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Satie et la Danse.

In the decade wracked by World War I, two Parisian musical events stand out as seminal: the first performance of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on 29 May 1913, and the performance of Erik Satie's Parade at the Theatre du Chatelet on 18 May 1917. These works, which bracket the War like bookends, have a common heritage and significance: both were productions of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; both strongly influenced other artists working in a variety of metiers. The Stravinsky-Nicholas Roerich-Vaslav Nijinsky Le Sacre du printemps has been the object of numerous studies as well as a production by the Joffrey Ballet that premiered in Los Angeles (30 September 1987) based on a reconstruction by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer of the original choreography and designs. The Satie-Jean Cocteau-Pablo Picasso-Leonide Massine Parade has until recently received considerably less scholarly scrutiny even if ballet productions of it have been undertaken by various companies, including the Metropolitan Opera (whose production premiered 21 February 1981). Nor has Satie's relationship to dance in general been thoroughly examined. There have been studies by Richard Axsom ('Parade': Cubism as Theater [New York: Garland Publishing, 1979]) and Robert Orledge (Satie the Composer [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990]), and Nancy Perloff has given Parade significant coverage (Art and the Everyday: Popular Entertainment and the Circle of Erik Satie [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]), but none of these studies has viewed the work or Satie's relationship to dance from so many different perspectives and in as copious detail as two new richly illustrated and scrupulously documented studies by Deborah Menaker Rothschild and Ornella Volta.

Rothschild's book, based on her doctoral thesis for the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, was "published in conjunction with the exhibition 'Picasso's "Parade" from Paper to Stage', presented by The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street, New York, N.Y. 10013, 6 April-13 June 1991" (title page). As an art historian, she understandably devotes the largest portion of her study to Picasso's contribution, though it would be grossly unfair to suggest that she does not give an impartial hearing to all of the other collaborators. Volta's book is the result of her long-standing commitment to Satie scholarship undertaken from her position as President of the Fondation Erik Satie in Paris. She has acquired a keen sense of the arts during Satie's lifetime and has been instrumental in uncovering and documenting Satie's roots in the popular culture of his day. These two superb books complement each other as graciously as the two authors credit one another in the course of their studies.

But let us not conclude that seventy-five years had to elapse before Parade was recognized for the multifaceted art work that it is. Guillaume Apollinaire proclaimed its importance in the program book accompanying the original production, where he noted:

It is a stage poem that the innovating composer Erik Satie has set to astonishingly expressive music, so clean-cut and so simple that it mirrors the marvelously lucid spirit of France itself. The cubist painter Picasso and that most daring of choreographers, Leonide Massine, have staged it, thus consummating for the first time this union of painting and dance -- of plastic and mime --$which heralds the advent of a more complete art. . . . This I see as the starting point of a succession of manifestations of the "esprit nouveau": now that it has had an opportunity to reveal itself, it will not fail to seduce the elite, and it hopes to change arts and manners from top to bottom, to the joy of all. (Francis Steegmuller, Cocteau: A Biography [Boston: Little, Brown, 1970], 513)

Obviously Apollinaire, the cocreator of such astonishing theater pieces as Francis Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias, was able to discern the true significance of Parade from the outset. He realized, as did Anton Chekhov when writing about the status of ballet in Russia in 1883, that "the repair of an old watch sometimes costs us more than the purchase of a new one" (quoted in Robert C. Hansen, Scenic and Costume Design for the Ballets Russes [Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985], 3). In their quite different ways, the contributions of Rothschild and Volta help us not only to see the genuine synthesis of the arts found in Parade, but they illuminate both the significant relationship Satie had with dance in general and the interest twentieth-century choreographers have manifested in choreographing Satie's instrumental works.

Rothschild begins her trek through the intricate landscape of Parade by acknowledging its debt to the music hall and Parisian popular culture. The Fratellini clowns, Footit and Chocolat, the Cirque Medrano in general, American cinemas, Charlie Chaplin -- all these provided important inspiration. She is also quick to debunk a popular myth about the ballet: "Contrary to common belief, however, it was not so much Parade's Cubism (which was of the 'polite' variety the audience had anticipated) that shocked and disconcerted the ballet's patrons, but the introduction of low-brow popular entertainments to the sanctified realm of the ballet". Her case is$argued skillfully and she notes that however successful the work may be judged by history, "Picasso, Cocteau, and company had miscalculated; the glamour-deprived, war-weary audience attending Parade's premiere was not in the mood for the theatre forain, but for serious classical dance, through which to escape from contemporary life and French popular culture". If one were to express a quibble, it would only be that Rothschild's grasp of how Satie's music and that of some of his younger contemporaries was grounded in popular culture is not so strong when compared to her splendid command of the bibliography of art.

Before turning to the central chapters concerning music, choreography, decor, costumes, and the "Parade" curtain, Rothschild devotes chapters 3-5 to extending her view of popular influences on the ballet. She examines the collaboration as it materialized in Rome and Naples and then turns to the final hectic days as Diaghilev's company played a one-night stand in Florence before removing to Paris less than three weeks before the premiere. Then, in a chapter entitled "Soyons vulgaires" (a title drawn from a page of Cocteau's Roman notebook), she suggests that the "the vulgar, commonplace quality of Parade was the main source of its originality. Parade was the first of the non-sublime, non-folkloristic, non-exotic spectacles that would so greatly influence ballet repertoire in the twentieth century". Once again, Rothschild's ability to draw significant conclusions from a wealth of primary source material is enviable. Finally, Rothschild examines the impact such multifarious entertainers as Chung Ling Soo (a popular Chinese conjurer active in Paris and London around 1915) and Pearl White (star of The Perils of Pauline and the Exploits of Elaine, motion pictures issued between 1913 and 1916) had on the shaping of Parade.

