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Ann Arbor performance and symposium

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#16 bhammatt



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Posted 07 November 2003 - 02:36 PM

My wife and I attended the recent Balanchine Symposium at the University of Michigan hoping that it would broaden our knowledge of ballet, a relatively new interest for us. The whole experience, including the Suzanne Farrell Ballet performance on Friday and the Kirov in Detroit on Saturday night, proved to be valuable beyond our expectations. Perhaps the most important factor was to be able to actually listen to and converse with others who have lived a life of ballet. Our past exposure has been largely limited to watching performances, reading books and following the Ballet Talk. We found that being a part of the small audience gave us a sense of participation that we did not expect.

The serious academic tone of the papers presented Friday morning came as a bit of a surprise but of course it shouldn’t have. This was a very academic place and on closer look the presenters had the highest of credentials. Only on the second day did I learn, for example, that “R. John Wiley, professor of music” was the author of Tchaikovsky’s Ballets and A Century of Russian Ballet.

The afternoon presentations lightened up with Beth Genne making the argument that perhaps Josephine Baker was Balanchine’s first muse and the model for all his long legged dancers that followed. Tim Scholl’s effort to connect the choreography of Serenade to a Georgian folk dance provided insight into both and included reasonable logic to suggest a connection even if he lacked solid proof. Angela Kane’s version of the lack of collaboration of Balanchine, Martha Graham and Paul Taylor in creating Episodes added grit to the story.

Following a day of words about Balanchine and his work we were beginning to come to a better understanding why he is such an important part of Ballet history. While we had seen some Balanchine works in the past, that evening’s performance of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, coming on the heels of our “class”, was all the more exciting because we could now understand and truly see and hear the music/dance connection that others talk about. The program included Mozartiana, Tempo di Valse from The Nutcracker, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux and ended with Serenade.

Saturday’s program began with Nancy Reynolds providing an interesting example of the video documentation being undertaken by the Balanchine Trust. This story of the reconstruction of Renard is just one of many that will be available for future reference. The audience began to swell late in the morning in anticipation of Maria Tallchief’s scheduled conversation with Francis Mason. Their long friendship showed in the easy conversation that continued for nearly an hour. While there may have been no new information to come from this exchange most everyone in the audience was appropriately charmed and only disappointed that the time for questions was so limited.

A long midday break (timed to coincide with the University’s away football contest with Michigan State?) preceded the final panel discussion with Violette Verdy, Suzanne Farrell, and Edward Villella. Beth Genne prodded the participants with early questions while Francis Mason came into his own near the end. Villella was quick to point out that while his gender resulted in a less connected relationship with Balanchine than Verdy or Farrell, his reverence for “Mr. B” was similarly strong. Suzanne Farrell’s comments were concise but perhaps more to the point than the others. Violette Verdy, who attended all the sessions, has a wonderful sparkle in her eye and warm smile that make you want to listen to her life experiences for hours on end.

We capped our two days of “all Balanchine” by going to the Kirov’s Detroit Opera House performance of Petipa’s La Bayadere with Sofia Gumerova dancing Nikiya, Irina Golub as Gamazatti and Igor Kolb as Solor. The pageantry, pantomime, parrots and pachyderms of the first two acts are about as far from Balanchine as can be. But the third act, the Kingdom of the Shades, is more abstract and with our newly educated eyes we felt comfortable in discussing how “Balanchine” it might be.

We have now returned to New England fulfilled by what we have learned and comfortable that we have taken another step in our knowledge and understanding of ballet. Thanks are due to those responsible for the great effort in organizing and producing the informative symposium. We were only disappointed in the fact that more ballet lovers were unable to attend.

#17 Alexandra


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Posted 12 November 2003 - 06:49 AM

Thank you for that, BHammatt -- I'm glad it was a good experience. Scholarly conferences can sometimes be off-putting -- they're not intended as introductions, of course, but as a place to share papers on a very small aspect of an artist's career, or a theory -- perhaps an unusual theory. So I'm glad you found it interesting and that it sparked some ideas.

You might want to check out this site -- http://www.balanchine.org/ If you go to the link Foundation Projects, there will be a link to the libraries that have copies of the Balanchine Archive Project videos. Anyone can look at them, and the opportunity to see dancers coached (especially by the roster assembled for his project) is so rare, and so enlightening, I'm sure you would enjoy them.

I have to say it was wonderful reading your post -- I'm sorry I missed it the day you put it up; I'm catching up today -- and to see how dedicated you and your wife are to finding out more about ballet in such depth. The Balanchine web site also has a list of Balanchine events around the country, so you might find that useful. It might be a bit hard to find that link, so here it is, direct:


And citrus, thanks very much for the news that this symposium was filmed, and for the link to it. It's not up yet, but we can keep checking.

#18 dirac


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Posted 12 November 2003 - 04:17 PM

Thanks very much for posting at such length, bhammatt. A very enjoyable read, and it's great that you got so much out of the experience.

I'm sorry the chat with Tallchief did not yield much, but it may be that she's said pretty much all she wants to say. I'll have to look at her book again and see if she says anything about Balanchine's piano technique there. Hard to believe she turns seventy-eight this year!

#19 citrus


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Posted 27 December 2003 - 10:00 PM

Some photos from the symposium.


#20 Farrell Fan

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Posted 28 December 2003 - 07:44 AM

Thanks for the wonderful photos, citrus -- an unexpected holiday gift!

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 28 December 2003 - 10:20 AM

I may be mistaken, but I believe there's a Ballet Talker front and center in one of them!

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