April showers bring May flowers…What’s your favorite ballet flower scene? Here are some memorable ones:
Rose Adagio—The Sleeping Beauty
Are flowers the way the to the heart? Not in this case. Princess Aurora doesn’t find true love with any of her rose-bearing suitors, but her dance with them is one of the most famous in all of ballet.
Garland Waltz—The Sleeping Beauty
Flowers, flowers everywhere! Presumably the village people didn’t suffer from allergies. Or perhaps some good fairy freed them from that curse… (This clip doesn’t show the entire stage, but I do like the close-up view of the Mariinsky’s version.)
Lilac Fairy’s Variation—The Sleeping Beauty
What floral-inspired magical creature saves the day and rocks a purple wig at the same time? The Lilac Fairy, of course! But, before all of the drama—a dance.
“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…”—Giselle
Spoiler alert: the flower tells the truth.
Le Jardin Animé—Le Corsaire
If you didn’t get enough flowers in the “Garland Waltz,” this scene in Le Cosaire basically blossoms into balletic botanical garden.
Waltz of the Flowers—The Nutcracker
Beautiful any time of year… Besides, there’s a good chance this music dances through your head all year anyway.
Balanchine’s Waltz of the Flowers is my favorite version of this dance I’ve seen thus far. In my 2015 artsBHAM review of Alabama Ballet‘s production I wrote:
“The “Waltz of the Flowers” is the choreographic highlight of the ballet — a continual folding and unfolding, circling and whirling, drawing together and drifting apart. […] In Dewdrop, Balanchine may well have created the most choreographically memorable character in the ballet with her springing, gliding, at-home-in-the-air movements.”
Beyond the masterful choreography, the color of the costumes and the warmth or coolness or exuberance or reserve or anything in between that their palette evokes unavoidably plays a role in the overall impact of the dance.
Here are videos of different wardrobe interpretations of the Waltz of the Flowers from six productions of Balanchine’s Nutcracker. (Not among these videos are Alabama Ballet since their costumes are based on the Karinska designs used by New York City Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet because I couldn’t find a clip of their Waltz of Flowers, but here’s a photo.)
What do these hues suggest to you? What do they help highlight in the music and choreography? Which do you like best? Or least? Are there colors that you think would work better? Let me know your thoughts in the comments…
Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, that probably depends on where you live…
But, weather aside, who doesn’t love an indoor blizzard in the theater?
The Nutcracker‘s snow scene has been a hit since the ballet’s beginning.
That very first Nutcracker actually got off to a sticky start when it debuted during a St. Petersburg December in 1892. Critics had mixed feelings about many aspects of the production from its large cast of children to the overall structure of the ballet. But the frosty fantasy of the snow scene was warmly recieved.
Choreographer Marius Petipa wrote the following outline for the original Waltz of Snowflakes:
“28 Snow begins to fall. Suddenly a snow-
storm occurs. Light white snowflakes
blow about (60 dancers.) They circle everlastingly to a ¾ valse.
The form snowballs, a snowdrift, but at
a strong gust of wind, the drift breaks up
and becomes a circle of dancers.
The snowflakes fall, larger and larger and
are lit by electric light.
For No. 28 and encircling Valse: during
the ¾ valse a strong gust of wind breaks
the dancers into a circle.”
Petipa, however, was not able to bring the Waltz of the Snowflakes from page to stage. Illness forced him to withdraw from the creation of The Nutcracker soon after rehearsals began. His assistant Lev Ivanov was left with the task of creating the balletic snowstorm. He ended up taking a different approach to the scene. Jennifer Homans explains:
“[…] Ivanov’s extant sketches for this windblown dance open a small window onto his often forgotten talent. Dancers were flung together in complicated formations that then fractured and dissolved into new and equally intricate designs: stars and Russian round dances, zigzags, and a large rotating Orthodox cross with a smaller circle, like a bejeweled ornament, around its center and rotating in the opposite direction. This dance was not like Petipa at all: the symmetries were there, but the formations were more tenuous and airy, less formal and ceremonial. They had an impressionistic urgency and spontaneity that never would have flowed from the French ballet’s master.” (Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans, p. 280)
Impressionism or ceremonial order, Ivanov and Petipa both imagined glorious winter wonderlands for The Nutcracker.
