Folktale (Le Baiser de la Fée)

Choreography: Todd Bolender
Music: Igor Stravinsky/Peter I. Tchaikovsky

Originally commissioned from composer Igor Stravinsky in 1927 by Ida Rubenstein for her newly-created ballet company, Todd Bolender’sFolktale is a contemporary translation of its oft-performed predecessor Le Baiser de la Fée (The Fairy Kiss).  As homage to his mentor Tchaikovsky, of whom he said the subject of the ballet seemed to suggest a similarity, Stravinsky wrote the score based upon Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Ice Maiden.”

In collaboration with choreographer Bronislava Nijinska, sister of the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, and Alexandre Benois who designed the costumes and sets, Stravinsky presented his paean to Tchaikovsky on November 27, 1928, premiering at the Paris Opera on the thirty-fifth anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death.

The story of a lost babe upon whom Fate bestows its portentous kiss is a tragic tale centered on a young man whom no mortal love could satisfy.  It is a sense of isolation and discontent with which Stravinsky embues the youth, once captivated by his beloved, finally subdued by the ubiquitous Ice Maiden in her many and varied forms.

The classical ballet in four tableaux is set in the Bavarian Alps.  Stravinsky’s score intertwines rhythmic and hearty peasant melodies with rich symphonic elements including such Tchaikovsky works as the impassioned “None But the Lonely Heart” Op. 6, No. 6.  The instrumentation of Le Baiser de la Fée is both shimmering and opulent, flirtatious an desperate, evoking the story’s gentle innuendo and open struggle.

Versions of the ballet have included Sir Frederick Ashton’s choreography for the Salder’s Wells production in 1935, followed by George Balanchine’s ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House for the American Ballet in 1937.  Balanchine revived the ballet in 1940 and again in 1947 for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo with casts which included Maria Tallchief, Alexandra Danilova, Andre Eglevsky, Mia Slavenska, and Todd Bolender.

Kenneth MacMillan presented Le Baiser in 1950 for the Royal Ballet and still another libretto devised by John Neumeir was presented in Frankfurt in 1974 and later staged for American Ballet Theatre in 1975 with Christopher Aponte in the cast.

Todd Bolender’s own version was first choreographed for the Cologne Opera House in 1964.  Twenty years later, his Folktale contains elements of its antecedents – the music, the characters, much of the original story – but new choreography set upon a youthful company with costumes designed by Jacqueline Quinlan and Russ Vogler against the backdrop designed by Howard Jones brings Le Baiser de la Fée into the ’80’s with renewed verve, imagination, and insight.

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