Mel Johnson

Beige ballets

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We've talked about great ballets at length, even discussed memorably bad ballets. Are there any that stand out in your minds as so mediocre that they are memorable? For me that would have to be "Opus 1", Cranko, to the Webern Passacaglia. We worked like devils on it, and it was difficult, and well-crafted, but what am I left with as a recollection?

The women wore brown leotards.

Do you have any recall of ballets so eenh! that they were outstanding?

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Oh, yes. Ruth Page's 'The Bells'---after all these years I am left with an image of Frederic Franklin encased from the shoulders to the calves in a transparent bell--the bottom part was on a hoop and it moved from side to side (I know there is a photo somewhere of this). come to think of it I believe it was beige. It was outstanding, in a way---outstanding-ly weird.

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This is what I used to, and still do, call a "De Gustibus" thread. Not everybody's beige ballet will be beige to everybody else. My nominee for Balanchine Beige is, believe it or not, "Divertimento #15". That it is workmanlike, I don't dispute. That it looks like fun to dance, I don't doubt, but to me it just looks like what it is, a ballet set to dinner music.

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I'd have to say a lot of Helgi Tomasson's work - the interesting thing is that even if the choreography is beige, it's well-tailored, astute beige.

When writing, one of the biggest dilemma is the beige performance, or as I put it, the one that's "fine."

I was reporting for a magazine on a triple bill out of NYC on three ballets very familiar in NYC.

It was fine.

It wasn't bad. It was fine. It wasn't markedly different than the interpretations given in New York, the dancers weren't doing much that was notable, the ballets are well-known here and the performances just gave me very little to say.

Reviews like that feel like having to give a 45 minute talk on a five minute topic.

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We've talked about great ballets at length, even discussed memorably bad ballets. Are there any that stand out in your minds as so mediocre that they are memorable? For me that would have to be "Opus 1", Cranko, to the Webern Passacaglia. We worked like devils on it, and it was difficult, and well-crafted, but what am I left with as a recollection?

The women wore brown leotards.

Do you have any recall of ballets so eenh! that they were outstanding?

Oh Mel - I know I was a very green 17 year old from Miami but 'Opus I' has haunted me since the first time I saw it at City Center - 1975. The uneasy music, the shapes of the body and unusual usage of the corps. I remember Ingrid Fraley and Burton Taylor in beige or as Arpino would call it mushroom doing wonderfully crafted architectural pas de deux work. But the lighting was so spooky I couldn't tell the corps was in brown.

I consistently ask for a revival in every rep. meeting.

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That's what I mean about not everybody's beige ballet being the same. At least with me, "Opus 1" is in good company with D15! :thumbsup:

Edited to Add: You know, maybe if there had been more dancers who had done the first production around, "Opus 1" would have been revived. The dancers enjoyed doing it. In a parallel, D15 was slated to be scrapped, but the dancers who danced it liked it so much, management relented. There are just ballets you have to dance, I guess.

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mention of THE BELLS reminded me that i have one foto from this little known (to me) work.

as many know the decor what by Isamu Noguchi.

the full credits follow to accompany the one photo i have of this work.

the credits on the back identify the work: THE BELLS and the dancers:

Alexandra Danilova, Frederic Franklin and Nikita Talin.

NYPL dance coll. cat. entry:

Bells : Chor: Ruth Page; mus: Darius Milhaud; lib: based on Edgar Allan Poe; scen & cos: Isamu Noguchi. First perf: Chicago, Lyric Theater, Apr 26, 1946, Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo.//First New York perf: Sept 6, 1946, Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo.

post-848-1229885496_thumb.jpg

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Love the idea of 'beige' ballets -- and you don't even need to be a synesthete!

Helgi Tomasson's 'Blue Rose' would qualify as my 'beige'. Pretty costumes, pretty music, lots of tricky-looking lifts presumably interspersed by pretty steps, but I just couldn't keep my eyes open. (The only other ballet that has ever put me to sleep was 'The Dybbuk', but that wasn't beige, that was awful.) It was like watching an advanced ballet class I had seen -- or taken -- dozens of times before.

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There are so many. I may not really understand the "beige" category and am not familiar with the examples given so far. Mel's criterion for such ballets is that they must be

... so mediocre that they are memorable

You make me think of certain empty-calorie desserts, beautifully presented in a restaurant: smooth, cleverly concerived and executed, well-blended as to texture and flavors, looking lovely in photographs and in verbal description, but leaving one disappointed and even hungry not long after swallowing. What you remember is the strange feeling of being let down -- as though you have failed, not the chef.

Peter Martins' amiable Barber Violin Concerto comes to mind. I liked it -- along with its conceit of the classical couple dancing along with and in contrast to the modern couple. I recall, however, having no memories of the actual steps just a few days after seeing it twice. (Seeing this with couples who were a bit too similar in style may have been part of the problem.)

