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Fusion or Mishmash?


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#1 kfw

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 08:31 AM

Gia Kourlas has an interesting piece in today's NY Times on the "mismash" she believes frequently results from combining ballet with modern dance. Thirty-two years after Twyla Tharp premiered "Deuce Coupe," Kourlas writes, contemporary attempts to mix the two forms of dance often result in

mind-numbingly generic work in which ballet is watered down and modern dance is watered down, leaving a list of choreographic cocktails that simply never should have been mixed in the first place.

.
Such new work lacks is "courage and imagination," Kourlas claims, while Suzanne Farrell's restaging of Balanchine's "Don Quixote" should be presented to adventurous audiences.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 08:54 AM

I'm happy, since that's along the lines of what I've been saying for years :blink: And she said it very well. I also agree that Balanchine's "Don Quixote" was a daring, experimental work -- like some ballets of Ashton's that were similarly dismissed, sadly, it LOOKS old, because Balanchine was reviving and extending a traditional structure and many people couldn't see past that.

#3 dirac

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 11:02 AM

Bart also noted this article and began another thread on Choreographers, but to avoid competing threads I'm closing that one and copying bart's comments and choice quotes here:

bart wrote:

Today's LINKS includes a New York Times article by Gia Kourlas, sharply (one might even say savagely) critical of contemporary fusion choreography in ballet.


QUOTE: "As regressive as it sounds choreography might be in a healthier place if the ballet world went back to despising modern dance."

QUOTE: "The results [of too much fusion choreography] are often mind-numbingly generic work in which ballet is watered down and modern dance is watered down leaving a list of choreographic cocktails that simply never should have been mixed in the first place."

Words like "banal," "insidious," "dilution,", "mishmash", "regurgitation," and even that ultimate insult of insults "music video" figure prominently in Kouras' piece.

Among contemporary choreographers whose work she admires are Wheeldon, Forsythe, Brian Reeder, and -- "one of the bolder choreography experiments in recent memory" -- Suzanne Farrell's restaging of Balanchine's Don Quixote.



#4 Farrell Fan

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 11:27 AM

Gia Kourlas's relevant paragraph: "Strangely enough, Suzanne Farrell's masterly reconstruction of Balanchine's 'Don Quixote,' a ballet from 1965 performed in June at the Kennedy Center in Washington, turned out to be one of the boldest choreographic experiments in recent memory. Full of psychological twists and technical rigor, the ballet had nothing remotely old-fashioned about it, and it revealed a darker, more mystical side of Balanchine. 'Don Quixote' is at once timeless and contemporary. It needs to be seen by New York audiences; the Lincoln Center Festival and the Brooklyn Academy's Next Wave series seem to exist for the sole purpost of presenting ballet of this magnitude."

#5 Natalia

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 09:25 AM

Gia Kourlas's relevant paragraph: "........It needs to be seen by New York audiences; the Lincoln Center Festival and the Brooklyn Academy's Next Wave series seem to exist for the sole purpost of presenting ballet of this magnitude."

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Sadly, if representatives from theaters/festivals were in the Kennedy Center during the run of DonQ, they would have seen mostly-bored audiences & lots & lots of empty seats after intermissions. No matter how hard we-who-know-quality praise it, we can't remain blind to the fundamental truth that the majority of ballet subscribers did not like it.

At last week's Kirov Le Corsaire run, my subscription-seat neighbors went on & on about "How nice to end the season with quality ballet!" Leonid Sarafanov's virtuosity was their icing on the cake.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 10:05 AM

Experimental dance NEVER sells -- which is why Kourlas is suggesting that a production like Balanchine's "Don Quixote" should be done at a festival of experimental work, not at an opera house with an audience that thinks it's going to see the "real" "Don Quixote," no matter how many articles explaining the production there are in the papers.

Kourlas isn't comparing classical ballet to experimental work, but what she considers to be pseudo-experimental work (crossover dance) to work that is truly experimental.

I think there's a lot in the article to discuss. I know we've had a lot of conversations over the years about pop ballet, crossover dance, etc., but we haven't in awhile. I have two quarrels with crossover -- the first, and one of the points for founding this site, is that it's not ballet. If they want to call it contemporary dance, fine! That's a different issue. But all the c**p that it's "firmly rooted in the classical tradition" and "taking ballet to where it's never gone before," which I've been reading for the past 30 years now, I find maddening :wink: The second, which is what Kourlas's article deals with, is the nature of the work itself, no matter what you call it, and she finds if superficial and banal (among other things -- it's worth a read). But I gather from Bart's post that he disagrees -- and I'm sure there are others. What do you think?

