Attitudes

By Barnes, Clive | Dance Magazine, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Attitudes


Barnes, Clive, Dance Magazine


Maintaining ballet's repertoire is miserably difficult compared with the ease with which those allied theatrical arts, opera and drama, secure and honor their own pasts. The recording and reconstruction of choreography have always been a problem for dance. Now, with more viable systems of notation and better videos available, the future of dance's past should be far brighter than it is at present. Meanwhile, every major work retrieved from the dry dust of history books is a victory.

Recent months have produced almost a plethora of resuscitations in classical ballet, some more successful than others, and some more worthy, for eventually the intrinsic worth of what is being resuscitated comes into play. After all, most ballets--most works of art in general-richly deserve the short life and long death fate provides. Also, how do you restore? Do you try to keep to the letter or to the spirit of the original, or perhaps hopefully both?

Consider a few of the reproductions of the last few months: Ashton's 1952 Sylvia, Balanchine's 1965 Don Quixote, Fyodor Lupokhov's 1935 The Bright Stream, and Petipa's first great success, his 1862 The Pharaoh's Daughter, with its marvelously ornate Romantic story. First and last, what are we looking for: letter or spirit, text or texture?

For me, the most valuable of these grave-snatches was Ashton's Sylvia. Here was a great ballet, created by a master at his best, restored with an astonishing accuracy for steps and fidelity in atmosphere. It was like Shakespeare's Hermione brought magically back to life in The Winter's Tale. This resuscitation from a lost masterpiece to a living treasure was a joint production by Britain's Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and it rightly provided the season's highlight for both companies.

The heroes here were the veteran Royal Ballet regisseur, Christopher Newton, who, together with the design restorer Peter Farmer, created a kind of miracle, and the artistic director of The Royal Ballet, Monica Mason, who had faith in the venture's practicality.

Perhaps even more faith was needed by Michael Kaiser, head of Washington's Kennedy Center, in encouraging Suzanne Farrell to forge ahead with a restoration of Balanchine's great white elephant of yore, Don Quixote, for her own modestly scaled Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Despite the assistance of dancers from the National Ballet of Canada, the Farrell company had a tough task in meeting even the ballet's logistic, let alone artistic, demands. …

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