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Cubans prevented from dancing Sylphides


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#16 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 06:09 AM

Absolutely. Having seen one good performance of Sylphides isn't going to keep me from seeing what might be another, it's going to make me want to see if it will be done well. It *sells* a ticket to me, it doesn't keep me from buying it. Especially on a mixed bill. I'll grant that if everyone is doing the same thing it has the effect of dampening enthusiasm for it in a general sense, but what microscopic odds would there be of the possibility of a sudden glut of Fokine ballets in everyone's season? My POV is that not only insisting on exclusivity but also granting it seems pointless and petty and doesn't benefit anyone in the end.

#17 sandik

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 09:21 AM

"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. "

Forget Perrault -- how about Hans Andersen?

It just crossed my mind as I was reading through this thread after listening to the news -- do you suppose any of this has to do with the fact that it's the Cuban company that was going to perform LS? In light of Pres. Bush's latest attempt to crack down on tourism/travel to that country, is this just a part of a general chilling of relations?

I hope not, but I'm not optomistic.

#18 drval01

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 09:29 AM

It seems in copyright discussions nowadays the "private interest" side of the debate has all the muscle. The commonwealth side --- the side that argues for the timely passage of material into the public domain --- has virtually no able spokesperson, very much like present society in general which struggles under the collective weight of private interest.

Frankly, if copyright law exists to nurture creativity, I never did see how the passage of copyright to heirs and other false entities does anything but discourage creativity by encouraging the bequeathed to rest on their big, fat endowments.

#19 carbro

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 11:46 AM

A lot of the current Intellectual Property law was fasioned to protect not only copyright owners but primarily trademark owners -- drug companies, tech companies, etc. Is it time to draw a distinction?

The public outcry against the FCC's new relaxation of media consolidation rules shows that the public may be learning to exert its will against the Powerful. And at the risk of entering into the forbidden political realm :thumbsup: , I'll leave it at that. :clapping:

#20 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 02:15 PM

Well, this is very old politics, so maybe it can pass muster. Upon establishing the US Patent Office, George Washington wrote to Alexander Hamilton that it was to "establish a means whereby authors and inventors might expect proper reward for their ingenuity FOR A DECENT INTERVAL OF TIME." (emphasis added) Hamilton's objections to the copyright laws were the same as many voiced here, that a copyright in perpetuity would harm the overall productivity of the nation, drive down the net domestic product (He didn't call it that, but that's what he meant), and eventually kill creativity and production. Of course, once it was in place, Hamilton was an enthusiastic user of the protection of copyright and patent.

#21 carbro

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Posted 11 October 2003 - 08:31 PM

It occurred to me that if I were a Fokine heir, unless my financial situation were desperate, my interest would be to have the ballets Out There for the world to see and to maximize Grandpere's visibility, heritage and enduring recognition as an innovator of this evanescent art.

But that's just moi. :thumbsup:

#22 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 02:28 AM

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.

Owing to recent court decisions on copyright, it would appear that parody and satire are entirely protected by free speech provisions in the Constitution and the copyright laws themselves.

The Margaret Mitchell Estate tried to sue over a parody of Gone With the Wind and lost big time. So, I guess Henry Fielding's Shamela(1741) is safe from suits by Samuel Richardson (Pamela[1740]) at least in the US.

IMHO, the best thing ABT could have done would have been to say, "Well, we have exclusivity, but in this PARTICULAR case...yadda, yadda, yadda...distinguished alumna...yadda, yadda, yadda...learned from the choreographer himself...yadda, yadda, yadda...fine company...breaking through to international amity...yadda...we won't enforce our privilege for these specific and highly unusual circumstances. I bet Legal told them not to do it, but then the role of The Enforcer would fall directly back on the Estate, and the onus would be on them. As it is, ABT has done itself a world of damage.

#23 GWTW

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 06:38 AM

One of the more troubling facts arising from this affair is that ABT has chosen to spend what they claim to be a serious amount of money in obtaining exclusive rights to Les Sylphides in NY from July 2003 until 2005. This board has often discussed the ways in which companies generate income and use this income. Perosnally, if I had donated money to ABT (which I haven't), I would rather they used the money to hire a really good coach/es for Les Sylphides, than to use it to obtain this trumped-up exclusivity, and I would be seriously annoyed to find out what the money had been spent on.
Another more legal issue is that the contract between ABT and the Fokine Estate seems to disadvantage, not to say discriminate against, those companies that perform a 'traditional' version of Les Sylphides whereas companies that perform individual interpretations are able to continue doing so. Does any one know whether the Fokine Estate approved NYCB's Chopiniana at any time? To be more precise, the ABT agreement disadvantages the 'weaker' companies - those who are not the Kirov, not NYCB, and like the Cubans do not have the financial ability to contend with ABT. In less legal terms, ABT has taken on the role of the schoolyard bullly.
Oh, and since when is SwanLake Act 2 a natural substitute for Les Sylphides. I think someone at ABT needs a history lesson...

#24 Paul Parish

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 01:36 PM

"I created Les Sylphides in 3 days. This was a record for me. I never changed anything in this ballet (emphasis added) and, even after 30 years, I still remember every one of hte slightest movements of each position."

That's a quote from the Kirov program booklet --

#25 citibob

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 03:01 PM

In less legal terms, ABT has taken on the role of the schoolyard bullly.


