Alexandra

Balanchine centrism?

68 posts in this topic

Sorry you're offended, Leigh, but this is a "charge" that's made frequently by dancers and, especially, choreographers in interviews, and is a topic that's frequently discussed in newspapers and magazines. There might well be people in Perm who think that St. Petersburgians are biased, but we're not in Perm.

My intention was to address the perceived bias of critics, although the interviews/articles I've read extend that to others -- not so much the audience, perhaps, but to other professionals. It's a very prevalent perception, right or wrong -- and it's perhaps natural that New Yorkers think it's wrong and others think it's accurate -- in American ballet, as there is a school of thought outside New York that Balanchine centrism blocks the eye of critics, grantmakers, and other people of importance to the dance world to the detriment of other artists.

I want to state quite clearly that this is not intended as an attack on Balanchine nor those who think that he's a great choreographer, which is probably most of us here. I'm sorry it's been taken that way, but that really wasn't the intention.

Like Juliet, I'd quote Terry's: "I think that if you're born in a certain city or a cultural center in which the people around you have also grown up seeing a great Choreographer X, then I think this "centrism" is likely to happen. I think that many Londoners will always like Ashton/MacMillan, and many Stuttgartians (?) will like Cranko, and many Danish will like Bournonville, so forth." I think it goes beyond just "liking" -- if you see something that's first rate consistently, you'll insist on the same quality in everything. I'd argue that this is a good thing, and it's how standards evolve. It is understandably frustrating for "outsiders" to always bump up against this standard. I've always had faith that when something truly fine happens, people -- no matter how X-centric they are (and that wasn't intended as a pun) -- will recognize it. New Yorkers (again, generalizing; there are exceptions to everything) once had Massine and Tudor and Graham eyes, one might argue, and they welcomed Balanchine into that company.

[ 07-06-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Sorry that you feel that way, Leigh. I am trying really hard to understand what you wrote above...but if Alexandra wrote, in her question/clarification of this topic, that she was seeking comments:

"...to address the perception which often appears in print) that Americans, and especially New Yorkers, are

Balanchine-centric and not only look at other companies and choreographers from that

vantagepoint (which would be only natural) but [also] don't recognize any other

choreographers and style except Balanchine's.

Leigh,if by 'New Yorkers' Alexandra doesn't mean 'audiences,' then who would they be? People behind the scenes -- dancers, technicians, designers, choreographers, etc. -- are a teeny-tiny portion of the New York 'dance milieu.' The largest category of 'New Yorkers' about whom we can comment in this thread are audience members. Thus, to me, and to most folks who responded to this thread, "New Yorkers" = "audiences." It never occured to me that Alexandra was referring to any group *but* the audiences. Sorry if I totally misunderstood! :)

Anyhow...my answer to Alexandra's original question -- interpreting "New Yorkers" to mean mainly audience members -- is that no, I don't feel that the majority of New York balletgoing audiences are Balanchine-centric. NYCB regulars & subscribers certainly are...and, in general, a category best described as 'intellectuals' are...but, no, not New Yorkers in general. I've been in the midst of too many audiences in NY that seem to love ballet of non-Balanchinean varieties, as well as Balanchine. :)

[ 07-06-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

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If indeed I am a Balanchine Centrist I can only say in my defense that there were many years of ballet-going leading up to this. I was fortunate in my early ballet-going to see lots of Fokine and Massine and Tudor and Robbins--with a sprinkling of Balanchine, Ashton, Petit. During this time I could never fully understand why he wasn't more popular--and in particular, why Ballet Theatre had so little of his works. I finally got a good dose of Balanchine with the Denham Ballet Russe--and have been hooked ever since. I am a Balanchine centrist, in part, perhaps because I remember those years when he was out in the wilderness. FINALLY--they get it!!

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Originally posted by Leigh Witchel:

I completely understand a discussion of choreography, but a discussion on the supposed merits of audiences should not be taking place here.  And I feel very strongly about this.

Leigh, I truly don't understand what you mean by this, even after re-reading the thread several times. I don't think anyone is casting any aspersions on the 'merits' of audiences, in New York or anywhere else. I respect, indeed I honour, your declaration of your belief in Balanchine's greatness, and I have no doubt it is, rightly, shared by most of the NYCB audience - and indeed probably by most serious ballet goers throughout the world. But you include the vital point that for you Balanchine is "A dance genius, not THE dance genius"; what causes resentment, I think, is the PERCEPTION that a small minority of the NYCB audience, and some writers, believe that Balanchine is not the greatest among the great, but the ONLY great of our age.

Note that I say PERCEPTION: it maybe that these people, and this viewpoint, don't exist at all. The New Yorkers I know myself all seem perfectly reasonable, sensible people - but the perception does exist. It may be that discussion on a site like this could help to remove it, if it is without basis in fact.

