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Mark Morris Live from Lincoln CenterPBS 16 August 2007 @ 8pm


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#46 Helene

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 04:00 PM

But does that make it OK? Is the fault, then, of the New Yorker for not using other reviewers (as they do with almost all other arts)?

I think The New Yorker is at fault for categorizing this under "Dancing" instead of a feature article in the center of magazine, as Arlene Croce's attack on Bill T. Jones's "Still/Here" was. I don't think it's a flaw that The New Yorker has a single dance critic.

I was thinking today about the amount of space Croce devoted to Balanchine, her fave, but that was in the context of far more frequent reviewing. These days, it's hard enough to have to wait so long between dance reviews, and disappointing to me when they don't cover any new critical ground--again, there was lots of dance, and even new dance, in the area this summer.

In the '70's and 80's I used to go to the newsstand and go straight to the Table of Contents of the magazine and look for Croce's byline. During the dance season, the weeks she skipped were painful. If I did this for Acocella's reviews, I'd be starved between articles.

Laura Jacobs is hardly as well known as JA.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

#47 drb

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 04:22 PM

Laura Jacobs is hardly as well known as JA.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Acocella and Jacobs are among my favorite dance writers--don't have to agree with them in order to learn something. I wish Jacobs wrote more often, she can be fascinating, as in this old essay on Balanchine's Jewels:
http://newcriterion..../jacobs.htm#top

#48 vipa

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 04:23 PM

But does that make it OK? Is the fault, then, of the New Yorker for not using other reviewers (as they do with almost all other arts)?

I think The New Yorker is at fault for categorizing this under "Dancing" instead of a feature article in the center of magazine, as Arlene Croce's attack on Bill T. Jones's "Still/Here" was. I don't think it's a flaw that The New Yorker has a single dance critic.

I was thinking today about the amount of space Croce devoted to Balanchine, her fave, but that was in the context of far more frequent reviewing. These days, it's hard enough to have to wait so long between dance reviews, and disappointing to me when they don't cover any new critical ground--again, there was lots of dance, and even new dance, in the area this summer.

In the '70's and 80's I used to go to the newsstand and go straight to the Table of Contents of the magazine and look for Croce's byline. During the dance season, the weeks she skipped were painful. If I did this for Acocella's reviews, I'd be starved between articles.

Laura Jacobs is hardly as well known as JA.

Makes you think, doesn't it?


Just wanted to remind folks that Croce's "Writing in the Dark" is a terrific collection of her New Yorker reviews.

#49 bart

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Posted 20 August 2007 - 05:02 PM

drb, thanks for that link to the 1998 Jacobs article on Jewels. It certainly packs in a great deal of lore and experience. It should be required for those who ae interested in the history of the ballet and who will be attending Miam's, NYCB's, and other companies' performances this coming season.

#50 Jack Reed

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Posted 23 August 2007 - 02:59 PM

My thanks, too, drb, for the Jacobs link, and especially for your observation. In fact, don't you sometimes get more from the review you don't agree with? Just skimming Jacobs, I think she misses the boat, but as a swimmer myself, I think that's healthy exercise. And part of what makes Balanchine great is that it admits of different interpretations, up to a point, not only by the performers but also by the watchers. (I think the maker himself, teacher that he was, was okay with that.)

But I do have something to try to say about Villella's remark about Farrell that Jacobs puts in her "final note": Although that was back in 1998, five years after Farrell was fired (again) from NYCB, what I've seen onstage in recent years makes me think that if she had been considering herself apart from the others, "first among equals" as stagers of Balanchine, she may be right. Her own troupe, without enough budget to hire the best dancers on normal contracts -- they get 11 weeks with her, about a third the usual, I think -- looks in important ways more like Balanchine's company did than any other I see. Even Villella's, thrilling though it is. (I'm really looking forward to seeing their Jewels in Ft. Lauderdale this season.)

