Jack Reed

Showings of 1965 Performance Film of Balanchine's "Don Quixot

53 posts in this topic

Hmmm. About that time machine, ViolinConcerto... Is that one you've used before? I've always wanted to try one, but I never wanted to be the first one...

I'm normally quite a chicken, but if given the opportunity to see Nijinsky, and performances of NYCB at City Center (some of which I did see as a child), or Mr. B., performing as Drosselmeier and Don Q., I'd do it!

Share this post


Link to post

Hidden away on p. 17 of the Sept. 17 issue of The New Yorker is a brief notice of the NYPL for Performing Arts showing. She makes some points already posted on this thread. I've added paragraph breaks to make this selection more easy to read.

[bert] Stern had two cameras, one wide-angle and one for closeups. The library's film experts have edited some of the closeups into the wide shots and "restored" the whole thing, meaning that, where they could, they fixed the scratches on the print and the growls in the soundrack.

The result is still rough, but you'll nver again see dance footage like this. Farrell has spoken of the "off-balance" style of ballet that Balanchine invented in collaboration with her. Dulcinea's long solo in Act III (the solo, or the first one, that she finishes by kneeling, with her face in her hands) is the best example on record.

More than that, the film shows what New York City Ballet was like in the nineteen-sixties. To the critics complaining of N.Y.C.B.'s current way of dancing, others often say, "What are you belly-aching about? The company is fabulous." Look at this film, and not even at the astonising Farrell, but just at the female demi-soloists -- how much they can do, clearly and musically, in one bar of music. That, or the loss of that, is what the critics are complaining about.

One of the great puzzlements of recent Balanchine history, to me, has been the lack of interest in allowing the public to have a more generous visual record of NYCB's dancing, then and now. A cynic might ask: "Maybe some people are trying to hide the evidence that allows comparisons like Acocella's to be made."

Share this post


Link to post

Sounds to me like Peter Martins is going to be mad at The New Yorker again. Whom can he fire this time?

Share this post


Link to post
Hmmm. About that time machine, ViolinConcerto... Is that one you've used before? I've always wanted to try one, but I never wanted to be the first one...

I'm normally quite a chicken, but if given the opportunity to see Nijinsky, and performances of NYCB at City Center (some of which I did see as a child), or Mr. B., performing as Drosselmeier and Don Q., I'd do it!

well film can be a poor substitute, but go to the library! :)

**************

1 cassette. 90 min. : sd. b&w. NTSC. ; 1/2 in. (VHS)

Note Telecast by CBS Television on Playhouse 90 on December 25, 1958. Produced by John Houseman and Jack Landau. Directed by Ralph Nelson. Narrated by June Lockhart.

Choreography: George Balanchine. Music: Peter Tchaikovsky. Scenery: Bob Markell. Costumes: Karinska. Properties: Horace Armistead.

Performed by members of the New York City Ballet and children from the School of American Ballet.

Cast: George Balanchine as Herr Drosselmeyer, Debbie Paine (Clara), Robert Maiorano (Nutcracker prince), Diana Adams (Sugar plum fairy), Allegra Kent (Dewdrop fairy), Arthur Mitchell as Coffee (Arabian dance), Barbara Walczak and Roy Tobias as Chocolate (Spanish dance), Deni Lamont as Tea (Chinese dance), Edward Villella (Candy cane), and Judith Green (Marzipan)

Share this post


Link to post
the child/attendant in the Ritornel is Colleen Neary; her older sister, Patricia, dances in the Danza della caccia earlier in the selections of divertissements.

Thanks, RG. I've corrected the name on my posting.

Share this post


Link to post

Another detail a friend mentioned a few days after the Kennedy Center showing is Balanchine's activity even when blindfolded, late in Act II. He never really "goes dead" (my term) on stage.

Share this post


Link to post

I called the Performing Arts Library at about three this afternoon, and the woman who answered the phone said that indeed this was open to the public and to get there around twenty after five. Wish me luck.

Share this post


Link to post
One of the great puzzlements of recent Balanchine history, to me, has been the lack of interest in allowing the public to have a more generous visual record of NYCB's dancing, then and now. A cynic might ask: "Maybe some people are trying to hide the evidence that allows comparisons like Acocella's to be made."

Amen! And the wide access to video today (of all stripes) just exacerbates the frustration.

