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Acocella's "Can We Reconstruct a Ballet?" piece


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 01 May 2001 - 12:53 PM

I'm pulling this over from Links, because I think this article is worth discussing. (The intention of the thread is to DISCUSS THE ARTICLE, not just the reconstruction process, which we've done many times, and so if anyone has read this and is interested, please post your thoughts.)
[url="http://"http://www.newyorker.com/THE_CRITICS/A_CRITIC_AT_LARGE/"]http://www.newyorker.com/THE_CRITICS/A_CRI...RITIC_AT_LARGE/[/url]

#2 Ann

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Posted 01 May 2001 - 02:07 PM

Interestingly, Alexandra, Deborah Bull wrote an article in Saturday's Daily Telegraph on her appearance in the recent Hodson reconstruction of Nijinsky's 'Rite of Spring' in Rome. Here it is:
[url="http://"http://www.deborahbull.com/Telegraph%20Column/SatTelgApr01.htm"]http://www.deborahbull.com/Telegraph%20Col...atTelgApr01.htm[/url]

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 01 May 2001 - 08:55 PM

Thanks for that, Ann. They make an interesting contrast. Bull is certainly a good writer, and understands the politics of reconstruction very well, I think.

Her point that, to paraphrase, if this production is thought so exciting, and yet it really isn't Nijinsky's choreography, what does that say about Hodgson [meaning, Hodgson is pretty darn good], is rather less clever than it sounds, I think. There are many painters who could muster up a "Rembrandt" that would fool me, or write an "after-Austen" novel that Jane didn't live to finish, but that doesn't make them real, or great. It just makes them more or less like something else.

I think Acocella's Beethoven's 5th analogy is quite clear, but I'll add one of my own. Suppose the notes to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address were lost and no one had the wit to write it down, so stunned were they by the power of the moment. Several people wrote down the first line, and since about half of them wrote down the same first line, we'll take that one. We know its length. We know the number of casualties of that battle. We know the weather on that day. We know what the Gettysburg countryside looked like, and where Lincoln stood. Someone said he mentioned slavery and a terrible cost. We know that, in July of 1863, nobody knew how the war would end.

Suppose someone reconstructs a speech -- a Lincoln scholar and good writer -- and throws in a bit of Whitmanesque poetry (since Whitman wrote a poem about Lincoln after he died), and gives it to a gifted actor to deliver. It may be very exciting, and a good history lesson, and the actor may feel that he's actually stood in Lincoln's shoes, but it wouldn't be the Gettysburg Address.

Hypothetical example: "Our country was founded almost 90 years ago" or "Four score and seven years ago, our Fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation." Details, details :D

Acocella's second point, that "Sacre" was a dud, can be debated, I think. I agree with her, but my memory of the early reviews (of the original reconstruction for Joffrey Ballet) were that most critics thought that this was a Monumental Achievement. I think people are so enamored with Nijinsky and want so terribly badly for him to be a Great Choreographer that nearly any reconstruction would have succeeded. At the time, there were a lot of people rewriting history: Isadora was really the last Romantic, and didn't invent Modern Dance at all; Nijinsky did. (I disapproved of that reinvention.) I know people -- people I respect very much -- who added this view of history to their university courses.

We don't know. We do know that it's not accurate because the original was lost, but we don't know whether we got "90 years ago" or "Four score and six."

Acocella's third point, that the subsequent restorations are less defensible, is a good one, to me. Not to take anything away from the enormous amount of work and good intentions, but what exists on stage -- nothing that has a life as theater, independent of history. "Till Eulenspiegel" is especially suspect. I once read a lot about that one -- the designs are spectacular, fantastic -- but Nijinsky was supposedly so ill and distracted on that tour that he didn't finish it, and didn't know how much he had choreographed. The dancers told him, just worry about your part and we'll do ours. I don't think there's anything in that that could be gotten back, and I think Acocella's point, that to say that there is is bordering on being "a racket" -- that this can get staged because it has Nijinsky's name, however tangentially, attached to it -- is worth considering.

That said, I'll go to see them. There's always something in them that sheds a light on history, and if that's an interest, then that's a plus. But none of the H&A reconstructions that I've seen have convinced me that they've saved a great work. ("Le Sacre" is very similar to certain American Indian dances, or, at least, theatricalized versions of same, btw, which accounts for Acocella's "I'm a little Indian, too" line.)

#4 Amy Reusch

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Posted 01 May 2001 - 10:44 PM

But the photographs also showed Sacre to be a clear choreographic stepping stone between the Italian ballet master, Enrico Cecchetti and the mother of modern dance, Martha Graham, and the idea of attempting to reconstruct the ballet took root.  - Deborah Bull


Anyone else have a little trouble with the above statement? It implies that Graham was influenced by both Cecchetti and Nijinski... I've never read anything that implied this was the case before... I don't believe she ever saw Nijinski nor that Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn taught Cecchetti.

To a 21st century ballerina, schooled in Graham, MacMillan and Forsythe, the work feels not exactly modern, but markedly different from anything else I've danced in either classical ballet or abstract contemporary dance.  -Deborah Bull


I wish all ballet students realized the value of such exposure.