I like to think of myself as smarter than to pick a fight with a former boxing champ (which Villella was), and I hope I haven't gone and done it now. We'll see. In any case, you can only disagree with someone who cares about the same thing as you do.

#51 Jack Reed

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Posted 28 August 2007 - 02:44 PM

Now having read through Jacobs's article, I think it might be more constructive if I try to be a little more specific than just to take a swipe at it, but since this is not a thread on Jewels anyway, I'll just say that while there's sharp observation and a little good evocative writing in it, I really found the phantasmagoria too much:

In “Rubies” the men have remounted— they’re chess knights (and pawns)—and the girls are fillies, tomboys, pin-ups, Broadway gypsies, Gypsy Rose Lees, the whole fast-striding, high-kicking, gear-stripping gamut of leggy American allure. Stravinsky’s percussive score, Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, is syncopated like rush hour, then cocktails: you hear the subway rumbling underneath, feel neon Broadway and New York noir take over. In response to the “Rubies”=America equation, Balanchine has said “I did not have that in mind at all.” Nevertheless, the first glittering glimpse of “Rubies”—its cast holding hands upstage in a paper-doll arc, poised on pointe—never fails to draw a gasp of appreciation from the audience. It’s a city skyline at night, the Big Apple ablaze.



That's just an early example; for me, it gets worse. I liked the occasional down-to-earth comments by Balanchine (who famously resisted interpretation) and Verdy she quoted, but she pushes them aside too eagerly. For the most part, I'm sorry, bart, but I think that, on this occasion at least, Jacobs builds a castle, a castle in the air, not Balanchine, and I'd suggest other writing about Jewels. (I do embrace her basic idea of mystery, though.)

But as I've noticed, this thread is about something else, or was, and I'd like to record that when the curtain finally went up here on Morris's Mozart Dances Friday night, the 24th, the dominant pleasure for me for the first moments was that I could see the dancing without all the fancy interference put in the way by "Live from Lincoln Center"!

And as I watched, I remembered that for some, Lauren Grant's initial identification with the solo piano (later it gets more complicated) in "11" looked mechanical, although I took this simplicity in the beginning as introductory, but when we got into the first-movement cadenza, the whole thing lifted into the air for me, and pretty much stayed there, at a varying altitude, for the rest of the evening; the middle movement of "Double" was certainly a high plateau (as it was in the TV broadcast, apparently because all the dancers were together, although jammed into the sides of the frame); but then "27" was more complex, and I didn't get into it so well until the third time I saw it (from row Q, instead of Z and then X).

But I missed the refinement and nuance of ballet, even when I enjoyed the way Morris's dancers "swam" in the music -- It's not so bad to be a "slave" to a great master -- Mozart -- and anyway, Morris shows himself to be not such a dumb slave as an inspired listener, impelled to get up and "dance" with the old boy. (I also take Morris's title as double meaning.)

Being one of the BTers who have put some dance on video, I don't see what's so hard about doing this better than it was done on PBS this time. It's always been my own goal to "disappear", and let the viewer see the dancing by showing the space and letting the dancers dance in it. When I video-taped a ballet-school performance in a theatre, I didn't just frame the stage and sit down; when the dancers were going to use only part of the stage, I showed that.

We see a lot of television and film, and we can adapt to and orient ourselves to a space we are shown, if we're helped to do so, but if odd angles are thrown in, or worse, if "partials" -- shots showing only part of a dancer's body -- are mixed in, our orientation is upset: If a partial is followed by a shot of the full stage, it aggravates the familiar "ants" problem, and if it's the other way around, having adapted to the stage space, suddenly it looks like a giant, a fifty-foot dancer. So I never showed less than half the stage width myself, and I also liked best those moments on "Live from Lincoln Center" when we could see some space. I also liked the soft transitions, dissolves, in "Double", because they helped to make the televising "disappear", which would have been reason for me to use them throughout.

