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"Classicism is enduring because it is impersonal"

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Balanchine may have been, in his belief in a God-centered calling, only the "asssembler." But in practical terms in the studio he couldl not avoid acting as the Creator. He was certainly willing to factor in a dancer's individuality when choreographing or restaging, and made frequent choreographic changes in many (but not all) of his ballets to accomodate new casts. But Balanchine always remained in control. (A cynic might say he was a master in the art of emotional manipulation.) Telling the dancers to consider themselves as servants of their Art: isn't that another way of telling them, the Father knows best?

It could be, but not necessarily if he saw himself as another servant. I think the question is wrapped up in his old-fashioned view of gender roles. For example, when we read what he told John Gruen (as published in "The Private World of Ballet"), that men are great poets because men have to write beautiful poetry for woman," that "man is the servant - a good servant," and that in ballet "woman is first" and "I have dedicated my art to her," we recognize the sexism today, but it's doubtful he recognized it himself. We know he had an ego, we know he could be manipulative, but when he says he's a servant, he sounds sincere to me.

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kfw, I suspect that you have devoted more time and thought than most of us to Balanchine's aesthetics. I am curious to know your take on Patrick's point that there appears to be a "disconnect" between the ideas and the real career (and esepcially the works).

Perhaps such a disconnect is inevitable. If so, it certainly doesn't invalidate the usefulness, importance, and even the beauty of Balanchine's statements about ballet. But, it may be a warning to those of us (and I am speaking for myself) who tend to look at statements made in interviews and books, even isolated sentences and especially powerful phrases, and imagine that we are reading real game plans for the man's life and career.

Another thing: is it possible that Balanchine, many of whose statements appear to be intentionally cryptic and even provocative, was trying to stimulate thought rather than express a cohesive theory?

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kfw, I suspect that you have devoted more time and thought than most of us to Balanchine's aesthetics. I am curious to know your take on Patrick's point that there appears to be a "disconnect" between the ideas and the real career (and esepcially the works).

Perhaps such a disconnect is inevitable. If so, it certainly doesn't invalidate the usefulness, importance, and even the beauty of Balanchine's statements about ballet. But, it may be a warning to those of us (and I am speaking for myself) who tend to look at statements made in interviews and books, even isolated sentences and especially powerful phrases, and imagine that we are reading real game plans for the man's life and career.

Another thing: is it possible that Balanchine, many of whose statements appear to be intentionally cryptic and even provocative, was trying to stimulate thought rather than express a cohesive theory?

Bart, perhaps the fact that I see no disconnection shows that I've thought less or less well. But I don't, and I also think that, for all the fun it is to speculate, there is limited value in using Balanchine's statements to probe and reimagine the psyche of a man -- and this is partly to Patrick's point -- whose primary means of expression was visual and not verbal. His biographer Bernard Taper complained that he had so little to go on in regards to his subject's inner life -- fewer letters than ballets, for example. I suspect that the closer we stay to face value, the more accurate a picture we have. As Balanchine replied to Taper, "you should think of your task as if you were writing the biography of a racehorse. A racehorse doesn't keep a diary." And a racehorse acts by training and instinct, not by calculation.

Also, I'm not Russian Orthodox, but as someone steeped in the Biblical conceptions of God as Father and humankind as created in his image -- created to, among other things, create -- Balanchine's assertion that God creates and man assembles sounds sincere. Or to put it another way, God Created, and then Balanchine created. That's "profound" to me. :wink: So, Patrick, when you write that

religion and theology for Balanchine are still necessarily subsumed to the World of Art,

my hunch is that the former flows naturally into the latter. I have really enjoyed everyone's thought on this thread, and thanks especially to popularlibrary for deepening and widening the ideas under consideration.

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I am curious to know your take on Patrick's point that there appears to be a "disconnect" between the ideas and the real career (and esepcially the works).

There's not necessarily a disconnect between the ideas and the dance works, but rather a disconnect between the verbal statements in any literal sense. That's the obvious place, and it's not fault-finding, but rather that it would be impossible to do a perfect verbal reflection. Those are secondary, and they are the privilege of someone who has achieved something important in a domain which is, as kfw says, an entirely different form. They could even be said to be 'dancer-words', which like 'musician-words' are not the purest form of words in terms of comprehensibility and clarity as would be those of a writer (any more than a musician's or writer's movements would be the pure form of dance, but they'd still reflect the style and being of the writer and/or musician and reflect those more concentrated identities.)

