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Great Galloping Gottschalk
 

choreography: Lynne Taylor-Corbett

music: Louis Moreau Gottschalk, arranged by Victoria Bond

costume design: Gretchen Warren

lighting recreated by: David Grill


 
 
 
Great Galloping Gottschalk, premiere: American Ballet Theatre, Miami, January 12, 1982
BalletMet premiere April 7, 1988
These notes compiled by Gerard Charles, BalletMet Columbus, February 1998

 

  

 

Great Galloping Gottschalk received its world premiere on January 12, 1982 at the Miami Beach Theater of the Performing Arts in Miami Beach, Florida with American Ballet Theatre. The production was made possible in part by a gift from the Miami Beach Premiere Committee, which was formed to raise the bulk of the ballet’s $100,000 production cost.

Lynne Taylor-Corbett chose six pieces of Gottschalk’s music for her ballet: Souvenirs de Porto Rico, The Dying Poet, Tournament Galop, La Savane/ Oh Ma Charmante, Le Bananier, and La Manchiega.

Following the Ballet Theatre production, Great Galloping Gottschalk has been staged for Pennsylvania Ballet, BalletMet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet van Vlanderen and sections for Indiana University in Bloomington. This summer Ms. Taylor-Corbett will travel to Korea to stage the ballet there.

Former Artistic Director of BalletMet, John McFall, asked Lynne Taylor-Corbett to create a new work for the company in 1988. Prior to the beginning of the rehearsal period she received the opportunity to choreograph the musical Chess for Broadway. This would not have allowed Ms. Taylor-Corbett enough time to dedicate to a BalletMet world premiere as well, so it was agreed that BalletMet would perform Great Galloping Gottschalk. Because of an incredibly hectic schedule Ms. Taylor-Corbett shared the staging of the ballet with Jeffrey Gribler of the Pennsylvania Ballet and was only able to come to Columbus for a few days at a time. As with the original staging of the ballet for American Ballet Theatre and most other occasions on which she has staged the work, Ms. Taylor-Corbett did not have the luxury of time in 1988 to fine tune the ballet and to tailor it to the new dancers. With many years of experience in teaching the work to different dancers, the opportunity to return to BalletMet in 1998 has been a wonderful opportunity for both Ms. Taylor-Corbett and the company.

 

When Gottschalk was created Ms. Taylor-Corbett was still dancing and so much of the vocabulary reflects her own dance style. It was also idiosyncratic of the original cast members who helped inspire the work. Without losing the essentials of the choreography Ms. Taylor-Corbett seeks to highlight the strengths of the dancers who perform the work today. She has had the chance to give details of structure that are easily transferred from dancer to dancer, has eliminated needless complications and has given attention to the places that have been overlooked in the past.

 

Ms. Taylor-Corbett writes of her ballet:

 "In 1980, Mikhail Baryshnikov saw a ballet of mine called Sequels performed by A.B.T. II (under the direction of Richard Englund with Gretchen Warren and Jeremy Blanton). Mischa [Baryshnikov] called me in for a meeting and invited me to do a new work for the American Ballet Theatre of which he was artistic director. When I asked what kind of work he'd like me to do, he replied, ‘Just do next ballet.’ In other words , the next ballet that was inside of me.

"How elated I was! The problem was there seemed no ‘next ballet’ inside of me. As the weeks passed, my muse was out to lunch, elation turned to despair - not a shred of inspiration had I!

"The General Manager called from time to time to ask ‘How’s it going?’ (They wanted to know what kind of ballet I was doing so they could go out and raise money!) I answered that I was still trying to choose from many brilliant ideas chasing around in my fertile imagination.

"Finally, in July, desperate (I had to begin rehearsals in August) I went into a record store and began to flip through records (ah, those pre-C.D. days). One cover jumped out at me purely because of its vibrant colors. It was the piano music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

"When I listened to the music later I thought ‘No, no, it’s too simple - not heroic enough for that profound masterpiece I'm sure is my ‘next ballet!’ The tunes, however, would not leave me alone and eventually I had to surrender to their whimsy and uncanny power.

"I had known the composer Victoria Bond for many years through other collaborations, so I turned to her to orchestrate Gottschalk’s piano music. Victoria and I sat at the piano together to piece together the score. Five of the selections were pretty straightforward, but neither La Savanne nor Oh Ma Charmante seemed to have enough content to support the solo I wanted to create. Victoria came up with the solution of cleverly weaving the two into one piece of music.

