On Legacy Choreography

imgresA question raised from the evening I spent with the Colorado Ballet.

The Denver-based company performed a mixed program last night at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater, which swung between classical pas de deux from Gisele and Don Quixote, and contemporary ballet pieces, including a setting for two dancers of Adele’s “Fire to the Rain” by choreographer Sandra Brown and a tango-infused triptych choreographed by Lorita Travaglia to music by Astor Piazzolla.

As I watched the performance, it struck me that ballet companies as a whole are unusual among arts institutions for continuing to revive very old choreography.

Conversely, outside of places like Russia, it’s rare to see an opera or a production of a play or musical that uses the blocking and acting style of more than a hundred years ago. Imagine watching a re-staging of a Shakespeare production by Herbert Beerbohm Tree today? Though perhaps interesting from an academic perspective, such an endeavor would appear pretty silly and anachronistic to most contemporary audiences.

Just as often as someone like Mark Morris will come along and create entirely new choreography around The Nutcracker, companies continue rehash the old Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov steps from the 19th century. The Colorado Ballet certainly isn’t alone in resurrecting moves by long dead choreographers like  Petipa (Don Quixote), Jean Coralli & Jules Perrot (Gisele).

Why do ballet companies continue to pay homage to old fashioned dance steps in such an explicit way?


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    • says

      Very true. And it pays the bills because a great many people happen to like “moves by long dead choreographers like Petipa” for the same reasons they like the “old-fashioned” work of long dead composers, painters, sculptors, novelists, playwrights, and poets

    • Chloe Veltman says

      I guess I see musicians playing the music of old composers to be a little different. The music might be old, but the interpretations are always new and varied. One exception is the “period performance” movement which seeks to play the music in the way it would have been performed way back when. With the legacy dance steps, the object — as far as I understand it — is to be as faithful to what Petipa and co. ordained. Another difference is that dance in the old story ballets tends to be rather literal whereas music is much more abstract. Hence the gesticulating and tutus that you find in Gisele etc can’t help looking more old fashioned. Music doesn’t suffer from the same problem.

      • Hugh says

        If someone wrote a piece of music 100 years ago and someone else reinterprets and performs that piece today, in a such a way that it says something interesting about contemporary issues, then the contemporary interpretation has a value of it’s own and has added to the original work. If someone today
        performs a piece exactly as it was performed 100 years ago, when it was first written,
        then, unless that required some really special technical skill, then that person hasn’t done much more
        than given the original work a thumbs up.