Daily Archives: December 5, 2007 12:10 am

Glissés: Don Quixote overture

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This is day 5 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I’m giving the
story behind some of the music that I’ve collected for ballet classes.
All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

There’s a certain kind of a 6/8 which doesn’t grow on trees. It’s not exactly a jig; it’s quadrille-like, but maybe a bit slower, and more articulated. It’s simple, but not simplistic; it has space for dancing, but a driving rhythm nonetheless. It’s repetitive, but in a good way.  It will be old-fashioned, because this rhythm belongs to the social dances of the 19th century, but it will retain it’s fun and vigour, and it will sound like a dance, rather than a twee piano piece. But it will also sound balletic or operatic, and have a sense of drama.

Enter Minkus, the composer the critics despised until jollity became fashionable again. Minkus is another composer that Suki Schorer says was favoured by Balanchine for class – because he’s simple & appropriate.  I was quite surprised to read that at first, but it makes perfect sense – Balanchine knew what he was talking about when it came to music.  So it didn’t come as any surprise when Christopher Hampson, another choreographer of musical genius, suggested the overture to the second act of Don Quixote for a glissé exercise – I didn’t know it (who but a choreographer listens to an overture?), but once I did, I found it was the magic answer to many, many exercises that had seemed problematic before. It is the finest example of that elusive  6/8 I described in the first paragraph. It’s interesting that Prokofiev got this feeling so right for the Ugly Sisters quadrille-like dance in Cinderella. I think he knew who to parody.

Incidentally, you might like to read Chris’s own Advent Calendar over on his blog. Each day, he reveals one of his favourite ballets, and explains how it got on to his top 25 list. Fascinating.