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Choreographing in Balanchine's Shadow


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 05 March 2002 - 11:28 PM

Dirac put this up Friday on Links and I missed it; Brendan put it up again today -- a hint from the gods that we should be talking about it.

A long piece in the New Criterion about choreography after Balanchine. What do you think about her points?

http://www.newcriter...ar02/jacobs.htm

#2 Calliope

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 05:43 PM

I had the read the piece and admittedly was a little too angry to respond. But, here goes. I couldn't tell what her point was. She opens the piece stating even during his time it was unfair that Balanchine's colleagues were compared and inevitably the futre choreographers will be held up to Balanchine's standards.
Jacobs completely dismisses first time choreographer Melissa Barak's, barely 21, first piece. I liked Barak's piece, I thought the simplicity of it was what made it great. She understood her dancers and their limitations, but apparently that's not enough.
Jacob's piece just left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't know how old Balanchine was when he first started choreographing, but he didn't compete with television, films, special effects and a sense of "I want a masterpiece now" mentality that I feel Jacobs asks for.
Sorry, this a very passionate response, simply because poor Barak, she may end up being terrible, but she's only had one shot so far and what worked well on SAB maybe shouldn't have transferred to NYCB (that was Martins I think trying to create another 2 & 3 ) but it would be interesting to hear what she has to say without comparing choreographers to Balanchine, but maybe to each other.
And I know I'm in the minority, but I think Wheeldon is good, but is more of a result of great marketing and "over exposure" than a resident choreographer (again just a strong opinion!)

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 05:58 PM

I agree with dismissing a very young choreographer after a first work. I also think that framing the issue as "after Balanchine" keeps putting new choreographers in the Balanchine Box. While I'm all for having standards -- that there's a certain level that one must meet, or strive to meet -- I don't think it's useful to keep one standard of comparison. (It's why I try to bring up Ashton, or Fokine, or Lavrovsky, etc. every time we have a discussion about choreographers.)

There will be no future choreographers if, on the one hand, they're judged as "No good, too close to Balanchine, just an imitator" OR "No good, not anything like Balanchine."

Also, IMO, one of the most dangerous things that has happened in the past 25 years is the dismissal of good, minor works. I remember Joan Acocella writing in a review of a biography of Agnes de Mille that (paraphrase) de Mille was a fourth rate choreographer, and that's nothing to sneeze at. She's right. It's not. Yet we have only Great Choreographers or Throw The Bums Out choreographers. I think this is a function of the current repertory being divided between The Classics and New Work. All of the perfectly okay small ballets of yesteryear have been vacuumed out to make way for more faux classics ("Merry Widow" ) or modern dance and ballet moderne works. No wonder there are so few new choreographers, and those there are (in this country) are choreographing in Balanchine's shadow.

Thanks for replying Calliope. Getting mad is fine smile.gif

p.s. Ashton made a lot of animal dances, as did Massine. I'm not particularly wild about them, but they're there, if that's your standard.

#4 Calliope

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 06:03 PM

I guess the "standard" is what I have a problem with. Ballet is still art and maybe we're just going through the deconstruction period!

#5 dirac

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 07:02 PM

There's a lot going on in this essay, maybe just a little too much. I was expecting, from the way she begins, that a discussion of Balanchine's domination of the choreographic scene in ballet almost twenty years after he bought the farm would be forthcoming, accompanied by a demonstration through a discussion of Barak and Wheeldon of the way in which Balanchine opened new territory for contemporary ballet while simultaneously through the breadth of his gift fencing it off from those who would hope to follow. Many valuable observations, but I didn't quite get the central issue here. I'm sure it's me.

Minor issues: I don't see much point in denouncing the ill effects of television and personal computers -- even if you agree with her, and I don't, it seems to me like getting mad at the weather.

Also, while I might concede that Ashton rates somewhat below Balanchine, I'd object strenuously to bracketing him with Tudor, which seems to happen here. I understand her larger point, and that she has other things to discuss, but I'd hate for anyone to get the impression even in passing that he was just paddling feebly in Balanchine's wake.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 07:21 PM

dirac, I agree with you on the advisability, or not, of bracketing Ashton-Tudor as Balahchine's inferiors. I'm not a monotheist. I especially object to such bracketing by someone who wasn't actively writing, at least, in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. I wonder on what it's based.

