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"Classicism is enduring because it is impersonal"

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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.

I agree the remark could go in both directions, but I also tend to agree with Alexandra that Balanchine probably meant it in a greater degree as a warning against the kind of intellectual analysis that gets in the dancer's way, causing self-consciousness and blocking a truly complete engagement with the choreography. In other words, I think he was trying to keep his dancers from needlessly limiting themselves and reducing their interpretations to only their own notions. That dancers argued with him we know from their accounts, and he did not punish them for it, Kirkland included. I can't help remembering Villella's story of his going to Violette Verdy to ask her if she knew what Rubies was all about, and when she gave him an elaborate scenario, his taking it back to Balanchine - who just said no, that's not what it was about. Villella found his way, maybe helped by his attempts to verbalize something concrete, but he found it finally through the choreography, using everything he had - training, mind, musicality and all the rest.

As for Kirkland, I have to say that I remember many of the NYCB fans I knew at the time regarding her with a mixture of puzzled irritation and exasperation. I think her book confirms the impression many of us had that she did not merely question Balanchine, she resisted him at every turn and was a young woman with some serious problems, though we had no idea exactly what they were. Incredibly gifted, and a wonderful dancer, yet she often seemed to be in conflict with her roles and the choreography, and watching her could sometimes make one uneasy and uncomfortable. She had her passionate champions of course, but there were also a number who were not entirely sorry when she left.

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[As for Kirkland, I have to say that I remember many of the NYCB fans I knew at the time regarding her with a mixture of puzzled irritation and exasperation. I think her book confirms the impression many of us had that she did not merely question Balanchine, she resisted him at every turn and was a young woman with some serious problems, though we had no idea exactly what they were. Incredibly gifted, and a wonderful dancer, yet she often seemed to be in conflict with her roles and the choreography, and watching her could sometimes make one uneasy and uncomfortable. She had her passionate champions of course, but there were also a number who were not entirely sorry when she left.

Of course, I can imagine I would have been glad when she left NYCB and I've never followed her closely. On the other hand, this kiind of resistance, even if it is someone with very real identifiable problems, is a valuable and revealing kind of dissonance. It would not be so if it happened all the time, but if it did happen with an extremely gifted dancer like Kirkland, then that brought something to the whole world of NYCB that was also important. If NYCB hadn't been spacious enough to accommodate it (temporarily), it wouldn't have meant anything, but detractors will reveal something about the art quite as much as the closest and most cherished disciples. Or rather, they will to those of us who lose interest after a time in only the more closed and secret aspects of these things, while others may see them as merely troublemakers (of course, they are at least that too, that goes without saying, and it's well-known that she could be impossible. I'll admit that I only read the book in snippets, and it's slightly perverse of me to find some of her personal things amusing, because I remember primarily being annoyed at some of the 'I'm such a jazzy gal' loudness of it.)

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'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.

Not to be unkind or to downplay the role that Kirkland's intelligence played in making her such a fine dancer, but her incessant analyzing in "Dancing on My Grave" makes me wonder if Balanchine made that remark with no little exasperation.

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As for Kirkland, I have to say that I remember many of the NYCB fans I knew at the time regarding her with a mixture of puzzled irritation and exasperation. I think her book confirms the impression many of us had that she did not merely question Balanchine, she resisted him at every turn and was a young woman with some serious problems, though we had no idea exactly what they were. Incredibly gifted, and a wonderful dancer, yet she often seemed to be in conflict with her roles and the choreography,

That's fascinating. Can you tell us what it was you saw in her dancing that made you intuit that?

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Earlier today Dale posted the next cast list for New York City Ballet. There, near the top of the page, was a quote attributed to Balanchine: "Classicism is enduring because it is impersonal."

Okay. I thought I know what he meant. Then I thought again ... and wasn't sure.

What WAS Balanchine trying to say?

For some reason, i just went back today to review some pages of Villella's "Prodigal", and the next episode made me think of this endless questioning on the Balanchine matters of meanings:

Villella rehearsing "Apollo":

"I asked him more, about the moment when Apollo rejects one of the Muses after her variation. Apollo jumps up and turns his head away from Calliope after she dances. What does that mean...?

Balanchine shrugged. He say slyly: "Nothing"

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For some reason, i just went back today to review some pages of Villella's "Prodigal", and the next episode made me think of this endless questioning on the Balanchine matters of meanings:

Villella rehearsing "Apollo":

"I asked him more, about the moment when Apollo rejects one of the Muses after her variation. Apollo jumps up and turns his head away from Calliope after she dances. What does that mean...?