You ask if we would be having this discussion about Ashton or Bournonville, and I have to say no, on this site - where most of the active participants are American-based and probably haven't seen a huge amount of either, compared with Balanchine - we wouldn't: but on ballet.co (a London-based board, for those that don't know it) there have in the past been equally impassioned arguments about Ashton (and MacMillan), and about the London-centric nature of the board; and I've no doubt that Copenhagen and St Petersburg would have their own versions.

As for the question of loving best what we first know: certainly for me it's true - to adapt your own words, I will not and do not need to defend loving Ashton's works best. But that doesn't mean I couldn't or didn't recognise the genius of Balanchine when I saw it - love is something different.

I think it would be a real shame if this thread were to collapse into acrimony - there is a real point to be discussed and I don't see that anyone is out to belittle other readers and posters.

[ 07-06-2001: Message edited by: Jane Simpson ]

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Good points Leigh but it's hard to escape the impact of the first companies you watch when you begin to love ballet. You may change your taste,improve your critical eye, etc, but somewhere in the back of your mind is always the first choreography that made you a fan. If your town didn't get much Balanchine, you can be a late-blooming fanatic for him but it takes some work. And New Yorkers who cut their teeth on Mr.B's contemporary works while there rest of us subsisted on swans, sylphs and wilis may have a lingering loyalty.

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I thought I should say that Leigh is out of town this weekend and, as far as I know, without internet access, and so can't respond for awhile.

Jeannie, I just meant "New Yorkers" in any definition -- audiences, critics, the dance world, however one thinks of it.

I think this could be a very rich discussion -- about "climates of inspiration" and cities and who makes up a point of view and how one develops "eyes" --and that was how it was intended.

[ 07-06-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Maybe we should have a discussion about the audiences in those other cities. I think this thread is also about whether a company that is not like the most popular company in that city can be successful.

I think yes, but not AS successful and with a bigger struggle.

I don't think this is really an attack on audiences. What say all you?

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I don't see it as an attack on audiences; in fact, I'm rather puzzled at what could have caused offense?! Observing the audiences of a certain venue will explain a lot about the way a choreographer is seen and written about, as critics are a part of that audience and reflect its tastes and standards rather more often than they lead them.

As to an analytical thread on choreography, that could be useful, too, as long as it didn't turn into an Albrecht Dürer-like "Of the Just Shaping of Choreography" in which the shapes and formations are analyzed as geometry with hard and fast laws!

And Alexandra, I don't think the 70s Joffrey crowd was the "avant-of-the-month club" - I don't see the same people at, say, the Joyce.

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Mel, I didn't say anything about the Joffrey crowd. That must have been someone else. (Hard to keep who said what straight on a long thread.)(My apologies - it was Jeannie. - Mel)

To try to keep this to the theoretical question, I'll give two examples of THE PERCEPTION. The first was a fascinating interview piece that was on Voice of Dance when I first got on the net -- I don't know if it's still there. It was by a San Francisco writer, and the interviewees were company directors and choreographers, most not based in New York. Many of the comments were directed at the New York critics -- Croce, Tobias and Kisselgoff seemed lumped together as one huge New York Critic, as though they spoke with one voice -- and others at the East Coast establishment, etc. Right or wrong, there's a perception that the reason other choreographers don't get fair treatment is not because they're not as good as Balanchine, but because they simply aren't Balanchine, or their work is of a different aesthetic. Now, some would say, "Yeah! You tell 'em" and others would say, "Oh, please, sour grapes," but whatever your take on this position, it's out there.

The only European company I can speak about is the Royal Danish Ballet. I've read (literally) everything written about them by American or British critics of their various foreign tours from 1951 to 1995, as well as reviews by Americans and British writers who saw them at home. I've also talked to somewhere between one and 200 Danish dancers between the ages of 15 and 80. Except for the 80-year-old, every single Danish dancer, at some point in the conversation, said, "We know you Americans only like Balanchine." If the answer was "No, that's really not true," the question, very politely came, "Oh? Who else do you like?" (which is why I posted that query in an earlier post) And I have never met a Dane, dancer or otherwise, who would want only Bournonville to be danced, or who wanted to see only Bournonville. That aesthetic is dead there.

While there are exceptions, of course, the vast majority of the American reviews from the company's first tour to its last contained the opinion that nothing the company did besides Bournonville (and the Ashton "Romeo" and the Beck-Brenaa "Coppelia") was worth seeing; that you saw great dancers making dreck look good, but it was a waste of talent; and that they had to find a contemporary choreographer on the level of Bournonville. By the 1970s and 1980s, reviews from New York critics, whether writing for the dailies or the magazines, often contained the advice that the company should be dancing more Balanchine. They actually had a large Balanchine repertory, but usually danced only one or two ballets from it a year. When the company did dance it, of course, they were told they couldn't dance it properly. While this view isn't held by all New Yorkers, by any means (I always assume that "New Yorkers" means the critics, but then, that's my bias. Who else would people be talking about? :) )

[ 07-07-2001: Message edited by: Mel Johnson ]

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I think that the issue of critics is different from that of audiences. I would agree that in general, the New York critics are Balanchine-centric. But not necessarily for the same reason as audiences. That could be a very different discussion! And from an audience perspective, I wouldn't dream of speaking for all New Yorkers -- or those from the tri-state region --but I can detail my own experience.