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My problem with the beige concept is that to fit into that category, a ballet pretty much has to lack anything memorable. So without a hook, I forget 'em. :thumbsup:

I congratulate everyone who is able to add to the list.

I really dislike Barber Violin Cto, primarily for the section with the classical man and modern woman. She is like a gnat, and I just want to swat her, no matter who is dancing the role -- even my adored Bouder. But the parts for the classical woman are probably beige. Don't know for sure, though, because they're pretty much forgotten. :dry:

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Maybe "beige ballets" are those you can remember only with HELP. Thanks, carbro, for the following:

She [the modern woman in Barber Violin Concerto] is like a gnat, and I just want to swat her, no matter who is dancing the role -- even my adored Bouder.
NOW I remember!! Suddenly I can even see the dancer. I kind of liked her, however.:dry:
But the parts for the classical woman are probably beige. Don't know for sure, though, because they're pretty much forgotten. :thumbsup:
Yes indeed. And it's in work like this that "classical" choreography -- as done in recent decades, at least -- so often earns its bad name. :(

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I have no idea what a beige ballet is. "Beige" suggests to me something inoffensive and forgettable, yet the first time I saw "beige" used in a pejorative sense on Ballet Talk was years ago in a post by the estimable Manhattnik. He conflated "beige art" with Bejart, thus dismissing a choreographer who, whatever one may have thought of him. was difficult to ignore. Similarly, "Barber Violin Concerto" seems to me one Peter Martins ballet which is NOT forgettable and nobody who saw the original cast of Merrill Ashley, Adam Luders, David Parsons, and the equisitely gnat-like Kate Johnson will ever forget it. So what are we talking about? Are you out there Manhattnik? If so, please explain, and season's greetings.

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I think you've hit on the idea of the "beige ballet" quite well.

And the ancient tradition of the De Gustibus threads is that they require no explanation or defense. "De Gustibus non disputandum est"

Martins is quite adept at mixing the yellows and browns and whites. Occasionally, he lapses over the line into the memorably intolerable, or the very good indeed, but given his latitude in choreographic output, "Even a blind hog has to find an acorn now and then."

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Similarly, "Barber Violin Concerto" seems to me one Peter Martins ballet which is NOT forgettable and nobody who saw the original cast of Merrill Ashley, Adam Luders, David Parsons, and the equisitely gnat-like Kate Johnson will ever forget it. So what are we talking about?
Good point. Alas, many of us did not have the chance to see this cast. When performed by dancers who are equally classically trained -- in other words, NOT in the league of avid Parsons and Kate Johnson -- the effect is rather different. Building on this, perhaps casting is another factor that can make a ballet turn to "beige."

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"De Gustibus non disputandum est"

Love that! ( :off topic: M.J, may I borrow the phrase ...?)

BTW, at first I nominated a ballet for the Worst categorie, while it was still fresh in my memory for a few days. By now...well, it is basically GONE. (And then, considering how VERY colorful was the costume design...far from beige, well, is even more sad.)

and the winner is...

Miss Twyla Tharp's one and only NIGHTSPOT!!! :clapping::clapping::clapping:

(What was all that about...? "Dunno" remember :dunno: )

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I can't take any credit for it. It's an old Latin saying, sometimes credited to Marcus Tullius Cicero, and with the verb at the end, I guess he would have expressed it that way, if he ever used it! Usually, when he encountered opposition to his opinions, he said, "Exi!" (Get out!)

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Yet another great topic for this forum from Mel. You're really on a roll. :)

Leigh Witchel writes:

I'd have to say a lot of Helgi Tomasson's work - the interesting thing is that even if the choreography is beige, it's well-tailored, astute beige.

My feelings exactly. It's not great but it's not awful, and it's generally tailored to some need he sees in the reportory or to showcase a dancer or dancer(s).

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This is what I used to, and still do, call a "De Gustibus" thread. Not everybody's beige ballet will be beige to everybody else. My nominee for Balanchine Beige is, believe it or not, "Divertimento #15". That it is workmanlike, I don't dispute. That it looks like fun to dance, I don't doubt, but to me it just looks like what it is, a ballet set to dinner music.

LOL! When I performed this ballet and we did it in blues and greens! So much for Karinska's determination of standardization, LOL!

-Philip

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Karinska's costumes are yellow.

But beige has more to it than costume/decor. It's just a blandness that makes the viewing of a ballet untroubling, but at the same time, unmemorable. I can remember a ballet by John Taras, "La Guirlande de Campra" that was a beige ballet, except it was all dressed up to go somewhere; it apparently did and didn't come back.

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