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Gorey's "Lavender Leotard" and the NYCB mentality:some questions about the NYCB allusions


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#31 rg

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 05:16 AM

re: divertimento, i believe gorey noted the culprit in the moment described here was erik bruhn.

#32 EAW

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 06:22 AM

re: divertimento, i believe gorey noted the culprit in the moment described here was erik bruhn.




Yes, it was Bruhn. Arlene Croce also wrote about that moment, explaining why Balanchine subsequently made the choreography tamer and safer.

#33 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 02:35 PM

I think Tallchief returned to City Ballet in '62 or '63. She brought Bruhn with her. She didn't stay long. I recall "Scotch Symphony" being taught to the Joffrey (by Vida Brown? Una Kai?) in '66 and the toss was still in there. The tossed was Noel Mason, and the catcher, Nels Jorgensen.

#34 bart

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 12:37 PM

[Y]ou can find Gorey interviewed by Anna Kisselgoff and Tobi Tobias in "Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey," edited by Karen Wilkin.

Thanks for that information, kfw. The book has just arrived (listed on Amazon, but sent by Goodwill Industries which, to my surprise, apparently has a large used book business; the copy was pristine and arrived promptly).

The volume includes many interviews (from this famously, but apparently incorrectly, uncommunicative person). I love Gorey's vision and his work in bits and pieces. It sems a bit constricted, however, when you look at it as the basis a life-time's oeuvre encompassing decades. The key influences and obsessions seem to have come into place very early in his life and not changed very much thereafter. It does take an obsessive to attend EVERY performance of the New York City Ballet for so many years, but Gorey explains why he does it and almost convinces me that the effort was worth while.

The first interview in Wilkin volume begins with a rather touching vignette:

Edward Gorey is sitting at a table in the Gotham Book Mar painstakingly painting the skirt of a dance costuime depicted on the cover of his book The Lavender Leotard. He is applying watrcolors to a quarter-inch square on the 1100 copies of the book because the printer couldn't manage the exact shade of the real skirt belonging to the New York City Ballet, of which Gorey is a devoted fan.


Several of the interviews (with Anna Kisselgoff and Tobie Tobias) include statements explaining the advantages of attending multiple performances of the same ballets, even when you don't particularly like the ballet.

Of course there are performances I can barely sit through. But one of the things that made me go to every performance is that you may come across one that is going to be exceptional. I can count a great many transcendental performances that took place on a Saturday matinee when no one in his right mind would be there because they were doing Firebird, Swan Lake, and Western Symphony.


When you do this, of course, you must realize that you're seeing something entirely different from everybody else. From someone who sees Swan Lake once a year. You become intimate with the work. With the way dancers are performing. You begin noticing people in the corps. The choreography -- I can still be brought up short by a ballet I've seen over a hundred times.


His favorite dancers as of the early 70s were Diana Adams and Patricia McBridge. He considered Balanchine the single greatest genius whose work he knew.

I dont' think the New York City Ballet is so far and away above every other company, the way Balanchine is so far and away above every other choreographer, but I think it's probably the best company I've ever seen. You can often hear me bitching about somebody's eprformance, but I'm bitching on a terribly high level.



#35 popularlibrary

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 02:53 PM

Ted Gorey never stopped lamenting the loss of Diana Adams, whom he adored - Prodigal Son was ruined for him forever when she stopped dancing the Siren - and he never took to Farrell. He considered her affected, and so she was pre-Bejart. (Farrell was at her greatest in the post 1975 period, a matter Arlene Croce covers definitively.) The little gang that met on the first ring during intermissions in those days would often find Gorey already there, having walked out annoyed with the ballet or the casting. Along with McBride, I remember that he admired Kent, even though one never quite knew what she would do next, or if she would make it at all, and he also liked Helgi Tomasson. What he considered Verdy's fussiness drove him nuts and caused some of his most explosive complaints. He used to say that the 'Sands of the Desert' section of Figure in the Carpet was a beige bore that went on forever. He was one person who was not sorry to see that little work die.

Re Balanchine 'liking' people to fall. Believe me, no one, Balanchine or otherwise, liked seeing people fall. They got injured and caused casting problems. It also unsettled the audience and distracted their attention. What Balanchine liked was dancers going all-out and giving everything they had, with full energy and commitment. "What are you saving it for?" was his response to over-caution and low energy.

#36 Helene

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 03:19 PM

Re Balanchine 'liking' people to fall. Believe me, no one, Balanchine or otherwise, liked seeing people fall. They got injured and caused casting problems. It also unsettled the audience and distracted their attention. What Balanchine liked was dancers going all-out and giving everything they had, with full energy and commitment. "What are you saving it for?" was his response to over-caution and low energy.

I wasn't trying to suggest that he got vicarious pleasure out of it, but that many dancers have repeated that he felt that a fall meant that they were dancing all out, and he would praise them. Considering how rarely he gave praise, and how dancers recall remember the rare examples when he did, praise when falling while dancing full out stuck in their minds and recollections. (No one ever said that he was happy when someone tripped accidentally or was injured.)

