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Macaulay on Genius: Shakespeare, Mozart, BalanchineThe 'Supreme Genius' theme in the Nov. 16 NYT article


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#16 papeetepatrick

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 09:50 AM

That's the sense I get from it, that he's not ranking Shakespeare, Mozart and Balanchine but referring to how they're ranked by the general populace.

Thse posts have sparked a lot of interesting thoughts. I think, on the whole, that kfw's makes the most sense as to Macaulay's use of these three exemplars.

What's important to me is to see Balanchine -- someone not hugely understood outside ballet circles -- placed on a pinnacle along with much more generally familiar Great Names. I thank Macaulay for that -- and for explaining rather persuasively why Balanchine should be in such select company.

I also hope that more thoughtful and intelligent writers will start to think in terms like these. It's about time that "ballet" rejoined the company of the higher arts, where it was -- briefly and perhaps only locally -- when Balanchine was creating in New York City in the 40s-70s.


Well, it has sparked some interesting thoughts, but I still disagree with much of it. The only rationale is that it is only a newspaper article, half-polished, not an essay of the sort a real writer would publish (as opposed to someone who writes excellent dance criticism, which he does), because even though I think kfw and dirac are probably right to some degree (but not nearly all) that Macaulay is referring to rankings by the general populace, that is not a subtext one should be expected to realize. You should not have to read beyond a literal statement of what Macaulay proclaims Shakespeare to be, unless you have the right to disagree with it (and he is neither clear about this, nor is he correct, for the reasons I've given.) It should be clear on its surface, otherwise it is really not written for 'general interest readers', but rather for those intellectual and probing enough to be looking for subtexts in newspaper articles (which is not where they should be; journalism is not literature.) Macaulay does not need to convince me that Balanchine should be in such select company, as I already see him there--and 'Mozart' is only the buzzword of the 'general populace' because of the boon created by the movie 'Amadeus', notable for having nothing to do with Mozart and/or Salieri, cf., Peter Gay's Mozart bio. It would only be interesting to me if he explained why he chose those particular Titans with whom to 'place Balanchine'--what the kinship is (in any case, he, like all of us here, makes only a ripple by making such judgments, there's then the March of Time). The 'other trinities' I was talking about could be as when people make a trinity of greatest 20th century artistic revolutionaries--although I'm not going to be limiited to trinities, if there are 4, I think we can accommodate it: Here we often hear Picasso, Graham, Stravinsky and Joyce as having come up with the most original new languages and artistic expressions. There is not one of these great artists and many others who does not have a cult, and cults are irrational, you do not argue with them. And those who make a point of claiming not to be cults nearly always are the most exclusive and elite cults. This is just a fact of life, like religions you don't share.

As for ballet 'rejoining the company of the higher arts', I am surprised to hear you say that, as it has never left them. Balanchine's work did not 'briefly and locally' place it back 'up there.' His work is important and it is among the greatest of all artistic work, but the Kirov and POB were operating well before 'Balanchine in New York' as 'high art' (as was Balanchine himself before New York, by the way. There was also major work at ABT). Dance at its greatest is obviously one of the High Arts, and has been for the entire 20th century, not to mention the 19th, where we get the Petipa. There's been a dance department at Juilliard longer than there has a drama dept. You wouldn't have had Stravinsky writing for Balanchine and Barber, Menotti, Schuman and Copland writing for Graham. Even great performances of the Romantic Petipa repertory are 'high art'. What I would say about the periods in which Balanchine was most prolific and profound is that that is the only period in which Balanchine himself will ever be quite that profound, whether or not the 'growth industry'. In the 'global Balanchine onslaught', in miliosr's term (I don't sympathize with that either, but I do see it as a reaction to a concept of cult), there is a popularization of his work that is exactly like the gradual popularization of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, but that will never be comparable to the exciting period of creative fruition when he was still alive and coming up with new works. Martha Graham Dance Company is somewhat different, in that the directors are not trying to do a new company for Ms. Mycene and Ms. Dakin, but to hold the works of Graham sacred as Suzanne Farrell does Balanchine's; Martins is doing this combination of Martins and Martinized Balanchine, maybe. Even so, live performances of Graham are not quite what you see on film with Martha herself, Bertram Ross, Matt Turney, et alia. In short, this is a dispersion and popularization which is just fine with me, but it has to do with different kinds of sensibilities than that of the cutting edge, which all things lose. So we do need 'growth industries' of great artists like Balanchine, but not nearly so much as we need much more cutting edge. I think there will be new cultural changes due to unmentionable events which may allow the cutting edge to get sharp and ruthless again, instead of having to work in hiding.

