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Brainteasers

Poetry and Dance: Quiz of the Week [by Mindy Aloff and David Lehman]

Balanchine DancingIn 1893, the Symbolist poet and occasional dance critic Stéphane Mallarmé wrote in an essay on the American modern dancer Loïe Fuller that her programs using many yards of silk and complicated lighting constituted “the theatrical form of poetry par excellence.” However, a poem by Mallarmé himself became the wellspring for a much more renowned dance artist, by way of the composer Claude Debussy. Name the ballet and its choreographer.

Answer: 

(1) "The Rite of Spring" by Igor Stravinsky is based on Mallarmé’s most experimental poem, "Un Coup de des.  . . " The ratio of accident to chance or mistake is the sub-subject -- secondary to the rage of primitivism (les Fauves, Picasso) vanquishing the  vulnerable statuary of the superceded era.

(2) Debussy’s 1894 symphonic poem for orchestra, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, a musical response to Mallarmé’s poem L’après-midi d’un faune (“Afternoon of a Faun”), served as the score for Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1912 ballet, L’après-midi d’un faune, made for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. In Nijinsky’s rendering, the Faun (performed originally by the choreographer) appears to pleasure himself on a scarf dropped by a nymph who evades his advances.

 (3) Balanchine choreographed "Stars and Stripes" (Sousa) as an explicit rejection of Mallarmé's belief that “Tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre.”

(4) Jerome Robbins based the choreography of the opening number of West Side Story on a Mallarmé aphorism: “I have made a long enough descent into the void to speak with certainty. There is nothing but beauty--and beauty has only one perfect expression, Poetry. All the rest is a lie.”


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from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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