(The same thing happened in modern dance, too. Once it was Graham-Humphrey. You probably liked one more than the other, and were more sympathetic to one or the other very different approaches, but they were both top of the line choreographers. Humphrey died first. Who's seen anything of Humphrey except a few old films?)

[ March 11, 2002, 07:26 PM: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#7 Michael

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Posted 12 March 2002 - 10:40 AM

The essay doesn't seem to me to be worth the response that's being expended on it in this thread. The author loves Balanchine, sure, but her comments on his work are not perceptive or enlightening and add nothing to the extensive discourse on his work.

Regarding Wheeldon, I would really love to see him be given more of chance to work. He has the title "Resident Choreographer" at NYCB, yet we've now seen one new piece, that's right, one (Variations Serieuses) in the calendar year between last March and this one. How do you expect someone to develop when they don't have the chance to create, create, create on the dancers, make good ballets, bad ballets, mistakes and things in the middle? Reading the biographies of good choreographers, I am generally struck by how much work they churn out in their formative years -- little pieces, big ones, chamber pieces, good ones and bad -- driven by the necessity of supporting the repertory of a company. Wheeldon needs to be given the chance to work more at NYCB or somewhere else. Otherwise the title is at best an empty accolade (bestowed perhaps [ironically] to keep him from working more and elsewhere) or at worst a faint kiss of death for his real development.

#8 Juliet

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Posted 12 March 2002 - 01:32 PM

I completely agree with Michael's first sentence.

Wheeldon is also working in Boston......and surely, somewhere else as well?

#9 Calliope

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Posted 12 March 2002 - 01:46 PM

Wheeldon has a Broadway play opening shortly as well and an upcoming piece for NYCB's Diamond Project.

#10 Jane Simpson

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Posted 12 March 2002 - 02:27 PM

...and a new piece for the Royal Ballet in May.

#11 Michael

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Posted 12 March 2002 - 03:01 PM

Very good, but if you're going to be "resident" with a particular company why not work with the dancers there more than once a year? Otherwise what does "resident choreographer" mean? And both he and this particular company would I think benefit from it, it would be win/win for everyone and for the audience I think.

It's also important that a young artist be able to make mistakes and that not everything they do be expected to be a blockbuster masterpiece. So I also think the more you give him work, the less the idea takes hold that every single thing he does has to prove itself a work of "genius." It takes the pressure off.

Faced with the prospect of all the Diamond Project works premiering this spring, as well as of revivals of a few past Diamond Project works as well this spring (and having seen four or five new PM ballets since winter 2001), I for one would be happy to see Chris Wheeldon make two or three new dances a year at City Ballet instead of one.

[ March 12, 2002, 03:03 PM: Message edited by: Michael1 ]

#12 Calliope

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Posted 12 March 2002 - 03:52 PM

I think Wheeldon's outside participation of NYCB makes for a good marketing tool for them to try and bring other people in.
"oh you saw is broadway show"... come see the ballet he did..

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 12 March 2002 - 03:59 PM

I think choreographing a Broadway show is a good thing -- it will broaden his experience, not only in working with different types of dancers, but working with "show people" -- see how lighting, blocking, etc. works in a different setting.

This is one area where I think we're speculating without knowledge. We don't know if Wheeldon wants to work outside NYCB, and if so, what reasons. One could make the argument that NYCB is being very generous to let him. Seasons are planned far in advance -- this spring was probably planned before Wheeldon's appointment. I'm taking a wait and see on this one.

#14 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 12 March 2002 - 07:41 PM

My guess is if you asked Wheeldon himself, he might even say that the last thing he needed was more work. He's got an awful lot on his plate at this point.

#15 Michael

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Posted 13 March 2002 - 09:30 AM

I do not intend any criticism of seeing Wheeldon's work on Broadway or anywhere else -- In fact I look very forward to seeing this.

My point is only that I would like to see more of his work at New York City Ballet. Among so many new dances this year we could maybe have enjoyed one or two less by other choreographers and one or two more by him, particularly when they have made a point of providing him with a title and with a formal position here.

[ March 13, 2002, 09:32 AM: Message edited by: Michael1 ]


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