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Le Corsaire at The Kennedy Center


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#136 Mikhail

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 12:54 PM

Ladies and Gentlemen,
may be I am wrong, but I see no reasons to discuss such secondary questions as an “old negress” or the name “Isaac” of the bad guy from a provincial market place. Evidently, the Bolshoi’s Le Corsaire produces much more serious problems because it presents a real caricature on the Muslim world. Look at all these fat mullahs, lazy eunuchs, chicken-hearted soldiers, silly Seid-Pasha himself… Meanwhile Christian bandits are romantized in the ballet. The only Muslim positive personage - Ali by name - was excluded from this production. Was it coincidental?

Moreover, the ballet does not respect the sacred rights of private property. Seid-pasha paid for Medora, the girl belongs to him body and soul, and yet she was kidnapped. May be the laws of that country were not perfect, but where on earth were they perfect? This was no excuse for European terrorists who attacked a peaceful Muslim town.

I guess any American court would forbid performance of Le Corsaire in any version, if somebody hires a good lawyer.

#137 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 01:21 PM

:huh:

#138 YID

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 02:14 PM

i rest my case :huh: :huh: :(
yes, Let's not attend ANY ballet that doesn't meet Political correctness of 21st centrury norms

PS: after reading bart's reply (posted after mine)..... I love America !!!!!

#139 bart

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 02:17 PM

:huh:

I guess any American court would forbid performance of Le Corsaire in any version, if somebody hires a good lawyer.

The story of Corsaire includes much to be puzzled by -- and even offended by -- especially when when considers the role that stereotypes have played in the past and even today. However, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects all such expression, even when some or all of us don't like it. I doubt that anyone would even consider bringing such a case to court over here. I know that no court would accept it.

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Although only the "Federal government" is referred to, state and local governments must also follow the First Amendment.

[Moderator beanie on] On Ballet Talk, expressing our personal thoughts about the content of a ballet performance is welcome. This inevitably involves our responses to the libretto, imagery, etc., and it definitely includes our thoughts about the politics of any ballet work. However, speculations about causes or consequences, are best carried on elsewhere. [Moderator beanie off]

#140 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 05:01 PM

:huh:

I guess any American court would forbid performance of Le Corsaire in any version, if somebody hires a good lawyer.

The story of Corsaire includes much to be puzzled by -- and even offended by -- especially when when considers the role that stereotypes have played in the past and even today. However, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects all such expression, even when some or all of us don\'t like it. I doubt that anyone would even consider bringing such a case to court over here. I know that no court would accept it.

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Although only the \"Federal government\" is referred to, state and local governments must also follow the First Amendment.

[Moderator beanie on] On Ballet Talk, expressing our personal thoughts about the content of a ballet performance is welcome. This inevitably involves our responses to the libretto, imagery, etc., and it definitely includes our thoughts about the politics of any ballet work. However, speculations about causes or consequences, are probably best carried on elsewhere. [Moderator beanie off]


:huh:

#141 Mikhail

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 05:12 PM

Ok, Bart,
thank you for the explanations and sorry for the off topic (actually it was reductio ad absurdum). Thus, all these Shakespearian Jews, Turks, Bohemians and even Maures will survive in classical ballets – good news.

#142 Helene

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 05:16 PM

Ladies and Gentlemen,
may be I am wrong, but I see no reasons to discuss such secondary questions as an “old negress” or the name “Isaac” of the bad guy from a provincial market place.

And it is your right not to discuss these if you don't find them important.

Evidently, the Bolshoi’s Le Corsaire produces much more serious problems because it presents a real caricature on the Muslim world. Look at all these fat mullahs, lazy eunuchs, chicken-hearted soldiers, silly Seid-Pasha himself… Meanwhile Christian bandits are romantized in the ballet. The only Muslim positive personage - Ali by name - was excluded from this production.

You are right that this reflects a tradition in Western art of a certain period -- Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio" and Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algieri" are operatic examples -- one that is rarely discussed in detail.

#143 Drew

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 07:12 PM

Ladies and Gentlemen,
may be I am wrong, but I see no reasons to discuss such secondary questions as an “old negress” or the name “Isaac” of the bad guy from a provincial market place.

