Archives de Tag: Nureyev

A plot summary for Cendrillon (a.k.a. The ballet about Cinderella)

In Paris at the Opéra Bastille from November 26th, 2018, through January 2nd, 2019.
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Choreography by Rudolf Nureyev

Sergei Prokofiev composed Cinderella during the Second World War for Galina Ulanova, then at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. The musical score manages to bring out all the sweet, ironic, and even quite violent aspects of the classic fairy tale as originally transcribed by Charles Perrault in his 1697 masterpiece The Mother Goose Tales.
In 1986, the Paris Opera Ballet’s then director, Rudolf Nureyev, decided to create a vehicle for the company’s youngest and so talented ballerina, Sylvie Guillem. Inspired by their mutual adoration of classic Hollywood movies, the result is Cinderella with a twist. Updated from “long ago and far away,” the ballet pays homage to the era of silents and early Silver Screen musicals: the world of Charlie Chaplin and Fred Astaire.

ACT ONE (45 minutes)

Scene one: at Cinderella’s house, Los Angeles, sometime during Hollywood’s golden age.

Cinderella’s Stepmother and the two evil and untalented stepsisters argue, sew away furiously, and argue again as the poor girl looks on. When she finds herself alone for a moment, Cinderella allows herself to dream of stardom…or at least that her father stop drinking. Out of the blue, a mysterious stranger — who seems to have crashed some kind of vehicle outside — plops down in their living room. Cinderella is the only one who tries to help him.
Amazingly, the stepsisters have finally won bit parts in a Busby Berkeley-ish musical: costumes are delivered and the Choreographer shows up to try to put the girls through their paces. Once all are off to the studio, Cinderella stops scrubbing the floor and plays at being the many stars she’s seen at the cinema. To her astonishment, the stranger returns and reveals that he is in fact a famous Hollywood Producer. Sweeping her up into his cape like a fairy godfather, he whisks her off to his studio.

Scene two: at a Hollywood studio

Because Cinderella must chose a gown for her screen debut, a bevy of dancers swirl about in a display of couture outfits designed for spring, summer, fall, and winter by the now legendary Japanese designer Hanae Mori. As Cinderella and the Producer look on, this interlude develops into a full-scale number in the spirit of the RKO musicals. Irrepressible, the Producer butts in to the proceedings with a Groucho Marx impersonation. (Note: Nureyev created this role for himself). But before she can ride off into the sunset, the producer warns Cinderella about Midnight (twelve dancers in awful costumes who lurch around like Frankenstein’s monster). Once the clock strikes twelve, she will lose not only her gown and carriage. The tick-tocking dancers insist upon a much more bitter message through their movement: if our heroine does not take charge and use her youth, beauty, and talent to their fullest during the next few hours, she would be better off dead.

INTERMISSION (20 minutes)

ACT TWO (45 minutes)

Scene one: On the sound stages

As the unit director and his assistant quarrel, three silent films are being frantically made to better or worse effect.

Scene two: The Main Soundstage

The Movie Star (Prince Charming), carefully packaged in gold lamé, makes his grand entrance. But when rehearsals begin, he is appalled to find himself repeatedly pawed at by three deeply weird women: Cinderella’s stepsisters and that Stepmother. Nevertheless, the discouraged choreographer insists that rehearsals must begin. Then, under the Producer’s watchful eye, Cinderella makes an even grander entrance in slo-mo and proves, in her screen test, to be Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, and Cyd Charisse all rolled into one.
During a break, a bevy of wannabe actresses “only waitressing for the moment” – and decked out in “sexy French maid” costumes — slink around and serve up oranges [musical joke: we hear the a reprise of the famous march from Prokofiev’s 1919 opera, “A Love for Three Oranges.”] The two sisters fiddle around with their fruit, hoping to redirect the star’s attention. But The Movie Star only has eyes for Cinderella, and nothing would mar the adorable couple’s happiness, were it not for the tick-tock of the chimes of midnight…

INTERMISSION (20 minutes)

ACT THREE (40 minutes)

Scene one: Los Angeles

The Movie Star, desperate to find his Cinderella, enlists all the male cast and crew in a search party. Like cowboys, the boys gallop off and try to find the girl who fits the shoe. They end up checking out the women at a series of Hollywood cliché locales: a) a tango/fandango/flamenco palace [Ugly Sister #1] b) a Chinese opium den [Ugly Sister #2] c) a Russian cabaret [the very perked-up Stepmother]. But their efforts are to no avail.

