innopac

Matthew Bourne

24 posts in this topic

In the Links on Wednesday, July 23 Dirac wrote: "I note, while we’re on the subject, that in future reviews and articles on Bourne and this production will only be linked to in this space if there is significant relevance to ballet. Bourne is not a ballet choreographer even if the popular press does not understand this."

To show my ignorance I am wondering why Bourne is not considered a "ballet choreographer". This is not about whether you like his work or not . What are the criteria needed to define someone as a "ballet choreographer"?

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No, it has nothing to do with whether his work is "good" or "bad" or someone likes or dislikes him, but because he's a modern dance choreographer. That's his language. Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham and Mark Morris are also modern dance choreographers. Very good ones, too :P

The quickest answer is that a ballet choreographer is someone who has been trained as a classical dancer and composes dances using the vocabulary of the danse d'ecole.

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And another genre Bourne works in is cabaret dance. Nothing wrong there, either. Roland Petit produced many fine cabaret works, but his primary vocabulary was classical ballet or its natural extensions.

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Yes, if you're wondering why kicklines show up in Petit ballets at oddly inappropriate moments, that's why. :P

My comment in the Links may seem a little high handed. I'll allow I was feeling a wee bit testy. I guess that ' most daring ballet choreographer' line was the last straw. I can't tell you, innopac, how many articles and reviews of Bourne I come across that describe him as a ballet choreographer when he isn't one for the reasons Alexandra provided. Just because the name is "Swan Lake" or "Nutcracker" doesn't make the work ballet. I didn't intend it as a knock, although I admit I'm not an admirer. I follow the same policy with regard to Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp, two choreographers with ballet credentials that Bourne doesn't have. But they are still modern dance choreographers, and usually described as such. Morris just did a widely reviewed "Romeo and Juliet" to the Prokofiev score - but it's for his own troupe and it's not ballet.

However, if any modern dance choreographer gives an interview where he's making general remarks about ballet or his work for one of those classical companies, I certainly post those.

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Oh, i just love the simple title of this thread. "M.B, not a Ballet Choreographer"

And then...the mentioning of Tharp...aah, the simple pleasure of analogies... :P

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The quickest answer is that a ballet choreographer is someone who has been trained as a classical dancer and composes dances using the vocabulary of the danse d'ecole.

In 50 Contemporary Choreographers: A Reference Guide the authors write about The Highland Fling, Bourne's take on La Sylphide: "Once again the dance vocabulary is a combination of different styles, although ballet is the predominant one." (page 35) And they also refer to parody. I haven't seen this work but I wondered if any ballet choreographers have parodied ballet or if only modern dance choreographers like Jiri Kylian and Bourne have done that.

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Ballet choreographers have been doing parodies of ballet for a very long time. Cf. "Gala Performance" for one example. Eugene Loring used to class certain of his works "fusion" and not actual ballet. Even Bournonville took on ballet conventions mixed with other forms as parody. "War Dance of the Red Indians" from Far from Denmark, anyone?

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Ballet choreographers have been doing parodies of ballet for a very long time. Cf. "Gala Performance" for one example. Eugene Loring used to class certain of his works "fusion" and not actual ballet. Even Bournonville took on ballet conventions mixed with other forms as parody. "War Dance of the Red Indians" from Far from Denmark, anyone?

Now now. That's not a parody. That's character dance. (And what we have now isn't necessarily what Bournonville did. From photos, it's changed a lot over the years.)

I'd second everything dirac wrote above. It's also the raison d'etre of this board to discuss classical ballet (see our Mission Statement) which is why dirac gets to be "high-handed." Writers -- and choreographers -- throw the term "ballet" around as though it's a synonym for "dance." My (least) favorite is: "My work is firmly grounded in the classical tradition!" when it consists of hopping, running, wiggling, and one arabesque.

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Character dance is a really mixed bag, and can have more than one or two subtexts under the primary material of the choreography. When it's not presenting an idealized national dance, character often is used to produce parody or satire. One of the things that I've always had a feeling was going on in the national dances in Far from Denmark is "Look at these silly people at a party trying to be nationalities they're not." It's as much a commentary on the whole idea of theater as anything else. To go back even farther in Danish repertoire, Galeotti's The Whims of Cupid and the Ballet Master provides politically-incorrect vaudeville stock characters to humorous effect.