I am Balanchine and NYCB-centric, even though I frequently see other companies/choreographers throughout the world and in NY. Maybe Leigh was offended by the idea that New Yorkers see only NYCB. That's obviously not true, as we have more opportunities than almost any other audience to see various ballets. Neverthless, I would agree with the point that most people tend to favor what they are familiar with and what they see the most. (That argument, of course, cuts both ways. Because in NY we have the opportunity to see a lot of Balanchine in addition to other choreography, we have a better appreciation of its greatness!)

For me, a key factor in my fondness for Balanchine (and NYCB) is its varied repertory. Very few ballets are alike, and for the most part, you see three in an evening. In my experience, if you go the ballet VERY regularly, it is natural to want to see a varied rep performed at the highest level. To me, that's NYCB.

Still, I think in sheer numbers, more ballet-goers in NY are ABT fans. But my guess is that many of them (not all, of course) are casual fans -- they go once or twice a year. I was exposed to Balanchine first (what NY mother didn't take her daughter to the Nutcracker for her first ballet) but saw more of ABT as a child. My mother was a casual ballet-goer. She went once or twice a year, and thus chose the romantic classics.

Because I lived in NY, my education could extend to all sorts of dance. In my early adulthood, I attended performances pretty much every week -- primarily modern choreographers (Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham and a host of others.) I believe that education really informed my taste in ballet. I tired of modern (too many bad performances of lesser choreographers). But even though I very much enjoy the romantic classics, I still think of them as a treat -- not dance at its essence.

NYCB, for me, combines the best of both worlds. Purity of dance and variety, combined with the virtuosity and lyricism of the classics.

One other case in point: About 10 years ago, I started going to ballet regularly with a friend. She had a subscription to ABT. I had a subscription to NYCB. We'd join one another at the performances and thoroughly enjoyed both companies. Nevertheless, we had a great time comparing technique, dancers and rep, both staking claims to their favored company. After about three years of this, my friend turned very sheepish and said "you know, after all this, I think I agree with you and prefer NYCB." She retained her ABT subscription. And Giselle will always be her favorite ballet. But her eye had been trained to appreciate the speed and intricacy of the Balanchine steps.

[ 07-07-2001: Message edited by: justafan ]

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What a thorny topic :) I'd like to address a few points first.

1) I agree with Leigh in a) In the Kirov post, Marc seemed to make a simple equation that If a dancer is a true Kirov dancer (with all the special, positive attributes that implies) that this dancer will not like Balanchine. That somehow, liking or enjoying dancing his works betrays the Kirov spirit. And I wished him to elaborate.

B) By lumping and putting a tag on an audience from a specific city, my opinions can be shrugged off or are tainted. If I don't like a dancer or if I write something about a ballet it can be dismissed with, "Oh, well, you know, she's from New York." or "She likes Balanchine." I think that is unfair.

2) I disagree with Diana L. and Mary on two minor points they made. Birmingham Ballet did not draw well, not because they weren't "Balanchine" (they did dance Slaughter on Tenth Avenue), but because they decided to perform Edward II, a ballet which received poor reviews at home from English critics. So I don't think there was any "New York" conspiracy at work. Just poor programing. I wished they had brought their Ashton works.

Mary said that when New Yorkers see the Royal Ballet they only see Swan Lake or Giselle. The last two times I saw RB in NY there wasn't a Swan or a Willi in sight. I saw several Ashton works, and loved them.

3) Jane said that she sees Balanchine's greatness but cannot love his works. Can you love two choreographer's works? I think you can, especially when they appeal to two different sides of ballet. As soon as I saw Ashton's Cinderella, I thought that it was a great work and I did love it. That doesn't make me any less of a Balanchine devotee.

Now onto being Balanchine-centric or New York-centric, and whether New York critics form something of a Balanchine-inspired mafia.

New York used to be (and the case can be made that it is still, but in a lesser sense) the dance capital of the United States. When most of the top critics were starting out or were being "educated" about dance, New York was a vibrant center of dance -- modern and the ballet boom. Balanchine seemed to be something of a center of this. The way many speak about going to City Center, getting a cheap seat, and watching Balanchine's latest masterpiece...the era has grown to mythic proportions. It has become romanced. This time and those ballets were very important to them. Now, I have to admit this happened before I was born, so I didn't experience it but read about it from critics such as Tobias, Croce, Gottlieb...etc.. It colored good/bad the way they see dance. As I'm sure a certain time of fertile creation colored the critics of England and continental Europe.

