Really? Q. for T.S.

As you’ve more than likely guessed, we’re not too up to date with our dance. And! (exclamation point)...this is why today’s post might yield some funny results.

Spectacle has been a big part of ballet from the beginning. Ballet, opera and pageant blended at the French royal court, from the horse ballets of Catherine de Medici’s day to outdoor re-enactments of sea battles in lakes built just for shows under Louis XIV.

Neat. In fact, I like to understand a little about what’s at hand. Historicism is often lost in the 700-800 word review. Thank you, Tom.

Even in more modest, indoor shows, the costumes of some grotesque or allegorical characters resembled parade floats.

This, I cannot attest for, but rest assured, I’m not surprised, but intrigued.

Virtuoso dance values became more important in the 19th century, but spectacle remained a staple of the art. Even the great innovator and choreographer Marius Petipa celebrated spectacle during his long, influential reign at the Imperial Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. "The Sleeping Beauty," from 1890, is among his most notable spectacle ballets and an icon of the art. It typically features dozens of elaborate, bejeweled costumes, enormous sets, lots of stage machinery and a huge cast.

How does a company such as the Milwaukee Ballet, with 25 full-time dancers and a lean budget, take on such a monster? MBC will stage its "Sleeping Beauty" from Thursday through next Sunday.

Michael Pink, the company's artistic director had the answers in an interview.

What? Yeah. I know. I’m copying and pasting the entire review. So what? Wanna fight about it?

"We bought the costumes from Ballet International, a company in Indianapolis that is now defunct," he said. "They were really rather well made. International got them from the Maryinsky."

On the cheap and cheap; nothing wrong with that, especially today.

Fig. 1 Dust Bowl

The Ballet International set, Pink said, comprised three tired-looking painted drops. He thought about renting the Houston Ballet's production, but it is so big that it wouldn't fit the Uihlein Hall stage at the Marcus Center. It also would have cost $80,000. So Pink had to get creative.

This is the economy, I guess. Whatever—fine.

"I thought that if I could put 'Sleeping Beauty' in a neutral setting, I could eliminate set changes and move the story along," he said. "I thought that would be better than some threadbare, poor-relation production we could have afforded to rent."

Bottom-line is important to a degree. Sounds average, but I’m still all ears.

Pink conceived and sketched out a "Sleeping Beauty" of his own.

Tom?! Hello?! Not gonna rail this? (Like I said, dance is a bit foreign to me, so set us straight, if you got the time.)

A white, open set trimmed with hundreds of white silk roses is a lighting designer's dream, as it can take on any hue when bathed in theatrical light. Pink worked closely on the design with lighting wizard David Grill. He also worked with music director and conductor Andrews Sill.

How’d that work out? (Wow. I’m constantly amazed at my ability to sarcastically bait the next statement. Fun, nonetheless.)

They trimmed Tchaikovsky's score from 3½ hours to two hours. [It. mine]

(Not surprised) Mmmm-hmmm.

We’re idealists, to a point. But. WTF?!!!? They just cut ‘Sleeping Beauty’ by one and a half hours? Because of money?



"There are yards and yards of repeats," Pink said.

Fuck repeats! In fact. FUCK repeat performances!!! They cost too much money!

"We have omitted many of them. I doubt that anyone will complain about that."

I haven’t given them my Visa number yet, so...

He’s got me there.

He's also eliminated yards and yards of processions, the point of which was to allow parading of yards and yards of expensive fabric formed into lavish costumes. That sort of thing doesn't play well these days, and it slows down the storytelling.

Like I said, I don’t know about that. So...

Really?!? Pink is gonna cut 40% of the music? Maybe this is a music-centric conceit, but isn’t ‘Sleeping Beauty’ largely a product of the music? There’s an orchestral suite, right? Might that be a reason for its success?

To Pink, the story counts.

Oh. (Again, amazed at my ability for sarcasm.)

To move the story along and to intensify and clarify motivation, he has tinkered with Charles Perrault's fairy tale and the Petipa/Tchaikovsky scenario.

..and Hamlet doesn’t die in the end.

Princess Aurora no longer falls into a yearlong slumber because she pricks her finger when encountering an old woman at a spinning wheel. Rather, she pricks it on the thorn of a red, red rose, the only item of color in her white world.

“A red, red rose?”

"It's full of dancing," Pink said of his "Sleeping Beauty."