BTW I just saw a rebroadcast of the 2006 documentary on NYCB's trip to Russia. Very poorly done (I imagine that there's already a thread on it, so I'll see what others have thought).

Share this post


Link to post

First of all, apologies, particularly to nysusan, who was understandably distressed at the information I posted sometime back that the screening of Don Q at the Performing Arts Library was not open to the public but was by invitation only. This information turned out to be erroneous, but since nobody at the library is likely to apologize, I will. I hope I didn't talk anyone out of going today. There were seats available when I got there and I walked right in and took one. Shortly after that many more became available, when the seats that had been "reserved for the press" were released.

One rap (not Richard) on Balanchine's Don Q has been that there's not enough dancing. This film seems loaded with dances and wonderful dancers -- the Rigaudon Flamenco with Gloria Govrin and Arthur Mitchell; the pas de deux Mauresque, Suki Schorer and John Prinz; the Danza della Caccia with the trio of Patricia Neary, Conrad Ludlow, and Kent Stowell. What dancers these were! Today's NYCB isn't as good -- honest. The scenes between Balanchine and Farrell made my eyes mist more than once. What the film loses is the procession of knights and prelates in the last act -- it's just too dark at that point to tell what's going on. But Farrell is as magnificent as remembered, in every scene she's in.

When it comes to Mr. B's Don Quixote, some things never change. A few audience members walked out long before the end.

Share this post


Link to post
One rap (not Richard) on Balanchine's Don Q has been that there's not enough dancing. This film seems loaded with dances and wonderful dancers -- the Rigaudon Flamenco with Gloria Govrin and Arthur Mitchell; the pas de deux Mauresque, Suki Schorer and John Prinz; the Danza della Caccia with the trio of Patricia Neary, Conrad Ludlow, and Kent Stowell. What dancers these were! Today's NYCB isn't as good -- honest. The scenes between Balanchine and Farrell made my eyes mist more than once. What the film loses is the procession of knights and prelates in the last act -- it's just too dark at that point to tell what's going on. But Farrell is as magnificent as remembered, in every scene she's in.

When it comes to Mr. B's Don Quixote, some things never change. A few audience members walked out long before the end.

I was there too and totally agree with Farrell Fan. I would like to add some other comments after some time to digest. I wish the score was better. The ballet might have been more successful with better music to support it.

Share this post


Link to post

I got there very early, fearing that Joan Acocella's article would bring the thundering hoards, but Farrell Fan was right, you could have walked right in...there were still empty seats when it began.

I had never seen the ballet, and found the rather dark print, shamefully bad composition, the the overwhelming mechanical noise (which was explained as coming from a wrongly connected pick-up), the fuzzy focus, the grainy-ness, especially in the close-ups all diminished the impact of the ballet, and my enjoyment in general.

That said, it was wonderful to watch Mr. B move, seeing the source so to speak, and Suzanne Farrell's dancing was grace incarnate. That was what I came to see, and that was satisfying. Suzanne's facial expression was rather surprisingly blank, and I'll attribute that to her youth (OK, I'll "Blame it on....").

I'll to the above comments that there was a wonderful solo by Patricia McBride, (backed up by a fan-wielding, very young Colleen Neary) whose authority and strength as well as her execution of the steps was excellent. Her eye makeup was quite 60's-ish, with doe-eyes. Actually, her eyes were the first thing I recognized about her -- she (and Kyra Nichols) always used her eyes fully and beautifully.

Share this post


Link to post
First of all, apologies, particularly to nysusan, who was understandably distressed at the information I posted sometime back that the screening of Don Q at the Performing Arts Library was not open to the public but was by invitation only. This information turned out to be erroneous, but since nobody at the library is likely to apologize, I will. I hope I didn't talk anyone out of going today. There were seats available when I got there and I walked right in and took one. Shortly after that many more became available, when the seats that had been "reserved for the press" were released.

Farrell Fan, no apologies necessary from you. On the contrary, you went out of your way to contact the library for information on this event. It's not your fault

that they didn't have a clue about their own program!

I would have gone & tried to get in no matter what they said, except it turned out that I really couldn't get out of work early this week so I had to skip it. Despite the flaws it sounds wonderful, I will definitely have to make time to get down to the library and find a way to see it when it enters the collection.

