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Alexandra

Gottlieb on ABT and NYCB

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I personally like his bluntness! And there's a lot I can agree with. :cool:

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I thought he was a bit harsh (but he has never been pro-Martins) but some of his points are IMO correct. Especially the "sink or swim" stance at NYCB and the decline of the Balanchine rep. Both are reasons I didn't go but twice this past season, down from my normal 15-20. I also didn't go to ABT for the reasons he mentioned, they were very predictable and I didn't want to spend the money on performances that I feel I had seen a hundred times (same casts).

Based on that, I'll concentrate on his criticism of City Ballet.

The "new talent" watch. I can't help but to wonder just how calculated some of the last minute replacements were this season, it's either that or Martins has no confidence in soloists as understudies. Again, the point was brought up of how much do these young dancers understand what it is that they're dancing? And those that are thrown into their roles that have been there for a while (I felt he unfairly compared van Kipnis to Nichols, it's IMO a perfect example of why you can't compare dancers) who's coaching them.

I feel like I'm just repeating the article. but I agreed with him. Instead of spending this time and money on pieces and works that are going to disappear, maybe City Ballet needs to cultivate the talent they have their in the dancers and the choreography.

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Rather than saying I agree with Gottlieb, I would rather say I understand what he wrote. Diana L. made a good point that Martins doesn't seem to have much confidence in the soloists or understudies, and the "sink or swim" phillosophy going on at NYCB.

I thought Gottlieb's critisism of Van Kipnis was a little harsh. He said that she should have been coached by Kyra Nichols, for whom the part was created. First, we don't know whether she did or not. And secondly, maybe Nichols isn't interested in coaching. I disagree with Gottleib when he says the NYCB doesn't have the dancers, I think they do, they just don't get the proper chances.

Gottlieb's comments on ABT were interesting as well. I've long questioned the policy of five casts for five nights of a ballet. It seems that come hell or high water, every couple is going to dance Giselle, Swan Lake, Don Q., Onegin, Sleeping Beauty etc... But we've discussed here that each of those ballets carries with it different qualities. Some dancers might be versitile enough (I think possible Kent and Nina A. fall into this catagory) to pull it off, but maybe Herrera is more Don Q. and SB than Giselle and Swan Lake. Or Tuttle is right for Giselle but not Swan Lake. In addition, hardly any of the dancers get a second crack at a role. Lets say Irina Dvorovenko performs Swan Lake in NY and discovers something that she would like to elaborate on in a later performance or Kolpokova says after the performance, "Maybe you should do this or that with your arms in this scene..." But Irina is only performing that role once during the Met season. She has to wait until September to get a second performance during a tour of Israel or a third in February when ABT visits, say, Detroit. It's very hard to develope a role like that.

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I don't know if it just made good copy or something, but I don't understand Gottlieb's comment that the companies are "converging." I have no sense of that.

I don't think it's true. But then I didn't see them 20 years ago.

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It's interesting that one can agree with some of his points, but none of his conclusions.

The female principal ranks are of the highest caliber I've seen in the 15 years or so that I've been a subscriber. Kistler, Whelan, Kowroski, Ringer, Nichols are ballerinas of the highest rank, IMO. Alexopoulus, Somogyi, Weese and Meunier are all superior talents, and I'm never disappointed to see them on the program.

I do agree that the soloists seem to get short shrift -- but that may be a natural result of having so many superior principals. And I agree that he is treating van Kipnis unfairly. What's more, the corps has a number of promising dancers.

His point about lack of rehearsals is shared by many, but that seems to me a NYCB trademark going back to the Balanchine days. Maybe its unavoidable due to the large repetory.

Gottlieb does have a point about the lackluster schedule, however. But again, balancing the needs for new choreography with the Balanchine and Robbins repertory is a difficult act. Most of the new ballets were those that recieved generally good reviews, and hadn't been rotated through the subscription evenings. And sometimes, a ballet needs to have more than one viewing to be truly appreciated. I found that with Appalachia Waltz -- a ballet I enjoyed more on second viewing.

Of course, that doesn't apply to all of these ballets. I remember Burleske, a Martins ballet that premiered on Valentine's Day, getting quite a good review from the Times. I found it almost unwatchable it was so boring, even though I love Kistler in almost anything.

I don't think this in any way adds up to a company in trouble -- particularly when it has such a stable of fine dancers.

[ 07-15-2001: Message edited by: justafan ]

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Everyone is entitled to Robert Gottlieb's opinion I guess. Boy, I feel guilty if I mention that a dancer didn't do well or isn't a favorite of mine. I guess I could never be a critic--you have to be real MEAN.

