Variation in the Satanella Pas De Deux from the Carnival of Venice tied with the male variation for Harlequinade for variations in classical ballet that aren’t dance enough. Both are obviously classical variations, but I feel like these two ballets are underused. Plus… I think the music is kind of cute. I also think these two male variations are more age appropriate for boys (11-16) competing at competitions. I mean what 11 year old boy should be doing Swan Lake? Then, because I love Balanchine, there are the roles that don’t really have variations but are gorgeous: the male lead in Rubies or Diamonds, the male in the walking pas de trois from Emeralds. I think all the male leads in Symphony in C or Palais Cristal, the male leads in Western Symphony, the pas de deux from Agon.)

Finally, I would like to take the time to talk about Lady of the Camellias, music by Chopin, and choreographed by John Neumeier is another “newer” classic work. It premiered in 1978 with Marcia Haydee, and is a super beautiful full length with male variations… The downside is that even though the story is the same, Val Caniparoli used the same music and redid it, maybe even better … But in this version, the male variations are great but they really  aren’t as dynamic as the females. Lucia Lacarra slayed this for the ballet gods.

To see the 5 variations, watch them on our YOUTUBE channel’s playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdVNSG-GEpYve4cBxruz2mXPT0MV0vPVa

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The Ballet that Inspired Innovation… Serenade

There is a ballet, a ballet that replaced the dramatic downfalls of the heroines of Petipa. A ballet that stole Swan Lake’s lighting, and the romantic tutus from Giselle, set to the most perfect score,and  created by the genius of Balanchine, he named it: SERENADE. The house lights fade into blackness, and the grandiose score of strings play. If the music wasn’t inspiring enough, the curtain fades away and reveals the iconic classic Balanchine women. As each generation has added to their own take like any good ballet leaves room for speed, extension, turns, musicality, one thing has not changed. Innovation.

I recognize that Serenade has now been replaced by Jewels and Symphony in C. Those ballets showcase the entire company, including the men. Serenade showcases the women, dazzling women. Seventeen women that are not restricted by corsets, that aren’t dictated by story lines and dramatic downfalls. As Serenade is enriched with stories of success, and myths behind the movements and is standard of the romantic Balanchine Ballets, no one ever discusses the power of innovation behind it that has inspired millions of dancers. As the famous quote goes: Ballet is woman; Serenade truly exudes the power and identity of women working together to achieve something.

Serenade is basically the feminist of ballet. As men don’t play a major role, and there is no need for saving, Serenade embraces the power of women who can move to music. As Serenade has uplifted women since the NYCB revival, it is ironic that there aren’t that many Artistic Directors who are women… #justsaying

Anytime Serenade is on a playbill near me, I have to go see it. Every time I discover something new. Recently, I saw Los Angeles Ballet do it, and even though there wasn’t a live symphony, the power in the first note took me back through a million memories, and a dozen performances, and a handful of personal performances. Watching the women of Los Angeles Ballet was captivating, and truthfully… It made me fall back in love with ballet. Shortly after that performance, I started this blog.

Finally, I believe it is ballets job, well the job of any art form to reflect society, humanity, and rise above life itself… claiming an immortality that will last forever… Serenade has done that over the past 10 years. Serenade has truly has made a place next to Giselle, the Nutcracker, and the Sleeping Beauty.

Aurora in the Sleeping Boring… I mean beauty.

Tchaikovsky has the big three: the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and the Sleeping Beauty. Three epic ballets that tell the tale of fantasy, tragedy and happily ever afters. Every little girl and some little boys, dream of dancing one, if not all of these roles: the Sugar Plum Fairy, Odette/Odile, and Aurora. The Sugar Plum fairy, isn’t a hard role, it is more the test of performance quality. Odette/Odile requires the mastery of emotions, having multiple personalities and the stamina of a horse. And then there is the princess role, the helpless, effervescent and charming Aurora.