Share this post


Link to post

I have never seen Farrell dance and so was eager to see this film. I have been a huge fan of Balanchine for the last ten years, and therefore of NYCB. I am familiar with the current crop of NYCB dancers and thought I understood the term "Balanchine dancer". But after seeing Farrell dance in ACT 3, and how much Balanchine adored her and her dancing -- my thinking has shifted. I could see why Balanchine would fall in love with Farrell. She was not only beautiful with beautiful lines and a plushness, but she danced with this abandon that one doesn't quite associate with classical ballet. Seeing the movie, I thought someone had put the projector on fast forward -- she was moving so fast, consuming so much space, twirling, twisting, jumping, kicking -- it was like seeing Baryshnikov for the first time -- afterwards, everyone else comes in second place.

Now after seeing Farrell -- I wish the current NYCB dancers would take on more of her daring, strangely dangerous way of moving. But this abandonment, this moving as though spiritually possessed -- this may be unique to Farrell -- as few dancers even come close. I'm thinking, Janie T., Ashley B., Theresa R.

Share this post


Link to post

deanofdance, your post, and the revelation I think it describes, is music to my eyes. Many of us would like to see more of Farrell's characteristics in others' dancing, in their own way, without any hint of imitation of her, or of anything or anybody. May I congratulate you on your experience? Art should change you.

Share this post


Link to post

Not to discount the greatness and wonder of Farrell's speedy and off-balance dancing in the Act 3 solo, but what about that adagio? For me, even having watched her dance this live, it was thrilling to experience the "birth" of this magnificent performance - that same daring abandon one sees in the solo, but poured into long, slow, luscious phrases. I think the moment when she first comes bourree-ing out must be one of the most celestial visions ever in a theater.

Share this post


Link to post

I found the performances impressive, but the film didn't change my general view of the ballet. I found the first act difficult to get through and the ballet got better as it went on, with the Act III female variations, if not being genius, coming damn close.

The revelation to me wasn't Farrell, because I already knew she was on that level - the Act III variation confirmed it. It was Marnee Morris and especially Mimi Paul as the other dancers in the Act III divert. Mimi Paul was legato and classical, but with spice; Morris more eccentric and staccato.

Having watched tapes of the company from several eras, the '65 performance raises some questions I need time to process and answer. To my mind, the company danced with a syncopated musicality in films from '60 that they mostly didn't have by '72-3 and was completely gone by '81. It happened in Balanchine's lifetime. I could see some evidence of a transition in the '65 tape but I don't know enough and didn't see enough to be certain. Mimi Paul dances on the beat. Marnee Morris dances through it. Farrell does both, depending on the variation. Some the division might be demi-caractere/classical - the more "character" the flavor of the dance, the more syncopated the musicality.

I don't think that musicality can be gotten back, except if training is changed. It's an example of the cultural matrix changing under the choreography. Popular music has changed - beats are produced electronically. Social dance has changed. Not just that, but that timing can't be taught. That choreography was shaped right on those dancers and how they moved - it's like custom-fit clothing. I've seen this happen with other works when they are set on a new cast. Because people need to give counts to teach the choreography the timing smooths out and becomes standardized. Almost the only way to prevent it is to "set" the choreography anew on each dancer who learns it.

Share this post


Link to post

Wow, Leigh, what a rich and suggestive response! From the local and specific (details of the incredible performace styles of individual dancers like Mimi Paul [did anyone ever see her in that funky Italian-made film of Midsummer?], whom you could place in a stylistic lineage from Doubrovska to Jillana to Nanette Glushack and Stephanie Saland)--to big, general critical questions, like what's the relationship between culture and the forms & styles it produces (as exemplified in changes in NYCB style and practice)? I've always been fascinated by the advent of US culture in the postwar-to-Regan era, and this film seems to be a good "case study" of one of its many incarnations.

I found the performances impressive, but the film didn't change my general view of the ballet. I found the first act difficult to get through and the ballet got better as it went on, with the Act III female variations, if not being genius, coming damn close.

The revelation to me wasn't Farrell, because I already knew she was on that level - the Act III variation confirmed it. It was Marnee Morris and especially Mimi Paul as the other dancers in the Act III divert. Mimi Paul was legato and classical, but with spice; Morris more eccentric and staccato.