In all seriousness, it was most interesting to read this article after having just seen 7 consecutive performances of NYCB, and having 2 more weeks to go. I will refrain from comments on ABT, only having seen them once last season and once the season before, but I think I can say a little about NYCB.

Last night I saw a performance of 4Ts in which not one single dancer was in the company during Balanchine's lifetime. I left the theater thinking that Mr. B would have been very pleased with this performance. It was wonderful. Alexander Ritter, so-so in the matinee, was miles better by the evening. The three opening themes were magnificent, particularly Jennifer Tinsley and James Fayette in the third theme. I've never seen Jennifer dance better than she is this season.

We finally saw Polyphonia. Interesting, following 4Ts. I think it is a worthy successor, not only to 4Ts, but to the great Stravinsky works. I think Christopher Wheeldon is paying homage to that tradition and I think he is doing it nobly. And I think that the dancers in both pieces do understand that tradition.

Balanchine has been dead for close to 18 years. I miss him too, and I miss Robbins, and I miss Patricia McBride and Suzanne Farrell and Eddie Vilella and Helgi Tomasson and Kay Mazzo and Merrill Ashley and all the rest....you get the idea. I decided a long time ago that some things weren't going to look the same and I decided to accept that.

I am not a member of the Peter Martins fan club. I scratch my head at some of his decisions. I question casting, promotions, scheduling, and while we're at it--why not have NYCB at SPAC for four weeks the way we did 20 years ago? Or five, or six. or more. Why isn't Rachel a soloist? I was sure she was and made a bet with my daughter. You know who won. Why was 4Ts the curtain raiser last night? Such a complex ballet doesn't work, in my opinions, as an evening opener, particularly at SPAC where stories and pretty costumes are very popular. Well the answers are it isn't my company and I am damn glad that they are here and I accept the company for what it is now.

I think the roster of principal dancers is stronger than it has been in years. I think the men are better every year. I see a lot of promise in the corps. Yes, there have been disappointments. I loved Yvonne Borree as a soloist and feel that as a principal she has gone nowhere. But then I see a Dances at a Gathering the way it was in January and I know it will be all right. I see a phenomenon like Maria Kowroski or the total joy of a Jenifer Ringer, and I know it will be great--it won't be the company that it was 20 years ago but it will be great.

Myabe I'm just a Pollyanna with stars in my eyes, but I love NYCB and I love that they spend their July with me.

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rkoretzky, I think part of what Gottlieb was saying is that all that you love, 4T's, Dances, 4 weeks at SPAC, slowly it seems to be disappearing. I can't say what NYCB looked like past about 10 years ago, but in that time it's changed. I don't only want to see "new" Balanchine during some Celebration and be subjected to new choreography that I'll never see again, but that's me.

For the past 3 seasons we've seen "new" girls like Taylor, Bouder, Kourbes and a few others pushed while it seems some (like Rutherford) are just given a few parts here and there and then they disappear back into the corps. I'm in favor of cultivating new talent but Martins has a lot already there that he's not using.

I think City Ballet is in a transitional mode, they're trying to keep their past and mold there future and we're all going to experience the growing pains.

And in some defense of critics, I don't think they have to "mean" but sometimes too they're voicing their opinions.

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Yes, DianaL, I got Gottleib's point, I just don't agree with it. The Four Ts that I saw last night is not disappearing--it was a performance that would have made Balanchine proud--at least I think so. It has been a long road back for many of these ballets. For years after Balanchine's death, certain ballets were painful to watch. I haven't seen a Barocco that did justice in a very long time, but I hope that eventually I will.

I can enjoy Dances at a Gathering again without any of the original cast members, but it has taken time. When I saw it in January it was stunningly beautiful. Different in places, but beautiful. I trust that will happen with Barocco too. It has with 4 Ts., with Serenade, with Apollo.

Four weeks at SPAC HAS disappeared for 20 years now. But we have three weeks. I'll take it.

I heartily agree that corps kids with promise are pushed into roles before they are ready, are then injured and disappear. We are seeing Alexandra Ansanelli for the first time this summer sice 1999 I believe. I wish it wouldn't be done, but I also wish my boss at work wasn't a jerk sometimes, and that my kids would keep their rooms clean and that my husband would pay attention when I say something the first time. Well my boss is a great guy most of the time, and I am blessed with a fantastic family, and some things I just cannot control. Among them are the decisions that are made by Peter Martins. So I choose to enjoy the company and have decided to ignore the rest.

and that's what I mean, I suppose, when I say that I am glad I am not a critic. My tongue was in my cheek when I made that comment, but I do think that Gottlieb was harsh and nasty and could have delivered the same message in a somewhat kinder way. And he is far from the only critic who writes this way. I don't enjoy reading it.