Rothschild's chapter on music and choreography presents neither traditional musical analysis nor detailed analysis of Massine's choreographic ideas. The music discussion centers around novelties in instrumentation, origins of material (notably Satie's appropriation of "That Mysterious Rag" composed by Irving Berlin and Ted Snyder), and the influence Cocteau's suggestions had upon Satie. She claims that Satie's use of the rag was discovered by Ornella Volta, but Volta attributes the discovery to Glenn Watkins (see his Soundings: Music in the Twentieth Century [New York: Schirmer, 1988], 266)--even while clarifying some of Watkins's points. Rothschild's discussion of the choreography, drawing on a collage of quotations by former dancers (including Massine) and by Cocteau, carefully documents the almost obsessive role Cocteau played in giving musical advice to Satie, on the one hand, and choreographic suggestions to Massine on the other.

Discussion of "The Costumes and Decor" and "The 'Parade' Curtain" occupies approximately half of the book. Here Rothschild is at her best, masterfully manipulating the numerous threads of evidence into a tapestry rich in detail and vivid in color. Dozens of sketches are presented to illustrate the evolution of Picasso's ideas for the Chinese Conjurer's costume, and those for the Managers are discussed in relationship to centuries of tradition, popular culture, and Paris in the 1910s. Noting that "Parade marked a turning-point in Picasso's career, launching his reputation as an international art-world figure", Rothschild poignantly shows how the splendid curtain can be interpreted as "a salute to Picasso's new-found loves and friendships as well as a departing bow to his old ways of life before the war changed things".

Rothschild studies a single Satie ballet viewed in microcosm whereas Volta presents a macrocosmic view of Satie and dance. Volta's basic hypothesis is that "From Leonide Massine to George Balanchine, from Jean Borlin to Frederick Ashton, from Ted Shawn to Merce Cunningham, from Roland Petit to Jean Babilee, the great choreographers of this century have acknowledged and demonstrated that all of Satie's music lends itself to dance". Volta divides her material into two parts: (1) works Satie intended for the dance, and (2) other works that have been choreographed. Bisecting these is a brief essay by David Vaughan, the archivist and historian of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. A well-documented list of dance performances (ca. 1897-1990), including detailed information about performers, is provided at the end of the volume. Volta's organizational scheme is logical and readers are able to compare similar types of entertainments without having to skip needlessly around the volume.

Unlike Rothschild, who has made an exhaustive study of a single Satie masterpiece, Volta surveys her subject from a broad perspective, but tends toward great selectivity in her choice of documentary evidence, much of which appears for the first time in print. Her command of musical, artistic, and literary sources is breathtaking and her scholarly palette includes a liberal sampling of private archives and libraries as well as interviews with such key figures in the Satie revival as Massine, Serge Lifar, Cunningham, and Robert Joffrey.

La Belle excentrique, to take an example of her approach, was a dance piece created for the fascinating danseuse Caryathis [nee Elisabeth Toulemon] whom Cocteau had dubbed "La Belle Excentrique." Volta begins by showing the relevance to this piece of Cocteau's famous remark in Le Coq et l'arlequin advising young composers to look to the music of France, specifically the caf' conc' for inspiration (A Call to Order, trans. Rollo Myers [New York: Haskell House, 1974], 20). She then discusses the genius of the costumes, pointing out that Satie himself rejected designs by Jean Hugo, Marie Laurencin, Kees van Dongen, and Paul Poiret before accepting a single design by Cocteau, and drawing together relevant evidence culled from various sources. After placing the piece in the context of other music performed at the premiere, Volta summarizes both the work's critical reception in 1921 and its continued presence in the repertory to 1985. The discussion is beautifully illustrated using Leon Bakst's color sketch for a playbill depicting the dancing Caryathis, three photographs of Caryathis creating the role in 1921, one photograph of Moses Pendleton in a 1979 revival, and another of Rayanne Mershon performing the role in 1985 in a reconstructed costume from Reynaldo Hahn's Le Dieu bleu.

An important contribution of this book is the light it sheds on the many Satie instrumental compositions not originally intended to be danced but later choreographed. One example is Massine's ballet Premier amour based on the famous Morceaux en forme de poire, first danced in 1924. Volta points out that the same music has also been used by Cunningham since 1953 and that Cunningham's version has been reprised by still other companies including the Rambert Dance Company, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Repertory Dance Theatre. Her choice of illustrations is as astute as it is entertaining and some come from the archives of the Fondation Erik Satie over which she presides. Here and elsewhere Volta brings together substantial unpublished archival information, which she skillfully intertwines with a liberal sampling of oral interviews. Her ability to make meaningful judgments based on her findings is commendable.

Together Satie et la danse aud Picasso's "Parade" are the labors of two scholars who deserve our highest praise for the quality of material and ideas they present, and for their virtuosity in uncovering and penetrating a labyrinth of information that leads across the arts. Both books make engaging reading and provide numerous excellent illustrations. Volta and Rothschild have significantly advanced our knowledge of Parade in particular and Satie and the dance in general. Theirs is a veritable entrechat dix of scholarship on the ever more crowded stage of ballet studies.

CARL B. SCHMIDT University of the Arts
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Author:Schmidt, Carl B.
Publication:Notes
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Words:2081
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