When I did it, I attended many rehearsals, so I knew where the dancers would be at each point in the music, and I could plan my sequence of shots accordingly. I was alone, and I wonder whether the big budget of a production like "Live from Lincoln Center" might have been better spent on a much smaller crew putting in their man-hours doing the same thing, and making a simpler, more satisfying result.

#52 bart

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Posted 28 August 2007 - 04:29 PM

But as I've noticed, this thread is about something else, or was, [ ... ]

I share your sense of regret that we can't go deeper into Jewels here. Let's commit to starting a new thread when Miami in November, and NYCB in January, perform this ballet. There's much more to be said about it.

I really enjoyed your thoughts about the Morriz/Mozart eveing.

[ ... ] I missed the refinement and nuance of ballet, even when I enjoyed the way Morris's dancers "swam" in the music -- It's not so bad to be a "slave" to a great master -- Mozart -- and anyway, Morris shows himself to be not such a dumb slave as an inspired listener, impelled to get up and "dance" with the old boy. (I also take Morris's title as double meaning.)

Several Ballet Talk regulars have mentioned being bored by much or most of this program. This continues to puzzle me. I was actually quite thrilled by the balletic elements throughout. The pointed (bare) feeet weren't completely pointed, and the turn out wasn't entirely turned out, and the port de bras was a little more "bras" than conventional "port". But it was all done with remarkable consistency and fluidity. This is a beautifully well-trained ensemble. And, although the dancing was more terre a terre than we're used to seeing in ballet, it had the lightness and fluidity, the airborne quality, floating on the surface of the stage,, that is Morris's trademark.

In other words, although this is not ballet, it's a tribute to ballet as much as it is to Mozart.

About the evocative title, Mozart Dances: Morris strikes me as merging his dance with the music in a very rare way. It's obviously something he thinks a lot about. During the intermission interview he referred to this several times. "I don't like to have a sound initiate a movement." "I don't want to see the dancers responding to the music" or "having a thought bubble about the music." You could say that he was actually pointing to the faults of an awful lot of contemporary choreography, balletic and non-balletic. At one point he says: "I could be accused of musical visualization -- like that's a crime or something!" This is a quality that Balanchine and Morris at their best share. Morris's version of it is more complex, and rewarding, than it appears at fist acquaintance.

At one point in the documentary, Morris corrects a dancer who is performing a fall to a prone position. He tells him to land just on the beat. The dancer does, and it is striking. Then the ensemble does exactly the same thing, every one of them. It's not simplistic "moving on the beat" -- or the equally predictable "moving against the beat" -- both of which you can find in much current choreography. Morris's movements ride the music so that, after a while, it's possible to forget that music and movement are separate. This kind of oneness with the music -- lightly garbed in a technique that conveys the impression, to me at least, that is carefree and spontaneous -- can be found throughout the piece. It's what makes possible all those instances when one dancer after another makes a movement (jump, turn, port de bras, whatever), to be followed by the next dancer doing it in precisely the same way, then another, then another. Or that enables the dancers to move together, emerge briefly solos or pdd, then merge back into the ensemble. The business with the women falling to the ground in "Eleven" -- or the men's circle dance in "Double" -- are two of the most inventive and striking examples of this kind of precision.

When I did it, I attended many rehearsals, so I knew where the dancers would be at each point in the music, and I could plan my sequence of shots accordingly. I was alone, and I wonder whether the big budget of a production like "Live from Lincoln Center" might have been better spent on a much smaller crew putting in their man-hours doing the same thing, and making a simpler, more satisfying result.

