"Classicism is enduring because it is impersonal"What did Balanchine mean?
Posted 11 June 2008 - 07:09 PM
Posted 11 June 2008 - 07:09 PM
Honestly, I'm up to that point already with "Dancing...", and I'm still halfway through...Still, i feel empathetic with her. Confession made.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.
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.
Posted 12 June 2008 - 05:17 AM
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.
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?
Posted 12 June 2008 - 06:43 AM
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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