Three short films by Pascal Baes

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Topic I (1990).

Black-and-white film, a handful of dancers, and the streets of old Prague (plus a Parisian courtyard). I linked to Topic II in a weekend post some time ago but since all three films in the series are on Vimeo I thought they deserved a post of their own.

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Topic II (1990).

Pascal Baes is a French film-maker who may have created something unique here by combining the dance film with pixilation, the animation technique in which people move frame-by-frame like live action puppets. The technique is an old one that was generally used for comic effect, at least until the arrival of the music video; Baes’ innovation is to give us dance pieces that can exist only in the camera. One of the attractions for this viewer is the Prague settings, especially those in the best film of the three, Topic II, in which a pair of dancers glide up the labyrinthine streets leading to the castle that dominates the city.

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46bis (1988).

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jan Svankmajer: The Animator of Prague
Stone Glory, a film by Jirí Lehovec
The Face of Prague
Josef Sudek
The panoramic towers of Prague
Prague panoramas
Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka
Karel Plicka’s views of Prague

Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)

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Turnabout, 1967. Cover art by Ventilla.

Regular readers will know that Bloomsday is one of the few persistent observances here, although I think I’ve missed a couple of them since the tradition began in 2006. This year is the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s Big Blue Book but I was doubtful I’d be able to provide a suitable Joyce-related novelty this time. Doubtful, that is, until I remembered this electro-acoustic composition by Luciano Berio which I’m surprised to find I’ve not linked to before despite having had a copy of Electronic Music III for many years.

Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958) takes a reading of the prelude of the “Sirens” chapter of Ulysses as its raw material, the reading being performed by singer Cathy Berberian. The prelude is often described as a written equivalent of an orchestra tuning up, with Joyce listing some of the euphonious or onomatopoeic words from the music-themed chapter before the chapter itself begins. It’s one of the more unusual parts of the novel which in its emphasis on the sounds of words rather than their meaning looks forward to the verbal and auditory pyrotechnics of Finnegans Wake. After Berberian has read the text Berio subjects the recording to a variety of manipulations. Or that’s what happens on the original recording… The examples on YouTube are all the later versions which Berio regarded as definitive even though they’re missing the two minutes of reading that precede the manipulations. There is one video that includes the complete recording, however, where it provides the score for a dance piece by Xiao-Xuan Yang Dancigers. I included the “Sirens” extract in the very first Bloomsday post so if you require a libretto for all of this, here it is.

René Bull’s Russian Ballet

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L’Oiseau de feu.

I’m sure I’ve said this before but one reason I spend so much time scouring the Internet Archive is in the hope of turning up gems like this recent arrival. The Russian Ballet was a study by Alfred Edwin Johnson of the Ballets Russes, written for an English readership and published in 1913 shortly after Diaghilev’s company had staged their historic performance of Le Sacre du printemps in Paris. Johnson discusses this event, which he attended, but he gives equal space to examinations of the company’s other ballets, from earlier avant-garde pieces like L’après-midi d’un faune to that hardy perennial, Swan Lake. In place of production sketches or photographs we have René Bull’s many illustrations, in colour plates and black-and-white drawings, with the chapters being announced by a title in a graphic style that matches the theme of each ballet. I’d only seen a few of these before on a Flickr page so it’s a treat to see the whole book at last.

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Schéhérazade.

Johnson’s discussion has a tendency to falter when faced with the difficulty of describing a wordless artistic medium. The problem is compounded by the radical nature of many of the ballets, so that Bull’s illustrations become an essential component of the book, giving a flavour of the costumes and dances while the author attempts to relate the emotional qualities of the performances. Bull’s work here isn’t as elaborate is in his illustrated Rubáiyát but then the drawings are serving a documentary purpose.

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Schéhérazade.

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Schéhérazade.

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Narcisse.

Continue reading “René Bull’s Russian Ballet”

L’après-midi d’un faune

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Listening recently to a collection of Debussy’s music it occurred to me that I knew rather a lot about the creation and performance of the Nijinsky ballet based on Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune but couldn’t recall having seen a performance of the original dance. Not in full, anyway, although “full” here only means the entire 12 minutes, Debussy’s short piece being the only completed part of what would have been a much longer composition.

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This filmed version of the ballet dates from 1980, and forms part of a tribute to Nijinsky staged by Rudolf Nureyev and Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, the other works being Petrouchka and Le Spectre de la Rose. L’après-midi d’un faune is the only one of the three ballets that was choreographed as well as danced by Nijinsky, and was famously radical at the time, with the dancers adopting the stylised postures of figures from the ceramics of Ancient Greece. The erotic tone of the piece also generated controversy.

The Nureyev/Joffrey film restages the original Ballets Russes performance from 1912, using the costumes and decor designed by Léon Bakst. The choreography departs so much from classical ballet it might serve as a different kind of prelude, to the even more radical and controversial dances that Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes staged the following year. The original performance of The Rite of Spring was subsequently resurrected by the Joffrey Ballet after a lengthy period of historical research by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer. A 1989 BBC documentary about the process of research and reconstruction, The Search for Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring, is essential viewing for anyone interested in Diaghilev’s company.

Previously on { feuilleton }
George Barbier’s Nijinsky
The Rite of Spring reconstructed
Vaslav Nijinsky by Paul Iribe
Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes
Pamela Colman Smith’s Russian Ballet
Images of Nijinsky

02021

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The Elephant Celebes (1921) by Max Ernst.

Happy new year. 02021? Read this.

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Desert Sunset (1921) by George Elbert Burr.

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The Great Tower (1921) by Giorgio de Chirico.

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Evening Glow at Yanaka (1921) by Kawase Hasui.

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Construction (1921) by Gustavs Klucis.

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Three Musicians (1921) by Pablo Picasso.

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Illustration by Willy Pogány for The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles (1921) by Padraic Colum.

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Sketch of Figural Movement for Dance (1921) by Oskar Schlemmer.