The chicken tracks and scribbles belong to various dance notation scores [JOHN WILEY] interprets. An associate professor of music at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he has himself taken ballet classes despite what he terms "a form that no one has ever called sylph-like," Wiley earned a Harvard PhD with a dissertation on "Swan Lake." He has written a book called "Tchaikovsky's Ballets," scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press later this year. "The book has the original metronome markings for Swan Lake,' which have never been published before," he says. "They are somewhat slower than concert tempi, and they are looked on as corruptions by the editors of Tchaikovsky's works and as a great blessing by me, because they tell us something of what the production was really like."
So well regarded has Wiley become in the dance world that England's Royal Ballet has enlisted his aid for its new production of "The Nutcracker," which the company hopes will look very much like the original 1892 production of the Christmas ballet. To get more of a feeling for authentic details in "Nutcracker" and other works, Wiley consults the libretti, which he says were published for 75 percent of 19th-century ballets. "Sometimes the libretto would run to 50 or 60 pages, and the audience was expected to read it to know precisely what was going on. Nowadays lots of balletgoers think they know the story of a popular ballet like Nutcracker,' but they don't." Wiley says the psychological accents that sometimes turn "Nutcracker" into a rite de passage for the central character, Clara, are 20th-century accretions, and that the original was so wholesome that it was a flop: The grownups simply wouldn't go. "That's the danger with a revival that is too accurate, both with Nutcracker' and with other ballets which simply wouldn't appeal to contemporary audiences."
"We are in a rudimentary stage of scholarship about [Marius Petipa]," he lamented. "This is not Shakespeare or Beethoven or the Bible. It isn't material that has been picked over and examined," except by a few devoted researchers like Wiley, who, in addition to his Tchaikovsky book, is working on a Petipa volume. "Petipa was a very intricate, fussy personality. I read that George Balanchine thought of himself as an heir to Petipa, and that struck home. Petipa's ballets were essentially essays in movement. You watched for choreographic invention, not for when the Prince jumped over the hedge or whatever."