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Posts Tagged ‘Ondine’

This week we have double reason to party. While at Covent Garden the Royal Ballet returns home for the 2009/2010 season, over here at the Ballet Bag we  celebrate 6 months of online balletomania. To mark the occasion we have prepared a – non exhaustive – balletic timeline of sorts, to highlight some of our favorite posts over this period. We hope you enjoy!

Picture 18

Image Copyright belongs to respective owners. Source: various

1738 – Tsarina Anna Ioannovna inaugurates the Choreographic School of St. Petersburg, training children of her staff at the Winter Palace to form the first Russian ballet company. The Mariinsky Ballet, August 2009 [link]

1830 – August Bournonville returns to Denmark to join the Royal Danish Ballet as a soloist, having danced for the Paris Opera and studied with Auguste Vestris. Dear Mr. Fantasy, August 2009 [link]

1886 – The refurbished Mariinsky opens its doors and becomes the permanent home for both the Imperial opera and ballet companies. The Mariinsky Ballet, August 2009 [link]

1889 – Prince Rudolf, heir to the Austro-Hungarian crown, forges a double suicide pact with his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera at the royal hunting lodge of Mayerling. Mayerling, June 2009 [link]

1905 – Enrico Cecchetti returns from Poland to St. Petersburg to establish a ballet school and work as Anna Pavlova’s exclusive coach. The Scientist, July 2009 [link]

1909 – The Ballets Russes stage Les Sylphides in Paris at the Theatre du Chatelet, with an original cast led by Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky and Alexandra Baldina. Les Sylphides, May 2009 [link]

1910 – Premiere of the Ballets Russes’s Firebird with Tamara Karsavina & Mikhail Fokine. The Firebird, May 2009 [link]

1916 – Agrippina Vaganova begins teaching at the Imperial Ballet School, training ballet legends in the making such as Galina Ulanova, Natalia Dudinskaya and Maya Plisetskaya. Be True to Your School, May 2009 [link]

1934 – George Balanchine opens the School of American Ballet. Long Tall Sally, May 2009 [link]

1957 – Composer Hanz Werner Henze finishes work on the difficult score for Frederick Ashton’s water themed ballet Ondine. Ondine, May 2009 [link]

1976 – NYCB premieres Jewels at the New York State Theatre. Jewels, May 2009 [link]

1978 – Kenneth MacMillan choreographs Mayerling for the Royal Ballet. David Wall creates the character of Crown Prince Rudolph. Mayerling, June 2009 [link]

1979 – Bournonville’s sequence of enchaînements are published in printed format. Dear Mr. Fantasy, August 2009 [link]

1980 – Kim Brandstrup moves to London to study at the London School of Contemporary Dance with Nina Fonaroff. Life in Technicolor, September 2009 [link]

1992 – The Kirov ballet regains its former Imperial name thus becoming The Mariinsky ballet. The Mariinsky Ballet, August 2009 [link]

1999 – Sergey Vikharev reconstructs the Mariinsky’s original 1890 Petipa version of The Sleeping Beauty. The Sleeping Beauty, September 2009 [link]

2006 – Royal Ballet also goes back to its original Sleeping Beauty, restaging the 1946 production by Ninette de Valois after Nicholas Sergeyev to commemorate the company’s 75th anniversary. The Sleeping Beauty, September 2009 [link]

2008/2009 – Ballet companies boost investment in social media. The  Mariinsky launches an all English language multi platform initiative, NYCB joins Twitter, ABT has over 24,000 Facebook fans and the Royal Opera House produces the Twitter Opera. Virtually There, July 2009 [link]

2009 – Veronika Part, ABT’s newest Principal dancer appears in a US talk show and is interviewed by David Letterman, a rare occurrence in the ballet world. Beautiful Woman, July 2009 [link]

2009 – 23 year old Royal Ballet dancer Steven McRae is promoted to Principal. A Fiery Spirit, July 2009 [link]

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Edward Watson & Miyako Yoshida in Ondine. Source: ROH, Copyright belongs to its respective owners

Edward Watson & Miyako Yoshida in Ondine. Source: ROH, Copyright belongs to its respective owners

In this compelling article dance critic Alastair Macaulay examines what drives the archetypal “heroine of the water”, her allure, her psychological connotations. I recommend it as essential reading not only to those thinking about catching the last few performances of Ondine this week but also to any Swan Lake devotees.