Sounds like a good suggestion to me. Saving money might actually allow more ballet to be video'd. Though you'd still have the problem of local stations who don't think it's worth putting on the air. Sandik (Seattle) and dirac (San Francisco) reported that their local stations had no plans to broadcast Mozart Dances. Maybe the idea is, make it so expensive that no one can afford to show it. I'd post a jaw-dropping icon, except the jaw doesn't drop far enough. Oh, what the heck ... here it is. :)

#53 Helene

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Posted 28 August 2007 - 04:48 PM

Several Ballet Talk regulars have mentioned being bored by much or most of this program. This continues to puzzle me. I was actually quite thrilled by the balletic elements throughout. The pointed (bare) feeet weren't completely pointed, and the turn out wasn't entirely turned out, and the port de bras was a little more "bras" than conventional "port". But it was all done with remarkable consistency and fluidity. This is a beautifully well-trained ensemble. And, although the dancing was more terre a terre than we're used to seeing in ballet, it had the lightness and fluidity, the airborne quality, floating on the surface of the stage,, that is Morris's trademark.

In other words, although this is not ballet, it's a tribute to ballet as much as it is to Mozart.

But is this really a tribute to ballet? Or a tribute any more to ballet than any of the other dance traditions that Morris has absorbed and transifigured into his own style? Ballet training is a staple of most modern dancers, and certainly more of this generation of Morris' than his original dancers. I've always found Taylor's and Cunningham's dancers to show more refinement in line, posture, and toe-point, although I don't think ballet was on their minds. In fact, one of my least favorite of Morris' company is Julie Worden -- one of the most popular dancers in the company -- particularly because she has more ballet in her than the rest of the ensemble. (She's always reminded me of a Taylor dancer.)

#54 bart

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Posted 28 August 2007 - 05:03 PM

But is this really a tribute to ballet? Or a tribute any more to ballet than any of the other dance traditions that Morris has absorbed and transifigured into his own style?

I definitely see your point. My response to Morris is very personal and, I confess, rather ignorant of what it is he is actually doing and how it fits into the contemporary dance spectrum. I wish I had the words to express it better. I just find this particular set of dances ,and the way it is danced, to be quite beautiful, formal, and remarkably consistent in style and gesture. Very "classical" in a non-literal sense of the term. This is also the way I felt about Agon when I first saw it -- and hadn't a clule about what it was shortly after its premiere. Part of this -- but only part -- is my enjoyment of the familarity of the surprisingly sustained balletic language that floats through Mozart Dances. I also love his much older l"Allegro, etc., but that, along with its dancers, is a very different cup of tea. Maybe I just warm to Morirs and then look for elements to justify that to myself?

Editd to add: I appreciate your point about Paul Taylor. I haven't, however, personally seen him work on the scale of this piece.

#55 carbro

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Posted 28 August 2007 - 07:46 PM

But I missed the refinement and nuance of ballet . . .

Please don't blame the genre, Jack. In Paul Taylor, even in second- (but perhaps not third- ) rate Paul Taylor, I find no shortage of nuance.

It's not so bad to be a "slave" to a great master -- Mozart -- and anyway, Morris shows himself to be not such a dumb slave as an inspired listener, impelled to get up and "dance" with the old boy.

It deprives the choreographer of a chance to explore what the music offers in depth. At a lecture-demo at BAM in the '90s, an advanced SAB student danced B'chine's Sugar Plum Fairy variation as Suki Schorer showed how the choreographer works with the music, against the music and through the music. Then, side-by-side against Ivanov's version -- beautiful but musically less complex -- and the importance of the ability to "play" with the music was never clearer. Oops! Off topic again, but only in order to make a point about Morris.

#56 Jack Reed

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 12:58 PM

If I'm not mistaken, the complaints about not "getting" Morris and being bored refer to the television broadcast and not to a theatrical performance; this time, unfortunately, there was an enormous difference between those two. I wouldn't expect anybody to get anything given the treatment this program got over the air, except the music, which was pretty well played. (Ax is an old favorite, and I will listen and maybe even try to watch my recording of the broadcast, but anyone moved by the occasion to think of buying some recordings of this music ought to consider the old Ashkenazy-Frager recording of K. 448, the music for "Double".)