#37 kfw

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 03:48 PM

You can often hear me bitching about somebody's eprformance, but I'm bitching on a terribly high level.

:yahoo: I hope to use that line someday somewhere.

So he wasn't overly fond of Firebird, Swan Lake, and Western Symphony -- who would have imagined? I read somewhere that over the years he sat out more and more ballets. Can anyone who attended regularly back then speak to that? Was it, as this quote would indicate, particular ballets, even Balanchine ballets, that he would decline to see? Was he just bored? Did he not want inferior casts to mar cherished memories?

#38 bart

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 06:39 PM

You can often hear me bitching about somebody's eprformance, but I'm bitching on a terribly high level.

:dunno: I hope to use that line someday somewhere.

Me too! A great line.

So he wasn't overly fond of Firebird, Swan Lake, and Western Symphony -- who would have imagined? I read somewhere that over the years he sat out more and more ballets. Can anyone who attended regularly back then speak to that? Was it, as this quote would indicate, particular ballets, even Balanchine ballets, that he would decline to see? Was he just bored? Did he not want inferior casts to mar cherished memories?

From the interviews, I have the impression that some of Gorey's feelings about attending every performance transcended the qualities of individual ballets and dancers. Perhaps it was the possibility of the unexpected and the sublinme: "Those Satuday matinees when nobody is there and people are dancing like dreams." Another great line :)

:yahoo: Gorey's talent lay in the ability to delve deeply, obsessively, and with a powerful sense of irony and the macbre, into the darker side of life, while using what was essentially a small art form. For some reason, I saw a connection when I read a review recently -- in the NY Review of Books -- of the work of a 19th-century writer working in an entirely different genre. Fellix Feneon, an art critic, published, in the French press in the decade before World War One, over 1,000 exceptionally brief stories describing real events that were often grotesque or wierdly tragic. These "nouvelles en trois lignes" (short stories in 3 lines) were brilliantly compressed and followed rules of composition almost as rigid as haiku.

Mme. Fournier, M. Vouin, M. Septeuil, of Sucy, Tripleval, Septeuil, hanged themslves: neurasthenia, cancer, unemployment.

"To die like Joan of Arc!" cried Terborgh, from the top of a pyre made of his furniture. The firemen of Saint-Ouen stifled his ambition.

The schoolchildren of Niort were being crowned. The chandelier fell, and the laurels of three among them were spotted with a little blood.

A dishwasher from Nancy, Vital Frerotte, who had just come back from Lourdes cured forevere of tuberculosis, died Sunday bymistake.

Again and again Mme. Coudere, of Saint-Ouen, was prevented from hanging herself from her window bolt. Exasperated, she fled across the fields.

Finding his daughter, 19, insufficiently austere, Jallat, watchmaker of Saint-Etienne, killed her. It is true that he has eleven children left.

And, most Gorey-llike of all

On the bowling lawn a stroke leveled M. Andre, 75, of Levallois. While his ball was still rolling he was no more.

Like Gorey, Feneon proclaimed his eccentricity in his dress. A photo from the 1880s shows him as an exeedingly tall and thin man, with a chin beard like Uncle Sam's. He wears a top hat and a distinctive caped overcoat -- not fur like Gorey's, but a signature costume nonetheless.

Here's a link to the review, unfortunately without the photo: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20732

#39 Farrell Fan

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 07:07 PM

I overheard him bitching about "Mozartiana" one night. He particularly seemed to dislike the music.

#40 popularlibrary

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Posted 30 October 2007 - 11:35 AM

I can't answer for Mozartiana because health issues had more or less put an end to regular attendance for me by the mid 70s, but I do remember that Gorey did sit out more and more ballets as time went on, and eventually stopped coming to every performance. He had very distinct likes and dislikes, not all of them predictable, and sometimes, like the rest of us, he was just in a bad mood. He tended to skip the non-Balanchine stuff, of which there was more than you would think (a recent going over of Nancy Reynolds' Repertory in Review was an eye-opening reminder of just how many second-rate ballets made it into the repertory even then) - if we were in for a Taras, Tanner, etc. work he'd usually sit it out unless there was someone he really liked in the cast.

He wasn't mad about Robbins either, and quickly had enough of Dances at a Gathering, In the Night and the others - he really disliked Robbins' musical sense as I remember. There were certainly Balanchine works he disliked, and it could take him a season or so to decide if he liked a new ballet, but aside from obvious horrors like PAMTGG and Electronics, I don't remember which particular Balanchine ballets he didn't care for. As for Western Symphony and such, it was less dislike than being very tired of them. We all were. It took a spectacular cast to get a number of fans to watch the umpteenth Western, Stars, etc.

And Balanchine tinkered constantly, which could be annoying enough to cause some colorful Ted-bursts. Firebird was one of the worst - Mr. B couldn't leave it alone, although I thought the production with Von Aroldingen decked out in big white wings was pretty hilarious. She looked like a prehistoric flying dinosauer out for prey. Gorey was not amused. He was fussy about casting, but usually watched unless it was someone he truly couldn't stand, like Mimi Paul.

