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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ballet Theory: The Enigmatic "Russian Joke" Play

Today we will examine "Scherzo à la Russe" by Igor Stravinsky, which translates (Italian scherzo=joke, French Russe etc.) into English as "Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead" by Harold Arlen. If we listen carefully, we will detect cadences and snatches of melody that evoke happy Munchkins, but the discerning ballet aficionado will immediately see the story is about American football.


The action takes place at the 50-yard line, which we are invited to imagine bisecting center stage, front to back.  As a demonstration of Cold War Detente, an American Football team is invited to compete in an exhibition game in Russia. The athletes arrive in Moscow but their luggage is held up at La Guardia, so they are given tiaras and nightgowns. Meanwhile, upon realizing their country has no football team, Russian officials secretly place a 160-foot-long mirror on the 50-yard-line.

The American team tries everything to intimidate the opposition. They stand on tiptoe to appear taller. The ruse is instantly copied by the team in the mirror, as are all their tactics. Strangely, this causes little concern because nobody can find the football either. They dance around looking for it but nobody gets upset. It becomes obvious the contest will be a draw and captains of both teams will receive bouquets. Which is precisely what happens.  

25 comments:

  1. 'They stand on tiptoe to appear taller.'

    Aggression. Tsk, tsk. But as we see, it ends in blooms. Not so bad.

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    1. Ballet has a dreamy logic of its own, doesn't it?

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  2. It is widely rumored that, at the premiere of "Scherzo a la Russe" someone from the second balcony threw a copy of "Boris Godunov" at conductor Stravinsky and rendered him unconscious. That's when the audience began singing "Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead."

    I personally think that nightgowns, tiaras, and 160-foot-long mirrors should be incorporated at the Super Bowl.

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    1. Agreed, Jon. And I love your reconstruction of the premiere! Scherzo and Ding Dong were written around the same time and are so suggestive of each other that I figured Stravinsky and Arlen were in cahoots.

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  3. Prettiest football game I've ever seen.

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    1. I've always thought more theatrical costumes would improve football.

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    2. The players really should smile more, too.

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  4. Bouquets for the captains of both teams ... wonderful
    I love the ballet

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    1. As an art form that gets me totally absorbed and out of myself, ballet is hard to beat --rewards one's whole attention.

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  5. Nightgowns, tiaras and bouquets would improve any ball game I have ever been forced to endure. Mirrrors? My jury is out. Megathanks.

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    1. Ok, maybe not mirrors all the time...but music, definitely music!

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  6. I don't know anything about American football, and do not watch it. (Truth to tell, I don't watch soccer either as it is too soporific.) But I might think about changing my viewing habits if American footballers dress up in comely nightgowns and tiaras. I didn't realise American football was such an artistic, gentle pursuit.....and so sensitive!

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    1. My Portuguese grandfather defined American football when I was little: "Man blow leetle whistle, ev'body fall down!"

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  7. Ah a Cold War ballet - now that's unique. I love anything to to with the Cold War - I love Cold War espionage films and books!

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    1. "Cold War ballet" --I like that, describes much of our political world.

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  8. Their helmets are so much nicer, and not a grunt is heard.

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    1. I think you have to go to opera for the grunty parts.

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  9. Dear Geo.,
    this is the first ballet (and ballet-interpretation) I heartily enjoyed!!
    "..nobody gets upset" - I hope it will remain so. Till this is cleared I'll tip-toe through the tulips... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZMHJX4b9bU

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    1. Thank you, Dear Brigitta! Watched clip and was reminded of Tiny Tim and his ukulele. Tiptoe Through The Tulips is best sung in falsetto.

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    2. The song always reminds me of the lady whose rich husband built her an extra opera house - and she trilled this song (I think in falsetto :-)
      Madame Florence Foster Jenkins - it would be very hard on your ears if you listen to the complete performance... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBOuRlgoU2A

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    3. Most kind! I was a great fan of America's Mrs. Miller during the '60s and would doubtless have gone to see Mme. Jenkins had she been mortally available in my time.

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  10. Now why did I never realise that before?
    You are absolutely spot on.

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  11. Loved it! However, if our linebackers started wearing tutus, I'm afraid the sudden demand for all that mega-yardage would make the price of tulle go sky-high.

    Fun post, dude.

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  12. Tights and pageantry ... yes, I see it! That mirror thing might actually work.

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