In the prologue Aurora doesn’t dance, but skillful fairies do. Masterfully gliding through each variation with delicacy and poise. In the first act, Aurora is sixteen and full of life entering after the epic Sleeping Beauty waltz. It is probably why so many girls relate to this role. With charm and sass a sixteen year old, she then hesitantly gives her hand to four suitors in the leg tiring Rose Adagio. She then pricks her finger, and dies. JK. In the second act Aurora is faced with the challenge of being dreamy as the pas de deux and variations set the tone for the prince. Finally, when she awakens, she is still that sixteen year old girl who fell asleep at her birthday. So with an element of surprise, and awakening with a kiss…. Please hold as I rant:

Am I the only one who is quite disturbed that no one has bothered looking at the psyche. We are all trying to develop the character, but the reality is that she was asleep for 100 years, and so when she awakens, she is still sixteen. What sixteen year old would wake up gracefully from a stranger kissing them? So, as everyone who talks about how in the third act they are more womanly, mature, etc…. The reality is, that clashes with the story line.

In addition, may I point out… Why is every fairytale invited? Don’t they have anything better to do? If you look at the original score there is extra music for Cinderella and her Prince, etc. I am just sayin… Third act really has nothing to do with Aurora. It is basically like the third act of Paquita; a chance to show off the company. Enough ranting…
5 Things Aurora Didn’t Know…

  1. Aurora is secondary to the dancing. Prologue sets the story up and demonstrates the skill of the soloists in the company. In the first act, all she has is her variation, which most audience viewers don’t know the music to. So, they relate more to Garland Waltz… Yes, she has Rose Adagio, and that is probably one of the hardest things any ballerina will face. But, the reality is, it has nothing to do with Aurora but the actual skill of the ballerina. In the second act, it is really more about the prince, and setting up his quest to find the love of his life. In the Paris Opera Nureyev version this is an adagio variation for the male, which is ridiculously technical, dreamy but technical. Finally, in act three, you really only have a pas de deux to get through, which is basically the lesser version of Sugar Plum Pas De Duex. The music itself is kind of anticlimactic and the only thing exciting in the Pas is the en dedan turns into a one handed fish.
  2. Aurora didn’t know she was going to prick her finger… So, instead of telling the poor girl about the curse, her parents tried to hide the truth from her. This ignorance is her downfall. Ignorance and innocence should not be taken as the same thing.
  3. Aurora’s character is the anti feminist. As a helpless woman, who is set up or failure from the get go. The idea and concept of the fairytale is cute for the time being, but translated to modern day times, the story relates to young girls more than young adults. This I think causes the gap between the ballet and the audience goer.
  4. Aurora’s variations are boring. I feel like compared to the variations of Odette/Odile, and Sugar Plum, and while we are at it… Every other classical ballet, her variations are kind of lackluster. If you are dancing with a live orchestra, then I guess you can arrange the music in first act to do more pirouettes to make it exciting, but other than that… Your one moment to shine is basically dull. (Ironically, Aurora 3rd Act Wedding Variation performed by Precious Adams won the Prixde Lausanne.)
  5. Aurora didn’t know that this entire ballet really has nothing to do with her in the title role. Instead it is about the company’s strength. The amount of soloists you have to use is insane. Don’t get me wrong, it gives the company a chance to really dance, but no one really understands the entire ballet, unless you know ballet. I think when most people hear the Sleeping Beauty, they connect it to the Disney version and don’t realize they have signed up for a 3 hour ballet. I am not saying we should replicate Disney… But in a recent production, that I took a date to… He fell asleep. He fell asleep after Rose Adagio… So an hour into the ballet of drawn out miming and endless fairy variations, he was gone. But, when we went to see Serenade, and Les Sylphide he thoroughly enjoyed it…

Again… as ballet is dying and companies insist on doing the same ballets over and over again… They are killing their audiences. If you look at the Diaghilev and Ballets Russes era… even the Balanchine era, new ballets were being produced by the month. Again, just my opinion of why companies are dying…

The Beast that is the Nutcracker…

In the repertory of classical ballets, there is one ballet that trumps them all. It isn’t number one because of the physical demands, and it is definitely not number one because of artistic merit. In fact, this ballet probably is the most unartistic for any artist. It is probably the most recognized of score of any ballet music, from variations, to even the prologue, everyone knows it. It is the beast: THE NUTCRACKER.

