Jump to content


"Classicism is enduring because it is impersonal"What did Balanchine mean?


  • Please log in to reply
63 replies to this topic

#31 popularlibrary

popularlibrary

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 82 posts

Posted 07 June 2008 - 11:46 AM

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.

#32 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 07 June 2008 - 01:20 PM

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?

#33 Hans

Hans

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,104 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 10:05 AM

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.

#34 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,297 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 10:41 AM

Thanks for the explanation, Hans.

#35 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 11:17 AM

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.

#36 papeetepatrick

papeetepatrick

    Sapphire Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,486 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 11:21 AM

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.

#37 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,297 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 11:51 AM

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)?

#38 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 01:04 PM

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.

#39 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 01:10 PM

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!

#40 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,297 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 01:31 PM

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

#41 papeetepatrick

papeetepatrick

    Sapphire Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,486 posts

Posted 08 June 2008 - 01:52 PM

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.

#42 cubanmiamiboy

cubanmiamiboy

    Diamonds Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,243 posts

Posted 09 June 2008 - 09:47 AM

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.

#43 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 09 June 2008 - 11:56 AM

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

#44 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,246 posts

Posted 09 June 2008 - 12:31 PM

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!

#45 papeetepatrick

papeetepatrick

    Sapphire Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,486 posts

Posted 09 June 2008 - 12:41 PM

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.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):