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Four weeks at SPAC HAS disappeared for 20 years now. But we have three weeks. I'll take it.

Unfortunately, it's not Martins' fault that City Ballet is only at Saratoga for three weeks, but a Saratoga Performing Arts Center management that couldn't sell ice in the Sahara. I was gratified to see decent-sized crowds on Friday and Saturday night, though, and perhaps the tide is turning.

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Manhattanik, you are right of course.

The SPAC administration changed at the same time that the season was reduced. SPAC had a marvelous 10 year relationship with NYC Opera that ended several years ago. It is troubling, but I am thrilled to have what we have. I wish for more, but as long as we don't lose further ground, I'll take this happily. And rejoin the Fourth Ring Society.

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Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, critics most of all, but isn't there some bad blood between Robert Gottlieb and Peter Martins, going back to the days when Gottlieb was on the board of the company. (Hope this doesn't sound too much like gossip!) And could this contretemps be coloring Gottlieb's opinions regarding the company today?

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The "bad blood" goes back to the days when Gottlieb was editor of the New Yorker and Arlene Croce was turning on Martins. See, for example, "The Balanchine Show" from 6/7/93 (reprinted in Writing in the Dark, Dancing in the New Yorker) in which she asserts that "Today, the ruin [of NYCB] is all but complete." Martins understandably took offense at this, blamed Gottlieb for allowing the piece to be published, and forced him off the board.

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Just a word, as a critic, re bad blood. This doesn't mean that Gottlieb (or Croce, or any of the other critics who are perceived as being anti-Martins, or anti-anyone else) writes in revenge.

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I entirely agree about Gottlieb (and Croce too for that matter, even though I do think she started losing it toward the end). But I'm not sure this proposition is true as a general matter particularly in other arts, like literature. One periodically sees letters in the Times book review along the lines of: "How could you possibly give my latest book to [so-and-so] when everyone knows he's my sworn enemy." Once many years ago, a friend of mine had the idea that Pavarotti should write his autobiography and her first job was to find a writer. She considered a number of names including Stephen Wadsworth who at the time was a critic for Opera News. (Since then he's gone on to greater things like writing opera libretti.) Ultimately she decided on Bill Wright who wrote a very nice book. When we heard that the Times review was going to done by Wadsworth, we resigned ourselves to a pan which in fact is what we got.

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Stan, I agree. There certainly are times in dance criticism, too, where critics grind axes for personal rather than professional reasons. But there are some cases (and, I think, the Gottlieb-Croce-etc. cases are among them) where a critic's objections to, or comments/criticisms of, an artist's work, or a director's administration, are unwavering for good reason. To take a hypothetical example, if a critic has a formalist bent and a choreographer he/she has to review regularly makes ballets that are structurally flawed -- not trying to create a new form, or experimenting, but just plain grammatically incorrect, choreographically speaking -- he/she will mention that every time Maestro unveils a new work. And I understand that it could well seem to someone who doesn't have the same concerns that it's a case of "X is out to get Y," but it's not quite that simple.

I've seen the book review examples you've cited as well; another sign of cultural deterioration. Once upon a time, a book review editor would have known where the fights were -- who beat out who for a job, or who panned whose last book. I've seen revenge reviews, too. They continue to astound me, because it's not only petty and despicable, but unprofessional. Yet it continues without penalty.

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Call me stupid, but shouldn't any reviewer recuse her or himself from writing in a situation where s/he was also being considered for the commission of the work?

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Absolutely, Leigh, but no one makes them. And there seems to be no penalty for having written a Revenge Review and being exposed for doing it. There's a kind of "haha, gotcha" attitude. We should be surprised? There's no honor left anywhere else :cool:

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Revenge review or not, Gottlieb has made some legitimate points. Some of the NYCB issues he identifies could be the product of Martins having a total of 91 dancers (count 'em - I did) from whom to choose. Not including apprentices. What a headache that must be! And think of it from the dancer's perspective - sharing a too-short career with 90 other dancers?

On top of which Martins is dealing with each year's crop of new talent coming out of SAB. But with a roster of 91, is there room for new talent? I've heard that the existing talent is making it very hard to add to the ranks from the school. An unfortunate turn for the many talented students hoping to dance for NYCB.