Scene two: back at the house

Cinderella, miserable, afraid of stardom yet so wearied of her present life, wonders if the last day had not been just a dream. But her living nightmare ends when the Movie Star arrives. Of course the shoe fits. But before she can dance off with her prince, she must sign the studio contract that the Producer waves before her eyes. Perhaps servitude to a studio is better than servitude to a stepfamily? In the end, all that really matters is that a prince charming loves you and dances divinely. Right?

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Don Quichotte : Unfaithfully yours

Nureyev’s Don Quichotte at the Bastille Opera, December 14th, 2017

Even though I had heard rumors, actually seeing the two exchange conniving glances made me instantly go all soap opera: “My God, Mathias really IS cheating on Myriam with Ludmila! Where’s my damn phone? Brenda won’t believe this!”

But seriously, the alchemy of partnering is so elusive and that of casting here so labyrinthine that it’s been a very long time since the Paris Opera Ballet has let a couple blossom undisturbed. Each time I find out that my cast for a ticket bought blind would pair Mathias Heymann with Myriam Ould-Braham, I let out a little whoop. The way they fit together in every sense makes me hope they – and some others – will bring back the glory days when one said: “Thesmarnard” or “Loudilegris.”

(P.S. The POB has just got to do something about their arrogant assumption that when you buy tickets you’re just buying into a brand name. No company does this anymore, and the POB itself didn’t used to. During one run a while back, I wound up with all of one cast’s performances…and no tickets for the other four casts. Exchanging tickets with friends this time around resulted in a similar lulu).

« She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile. »*

Our rival Kitri, Ludmila Pagliero, is not the kind of woman to sweep up a floor with her fan. She prefers to float above it and play with her phrasing, full of infectious good cheer. Like the rest of the cast, she elegantly avoided any florid “hispanic” flourishes. However, if controlling your fan is considered something Spanish, Pagliero nailed it, as she nailed every other technical challenge with the same unassuming grace and aplomb. She took the fan as extension of her body to the point of — during the coda of the final pas de deux — doing the fouettés with one: opening it as if it were the most natural thing to do during the doubles, shutting it down with equal ease for the singles.

« No caparisons, miss, if you please. Caparisons don’t become a young woman.”*

So, to get back to the affair, I liked/appreciated/oohed and laughed along with this couple throughout the entire evening. They were superb in their slapstick. Heymann channeled Charlie Chaplin at all the right moments with gorgeously flexed feet; Pagliero’s unerring precision – a key to comedy – made the house guffaw. As when she danced Paquita, she just has a way of making small gestures read all the way up to the top of the house.

But, even if I grinned throughout, I didn’t fall in love. Why? Is it simply that their proportions don’t reflect each other in the da Vinci way as Heymann’s limbs and timing almost eerily echo Ould-Braham’s? There is no question that Heymann-Pagliero were a couple in their own way. But no elusive mystery here, no catch-me-if-you-can. Heymann and Ould-Braham push the air away with their développés; and Pagliero is all about a teasingly lush raccourci. She’s more Michelangelo, as it were. But sometimes an outie and an innie can indeed work together. These two gave us the pleasure of watching a lovely and healthy adult relationship (the way she just abruptly, albeit super sensuously, plopped down on the big scarf on the floor in Act II and he equally abruptly, albeit super sensuously, fell upon her confirmed the  manner in which they had been dancing/interacting with each other so far. These kids had been sleeping together for a good while now, grinning while taking turns stealing the covers).

“There’s a little intricate hussy for you!*

From Mrs. Malaprop’s lips to your ears.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Rivals,” 1775.

 

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Swan Lake: get your story here.