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This is way OT on Bourne, so apologies, but neither Galeotti's nor Bournonville's dances are parodies (in Whims or FFD). Yes, they're observations of "other cultures," but they're not parodies of them. Yes, character dancing can be used for parody to brilliant effect, but not here.

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We obviously have vastly differing definitions of parody, but I will agree that Bourne is a modern dance choreographer, and that a significant part of his output is the parody of classical ballet.

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For a great parody of ballet from a ballet choreographer, look at the "Mistake Waltz" from Jerome Robbins' The Concert. It's like "Airplane"; the same jokes you know are coming a mile off - and you laugh every time. For dancers, the "There but for the grace of God. . ." aspect of the mistakes within the choreography is quite potent.

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There is also topical satire, as in Ashton's entree "Noche Espagnole" in "Façade" which has not survived because the object of its humor, a "shameless" solo by Anton Dolin to Ravel's "Bolero", has not survived.

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Robbins also parodizes ballet in The Four Seasons, with each season poking gentle fun at the conventions of various ballet genres.

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I don't suppose the leotard ballet was among the genres parodied. :wink:

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Just out of interest, does Bourne actually claim to be a Ballet Choreographer?

I've seen the claim made on his behalf many times, mostly by critics in print who maybe should know better - but I don't recall any direct claim by him, or suggestion by his media fans (he has many!) that their attribution originated with Bourne himself.

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Speaking about his new project: the Edward Scissorhands Ballet.

Interviewer: So you're calling it a ballet?

Bourne: "I've given up trying to call it something else. People understand what a ballet is. It's a dance theater in the style of the other pieces I've done, but it's not strictly speaking ballet because I'm not a ballet choreographer, but I think for me, most people understand ballet as a narrative, but it's definitely not a musical."

Although, it looks like he has dropped the "Ballet" from the title for the final production.

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You know, Bourne has a point. Martha Graham, at the end of her career, called what she had once insisted on calling "dances" "ballets." There's a distinction between "ballet" and "a ballet," and that's the distinction Bourne is drawing. It's an accurate one.

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Re Bourne -- context counts in language, and for Edward Scissorhands, Bourne is working in the musical theater tradition, where almost any substantial dance is called a ballet (deMille's Dream Ballet in Oklahoma includes much more vernacular movement than academic ballet, but it's a musical and musicals have ballets)

And I have fewer objections to calling his work ballet than in the other term people are tossing around -- "dansicle."

Even though he doesn't really use the grammar and vocabulary of ballet, he makes so many references to extant works that I think it's unrealistic to look at his work without considering that tradition. I understand that there have been a few times that people didn't realize, when they bought tickets to his Swan Lake, that they were not seeing the Petipa/Ivanov work, but that is the fault of the presenter, not Bourne. I haven't had the chance to see some of his earlier works, but I do like what I've seen so far.

Re parody -- don't forget Tudor's Gala Performance!

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Yes, it's true, it's not Bourne's fault if others are careless.

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There's ambiguity here. When I hear the word dance used as a noun, I think of a social event where couples pair off to jiggle, shake, twirl, etc. I don't think of choreography. The meaning of ballet depends on context. A ballet is staged for performance before an audience in any dance genre, or it can be the genre itself which employs turnout and fully pointed feet and a distinct, academic vocabulary. I get squirmy when I hear modern dance choreographers refer to their works as "dances." Graham may have finally caved, but Paul Taylor still obsessively eschews the word "ballet" applied to the things he makes.

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Taylor is on record, many times, as "disliking ballet," and that could be part of it, but it could also be generational. For both Taylor and Cunningham, Modern Dance was a Statement. It was Not Ballet. And so saying their works are "dances," I think, should be taken in that context.

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What Alexandra said -- there are still many people working in modern dance who feel they must define their work by what it is not -- ballet.

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