As for this visit to the "ballet-vs.-modern" debate, I think bart expanded very well on my passing metaphor about the dancers "swimming" in the music; I'm not sure he agrees with me, but I agree with him! There's a lot to like in Morris's work, and I may not have expressed that very well, though I did say the evenings in the theatre gave me pleasure right from the beginning, and rose to some heights from a beginning which drew me in. bart catalogs Morris's considerable virtues impressively.

But, carbro, I also feel "the lack of refinement and nuance" less in Merce's work, and Taylor's too. (Taylor's "little" Dante Sonata comes to mind: Through seeing dancing, we "get" that these people are not having a good time of it, and -- this is the miraculous part for me -- they're not going to have a good time of it, ever, but stay on this level, one of Dante's "circles" to be sure, but we get this from the performance. A small miracle.) BTW, I wish I had seen that Sugar Plum demonstration! Any video of it at the NYPL?

And as for Jewels, bart, I don't actually regret not discussing that ballet here, because there must be a thread or several here where we have been doing that already (I'm a little pressed for time to look). Maybe I detect an eagerness on your part to do so, because of the imminence of MCB's performances? I was just thinking of maintaining some clarity among the threads here, so readers can find what they want.

Helene, I thought there was less "ballet" in Worden this time around, so you may be happier next time they appear in your part of the world. In fact, overall, it seemed like a more homogenous company this time than two years ago.

#57 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 04:17 PM

I second Jack Reed's observation that Mozart Dances live is a very different animal than the broadcast, which I have only just now begun to watch on tape. I was lucky enough to catch performances at State Theater both this year and last and was stunned at how reduced the work seems in the broadcast -- more so than Dance in America's video of Four Temperaments or Stravinsky Violin Concerto does, by way of comparison. It's akin to looking at a postcard of a painting you've actually stood in front of: it's a nice enough reminder of what you saw, but has nothing of the impact of the real thing and the colors are all off somehow. If I hadn't seen Mozart Dances in the theatre and had to rely on the broadcast, I just may well have been wondering what all the fuss was about.

Part of the problem, I think, was the camera work. So much of this particular dance's impact arises from the cumulative effect of seeing gestures and phrases echoed between individual dancers and the group across all three of its sections, and the cutaways to the musicians or to isolated parts of the stage undermine that. (In at least one instance I swear the camera seemed to be locked on a corner of stage with not a single dancer in view!) If, as reported, the camera quickly cuts away from Noah Vinson's flying leap to embrace (I think) Charlton Boyd in Twenty-Seven, it must surely undo some of the work's emotional logic: in the second movement of Double, Vinson is never wholly integrated into group. In fact, at one point he appears to dis-integrate the group by his presence: the circling men drop hands -- separate themselves from each other as well as Vinson -- when he moves into their midst. They continue to perform the same steps as they did before, but without being physically connected to each other. So I think it means something that it is Vinson who flys out of the group to embrace the outsider who has just entered the stage alone; to dimish one of the work's most affecting moments to cut to the musicians seems just plain boneheaded.

Something about video seems to have "flattened" the quality of the dancers' movement, too. The beautiful, swirling dervish turns with the slightly out of sync rolls of the head (the dancers appear to spotting on the sky if they are spotting at all) are just mesmerising live, but barely register on tape. Lauren Grant is, what, all of five feet tall but looked positively monumental whirling through them in the theater. Perhaps ballet's heightened line and dimensionality help it translate better to the small screen. (And for whatever reason -- maybe scale, maybe lighting -- the back drops are much more effective in the theater than they are on the screen. The women's costumes for Eleven look much more chic in the theater, too.) The goofy stuff looks goofy live, too, but Morris' goofiness has never troubled me much in any event.

I found much to be delighted by and to enjoy, and found some things utterly fascinating. I was surprised, for instance, when I noticed just how much and how fast the individual dancers were moving in some of the slower passages, because the overall shape that the group was making -- and which was the center of attention -- was evolving at at tempo much more in keeping with the pulse of the music.

I'm glad I have the tape, but I feel privileged to have seen Mozart Dances live.


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