Another thing: is it possible that Balanchine, many of whose statements appear to be intentionally cryptic and even provocative, was trying to stimulate thought rather than express a cohesive theory?

Even if he wasn't trying to do this, that is what the statements do, stemming as they do from his real authority as a ballet artist. This happens quite as much with the ones I dislike (the Lehar/Beethoven, which has a toffee-nosed sound to it, but still forces you to make a decision about Beethoven--which Balanchine obviously knows is the serious issue more then Lehar) as the ones I do, such as this one about classicism, which makes you look at the pros and cons of the personal and impersonal (you can't really arrive anywhere, because both of them persist no matter what one 'likes.')

Kfw's idea of theology flowing into the 'World of Art', as I had termed it, would naturally do so, of course, but the subsuming is only the matter of the material: The material in Balanchine's case is Dance. Therefore, even if it theologically informed, it is always compared to other dance and other art, not other theology; in the same way that his verbal statements can be profoundly philosophical, but they are not compared to Nietzsche or Spinoza, but rather more likely to things that would be said by Picasso, Graham, Stravinsky, etc.

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Earlier, Cristian asked whether we had answered the original question. I'm one who tends to value the quest and sometimes loses sight of the goal. Nevertheless, I have the feeling on this one, that the mystery still eludes us. (After all, Orthodoxy is a religion of mystery, poetry, and ritual as much as of dogma.)

As I've read everyone's contributions, I've found myself beginning to suspect that the answer to Cristian's question is, for me at least: There's no answer. Instead, doors to other intriguing questions keep popping up. So do new word images. Kfw, I will never forget "A race horse doesn't keep a diary." Patrick, ditto re your point about "dancer-words." I kick myself for sometimes forgetting the difference between those and, let's say, "logician words."

I just came across the following in Arlene Croce's Afterimages. It seems relevant to the gist of our discussion. She says of classical style

t is so nonrational a thing. The best discussions of it are in Edwin Denby's work -- see particularly "Some Thoughts about Classicism and George Balanchine" -- but even Denby avoids hitting the point head on. He will tell you all the places he has seen it; he will speak of its "power," its "secret radiance," he will even say that "classical ballet is ... based on an ideal conception of expression professional called 'style.'" But that word "professionally seems to withdraw it from the public gaze. Perhaps Denby knows that you can't hit the point without crushing it. Better not to try.

However, I don't know if I agree with "Better not to try."

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I do love discussions like this! We go so many interesting places. I think Balanchine's statements (like those of most great artists) are not only far lesser things than his works, but have to be taken quite individually to avoid collapsing into silliness. When he told Danilova that the Dark Angel (I don't know if he ever called her that, but never mind) in Serenade was married to her charge, the two of them just going through life together, and of course he left that other girl because she was a foolish creature who had too many affairs, we can agree he was either joking or in one of his contrarian moods. We might also agree that he had a very feline streak and didn't mind being provocative or mischievous.

But - but - some of his comments are worth considering, and I think the one about Russia as the home of the romantic ballet may be one of them. On the Arlene Croce thread we were speaking of a review she wrote called Makarova on Broadway (collected in Going to the Dance) comparing the pre and post Soviet Mariinsky/Kirov. Here is the core of it:

...The most immediately striking discrepancy between the post-Imperial-style Paquita set by Danilova and the latter-day Kirov-style one set by Makarova is that Makarova's has a great many more complicated and difficult steps (further complicated by different tempos). Danilova's version has dance architecture; Makarova's has none. Danilova's has bouyancy; Makarova's has drive. Danilova's looks choreographically bald; in Makarova's, the dancers split hairs. ...

I would add that it seems to me Balanchine was speaking of the Soviet era in which the dancer became primary, the technique acquired an almost baroque sensationalism, and its point was, to a very large degree, to serve the performer, and the performer's personal expression. In his (and Danilova's) time, the dancer served the classical body of technique, which in turn served the choreographer, and as Croce points out, the overarching logic and architecture of any given set of steps. Expressing oneself came through the work itself and was not a principle existing to some extent outside what was being performed. The Kirov (et al.) concept of self-expression, on the other hand, is, I think, a product of the Romantic concept of the artist, and it seems to have been foreign to Balanchine, who - I agree - saw himself as a servant, a conduit and a professional, and expected his dancers to see themselves similarly. So I think his comment expressed his sense not of the quality of Russian ballet but of its underlying principles and I tend to agree that these can be fairly labeled as Romantic, as opposed to what he was doing in America, which, if not exactly 'impersonal', could probably be called classical in the traditional sense of the term, and in his mind very probably the basic grounds for its endurance.

