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How does something become dated?


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 07 February 2002 - 11:16 PM

This popped into my head today and I thought it might make an interesting discussion.

We've all seen works we thought were "dated". How does something become dated? I think there's more than one way; sometimes the context of the surrounding society changes, but sometimes it's deterioration of the performing tradition. When have ballets become dated to you, and why? What doesn't become dated?

And finally, have you seen things become "un-dated?"

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 12:43 AM

Very interesting question. For something very topical, yes, the times change. The only thing I can think of isn't a ballet but a musical -- "Hair." When "tricky Dick" left office, not only was the rhyming scheme thrown off, but...well, "Hair" was of its time. If it's revived, it will be a period piece. (Of course some day, someone will do a contemporary dress "Hair," where everyone is bald and it's set in Des Moines....)

Artistically, I think that as long as the aesthetic is alive -- for the dancers, for the audience -- the ballet will look undated. "Serenade" does not look like a 70-year-old ballet because the audience still believes in it and the dancers can still put it over (at least for an American ballet audience. It may well look very dated in Frankfurt or Wupperthal.) I can see the cracks in the Balanchine aesthetic; I've seen two ballets done so poorly (NOT by NYCB) that they were almost unrecognizable. The phrasing, the structure, the tone, the whole approach to the ballets were just off. Partly it was because, I suppose, the stagers gave the dancers the steps and couldn't manage to give the ballet a frame.

I've seen many Ashton ballets look dated, and I think it's because the dancers have stopped believing in them. Ballets need to be loved, or they become unwanted castoffs and go out and commit terrible crimes frown.gif Coaching can solve that. The recent "Fille" performances seen in DC by the Royal were believable to me, and I think that must have been at least partly the doing of the stagers and coaches.

I've seen lots of video-mixed-with-live-performances of Bournonville ballets to think that it's not a straight, downhill slide. There are speedbumps. The "La Sylphide" on videos from the 1960s are choppy, down at heel productions The ones from the 1980s and 1990s were much better. I've heard enough from dancers how Hans Brenaa made them love some of the ballets that are now almost despised (Far From Denmark, King's Volunteers on Amager). If there was ever a case of one man making a difference. Brenaa not only brought ballets back from the dead literally (they'd been out of rep for 30 years) but made them live.

And then there's Les Noces (Nijinska's). Abandoned, homeless, certainly divorced from contemporary life by its content. Yet there it is, by accident of history and act of Ashton, saved from the rubble. I think it's the most modern ballet I know. It always shocks me. I've often thought what it would take to make this look dated and I don't know.

#3 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 07:12 AM

a ballet which i have often thought might easily look dated but which thankfully i have never seen do so is 'prodigal son', which still touches me. though one which sometimes does (more often than not) is 'gaite parisienne'. in the latter case i've often noted that the dancers aren't capable of pulling it off if they are too self-conscious to put themselves right into it. and yet the pirate film that was later released of 'gaite parisienne' is a revelation to me; in that although it was filmed in what, the 40s and 50s? in the manner in which it is done, it looks immediate, believable, i assume because the dancers who did it believed in what they were doing and were not self-conscious about it.

[ February 08, 2002: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]



#4 Calliope

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 09:42 AM

I'm Old Fashioned and Ives, Songs and Slaughter on 10th Ave and to a degree Union Jack.

Fashioned because I can't help but think that more than half the dancers have no idea who is on the screen with them and the role those actors played at that time in history.

Ives, Songs, maybe it's just because I haven't ever figured it out enough to like it.

And Slaughter, especially if not danced correctly.

#5 cargill

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 09:56 AM

I think things that are designed to be contemporary and cutting edge and relevant have the most chance of becomming dated no matter how they are performed. Other works can become dated if they are not done well--like Ashton--but there is nothing older than yesterday's trend. Of course, issue-related works of art can retain their power if there is a universal resonance.

#6 Manhattnik

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 10:03 AM

It's funny to think of ballet as Tinkerbelle!