As ballets ought to be, with music and its rhythmic-movement coincidences. “A symbiosis, my young padawan.”

"It's not just a cut-down version of a classic. It has its own integrity."

Tchaikovsky. Cut by one and a half hours; the time it takes to drive from Islamabad to Peshawar.

Watered-down booze if you ask me.

Tom?!!!?? Was it good? Does it irk you? Maybe I just don't get dance.


Sator Arepo said...

If the composer had composed (as it were)...the thing you're doing...

Wait, what are you doing? Why?


Up yours, Mr Pink (and I'm not talking about Reservoir Dogs).

Interested in Strini's take.

Strini said...

Dear E.,
First, thanks for caring.

Note that the story is a preview/interview, not a review. This is where the artist gets his chance to explain himself to the public, to reveal intent and rationale. My job in a story like this is not to argue with the concept, but to draw out sthe ubject and help him fully express his ideas. Just because I let my interviewee speak his piece unmolested doesn't necessarily mean that I agree with him. (In this particular case, I did not disagree with his concept. The execution is another matter.)

My commentary has to wait for the review. You can find the "Sleeping Beauty" review here:


I should explain that what Pink did with "Sleeping Beauty" is very common in ballet. Ballets, for the most part, have no authentic ur-texts. Those old ballets were passed down largely by dancers' memory and freely adapted by each generation and by companies big and small. The great Anna Pavlova, for example, traveled the world with a tiny troupe and drastically abridged versions of the classics.

To use the most familiar example, no two "Nutcrackers" are alike. Every choreographer/A.D. does what he can with what he has where he is to get the thing on stage. Numbers get cut, added, re-thought, re-ordered and even reorchestrated all the time.

Tchaikovsky surely would have anticipated this sort of thing. His high-toned composer pals mocked him for his ballet work, which was usually left to hacks like Ludwig Minkus. Petipa, not Tchaikovsky, was absolutely in charge, and ordered up music in specified moods, tempos, meters and lengths. Tchaikovsky delivered as he was instructed. The composer was also well aware of how ballets changed with each revival at the Marysinsky. When a dancer came along who could knock out 32 fouettes at the climax of the "Black Swan" pas de deux, guess what? They added repeats to the "Swan Lake" music to cover the extra turns.

Consider the case of "La Sylphide," the earliest (1832) stand-alone hit that we would recognize today as ballet. One Herr Schneitzhoeffer composed the score, which was played all over Europe and even in New York. In 1836, Bournonville staged it with the Royal Danish Ballet. He decided that Schneitzhoeffer's (and no, I didn't make up that name) score was crap and commissioned a new one from Lovenskjold. The most classic, authentic "Sylphide" known to man today is the Bournonville/Lovenskjold version. As far as I know, no one in ballet longs for the lost Schneitzhoeffer.

The point is, these scores, especially the "numbers" type scores Tchaikovsky and others wrote for 19th-century ballets, have always been regarded as malleable and cut-and-pasteable. (A score such as "Rite of Spring," which rises from a modernist point of view and is a much more compact and complete musical entity, is another matter. No choreographer that I know of has ever messed with "Rite.")

Ballet music, with the exception of "Rite" and a few other pieces, is not concert music. Composers through the ages have driven the point home by adapting concert suites from their ballet scores.

It didn't work out so well in the case of Pink's "SL," but I have no objection in principle to some choreographer hacking away at the "SL." The choreographer's obligation is to put on the best possible show. The score is just one aspect of that endeavor, the means to an end, not an end of itself.


Gustav said...

I'm not sure there's much to be said for a piece in which 40% of the music is filler.

Though, I disagree with the idea that ballet music isn't concert music -- though, I'm not disagreeing with Strini's nice historical summary. Like all of us here, I can name a dozen ballets off the top of my head which are almost entirely known as concert pieces -- perhaps it's more that 18th and 19th century ballet just contain a lot of shitty music. It could happen, you know.

Anonymous said...

Excellent writing Strini. The "Firebird" is often performed in its suite or 'highlight' form. Isn't there a Petrushka suite too? I'm curious, Gustav, of what ballets you consider concert ready?

Gustav said...

Well, just off the top of my head...

The 3 biggie Stravinsky ballets, of course.
Sticking with Strawinskii -- Apollo, Pulcinella, Les Noces, Renard, Agon...