Having watched tapes of the company from several eras, the '65 performance raises some questions I need time to process and answer. To my mind, the company danced with a syncopated musicality in films from '60 that they mostly didn't have by '72-3 and was completely gone by '81. It happened in Balanchine's lifetime. I could see some evidence of a transition in the '65 tape but I don't know enough and didn't see enough to be certain. Mimi Paul dances on the beat. Marnee Morris dances through it. Farrell does both, depending on the variation. Some the division might be demi-caractere/classical - the more "character" the flavor of the dance, the more syncopated the musicality.

I don't think that musicality can be gotten back, except if training is changed. It's an example of the cultural matrix changing under the choreography. Popular music has changed - beats are produced electronically. Social dance has changed. Not just that, but that timing can't be taught. That choreography was shaped right on those dancers and how they moved - it's like custom-fit clothing. I've seen this happen with other works when they are set on a new cast. Because people need to give counts to teach the choreography the timing smooths out and becomes standardized. Almost the only way to prevent it is to "set" the choreography anew on each dancer who learns it.

Share this post


Link to post

Leigh, that is a really fascinating post. However, isn't it possible that you're making things more complicated than they need to be? Anyone clearly and objectively watching NYCB over the past few decades has seen a general decline in technique and musicality, which are impossible to seperate. Balanchine himself said many times in different ways that unless he remained "on top of" the dancers, standards and execution would slacken. The fine-grained musical flow and bold, varied attack that one sees in 1965 were still pretty much intact during the final run of Don Quixote in 1978. Marnee Morris was a wonderfully idiosyncratic dancer, whose gifts and individuality Balanchine integrated into his choreography for her; when Kyra Nichols performed her role, some of the oddball charm was gone, but Nichols still made a powerfully expressive impact, just as she did in the Rigaudon Flamenco, made for a very different dancer. Similarly, the strong, confident and knowing dancing of Nichol Hlinka in the Pas de Deux Mauresque, I think, brought out even more of the duet's latent "S & M" eroticism than did Suki Schorer, the role's creator. It was during the next decade and beyond that things began to slip faster and deeper. I don't want to get into a whole Martins-bashing thing here. My point is that I doubt that what happened to NYCB's dancing duirng that time had much to do with outside cultural influences. Take, for example, a ballet such as "Raymonda Variations." Watching that used to be like walking through some fantastic garden - each of those beautiful, brilliant solos a different flower given full color and perfume by casts that seemed to understand as well as dance the choreography. Lately, except for one or two exceptions, most of the dancers can barely get through the steps, and when they do, the execution rarely rises above adequacy into illumination. Is this because of anything happening outside the theater?

Share this post


Link to post

Prefacing by saying that I think most of the differences we see in Don Q come from the classroom and rehearsal studio, I still think emphatically yes. It may be my own bias because I studied in the generation after Balanchine, but I think deterioration is too simplistic an explanation. These dancers are being asked to replicate steps created directly on other dancers and their training is different. Those things are directly related to the theater, but there are things I am seeing when I go to a coaching session that cannot be taught anymore. There's a way that Arthur Mitchell holds his weight on the ball of his feet that no one does anymore, no matter where they've studied. It's not part of the vernacular. Another example - partnered social dancing is no longer a context for dancers to relate to immediately. At some point, the dances one does, the music listened to, even the diet of the nation, all have a cumulative effect. If it didn't, we'd still be able to dance Bournonville and have it look like it once did. We're talking close to half a century now - and the ground was shifting even then.

Share this post


Link to post
[...] Take, for example, a ballet such as "Raymonda Variations." Watching that used to be like walking through some fantastic garden - each of those beautiful, brilliant solos a different flower given full color and perfume by casts that seemed to understand as well as dance the choreography. Lately, except for one or two exceptions, most of the dancers can barely get through the steps, and when they do, the execution rarely rises above adequacy into illumination. Is this because of anything happening outside the theater?

EAW, I've been fascinated by this topic for a long time--my sense that the NYCB dancers in the 50s-70s really understood what they were doing (subverting the "dance don't think" canard), and this intelligence came through in multiple ways, sometimes even as wryness. I always measured this sense, however, against my own age--i.e., did the dancers seem "smart" in the past because I was so young? Is it that today (when, to use EAW's words, "the execution rarely rises above adequacy") I'm just an older and more experienced viewer?

