“Lost works”

Enough about my technological shortcomings and back to basics.

Wish I could attend tomorrow night’s performance of Cole Porter’s The Ambassador Revue at New York’s Town Hall (instead of heading here, although I’m sure the trip will have it’s good points too). The 1928 score ( from one of Porter’s earliest efforts, La Revue des Ambassadeurs, originally presented in Paris) will be getting its first public airing in the United States. The long believed-to-have-been-lost musical arrangements were rediscovered by Vince Giordano in the Fred Waring collection at Penn State in another of those stories about performing arts archives that either could be considered embarrassing or exhilarating. It’s your choice.

Pilot me, indeed!



Screen shot of  Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in 1959 BBC telecast of "The Sleeping Beauty"

Screen shot of Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in 1959 BBC telecast of “The Sleeping Beauty”

Valentine’s Day 2014 brought the exciting news that the long-missing footage of Act II from a 1959 BBC broadcast of the Royal Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty has been rediscovered in the BBC Archive Centre and will be shown as part of a series of four ballet-themed programs to be aired on the network beginning in March. But discovered by whom? As always, I am somewhat confused by the differences in usage between over there and over here. According to the account in the Telegraph:  “The black and white film was placed in the BBC archives but, for reasons unknown, Act II was lost and two copies of Act I were wrongly filed instead …. Last year, BBC researchers spent months scouring the archive and found a surviving copy of Act II.” Or, alternatively, as described in the Guardian: “It took a few months of searching before Act II was found in the BBC archives at Perivale. ‘One of the archive researchers there had a bit of a hunch. It was a magical moment for us when we finally saw it.'” I presume “researcher” or “archive researcher” is the equivalent of what we might call a research archivist, reference archivist, or public service archivist.

In other dispatches from the confusion front, New Yorker dance critic, Joan Acocella, subtitles her piece in this week’s issue: “An archivist explores ballet’s obsessions.” The archivist in question? Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Doug Fullington (whose official company title is “Education Programs Manager and Assistant to the Artistic Director”), who will be in New York to present “Petipa Exotique” the latest installment in the Guggenheim’s Works & Process series, which will include a selection of excerpts from the choreographer’s work reconstructed by Fullington from Stepanov notation. To paraphrase another dead person, “I know archivists, and Doug Fullington is no archivist.

A. Gardel postcard for Fête du Narcisse in Montreux, Switzerland (1928)

In what makes an interesting side note and a nice addendum to the article on the Diaghilev exhibition in the Winter issue of Performance!, history was made recently when the first known film of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company was identified by Victoria & Albert Museum Dance Curator, Jane Pritchard, after she was directed to it by Susan Eastwood of the London Ballet Circle.  The 1928 festival footage, which had been posted on the British Pathé historical archive Web site, includes a brief rehearsal (one hopes) clip, which is believed to show Serge Lifar and the company in a sequence from Les Sylphides. Diaghilev, of course, was adamant about not allowing his company to be filmed, which makes this discovery all the more exciting.

Can spring really be far off now?

In the meantime, you can view the clip for yourselves here.

Image credit:  Digital ID” Fel_018135_RE, ETH Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv

“A great performer feels this sharing,”  This line, written by the choreographer and theater visionary, Alwin Nikolais, describes the ideal relationship between dancer and audience.  Nikolais recorded this thought on a sheet of paper containing other observations and, wonderfully, this handwritten series of notes is one of the many extraordinary objects to be found in the current exhibition, “Alwin Nikolais’ Total Theater of Motion,” on display in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ Vincent Astor Gallery.  The exhibition, curated by Claudia Gitelman, runs until January 15, 2011.

I have been a fan of Nikolais since seeing an utterly astounding performance of Noumenon in the late 1970s.  Although I was not well schooled in dance history and in spite of my regrettable lack of exposure to dance at that stage, I recall feeling that I was witnessing something very special and was certainly inspired.  The experience of Noumenon (along with an explosive solo piece by Murray Louis) made me want to dance.  Moreso, it made me feel as though I could dance.  Sharing, indeed.

It was, therefore, quite thrilling to encounter so much material in the NYPL exhibit that explores Nikolais’ educational endeavors, particularly his years with the Henry Street Settlement House on New York City’s Lower East Side.  Nikolais, along with Hanya Holm, directed the dance program there for many years and the exhibition celebrates this period with delightful photographs, programs, and posters.  Under the directorship of Nikolais and Holm, the profile of dance in the community was raised to fabulously high levels and great numbers of young people were engaged and turned on.  There is a particularly memorable photograph in the exhibition (from either the 1940s or 1950s) that shows a huge line of neighborhood people outside the Henry Street Playhouse, waiting to gain entry to a dance performance.  At another point in the Henry Street Settlement House section, a caption reads: “The first performing experiences of professional students at the Henry Street Playhouse were in dance dramas for neighborhood children.  Nikolais invented whimsical plots, vivid characters and outlandish costumes.”  Nikolais was bringing dance to the people in a major way.

