Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mercoledi Musicale

When my friend Cathy posted this cartoon on Facebook earlier today it brought to mind one of those pieces that can easily become an ear-worm. And to be honest I'd never thought of the poor percussionist stuck on the snare drum for the full 15 minutes of Ravel's Boléro.

Though it is most often heard as an orchestral piece in the concert hall it was originally composed as a ballet for Ida Rubinstein in 1928.  Choreographer Bronislava Nijinska set her dance patterns to a rather flimsy scenario about a female dancer (Rubinstein) who mounts a table in a taverna in Spain at the insistence of the other dancers and becomes more and more abandoned in her movements.   Maurice Béjart, in perhaps the most famous version created in the late 20th century, echos some of that in a 15 minutes choreographic workout for a solo dancer (sometimes male/sometimes female) with some assistance from the corps that proves that dancers are more athletes than most athletes.

But I will be honest as much as I love the Béjart work I posted it once before several years ago; so when I went searching for a dance version on YouTube I was hoping to find a record of the piece that Peter Gennaro choreographed for the great Hollywood dancer Juliet Prowse.  It was the finale of her Las Vegas act for several outings and I recall seeing it at the MGM Grand back in the 1970s.  I still have the image of the complex finale - a stately procession across the stage, Prowse held aloft as her great black sequined cape (a Spanish funeral cape????) spread across the width of the stage and the whole (her and some 30 dancers) slowly descending from view into the depths of the stage floor.  It was the sort of thing that Las Vegas - and Prowse - did incredibly well before it all became a branch of Cirque de Soleil.  Though I recall she once performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show sadly it appears to not have been archived - though as I've found with YouTube you should never say never.

Unable to find the Prowse-Gennaro and not wanting to repeat the Béjart I found a version created by the French choreographer Roland Petit in 1997.  Danced by Lucia Lacarra and Massimo Murru on a barge in the harbour of Marseille, I find it lacks the dramatic intensity of Béjart's version.  I've always found Petit's choreography, with the exception of his Carmen,  had a certain coldness to it and often seemed mechanical and I'm afraid his Boléro is no different.  But then Ravel never liked Nijinka's creation - he felt it should have been set in the open air with a factory in the background and choreographed to reflect the mechanical nature of the music.  The barge setting definitely meets the open air requirement but that glorious night view across the Vieux-Port towards Notre-Dame de la Garde is magical more than mechanical.

Should you want to compare the two - and hear more of that insistent snare drum - here is a link to a performance by Nichola la Riche with the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris. 

23 January - 1943: Duke Ellington plays at Carnegie Hall in New York City for the first time.
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David said...

The side-drum solo in the first movement of Shostakovich 7 (modelled of course on Bolero) is almost as heavy-going. I still love the Ravel, though I rarely hear it in concert, so was staggered by Esa-Pekka Salonen's Proms performance - very slow, teasing and sensuous. This Petit choreography is quite something!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

The ESO played Bolero in a recent concert and I thought the same thing about the poor bastard providing the repetitive percussion. Love that cartoon! The terrible thing about the Pizza Hut hiring remark is that it probably pays better than being a professional classical musician these days.