My sense of the current state of the Mariinsky (given that I can't go see them and have to rely on filmed performances) is that the foundations are still far more Romantic than Classical, but that choreographic architecture's loss of the battle to choreographic decoration may have had the ironic side effect of deadening personal dramatic and emotional expression instead of enhancing it - an effect Youskevitcvh pointed out some time ago about Baryshnikov's Albrecht. Oh well, it is a tangled subject with many facets, so I'll leave off before I collapse into silliness myself.

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Popularlibrary, you give us a lot to chew on. Thank you so much.

I think Balanchine's statements (like those of most great artists) are not only far lesser things than his works, but have to be taken quite individually to avoid collapsing into silliness. [ ... ] But - but - some of his comments are worth considering, and I think the one about Russia as the home of the romantic ballet may be one of them.[

I am especially intrigued by the next sentence, which I've taken the liberty of putting in italics.

I would add that it seems to me Balanchine was speaking of the Soviet era in which the dancer became primary, the technique acquired an almost baroque sensationalism, and its point was, to a very large degree, to serve the performer, and the performer's personal expression.

This idea of Balanchine commenting on and reacting against the ballet of the Soviete era is something I never thought of, especiallys since he left the Soviet Union relatively early, but it really does make one wonder. Much of what he says certainly sounds like a criticism of, and corrective to, the aesthetic excesses of Soviet ballet.

You describe Soviet ballet, up to today, as expressing a "romantic concept of the artist" and add that this "seems to have been foreign to Balanchine." I know only a little about Soviet ballet, but what you write certainly has the ring of truth. I especially like the way you pinpoint a Romantic/Classiscal divide as one a possible key to our puzzle about Balanchine's use of the term "impersonal."

The Kirov (et al.) concept of self-expression, on the other hand, is, I think, a product of the Romantic concept of the artist, and it seems to have been foreign to Balanchine, who - I agree - saw himself as a servant, a conduit and a professional, and expected his dancers to see themselves similarly. So I think his comment expressed his sense not of the quality of Russian ballet but of its underlying principles and I tend to agree that these can be fairly labeled as Romantic, as opposed to what he was doing in America, which, if not exactly 'impersonal', could probably be called classical in the traditional sense of the term, and in his mind very probably the basic grounds for its endurance.

Alexandra? Leonid? Can you offer some of your own thoughts on this?

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I wonder if Kirstein actually had Balanchine in mind when he expressed that opinion, given that Balanchine's style is very personal and not at all codified. It has an extremely thick "accent," to use his expression.

Hans, given that SAB does have a syllabus and that there is such a thing as Balanchine technique, I don't understand what you mean when you say his style isn't codified. Yes Balanchine is "neo-classical," but then there is his retort upon first returning to Russia that "the home of classic ballet is now America."

If SAB has a syllabus, this is the first I've heard of it, and I was an advanced student there. As far as Balanchine's style being a technique, I'm afraid I do not agree with that. The teachers on BTfD have had several discussions about it, and I as well as others feel that while the Balanchine style is fine for professionals to learn, it is not a method (such as the Vaganova method, Cecchetti method, &c) to be used for training children.

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Thanks for the explanation, Hans.

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I feel that I must back Hans up on this one. SAB has no syllabus; it has a sort of curriculum, based on the presence of hierarchic stratified class levels, but there is no place I know of to which someone (not necessarily everyone) may go to find out what standards and vocabulary and degrees of expertise are adhered to in the various levels. Mystique is part of the Balanchine legacy. There is supposed to be a "hidden knowledge", a gnosticism, involved with how the teaching and the technical standard work. The closest I can see to standardization is for a faculty to be assembled of fairly synoptic teachers, and the teaching to carry on from that point. That there is no unified "Balanchine technique" is a statement warranted by the lack of a distinctive vocabulary, the school and company making use of nomenclature based on Cecchetti as modified by the Imperial Russians. The Paris Opéra School is just as secretive, but it at least maintains a set of distinctive nomenclatures, consistent within itself. Balanchine is a style; it needs codification by as great a genius as Balanchine in the pedagogical field. No candidate for this office has yet emerged, or even seems to be riding out there on the horizon.

