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Cubans prevented from dancing Sylphides


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 06:47 AM

In daily links (thanks, Ari), there's a topic that deserves a discussion of its own.

The National Ballet of Cuba has cancelled the performances of Les Sylphides that had been scheduled for the company's City Center engagement, owing to a conflict with American Ballet Theater.


The article is interesting. It's obvious that the legal facts here simpler than the moral issues. ABT bought the rights and as Ranieri asked, do you want them to throw away that payment? My question is, should they have been vended that way for a work that's by this point in general circulation? It's not like the Robbins works (for instance), which have always been done by a restricted group of companies. How do people feel about the stewardship of the Fokine legacy?

Between this and the Graham case (which was certainly far more extreme) how do people feel about "ownership" of masterpieces? What would you do to solve a situation like this?

#2 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 07:09 AM

I know that at the time the rights over the Fokine ballets started being asserted it seemed to me like a case of closing the barn door 40 years after the horses got out.

#3 sandik

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 10:04 AM

Oh lordy, this is a kettle of fish!

One one hand, the fact that ABT considers the ballet important enough to pay for (and to make themselves look small in the public eye for) means that they value it enough to actually keep it in their repertory. And considering the state of much historic repertory, that's not an insignificant thing.

But the Fokine repertory is among the most widely distributed (and most poorly monitored) of any body of work save for "after Petipa," a gentleman who must be turning in his grave, and Ivanov (the blank slate that is Nutcracker). All those little ensembles across the US founded by Ballet Russe alumni have danced some version of LS at some time. The horse is indeed out of the barn, and has sired several generations by now.

I think there are situations in which organizations or individuals can indeed "own" choreography. If the original artists were specific about their wishes, if the piece itself has a clear enough identity, if there is enough continuity in the passing down of the work... the Balanchine repertory is an example, although even in that, there are people who "own" works that are generally thought to be irretrievable. (can you own something that has ceased to exist?) In the case of the Graham/Protas fracas, the actual identity of the works seemed not to be in question. There is at least a sense of consensus on what Appalachian Spring is -- what makes an acceptable performance of it is a different (and even juicier) question.

Does this mean that if the Bolshoi or Kirov/St P come to New York, they can't perform it either? Or, since they actually do Chopiniana (spelling?) they are exempt?

I can understand ABT's desire to keep their version of the ballet exclusively theirs -- it is, after all, the last one Fokine mounted and perhaps it is the one he would wish to be remembered by. But this bullying maneuver just makes them look petty.

For me, it boils down to respect. Dance gets little enough of it from the bigger world -- we need to extend it to each other.

Sorry to be so grumpy.

#4 atm711

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 10:17 AM

How does this affect NYCB's "Chopiniana" this winter. I was looking forward to seeing it in unconventional costumes.

#5 citibob

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 10:44 AM

The difference between dance and other types of intellectual property we typically fight over is that dance is inherently local. If you copy a Disney DVD and sell it to your friend, there is a good case to be made that you've just deprived Disney of revenue. After all, THEY wanted to sell that DVD to your friend --- and they CAN, because DVDs are a mass medium.

Ballet is different. If ABT successfully prevents a Cuban ballet company from presenting LS, then all they've done is deprived Cuban audiences an opportunity to see the work. It's not as if any of the Cuban audience are likely to come to NYC or DC to see ABT's "authorized" versions. The audience of the National Ballet of Cuba is so far outside of ABT's market, I don't think it makes one whit of difference to ABT --- unless ABT had plans for an up-coming Cuban tour that was going to be sold based on Les Sylphides (highly doubtful).

Ballet is inherently regional.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 11:07 AM

Licensing of ballets to specific regions is another New Trend. When a company purchases the rights to a ballet, at least in some cases they have a license for "only in your home town" or "not in New York" (for one European company, at least, and one ballet). I think this is understandable. If My Very Own Company treasures the last Massine masterpiece -- or first big hit by a new choreographer, whatever -- and it's our meal ticket; we get invited places because people want to see it -- we don't want every company in the world to be performing it.

So I understand it. However, with Fokine -- each version is different. This is one of the glories of Fokine. So having them all homogenized is destruction of art, in my opinion. It would be like zapping all the illumined medieval manuscripts because the Creed is available on palm pilot.

