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poetic balletfrom an accompanist's perspective


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#1 perichoresis

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 08:25 PM

I wrote this when I first began accompanying ballet classes.Not quite a Haiku but close.


At the barre,
how the curve
Of an arm
Echoed a young girl's smile.
Everything turned out beautifully.



Is anyone aware of poems with ballet as their subject matter?

#2 bart

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 05:13 AM

I enjoyed the image -- quietly joyful -- as well as the multiple meanings of "turned out."

This is a good question. Ballet has inspired visual artists. How about poets?

#3 Mashinka

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 06:28 AM

Les Sylphides by Louis MacNeice

Life in a day: he took his girl to the ballet;
Being shortsighted himself could hardly see it--
The white skirts in the grey
Glade and the swell of the music
Lifting the white sails.

Calyx upon calyx, canterbury bells in the breeze
The flowers on the left mirror to the flowers on the right
And the naked arms above
The powdered faces moving
Like seaweed in a pool.

Now, he thought, we are floating--ageless, oarless-
Now there is no separation, from now on
You will be wearing white
Satin and a red sash
Under the waltzing trees.

But the music stopped, the dancers took their curtain,
The river had come to a lock--a shuffle of programmes--
And we cannot continue down
Stream unless we are ready
To enter the lock and drop.

So they were married--to be the more together--
And found they were never again so much together,
Divided by the morning tea,
By the evening paper,
By children and tradesmen's bills.

Waking at times in the night she found assurance
In his regular breathing but wondered whether
It was really worth it and where
The river had flowed away
And where were the white flowers.

#4 Ray

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 08:40 AM

At Kaminís Dance Bookshop (from Lunch Poems, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1964.)
by Frank O'Hara

[Dedicated to Vincent Warren, one of the important loves in O'Hara's life, and a dancer for the New York City Ballet.]


Shade of Fanny Elssler! I dreamt that you passed over
me last night in sleep

was it you who was fast asleep or was it me? sweet shade
shade shade shill spade agony freak
geek you were not nor were you made of ribbons but
of warm moving flesh & tulle

you were twining your left leg around your right as if
your right were me

Iíve never felt so wide awake
I seemed to be wearing tights entwined with your legs
and a big sash over my crotch

and a jewel in my left ear for luck
(to help me balance) and you were pulling me toward
the floor reaching for stars

it seemed to me that I was warm at last
and palpable not just a skein of lust dipped in the
grand appreciation of yours

where are you Fanny Elssler come back!

#5 Farrell Fan

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 08:50 AM

"Tributes: Celebrating Fifty Years of New York City Ballet," is a handsome coffee table book, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc. in 1998, which contains poems by Robert Lowell, William Meredith, Frank O'Hara, Ron Padgett, Marianne Moore, Kenneth Koch, Amiri Baraka, Elise Paschen, Nikki Giovanni, and James Merrill.

#6 Quiggin

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 10:16 AM

Does anyone know the title and year of the Kenneth Koch poem about New York City Ballet? Arlene Croce quotes three lines from it in Going to the Dance:

...the blue-white sea
Outside the port-hole: Agon, or Symphony in C.

#7 Farrell Fan

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 11:26 AM

The Kenneth Koch poem, from 1998, is called "To New York City Ballet" and is from the Tributes book.

Oh dancers of New York, arranged by Balanchine,
You are more beautiful than groves of evergreen!
You have aesthetic distance, like the blue-white sea
Outside the porthole--Agon or Symphony in C!
And how the image lasts, with houselights going on,
Of the prince standing gazing at the disappearing swan!
Is it Odette? Was it Odile? The two are so the same,
But every smile or gesture seems to give away the game.
There's only one who brings this honest beating of the heart:
George Balanchine! Of all the kings of choreographic art,
Great Balanchine, who lifts us, with his dancers
As if there were no stage at all, to tell his stories there.

#8 carbro

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 12:10 PM

. . .
Is it Odette? Was it Odile? . . .


Odile? In Balanchine? Huh? :off topic:

Or am I reading too literally?

#9 Farrell Fan

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 12:57 PM

. . .
Is it Odette? Was it Odile? . . .


Odile? In Balanchine? Huh? :off topic:

Or am I reading too literally?

Poetic license, perhaps.

#10 drb

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 03:17 PM

. . .
Is it Odette? Was it Odile? . . .


Odile? In Balanchine? Huh? :off topic:

Or am I reading too literally?

Poetic license, perhaps.

...Suzanne Farrell, perhaps.

If you are willing to think of novelist Jack Kerouac as a poet:
From his Journals, 1949, after seeing a performance of Ballets Russes at the Met:

It is the most exquisite of the artsóone can die a strange little death after seeing the ballet for the first time.



#11 Quiggin

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 07:37 PM

Outside the porthole--Agon or Symphony in C!


From Gold and Fitzdale’s tribute to Balanchine, which is a bit poetical:

The Four Temperaments and Kammermusik speak perfect German. Agon – cold, sarcastic, analytic, probing – Sixties America.



This recent tweet by Isaac Hernandez could be a prose poem about the dancer’s life:

3rd movement symphony in C tonight, pack, plane, pas classique, Coppelia, plane, train and 3rd movement again. 3 long days.