Here’s a clip from a Staatsballett Berlin production that used the original 1892 costume and set designs as inspiration as well as surviving choreographic records. However, this production isn’t a “reconstruction” since those historic choreographic records are patchy and incomplete. Nonetheless, this scene is a little wintry blast from the past that provides a glimpse of what the first Waltz of the Snowflakes might have resembled…
Check out those headdresses! (See the original costumes here.)
Linger as long as possible at the theater. Take one last cast picture with friends. Take one last dressing room selfie. Help anyone and everyone put away costumes and props, whether they need or want your help or not. Take one last panoramic view of the stage. Take one last artsy, Instagram photo of the stage…Repeat as desired–or until security throws you out.
Wonder why magic has to end so soon… Suddenly recall every real (or imagined) shortcoming in your performances–your double turns, your nervous smiles, that time you put your headpiece on backwards during a quick change–valuable moments onstage you’ll never get back….Why, why, why…
Remember that the show can still go on…on social media! Make photo albums for Facebook. Add half a dozen filtered pictures and videos to Instagram in one evening. Tweet cryptic, bittersweet tweets hourly. If anyone unfollows you for oversharing, well, they weren’t a true friend anyway…
Anyway, at least there is next year… Yes, think about next year… There are probably three or four roles you’d be a candidate for… But, which ones are you most likely to get? So many factors worthy of obsession here… What if you grow a couple of inches? What if you somehow shrink? What if your petit allegro miraculously improves?
“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…
Yes, the original E.T.A. Hoffman story Nutcracker and Mouse King (1816) does indeed contain a ballet scene! The French adaptation by Alexandre Dumas, The Tale of the Nutcracker (1845), which the first Nutcracker ballet was based on, does as well. However, the scene is given a humorous/satirical treatment in both versions. It’s not exactly a fluffy divertissement, though it does take place in the realm of sweets, the Act II equivalent in the Nutcracker ballet…
Here’s Hoffman’s version:
“Nutcracker clapped his little hands, and along came a few small shepherds and shepherdesses, hunters and huntswomen, who were so white and tender that you could have believed them to be pure sugar, that Marie had not yet noticed, even though they had been strolling in the woods. They brought over a favorite gold armchair, placed a white cushion of licorice upon it, and very courteously invited Marie to settle down. No sooner had she done so than shepherds and shepherdesses came and danced a very pretty ballet, whereby the hunters blew their instruments quite decently. But then they all vanished in the bushes.
“Forgive me,” said Nutcracker, “forgive me, dearest Demoiselle Stahlbaum, for doing such a miserable dance. You see, the dancers all came from our marionette ballet, which is controlled by wires, and which can only do the same things over and over again. There are also good reasons why the hunters were so drowsy and feeble in their blowing. The sugar basket does hang at nose level on the Christmas tree, but it’s still too high. Well, why don’t we stroll a bit more?”
The Dumas version, however, doesn’t offer the marionette explanation…
“No sooner was she [Marie] sitting than, as is customary in operas, the shepherds and shepherdesses, the huntsmen and huntswomen took their positions. They began to dance a delightful ballet accompanied by horns. The huntsmen blew the horns in a very masculine way that colored their faces so that they looked as if they had made preserves of roses. When the performance was done, they vanished in the bushes.
“Please forgive me, my dear Mademoiselle Silberhaus,” said Nutcracker, giving Marie his hand. “Forgive me for offering you such a dreadful ballet. These rascals can only keep reiterating the same choreography that they’ve performed a hundred times. As for the huntsmen, they blew their horns like good-for-nothings. I assure you that I’ll be dealing with them all. Let’s leave these nobodies and let’s continue our promenade, if you please.”
Jack Zipes, in his introduction to the Penguin Classics volume of the Hoffman and Dumas Nutcracker stories, writes that “Dumas had no facility with the German language, and it is unclear whether he translated “Nutcracker and Mouse King” or whether he had the tale translated for him to adapt.” (p.xxvi)
I don’t know if Dumas’ poor understanding of German played a role in the differences between his ballet scene and Hoffman’s, but, it also seems possible that Dumas could have been using this passage to critique the theater of his day, implying that the choreography in ballets was repetitive and unoriginal…What do you think? Leave your thoughts and insights in the comments! 🙂