I'd toss in Push Comes to Shove. It was so much of its time, even Tharp's early-Eighties restaging for ABT couldn't bring back the thrill of the original, mid-Seventies version. I wouldn't at all blame viewers today for looking at Push and thinking "What was the fuss all about?"

I wonder if I'mOld Fashioned was ever NOT dated. I am sure almost as many of its original cast were as clueless about Astaire as the current crop might be (I'm not really certain this is true, though). This was a nice try by Robbins that never really worked.

Often it's the "of-the-moment" ballets that age worse than the "classics." And as has been noted, it's really up to the dancers to bring life to, well, any ballet. At ABT's fall season, Dim Lustre seemed a lifeless relic when performed by Kent and Steifel (was he trying to stop a nosebleed with that handkerchief?), but ingenious and stunning when danced by Jaffe and Graffin.

#7 atm711

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 01:59 PM

Alexandra writes:

"Serenade does not look like a 70-year old ballet because the audience still believes in it...."

I wonder what the audience of today would think of it if they could see the way it was performed 50 years ago? Nothing has changed in the choreography in all these years but it looks like a different ballet--thanks (or not?) to the flowing hair and gossamer dresses and the softer lighting.

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 02:10 PM

I think ATM has hit on something important - which are the gradual small changes certain ballets go through - changes in costume, hairstyle, lighting. Often, it is design and decor that we find dated; nothing links something to a specific era quite in the way that fashion does.

For me, another thing that can date a work is its moral atmosphere. I find works from the 80's (the dark, slam-your-partner ones) to look very much of their time very quickly.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 02:45 PM

I agree on costumes dating pieces. Not a ballet, but there was a period when the bell-bottoms in Paul Taylor's "Esplanade" looked very dated. Now, bell bottoms aren't newly out, if that makes sense, and so it just looks like clothes. But originally, the bell bottoms "read" as fashionable clothes, and so placed the dance in the NOW, and something very concrete, not a dancing studio.

On "Serenade" (which I've seen in both hair up and hair down versions) has been in the gaslight blue dresses for so long -- most of its life. In a way, there's almost Serenade I and Serenade II (if Serenade I, with its bathing suits, were revied today, people would undoubtedly complain that the atmosphere was lost.) And Concerto Barocco looks more serene in white than it does (on film, to me) in black. I'm not sure these are examples of changing costume to fit changing times as much as Balanchine changing the way he thought about the ballets.

When I said that the aesthetic hadn't changed, I should have clarified. I mean the idea of a "pure dance" ballet is still alive, at least in America. (In Europe, it isn't, and "Serenade" does look old-fashioned, and is referred to as old-fashioned in reviews, at least in both Germany and Denmark.)

But on the broader point of costumes and decor, yes. I agree. They can date a work.

I saw "Push Comes to Shove" so frequently over a ten-year period I think I could document each change. Some were made by Tharp, some happened when casts changed. And some when the work stopped being new and fresh through no fault of anyone. It also had something to do with the personality of Baryshnikov, and how fascinating it was to see a Russian doing something so American (and yet not being American), and a star clowning, etc., that no one, no matter how gifted, could compare.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 08 February 2002 - 06:39 PM

Aspects of this question are touched on in this article from today's NYTimes about surrealism:

An Erotic Revolution Made Tame by Time

It figures. Surrealism, which has given license to thousands of incontinent psyches, bequeathed to art history a trove of oversize phalluses, flaccid pocket watches, fur-lined teacups, locomotives steaming out of fireplaces, mustachioed Mona Lisas and pubic faces that are today as charming and tepid as they were once conceived to be appalling and crazy.

Success neutered the movement decades ago. Breton was distressed by his offspring's popularity: you can't remain a revolutionary when everybody is on your side. The Surrealists, having opened everybody's eyes to the essential weirdness of everyday life, fostered the demand for ever greater anomalies, relegating their own work to the quaint status of bowler hats and antique sewing machines. Now much of it looks small and slightly embarrassing.


http://www.nytimes.c...ign/08KIMM.html


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