Dance History: An Introduction

By Janet Adshead-Lansdale; June Layson | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Ballets lost and found

Restoring the twentieth-century repertoire

Kenneth Archer and Millicent Hodson

Partly by chance and partly by intention we have worked on the reconstruction of three ballets each by Vaslav Nijinsky (1888/9-1950), George Balanchine (1904-1983) and Jean Börlin (1893-1930). The first two choreographers, launched by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, are now regarded as master builders of the modern repertoire. Börlin, whose career was even shorter than Nijinsky’s, has remained an unknown quantity since his sudden death at the age of 37 in 1930. His large output for Rolf de Maré’s Ballets Suédois was characterized by extremes of innovation and conventionality. For that reason his oeuvre may never demand full restoration. But the more radical of his ballets did alter the course of avant-garde dance. Thus we feel they deserve the same detailed attention we give to the lost works of Nijinsky and Balanchine.

Until recently Nijinsky’s choreographic reputation rested on the legends surrounding his few ballets, except for several contradictory versions of L’Après-midi d’un faune (1912). Our reconstruction of his Le Sacre du printemps (1913), which we staged in 1987 for the Joffrey Ballet in the United States, enabled audiences to look at a documented production on which to base their views on his choreography. 1 The decoding of Nijinsky’s Faune score by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Claudia Jeschke in 1989 led to their authenticated staging of this more familiar Nijinsky ballet. 2 Currently we are reconstructing his other two works. Jeux (1913) is being planned with a European company. 3Till Eulenspiegel (1916) is in preparation for the Paris Opéra in 1994. 4 So by the middle of the 1990s serious students of choreography will be able to study the complete reconstructed works of Nijinsky. His contribution is the smallest in number by any renowned choreographer in ballet history, yet each work is distinct, marking a path of exploration for the future. Notorious in their own time, his ballets and their historical impact were partially eclipsed by his tragic withdrawal from the theatre.

Balanchine’s career, long and full, was quite the opposite of both Nijinsky’s and Börlin’s. His works attracted ever greater acclaim during his lifetime, although the early ballets had met with hostile criticism as

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