It's sad, but in the computer industry schoolyard bully has become de rigeur over the past few years. As with Les Sylphides, it has also resulted in a general degradation for everyone. I can cite dozens of recent cases that are just as hideous --- and probably have a more direct influence on our lives as well. Intellectual property laws in the United States really, REALLY need to change --- and this ABT case is just one example of why.

I think my point here is that ballet is a microcosm of the rest of society.

I created Les Sylphides in 3 days.


Wow! But I'd believe it, too. Wouldn't it be neat if ABT instead spent all that money on getting new choreographers to make something great in 3 days?

#26 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 03:07 PM

It's nice to be able to say that, but scholarship doesn't back up the "made in three days and never changed it" claim. How does one account for the differences in the Royal Danish, the Royal, and the American Ballet Theater versions? And worse, how do these square with the longhand notes from the Fokine Ballet (ca. 1935)?

#27 Paul Parish

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 03:15 PM

On the other hand, ABT may be in hte right about the behavior of people who are NOT balletomanes -- all of US might be willing to spend a lot of money to see Sylphides again right away, but not hte general public... ("I'm having salmon for dinner -- maybe I won't have it also for lunch")

I'm prompted to think this by reading "MRs. Stahlbaum's" report on the "SFB in LA" thread. SFB might have made a mistake taking Don Q to Los Angeles so soon after ABT appeared there with THEIR Don Q -- the house was so empty they invited the cheap seats to come downstairs and sit in the orchestra, and it still wasn't full

#28 Paul Parish

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 03:21 PM

Oh Major Mel, I didn't mean to imply that I BELIEVED him --

William Faulkner used to enjoy lying to interviewers, and artists still do it, much more than most journalists seem to think, i'm convinced. I'm inclined to believe that Fokine deceived himself.... but I'm sympathetic, I do that myself sometimes.

#29 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 03:30 PM

Oh, tell me about Faulkner! One of his whoppers is preserved today in the interpretation of his house which is now an Historic Site! The docents, AT THE FAMILY'S INSISTENCE, must explain to visitors that the railing around the fireplace was for him to rest his bad back on as he warmed it by the fire. Truth is, WF got so falling-down drunk every night, that he had the thing put up so he wouldn't fall into the fireplace. Them Estate limitations set by the beneficiaries can be can be all Hell on history. :rolleyes:

#30 Drew

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Posted 12 October 2003 - 10:38 PM

I just wanted to post my very strong agreement with some statements made upthread by Mel Johnson and GWTW. First, I think Mel Johnson's suggestion that a carefully worded statement -- that's what they pay lawyers for -- specifically indicating why, in this particular case, the company would be willing to accept another company's performance and emphasizing Alonso's connection to ABT -- would have been a nice solution. Though I bet Mel is also right that their legal department told them (or would have told them) not to do it.

I do think that the general public often likes to see a range of repertory and is not as concerned with comparing and contrasting performances as your average poster to "ballet talk." ABT has a right to be concerned with these issues in general. I do think, for example, that it was a kick in the teeth for ABT when NYCB started dancing Fancy Free at a time when ABT was performing it regularly and very well; of course, Robbins had the right to make that decision...it was HIS ballet, but it certainly didn't help ABT's cause. I also remember one season when the Metropolitan imported the Kirov's Sleeping Beauty right on the heels of ABT's production. That may have been a ballet fan's dream but (in my opinion) ABT had something of a legitimate gripe with the programmers at the Met. who were responsible for presenting BOTH companies, and I heard rumors at the time that the company felt that their ticket sales were hurt, not helped, by the conjunction. I have to add, though, that the Cubans are dancing at City Center and City Center now draws on a different audience than Lincoln Center -- especially the Met. (I know NYCB and New York City Opera have a history at City Center...the audiences are still, partly, different audiences.)

However, even if I accept that there are legitimate concerns about how to preserve and market the company's repertory and distinctive profile, I do not understand the decision to make Les Sylphides the ballet on which to spend the company's money and make a stand...For one thing, like GWTW, I think the money would be much better spent on getting the best coaching for their dancers in the ballet (oh...say...someone as good as Alonso...). But, in any case, Les Sylphides has long been one of the most frequently performed ballets throughout the world -- I first saw it with students! -- and it has been a long, long time since it could remotely be considered an ABT signature piece. It's also one of the great classics of the ballet repertory, so that treating it like some sort of specialty work does it (and ballet itself) a disservice...

One might counter, considering the situation in the abstract, that some sort of limitation on performances helps with quality control. (In this particular case, of course, that would not be an issue...one thing that probably irritates a lot of fans is, indeed, the suspicion that the Cubans might well give a deeper, richer, more thoughtful account of the ballet than ABT.) Certainly 'quality control' is what the Balanchine trust is, presently, trying to achieve...One interesting question to consider is how fans would feel if Alonso wanted to stage Theme and Variations in 'her' version and the trust said "No"? Of course, something like that is happening at the Paris Opera Ballet with Symphony in C/Palais de Crystal...and fans are not altogether happy about it. However, my mind keeps returning to the fact that we are discussing Les Sylphides -- it's been danced by, let's say, dozens of companies professional and amateur. As far as quality control is concerned, that can hardly be what the Fokine trust or family (or whatever it is) is really concerned with...This seems to be an economic and legal transaction plain and simple. (For myself, by far and away the best performances of the ballet I have ever seen have been with the Kirov NOT ABT.)

In a way, I hate to see ABT take such a hit publicity-wise (at least among fans), but I also feel they deserve it.


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