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Gottlieb on ABT and NYCB


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 08:08 AM

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.

#17 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 08:39 AM

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?

#18 Alexandra

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 10:26 AM

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:

#19 checkwriter

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 12:51 AM

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.

#20 cargill

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 08:33 AM

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.

#21 sneds

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 02:40 PM

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

#22 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 05:37 PM

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:

#23 sneds

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Posted 26 July 2001 - 08:09 AM

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

#24 Terry

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Posted 29 July 2001 - 12:13 AM

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

#25 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 29 July 2001 - 07:56 AM

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

#26 Estelle

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Posted 29 July 2001 - 09:04 AM

Victoria, the POB often performs at two venues at the same time (and often with works requiring a large corps de ballet): for example, recently one part of the company performed Neumeier's "A midsummer night's dream" at the Opera Garnier, while another part performed Nureyev's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Opera Bastille (some soloists and principals performed in both). I don't know if they perform more regularly than ABT, but the number of performances every year is quite large (and I think it has increased in the last few years- though it might be a bit lower next season).

Actually having two programs at the same time in Bastille and Garnier (or one in Paris and one on tour elsewhere) is convenient for people like me who don't live in Paris and just stay there from time to time, but it has raised more and more criticisms among the dancers and people interested in the company: at the end of the season, the injury rate is getting quite high, the casts are likely to be modified about every day, and it is detrimental to the quality of the performances, especially as understudies often lack rehearsal time and coaching- but well, it seems that it's a problem with about every company!

Also some dancers of the company don't dance much, especially among the coryphees or quadrilles. But I don't know at all if it is because they are injured or in bad shape, or if the direction doesn't like them, or something else...

The problem of "too many casts for one ballet" exists at the Paris Opera too- however, sometimes the number of casts has to be reduced very much because of all the dancers who are injured and can't perform (for example there were supposed to be 5 Juliets recently, but two of them- Guillem and Guerin- couldn't perform and finding suitable casts was not easy, as one of the other ones (Gaida) was going to have her farewell performance and another one (Maurin) was performing also in Neumeier's work). And the number of principals has decreased quite a lot in recent years (many retirements and not many new ones) so perhaps the opposite problem is more likely to take place...

#27 Terry

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Posted 29 July 2001 - 11:16 PM

Estelle,

Do some POB dancers tend to concentrate or perform more frequently and specialize in contemporary roles because of the number of dancers, performances, and 2 different venues? I wonder how that part of the system works...

Thanks in advance.

#28 Estelle

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Posted 30 July 2001 - 04:30 AM

Terry, it seems to me that in general all dancers have a rather large repertory (and also most of the contemporary works which are performed have smaller casts than classics a la "Swan Lake", so not so many quadrilles perform in them). I don't think that there is a "contemporary subcompany"... But I don't see the company so often, so perhaps you should ask people who attend more performances.

However, some dancers are cast more often than others in contemporary roles, but I don't know if it is their choice or if it is the direction's choice. For example the quadrille Peggy Grelat danced a lot of contemporary roles- but now she has left the company and has joined Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet. Delphine Baey has been cast quite a lot in contemporary works (Forsythe, Bagouet, Carlson, Gallotta...) but as far as I know it's not a personal choice, but simply the direction prefers to cast her in such roles (perhaps partly because she's very tall and sometimes she's lacking tall enough partners for classical roles).

But we're getting a bit off-topic now...


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