I've just been asked to start thinking about editing a documentary on the art of reconstructing lost works (in this case, lost modern dance works). I don't know how I can delve into it publicly without risking offending collaborators simply by asking the question, but an issue that concerns me is "how much of the construction is the reconstructor?". I don't think the reconstructor can honestly answer that beyond saying which parts they didn't remember the exact steps to, because even the memories they do have of the choreography are very much colored by who they are themselves. Thank heavens, though, that long term memory is the last to go! Would that more legacies out there (Tudor, for instance)were following in the Balanchine Foundation's footsteps... but the issue of money always comes up. Thank heavens for NIPAD and Save As: Dance [url="http://"http://save-as-dance.org/"]http://save-as-dance.org/[/url]

[ 05-01-2001: Message edited by: Amy Reusch ]

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 May 2001 - 11:00 PM

I'm with Acocella. There's tons of research in Hodson and Archer's work. What there isn't is much theatrical vitality. Both Rite and Cotillon looked liked graduate theses staged.

#6 Nanatchka

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Posted 01 May 2001 - 11:22 PM

The best thing about Sacre at the Joffrey was seeing the scenery. That you can reconstruct. The colors, the landscape, fascinating. THe most interesting thing about the movement to me was how familiar it felt. So much of it reminded me of Paul Taylor! The plastique, the torque, etc. But of course the Paul is vivid and in the here and how, and the Sacre was not. No way that dance was such a dud. Out of mothballs is one thing. Out of thin air is another. But I am still glad I saw it. Seeing Beatriz Rodriguez as the Chosen One made me understand that part of the dance in a way reading about it could not.

[ 05-02-2001: Message edited by: Nanatchka ]

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 02 May 2001 - 12:41 AM

Amy Reusch wrote:

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
But the photographs also showed Sacre to be a clear choreographic stepping stone between the Italian ballet master, Enrico Cecchetti and the mother of modern dance, Martha Graham, and the idea of attempting to reconstruct the ballet took root. - Deborah Bull
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Anyone else have a little trouble with the above statement? It implies that Graham was influenced by both Cecchetti and Nijinski... I've never read anything that implied this was the case before... I don't believe she ever saw Nijinski nor that Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn taught Cecchetti.

-----------------------

I agree, Amy. That quote bothered me, too and for the same reasons. I don't expect dancers to be dance historians, except when they're writing an article about dance history. :)

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 02 May 2001 - 06:24 AM

Yes, it does imply that connection between Graham and Cecchetti, but what I think she may have meant was that the Nijinski was the connection in terms of hermeneutic. (You remember hermen? One of the eutic boys.)

I don't think it's necessary to have been schooled directly by one or the other masters on either side in order to be an aesthetic bridge between the two schools of thought. Sometimes, it just happens.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 02 May 2001 - 08:39 AM

Nijinsky was in the middle in time, but in no other sense, I think. That's one of the problems with these reconstructions. The reconstructer is working backwards -- so there probably is some Graham, and lots of other stuff that Nijinsky had never seen, and she seems to be speaking physically, technically, as though he's a missing link.

#10 Nanatchka

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Posted 02 May 2001 - 09:24 AM

[QUOTE]The reconstructer is working backwards --

Well if that doesn't say it all. Thank you, Alexandra.

You gotta love Ballet Alert. This and a hermeneutics joke in the same thread.

#11 Ed Waffle

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Posted 02 May 2001 - 10:25 AM

A few notes on Acocella’s article:

First, it seems that Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer have found a lovely academic niche. They have staked out an area that will allow continued grants, publications, travel and appointments. Whether the work they do in that niche significantly enhances what we know about “Rite of Spring” or other Nijinsky works is open to question. She says as much in the last sentence of the article.

Acocella was brilliant in her opening. Using Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony shows just how high the stakes are (very) and how difficult it would be to reconstruct such a masterpiece (insanely so). It also, of course, signifies to non-ballet literate readers of the article just where in the canon Nijinsky’s great work lies.

Discussing the reconstruction of “Till Eulenspiegel”, she writes, “You have to give Hodson and Archer credit. They do not produce know-nothing reconstructions. They have ideas; they form hypotheses.” Which allows us to decide if the ideas of the reconstructors would be of much interest to us—and points us in the direction of realizing that they may easily be not.

Most telling is her noting that the Rome Opera did not care to follow the usual custom of billing “Jeux” as “after Nijinsky”, meaning that the choreography was by Millicent Hodson. However ballet-mad the citizens of the Eternal City may be, they probably would not line up to buy tickets for a work by Hodson without the Nijinsky billing.

Acocella refers back to her opening when she brings up the passage in Hodson’s book which mentions that she did not have “the exact steps” for the circle of women section, which Acocella points out is the most, if not only, important thing to have—the choreography. The reference to reconstructing Beethoven is clear. Could it be done if we had everything but the notes on the page?

The descriptions of the works that Acocella gives are deadly. She makes “Till Eulenspiegel” seem like a scene from a truck and bus tour of “State Fair” and “Jeux” like a pastiche done by a particularly ham handed choreographer.

A really delightful article. It read as if she had a good time writing it.


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