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Laura Jacobs' "Balanchine's Castle"


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#1 drb

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 06:04 AM

[Admin note: this post was originally in the PNB forum on a Jewels performance thread, but it warrants a thread of its own.]

Reading of these wonderful performances of Jewels I was lead back to Laura Jacobs's "Balanchine's Castle" in The New Criterion, written eight years ago. Since that publication is usually a for-pay-only read these days, I was surprised to find that the article is still freely available in its entirety.

http://www.newcriter...ar98/jacobs.htm

Jacobs in this article elaborates on Croce's theory that relates Jewels to Cluny's Unicorn Tapestries. Quoting Suzanne Farrell's autobiography Jacobs says

Balanchine took her to the Musée de Cluny to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Of the sixth tapestry she writes: “He loved the title A Mon Seul Désir [“To My Only Desire”] and said he wanted to make a ballet for me about the story of the unicorn.” It seems safe to say that “Diamonds” is that ballet, or rather, that Jewels is, that it was the white glow of the unicorn that Balanchine chased into the forest, only to find himself in a thicket of haunting and hunted creatures.


At NYCB's 1998 recension, Emeralds, especially, had lost its way. Jacobs tries to bring it back by explaining

“Emeralds” finds Balanchine deep in the poetic realm of Coleridge and Keats—it’s an enchanted forest filled with Darke Ladies and muses on the make—and in the compositional genre of hunt and vision scenes (Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty) and twilight gardens (Serenade). It is a work of trance and transparency. You feel you can reach through the green of “Emeralds” and grasp nothing.


Karinska's costumes for the ballet are both loved and not-so-loved by viewers. Jacobs explains their association with the ballet's "story", beginning with, but going beyond

The lighting design of Ronald Bates and the costumes of Madame Karinska work in brilliant complicity; Bates makes palpable poetic weather of his lighting, which Karinska’s costumes either sink into (“Emeralds”) or bounce out of (“Rubies”) or refract (“Diamonds”). And so the French-opaline greens that soften and blur the edges of “Emeralds” create a plush and pillowy space, a netherworld love-nest. The sharp red of “Rubies” practically vibrates against a cindery light; it’s a red with black in it, royal and radical at once. And the snow-crystal radiance of “Diamonds” is underlit with a blue as pale as a vein in a slim white wrist.


This is a long, complex article; I've given these quotes to whet the appetite. If for no other reason, it is worth a read for the shocking--and moving--statement by Edward Villella in its final paragraph.

#2 perky

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 08:21 AM

Thanks drb for the link to Jacobs article! :thumbsup: Lot's to digest.

#3 sandik

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 02:18 PM

Vilella's comments at the end of the essay are indeed very interesting

"Farrell didn’t marry Balanchine in his lifetime, but she has become the wife of his nights."

This is perhaps a question to discuss in a more general forum -- the role of the acolyte or the muse in maintaining a repertory once the creator is gone. The first impulse is usually to say that the muse is an invaluable part of the equation, but Villela seems to imply that isn't always the case.

#4 dirac

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 02:55 PM

And then he paused, angled his body toward the audience, and moved into a more searching key, as if to grapple with something difficult. It was his opinion that Suzanne had become too serious in her devotion to Balanchine, serving his memory and coaching his ballets as if she were wearing a mantle, and maybe it was too much. That Villella was compelled to voice this particular feeling—saying what has been unsaid—in the context of this particular ballet should come as no surprise. Is it not another shock from the house of Jewels?


I don’t think Villella was making a larger point about the role of the muse in general. He seems to be suggesting, and Jacobs seems to be endorsing, the view that Farrell did not follow the pattern of the younger woman who marries an aging artist, sees him through his declining years, and guards his legacy zealously after death (cf. T.S. and Valerie Eliot) but is now inhabiting that role now that he is gone. (Or in other words, it sounds as if he was saying she needed to ease up a bit.) It's really not for us to say or comment on.

#5 Helene

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 04:03 PM

...Jacobs seems to be endorsing, the view that Farrell did not follow the pattern of the younger woman who marries an aging artist, sees him through his declining years, and guards his legacy zealously after death (cf. T.S. and Valerie Eliot) but is now inhabiting that role now that he is gone. (Or in other words, it sounds as if he was saying she needed to ease up a bit.) It's really not for us to say or comment on.

Why?

Over the years, the role Farrell has and "should have" played in NYCB and the Balanchine legacy has been argued, and his rift with Farrell and her subsequent departure from NYCB has been one of the big criticisms of Martins' management of the company. I think this speaks to that subject.

Edited to Add: I think we need to be judicious in how we address the subject.

Edited by Helene, 08 June 2006 - 04:28 PM.


#6 canbelto

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 05:00 PM

The endless arguments about how Mr. B would have "wanted" his ballets to be danced reminds me of Rashomon. Everyone from Tallchief to Villela to Martins to Farrell has his/her own truth, and like Rashomon, the "truths" don't match up, and I'm not sure we can believe any of them wholeheartedly. Kurosawa was wise enough not to give a definitive version of the events. The point of the movie was to accept the different realities, no matter how much they contradicted each other. I think maybe a similar thing needs to happen re: the Balanchine ballets.