To change the subject - Helene, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you thought Mr. B enjoyed people falling and getting hurt. But I think it was something he was more cautious about than you may believe. Melinda Roy's story on the Balanchine Celebration tape is perhaps the only one I remember in which he praised a dancer for actually falling. If you know others, it would be nice to know the story and the dancer involved. My impression, both at the time, and from what I've read since, is that Balanchine was of two minds. He would change choreography (like SS) that had proved dangerous, or that a dancer had real trouble doing, but that he wanted a full, all-out expenditure of energy and commitment. And while he may not have been effusive he did have ways of letting dancers know that they had done well. If books are a source, then Mazo's Dance Is a Contact Sport is pretty clear both that his dancers loved Balanchine and that they got injured at a terrible rate. It was Robbins who was the company bete-noire, apparently.

#41 kfw

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Posted 30 October 2007 - 12:00 PM

Thanks for answering my question, Bart and FF. And thanks, popularlibrary, for your very interesting memories -- I missed your post last night or I wouldn't have asked, but given that your answer further filled in the picture, I'm glad I did!

#42 rg

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Posted 30 October 2007 - 12:08 PM

EG rarely sat out ANY balanchine ballet. he would sit out the odd work by other choreographers.
i think b/c he often slipped out of the first ring, where he liked to perch on one of the side stairs, w/o sometimes waiting for curtain calls to be over, he might seem to have sat out the ballet altogether, but he really didn't sit out that very much.
he stopped coming to every perf. only when he left town, initially b/c his mother wasn't well on cape cod where he would spend his summers but then where he would spend some ballet season time b/c of her needs.
so far as i can recall he had every subsubscription to NYCB seasons and would buy the non-sub. perfs at the box office.
true, he had strong likes & dislikes, who doesn't? and he thought for himself; no one else's high or low opinion of any work or any dancer could alter his own thinking. (he's not the only one i know who wasn't taken w/ mozartiana - a writer friend once proposed doing an article about why she failed to admire the work, but in the end i don't think ever published such a piece.)
i know from real experience that when any of his friends tried to convince him to miss a perf. here or there to say, see a movie, his reply to such a suggestion would invariably be: well, i have this ballet ticket, see... and....
sometimes charles france woud really twist his arm to blow off a perf. but not often.

#43 Paul Parish

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Posted 30 October 2007 - 11:18 PM

Thank you, Bart, for those quote s from Feneon.... priceless.


it hardly seems an oversimplification to say that Duchamp brought this ideal to New York, planted it , and it took root. Remy Charlip''s dances work in a vein like this (not to mention his rewrite of Hamlet, "Young Omelettte," which is like walking on eggshells....), and on a grander scale, works like the fabulous "Antic Meet" of of Merce Cunningham. Satie seems to be the patron saint of them all, and HE had -- what was it, 10 suits of pearl-grey velvet, which was the only costume in which he ever appeared in public?

#44 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 03 November 2007 - 06:42 PM

Other throws that have gone MIA:

  • The ones on the big diagonal in 3rd Movement Symphony in C. They now merely sissonne lifts. :huh:
  • The ones in Second Movement Brahms, which used to be so thrilling. The man would toss the woman and then catch her in a back-bending swoon. Gorgeous moments which are still lovely, even only a shadow of its intended effect.
  • The ones in Monumentum pro Gesualdo.
  • The ones in Agon's second pas de trois still has some oomph, but are veering dangerously in the direction of pass-off.
So much for the Balanchine rep (although I may have missed some). I wonder what happens to Dances at a Gathering -- the big waltz -- if the ballet masters begin to make allowances there? :)

4) Ballerina in classical tutu, trying to escape her much smaller partner: "You know what? I forgot the feather." What ballet?

Picking up on the height disparity, I wondered if this might refer to Bouree Fantasque, whose first movement is a series of visual jokes about a tall ballerina with a too-short partner.


I am pretty sure that the tosses are still in Monumentum pro Gesualdo....

I think the "feather" cartoon refers to Firebird, as the feather is essential to his being rescued from Katschei. Most of the costumes in the cartoons (for example "La Valse" with the glove) seem to be pretty right on....though I am not as familiar with many of these ballets as YOU guys!!!! Sigh.....

I am going to have to learn how to navigate and explore this site much better.... when the new "Lavender Leotard" came out in Ballet Review, I posted a quick note in a Forum (don't recall which one) to alert people about this little treasure. Not only did no one reply, but until today, I never found THIS fun thread!!

#45 bart

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Posted 03 November 2007 - 07:15 PM

Welcome to the club, ViolinConcerto. Glad you found the thread. Any other cartoons you particularly liked or images that rang a bell with you?

... found the thread ...

Think Theseus, Ariadne, Minotaur, maze. Isn't there a ballet about that? :)


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