ATM, your question is an excellent one. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. I think the no costume, no atmosphere Chopiniana is a horrid idea -- but I would defend the company's right to do it. It was a thoughtful horrid idea :P and I think experiments must be allowed.

#7 sneds

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 02:18 PM

Hi!

How can ABT have the sole rights to perform Chopiniana/Les Syphildes in New York through 2005 if NYCB is performing Chopiniana during the upcoming season? Is NYCB being given an exception, or is it a matter of different versions since NYCB performs a different version with simpler costumes & which is not the full length "Les Syphildes".

Cheers
Kate

#8 Paul Parish

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 03:16 PM

FYI, you guys, the Kirov has just performed Chopiniana in Brkeley for the last 3 nights.....

Only last night's was really opened up, dancing -- in the first 2 shows, only Daria Pavlenko could be seen to breathe (and SHE was radiant)..... but that's kind of by the way....

The Cuban Ballet dances romantic style VERY well, exquisite plastique, and VERY beautiful jumping., theirs is a version of Les Sylphides I'd really like to see.

#9 Paul Parish

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 03:32 PM

And it IS not uncommon for companies to try to keep other companies from doing a major piece of their active rep when they come through town on tour...

I remember there was some bad feeling at SFB a few years back, so i heard, that Paul Taylor's company was going to do Company B on their SF tour the same season SFB did it..... it was a huge gift for US, or at least ME, since I'm nuts about that ballet and it was fascinating to see the changes in nuance and feeling actually in MEANING, between the two versions...... in "Rum and Coca Cola," at SFB, Joanna Berman was the goddess of hte isles, whereas the girl in the Taylor company was in some DANGER from those guys...... I like both interpretations, in fact, I prefer Berman's. BUT SFB's was NOT light -- in fact, Eric Hoisington was a nervous wreck in "Tico-Tico" -- it was actually frightening, you thought he was going to do something precipitate...... he's got a coupe jete where he throws himself at the floor and goes into a roll, and it was terrifying -- like Albrecht's double tour with the chute allonge, except so much bigger....

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 05:46 PM

I am very far from being an attorney, but I believe that the NYCB/Kirov/Bolshoi "Chopiniana"s are in title, form, and substance, different from "Les Sylphides". In City Ballet's case, the costumes and scenery are not present and the Neo-Romanticism of the object is muted. The Russian productions are different in score from Sylphides. The Kirov may have a preexisting right to a ballet called "Chopiniana" which might trump the Estate's. The Bolshoi production is typically brightly lit, and the mood far different from Sylphides. And then there's that title. Always the title.

Vending exclusivity is, to my way of thinking, a rather Bad Idea in the world of ballet. I'm rather more with young Nicholas Fokine, who in his 10-year-old view, wants to see MORE of his great-grandfather's ballets done!

ABT may have shot themselves in the collective feet on this one.

#11 Michael

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 06:55 PM

This episode shows what is so very wrong about the current copyright laws in this area --

Which is that it's the audience that loses. The public gets screwed. We would only have benefited from seeing this work performed by both companies. I would have loved to have seen this.

And, balanced against ABT's right to exclusivity and our inability to see this is what? -- The orignal purpose of copyright was to promote creativity, to reward the artist. But there's no benefit to Mssr. Fokine in this kind of distorted law and in this kind of application of it , not even if it were viewed from the point of view of motivation to a prospective choreographer who wants to create -- Sure you want financial benefits for your own creation, but no one fails to create because their grandchildren won't be able to enforce a copyright. Exploit the work yourself and leave the grandchildren the money, that is, if the IRS hasn't grabbed it in generation skipping transfer tax.

It would have been wonderful to see the Cubans do this in NY, and also to see NYCB and ABT do versions of it in this self same year. As I think Nanatchka said last summer, when you see different versions of a work or see it repeatedly you really get to see the choreography, by being able to separate it from the dancers. Thus, the current application of Mr. Fokine's property right in his creation, when inherited down to the 3d generation, doesn't even serve Mssr. Fokine's artistic legacy.