"I set out to create a series of variations, hoping that I would find little storytelling devices to sustain each section. The first dance, Souvenir de Porto Rico, is a tapestry of people in unison with a single person who goes against the grain. It is possibly the simplest and most abstract section of the ballet. It begins very elegantly and calmly, and as it goes along releases into a joyful celebration. The pas de deux was inspired by Susan Jaffe whom I had worked with at A.B.T. II. I also was familiar with the up-and-coming Robert La Fosse and thought they made the absolute dream couple for The Dying Poet variation. For me, the Trio is like a lot of recitals that I danced when I was young. Although the dance is humorous the girls are very serious about their dancing, reflecting how fabulous I thought I was in those days. To create the solo I worked with Lise Houlton who came from a modern dance background and was comfortable with improvisation. Together we created much of the material through a process of improvisation. The solo tells of a woman torn between two forces in her life. I had chosen Johann Renvall and Danilo Radojevik for the male duet because they were both fabulous dancers. They were also very similar physically and consequently frequently competitive for the same roles. When I walked into the studio they were warming up, on opposite extremities of the studio. I wondered what I had got myself into and how I was ever going to get them together on stage. Danny was an intelligent actor and precipitated a lot of the ideas, and gradually both the dancers began to get into it. The last movement brings everyone together, gradually building in both numbers and complexity.

"The rest is history, I suppose. Gottschalk opened in Miami in January of 1982. I had followed the company around on tour trying to finish on time!

"After an appearance in Los Angeles, Mischa and Charles France decided that I had to replace the costumes (which had been designed by Gretchen Warren) and the orchestrations (originally done by Victoria Bond) which they felt weren't beefy enough.

"In the matter of the costumes, they brought in Santo Loquasto. He and I stood in the back of the house in Washington watching the ballet. He asked me what I would like to see and I said (looking rather glum) that I would actually like to see pretty much what I already was seeing. Tactfully he withdrew from the project and I was able to keep the wonderful, quirky, Gretchen Warren costumes for the Met opening in New York, May 1982, where it was received enthusiastically.

"I have been so blessed that Gottschalk has been a playground for so many wonderful dancers throughout the years. Perhaps someday my ‘next ballet’ will be dark, heroic and profound, but I am grateful that the talent of Louis Moreau Gottschalk reached out across the years and said ‘Psst, lighten up!’"

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Lynne Taylor-Corbett, choreographer


 

 

Lynne Taylor-Corbett has created ballets for American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Company, Ohio Ballet, Miami City Ballet and many other companies both here and abroad. She originally set Great Galloping Gottschalk on BalletMet in 1988 and returns for the 1998 season.

Ms. Taylor-Corbett has directed and choreographed numerous productions in regional theater. Currently, she is directing a new production of Tintypes which will open at the Hartford Stage and then transfer to the Old Globe in San Diego. She is represented on Broadway by Titanic and Jackie for which she did the musical staging. Her film work includes Footloose and My Blue Heaven, both directed by Herbert Ross.

Ms. Taylor-Corbett serves on the board of her union, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, where she has fought long and hard to gain representation and recognition for film choreographers. Her proudest achievement, however, is her son, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, an idealistic Honors Student at the University of Delaware who is well on his way to saving the planet.

Lynne Taylor-Corbett was born in Denver, Colorado, one of six girls. Her father was a school vice-principal and political activist. Her mother was a concert pianist who also performed as a church organist and choir director. Ms. Taylor-Corbett’s extraordinary musicality as a choreographer is no doubt rooted in this heritage. Her mother also played for dance classes, and it was this that led to her early instruction in dance. By the age of 17 she went to New York to study at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. Lynne quickly assessed herself in relationship to the others in the class such as the wünderkind Colleen Neary and decided it would be wise to move on. She studied at Ballet Theatre, took jazz and acting, and danced professionally in a number of companies including those of Anna Sokolov and Alvin Ailey.

Ms. Taylor-Corbett, along with Rodney Griffin, Lynn Sunenson and Jaclynn Villamil,was a founding member of Theatre Dance Collection. The company was dedicated to the creation of new choreography with the choreographers creating their own pieces and dancing in those of others. Among its early members were Danny Buraczeski and Bill Cratty. It was a great opportunity to learn the craft of choreography. The company toured constantly nationally and internationally under the sponsorship of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1977 the founding members felt that the company had run its course and went their separate ways into successful freelance careers.

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Louis Moreau Gottschalk, composer


 

Born in New Orleans May 8, 1829, to an affluent New Orleans family, Gottschalk was the son of a British Jew and a Creole mother. Gottschalk showed signs of musical precocity as early as age 4. After teaching himself to play melodies and left-hand harmonies on the piano, his parents sought the instruction of François Letellier, a New Orleans organist and choirmaster, to guide their son’s talent. Quickly learning all he could in New Orleans, at thirteen he was sent to Paris to pursue his piano studies. Shut out of the Paris Conservatoire for being American - "America is only a country of steam engines." - he took private lessons with Charles Hallé and Camille Stamaty, studying alongside the seven year old Saint-Saëns. When Stamaty retired from teaching, the 16 year old Gottschalk felt no need to find another piano teacher, but did continue his composition studies.

He soon became known not only as a good pianist but a celebrated one, the first internationally famous American pianist. His status was on a par with many rock stars of today. Young women would flock to his concerts and turn faint at his appearance. His exotic sounding compositions became the rage of Europe and were played by many concert pianists.