#12 bart

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 08:43 PM

Thanks, Quiggin, for bringing back this thread, as well as the poetic spirit you find in several unlikely places.

You give me the chance to respond (QUITE belatedly) to Farrell Fan's 2008 reminder about the book Tributes.

I like Robert Lowell's little poem, written during a visit to New York City Ballet while on a Ford Foundation fellowship to write powetry about .... opera.

My verses cannot comment
on your immortal moment,
or tell you what you mean;
only Balanchine
has the razor edge,
and knows that art of language.


Marianne Moore on "Arthur Mitchell" (1956)

Slim dragon-fly
too rapid for the eye
to cage,
contagious gem of virtuosity
make visible, mentality.
Your jewels of mobility
reveal
and veil
a peacock tail.


Ron Padgett's "Litle Ode to Suzanne Farrell" (1998), which concludes ...

and you
who hover in the air like a disembodied heart
shocked into eternity for the split second the music
turns to face you and you find your face up there
in the dark where we are and a smile on it

There is space here and air and breath, clarity
of perfect tears that beakuty makes us cry to automatically

as you wrap the world around
your finger, then wrap yourself around the world.



And James Merrill, evoking the experience of watching a ballet -- "Farewell Performance" (1995) -- illustrated by the great Steve Caras photo of Balanchine's "Last Bow" (1982). It begins ....

Art. It cures affliction. As lights go down and
Maestro lifts his wand, the unfailing sea chanage
starts within us. Limber alembics once more
make of the common

lot a pure, brief gold.


And concludes:

.... How you would have loved it. We in
turn have risen. Pity and terror done with,
programs furled, lips parted, we jostle forward eager to hail them,

more, to join the troup -- will a friend enroll us
one fine day? Strange, though. For up close their magic
self-destrkucts. Pale, dripping, with downcast eyes they've
seen where it led you.



#13 Kerry1968

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 11:45 PM

[size=4][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]My favorite poem about dance is Arthur Symons's impressionistic La Mélinite:[/font][/size]
[size=4][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]. [/font][/size]

[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Alone, apart, one dancer watches[/font]
[size=4][font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Her mirrored, morbid grace;[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Before the mirror, face to face,[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Alone she watches[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Her morbid, vague, ambiguous grace.[/font]

[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Before the mirror's dance of shadows[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]She dances in a dream,[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]And she and they together seem[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]A dance of shadows;[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Alike the shadows of a dream.[/font]

[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]The orange-rosy lamps are trembling[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Between the robes that turn;[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]In ruddy flowers of flame that burn[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]The lights are trembling:[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]The shadows and the dancers turn.[/font]

[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]And, enigmatically smiling,[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]In the mysterious night,[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]She dances for her own delight,[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]A shadow smiling[/font]
[font=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Back to a shadow in the night.[/font] [/size]

#14 Kerry1968

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Posted 02 March 2013 - 11:49 PM

[size=4]"To a Dancer" by Arthur Symons:[/size]

[size=4][font=Arial, sans-serif]Intoxicatingly[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]Her eyes across the footlights gleam,[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif](The wine of love, the wine of dream)[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]Her eyes, that gleam for me![/font]

[font=Arial, sans-serif]The eyes of all that see[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]Draw to her glances, stealing fire[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]From her desire that leaps to my desire;[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]Her eyes that gleam for me![/font]

[font=Arial, sans-serif]Subtly, deliciously,[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]A quickening fire within me, beat[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]The rhythms of her poising feet;[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]Her feet that poise to me![/font]

[font=Arial, sans-serif]Her body's melody,[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]In silent waves of wandering sound,[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]Thrills to the sense of all around,[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]Yet thrills alone for me![/font]

[font=Arial, sans-serif]And oh, intoxicatingly,[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]When, at the magic moment's close,[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]She dies into the rapture of repose,[/font]
[font=Arial, sans-serif]Her eyes that gleam for me![/font][/size]

#15 AlbanyGirl

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 07:47 AM

Many interesting and thoughtful threads this week! Been too busy to take them all in and reply. Here is Frank O'Hara's poem to Tanny:

[font=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][size=3]Ode to Tanaquil LeClerc, 1960[/size][/font]

[font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][size=3]smiling through my own memories of painful excitement your wide eyes
stare
and narrow like a lost forest of childhood stolen from gypsies
two eyes that are the sunset of
two knees
two wrists
two minds
and the extended philosophical column, when they conducted the dialogues
in distant Athens, rests on your two ribbon-wrapped hearts, white
credibly agile
flashing
scimitars of a city-state

where in the innocence of my watching had those ribbons become entangled
dragging me upward into lilac-colored ozone where I gasped
and you continued to smile as you dropped the bloody scarf of my life
from way up there, my neck hurt

you were always changing into something else
and always will be
always plumage, perfection's broken heart, wings

and wide eyes in which everything you do
repeats yourself simultaneously and simply
as a window "gives" on something

it seems sometimes as if you were only breathing
and everything happened around you
because when you disappeared in the wings nothing was there
but the motion of some extraordinary happening I hadn't understood
the superb arc of a question, of a decision about death

because you are beautiful you are hunted
and with the courage of a vase
you refuse to become a deer or a tree
and the world holds its breath
to see if you are there, and safe

are you?[/size][/font]


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