Zimmer on ballet's dead women
Posted 15 August 2001 - 09:39 AM
Personally, I don't have huge trouble with these stories or "views of women" (but then, I like Jane Austen, too ). I see them simply as part of ballet's heritage, and it can be fascinating to get inside the ideals and symbols and values (both cultural values and dance values) of another age for a couple of hours. I guess I just don't respond with a strongly "political" consciousness to the classics. What to say to people who find it almost impossible to like or even appreciate classical ballet because they just can't get past the "dead sweeties"? Do others here share Zimmer's dilemma?
Posted 15 August 2001 - 10:36 AM
Posted 15 August 2001 - 11:09 AM
Also a way to work around the problem might be to encourage them to see plotless works first- and then, hope that they will appreciate the beauty of movement enough to get really interested, and that it will motivate them to bear the "cliches" of some full-length works... Also there are works like "Coppelia" or "La Fille mal gardee" which do not involve young women expiring for love!
Posted 15 August 2001 - 11:29 AM
To me, one of the most important aspects of education is to examine a work and place it in context -- and teach that context. Not that the people who wrote/choreographed a work were stupid, or evil, and degraded women for fun, but something a bit closer to the way those people -- both women and men -- thought.
Posted 15 August 2001 - 03:55 PM
Posted 15 August 2001 - 05:21 PM
Good topic, Alla. Thanks!
Posted 15 August 2001 - 09:07 PM
dirac, that assessment seems incredibly sensible. And I agree with Alexandra that in this and many other academic/critical takes on the classics, there's a lack of appreciation for the complex contexts of these works. What bothers me is the assumption that works of art which seem to say things we may now disapprove of therefore become fair game to be mocked and savaged, or simply ignored. Dances (modern dances, too) have their framework of conventions, just like poems and plays and paintings do. If one is going to look at a classic ballet, the least one could do is let one's mind and emotions play within the ballet's conventions for a little while, rather than instantly rejecting them as not being in line with our (supposedly openminded) 21st-century ideas! That approach just seems to end in more ignorance for the ballet-watcher, rather than more understanding. As dirac says, a classic might be problematic for this person or that person, but that doesn't mean there's not more to it than whatever was found offensive. Starting from a position of such suspicion seems unfair both to the ballets and to the readers.
Having said all this, I do want to be fair to Elizabeth Zimmer. She started out covering modern dance, and that's still her main interest. Not to make excuses for what still seems a misguided point of view, but maybe it complicates things if you come to classical ballet from the direction of modern dance, rather than starting out with an interest in ballet.
[ 08-15-2001: Message edited by: Alla ]
[ 08-15-2001: Message edited by: Alla ]
Posted 19 August 2001 - 06:46 PM
Many academics want to blame those who lived in the past for not solving problems that exist now—they seems to resent those who came before them for leaving such an untidy world. If we, in our enlightened state, can see how stories like “Giselle”, “Carmen” or “La Traviata” not only reflected institutional sexism but also helped to sustain it, how on earth could the men (of course) who created them not see the same thing? If Verdi was so great, why did he write an opera based on such an outrageously male-dominated text as “The Lady of the Camellias”? And how could he do so without undermining it through his own commentary? By the way, I realize “institutional sexism” is probably such an outdated term that by using it I have unconsciously thrown my lot with the oppressors.
There are ways to look at works of art as expressions of the culture from which they came and to draw conclusions about that culture. I would disagree that academics and academic critcs may not understand the complex context of the works they criticize and posit that they prefer to impose their own context on the work--a context which in many cases is apparent only to the critic. Even after one reads the aricle or chapter in question, the connection still remains murky.
One work that does this very well is “The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s” by Elizabeth Kendall, who is known to many people on this list for her dance criticism. In this book, Kendall analyzes what she calls Depression romantic comedies and shows that they “contained real wisdom about the relations between the classes and the sexes—and real wit about the persistently hopeful naivete of us, the Americans.” If you enjoy movies like “It Happened One Night”, “My Man Godfrey” or “The Lady Eve” and actresses such as Irene Dunne, Claudet Colbert, Barbara Stanwyk, and Carole Lombard (which is like asking if you like breathing) this is a book for you. Kendall shows how the concerns of an entire generation can be seen in these movies, and does so in beautifully written prose.
Another is “Opera, or the Undoing of Women” by Catherine Clement. Clement is not a musicologist, but a French critic of philosophy who loves opera. While it may seem a bit off-putting that she has also written books on structuralism, Marxism and psychoanalysis, (this book is dedicated to Claude Levi-Strauss) she writes well and really knows her stuff. She covers many the undone women—Carmen, Butterfly, Liu, etc., and how their treatment reflects the social and philosophical currents of European thought at the time they were written. Her synopses of plots, often less than a page long, are delicious.
While Alla’s initial comment was a response to a Village Voice article, much of what annoys many of us (or at least me) are academic writing--serious and detailed enough to be published between hard covers—that simply restates received knowledge.
[ 08-19-2001: Message edited by: Ed Waffle ]
Posted 20 August 2001 - 10:19 AM
Posted 20 August 2001 - 06:57 PM
I would find it extremely difficult to sit through a ballet (or a play or an opera or a novel) that had as one of its central premises and plot drivers the notion that, say, people with brown skin were inferior to people with pink skin and that their subjugation was therefore not only wholly justified but a thing to celebrate. No amount of trying to view the work through the eyes of another age or trying understand its context or trying to appreciate its purely formal beauties would make me more comfortable with the work or with the fact that some people enjoyed seeing it again and again or any less angry that it was still in the active repertory. I'm not sure I'm comfortable denying those who find Giselle's images of women offensive a similar response.
Posted 21 August 2001 - 01:18 PM
Posted 21 August 2001 - 03:02 PM
I disagree. The great Greek tragedies are firmly rooted in the notion that there are those born to rule and those born to be slaves -- it's not a racial issue, but the notion of superiority, that some people were born to be one thing and others another, is absolutely central to those dramas. Their view of women doesn't comport with ours, either. They're still great works of art, and while it's necessary to explain the world view that underlies them to new readers or audiences, I think attacking them is not particularly helpful.
Dirac, if you take your scenario and do an ethnic switch (Mad Christian Wilis attacking poor Jewish Giselle) you may just have the next "rethought" Giselle, and it will be your fault
Posted 21 August 2001 - 03:23 PM
Posted 21 August 2001 - 08:01 PM
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