It is no secret that most ballet companies make money twice a year. The first is by offering summer programs from June-August. The second comes in December and seats are sold out for their annual productions of the Nutcracker. For the majority of companies, the Nutcracker runs seamless. Everyone already knows all the parts, they are just waiting for the casting. Lighting, and costuming is already done for the most part, and just rely on tweaking things here and there. For marketing and PR, it is the best time to host fundraisers since everyone is in that holiday spirit of donating money. And for the audiences, it is that timeless, almost boring tradition, that doesn’t go away.

chapman-nut
PNB’s infamous Peacock. I probably prefer this variation more than the Balanchine one.

 

For most young aspiring dancers, the Nutcracker was the first ballet parents ever took us to.  Whether it was on VHS, directly talking about the Baryshnikov and Kirkland version, or PNB’s collaboration with Maurice Sendak. Or, the NYCB version featuring Macauly Culkin and Darci Kistler. So, for the majority of our young lives we prayed that one day we would get to dance in the Nutcracker. And then it happens… You get cast in your school’s version of the Nutcracker. You start as a child in Mother Ginger and party scene. You pray that you get picked to be Clara/Marie, and maybe you do. Then, you start to get smaller supporting roles, and finally you are in the corps of flowers and snow. By 13, you are dancing Marzipan/Mirlitons, and by 15 you are maybe Dew Drop. Next thing you know you are at a professional ballet school, and you never get to dance in Nutcracker again. Until, one day you are lucky enough to land yourself a company contract.

Five years later, after dancing professionally, you hear the music at department stores and cringe. Now you dread Nutcracker. It is the most boring of the ballets, and you dance it time and time again. If you are still a corps member you already know that you will be a party parent and in the same show you will have to dance in both snow and flowers. You hear the same corrections in flowers, “Bend more!” or “Watch your spacing.” In snow you already know that you need to move a little quicker than the music, and you watch the new apprentices and corps members struggle to keep up. Yup, it is that holiday tradition of being in a ballet company that brings dancers together. 

So, what is it about this ballet that is so charismatic and is performed every season?

hong kong ballet waltz of the flowers

5 reasons why the Nutcracker will never go away…

  1. Curse you Tchaikovsky! The score of Nutcracker is close to flawless in terms of musical genius. All of the music is relatable, catchy, and keeps the audience entertained. 
  2. It is magical, and is every little girl’s dream. Because it is the first ballet we ever see, it becomes engrained in us. It sparks the hope of millions of little girls to become ballet dancers.
  3. It is short and sweet. The shortest of the classical ballets, where the story is compressed into the first act and the second act is purely about the dancing. It is probably the only ballet your dad can sit through. Most little girls can’t sit through all of Swan Lake, or even get through act I without having to use the bathroom, get bored, or fall asleep.
  4. The test of a dancer. Dancers I think are tested a lot in the Nutcracker. Because you have so many performances, there are a lot more casting opportunities. If in a run of a regular program there may be only two or three casts. During Nutcracker, there are at least five casts, if not more. This gives the Artistic Director a chance to play around with their dancers. For an artistic director who wants to see something more dark and mysterious from a dancer, he will cast her in Arabian/Coffee. If they want to test a dancer’s stamina they put her Dew Drop. And if they want to see maturity, and ability they cast in her Sugar Plum. 
  5. It makes money! If it wasn’t for the Nutcracker, dancers wouldn’t have jobs for an entire season. So, we suck it up so we can dance all year round.