And there is so much more. A striking photo of a beaming Alwin Nikolais with his idol and mentor, Mary Wigman, from 1958.  A series of costume sketches and television storyboards, created by Nikolais.  An LP record jacket for the Hanover Records release of the “Choreosonic Music of the New Dance Theatre of Alwin Nikolais.”  A copy of Nikolais’ Index to Puppetry, done for the WPA in 1936.  A business card dispensed by Nikolais in the earliest part of his career, advertising his position as an organist for the Fine Arts Theatre in Westport, Connecticut.  Costumes and props from such pieces as Gallery, Allegory, and Tent.  Wonderful and sometimes miraculous video and film clips of many Nikolais works, illustrating with absolute clarity the nature and extent of his “total theater of motion.”

Some date omissions are problematic.  However, the selected materials, the overall arrangement of the show, and the generally informative captions all get high marks.  The highest mark, though, goes to the simple act of creating an extensive tribute to the life and work of Alwin Nikolais.  It is a well-earned but long overdue tribute and I can say with great sincerity that it is a tribute very much appreciated.  And well worth seeing before it is taken down on January 15.

And, speaking of long overdue tributes, I just want to take another moment to praise the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) for the current gem of an exhibition celebrating the work of Denys Wortman, cartoonist for the World Telegram and Sun from 1930-1953.  I knew nothing at all of Wortman’s work prior to seeing the exhibition and now cannot fathom his absence from notoriety for all of the years following his death in 1958.  What a wonderful observer of society and socioeconomic classes, and how important to bring such marvelous and significant work to the attention of the public once again.  The exhibition, entitled “Denys Wortman Rediscovered,” will be on display at MCNY until March 20, 2011.

Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, NYPL Digital Gallery Image ID: TH-26107

Not so much around here, but maybe where you are.

Time is running out to catch the 42nd Street Moon staging of the Jerome Kern – Oscar Hammerstein II musical, Very Warm for May (1939).  Although the show boasts a great score (including the standard, “All the things your are”),  it eked out a run of only 59 performances on Broadway.

The San Francisco company also announced recently that it had received a grant from the NEA to restore the script and score from another Kern-Hammerstein rarity, Three Sisters (1934).

If you can’t make it to the Bay Area now, pencil in a trip for the future.  If you do find yourself in San Francisco this weekend, scurry over to the Eureka Theater, where Very Warm for May runs through May 23.

I don’t mean to harp on ballet, but it is rare these days that I get to see something in advance of New York.  Last night I had a chance to watch a preview of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Balanchine’s Petipa lecture demonstration, which will be presented as part of the Guggenheim Museum’s Works and Process series this weekend.  The program, which examines the influence of Marius Petipa and the Imperial Ballet tradition on the work of George Balanchine, pairs choreography by Petipa and his associates with that of the 20th century master.  Much of the Petipa choreography has been reconstructed using the Stepanov notation documents from the Nikolai Sergeev dance notations and music scores for ballets at the Harvard Theatre Collection. So yay for performing arts archives and archivists!  There’s even a shout out (OK, a credit)  for the HTC in the program!  Harvard’s online finding aid includes some digital images of material from the Sergeev collection, such as the above page, which illustrates part of the Paquita coda.

The program, while a little heavy on the male variations (several of the Balanchine ballets, not too surprisingly,  drew on the former NYCB rep of current PNB director, Peter Boal) was well-paced and compelling.  Especially interesting was the reconstructed “Kingdom of the Shades” pas de deux from La Bayadère which featured a lift described in the notation that proved to be impossible to reconstruct in an aesthetically pleasing fashion; a compromise lift was substituted.  Also instructive was the consecutive presentation of three different variations performed to the same music, the first by Petipa for a ballerina in the original production of Raymonda (1898), another version for a female soloist from Balanchine’s 1946 production of the ballet for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (restaged by the stalwart Frederic Franklin, who is expected to be in attendance at the New York event), and the more familiar  male variation still performed in Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations (1961).  And it is always nice to get to see something from the too-infrequently-performed Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fée (in this case, the demanding male solo Balanchine created for Helgi Tomasson for the 1972 Stravinsky Festival season).

The Friday program at the Guggenheim is sold out, but there are still tickets available for Saturday (you could see NYBT on Friday instead and make a full weekend of it).

Maybe one of these days someone will post about American Ballet Theatre’s 70th anniversary festivities.

Dust jacket of Romola Nijinsky's biography

Dust jacket of Romola Nijinsky's biography

Interesting little item in this week’s New Yorker in which Joan Acocella shines a light on some purported contemporary footage of Vaslav Nijinsky dancing that has been circulating on YouTube over the past year.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Acocella reveals these short film clips to be the work of a French animator, Christian Comte.  Not exactly intended as an archival hoax, but is it art?  You decide.

Image credit: NYPL Digital Gallery ID #1103814

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