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Balanchine centrism?


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#61 canbelto

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Posted 18 December 2010 - 03:28 PM

Well I think it's not so much about "Balanchine centrism" so much as the fact is, very few ballets have real staying power. It's been almost 30 years since Balanchine's death, and his ballets have proven to have staying power. Symphony in C, Apollo, Theme and Variations, Agon, Four Temperaments, Nutcracker, Serenade, Concerto Barocco, Midsummer's Night Dream, Prodigal Son, Jewels, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, these ballets are now staged all over the world and have become very popular in different companies.

Then there are the ballets that have tended to remain within the NYCB but always amaze me, like Who Cares?, Vienna Waltzes, his version of Coppelia, Western Symphony, etc. etc.

Is he the greatest choreographer ever? I don't know, but I think he certainly is a top candidate and thus he's always going to be discussed.

#62 sandik

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Posted 26 December 2010 - 05:26 PM

I don't want to get into a "greatest choreographer" discussion, but I wanted to add a couple thoughts to the conversation. Leigh's comment about learning taking time is an important one, especially in dance where we have so little of it. I spent a great deal of time with video tape at the beginning of my dance-watching life -- Paul is correct in his list of its deficits, but it's what was available. A good thing, thought -- it gave me a chance to concentrate on one thing at a time, so that I didn't feel desperate about 'seeing everything at once' when I was still struggling to see anything at all.

In the states I think there is a shift towards acceptance of Balanchine/NYCB as the received ballet style, away from an earlier emphasis on a Imperial Russian/Ballet Russe point of view. I've noticed recently that companies who would have performed a Swan Lake or a Sleeping Beauty as an institutional milestone (we do it because we can, we do it because it proves we're a ballet company) might now present Jewels in a similar context. In part this is due to the shift in population -- the Russian trained dancers who founded many of the schools and companies across the states, using the works they'd been taught to teach their own dancers, have finished their work, and that foundational generation has been replaced by dancers who have come from the NYCB/Balanchine tradition. You can lay this at the feet of a number of events (the Ford Foundation's scholarship program, the relationship between NYCB and Jac Venza's Dance in America programming, the relative strengths of NYCB and ABT as performing and teaching institutions...) but it is there.

A lot of the video I spent time with at the beginning was of Balanchine's choreography -- it's what I could get. I don't think that it's made me Balanchine-centric per-se -- anyone who spends any time with me will tell you how greedy I am for more dance to watch. But I do think that it's made me pretty good at seeing patterns, especially musical patterns expressed in group choreography.

#63 Drew

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Posted 26 December 2010 - 07:51 PM

I know this is off topic, but Hugo is a figure of some importance to me ... I will try to circle back to topic at the end.

From what I have read in biographies etc. the Victor Hugo joke mentioned above goes back to a newspaper questionnaire which included a question about the greatest French Poet: André Gide wrote down "Victor Hugo, alas" (poet--not'man of letters': the distinction is not trivial when you are talking about the author of Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris as well as the symbolic leader of the opposition to Napoleon III and one of the most important nineteenth-century voices against the death penalty inter alia). Presumably, Gide would have been happier if he could have just said Mallarmé was the greatest French poet, but he couldn't which is probably to his credit. As a poet, too, Hugo has rather more in common with Whitman than Poe.

Uh...of course I don't expect anyone else to share my interest in Hugo and minutiae attached to his reputation...

Back on topic? Well, I think no-one would say "Balanchine alas!" in response to a question about the greatest choreographer of the twentieth-century, unless perhaps someone who, recognizing Balanchine's greatness, still opposed his larger aesthetic and/or just did not much like it personally and/or thought Balanchine a false trail for others to follow; still, it's much more likely they would simply name another choreographer than condescend in Gide's manner. (Hugo is the rare genius who seems to invite condescension...)

Anyway, if Balanchine-centrism amounts to no more than parochialism, as it may for some, then it is obviously limiting their vision. But I remain persuaded that being centered in a particular aesthetic or artistic vision--assuming it really deserves to be called that--can give a basis for serious judgments of a range of different aesthetics/visions IF that 'centrism' is raised from the level of mere personal taste to real aesthetic judgment: that is, an ability to evaluate and argue concerning what makes a particular aesthetic/vision what it is, what its values and meanings are--or, challenges to values and meanings etc. (I think this is pretty much in sync with what I wrote in 2001 (!!!), though I have developed a much greater appreciation for Victor Hugo since then :wink: .)