Gottschalk began to compose in the late 1840s. Inspired by the inclusion of nationalist themes in Chopin’s music, he drew upon his own background and included the plantation melodies that he grew up with and the Cuban and Caribbean rhythms he heard in New Orleans. Gottschalk was one of the first American composers to be inspired by the folk music of his native country. His ‘cakewalk’ music, in turn, was a precursor of ragtime. After spending time in the West Indies (particularly Havana) and South America, different influences came to bear on his music. Gottschalk also emulated the sophisticated playing of Chopin and Liszt and added his own preference for the upper two octaves of the piano. Described as "style pianola" because it resembled the sound of a player piano, this high register produced cascades of silvery sound. From his early period of composition in Paris came La Savane (based on Negro folk songs and rhythms)and La Bananier. This piece was encored five times in Geneva: the sixth time Gottschalk exited the stage door and "left the lunatics to yell to the desert."

Gottschalk returned to the United States in 1853 making his American debut in New York City. He had a busy life composing large quantities of music, traveling and playing concerts and getting mixed up in love affairs. In his diary Gottschalk speaks of his touring schedule, reviewing some of the rigors of the concert circuit: "I have given 85 concerts in four months and a half," he wrote. "I have traveled 15,000 miles on the railroad. At St. Louis, I have seven concerts in six days; at Chicago, five in four days." When touring Europe, North and South America, Gottschalk traditionally left a pair of white gloves on the piano after the concert; his adoring fans would scramble to retrieve them as souvenirs. (Overwork drove Gottschalk to the nervous habit of biting his nails and he actually wore gloves even when sleeping to prevent this)

Before and during the American Civil War he played concerts in the eastern and central states, always traveling with supporting musicians; (There were no solo recitals in those days.) In 1856 he got into trouble after playing in San Francisco. Although Gottschalk denied the activity, the local citizens got riled up at reports of his alleged indiscretions with a respectable young lady of the city. Rather than face a hostile mob Gottschalk escaped by boat to South America where he crossed the continent, eventually ending up in Rio de Janeiro where he arranged his "monster concert" of 650 performers. For this he hand copied all the music, and led rehearsals.

In December 1869, at age 40, Gottschalk collapsed at the piano while playing his Morte (Death) in Rio de Janeiro. Shortly afterwards he died, some say of yellow fever or being poisoned by a vengeful husband. In all likelihood the cause was peritonitis.

For his entire professional career Gottschalk was donating his services for the help of those more needy than himself. In 1851 he gave a benefit concert for Parisian workers unemployed on account of their factory being burned. During his tour of Spain he gave at least one concert in each city solely for charity. Also in Spain he befriended a young street urchin, an orphan whom he later adopted and took care of his education and welfare until adulthood. Gottschalk continued his arduous concert tours so that he could support his entire family after his father died of yellow fever. At his 1865 concerts in California the gold miners in the audience showed their appreciation by throwing gold and silver coins on stage as well as applauding - a custom Gottschalk found distasteful. True to his humanitarian nature, he publicized that any money thrown on stage would be given to charities.

As is the cycle of human taste, Gottschalk’s immensely popular music was soon scorned after his death and fell into obscurity. His music is just as fresh and energetic as any today, and his rhythmic flair does not sound dated. One wonders if he had not died so young what his mature music could have developed into, as hinted at in his A Night in the Tropics.

 

Gottschalk’s music has also been used for Balanchine’s Tarantella (1964) and Ruthanna Boris’ Cakewalk (1951). Both ballets have been presented by BalletMet.

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Gretchen Ward Warren, costume designer


 

Gretchen Ward Warren has been designing for more than twenty years. Among the many companies for whom she has created costumes are American Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, The Joffrey Ballet and Miami City Ballet. For the past fourteen years, Ms. Warren has been Professor of Dance at the University of South Florida in Tampa where she teaches ballet, choreographs, and designs costumes for department productions. She is the author of two books, Classical Ballet Technique and The Art of Teaching Ballet.

Ms. Ward Warren is a native of Princeton, New Jersey. She studied ballet with Thalia Mara and at the Royal Ballet School in London. From 1965-76 she danced as a soloist with the Pennsylvania Ballet. Upon retirement, she joined American Ballet Theatre II as ballet mistress, working closely with Richard Englund and Mikhail Baryshnikov in the recruitment and training of young dancers across the country. Among her former students are current A.B.T. ballerinas Susan Jaffe and Kathleen Moore. In 1979, Miss Warren coached the Silver Medal winner in the Jr. Men’s Division of the International Ballet competition in Jackson, Mississippi. As a result, she was invited to spend two years in Moscow studying the Vaganova teaching methods of the Bolshoi Ballet.

 

Ms. Ward Warren is listed in Who’s Who in America, has served as a consultant site visitor for the National Endowment for the Arts and as President of the Florida Dance Association. Most recently, she was the recipient of a Fulbright Senior Scholar award to spend six months in Australia teaching ballet and conducting research on contemporary Aboriginal dance.

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