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Showings of 1965 Performance Film of Balanchine's "Don Quixotin 2007 restoration by New York Public Library


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#31 Jack Reed

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 11:45 AM

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.

#32 Farrell Fan

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 12:13 PM

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.

#33 Ray

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 05:31 PM

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).

#34 Farrell Fan

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 05:55 PM

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.

#35 vipa

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 06:40 PM

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.

#36 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 08:30 PM

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.

#37 nysusan

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Posted 20 September 2007 - 04:02 AM

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.

#38 deanofdance

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 12:33 PM

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.

#39 Jack Reed

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 01:19 PM

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.

#40 EAW

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 03:16 PM

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.

#41 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 03:39 PM

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.

#42 Ray

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 06:54 PM

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.



#43 EAW

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 05:37 AM

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?

#44 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 05:52 AM

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.

#45 Ray

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Posted 22 September 2007 - 07:02 AM

[...] 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?


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