#7 bart

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 12:09 PM

I'm a subscriber and have been since I was a poor grad student in NYC, so I can speak of my ilk critically.

We have many motives for attending dance, few of them having to do with experimentation or, indeed, advancing the art in any way. We are (in my experience) significantly less knowledgeable about ballet than the average opera subscriber is about opera -- or, our knowledge is focused on a much more limited repertoire. We like jumps and endurance turns. We adore the memory of Makarova and Baryshnikov, maybe even "Gelsey" if we're really taking a risk. We remember Farrell's affair with Balanchine more than her dancing. We like brand names: Giselle over "super x- upside down - and twisting" by the hot new choreographer.

And we pay the bills.

So we have power. It's the power to squash genuine artistic experimentation. But its also the power to keep the classics going.

Can you tell I'm ambivalent about this? :blink:

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 12:49 PM

I'd argue that the audience is keeping crossover and fusion dance programmed in ballet companies rather than driving it out.

There's a Golden Oldie thread on this subject from 2001 that makes most of the points I'd make here as well.

http://ballettalk.in...wtopic=2865&hl=

#9 bart

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 01:04 PM

Query: are "audience" and "subscribers" the same thing? Anyone involved in the administration of a ballet company have any ideas about this?

My gut feelling is that the contemporary stuff is aimed mroe at attracting new audiences (in itself a vital goal) while the classics is aimed more at the subscribers. Donors can fit in either camp.

Of course NONE of this applies to subscribers who are members of Ballet Talk.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 01:37 PM

I think that the crossover dance is what programmers THINK will attract new audiences. And the usual retort to that one is, if you're trying to attract people to the ballet who don't like ballet, what good are you doing?

#11 Helene

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 01:39 PM

Subscribers are such a double-edged swords for arts administrators: we provide the cash up front and guarantee a certain number of people in seats, but keeping us satisfied and reaching out to new audiences at the same time can be a nightmare.

I tend to think that the relationship between AD's and subscribers is much like a taxi driver to his riders: When the cab is empty, the goal is to find a passenger, and when the cab is full, the goal is to get rid of the passenger as quickly as possible.

#12 bart

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 01:47 PM

Leigh, I just had a chance to turn to your link to the 2001 discussion. It's very high level, and I plan on finishing it very soon. A few points from the first few posts surprised me, though.

In response to LMTech's points:
First, I think expense is partly the reason, but not completely. Balanchine works are not expensive; Nacho Duato's are.

I'd also say that if there are dancers who can't dance ballet, then they shouldn't be in a ballet company.  I know a choreographer who was invited to stage a work for something calling itself a ballet company. The director had already picked the dancers he wanted use -- something that's not usual, but that's not uncommon -- and when the choreographer outlined his ideas, he was told, "Oh, no.  These girls don't dance well on pointe.  We want something contemporary for them."  To me, this is cheating the audience.

My response to news about the relative cost of mounting these choreographers' work is: WHAT !?!?!?!?
My reaction to the ballet company is: WHAT !?!?!?!?
(Is there a "STUPEFACTION" smilie?)

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 01:49 PM

Yup. :blink: I will play Devil's Advocate to my own post, though, and say that sometimes I think money IS a factor, a big one. Most contemporary dances are for small casts (easier and cheaper to rehearse than large-cast works) and works that have minimal or no pointe work save on shoes.

I'd also say that I think repertorial changes are artistic director driven (and should be, whether I agree with what they're doing or not) not the result of audience feedback. There are some companies now that may have segments of the audience (subscribers or not :beg: ) who want to see mishmash dance more than classical ballet. (And I fervently wish there were more mishmash dance companies for them to patronize :) but I've never read of a city in which subscribers rallied to push out classical or neoclassical ballet.

#14 carbro

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 02:18 PM

Bart, is what subscribers want to see specifically contemporary? Or just something new to them?

How many times have I heard the casual subscriber complain, "Giselle [or whatever] was on the subscription, but we exchanged the ticket, because we saw that a few years ago"? The irony being, of course, that the classics are classics because they invite repeated, etc., viewings (and also because they develop dancers' skills) and most of the contemporary stuff is forgotten as soon as the curtain falls.

(Which of course requires re-viewing for anyone who wants to discuss it.) :rolleyes:

#15 dirac

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Posted 15 July 2005 - 02:44 PM

It often takes some time and education for casual balletgoers -- even subscribers -- to understand the value and pleasure of seeing the same ballet more than once, or once every few years, and to see it with different casts. Many people I speak to think that way -- okay, they saw Romeo and Juliet once, no need to check it out the next couple of seasons or with new leads. It's not that they're necessarily insensitive or lacking in perception -- they just don't quite get it yet.


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