And it is your right not to discuss these if you don't find them important.

Evidently, the Bolshoi’s Le Corsaire produces much more serious problems because it presents a real caricature on the Muslim world. Look at all these fat mullahs, lazy eunuchs, chicken-hearted soldiers, silly Seid-Pasha himself… Meanwhile Christian bandits are romantized in the ballet. The only Muslim positive personage - Ali by name - was excluded from this production.

You are right that this reflects a tradition in Western art of a certain period -- Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio" and Rossini's "L'Italiana in Algieri" are operatic examples -- one that is rarely discussed in detail.


...Though if you google 'orientalism' and/or 'exoticism' and opera (or nineteenth-century music), you will turn up a fair amount of discussion. I don't know this literature or how much of it deals with the comic tradition but at least some of it does -- Herbert Lindenberger for example...(By contrast, Said's _Culture and Imperialism_ discusses Verdi.)

With a living, performing art I think there is necessarily a certain amount of give and take with the past. You don't have to -- should not and cannot -- make every work match the norms of a contemporary context, but a production is always an adaptation of sorts. These works aren't flies trapped in amber. The Bolshoi implicitly acknowledges that when they change the "negress" to an old woman when they tour to the United Kingdom and the United States or, for that matter, when they offer the ballet without Ratmansky's "Pas D'Evantails" to meet economic realities at the Kennedy Center. The artists in charge are, in effect, making decisions (as, in some cases, do audiences and critics in response) about what they do and don't find aesthetically crucial in situations answering not only to aesthetic but to practical, ethical and other considerations.

(I have to admit that for me, in any case, Corsaire is no sacred text--and the Jardin Anime, especially in the Bolshoi's splendid version, is the primary reason to see it as a full length ballet at all. A minority opinion probably and it does not mean I didn't enjoy the production in London--I did--but I don't feel strongly about the ballet as a comic masterpiece. Emotionally, it's not Cosi Fan Tutte -- or Coppelia...a different genre of course but that's probably one reason for my response to it.)

#144 Ilya

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 07:46 PM

It's too bad about the offensive elements, which were in practically all 19th/early-20th C story ballets (e.g., Bayadere's 'little sambos' in Act II; 'American Negro Couple' in the Legats' Fairy Doll; even the Moor in Fokine's Petrouchka). Many of the wonderful Bournonville ballets that survive have offensive elements but we still embrace the Royal Danish Ballet; we certainly do not call today's Danish population 'racist' just for keeping these elements in the Bournonville ballets. It was the 19th Century and today's audiences are expected to have the maturity to understand that they are seeing a relic of the past, I suppose. But we still feel queezy just seeing it, even if we know that it's a museum piece.


The mere presence of characters of different ethnicities is obviously not equivalent to racism. For example, the African boys in Mariinsky's Bayaderes that I have seen, are not offensive at all.  As another example, Lankedem's ethnicity is not specified in the Gusev and Sergeyev productions, ethnic stereotypes are not used, and, as a result, those characters are not offensive, either.  (In addition, the great Konstantin Zaklinsky who dances Lankedem on the Mariinsky DVD somehow manages to make the character almost likable!)

I just do not buy the "relic of the past" or "museum piece" argument. None of the 19th century ballets have survived to this day in their original, pristine 19th century form.  Most of them do not even have "the original" form because they kept being modified and re-staged throughout the 19th century to adapt to new dancers and tastes.  I do not know of any ballet where the racist elements were central to the story, hence they can always be judiciously removed.  Case in point: the differences between the domestic and export staging and program description of the handkerchief episode in Bolshoi's Le Corsaire.  If they realized that the description, costume, and mime for that character are offensive enough to be changed while on tour, why did they have it in the ballet in the first place?  Or, if they are sticking to the "museum piece" story, why did they make the changes?

I am curious about the 'Conrad solo' in the cave scene -- the famous male solo of 'Corsaire pdd.' Your sources mention that in the 1899 version -- the version that Burlaka et al attempted to reconstruct -- that solo was performed by Georgi Kyasht, rather than Conrad, who was mimed by Pavel Gerdt. Did Kyasht's character have a name (not "Ali" - we know that!) or was he merely a young guy/porteur who shows up to dance with Medora?


