Acocella on Ballet and Sex
Posted 01 March 2005 - 09:52 PM
Posted 01 March 2005 - 10:58 PM
Posted 02 March 2005 - 01:56 PM
Some eyebrows may be raised by her mention, at the conclusion of her lecture, of Balanchine’s reported preference for performing a certain chivalrous service.....
Posted 02 March 2005 - 04:33 PM
Posted 02 March 2005 - 07:28 PM
Acocella was -- among other things -- taking on the feminist critics who attacked Balanchine for exploiting the female body, and ultimately claimed that B gave women their whole bodies -- including the crotch -- to use as artists in a generous, free, and liberating way. (I can't remember her words exactly there.)
It was really valuable for her to do this in a university context, for that's where the criticism came from. (Acocella had been broght to Berkeley as the Avenali Lecturer in he Humanities.) It was particularly strong that Acocella could point out that in the 80's, when feminism was "first-stage," it was necessary for them to make these attacks on Balanchine (she's not opposed to consciousness-raising and all that) and handsomely pointed out that Ann Daley (sp?) who's a fine critic, has taken a more nuanced position since.
Also, for context -- Acocella's not keen on "academic" criticism, which she told a group of students a few days before, she considers to be toxic to the writer, the reader, and the subject. I agree with that assessment.
I'd say she's taking a humane position aligned with the "wisdom" tradition, and opposing those of the "knowledge" tradition, which is right now involved in polysyllabic theorizing and career-making, in shocking disregard of the evidence.
So it was a great thing that she brought her guns to bear on that.
It's also true, i so agree, it was wonderful -- and a rare privilege -- to SEE the Agon pas de deux with Mitchell and Adams, complete, entire, filmed within a year of the debut, in a very grainy but totally legible recording made by the CBC. She showed the whole thing.
If she'd had another hour, I wish she could have gone into all the issues raised by Allegra Kent's eroticism -- Bugaku, though, is not available on tape, but Kent's swooning manner with Agon IS something we can see (how she throws her head back, inviting Mitchell to drop her into those splits, and she goes all the way down). It would have enriched the talk without having in any way detracted from her point, that Balanchine empowered women dancers rather than demeaned them.
she did say somethig I couldn't agree with, that dancers don't/can't go past the 180 degree penchee. I have to disagree with that, I've seen Joanna Berman go past 6 o'clock, in Tomasson's Concerto in d, and Darci Kistler also in Bizet. But this is a tiny point.
Posted 02 March 2005 - 08:04 PM
Thank you very much, Paul, dirac, and everyone who commented on this. What do other people think?
Posted 02 March 2005 - 08:33 PM
What an interesting, edgy performance by Acocella. She appeared to be talking from notes rather than a script and to be extemporizing (parentheses within parenthesis, as she thought about things that needed further explanation or illustration). Also: Marvellous communication of the history behind the presentation of the female body from the 19th century through Balanchine (clips from Prodigal Son and Agon), with comparisons to Ashton and Armitage.
It took me a while to realize that her provocative label "crotch" actually refers to the "frank use of the female pelvis" -- and pretty much resolves itself into a discussion of the use of increasingly high extensions (to the 6 o'clock).
I loved her tributes to Balanchine, especially in the q and a. One questioner apparently thought she was claiming that this (sex/crotch/pelvis/etc.) was all Balanchine was about. She responded that this was just one of his colors -- then thought for a second and said, "but it is fundamental."
I hope, in rewriting and expanding this lecture, she develops her points about the kinetic response to dance, as well as her thoughts about Balanchine's special genius for training women and for "making them more brave and daring."
Edited by bart, 02 March 2005 - 08:34 PM.
Posted 02 March 2005 - 08:38 PM
How can anyone who's seen the Siren say that Balanchine disempowered women???? And even in Agon, where the woman is less aggressive, she is not without will. But JA's observation that the criticisms had to be made makes perfect sense in the context of the times.
BalletNut, on Mar 2 2005, 11:04 PM, said:
Paul Parish, on Mar 2 2005, 10:28 PM, said:
Posted 03 March 2005 - 10:13 AM
Parenthetically, I note that the correct word is “suffragists,” not “suffragettes” – although the latter term is often seen and heard, it’s a term of disparagement. (No offense intended, BalletNut – just pointing it out for the record. )
Posted 03 March 2005 - 10:42 AM
I regretted the force of my statement after I made it -- there is great academic criticism (Johnson, Coleridge, Bradley on Shakespeare; the best criticism of ballet has been by poets like Gauthier and Danby, but as academics go Garis is very very good). I too have benefited from a lot of it. I dislike the current fashions, myself, though here are some great exponents practising in them. It's a style that began in France, and the Ggreat French exponents were wonderful writers. (Barthes is virtually a poet.) Unfortunately the Americans in their wake mostly can't measure up; it's a style that is SO demanding that only a few critics can use it without being overwhelmed by the size of the nouns they're trying to heave about.