To give an example: why is Andre Levinson able to write so powerfully about Isadora Duncan even as he opposes and dislikes what she is doing? I believe that he was able to do so, not in spite of the fact that he was Petipa-centric, but because of it. He had a grasp of what was at stake in Duncan's dancing--at least so it seems to me who, admittedly, never saw Duncan or early-twentieth century performances of the Maryinsky. And that grasp was based in his understanding as well as love of everything she was trying to transform.

A profound sense of personal connection to one's local company or style seems to me a slightly different matter. In that more particular sense I agree that most people (though not all) are 'centric' for what belongs to their personal history and the things that made them who and what they are.

#64 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 26 December 2010 - 08:25 PM

In that more particular sense I agree that most people (though not all) are 'centric' for what belongs to their personal history and the things that made them who and what they are.


I loved that...and I believe it. :clapping:

#65 richard53dog

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Posted 27 December 2010 - 05:55 AM

In that more particular sense I agree that most people (though not all) are 'centric' for what belongs to their personal history and the things that made them who and what they are.


I loved that...and I believe it. :clapping:



Yes, I agree with Drew and Cristian here. Whatever forms your initial exposure to something remains part of your consciousness. It's sort of a variation on the old "Mom's cooking is best" adage.

I find this being true for myself but I have to add that I've also found that it's limiting to be bound by such points of reference. Sometimes mom was really a mediocre cook and while one can hold a sentimental attachment to the dishes she produced it's really good for perspective sake to acknowledge that there is sometimes a better way, even in an objective sense.

#66 sandik

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Posted 27 December 2010 - 09:55 AM

To give an example: why is Andre Levinson able to write so powerfully about Isadora Duncan even as he opposes and dislikes what she is doing? I believe that he was able to do so, not in spite of the fact that he was Petipa-centric, but because of it. He had a grasp of what was at stake in Duncan's dancing--at least so it seems to me who, admittedly, never saw Duncan or early-twentieth century performances of the Maryinsky. And that grasp was based in his understanding as well as love of everything she was trying to transform.


And as someone who loves both Petipa and Duncan, Levinson's work is particularly illuminating -- thanks for bringing him into the discussion!

#67 papeetepatrick

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Posted 27 December 2010 - 10:55 AM

Whatever forms your initial exposure to something remains part of your consciousness. It's sort of a variation on the old "Mom's cooking is best" adage.

I find this being true for myself but I have to add that I've also found that it's limiting to be bound by such points of reference. Sometimes mom was really a mediocre cook and while one can hold a sentimental attachment to the dishes she produced it's really good for perspective sake to acknowledge that there is sometimes a better way, even in an objective sense.


Hard to imagine this better-said. Because that is the best possible analogy, since surely one of the toughest. We do let our sentimental attachments go too far sometimes, and we sometimes have to go on and take that leap and face the harsh facts of going past 'tis a poor thing, but one's own'. I recently faced that my mother was brilliant at some foods, but had no feeling for carrots at all, and always ruined them!

#68 perky

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Posted 27 December 2010 - 07:22 PM

Speaking from the Midwest, seeing Balanchine choreography danced live is an extremely limited experience.
The classic's still dominate the regional dance companies. I suspect the main reasons to be name recognition and inability of smaller companies to stage a Balanchine ballet.
Ask ten people where I live if they have heard of Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty as a ballet, you would mostly get an afirmative answers. Now, ask those same ten people if they have heard of The Concerto Barocco or Symphony In C ballets and you're going to get 10 blank stares. Heck, ask them if they know of George Balanchine and you will get the same blank look. As someone who loves Balanchine with an enduring and ardent love, it's almost a physical pain in the heart when no one around you knows who and what you're talking about.
Are New Yorkers Balanchine-centric? Well if they aren't then they should be! Wave your Balanchine flag( in the colors blue, black and white for Serenade and the black and white ballets) high and proud.

I think it's okay for New Yorkers to see new choreography filtered through the lens of Balanchine, in the same way ballet watchers in London see dance through McMillen's looking glass, etc. The "nobody makes meatloaf like my Mom" analogy is very apt.


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