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Can classical ballet be American?

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#1 Alexandra


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Posted 21 May 2001 - 04:58 PM

Another issue from Joan Acocella's review of the new Robbins biography. In her summation of his career, she writes:

"So every year or so in the forties and fifties he would go back "home," first to Ballet Theatre, then to New York City Ballet (he moved there in 1948), and make something in the classical idiom: "Facsimile" (1946), "Age of Anxiety" (1950; based on the Auden poem), "The Cage" (1951), "Afternoon of a Faun" (1953), "The Concert" (1956). At this time there was serious question as to whether ballet could ever be an American art. People still thought it was Russian or French—in any case, old and snooty, unfit for a young democracy—and the ballets of George Balanchine, the man who finally did make ballet an American art, were on the whole so radical that the public took a while to get the point. Robbins stepped in. His ballets told stories ("The Cage"); they cracked jokes ("The Concert"); they were topical ("Age of Anxiety"); they were about young people and sex ("Facsimile"). Again and again, they seemed to say that ballet could be down-to-earth, ours."

This certainly was an issue in the 1940s and 1950s. John Martin, and others, regularly wrote that Balanchine should go back to Europe where they belonged. (We're usually such a generous nation....)

I think there's still a remnant of this, which is why so many we read so often about choreographers who "stand classicism on its head" -- on its ear, on its whatever -- with so much glee. There are still people who would like ballet to "go back to Europe where it belongs." Not sure it would be welcome everywhere in Europe either, but that's another story.

Can ballet be American?

#2 BalletNut


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Posted 22 May 2001 - 02:17 PM

What an interesting topic.

It seems that a lot of the "ballet is un-American" sentiment stems from the fact that ballet in general is neither democratic nor politically correct, two traits associated with more "American" forms of dance, particularly modern dance. This philosophy, not surprisingly, makes little sense to me, especially given the remarkable contributions of American choreographers like Agnes de Mille and Jerome Robbins. We have French ballet, Russian ballet, British ballet, and Danish ballet in Europe. If ballet can thrive in these four very different countries as it has for centuries, why can't it also thrive in America? Dance knows no political boundaries.

#3 atm711


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Posted 23 May 2001 - 06:56 PM

Isn't it time we claim Balanchine as one of our own? Would it be the Balanchine we know if he had spent his life in England or France? I don't think so. He was also greatly influenced by our culture, whether it be in the athleticism of our dancers or our musical theatre and Hollywood. It amuses me how some Russians are trying to claim him.

Ballet IS American, and we have Balanchine, Robbins and deMille to prove it.

#4 Lukayev



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Posted 24 May 2001 - 02:34 AM

When I am in one of my 'perpetual-pout' modes to learn a classical variation (i.e. Coppelia) everyone, not including the teacher and pianist, whips their head around and says (in a monotonous, drawling voice) "Go back to Russia where you 'came from'". In other words, I'm thinking that they believe that classical variations should stay where they are in Russia-land or Europe land and that, being American and as Balanchinian/Stylized as we are today, the ballets we should learn are Serenade, the *American* version of this, of that, etc.

Are Americans (I'm speaking for myself, too.. in a way) so narrow minded that everything, down to the last step, must be manipulated so that it is familiar with American audiences? Should Kitri have to do the echappe-hop on attitude pointe and picking feet diagonal for her variation just because it's an American audience out there?
Maybe classical ballet can become American classical ballet, but not the classical ballet that the rest of the world had in mind.


[ 05-24-2001: Message edited by: Luka ]

#5 salzberg


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Posted 24 May 2001 - 07:28 AM

Originally posted by atm711 (re: Balanchine):
It amuses me how some Russians are trying to claim him.

I'd love to hear them defend Western Symphony or Stars and Stripes as "Russian" ballets.

#6 Nanatchka


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Posted 24 May 2001 - 09:41 AM

I really think the whole point of America is that anything can be American. Or any one.

Balanchine had the passionate patriotism of the satisfied emigre (the kind of thing one only experiences, when when is born here, upon returning home from a very long trip to a very different country). In that way, even Stars and Stripes is the work of a "foreigner."

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