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Seen from the outside, what if... or did he?Balanchine helping define American style ballet...


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#16 bart

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Posted 31 July 2008 - 12:20 PM

MA's [moves] are arrow shots from Sylvia's bow.

What a great phrase, Quiggin. Bull's eye!

#17 Hans

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Posted 04 August 2008 - 11:59 AM

Choreographically, I would have to separate the Balanchine ballet from the Balanchine dancer. Technically, they're all right, and some are very high-functioning, but NYCB has really been a hotbed for affectation and personal idiosyncracy for decades, more so than other companies. The choreography is clean. The dancers often are not.

This is a most interesting point, mel, and one which I hadn't really thought about. It certainly holds true for the period I know best ('57-'85). In fact, it was something I always liked, and I tended to think of it as a legacy of the days when Balanchine had to draw his dancers from so many different kinds of training, stage experience, etc. The SAB, as time went on, tended to produce more striking technique but also to smooth out the personal edges and idiosyncracies that I will always assosciate with NYCB in its first decades.

I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on mel's point.

The thing about SAB is that it does smooth out the dancers' personal edges while producing idiosyncrasies of its own, which I suppose is what Balanchine had in mind. However, it is the reason that I and many other people prefer to watch Balanchine ballets performed by other companies--you see the choreography, not the mannerisms.

#18 sandik

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Posted 04 August 2008 - 11:00 PM

It seems as if Balanchine would listen politely to Kirstein's thoughts about a Pocahontas ballet or whatever and then do what he was going to do anyway.


Very succinct, and seems to be quite true.

The result was often too Petipa for Kirstein.


And this, I think, comes close to the part of this discussion that focusses on neo-classicism. As much as I appreciate considering the modernist and constructivist aspects of Balanchine's choreography, I think that neo-classicism is his approach to the technique, to the dancing itself. And that, frankly more than topic, score or scenic design, is what makes him American. Yes, I believe that if he'd spent most of his working life in Denmark or in France (or in Russia for that matter) the work would look quite different. Balanchine was highly pragmatic -- he worked with what he had in front of him. And while he didn't have a wealth of highly trained dancers at that crucial part of his career, he had people who were desperate to move through space. So he made dances that let them do just that.

And to add to the cringe-fest, I have two words. Alma Mater!

#19 Amy Reusch

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 06:51 PM

I was wondering about Alma Mater, and if it would humanly be possible to do a ballet about football today. I decided only if all the pads, etc. were transparent. But Stars & Stripes is as close as I ever want to get to a ballet with cheerleaders.

#20 bart

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 07:26 PM

Does anyone know whether there was actually much dancing in Alma Mater? Reading descriptions and looking at some of the performance photos, it's hard to visualize what the piece must have looked like as a whole. What was the genre? What were its antecedents? I tend to imagine a kind of vaudeville pantomime with bits and pieces of real dancing here and there.

#21 Paul Parish

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Posted 14 August 2008 - 11:03 PM

This is a sidelight -- but it may throw give some perspective on this question. I've been reading Virgil Thompson's reviews of NYC musical life from the 50's (which were published in the NY Herald Tribune), and am struck by how frequently he refers to national styles in both conducting and in composing music. Toscanini, in particularly, though he was NOT American, created the "American" style of conducting by eliminating all but analysis of the musical structure from the performance. It's curious, but Balanchine created a similar way of looking at dancing by makng work that emphasized the structure of the music it was choreographed to, and putting the steps together in such a way that the dancers would be STRONGLY tempted to follow the logic of the music in dancing the steps -- the rhythms fit, and the athleticism of the dancers discouraged in most the "emoting" one would have expected of a European dancer. -- though of course Violette could dance with all her Frenchness, and Allegra could be out of this world in her own way, and Maria in her very different other way....

Point is, Thompson is fine with all this -- it does not seem prejudicial -- he feels that European music and conducting has many schools, and each has its own ethnic understanding of where anybody would slow down or speed up or hear echoes of earlier music and let the audience "overhear" those associations -- that's what it means to have a long tradition behind you. And Americans don't have those traditions of feling and it would be phony to pretend, thats simply the way it is. He also thinks that the great European-born conductors (Koussevitsky, for example) shouldn't conduct American music, they just don't get it. Koussevitsky, by the way, was Bernstein's mentor, but still, he shouldn't conduct Copland or Bernstein.

What's particularly relevant about this is that Thompson's period is THE great period of both Broadway theater and of Balanchine' dance theater -- and the other thing is he acknowledges the tremendous influence of what we'd now call African-American material -- jazz in music, and Lindy-hop in dance. Certainly Lindy is frequently mentioned by Denby, the GREAT Denby, as a noticeable element in Balanchine's material -- from the tilted pelvises to the cool demeanor to the strong accents to the hardedges to the steps themselves (Concerto Barocco was VERY jazzy in its earliest days, as Marie Jeanne never tired of saying, and it is STILL full of shag and Charleston steps). Many of the odder moves in 4 T's are African-derived.

Thompson's writing is really fascinating. The MOST fascinating thing about it is how highly he rates his reader's intellectual capacities, and that these were published inthe DAILY NEWSPAPER. He seems to think his readers want to know what's going on, and he gives the the real deal. I'll NEVER think of the 50s as a conformist era again.

#22 Figurante

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 07:14 AM

These are really intriguing questions....


I don't necessarily feel that Balanchine's "style" is Russian-American. I think it depends on the ballet, and what company it was choreographed on. Symphony in C, has more of a French influence due to the fact it was choreographed on Paris Opera. Symphony in Three Movements however is very neo-classical. I remember when I danced the ballet, Edward Villella would give pre-performance talks. By the end of the run, I almost had the speech memorized verbatim. The gist of the talk was centered around when the ballet was created: Post-WWII. The specific movements in the corps de ballet were to mimic the movements of an army, airplanes, etc. I don't think that it could possibly be considered Russian-American due to its influence.

#23 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 01:13 PM

I wish that my postwar memories were as organized as his, but then again, my war was Vietnam, which was a mess anyway.


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