So I agree with many of the posts that said New Yorkers will be protective of Balanchine, English people will see ballet through Ashton glasses, Germany with Cranko's etc... I think a perfect example of this were the reviews of Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance of Midsummer Night's Dream in 1999. Before the telecast on Bravo, I went through the archives or the Times, Telegraph and ballet.co.uk to see what the reviews were, and so many, right off the bat, said, "Oh, it's not as good as Ashton" "Ashton is a much better storyteller." "Balanchine doesn't even have the two leads dance with one another." As if there couldn't possibly be two wonderful ballets made to the same score and text source. Why not? And I'm sure if those two ballets were performed in Hamburg, there would be German cricits saying the two ballets weren't nearly as good as Neumiere's.

Now about New York. I don't know whether this is true or not, especially in a digital world where a multi-million dollar company can be run in the nude from a bedroom in Kansas or Rochester with a computer, but New York is the center of commerce, publishing, media, a portion of the entertainment industry, and a host of other businesses for the United States. Even CNN, which is located in Atlanta, is building a big New York office in Columbus Circle, and my company ESPN, is moving many of its offices from Bristol Conn. to Manhattan. This is just a fact, to get into a huff about it (if you're from somewhere else) isn't going to change things. I don't think it makes New York or New Yorkers better. I love San Francisco, Washington D.C., and London.

Personally, I learned not only about Balanchine from growing up watching the NYCB, but my ballet manners. Balanchine taught me to want the music to be played at the proper tempo, dancers that respect each other, the audience and the dance, no plastic grins or theatrical grimaces, men who partner well and treat their ballerinas with respect, that costumes and scenery need not be blooted and gaudy, that the corps can dance too. Many other things. But this does not mean that I can't enjoy or love other companies, that I want them only to dance Balanchine. And if they do dance Balanchine, that it has to be exactly like the New York City Ballet. I wouldn't want a company to lose its character, but then again, it shouldn't dance Balanchine in a way that is against Mr. B's principles. Just like I woulnd't want to see Ashton performed in a way that trashes the way he would want to see it done. Well, that's all a bit of a jumble, I hope it makes sense.

[ 07-08-2001: Message edited by: Dale ]

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Originally posted by Dale:

3) Jane said that she sees Balanchine's greatness but cannot love his works. 

No, I didn't - or at least I didn't mean to! - I said I love Ashton best, and I do, but I love lots of other ballets as well, including many of Balanchine's. Sorry if I didn't explain that properly.

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Jane, this is what you had in an earlier post:

"As for the question of loving best what we first know: certainly for me it's true - to adapt your own words, I will not and do not need to defend loving Ashton's works best. But that doesn't mean I couldn't or didn't recognise the genius of Balanchine when I saw it - love is something different."

Thank you for clarifying. But I didn't mean for you to defend your stance. I agree that you can recognise genius without taking it to heart, just as we can love something we know is frivolous or less than genius. Not that Ashton falls into that catagory. :)

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You're right - I just meant I thought I'd been rather too sweeping in my earlier post.

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Dale, I don't think you wrote a jumble at all, and it makes a great deal of sense (also what justafan wrote). I'd make a comment on the "true Kirov dancer" aspect. I don't have a problem with that; I think, like college football teams, there should be pride and a sense of identity (and I don't mean to imply that Dale meant anything else.) When Nureyev first came to New York he grandly stated that he would dance "Giselle" for Balanchine and then go back to London. At that time, a "true NYCB dancer" wouldn't have wanted to dance "Giselle." (The comment provoked some merriment.) I'm sure he was shocked by that -- who wouldn't want to dance "Giselle?" I think we all have to have some attitude as a starting place; we all view dance within a particular context and that context is shaped by what we've seen. I think if there's any point to raising and examining this topic is to air it so that we're conscious of our contexts.

On the critics/audience question, sometimes critics assume they're at one with the audience. In the famous anti-Cranko/Stuttgart piece, Croce writes "We, New Yorkers" and the point of view of the piece is that something terrible was foisted upon her city. "New York was raped in its sleep," as I recall it. Denby wrote a wonderful piece about national attitudes, the way different people view ballet (from a very partisan point of view, I might add, and I think a Frenchman or Englishman would read that article very differently from an American. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that).

If there are any grad students reading this, ballet audiences might make a very good thesis or dissertation. I remember one Croce essay that was a real eye-opener for me, in which she wrote that the City Ballet audience turned out to be a City Center audience, and that many stayed with City Center when the company moved to Lincoln Center. "The Joffrey inherited the City Ballet audience and much of its repertory" (the "Filling Station" wing of its repertory). True? False? What are the reasons? Economics? Did the audience really vote for "Filling Station?" There was a double-edge to her comment, partly that the audience that stayed behind liked the lighter works, but also that the new audience was more Broadway (at that time, at that time). I have friends of the generation that Dale wrote about who've said, "It was all over by the time they moved to Lincoln Center." Nostalgia? Did something change?