cygne-rougeThe basic story is so ridiculous even Freud would break out in giggles. A mama’s boy falls for a female impersonator really into feathers who goes by the moniker #QueenOfTheSwans. He digs her divine Virgin in White get-up but can’t stop making googly eyes at a sexy fashionista in black who turns out to be her -get this – Evil Twin. Then there’s the problem of their pimp. Since our hero has also demonstrated from the outset that he’s a limp noodle when it comes to standing up to father figures, he’ll…oh never mind. I mean, would you keep a straight face if late one night a middle-aged guy suddenly jumped out of the bushes, ripped open his Bat-cape, and exposed you to…his sequined green bodysuit?
But every time I’m actually experiencing Swan Lake, my snarkiness about the plot just evaporates. This ballet – like the best of operas — simply lets you cry in the dark over how you yourself, younger and softer and in better shape, had once been a fool for love.
What’s really weird, though, is that most people with bucket-lists think that if you’ve seen one Swan Lake you’ve seen ‘em all. Wrong. So if you don’t go see Rudolf Nureyev’s 1984 version for the Paris Opera Ballet, still fresh and juicy after all these years, you will miss out on something big: a dramatically coherent and passionately danced dreamscape. This production, for once, succeeds in forcing the tired threads of the generic story into real narrative. To boot, it gives the male dancers of the corps – sans les plumes de ma tante — as much to do as the female ones.
Many, many, versions of this ballet exist. All of the steps of the first one from 1877, created in tandem with Tchaikovsky’s music and famed as a colossal flop, seem to have been lost. Every production we see today claims to be « after the original » 1895 version as devised by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov for the Maryinsky Theater. Yet we probably should consider 1895’s as lost, too. Ballet, by definition, just keeps evolving.
Just imagine: not that long ago, the Prince only mimed and his bestie, Benno, did all the complicated partnering stuff. An annoying court jester still scampers about in some productions, boring everyone on either side of the footlights. Just imagine: in some productions, this big tearjerker comes to a happy end. Some constants: almost all the steps in Act II and Odile’s extended series of fouettés (where the ballerina whirls like an unstoppable top) in Act III. Imagine the challenge each leading ballerina faces: she must convince you that you must have seen two completely different leading ladies – one fragile and tender, the other violent and bad. But in some earlier versions, you did indeed see two different leading ladies…

Le Lac des Cygnes, Moscou, 1877. Une évocation du décor du 2e acte partiellement corhoborée par les sources journalistiques

Le Lac des Cygnes, Moscou, 1877. Une évocation du décor du 2e acte partiellement corroborée par les sources journalistiques

PROLOGUE (OVERTURE)
Prince Siegfried has a nightmare where he looks on helplessly as a beautiful princess falls into the clutches of a half-human bird of prey. Before his eyes, the evil succubus transforms her into a swan and carries her off into thin air.

ACT ONE: THE CASTLE
It is the prince’s birthday. A crowd of young people, Siegfried’s friends, burst into the room, along with the prince’s Tutor Wolfgang (who bears a striking resemblance to the monster in Siegfried’s dream). Siegfried, aroused from his slumber, somewhat half-heartedly joins in their revels. He’s a melancholy prince, a dreamer.
The revel is interrupted by trumpet fanfare and the Queen Mother makes her entrance. She has come to congratulate her son upon his coming-of-age, but also to remind him of normal stuff. Her birthday gifts comprise a crown (do your duty) and a crossbow (shooting could provide some pleasure perhaps in the Freudian sense). As she points to her ring finger, the Queen Mother make it clear to the prince that both objects mean it’s time he took a wife (duty and/or pleasure?). At the ball in his honor tomorrow night, he will have to choose a bride. Eew! Her son goes limp at the mere thought.
Once they are sure that momma has gone back upstairs, Siegfried’s friends try to cheer him up: two girls and a boy perform a virtuosic pas de trois. Then the Tutor tells all the girls to fluff off. He gives the prince a dance lesson that involves a strong undercurrent of aggression: it looks like a power struggle rather than an initiation to the idea of the birds and the bees. The chorus boys break into one more rousing group dance-off, full of exhilaratingly complicated combinations, as they take leave.
The prince dances a sad solo while the Tutor glares at him. He has zero right to disapprove, for he’s not the prince’s father nor even his step-father. After once more bringing the prince to his knees, this oddly dominant employee suggests Siegfried go shoot his crossbow. In most productions, the Tutor is just a fat patsy who has nothing to do with evil. I happen to appreciate how, by sneakily combining our doubts about two characters, Nureyev’s production will soon merge both the Oedipal complex and Hamlet’s troubled relationship with male authority figures into one Really Big Bird.

We hear the “Swan theme.” The stage empties.

... et la "Danse des coupes", préfiguration de la vision des cygnes.

… et la « Danse des coupes », préfiguration de la vision des cygnes.

WITHOUT A PAUSE

ACT TWO BEGINS: NIGHT AT THE LAKE. ODDLY, IT FEELS AS IF WE HAVEN’T LEFT THE CASTLE, JUST GONE INTO ANOTHER ROOM…

Le corps de ballet aux saluts de la soirée du 8 avril 2015.