Balanchine shrugged. He say slyly: "Nothing"

Of course, one sees a pattern beginning to emerge, and the repetition sets in. That's why I appreciate Mel's remarks; but also Gelsey's remarks, and never did till you typed them up today: Without them, there is a sense of Royal Kremlinology, cest-a-dire, much like what Mel has already said about the Gnostic secrecy and mystique. Balanchine was a great genius, but there is definitely a sense of cult, just as there is with Graham. It could also claim it is not a cult, but I have noticed that the most loftily-structured cults always refuse to see themselves as such. That gives them added appeal and a sense of exclusivity. It probably has a lot to do with a religiosity springing from the practised religions themselves, because in atheist composers and other artists the demands are more material and specifically demanding, as with Pierre Boulez--who simply demands overtly that you accede to his musical wishes or split. Anecdotes such as the one above are frequent among explicitly spiritual gurus as well--when there is a playful turn that goes against all the holiness and deep seriousness before it returns again.

But what Mel said in his paragraph a couple of pages back, as well as some of what he said on a thread about Suzanne Farrell is much the way I see this kind of artistic religiosity. It is necessary, this religiosity, but that's also what I meant about how I take it seriously but not literally: There is a strongly hypnotic element involved, and therefore Gelsey's resisting statements are also half-true, to be taken seriously and not literally. But there were all sorts of other examples of dancers not being fully absorbed into the Balanchine mystique: Peter Schaufuss was there for awhile, I believe, but went elsewhere; he's very showy and is very good at it. Primarily, Mikhail Baryshnikov was there for a year, and he was certainly not fired. And then there's ABT, which is not part of any of this, even though they dance Balanchine works. I like Mel's use of "Gnostic" in regard to all this. Balanchine;s persona is powerful in many good ways, but you have to decide exactly where you are in relation to it--and that could be to be absorbed in it, or to see it as one of many valuable contexts, and be more detached. I love it, but I'm sure I'm in the latter category myself, not immersed in it. The way I see it, in regard to Gelsey and Balanchine, there were two people involved. I do recall when Suzanne Farrell's autobiography came out a few years after Gelsey's, the title seemed to have been derived from the title of Gelsey's book: One gets 'Dancing on My Grave' and then one gets 'Holding on to the Air'. Now that you've supplied some extra passages about Balanchine I didn't read when I skimmed Gelsey's book, the connection is even more obviously there even if nobody will say it means anything more than 'nothing', and/or is purely coincidental. I think that's normal in all ways and in all cases, given the 3 personalities involved. I skimmed Suzanne's book too.

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And on the third hand, there's Merrill Ashley's wonderful "Dancing for Balanchine," in which she observes that Balanchine, in making his sometimes frustratingly cryptic remarks, was in fact asking his dancers to think, think and think until they arrived at a real understanding of what he was getting at. That ability to pass the responsibility to the dancer, according to Ashley, is what made him such an outstanding teacher. The lessons you remember are the ones you struggle to grasp, not the ones that are explained to you. Anyone who's had a teacher like that, who leads the student just so far and gives a little push, will recognize the value of that teaching style.

Gelsey, by her own admission, was (is?) overly analytical. She and Balanchine were opposites in many ways, and not complements. She wanted the audience to see a fully developed character she could inhabit, which was anathema to him. I doubt she would agree with the statement that inspired this thread.

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And on the third hand, there's Merrill Ashley's wonderful "Dancing for Balanchine," in which she observes that Balanchine, in making his sometimes frustratingly cryptic remarks, was in fact asking his dancers to think, think and think until they arrived at a real understanding of what he was getting at. That ability to pass the responsibility to the dancer, according to Ashley, is what made him such an outstanding teacher. The lessons you remember are the ones you struggle to grasp, not the ones that are explained to you. Anyone who's had a teacher like that, who leads the student just so far and gives a little push, will recognize the value of that teaching style.

Gelsey, by her own admission, was (is?) overly analytical. She and Balanchine were opposites in many ways, and not complements. She wanted the audience to see a fully developed character she could inhabit, which was anathema to him. I doubt she would agree with the statement that inspired this thread.

Perfection!

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Several days ago, popularlibrary introduced the following into the discussion.

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. [ ... ] 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.
This rang a bell, and just this evening I remembered the following story, as repeated by Richard Buckle in his biography of Balanchine. It refers to Balanchine's return to Russia (the Soviet Union) with his company in 1962 and confirms popularlibary's point.
When he was bade "Welcome to Russia, home of the classical ballet," he replied. "Thank you, but America is now home of the classiscal ballet. Russia is home of the old romantic ballet."
The source is NYCB dancer Robert Maiorano.

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Not to be unkind or to downplay the role that Kirkland's intelligence played in making her such a fine dancer, but her incessant analyzing in "Dancing on My Grave" makes me wonder if Balanchine made that remark with no little exasperation.