I must also say, that I only heard about Acocella's saying that "current academic criticism is toxic to the reader, the writer, and the subject' frm someone who was there and has herself a wicked way with words. But I am sure that she understood acocella and got the gist of it right.
And indeed, I'd recommen\d Acocella's writings in defense of AWila Cather to anybody who'd like to konw what these issues are, and also to get some familiarity with a great writer who's seriously overlooked these days -- "The Professor's House" is a book I read on Acocella's recommendation, and I'm really glad I read it.
Edited by Paul Parish, 03 March 2005 - 10:13 PM.
Posted 03 March 2005 - 12:21 PM
I appreciated Acocella's concern to keep everything within the framework of historical development (from the 19th century to today). Only when you understand the limited role of women in dance -- even after the ballerina became the central figure in the second half of that century (and Acocella was quite lively in her characterizations of those dancers) -- can you understand how liberating developments in the late 19th century, via Diaghalev, to Balanchine must have appeared.
These arguments -- and examples -- are not particularly original. What WAS novel (to me at least) was her very inventive use of the imagery of the crotch/pelvis (eg., the foutee is a "fantastic display of pelvic force"). She played upon, and developed, this imagery with the kind of invention that Bach might have applied to a simple melodic theme. The language made me see the clip from Agon very differently from they way Ihave seen this dance before -- and I don't imagine that I will ever watch a woman being promenaded in arabesque without thinking of Acocella fiddling with her eye glasses and pushing back hair on the right side of her face.
Incidentally, maybe it was the jerky (rather robotic) quality of the webcast imagery, but the excerpt from Prodigal Son seemed slightly laughable. Certainly the audience seemed to be laughing. Baryshnikov (in his bangs and wierd little tunic suit) had nothing to do. He appeared rather like a miniscule male preying mantis trying to climb around the body of the much larger, more powerful, and ultimately deadly (in nature) female. Well worth a snigger, in my book -- and bearing no relation to the Villella performances (live) I recall from an earlier period. The unchanging, unemotional facial mask of the female dancer,however, was worth the price of admission.
Query: Is Acocella the first to connect the Agon pas de deux to Balanchine's involvement (physical and emotional) in Tanaquil LeClercq's physical therapy after the onset of polio?
Posted 03 March 2005 - 12:50 PM
bart, on Mar 3 2005, 03:21 PM, said:
Posted 03 March 2005 - 04:00 PM
bart, on Mar 3 2005, 12:21 PM, said:
Contrary to appearances, there is not currently a monolithic body of academic feminist theorists whose word is law for everyone who studies them, and I'm not sure that there ever was. (I'm not accusing bart or anyone else of having the notion that there is, by the way. Just so that's clear.) While feminists who do not like ballet outnumber those who do (or at least they out-publish and out-shout the ones who like ballet), it's oversimplifying to conclude that ballet and gender equality are diametrically opposed and always will be. There's been a move away from accepting pronouncements that ballet is universally sexist, demeaning, and patriarchal, as gospel truth, because I've seen more emphasis on nuance, diversity of opinion, and "complicating essentializing narratives." (Would that there would be a move away from the "scary" academic-ese, but none appears imminent.)
(I suppose now would be a good time to say--parenthetically--that, yes, it is suffragIST, not suffragETTE. I stand corrected.)
As far as Balanchine goes, I think the same could be said for his choreography as for feminist theory: it's not monolithic and requires a nuanced assessment. There's Agon, and Prodigal Son, and Bugaku, but there's also Theme and Variations, Serenade, and Liebeslieder Walzer. It's too large, complex and varied a body of work to be boiled down neatly into a single statement of his views on women.
I realize this has strayed somewhat from the topic of the actual lecture, but these issues and others come up quite a bit in some form or another. Personally, having seen the advertisements for this lecture series (and being unable to either attend myself or access the archived material online), I'm wondering what people were expecting when they came in, and whether the actual lecture met their expectations.
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