I definitely think it's possible to love more than one choreographer, and also to have "eyes" for more than one style/choreographer/company. My theory has always been what you see is what you see. I think you have to see a body of work well performed, in a living, breathing state to love it -- or at least, it's easier to do that way. I can appreciate what I've seen of Massine intellectually, but not viscerally. It's like seeing an exhibition of beautiful costumes, but on racks, not bodies. One thinks, "My, the clothes were so much heavier/lacier/more elegant way back then." If you had people in those dresses, laughing, talking, giggling, gossiping, "way back then" wouldn't seem so far away.

One more point. I think a "West Coast sensibility" is developing -- no, not one that would be shared by everybody living there -- but it's very visible, representing the audience (on message boards) and the critics, from recent reviews -- recent, in the past few years. Much more tilted to contemporary dance than classical ballet, much more wanting diversity in every sense of the word. (A friend visiting from L.A. the last time the Kirov was in Washington stunned me by saying -- his first comment after seeing the Kirov do "Shades" --that "That's the most lily white company I've ever seen." I think that comment might seem puzzling to someone who'd grown up in St. Petersburg.)

[ 07-08-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Speaking of Denby, he also wrote in the beautiful and seminal "A Letter on New York City's Ballet," in the early fifties, after years abroad in Europe. I think it's important he didn't call it "A Letter on the New York City Ballet." Certainly in the sixties they were very much one and the same, and they remain so today, if perhaps to a lesser degree.

It is one of the beauties of ballet, one which Denby always recognized, that in the hands of a proper genius, it can be adapted to the particular qualities of a given nationality. That's one reason I admire his essay on national styles -- he loves human diversity. I've never read any other writer compare how people walk with how they dance as well as Denby did, or even tackle the subject at all.

I'm sure we've all pondered how balletic style and technique changed over the decades, how from Italian origins it became uniquely French, from French origins it became uniquely Danish and Russian, and from Russian origins, American. Of course this process wasn't as inevitable and pre-determined as the drift of continents or the historical dialectic, but rather nurtured and directed by artists of great genius like Bournonville, Petipa and Balanchine, who saw what was beautiful in their native or adopted lands, and made ballets that gloried in that beauty.

It's no mere trick of style that he starts this essay with a long description of the energy and grandeur of the Manhattan landscape, and the traffic on Second Avenue, "where herds of vehicles go charging one way all day long disappearing into the sky like like on a prarie...." It is very hard to separate the city from the ballet, at least for this particular company.

He defines the NYC style:

Handsome the NYC way of dancing certainly is. Limpid, easy, large, open, bounding; calm in temper and steady in pulse; virtuoso in precision, in stamina, in rapidity. So honest, so fresh and modest the company looks in action. The company's stance, the bearing of the dancer's whole body in action is the most straightforward, the clearest I ever saw; it is the company's physical approach to the grand style -- not to the noble carriage but to the grand one. Simple and clear the look of shoulder and hip, the head, the elbow and the instep; unnervous the bodies deploy in the step, hold its shape in the air, return to balance with no strain, and redeploy without effort. Never was there so little mannerism in a company, or extravagance. None either of the becks and nods, the spurts and lags, the breathless stops and almost-didn't-make-it starts they cultivate in Paris, and cultivate so prettily. (On the analogy of painting the French go for texture, the Americans for drawing.) As clear as the shape of the step in the NYC style is its timing, its synchronization to the score at the start, at any powerful thrust it has, at its close. So the dancers dance unhurried, assured and ample. They achieve a continuity of line and a steadiness of impetus that is unique, and can brilliantly increase the power of it and the exhilirating speed to the point where it glitters like cut glass. The rhythmic power of the company is its real style. Some people claim that such dancing is mechanical. It seems quite the opposite to me, like a voluntary, a purely human attentiveness.

I couldn't have said it better myself, or even a tenth as well.

In a forum in which posters are frequently admonished to be positive, not intimidate others and to refrain from stepping on each other's toes, I've found certain elements of this thread to be quite distressingly negative, condescending and laced with anti-New-York bias, and I've stayed out of it until now. I find the very phrasing in which this "discussion" was initiated, with an admonition to New Yorkers to understand that the rest of the world isn't "monotheistic," clearly implying that New Yorkers are. (It's only back-pedalling, not clarification, to say , in effect, "I didn't mean all New Yorkers are monotheistic about Balanchine. I just meant that there is a perception that some New Yorkers are." Which is a bit like asking a man to address the perception that he's stopped beating his wife.)

