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The "ballet isn't serious" question again

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#1 Alexandra


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Posted 04 November 2001 - 12:11 PM

One of the first posts I read on the net was by Estelle, on alt.arts.ballet, about how difficult it was to interject references to ballet, or dance, into conversations about art, literature and music. This struck a chord -- yes, it is.

The condescending attitude towards dance, especially ballet, popped up in an article in the Chicago Tribune this weekend. Any comments?

Are we entering the comfort zone?
In turbulent times, it may seem logical that arts consumers would seek the familiar, the safe.

They are, but the answer is more complicated than that.

The mood across the arts spectrum


Dance, by definition, is always a comfort art form. As we all know from that song in "A Chorus Line," everything is beautiful at the ballet. And even serious, provocative modern dance is other worldly, an escape of sorts into abstraction. (Sid Smith)

Fred Soleri (of Dance Chicago)

"I think there is a comfort level with Dance Chicago. People know what they're going to see, and we try not to surprise them too much. We want it to be accessible, and while there is some modern dance, the programming is mostly upbeat," citing jazz, children's dance and the highly entertaining style of the River North Dance Company.

"Dance is the ultimate comfort food because in the end, it's always bodies moving through space," Solari adds. "It's not threatening and won't make you uncomfortable, like some serious theater pieces."

#2 Guest_Auvi_*

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Posted 04 November 2001 - 02:05 PM

Reading through that article, the main summarization is found in the question, "do people want at that will sooth and comfort, or art that will stimulate, rouse and rile."

Applying this to dance, ballet in particular, yes, is hard. As an artform, ballet has been defined as being confined to classical movements and little artistic freedom. (although, we all know that not true, don't we?)

I think ballet was originaly meant as an "escape." In one of the main outlines on the Ballet Alert website, ballet becomes the ideal. It's not meant to represent life in full-view, but to represent life in the ideal and to mirror abstract ideas in actuality. "Swan Lake" becomes the idea of unattainable love. "Coppelia" becomes the idealism of femisism. The various branches of "Dracula"s becomes the erotism hidden begind the macabre that the avant-garde generation find so attractive. Even "The Nutcracker" becomes an abstract idea of childhood innocence and dreaming.

In this light, ballet can deal with themes, and it can be comforting to people to watch. It can also help us deal with things by looking at it all in abstract. Refering to the Sept. 11 attacks, we can apply it to any ballet dealing with corruption and maniacal distrotion of morality. Seeing it in this way, we can find that life is made out of abstract ideas, and nothing in indomitable.

In short, we are in a comfort zone.

#3 Drew


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Posted 05 November 2001 - 06:18 PM

My difficulty with this article is that the intial opposition is set up in such an uncritical, unnuanced way: art is challenging OR it is comforting. The notion that a certain type of comfort might BE a challenge never enters the commentators' minds. So for example, Gregorian chant is presented as 'comforting.' Well, the idea of personal salvation is, in a way, comforting, but hardly comfortable! (Nowadays, people may also listen to Gregorian chant to calm down, but that's not what the article discusses.)Even beauty can be a provocation, and people who teach humanities are daily required to justify it on moral and social grounds such as "values" and "civilization" as opposed to, say, aesthetic ones, such as desire or pleasure.

At the same time,something that may seem to be a provocation can also feed complacency. It is, after all, usually the 'anti' art crowd that feels the force of a so-called provocation (Satanic Verses, Madonnas with elephant dung), and they are patently NOT the intended audience, and, in fact, get sneered at by art lovers for missing the point and interfering with civil liberties. Obviously I count myself among the art lovers, but an ability to appreciate a 'daring' collage with images of the holocaust (an example in the article)or, for that matter, 'Piss-Christ' is hardly a guarantee that one is not, in one's way, seeking 'comfort.'

I do appreciate that this is an article in a newspaper, not in an academic journal -- but the formulations are so unnuanced as to seem useless. As for dance: I was so irritated before I arrived at the discussion of dance, that when I got there I couldn't quite work up the appropriate additional indignation at what was, admitedly, one of the most patronizing discussions of the art I've seen. (And notice how casually the article dismisses the notion that audience interest in Nijinsky's choreography might also be due to its 'darker' aspects.)

[ November 05, 2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

[ November 05, 2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

#4 Alexandra


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Posted 05 November 2001 - 08:43 PM

Drew, I agree. Even though it's a newspaper article, with all the constraints that implies, it just pushes every button without exploring anything meaningful (IMHO smile.gif )

I think you made a good point that there are a lot of things, and points of view, that are "comfortable." And it's the whole tone of the article, not only the writer, but the quotes, that are so horribly condescending. . . grrrr.

Auvi, thanks for posting. I don't think that early ballet -- the court ballet -- was intended as an escape, and I'd argue that making something abstract, or not reflective of the real world, isn't escape. (Not that you said this, but I'd argue that an insistence on realism and an impatience with things that "don't look real" is a cry for comfort.) The earliest ballets weren't escapist but very serious, intellectual affairs. The floor patterns and the colors expressed intellectual and philosophical concepts -- all of this is lost, of course -- and in addition to being very serious and expensive political entertainments, they used myths and allegories to objectify the ordinary.

I think that a lot of ballet is escapist -- and silly -- and that that kind of ballet does nothing to help ballet's cause to be recognized as a serious art form. There will always be people who look at "Divertimento No. 15," or "Symphonic Variations," or Shades as "a collection of pretty steps."

I hope there were some letters to the editor after that article, but I'm not holding my breath smile.gif

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