In La Motte Fouqué’s Undine, the short novella from which Ashton’s ballet Ondine derives, we have, as Macaulay puts it, “a Romantic hero (originally named Huldebrand) for whom this world is not enough: he has a human fiancée but he finds what he craves in the affections of Undine, a water nymph “who lacks a soul”. In a nutshell, it’s our human condition: we want to escape from a dreary, routine existence but at the same time do we know what we are getting ourselves into, why and how do we dare pursue the unattainable? And if we get what we want, how do we deal with it?

Plot-wise, Ondine is not unlike another Romantic ballet gem, La Sylphide, where we also have a tragic male hero (James) forever divided between desire (the Sylph) and reason (Effie). But I feel Ondine needs a bigger degree of engagement and scratching beneath its surface so that we can better understand who Ondine and Palemon are, what they seek and what the choreography and the constant stream of music say of these and other characters. In short, Ondine is not as easy on the eye (or the ears, I overheard a ballet goer comment yesterday “well, it’s not music you can lose yourself in, is it?”) as La Sylphide or Giselle and I don’t think I would have liked it a couple of years ago so well as I do now, three performances and a considerable amount of background reading later.

On two previous sittings last winter I saw Edward Watson’s quintessential Palemon matched with the sublime Tamara Rojo, a very dense waterfall of an Ondine. This luxury cast, I fear, raised the bar so impossibly high that I now find Miyako Yoshida’s reading to be a little too basic, lacking in drama. She speaks more through her dancing – moving fast and mischievously with dainty steps, quick jumps, lush backbends, forever trying to slip away – than through facial expressions. However, her choice of a more polite interpretation also works alongside Edward Watson’s very intense Palemon – in a reading that is almost MacMillanesque, well suited to choreography which would perhaps have influenced MacMillan’s own creations later – because it fully emphasizes the contrast between their two worlds: one pure as water, where Ondine will surely not toy with Palemon’s feelings as Berta does, but one which is also devoid of soul and personality (with the exception of the domineering and revengeful Lord of the Sea, Tirrenio, danced with outrageous precision by Ricardo Cervera), the other world, where Palemon would naturally belong, is for him even more mysterious, full of emotion and heart, as hot blooded as the red scarf with which Berta wraps herself when she sees Ondine lost to the sea and thinks Palemon will be fully hers again.

From left to right: Miyako Yoshida and Edward Watson. Source: The ROH ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

From left to right: Miyako Yoshida and Edward Watson. Source: The ROH ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

But will he? In the final act of the ballet we see him married to mortal Berta but pining over his lost Ondine. How I wish Ashton had given Palemon a few extra minutes of solo dancing, for throughout the ballet but especially here Watson’s steps express his frustration with settling into a normal life, while haunted by hallucinations of Ondine: he whips up furious turns evoking the trauma of the seastorm caused by Tirrenio, he beats and shimmers his legs. Ashton’s choreography & Watson’s execution are impassioned, no wonder it’s this heart that Ondine covets.

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Ondine

Is this ballet for you?

Go if: You are an Ashton fan. You have a keen eye for demanding technique, quick steps and plenty of characterisation in dance. You like stories involving fantasy femmes fatales, mermaids and ill-fated romances, especially those with a Victorian edge.

Skip if: You can’t put up with a difficult non-melodic score. Hans Werner Henze’s modernist music, tailor made to resemble a continuous flow of water & spray of the sea throughout the ballet has been a hard sell with many, including Ashton himself.

Dream Cast: Tamara Rojo.

Tamara Rojo and Edward Watson in Ondine. Photo: Dee Conway ©. Source: The Observer.

