“In “Walpurgisnacht,” Ms. Mearns gives the single greatest ballerina performance of our era —hurling out fantastically bold, amazingly precise, rivetingly complex dance coloratura with musical blaze and rich colors. I say “hurling out” — this is exultant, space-filling dancing, with a strong element of swagger — but I don’t underestimate the twinkling wit of Ms. Mearns’s delivery, the driving impulsiveness of her self-contradictory turns to right and left, the subtleties of her unexpected pauses.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
– The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Whether you agree with Mr. Gatsby or not, the idea of repeating the past was the game plan for choreographer Marius Petipa during the creation of the Waltz of the Flowers for the very first Nutcracker in 1892…
The past that Petipa was seeking to repeat was the recent past–his previous collaboration with composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1890 on a ballet known as The Sleeping Beauty.
Dance writer and critic Robert Greskovic explains:
“Tchaikovsky composed a lush, expansive waltz for what Petipa planned as a re-creation of the similarly grand number he staged for the “Valse Villageoise” in Sleeping Beauty two years earlier.” (Ballet 101, p. 266)
“Valse Villageoise” is, of course, the “Village Waltz” a.k.a. “Garland Waltz” a.k.a. Disney’s inspiration for the song, “Once Upon a Dream.”
Petipa gave Tchaikovsky detailed guidelines about the structure of each scene in The Nutcracker and the accompanying music he desired him to compose. His outline for the Waltz of the Flowers is as follows:
Valse des Fleurs with large garlands. 8 bars for the start of the waltz, then, the same amount of bars as in the rural waltz in The Sleeping Beauty (second scene).
The little man claps his hands and 36 danseurs
and 36 danseuses appear, dressed
like flowers who carry a large bouquet
and present it to the Prince and his Bride.
As soon as this is done, the dancers, as is
usual in operas, take their positions and
begin to dance.”
Perhaps something like the clip below from a Staatsballett Berlinproduction that drew upon the 1892 costume and set designs as well as historic choreographic records…However, this Nutcracker is certainly not a “reconstruction.” As critic Ilona Landgraf explains about the surviving notation of The Nutcracker’s choreography:
“[…] the snag is that Stepanov recorded only the big, complex group dances and poses. Missing are transitions and other crucial specifics.”
Still, this video offers an interesting glimpse at a vision of the Waltz of the Flowers that’s very different than interpretations we are used to seeing today.
Can you, as a modern balletomane, disassociate the garland imagery in this Tchaikovsky waltz from its more famous use in The Sleeping Beauty?
Moreover, does the Waltz of the Flowers live up to the Village Waltz? Does it surpass it? Did Petipa and Tchaikovsky succeed in repeating the past? Let me know your thoughts in the comments…
“In this midst of all this prettiness lies a pas de deux of startling transparency. A man and a woman travel across the stage with excruciating slowness, executing the choreographic equivalent of a melody sustained on a single breath. He partners her with the lightest of touches as she turns slowly, lowering and raising one leg; or he lifts her so that she travels – or rather floats – backward through space. At one point, they glide in a diagonal, their arms gently pushing one against the other as if to propel each other forward. Every image adds up to the same idea: eternity, balance, trust.”
“Balanchine demonstrates the ideal of Romantic love: two anonymous dancers at the wedding divertissement dance to Mendelssohn’s string symphony No. 9. The music is high, sweet and tender; the dance seems timeless, and suspended. The opposite of the “Pyramus and Thisbe” amateur-dramatic show that Shakespeare provides at this stage in the drama, it floats above the ballet’s plot like the moon”
“For all its beauty and hazy, mysterious texture, Faure’s music […] wafts a melancholy perfume. At the end of “Emeralds,” four women leave and three men drop to a knee, nobly seeking a love that eludes them. […]
“Emeralds” uses Faure’s incidental music for plays, “Pelleas and Melisande” and the “Shylock” music for “The Merchant of Venice.” A dramatic thrust emerges from the apparently misty sound. The legend of Pelleas and Melisande – doomed lovers – is a clue to the unattainable happiness Balanchine’s cavaliers seek at the close. […] In “Emeralds,” he gave us the most unreal of his ballets.”
What does George Balanchine’s term “Gisellitis” mean?
Robert Greskovic writes:
“Some observers choose to apply the word soft to ballet from the Romantic era. It’s not an inappropriate distinction, but it can be a trap, leading in the extreme (of both expectation and execution) to a limpness and/or droopiness that borders on the absurd. (Balanchine scoffed at a certain lugubriousness around the Old World ballet, and even created the term Gisellitis to describe the “disease”).”