Other examples are of the romantic concert pianist, whose pinnacle was surely Franz Liszt in that he was treated and adored like a rock star. In the 20th century, Horowitz may have come closest, but he was anything but glamorous, so it took on another dimension with his magnificent playing. Maria Callas excited opera lovers more than anyone else does now. There are all sorts of examples, but while all these geniuses 'live on' to some degree, they do not make up for the need for new art of an equivalent genius, and thus are all to some degree museum pieces. This is incomplete, and I don't have time to polish it either, but it's too long anyway and just a forum comment post :wink:

Oh, and as regards Ba'al, I still worship him and many other pagan gods. I agree with Isaac Asimov that Jezebel got a bad rap, and had a lot of things going for her. Polytheism in general has a lot going for it, too. Idolatry can be defined in many ways--money and fame are often referred to as 'gods', etc.

#17 Helene

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 10:22 AM

In his statement,

While Shakespeare was alive and for some decades after, he was simply one of several excellent Elizabethan playwrights. Only gradually did he became accepted as England’s best, and it took more than 200 years for him to become the world’s.


I thought that the underlying question was what made Shakespear turn into the "great" one, as opposed to his contemporaries, with analogy of what made Balanchine become the "great" one compared to his great contemporaries, like Ashton and Tudor. While he then goes on for several pages to explain this in artistic terms, towards the end, he writes:

During his lifetime it was standard to talk of him as one of several of the great choreographers of the day. Now his contemporaries Frederick Ashton, Martha Graham and Antony Tudor are in danger of becoming the dance equivalents of Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and Philip Massinger, whom Shakespeare eclipsed long after they had all died. Several of Balanchine’s slightest creations have been preserved, while some of the best works by Ashton, Graham and Tudor have become endangered species or extinct.


Part of the answer to the underlying question is institutional and luck-based. We've discussed on Ballet Talk, and it was a major theme of Martin Duberman's "The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein" that what we consider a given, the success of Balanchine and New York City Ballet, was so tentative for so long.

But then we consider the irony of the man who always said it would fall apart after his death, and "who cares?", to have had an institution that ensures that what happened to Ashton and Tudor does not happen to his works, at least in the near term, and a "family" that has extended his work across the US and the world.

#18 papeetepatrick

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 10:30 AM

In his statement,

While Shakespeare was alive and for some decades after, he was simply one of several excellent Elizabethan playwrights. Only gradually did he became accepted as England’s best, and it took more than 200 years for him to become the world’s.


I thought that the underlying question was what made Shakespear turn into the "great" one, as opposed to his contemporaries, with analogy of what made Balanchine become the "great" one compared to his great contemporaries, like Ashton and Tudor. While he then goes on for several pages to explain this in artistic terms, towards the end, he writes:

During his lifetime it was standard to talk of him as one of several of the great choreographers of the day. Now his contemporaries Frederick Ashton, Martha Graham and Antony Tudor are in danger of becoming the dance equivalents of Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and Philip Massinger, whom Shakespeare eclipsed long after they had all died. Several of Balanchine’s slightest creations have been preserved, while some of the best works by Ashton, Graham and Tudor have become endangered species or extinct.


Part of the answer to the underlying question is institutional and luck-based. We've discussed on Ballet Talk, and it was a major theme of Martin Duberman's "The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein" that what we consider a given, the success of Balanchine and New York City Ballet, was so tentative for so long.

But then we consider the irony of the man who always said it would fall apart after his death, and "who cares?", to have had an institution that ensures that what happened to Ashton and Tudor does not happen to his works, at least in the near term, and a "family" that has extended his work across the US and the world.