Ondine is a 3 act ballet originally created by Sir Frederick Ashton as a vehicle for Margot Fonteyn. The ballet, like the Opera “Rusalka”, is loosely based on Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué‘s novella “Undine”. Ondine is the only Ashton ballet choreographed to specially commissioned music and where Ashton worked in close proximity to the composer, Hans Werner Henze, providing him with plenty of notes and details on precise timings for steps. The costumes and designs by Lila de Nobili evoke the 19th century romantic classics such as Giselle against a maritime backdrop, think “La Sylphide under the sea”.

When it premiered, the critics hailed Fonteyn but expressed reservations against the music. The audience’s difficulty in connecting with the work also had to do with the fact that Ondine is more concerned with generating a mood and trying to replicate the feeling of water in dance, than with telling a straightforward story (although there is plenty of symbolism for the smart ballet goer to reflect on). It has little pyrotechnics to generate thunderous applause and plays to the lyrical strengths of the main ballerina in its fluid choreography and aqueous motifs. Ondine is a substance vs. form ballet, its subtlety might not appeal to everyone’s tastes but it’s a work which shows Ashton at his most avant-garde: its continuous undertow of dance was probably a major influence for Kenneth MacMillan‘s own seamless (& mime-less) choreography later on.

See below a short video where ballerina Tamara Rojo and veteran ballet critic Mr. Clement Crisp talk about the story, the music and motifs in Ondine:


The Story:

Ondine is a water sprite (or nymph) who emerges out of a waterfall onto land fascinated with her own shadow, something she had never seen before. She is observed by Palemon, a mortal man, who is completely entranced by her innocence and gentle manner of playing and marvelling at the sight of this shadow. Realising she is being observed, Ondine is at the same time drawn to and repelled by the human figure of Palemon, especially when she feels his heart beat (as water sprites have no hearts or souls). Dancing a beautiful “watery” pas de deux where Palemon tries to grab and hold slippery Ondine, they fall in love and decide to marry.

Before her marriage Ondine is warned by her uncle Tirrenio, Lord of the Mediterranean sea, that marrying a mortal and thus acquiring a human soul is against a water nymph’s nature and potentially fatal, should Palemon ever betray her. Ondine decides to ignore Tirrenio’s warning as she loves and trusts Palemon to be faithful. Little does she know that Palemon has broken a previous engagement to mortal Berta in deciding to marry her.

Palemon and Ondine get married and set out on a boat trip. A terrible storm unfolds caused by Tirrenio to force Ondine to return to the sea. She is lost overboard and Palemon, having survived the shipwreck and believing Ondine to be forever lost to him, ends up marrying Berta.

On the day of their wedding heartbroken Ondine reappears before a perplexed Palemon. Meanwhile, Tirrenio exerts revenge against the new couple by bringing destruction to the palace and to all of Palemon and Berta’s guests. It is then that Palemon realises his betrayal and the price he has to pay: he longs to be reunited with Ondine and tries to kiss her but when their lips finally meet, he dies. The ballet’s final Victorian looking tableau shows a grief stricken Ondine watching over Palemon’s lifeless body which she has dragged under the sea as an eternal keepsake.

Ondine is part of The Royal Ballet’s Summer Season from the 27 of May – 6 of June, with Alexandra Ansanelli, Miyako Yoshida and Roberta Marquez in the principal role.

Mini Biography:

Choreography: Sir Frederick Ashton
Music: Hans Werner Henze
Original Design: Lila de Nobili
Original Cast: Margot Fonteyn, Michael Somes and Alexander Grant.
Premiere: 27 October 1958, Covent Garden, London.

Sources and Further Information:

  1. Dance Review by Roslyn Sulcas at the New York Times. Dec. 5 2008 [link]
  2. Wikipedia entry for Ondine (Ashton).
  3. Water Magic by John Percival. Danceviewtimes, 2005.
  4. Ballet.contexts. Facts about Ondine at ballet.co. Written by Jane Simpson, 2005.
  5. An excellent article by Alastair Macaulay about the symbolism of water creatures in ballet and opera.

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