It is very easy to put words in the mouth of a straw man, but it does little to forward informed or even meaningful discourse.

I am heartily sorry I contributed to starting this tread by innocently mentioning that I liked Daria Pavlenko's dancing a great deal. I find it quite unfortunate that Marc replied with a totally superfluous and unnecessary dig at Balanchine.

Why on earth would anyone want to define a "true" dancer in terms of what he or she hates? Or a company? Or a human being? I imagine a "true" Kirov dancer would love Petipa and Vaganova. Must one hate something to be "true?" I think it's safe to say a "true" NYCB dancer loves Balanchine and Robbins, and maybe even Martins. Can it be said that "true" British dancers love Ashton these days, or "true" Danish dancers love Bournonville?

Come to think of it, I suspect that if Ms. Pavlenko were to ever read the comment that was attributed to her by Marc, she'd be much, much happier to read that as a true Kirov dancer, she prefers Petipa. No less true than saying she "hates" Balanchine, but far less inflammatory and far less damaging both to civilized discourse here and, quite possibly, to Ms. Pavlenko's career.

I also don't know why the writings of a writer like Denby should be labelled "partisan," any more or less than the writings of a Yuri Slonimsky, Erik Aschengreen, Clement Crisp, John Martin or Anna Kisselgoff. Critics, like other viewers, like what they like, and dislike what they dislike. As with defining "true believers" in terms of what they hate, calling a critic like Denby "partisan" yields far more heat than light, and, ultimately, isn't very useful. Every critic is "partisan," or none are. Either way, the term isn't very helpful.

And I'd just like to say that however partisan, monotheistic, Balanchine-blinkered, provincial and close-minded New York audiences (or some percentage of the New York audience) may be, at least it has supported and cherished the works of its own local genius. It is thanks to the dedication and love of these much-maligned ballet-goers that we can even be having this discussion. However one might feel about the staging or casting of this ballet or that, the Balanchine repertory is extant, and likely to remain so for quite some time, thanks to the support of its audience. Can the same be said of the Bournonville repertory? The Ashton?

I think the New Yorkers who go to City Ballet night after night, who know what they like and support it, should be praised to the heavens. The only group in ballet more unfairly maligned is ballet mothers.

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Manhattnik, I'm very sorry you were so offended by how the question was phrased or that you felt it unfair.

Re Denby, perhaps partisanship is yet another thing that is in the eye of the beholder. I opened my copy of "Dance Writings," completely at random, and found this (p. 468):

"In California, Khruschev asked, "Which is better, your ballet or ours?" The fact is, the Bolshoi choreographers couldn't have imagined dances like Agon, Episodes, or Divertimento No. 15. Bolshoi dancers couldn't have danced them, or the conductors played the scores so straight. It may be that the New York ballet public is the only one quick enough of eye and ear to enjoy these pleasures. Does that prove our ballet is better? No, only different." I have no objection to a critic thinking one company is better than another -- it may even be true -- but I think the way that's phrased is an example of ...I don't know what I'd be allowed to call it, so I'll stop there. (I admire Denby. I can, and have, read passages of him over and over for the sheer beauty of the writing. This is not intended as an attack on Denby. I don't have a drop of Russian blood and, at the time I read that comment, I'd never seen the Bolshoi, but I remember thinking, "I wonder how a Russian would feel reading that?")

I don't want to fuel this further, so I'm going to bow out now. I hope, however, that this is an issue that we can continue to discuss. Although I'm very sorry for those who were offended by this topic, it's an issue that comes up often in the press, in interviews, and in conversation, and we have to be able to discuss some things, or we'll be reduced to going back to the Victorian era, when all one was allowed to say in polite company was "one lump or two."

[ 07-08-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

[ 07-08-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Manhattnik, well done. And that point about Pavlenko is a good one -- pro Petipa not anti-Balanchine.

I forgot to address the question about Fourth Ringers at NYCB. I think the real question is, why not at other companies. I'm proud to be part of this group. And I'm glad, for whatever reason, the company still offers discounts so I can be so devoted. This year I thought I would go to ABT more if I good standing room tickets -- but they were as much as family circle. And tickets at this fall's ABT season at City Center are extremely high.

I think it should be lauded that we go to the theater, not always to see some star performer but a company and its rep. It also is possible that Balanchine devotees get a greater chance to watch his ballets than those who are interested in Ashton or Tudor. Not that quantity should be equated with quality, but NYCB has two very long seasons in New York and another in Saratoga. I have a much easier time feeding my appetite for Balanchine than some other might for another choreographer.

In addition, ABT is at the MET for more than a month and two weeks at City Center. With so many companies performing in Manhattan and the surrounding areas, including Long Island and Northern New Jersey, those living in the New York metropolitan area have the possibility to see a great amount and a large variety of ballet every year.