That's not the underlying question for all of us, but rather for Macaulay and whomever else. I think the analogy of Shakespeare and his contemporaries with Balanchine and his contemporaries is very poor. It doesn't mean anything, unless the 'growth industry' and popularizing determines all there is to the Value of Art. And it doesn't. The analogies need to be made with other great figures from other periods, because Mozart would not necessarily win even within his own lifetime. That's revisionist history, and he certainly did know who Bach was.

Another way of putting it is that the analogy of Shakespeare with his contemporaries is certainly apt, but not at all an analogy to Balanchine and Tudor, Graham, and Ashton. And certainly the 200 years later becoming the world's greatest needs all the great playwrights since recorded plays to mean anything at all.

You do have a point in the institutional luck, and the award for that goes first and foremost to NYCB, no matter what its faults. Then the industry spreads to Suzanne Farrell Ballet, MCB, PNB, and everybody else who love to dance these great works. I'm just talking about Macaulay, not Balanchine.

#19 SandyMcKean

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 11:46 AM

'Mozart' is only the buzzword of the 'general populace' because of the boon created by the movie 'Amadeus'

I tend to agree.

Now, would this be interesting???? How about a similar movie based on Balanchine's life. It seems to me (seriously) that Balanchine's life would make a fascinating movie. It would have it all.....escape from an oppressive regime, wild life of youth, success and failure, genius, 6 marriages (or how ever you count), beautiful sexy babes everywhere, great artistic achievement, Hollywood, Broadway, his friendship with Stravinsky, the Suzzane Farrell entanglement of unrequited love. Makes Mozart's life seem humdrum in comparison!

#20 bart

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 12:06 PM

I'm going to copy Sandy's post and start another thread on the Balanchine movie. Please post your thoughts about the cinematic possibilities HERE:

http://ballettalk.in...showtopic=28327

#21 dirac

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 12:26 PM

Well, it has sparked some interesting thoughts, but I still disagree with much of it. The only rationale is that it is only a newspaper article, half-polished, not an essay of the sort a real writer would publish (as opposed to someone who writes excellent dance criticism, which he does),


I wouldn’t say ‘only a newspaper article.’ Denby wrote a lot of his best stuff for the papers. Macaulay is writing for an audience of general interest readers as well as dance fans, which does make a difference. It doesn’t make the writing sloppier or necessarily inferior.

As for ballet 'rejoining the company of the higher arts', I am surprised to hear you say that, as it has never left them. Balanchine's work did not 'briefly and locally' place it back 'up there.'


Most of us posting here would certainly agree that ballet never left, but the intelligentsia’s interest in ballet peaked with Diaghilev and later with Balanchine. However, I don’t think ballet will ever return to the time when many people, even highly educated and cultured ones, did not know what it was or condescended to it.

#22 bart

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 12:31 PM

As for ballet 'rejoining the company of the higher arts', I am surprised to hear you say that, as it has never left them.

Patrick, I see your point. I was aiming at irony and clearly missed the target.

I did not mean to suggest that ballet was not a higher art, just that it is no longer perceived as such to the extent that it was in Balanchine's day. It's not "ballet" that has changed, necessarily. But the cultural environment IS significantly altered, especially in the decline of the role of intellectuals as cultural commentators.

#23 leonid17

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 03:20 PM

:wink:

As for ballet 'rejoining the company of the higher arts', I am surprised to hear you say that, as it has never left them.

Patrick, I see your point. I was aiming at irony and clearly missed the target.

I did not mean to suggest that ballet was not a higher art, just that it is no longer perceived as such to the extent that it was in Balanchine's day. It's not "ballet" that has changed, necessarily. But the cultural environment IS significantly altered, especially in the decline of the role of intellectuals as cultural commentators.