Share this post


Link to post

Sigh. I think we're over breeding dancers today and they aren't as well rounded because it takes so much time in the studio. I'd trade a little less facility for more mental depth - but now that Pandora's Box has been opened I don't think it can be shut.

Share this post


Link to post

Leigh, I still don't think we're talking about the same thing. Of course people today won't dance - or speak, or write - as they did generations ago. But it's unfortunately possible - and evident - that things can not only change, due to all the cultural forces you mention, but worsen. I bring up "Raymonda Variations" because this ballet is nothing but classical dancing, as exposed and, in a sense, as timeless as can be. Recent casts haven't just performed it "differently," because they grew up listening to different music and eating different foods; they execute the steps more weakly and coarsely and with less assurance than previous dancers did. Balanchine famously said that "art is technique" - a remark that has often been misinterpreted and used against him. But when technique deteriorates in front of our eyes, it's painfully clear that no amount of extra-theatrical anything can truly compensate.

Share this post


Link to post
I bring up "Raymonda Variations" because this ballet is nothing but classical dancing, as exposed and, in a sense, as timeless as can be. Recent casts haven't just performed it "differently," because they grew up listening to different music and eating different foods; they execute the steps more weakly and coarsely and with less assurance than previous dancers did.

RV is a good example of a ballet that seems more of a chore than a challenge for dancers these days (at NYCB and elsewhere). YET a heightened level of "technique" in many areas has never been more, as Leigh implies, expected of both male and female dancers. So can we account for this?

Share this post


Link to post

>....for example, a ballet such as "Raymonda Variations." Watching that used to be like walking through some fantastic >garden - each of those beautiful, brilliant solos a different flower given full color and perfume by casts that seemed to >understand as well as dance the choreography. Lately, except for one or two exceptions, most of the dancers can barely >get through the steps...

>.....NYCB dancers in the 50s-70s really understood what they were doing

Dancers in the 50s-70s were developed and nutured by Balanchine and other artists who lived solely for their art. I caught the tail end of that era. I can only imagine what fine dancers Suzanne and Marnie, Mimi and even Gelsey (to name a few) would have created if given the opportunity to live well/work with the large pools of talent at SAB, NYCB. If Velella, Ludlow, Blum, Clifford, etc., were also living well/teaching/coaching at SAB/NYCB.

Yes, when they danced, it was a very different time in ballet's history -- not only within NYCB/SAB but in NYC. NYCB was in full bloom with people who didn't want to be any where else (ditto other fine artists in NYC). To be a dancer and a part of NYCB was then a great dream come true. Working with Balanchine on a daily basis... and all the many other great artists involved. And a dancer at NYCB in those days could afford one's own apt, etc., in NYC while still putting some savings away.

In the last 10-20 years, many other opportunities / smaller USA companies with some Balanchine rep have opened doors. Pros and cons of that situation, less concentration of talent, dilutes the biggest USA companies. Then there's the realistic truth of the ridiculous costs of living well enough... for example NYC and SF/CA, and mentors drilling dancers to take college courses seriously even more so than dancers' careers...so dancers can afford a future... All of this has created dancers who have far less commitment and desire to work as hard at their dance careers (personality and technically)... to produce the quality once seen in the 50s-70s.

Share this post


Link to post

Speaking directly your points EAW - I again just don't agree.

Technique has not deteriorated; it's changed in emphasis. Dancers can't do older repertory (Les Sylphides is a very good example) because there isn't the same emphasis on strength - older dancers wouldn't be able to do newer choreography because they can't make the same shapes. And again that's primarily in the classroom - I agree with you, but pointe shoes have changed in composition (you wouldn't believe how much that changes choreography until you ask some strong dancers to roll through their feet and they can't because their shoes don't roll) and I only cite that as one of the little things outside a studio that mirror or influence what happens on the inside.

I'm not arguing this because I think that dancing has improved - I'm with you that I want those ballets danced as they were intended. I just think the causes are complicated and that changing training may not be enough to get that back - at least not for a decade at minimum.

Quickly adding to what sz said, I don't think anything can substitute for the fact that Balanchine was there, at NYCB, making those dances directly on those dancers. We're not going to have truly great dancing again until someone is making truly great choreography directly on the bodies that will dance it :)

Share this post


Link to post