The idea of copyright as "property" is being allowed to trump the original purposes of recognizing this kind of property. Why should't Donald Trump be allowed to build a wall around Manhattan and charge to let people see the view?

And what a sorry episode for ABT, showing everything that is small, mean spirited and cruddy about this company. No wonder they remain a second class act. This is what comes from having a Corporate Officer of Movado running the show. The arts are sort of a trust for mankind. It is not like selling watches.

#12 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 10 October 2003 - 07:09 PM

For some reason, this episode kept reminding me of a Disney-type marketing tactic; you know, we're only releasing this film on video or DVD for the next two weeks and if you don't buy it NOW you won't get another chance to do it for *ten years*!! It doesn't seem to be so much Isabelle Fokine's interests that would dictate whether or not it got done by more than one company in New York; after all, the more people that pay for the rights the merrier in one point of view; is there any indication that the exclusivity was ABT's idea?

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 02:53 AM

The article doesn't make it clear whether getting exclusivity in the first place was ABT's idea, but it's certainly plain that their enforcing the privilege is.

#14 Manhattnik

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 05:15 AM

Well, speaking of Disney, we have that organization to thank for messes like this, as every time the US copyright laws let the first Mickey Mouse movie (from the 1920s) reach the verge of passing into the public domain, Disney (the corporation) and others of that ilk lobby Congress to add extensions to the copyright law. Of course, Disney has no qualms about raiding the public domain for the ideas for most of its latest work (if only Perrault's heirs could sue Disney!), but, greedy capitalists that they are, they won't ever actually contribute to the public domain.

Michael is right -- the entire purpose of copyright laws is to give inventors and creators a right to expect a reasonable return on their investments of time, money and inspiration. It's not to create ever-lasting creative empires.

That "no man is an island" is never more true than in creative endeavors. Artists are constantly dipping into the pool of the public domain, the shared world gestalt of ideas, concepts and images. The entire idea of the copyright laws, at least as framed in the Constitution here, was to make a compact with creators, that the government would provide creators with the protection of the law for an exclusive license (this wasn't always the case -- can you imagine if these laws had been in place in the 19th century? We'd never have Bournonville's La Sylphide!), IN RETURN FOR WHICH creators would agree to eventually allow their works to pass into the public domain for the general enrichment.

The heirs of Disney and Fokine and the rest are welching (forgive me, anyone from Wales) on that bargain. It's the art world's verion of the Tragedy of the Commons. Corporate America would like nothing more than to implant little meters in our brains and charge us every time we even THINK about a work of art with a copyright. Just wait.

#15 Manhattnik

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 05:25 AM

Other Les S questions:

Does this apply to the Trocks? Will they need dear Isabel's permission to do their parody of Les S? Or would that fall under the realm of legitimate commentary. I think not.

I remember back when the Trocks were last at the Joyce, I felt very sad that the house was sold out to folks coming to see a PARODY of what, at one time, would've been a very respectable evening at the ballet, if performed "straight." I couldn't remember the last time a company in NYC had done a "straight" performance of Les Sylphides; I do remember when ABT used to do it all the time, treating it, rightly, as one of the treasures of its repertory (along with, sigh, the Tudor ballets).

So, now here we get a company coming to NYC to do what I'm sure would've been a marvelous Les S (watching the Cubans is like taking a trip back in time to when Little Things Mattered), and ABT, which ISN'T EVEN DOING THE BALLET slams the door on them. Can you say "dog in the manger?"

I imagine ABT's license means that they intend to do the ballet next Spring at the Met, which is all well and good, but what percentage of the dance-going public would actually say "Oh, I'm not going to see this Les Sylphides ballet at the Met; I already saw the Cubans do it?" Not much. More than likely, there would be a larger percentage which would say "I loved the Cuban's Les S so much I ran to the Met to see it again with ABT, and it was so ... different." (I am being diplomatic here -- ABT used to do a bang-up job with Les S, and perhaps they will again.)

The sad and sorry truth is that, given the state of copyright/trademark laws, ABT/Isabel HAD to zap the Cubans, to demonstrate that the Fokine police were, in fact, vigorously enforcing their franchise. Or maybe that's for trademarks and not for copyrights. Michael?


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