I concur.
Balanchine in not merely important, he is significant I say this with sincerity even though neo-classicism is my second love in ballet. He, his legacy and contemporary performance of his oeuvre
needs to be commented upon and occasionally looked at from a different angle. It is healthy to do so. I believe we all need to be challenged on our appreciation and views as our deep consideration and response, may help keep senility at bay. :thanks:
I do not know what is like in New York, in London it seems that many commentators are terrified that an interest in the "high arts" and the consideration of using the descriptive "high" is politically incorrect and would avoid the expression at all costs. The problem here has been that we have a large number of critics who think they have an authoritative position, but regrettably they apply little or no intellectual rigour or knowledge in what they write to justify this self view. I believe many critics in London prefer to write about dance as they feel (like fans) that they are part of the creative performance process by witnessing new works and touched by the celebrity of the event. Regrettably they also write about ballet. I'll say this now and say it often, ballet, is not for everyone. If you do not love it, know it in depth and see it often over a period of years, you will never reach that mystery that ballet has to elevate the spirit which the "high arts" can do in a special way, but not the only way. Ballet can entertain, but it is not entertainment and there are some who want to change this. There are those that want to see “real life and experience” expressed on the ballet stage if in doing so, it will become "more inclusive". Fine, just remember ballet is an old tradition and it has it own rules and there are still more people every year that want to see ballet as an experience of a “high art” and not go to see something they could see on the television or a film. Balanchine's genius stands comparison and should be compared to ensure that his stature is confirmed and that his works are not just part of a night out.
I would say support any writer that looks in depth at the art of ballet and if they are a newspaper critic and you do not agree with what they have to say, write to the editor. Or better still do what we are doing now, post it on ballettalk.


PS
I have not always agreed with his views
but I now miss Mr Macauley's
presence in London.

#24 kfw

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 03:38 PM

I'll say this now and say it often, ballet, is not for everyone. If you do not love it, know it in depth and see it often over a period of years, you will never reach that mystery that ballet has to elevate the spirit which the "high arts" can do in a special way, but not the only way. Ballet can entertain, but it is not entertainment and there are some who want to change this.

I sure don't want to change it, but I do disagree with you that one has to be knowledgeable about ballet, or about any art, to experience it as art and not merely entertainment. The more one knows, the richer the experience is, of course. But I think even novices can experience that uplift. I did.

#25 leonid17

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 03:46 PM

I'll say this now and say it often, ballet, is not for everyone. If you do not love it, know it in depth and see it often over a period of years, you will never reach that mystery that ballet has to elevate the spirit which the "high arts" can do in a special way, but not the only way. Ballet can entertain, but it is not entertainment and there are some who want to change this.

I sure don't want to change it, but I do disagree with you that one has to be knowledgeable about ballet, or about any art, to experience it as art and not merely entertainment. The more one knows, the richer the experience is, of course. But I think even novices can experience that uplift. I did.


Your right, Of course your right. I was hooked as a teenager the first time I saw "Giselle".

#26 carbro

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 11:36 PM

We read Macaulay (and others) as if they're writing to us -- people with at least basic knowledge of the art and its history. He's not, at least not necessarily. I think he's hoping to reach people who take their kids to a Nutcracker and maybe one or two performances a year, without much background info. Maybe some including people in their '20s for whom ballet is a new experience. Perhaps for some of them, it's necessary to impress that yes, today Balanchine is considered the ballet equivalent of Shakespeare and Mozart.

Failing to mention other greats is no slight against them. Shakespeare and Mozart are cited as instantly recognizable icons, incontrovertible greats.

I did not mean to suggest that ballet was not a higher art, just that it is no longer perceived as such to the extent that it was in Balanchine's day. It's not "ballet" that has changed, necessarily. But the cultural environment IS significantly altered, especially in the decline of the role of intellectuals as cultural commentators.

Ballet has changed, bart. It panders. ABT commissions a ballet to George Harrison songs. NYCB mounts a third-rate Romeo + Juliet. Come on, lets lay blame where it belongs.

I'm not saying that we haven't had any good works since Mozartiana, but when Chris Wheeldon, whose creative well is a mile wide and an inch deep, is feted as ballet's great choreographer of the 21st century, we're not doing so great.

#27 bart

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 09:35 AM

:o I can't speak about Wheeldon, having seen only a few of his ballets on stage and not remembering much about the ones I saw. But -- a Great Critical Putdown is a Great Critical Putdown, regardless. Thanks, carbro, for the following:

I'm not saying that we haven't had any good works since Mozartiana, but when Chris Wheeldon, whose creative well is a mile wide and an inch deep, is feted as ballet's great choreographer of the 21st century, we're not doing so great.