Le corps de ballet aux saluts de la soirée du 8 avril 2015.

We see that creepy bird of prey again, rushing across the stage. But is it the wicked magician von Rothbart or…the Evil Twin of the Tutor? Siegfried enters, and takes aim at something white and feathery rustling in the bushes. To his astonishment, out leaps the most beautiful creature he has even seen in his life: the princess he had already discovered in his dream. But she moves in a strange fashion, like a bird. Terrified, she begs him not to shoot. But Siegfried cannot resist the urge to grab her and to ask: “who are you? Um, what are you?”
“You see this lake? It is filled with my mother’s tears, for I,” she mimes, “am Odette, once a human princess, now queen of the swans. That evil sorcerer cast a spell on us, condemning us to be swans by day but we return to almost-human form at night. The spell will only be broken when a prince swears his undying love for me and never breaks that vow.” They are interrupted, first by von Rothbart, then by the arrival of the swan maidens (a corps de ballet of thirty-two).
Surrounded by the swan maidens, Siegfried and Odette express their growing understanding of each other in a tender pas de deux, which is followed by a series of dances by the other swans. Siegfried swears he will never look at another woman. But as dawn approaches he watches helplessly as von Rothbart turns Odette back into a bird. Siegfried doesn’t know it, but the strength of his vow is about to be put to the test.

INTERMISSION

ACT THREE: THE NEXT EVENING, IN THE CASTLE’S GRAND BALLROOM
Lac détailIt’s time for the Prince’s birthday party. Guests who seem to have been called forth from the Habsburg empire – Hungary, Spain, Naples, Poland — perform provincial dances in his and our honor.
Six eligible princesses waltz about, and the Queen Mother forces Siegfried to dance with all of them. Siegfried is polite but cold: the princesses all look alike to him, and not one is his Odette. Tension increases when the prince tells his mother he doesn’t even like, let alone want, any of these dumb girls. Suddenly two uninvited guests burst into the ballroom. It’s the Tutor (or is it von Rothbart?) and a beautiful young woman, It’s Odette!
But something is odd: she’s dressed in black and much coyer and sexier than the demure and frightened creature he’d embraced last night. As they dance the famous Black Swan Pas de Deux, the fascinated prince finds himself increasingly blinded by lust. Convinced she is his Odette, simply a lot more macha today, he asks for her hand in marriage and, at the Tutor/von Rothbart’s insistence, swears undying love. [A salute with fore and middle finger raised]. At that moment, all hell breaks loose: the Black Swan bursts out laughing and points to another bird who’d been desperately beating at the window panes. “There’s your Odette, doofus!” The Black Swan is actually Odile, her evil twin! The foolish prince falls in a faint, realizing he has completely screwed things up.

PAUSE (DON’T LEAVE YOUR SEATS!)

ACT FOUR: BACK AT THE LAKE. OR STILL INSIDE THE PRINCE’S MIND?
Siegfried finds himself back at the lake, surrounded by the melancholy swan maidens. He rushes off to find Odette. She rushes in. Frantic and distraught, Odette believes that, if she wants to liberate her fellow swans, she now has no other option but to kill herself.
The swans try to comfort their queen, while the triumphant von Rothbart unleashes a storm. Odette tries to fly from him to die but our gloating villain grabs at her with his claws.
The prince finally finds Odette, barely alive. Her wings – like her heart – are broken. Nevertheless, she forgives him and they dance together one last time, their movements illustrating how lovers cling to each other even as fate and magic try to pull them apart.
In 1877, the pair just ended up drowned. What a bummer.
In 1895, choosing to jump into the lake and drown together as martyrs meant the two would be carried up to the heavens as befits a final orchestral apotheosis.
In 1933, the evil magician killed Odette. Poor prince got left with little to do. Another bummer.
In the USSR, 1945, the hero ripped off von Rothbart’s wig and the gals all dropped their feathers. Liberation narratives befitted those times, we must assume.
Tonight?
Odette looks on helplessly as Siegfried tries to do battle with the sadist that is von Rothbart. As in the “lessons” with the Tutor in the first act, the prince is brought to his knees. Is this for real? Has all of this been a dream? Do nightmares return? Bummer.

Le Lac des Cygnes. L'acte 3 et sa tempête...

Le Lac des Cygnes. L’acte final et sa tempête…

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