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Balanchine centrism?


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#16 Natalia

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 02:00 PM

Mary - I think that we posted simultaneously. My feeling is that the last words in your post (about NYers probably being mostly pro-Balanchine) holds true for that portion of the audience that goes mostly to NYCB performances (subscribers & regulars). I would venture to guess that, in sheer numbers, the audiences that pack the Eifman Seasons @ City Center or the classics @ the Met might outnumber the NYCBers (not that the ABT-Eifman-etc. fans wouldn't love Balanchine, too).

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 02:17 PM

I think Jeannie's point that there is another NY audience that isn't Balanchine-centric is a good one. I certainly have met people who don't like City Ballet and prefer to go to ABT. But it's my perception that there isn't the same kind of tightknit, go every night, Fourth Ring Society there. Re Eifman at City Center -- and this is not intended as an anti-Eifman post, but as a demographic comment -- some may remember that there were several requests for comments on the most recent Eifman season and no takers. I asked several of my friends in New York who are "wired" to groups of avid ballet fans, and, although they'd attended Eifman in the past, they didn't this time. The comments were all "he hasn't hit the balletomanes" (you're free to add the "yet") and that, very similar to the recent Universal Ballet performances in Washington where the audience was overwhelmingly Korean, that company seems to draw people who aren't part of the general dance audience. Whether they'll cross over to other companies will be interesting.

#18 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 03:45 PM

And in the 70s and 80s, there was the Joffrey crowd, who were primarily Greenwich Village-y avant-garde types who loved to have not only Gerald Arpino to talk about as a "hometown boy" but would go crazy over the first crossover Twylas, the Laura Deans, the William Forsythes....

I honestly don't know where this crowd went balletically.

#19 Natalia

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 03:57 PM

Mel - Maybe they're the audience that loves the avant-garde-de-jour, whatever that may be nowadays (new Feld Ballet? whatever)...there will always be an audience for what's hip & modern.

Alexandra - Dumb question. Doesn't ABT have its equivalent of '4th ring society'? The Russians pack the Met's Family Circle (& other sections) during Nina Nights or Irina-and-Max nights, etc. The Latino population comes out in droves for Julio/Paloma Nights....and so on. But doesn't ABT have its hard-core Manhattan-based balletomanes too? Innocent question - maybe the answer is 'no'....

#20 Alexandra

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 04:19 PM

Jeannie, this is only a perception, but I've always found the non-NYCB fans to be more specific-dancer-fans. I've certainly never done any scientific surveys, but as long as I've been going to the ballet in New York, I've been told about/seen/heard about this or that person who has seen every performance of NYCB, or this group that goes every XYZ night, or this group that never goes to anything else. There were definitely the Rudi Groupies (anyone who saw one of his performances in the late 1970s will remember the Flower Ladies), and Cynthia Gregory's fans who were famous for shredding their programs, like confetti, and others, but I never had the sense that they were ABT Or Die!

I think the Balanchine-centric question though is more a perception, right or wrong, that non-New Yorkers have that "New Yorkers" see everything through Balanchine eyes, and that's what I was after -- whether people thought that was an accurate or inaccurate perception.

#21 LMCtech

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 04:48 PM

OK, kids I'm moving this to the West Coast.

As a SFer who went to the East Coast for college I was struck by the way the wholw Balanchine culture had premeated all forms of dance and dance education on the East Coast. I was warned, but not prepared for this. This is strictly speaking from the dancer's culture, not the audiences or critics.

On the West Coast, there are many East Coasters (not just NYCers) who come here and can't seem to relax into the California attitude. I wouldn't call it "anything goes", but maybe more goes here than there.
I hear students complaining (adults and children) "That teacher is too Balanchine; she needs to RELAX!"

As for the West Coast audiences and critics, I think as well as it is danced well, we seem to like. There are less Balanchine comparisons for a young choreographer to deal with. But, that could of course just be the people I hear from.

#22 Alexandra

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 10:38 PM

Thanks for a Left Coast take on this, LMCTech. I'd never heard the "too Balanchine" in the context of "not relaxed" before. Interesting take.

More please :)

(And thanks to all for making this a model of civil discourse :) )

#23 samba38

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Posted 05 July 2001 - 11:01 PM

Now speaking up for the South... Growing up in pre MCB Miami was like living in the ballet dark ages except for a few stars troupes (Nureyev, Jacques D'Amboise (mangling the spelling, I fear) that drifted through Dade county auditorium. It wasn't until around 1980 that a local impressaria scraped up enough money to bring in ABT. The newspaper was practically in cahoots with the part-time critic and feature writers cranking out stories to try to introduce scruffy hinterlands to high culture. Of course once ABT danced into town, people went mad for it. We'd get 8 day, almost 2 week annual visits. And the only time I ever heard of some fellow named Balanchine was when the company did Apollo.
On another note, I loved felursus comment about Graham and Clytemnestra! I made a similar mistake with kiddo when she was about 9. Took her to see Robert Wilson's "Snow on the Mesa" with the Graham Company and she was crying in misery by the end. We have a rule that you can't say bad things about a performance until you get in the privacy of the family car so folks who know us can tell kiddo's review by how fast she's heading for the door. That night she nearly ran over old ladies sprinting for the parking lot! A big set back to her modern education...

#24 Juliet

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Posted 06 July 2001 - 07:09 AM

Two points:

As Terry said,

"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 agree with this. I am not Balanchine-centric, but I can see why people in New York would be exposed to his choreography the most, be shaped by it, and love it, for whatever reason.

I also don't think that Joffrey fans were just the the "looking for the new" crowd. By any means.......Joffrey Ballet was about a lot more than "the avant-garde!!"

Me? I love Petipa *and* Balanchine, but I am not St. Petersburg or New York-centric. I spent most of my youthful energy avidly following the Royal Ballet and ABT; both of those companies' magic has dissipated considerably for me, but that is not to say that it will not return.
I also think that there is a lot of insidious nastiness flowing through these verbal streams, probably because it concerns New York, and I don't like it one bit. If Balanchine had operated from Kansas City, Copenhagen, Chicago, or Berlin I don't think there would be the same amount of glee in the attack.

Monotheism and ballet are not in the same ball park, let alone city.

#25 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 06 July 2001 - 08:23 AM

I have to say I'm impressed by posters who have managed to avoid insult in this thread, but I have to say that I am very disturbed (and yes, offended) by a thread which, rather than discussing the choreography itself, actually places judgement on the audience.

Would we be having this thread about St. Petersburg and Petipa? Ashton and London? Paris and Nureyev? Copenhagen and Bournonville?

Is the implication here those who prefer Balanchine have not actually seen anything else? Or is it merely the more "humane" assessment that they've seen other things, but can't appreciate them fully because they've watched too much Balanchine?

Are we going to start a thread on those poor benighted Petersburgers who can't really adapt to other choreography because of all that Petipa they watch? When are we going to get to the implication that the Balanchine audience only likes Balanchine best because they saw his stuff first?

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.

#26 Alexandra

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Posted 06 July 2001 - 09:22 AM

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 ]

#27 Natalia

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Posted 06 July 2001 - 02:19 PM

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 ]

#28 atm711

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Posted 06 July 2001 - 03:36 PM

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!!

#29 Jane Simpson

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Posted 06 July 2001 - 03:45 PM

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 ]

#30 samba38

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Posted 06 July 2001 - 03:46 PM

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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