L'apres-midi d'un faune and Daphnis et Chloe from the Impressionists...

Prokofiev's Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet (although, granted these are better known in their suite forms, but I think still work in their full forms)...

Of course, Copland -- Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Appalachian Spring...

The Lady and the Hooligan by Shostakovich

Fancy Free by Bernstein, Ballet Mechanique by Antheil, The Wooden Prince by Bartok (one of my personal favorites)...which reminds me of The Miraculous Mandarin...

let's see, that's 19...

...I want 20, so let me think for a second...

Antikhthon, by Xenakis (I think I spelled that right).

I suppose you could quibble with some of those, but I have recordings of all of those works, and think they all work well sans dancer.

Sator Arepo said...

Uh, G:

Ballet Mechanique was never actually a ballet. It was metaphorical. Sorry.

Good list, though.


Gustav said...

Thanks, SA. I totally knew that...one of those moments of stupidity. Okay, I'd like to use my "BK Have It My Way" chip and trade Ballet Mecanique for Medea by Samuel Barber.

Although, I can't remember if that's performed as a suite or the whole ballet...whatever, it deserves mention for kicking ass. The "Dance of Vengeance" is a very cool piece.

Sator Arepo said...

Ooh, uh...

Nothing by Barber has *ever* kicked ass.

Okay, MAYBE the first Orchestral Essay. Maybe.

May. Be.

If I ever have to hear the Violin Concerto again I'll stick knitting needles through my eardrums.

Strini said...

Just a few points:

The Stravinsky scores cited above, like "Rite," are played are all brief compared with "Sleeping Beauty," they are all through-composed as opposed to comprising discrete, excerptable dances, and they are all 20th-century artifacts born under a very different mind-set that "Sleeping Beauty."

(By the way, if you ever have a chance to see the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago dance its reconstruction of Bronislava Najinska's "Les Noces," do so. It's a knockout. The music -- which I like very much -- makes even more sense with the dance than without it.)

"Afternoon of a Faun" was not composed as a ballet score. Nijinsky heard it and was inspired to create and star in the Ballets Russes ballet, which created a huge scandal in Paris.

Maybe you guys have heard Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe" complete in concert, but I haven't. I have heard the D&C Suites Nos. 1 and 2 a lot. Ditto "Nutcracker" Suite.


Anonymous said...

Sorry Gustav,

My comment refered to the 19th century practices that Strini refered to in his nice write up. Obviously, every note is important in the 20th century when composers take themselves far too seriously!

Strini's comments about the ballet are also applicable to 19th century piano and song cycles which were frequently rearranged and transposed (in the case of song cycles). Clara Schumann used to omit certain pieces from her husband's "Carnival" every time she played it. And virtuosi frequently rearranged the music they played for a greater effect. A practice that continues to this day with
Volodos/Horowitz/Busoni/Liszt/Mendelsohn pieces (or something like that)!

So keep every note of your Rodeo, if that's your thing.

Gustav said...

I, of course, don't mean to argue with the history of this music. But writing piano cycles with "take or leave it" pieces isn't a superiour method of composition. Ballets in which audiences prefer 40% be whacked doesn't sound preferable to me. Rodeo isn't a bad piece because Copland wrote each note down the way he wanted it, nor is Carnival good because Clara (or Robert) Schumann thought some of the pieces sucked more than the others and then would change her opinion on some other day. I guess I'm too serious, but why write a note if you don't care if it's there? And more importantly, why make me or anyone listen to it? Caring about your product shouldn't be seen as a detriment, but as indication of authorial committment.

Is the author too serious who suggests, "read the last chapter first, if you must, and skip on all that subplot...it's really just filler."

And why not extend this practice to all works of music -- "The Beethoven symphonies in 7 1/2 minutes! No more boring minuets, and the 4th...gone! And guaranteed to play "da da da dum" at least once every 30 seconds! Beethoven was too serious...we've brought him into the 21st century and added a rock beat while we were at it."

There's a lot of art/music/literature out there competing for my attention, and if you (the author) don't care about your final product, then that's a big clue to me not to care as well. Caring is not the same thing as being serious.

Anonymous said...

Thanks G-man, for your explanation!

I knew there was a another reason I liked Bernstein and Barber more than Schubert and Schumann. I always thought it was just because my English is better than my German.

Now if you don't mind, I have to go. I've got a Rite with my Wooden Prince in a Nutcracker, suite.