#7 Dale

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 05:23 PM

Vilella's comments at the end of the essay are indeed very interesting

"Farrell didn’t marry Balanchine in his lifetime, but she has become the wife of his nights."

This is perhaps a question to discuss in a more general forum -- the role of the acolyte or the muse in maintaining a repertory once the creator is gone. The first impulse is usually to say that the muse is an invaluable part of the equation, but Villela seems to imply that isn't always the case.


That quote doesn't come from Villella, but is written by Jacobs.

#8 kfw

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 05:28 PM

The endless arguments about how Mr. B would have "wanted" his ballets to be danced reminds me of Rashomon. Everyone from Tallchief to Villela to Martins to Farrell has his/her own truth, and like Rashomon, the "truths" don't match up, and I'm not sure we can believe any of them wholeheartedly. Kurosawa was wise enough not to give a definitive version of the events. The point of the movie was to accept the different realities, no matter how much they contradicted each other. I think maybe a similar thing needs to happen re: the Balanchine ballets.

This reminds me of something Helene noted in the PNB Jewels thread:

Porretta spoke about having had learned Rubies from Colleen Neary when he guested at Oregon Ballet Theatre, Boal, who had also danced Villella's role, and Elyse Borne, who was assigned by the Foundation to do the staging. He said that while much was the same in all three versions, there were differences, and Borne always went back to the original version. Boal explained how some things evolved from dancer to dancer,

I get the impression that Balanchine's wishes weren't contradictory, but rather evolved with the technique of his dancers, and the possibilities that evolving technique presented him.

#9 canbelto

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 08:24 AM

I also think a lot of the bickering comes from the "whoever bats last has the advantage" situation. The two people who are most noisy about "guarding" Balanchine's legacy happen to be the two people who were closest to Mr. B artistically at the time of his death. Namely, Martins and Farrell. But, had Mr. B lived longer, or had Farrell and Martins danced in the 1950s and retired by the 1970s, there's no saying that Mr. B would not have evolved, and that Farrell and Martins would have remained his biggest Stars in the company without stars. He might have let another very talented ballerina catch his eye, and she would have been the next Muse. In other words, Martins and Farrell probably have a good idea of what Balanchine wanted his ballets to look like in the final stage of his long creative life. But that doesn't mean they are omniscient, or the last word on anything.
Case in point: Apollo. Everyone seems to remember the wonderful way Martins and Farrell danced Apollo and Terpischore. But how would Serge Lifar had reacted, as the ballet was created for him? Would he necessarily have thought that Martins and Farrell were even being true to the original concept of the ballet?

#10 Farrell Fan

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 08:47 AM

Farrell is not noisy. But she is omniscient. :thumbsup:

#11 papeetepatrick

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 09:13 AM

He might have let another very talented ballerina catch his eye, and she would have been the next Muse. In other words, Martins and Farrell probably have a good idea of what Balanchine wanted his ballets to look like in the final stage of his long creative life. But that doesn't mean they are omniscient, or the last word on anything.


Well, this seems worth pasting here, from Bentley's well-known March, 2005 NYReview of Books piece:

'It is telling, though disturbing, that perhaps the most poignant image to emerge from Balanchine at one hundred is an advertisement for Movado watches (a corporate sponsor of NYCB) featuring Darci Kistler, Balanchine's last angelic messenger and adored child-woman, whose rich but uneven career, sadly thwarted by injury upon injury, echoes like a cry in the dark since Balanchine's death. In the full-page ad, her beautiful, mournful gaze, twenty years after losing her maestro, peers like a blond widow out of a black web. She, the last muse of the Man Who Knew Time, is posed with her arm across her neck like a noose. Balanchine taught his audience and his dancers how to bear loss with grace, and the serene sadness evident in Kistler's enigmatic face is the visage of a woman whose loss indeed has been great.'

Jacobs's piece is fascinating (especially on 'Pelleas and Melisande'), but she says Nichols is the last Balanchine ballerina. Is Kistler not considered a 'Balanchine ballerina?' Sometimes I think people are resentful of Kistler, that she is respected grudgingly more than loved.

I agree about the 'non-omniscience', but Farrell's movement toward a becoming-omniscience is all the more admirable given that omniscience is not possible. She sometimes seems to me like a combination of the ultimate dream-woman and a nun (fortunately looking only like the former onstage; I haven't seen her offstage since she was about 24, and she was all gleam then). To be omniscient, you would have to be seductive and non-seductive; and even though she may be some of both, the evidence seemed to favour the non-seductive, and gives the work a lot of its 'splendid isolation.' (stolen from Colette about Mae West, but I can't think of anything on my own that's that good.) To be omniscient and omnipotent, you'd not only have to be the best, but also be able to do everything better than everyone else, you might even have to be omnipresent. Since no artist (nor anyone else) is omniscient, 'the Man Who Knew Time' is a bit overly purple, since Balanchine was one of them, but not the only one.

#12 drb

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 09:32 AM

I orginally posted this on a Jewels thread because it is primarily about that ballet. In effect it gives a story to the ballet, that was especially valuable in viewing Emeralds, which had somewhat lost its way as it appeared in 1998's NYCB production. It was interesting in that in order to get to his goal, Diamonds, Mr. B. found himself in the very unexpected world of Emeralds.


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