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I feel that I must back Hans up on this one. SAB has no syllabus; it has a sort of curriculum, based on the presence of hierarchic stratified class levels, but there is no place I know of to which someone (not necessarily everyone) may go to find out what standards and vocabulary and degrees of expertise are adhered to in the various levels. Mystique is part of the Balanchine legacy. There is supposed to be a "hidden knowledge", a gnosticism, involved with how the teaching and the technical standard work. The closest I can see to standardization is for a faculty to be assembled of fairly synoptic teachers, and the teaching to carry on from that point. That there is no unified "Balanchine technique" is a statement warranted by the lack of a distinctive vocabulary, the school and company making use of nomenclature based on Cecchetti as modified by the Imperial Russians. The Paris Opéra School is just as secretive, but it at least maintains a set of distinctive nomenclatures, consistent within itself. Balanchine is a style; it needs codification by as great a genius as Balanchine in the pedagogical field. No candidate for this office has yet emerged, or even seems to be riding out there on the horizon.

That is most interesting and elucidates much. Thanks.

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I feel that I must back Hans up on this one. SAB has no syllabus; it has a sort of curriculum, based on the presence of hierarchic stratified class levels, but there is no place I know of to which someone (not necessarily everyone) may go to find out what standards and vocabulary and degrees of expertise are adhered to in the various levels. Mystique is part of the Balanchine legacy. There is supposed to be a "hidden knowledge", a gnosticism, involved with how the teaching and the technical standard work. The closest I can see to standardization is for a faculty to be assembled of fairly synoptic teachers, and the teaching to carry on from that point. That there is no unified "Balanchine technique" is a statement warranted by the lack of a distinctive vocabulary, the school and company making use of nomenclature based on Cecchetti as modified by the Imperial Russians. The Paris Opéra School is just as secretive, but it at least maintains a set of distinctive nomenclatures, consistent within itself. Balanchine is a style; it needs codification by as great a genius as Balanchine in the pedagogical field. No candidate for this office has yet emerged, or even seems to be riding out there on the horizon.

That is most interesting and elucidates much. Thanks.

Yes indeed. Thanks, Mel. What about Suki Schorer's book and the Balanchine technique videos with Ashley (not that those are exhaustive)?

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The teachers on BTfD have had several discussions about it, and I as well as others feel that while the Balanchine style is fine for professionals to learn, it is not a method (such as the Vaganova method, Cecchetti method, &c) to be used for training children.
Very helpful. And very, very clearly expressed. Thank you, Hans. The better we learn to define our terms, the clearer our thinking on these matters becomes.
IMystique is part of the Balanchine legacy. There is supposed to be a "hidden knowledge", a gnosticism, involved with how the teaching and the technical standard work.
So true! Thanks, Mel.

Like kfw, I would like to hear your thoughts on the Suki Schorer book and the videos on Balanchine technique. Each goes so deeply into the subject-matter. I was amazed -- as a non-dancer who started class late in life just to see what it felt like -- by how fascinating I became with both.

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With all personal respect to those ladies and others, as has been pointed out, their works are rather localized, and don't begin to address the larger issues of establishing a true technique and a complete curriculum for training with its attendant syllabi. Everybody out there is operating on "the last time I talked to Him about this," and the very strangest of them maintain that He still talks to them, AND THEY'RE NOT KIDDING! Mme. Blavatsky would be soooo happy!

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Everybody out there is operating on "the last time I talked to Him about this," and the very strangest of them maintain that He still talks to them, AND THEY'RE NOT KIDDING!

Hey, if Tchaikovsky was able to talk to Balanchine, . . . :D

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and the very strangest of them maintain that He still talks to them, AND THEY'RE NOT KIDDING! Mme. Blavatsky would be soooo happy!

Yes, those are strange, and very solemn, I'd venture to guess. Inner sanctums always hypnotize.

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As currently immersed in Kirkland's "Dancing on my grave", i came across some quotes that i think would be interesting to include in this profound thread in which philosophical reasoning, inner meaning and rational interpretation are playing a key factor. Here they are:

"We thought he had all the answers. In fact, he did not have to worry about the answers as long as he kept both the dancers and the audience asking the wrong questions". Kirkland.

"Its very difficult to explain why i do what i do. I can teach and explain to pupils what to do better, but not because there's a reason". Balanchine.

"As if the faculty or reason were a dangerous threat, he encouraged his dancers not to think". Kirkland.

"You have to be very careful when you use your mind, or you will get into trouble". Balanchine.

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I'd be cautious about Kirkland's descriptions and opinions of Balanchine. He certainly had faults, but her viewpoint is very skewed.