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Well, you know, looking back now, who is there who really compares with Balanchine as a choreographer and stager of ballet in the latter half of the 20th century? In terms of the size and variety of his opus, it's audacity and success, its eclat, its impact upon and dialogue with the other arts, the way it dominated its own area -- There is no one else. He's in a league of his own when compared with his contemporaries or what's come in the 18 or so years after his death.

It's his being in a league of his own, as far as recent contemporary success, eclat and stardom if nothing else, that has created the problem that everybody else has to react to him or be compared with him.

There is indeed a tyranny in that, and

"Hating Balanchine" is one valid, even creative, possible artistic reaction to this situation if it clears the ground in front of you and allows you space to continue to work.

[ 07-09-2001: Message edited by: Michael1 ]

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It's interesting that NYCB makes it possible for people of limited means to attend frequently with the Fourth Ring Society, yet ABT decided to jack up the price of standing room from $14 or 15 to $20 last year. That's way more than even the Metropolitan Opera. I think someone at ABT decided it was horrible that standees in the orchestra might actually sneak into empty orchestra seats at the first intermission. Rather than trying to present more-intersting programs to sell out said empty seats, the ABT management seems to have decided to crack down on standees. A few years ago the Met ushers, doubtless on orders from On High, started getting very nasty about standees grabbing empty seats, when they'd been quite casual about it. Then last year the price jumped to, as Dale noted, the same as Family Circle seats. Clearly ABT doesn't want to encourage standees, who are the epitome of the dedicated but not rich ballet fan. Some audience-building effort!

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And that is an entirely different thread. Maybo someone should start it.

Alexandra, your observations on the West Coast audiences are very astute. I agree totally. I think there are however Balanchine centric critics and audience members out here too. I wonder if they all are from the East Coast. Probably not.

I have never seen the obsession with Balanchine as a strictly NYC thing. I noticed it all over the Eastern Seaboard when I lived and worked there. Maybe that is my California bias. Do all of you out there think we are centric in anyway?

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Oh dear...I think that we're offending each other left & right, without intention. Before my dear Joffrey friends pounce on me, please note that I described the 1960s/70s Joffrey audience as 'hip and modern' in response to Mel's question [paraphrase]: 'Where have the 70s Joffrey audiences gone?' I didn't mean, in any way, to imply that Joffrey audiences were no longer hip...they certainly *can* be, with productions such as 'Billboards' and such. HOWEVER, I am personally delighted that, since the early days, the Joffrey has expanded its repertoire to include not only what is 'hip & modern' but also historic rarities from the Diaghilev/post-Diaghilev Ballets Russes + Ashton + more. Just to clarify. :)

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Thank you, Jeannie. :) I'd also add that my comments about the Fourth Ring Society were not intended to be pejorative; quite the contrary. Someone (I believe it was Jeannie) commented that there were many ABT fans in New York as well, and I commented that my perception of the two companies' audiences was different. I meant that NYCB's was more company-loyal, while ABT's was more dancer-loyal. That's all. Of course the Fourth Ring Society is a great idea -- and part of ballet's traditions; there was always a "gallery audience," the devoted, knowledgeable audience -- in ballet.

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BIG OOPS - I wrote this before having realized there was a page 2 to this thread...Now that I have read it, I see some of my points are a little untimely, but I will leave most of it, and just ask indulgence.

This is my first check-in to ballet alert in a bit, and I want to offer some support to Leight Witchel's earlier post. I understand that Alexandra's original question aimed at an understanding of audiences and taste formation (as well as "perceptions" thereof), but I think we can't limit the issue of "Balanchine-centrism" to the chance results of where one lives or local favoritism. I grew up outside of New York and was exposed to a range of classical/neo-classical choreography and modern dance at various levels of performance (local and international companies, including top ranked Soviet and British). My ballet tastes were and, to some degree remain, quite eclectic. As for Balanchine, I was taken to see Prodigal Son as a child (with Villela) and hated it, but saw some other NYCB occasionally (incl. A Midsummer Night's Dream) and got my first big dose in the early 70's with programs that included Ivesiana, Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Symphony in Three Movements. I was dazzled (particularly by the latter), but didn't quite know what to make of it or say about it. But I am now completely devoted to Balanchine's work. It is over the years, seeing more and more Balanchine, and, in particular, seeing how much his ballets yield on repeated viewing and, yes, even with different companies, that has confirmed for me personally not only the more or less consensus view that Balanchine is a crucial figure for the history of ballet, but also that a case can be made -- that has nothing to do with geography -- that he is THE crucial figure for twentieth-century ballet, much as one can make a case for Petipa in the nineteenth-century. That does not mean that Bournonville and Ashton lovers can't make their own cases in return, and certainly if one were to speak about "national" schools of dance, one would configure ballet history differently, but it's not just a matter of location and exposure that inspires admiration of Balanchine. I've seen Macmillan ballets danced over and over too -- by the Royal, not just ABT. And, in that sense, "New Yorker" love of Balanchine is not finally the same as, say, Stuttgarters loving Cranko. It may "feel" the same -- I'm sure there are those out there who admire Cranko as much I do Balanchine -- but that's a different matter, and probably a different thread. Geography can affect the formation of tastes, but there is rather more at stake if we are going to make JUDGEMENTS of taste -- which is what I understand Leigh's basic point to have been.