:tiphat:

#28 papeetepatrick

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 09:46 AM

We read Macaulay (and others) as if they're writing to us -- people with at least basic knowledge of the art and its history. He's not, at least not necessarily. I think he's hoping to reach people who take their kids to a Nutcracker and maybe one or two performances a year, without much background info. Maybe some including people in their '20s for whom ballet is a new experience. Perhaps for some of them, it's necessary to impress that yes, today Balanchine is considered the ballet equivalent of Shakespeare and Mozart.

Failing to mention other greats is no slight against them. Shakespeare and Mozart are cited as instantly recognizable icons, incontrovertible greats.


I'm not saying that we haven't had any good works since Mozartiana, but when Chris Wheeldon, whose creative well is a mile wide and an inch deep, is feted as ballet's great choreographer of the 21st century, we're not doing so great.


We don't have to agree on this, the article is passe by now, as far as I'm concerned. By this definition, he is both trying to speak to the knowledgeable and those with no background at all--in which case you can surely write two separate articles, because those details about why NYCB is 'not doing Balanchine as well as it used to nor as well as regional companies' that the non-ballet-savvy will not recognize except for the ones in their own hometown. Nor will they know from Von Aroldingen or Whelan or Hubbe. I remember other articles he's written about the greatest dramatists of the century being Balanchine and Beckett or some such other overarching hyperbole. This is something he does, and it is not what he does well--which is deciphering the minutiae and sophisticated detail of rarefied dancers. An op-ed writer who'd taken a Freshman Survey course could do as well on the Great Geniuses, and it might be in a place where they'd read it. Or just one of the other non-dance critics who happened to be a balletomane, which I know there to be, even if they get their love for many things by reading the critics who tell them what to like. 'Failing to mention other greats' is, of course, no 'slight against them', because they don't need his approval, but it is misleading unless this is just some kind of public relations or advertising copy, which is partially how it reads (I mean that part only, if I haven't made myself clear.) It's possible that he hopes that there will be new balletgoers as a result of reading his first few paragraphs, but I doubt it. My experience is there is a tradition of going to the Nutcracker at NYCB among people who never see any other ballet ever, who go every single year, and never pick up the New York Times and read a dance critic. If these weren't written for 'us', I think he'd be more on the money to just say 'go ahead and go to NYCB, all you untutored bright people, it's still better than anything you've ever seen.'

Agree on Wheeldon and the associated ideas.

Edited to add: Here's the exact quote that Quiggin provided on another thread that I referred to above: "Watching this, as so often when watching the Balanchine repertory, I think it is reasonable to suggest that Balanchine and Beckett were the two supreme dramatists of the 20th century."

It is not at all 'reasonable to suggest' this. You can decide to suggest these 'supreme' things or not, and it is purely a subjective matter, but it has never occurred to me once while 'watching the Balanchine repertory' that this 'would be reasonable to suggest'. But this is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about in the current article.

#29 zerbinetta

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 03:38 PM

I'm not saying that we haven't had any good works since Mozartiana, but when Chris Wheeldon, whose creative well is a mile wide and an inch deep, is feted as ballet's great choreographer of the 21st century, we're not doing so great.


Ooh, good one, carbro!

#30 dirac

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 03:59 PM

If these weren't written for 'us', I think he'd be more on the money to just say 'go ahead and go to NYCB, all you untutored bright people, it's still better than anything you've ever seen.'


It’s not that he isn’t speaking to ballet fans, I’d suggest – he is -- but he’s speaking to others as well.

Ballet can entertain, but it is not entertainment and there are some who want to change this.


I'd say ballet is entertainment and it wouldn’t be doing its job as a performing art if it wasn’t. But great ballet isn’t only entertainment.

I'm not saying that we haven't had any good works since Mozartiana, but when Chris Wheeldon, whose creative well is a mile wide and an inch deep, is feted as ballet's great choreographer of the 21st century, we're not doing so great

.

Well, the 21st century is barely underway. I expect that things will look different decades from now, and some of us reading this board today may not be around to see it. Genius doesn’t come with the mail, and the high expectations loaded on Wheeldon’s shoulders aren’t entirely his fault. People are looking around for ‘the next Balanchine’ and there may not be anything like him for a very long time.


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