And that was a drop in the bucket compared to her analyzing roles in the follow-up, "Shape of Love". I was ready to tear my hair out reading that one.

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I found the role analysis the most interesting parts of Shape. I would love a third book devoted entirely to an examination, down to the third lash of her left eye, of each of her roles. The process of discovery and interpretation bringing it all to the stage fascinates me.

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Not to be unkind or to downplay the role that Kirkland's intelligence played in making her such a fine dancer, but her incessant analyzing in "Dancing on My Grave" makes me wonder if Balanchine made that remark with no little exasperation.

And that was a drop in the bucket compared to her analyzing roles in the follow-up, "Shape of Love". I was ready to tear my hair out reading that one.

Honestly, I'm up to that point already with "Dancing...", and I'm still halfway through...Still, i feel empathetic with her. Confession made.

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I found the role analysis the most interesting parts of Shape. I would love a third book devoted entirely to an examination, down to the third lash of her left eye, of each of her roles. The process of discovery and interpretation bringing it all to the stage fascinates me.

I'm glad you said this because I agree. The way she describes the process of finding Giselle, Aurora and Juliet is thrilling and fascinating. Man I would love to watch her coach one of these roles. :smilie_mondieu:

Getting back to the original topic "Classicism is enduring because it is impersonal." How many times have we heard that quote about Balanchine's choreography, "See the music, hear the dance."? The dancer becomes the music. Maybe he thought adding too much analysis isn't needed for his choreography because it's so musical?

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I was afraid this topic had played itself out, but happily, we seem to have found our second wind, so-----

Why was Gelsey discomforting even back in her NYCB days? Well, not wanting to invent or rely on thirty-five year old memories, I went back and checked my notebooks for the period, and found fewer specifics than I would have liked, but some of my growing reservations (widely shared by other fans I knew, as I remember) were expressed as either "she's dancing like a computer," or, worse "she keeps substituting a fiction for herself - ultimately there doesn't seem to be any person there behind the facade." In duets, she apparently exaggerated phrases, held on too long, got off the music and tried to ignore her partners. I commented on two performances with each of the two most powerful men in the company - now, I quickly add that this is how it looked to me in the audience; what the two men were really thinking I obviously had no idea - in Four Bagatelles, Bonnefous apparently just stepped back "looking discreetly ardent" and let her flail by herself, since she was determined to do it her way whatever he, the music, or the choreography indicated. Martins, on the other hand, after a taste of this behavior in Theme and Variations "hauled her mercilessly back on tempo" whether she liked it or not. Her talent was so obvious, these problems were especially disconcerting - and we knew she was refusing to listen to Balanchine into the bargain.

This does relate to the whole question of Balanchine's expectations. Ashley is hardly alone in believing that Balanchine wanted dancers to learn to think for themselves. You learn far less - maybe nothing - when told what to do; when you have to work it through and earn your self-discovery, it stays with you and is the foundation for greater learning. Verdy describes how Balanchine, knowing that she would figure things out, left her alone, giving her no instructions. "If he didn't like what I did, he would tell me later." Von Aroldingen and Lourdes Lopez have seconded this. If a dancer needed explanations, both Verdy and Hayden recall that he would demonstrate rather than explain. When Villella needed help he discussed and argued, did the choreography, went to other dancers and coaches, did the choreography some more, until he began to work it out. Balanchine did not want a priori interpretations; he wanted dancers to find themselves in a role by encountering music and choreography and building from those foundations. You created the role by dancing the role, not by deciding ahead of time what each bit of it 'meant'. "Why does Apollo reject Calliope's dance?" Villella asked, and got one of Mr. B's infuriating non-answers (something like "there's no reason") because only the individual Apollo can sense the reasons for that rejection from the core of his own interpretation. Apart from that there is no meaning beyond he doesn't find it satisfactory. How and why must be discovered through performance by an artist who has brought himself into the role with that 'emptiness' that allows self-discovery and creative development to illuminate the ballet.

If Balanchine was a Svengali, he was a rather peculiar one. His dancers argued with him - the men particularly - fought back, defied his rules and were a bunch of individuals such as I have rarely seen since. And this is clearly the way he wanted it or he would have fired them all and gotten obedient puppets. But however independent, they did understand the basics of what Balanchine was trying to show them and used them to grow. Gelsey's problem, it seems to me - forgive a severe case of psychobabble - is that she had no intention of delving into herself, could never let herself be 'empty.' She wanted exactly that a priori 'interpretation' as a mask, and as security. She presented The Ballerina, not Gelsey Kirkland. All that verbal analysis acted as a kind of armor to keep self-knowledge within the art at bay. It was disturbing to watch these performances I think because they were a flight from reality rather than a courageous journey into it.

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