At different moments in history certain places do become energetic centers for artistic activity of one kind or another. Theater goers in London around 1600 really did get to see some of the best, if not the best, drama in the European world at that moment -- with a little competition from Spain. Their "Shakespeare-centric" view of drama may have been limited, but it wasn't merely some misbegotten quirk of English taste even if, for a century or so, several French critics liked to say it was and complained bitterly about it...

[ 07-09-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

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That's all right, Drew. The custard pies have, unfortunately, already been thrown :)

As always, you've made some very interesting points. On the question of standards, I agree that any dance capital is going to have standards; that's partly what makes it a dance capital. Whether younger choreographers like it or not, they're going to be held up to Balanchine. "Not good enough; go back and try again." (I keep remembering the story of how Papa Taglioni brought Marie to Paris, thinking she was ready to be the Next Sensation; saw one evening at the Opera and realized that times had changed and she still needed work.) I don't think that has changed. When it gets to a point, though, that so many choreographers think their work is not getting a look because it doesn't look like Balanchine's -- not that it's not as good as, but because it's different from -- there's a problem. It may not be solvable. It may merely be a case of, "Tough" -- or will be solved when the next great choreographer comes along. I think the scrambling for Who's Greatest is usually put to rest when there's a dominant figure.

I think dance critics could be more careful about how they write "he's no Balanchine" reviews. And this is what I meant by the Balanchine-centric issue. Centrism to me isn't that I love this person more than all others, but to see the world through that framework and to assume that everyone else sees it the same way. So when a critic writes, "Of course, he's no Balanchine," what does that say to someone who's 25 years old and hasn't read the dozens of previous reviews that explain exactly why this or that choreographic sin makes a work not up to snuff?

I do want to say, though, that no one is saying that Ashton or Bournonville is the greatest, greater, etc. etc. and one of the things that I've found troubling about the turn this thread took is the idea that if you've ever dared mention the name of another choreographer, or do not say that Balanchine is *the only* great choreographer, then some people read that as being anti-Balanchine, and I protest that. As several people have said, I think it is possible to have many loves.

I do think there is a geographical element, as well as a time element. My older friends have much more catholic tastes than my younger ones -- and I think that's because they were exposed to more good work, good dancing, and have more models. But there are thousands of Russians who think that Grigorovich is *the* great choreographer, I imagine -- certainly every interview with a dancer or critic from the 1960s through the 1980s I can remember seems to assume that everyone knows that "Grigorovich, of course, is a great genius." It's not a view I share, but I write that from minimal exposure. If I saw his work night after night after night, I may well find riches and subtleties in his work that I don't see now. I may not. I don't know. (I was hoping that one of our Russians would chime in on Grigorovich, or the view from that part of the world on Balanchine, not to try to whip up an anti-Balanchine faction, but because I'm genuinely interested.)

I certainly agree that Balanchine's influence on the history and development of ballet is of crucial importance. One thing that I've learned from doing the Ballet Alert! calendars for the past four years that surprised me -- shocked me -- however is that that influence is not as visible now outside New York as it was 20 years ago. (I mean this in the sense of the repertories in regional -- oh, god, smaller, lower-budget, not-full-season, mostly-outside-of-New York -- companies. We still read that American ballet is made in Balanchine's image, and there certainly are many choreographers working within the Balanchine aesthetic, but

the repertories aren't, for the most part (Miami City Ballet aside) chock full of Balanchine. 20 years ago, I think you would have found a Balanchine ballet on every program. Now, it's more likely to be one Balanchine ballet every year. (San Francisco Ballet has more; Pacific Northwest Ballet usually has more, but not, I think, this year. Washington Ballet, which has been doing only one Balanchine a season the past few seasons, will do one per program next year; these are the exceptions. There also companies that don't do any Balanchine. If you don't believe me, you can subscribe and get the Season's Preview issue :) )

At the risk of starting another food fight -- and I honestly do not mean to insult anyone by writing this -- the Joffrey Ballet model seems to be the dominant one in America now. A combination of neoclassical, contemporary and pop ballets. And I think the San Francisco Ballet model -- which has gotten much more tilted to the contemporary dance/homegrown "classics" model than it was a few years ago -- may become more of the model than either New York company as well. (Again, I guess I have to clarify, that's neither a wish nor a fear, just a prediction.)

[ 07-09-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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