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I agree with Leigh, but I do think there's a lot of truth in the quote: "You have to be very careful when you use your mind, or you will get into trouble". Balanchine. Performance has to be beyond thinking. You don't want to listen to a pianist playing a very difficult concerto thinking about scales, worrying which key s/he is in at the moment and when the arpeggio passage is coming up and how that relates to the melody hiding in the harmony for a few minutes and STRUCTURE! Where are we in sonata form? :)

For those of us who watch or think or write about ballet from the outside, too, it can be very easy to draw conclusions from the smallest clue and extrapolate from these conclusions, add on a few assumptions we've misoverheard or misread, and come up with some pretty impressive(ly wrong) theories!

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I agree with Leigh, but I do think there's a lot of truth in the quote: "You have to be very careful when you use your mind, or you will get into trouble". Balanchine. Performance has to be beyond thinking. You don't want to listen to a pianist playing a very difficult concerto thinking about scales, worrying which key s/he is in at the moment and when the arpeggio passage is coming up and how that relates to the melody hiding in the harmony for a few minutes and STRUCTURE! Where are we in sonata form? :)

The things you've noted are not eligible during performance--worrying about scales and doing theory analysis--but 'beyond thinking' does not mean you are not using your mind. You're using it more than ever in an inspired performance. That's why "You have to be very careful when you use your mind, or you will get into trouble" can go either way; but it's phrased in such a way as to make it seem at least a bit suspect to 'use your mind', or it possibly indicates you should use it or not according to the one stating it--and for this, the only solution is to make up your mind, since listening to Balanchine reverently is definitely for some and not for all. Therefore, the remark is a bit suspect and Gelsey's suspicions also have some truth. Obviously Balanchine ruled. And technical considerations are not totally ruled out on stage, of course; it's just that they become second nature, rather than anything obsessive. I like some of Gelsey's remarks, even if they're exaggerated. It's good to question, and nobody doesn't get questioned.

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I agree with Leigh, but I do think there's a lot of truth in the quote: "You have to be very careful when you use your mind, or you will get into trouble". Balanchine. Performance has to be beyond thinking.

Yes. But there is a problem with juxtaposing this quotation with the one just before it:

"As if the faculty or reason were a dangerous threat, he encouraged his dancers not to think". Kirkland.
Kirkland, it seems to me, may have personalized and misinterpreted what Balanchine was saying to fit her own view of the ballet world at that stage of her life. She was not, perhaps, the most objective observer of her ballet milieu at the time she wrote this book.

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This is veering off into Kirkland, but there exists the possibility she assumed that what Balanchine said to her he said to everyone else, and he may not have. And if there ever was a dancer who overthought just about everything, it was Kirkland.

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I agree with Leigh, but I do think there's a lot of truth in the quote: "You have to be very careful when you use your mind, or you will get into trouble". Balanchine. Performance has to be beyond thinking.

Yes. But there is a problem with juxtaposing this quotation with the one just before it:

"As if the faculty or reason were a dangerous threat, he encouraged his dancers not to think". Kirkland.
Kirland, it seems to me, may have personalized and misinterpreted what Balanchine was saying to fit her own view of the ballet world at that stage of her life. She was not, perhaps, the most objective observer of her ballet milieu at the time she wrote this book.

Oh, i didn't came out with the yuxtaposition...that was just how Kirkland wrote it...The whole paragraph is as fallows:

"With his own ballets as the testing ground, he was the only judge of talent. He set the style. His monopoly on taste and creative control was absolute. If anyone dared mention the unusual fashion of the emperor's new clothes, the hapless soul was banished from Mr. B's little empire. As if the faculty of reason were a dangerous threat, he encouraged his dancers not to think: "You have to be vary careful when you use your mind...or you will get into trouble"

Now, my own quote:

"I'll have to be very careful when i use some quotations here...or i will get into trouble too" :) .Cristian.

Just trying to add some spice, people...nothing else. :cool: (Plus i'm loving the book, BTW)

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Ray, you gotta write a book: A Quip with a Past. (I love that phrase!)

Actually, I do have to write a book :) That's probably why I'm posting so much!

Ah, what I've heard called "displacement activity!" My commiserations!

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(Plus i'm loving the book, BTW)

I love it when she refers to her trysts with Peter Martins, after giving some detail, as 'Modern Romance'. That's the name of an old American pulp magazine that perished in the 60s.(unless it was Modern Romances.)

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