Scènes de ballet (Ashton)

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This article is about the Ashton ballet. For John Taras' 1972 ballet, see Scènes de ballet (Taras). For Christopher Wheeldon's 1999 ballet (all three are to the same music), see Scènes de ballet (Wheeldon).
Scènes de ballet
Scènes de ballet.jpg
The Royal Ballet perform in Frederick Ashton's Scènes de ballet
Choreographer Frederick Ashton
Music Igor Stravinsky
Premiere 11 February 1948 – Royal Opera House, London
Original ballet company Sadler's Wells Ballet
Setting Paris
Created for Margot Fonteyn
Genre Neoclassical ballet
Type classical ballet

Scènes de ballet is a one-act ballet choreographed by Frederick Ashton, who created it during 1947–48. The first performance was given by the Sadler's Wells Ballet, at the Royal Opera House, London. The music is by Igor Stravinsky.

Creation, choreography and design[edit]

Ashton's choreography is along classical lines, in the tradition of Marius Petipa's 19th-century works. Instead of Petipa's symmetry, however, Ashton used a system of Euclidean geometry, with geometric theorems adapted to serve as floor patterns for the dancers. As a result, the ballet is unusual in that it makes sense from all angles, as Ashton himself explained, "I wanted to do a ballet that could be seen from any angle – anywhere could be front, so to speak. So I did these geometric figures that are not always facing front – if you saw Scènes de ballet from the wings, you'd get a very different but equally good picture."[1]

The ballet was originally designed by André Beaurepaire, a young Frenchman who was heavily influenced by Picasso. His collaboration with Ashton was not an easy one, given the choreographer's wish for what Parry calls "Baroque Parisian fantasy". Eventually, two sets were agreed upon: a green-grey viaduct that was supposed to give way, at the apotheosis, to a white pavilion made up of guns, bones, and limbs. In the event this proved impractical, and since the ballet's second performance the viaduct has been used on its own, although at the premiere Ashton went with the pavilion. Nor were Beaurepaire's designs for the costumes quite to Ashton's liking: though the choreographer retained his designer's hats, bracelets and chokers he discarded the men's hats and altered the colour of the tights from blue-gray to pink. Pearls and diamonds were added to the women's costumes, while the men's costumes were simplified. The prima ballerina was given a colour combination of yellow and black to suit Margot Fonteyn.[2]

Music[edit]

Scènes de ballet is a score of between 16 and 18 minutes' duration, written in 1944. It was commissioned by Billy Rose for a Broadway revue. The music occasioned one of the best-known Stravinsky anecdotes. Rose telegraphed Stravinsky: "YOUR MUSIC GREAT SUCCESS STOP COULD BE SENSATIONAL SUCCESS IF YOU WOULD AUTHORISE ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT RETOUCH ORCHESTRATION STOP BENNETT ORCHESTRATES EVEN THE WOKS OF COLE PORTER." To which Stravinsky telegraphed back: "SATISFIED WITH GREAT SUCCESS."[3]

The score is in nine sections. The timings are those of the composer's 1963 recording.[4]

  • Introduction 0:52
  • Danses (Corps de ballet & Ballerina) 4:34
  • Pantomime 2:08
  • Pas de deux 2:49
  • Pantomime 0:31
  • Variations (Danseur & Ballerina) 2:24
  • Pantomime 0:27
  • Danses (Corps de ballet) 1:03
  • Apothéose 2:12

Original cast[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Initially, Scènes de ballet divided critical opinion. The Times commented that it "had the one merit of brevity";[6] Richard Buckle in The Observer wrote, "The only fault … is that it is not the last act of a long classical ballet. Such a display of noble movement should be the culmination of a spectacle: yet before we realise its beauty this pearl of great price has dissolved – in eighteen minutes."[7] Ashton's own description of the ballet was,"It has a distant, uncompromising beauty which says I am here, beautiful, but I will make no effort to charm you."[8] In 2004 Debra Crain called the work "pure classicism at its most invigorating."[9]

Recording[edit]

A performance of Scènes de ballet by the Royal Ballet from December 2010, featuring Miyako Yoshida, Ivan Putrov, Edward Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson has been issued on DVD by Opus Arte, as part of an all Ashton programme.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Vaughan, p. 222
  2. ^ Parry, John (2004). "Geometry in Motion". Royal Opera House programme. 
  3. ^ Horowitz, Joseph. "Stravinsky, Igor: Scenes de Ballet (1944)". Boosey and Hawkes. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Sony (1991) CD 88697103112-05, OCLC 183216362
  5. ^ "Scènes de ballet – 11 February 1948 Evening 7.00pm". Royal Opera House performance database. Royal Opera House. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "Covent Garden". The Times. 12 February 1948. p. 6. 
  7. ^ Buckle, Richard (15 February 1948). "Golden Rain". The Observer. p. 2. 
  8. ^ Jordan, p. 200
  9. ^ Craine, Debra (16 November 2004). "Victory salute to a master of the dance". The Times. p. 27. 

References[edit]

  • Jordan, Stephanie (2000). Moving Music: Dialogues with Music in Twentieth-Century Ballet. London: Dance. ISBN 1852730765. 
  • Vaughan, David (1999). Frederick Ashton and his Ballets (second ed.). London: Dance Books. ISBN 1852730625.