Having spent the summer in SF, it's interesting to see the contrast in the way the local companies are treated. SF Ballet is comparatively on a roll, with a broad Ballanchine repertoire enlivened by serious new works from home-grown talent as well as the Wheeldons of the world. While lacking the Ballanchine legacy, the SF Ballet is freer to pick and choose from that tradition as well as new directions. The locals seem to love where the company is. And the frequent international tours help the company build the kind of in-person exposure that builds great reputations.

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I don't think the Revenge or the Planted Review is a new issue--some of my favorite Victorian novels have lots in them about dishonest reviewers, both pro and con. What has changed somewhat now, I think, is that there are fewer places that carry reviews. If the reader can choose between 6 different opinions, one doesn't carry so much weight.

I also don't think that a good review is one that the reader agrees with. As an example, I happened to love the Kirov's new/old Sleeping Beauty, but Marc didn't. But I think he wrote a very good review of the production, which I respected far more than a mindless rave, even though Mr. Mindless and I had the same opinion.

As for the Gottlieb review, I didn't agree with all of it--van Kipnis is very different dancer than Kyra Nichols, much lighter, but for me just as springy. And Jenifer Ringer was also spring and she is certainly a dancer who can be matched with any previous ones. Also Martins, as I understand it, does not have control over the Robbins repertoire, so the general complaint of no coaching (which I think is a real problem), if it was true in that case, can't be blamed on Martins.

I think Gottlieb, though I may be reading it wrong, was saying that ABT and NYCB have the same types of problems, not that they are converging; the problems of fine dancers inadequately coached and cast, and a repertoire not equal to their talents.

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Hi!

I believe that the NYCB dancers' contract specifies a minimum number of dancers in the company (85 or 90?). The contractual requirement is probably intended to prevent the dancers from being over worked and over danced. Thus, Martins does not have complete control over the size of the company.

Kate

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I suppose that could be the case, sneds, that a specified number is in the contract, although I have no direct knowledge of that. I don't know if it is in ABT's current contract or not, either. However, it seems to me to be a rather stupid clause if it is there, since there are still many overworked dancers and probably even more underused dancers in both companies. IMO, 85 or 90 dancers in a company, as much as I love to see dancers employed, is totally unnecessary and too many of these dancers have free nights and nights with only one ballet, which is not the way corps dancers will gain the strength and performance experience to grow into soloists and principals.

If the company could properly use this number of dancers, like with two companies performing in different venues sometimes, it would be more valid. But this is rarely, if ever, the case. A company of 50 to 55 or so dancers keeps them all working much more of the time, with, I feel no need for any to be overworked. (As a teacher I certainly have to feel that the more jobs the better, of course, but if those jobs do not provide the work they need to do, and we still see certain dancers overworked, then that number makes no sense.)

On another thread we talked about the excessive number of casts for every ballet, which creates a lack of adequate coaching and, more importantly, a lack of opportunity for dancers to mature into the roles. A part of the reason for this is the large numbers of dancers in these two companies. Just my opinion, of course :cool:

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Hi!

In a NYTimes article from 4/21/96 it stated that the dancers' contract required a minumum of 90 dancers in the company. The contract may have changed since, but it gives you an idea of what might be included in the current contracts.

I don't have any problems with the large number of dancers in certain companies. First of all, considering that a number of dancers are injured/ill at any one time, and other dancers (mostly principals) aren't dancing much/guesting, there aren't ever 90 dancers available to rehearse or dance.

Secondly, a company like NYCB has a large amount of rep, and no dancer can be expected to learn/keep fresh that many ballets. Also, I'm sure dancers like to dance a variety of ballets, not to dance the same limited number of ballets over and over. Multiple casts (2-3) allow for variations in case of injury, and to allow different talents to be seen in roles. I appreciate the chance to compare how different dancers interpret the same roles. Now, I'm not a fan of ABT's policy of letting every principal do every role, but I do like seeing two or three casts at NYCB.

At least from my observations, most NYCB corps dancer (especially the men) do not have many free nights. Considering that they are in class or rehearsing most of the day, and perform 6 days/7 performances a week, a night off once in a while is a good thing. Also, while it may be less obvious to the audience, certain ballets are very exhausting, so it may be hard for a dancer to dance in another ballet the same night.

Lastly, certain ballets (Stars and Stripes, Union Jack, story ballets) require a very large cast, and so can only be properly done by larger companies.

Yes, even with in large companies, dancers will be under and over used. As in life, all is not fair. While large companies may not be appropriate in all cases, different reps require different companies. Companies like ABT, NYCB and the Royal Ballet are large, and justly so.

Kate

Just my .02

Kate

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Well POB has 150...so it must be much harder for them...

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Does POB perform more regularly, and have performances in more than one venue at the same time?

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