The review does not mention the name of Kiaksht's character.  In any case, I doubt it very much that the choreography in the male solo we have seen in DC is the same as what Georgi Kiaksht danced.

Mikhail, there is no need to be facetious and dismissive.  I have been attempting to have a serious and respectful discussion.  There is no Muslim character in the ballet that's made up of anti-Muslim stereotypes. Seyd is actually quite a multi-dimensional character (at least, by ballet standards), capable of falling in love (with Medora) and being loved (by Gulnare), and, at least in the performance I watched, quite handsome and, contrary to what you are saying, not portrayed as silly at all (according to the program notes, it was Alexey Loparevich).  Isaac is made up entirely of centuries-old antisemitic stereotypes.  The "old maid" character, as described above by Natalia, is entirely made up of racist stereotypes.  Neither set of stereotypes is essential to the ballet's story and can easily be toned down, as was done with the "old maid" in DC.

If the Bolshoi did not feel they were doing anything wrong, why the change in the program notes and in the costume and mime of the "old maid" character?  Why did they feel it was important to identify the slave trader as a Jew in their domestic program notes and omit this identification in the Kennedy Center program notes?  Bizarre.

There are some works of art in which racism is inextricably intertwined with the story and cannot really be excised. These are usually works that have words in them, such as plays, novels, operas, etc. Ballets simply do not fall into this category, at least not Le Corsaire. Changing a few words in a program booklet for a new staging of a ballet and a few details of makeup and mime are not quite the same as changing words in a Shakespeare play. (Even in Shakespeare, by the way, there is room for different interpretations of roles like Shylock, as various great actors have demonstrated.) The discussion of all these other works of art would be very complex and is quite beyond the scope of this thread. But using what Shakespeare did 400 years ago as an excuse for what is done by the Bolshoi now does not make much sense to me.

This was no excuse for European terrorists who attacked a peaceful Muslim town.


Interestingly, this is more or less how it is in Byron's poem---Conrad is portrayed as quite a vile character who kills, burns, and pillages for no good reason.  And Gulnare is quite Lady Macbeth-esque.

#145 Alban

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 08:49 PM

Boy this conversation has gotten a bit complicated. Since I brought up the matter I should probably explain my objection more clearly. Going from a debate about characterization's in the Bolshoi's production to dangling the threat of a ban on 19th century ballet is a bit of a bait and switch, drawing the argument away from the substance of the debate to a easily disparaged position. I'm not going to bite. The problem I have is not with politically incorrect 19th century ballet scenarios. It's about what the designers of a contemporary production expect from their audience. If you stage the Merchant of Venice today you're going to have to deal with the fact that some of the laughs in the play are not going to play for a contemporary audience. Shakespeare is very funny, but not when he's making fun of jews. So staging the play is a challenge, but of course it's made worthwhile because Shakespeare didn't just make Shylock an anti-semitic caricature he also gave him some of the most eloquent lines in the English language. So what's my point? Well, Corsaire has a plot that's hard to swallow, so what? So do a lot of ballets, operas, etc. The problem as I see it is that what the Bolshoi's production plays for laughs are simply not funny. Hooked nose, stingy jew getting his comeuppence? Not funny. Muslim character getting kicked in the ass while praying towards Mecca? Not funny. These are mime and makeup jokes, as far as I can tell, invented by this production because the designers thought they would get a response from the audience. Bad taste but also a miscalculation I would think. Show me where the evidence is that these specific mime sequences have historical precedent? And even if they do, they are no longer functional. Those mime sequences are there to be funny. They're not. So why do them like that? I can't speak to the black maid that's said to be in the Moscow production but being glad it's not included in the US tour is a strange blessing to have to count. From where I was sitting the character that got laughs, the mime that worked for the audience was Zulmea. But Lankedem and the pasha have opportunities to be very funny but not in this production. It may be true that historically Lankedem was created as a jewish character. If a production wants to honor the historicity of that, the designers, makeup artists, and actors still have a lot of decisions in front of them--decisions that are not easily answered by historical precedent because they are far more specific than any kind of historical evidence available. In short the actor must create a new character. This happens even when an actor has written dialogue as their starting point. Any actor who plays Shylock will speak the same lines but no two performances are going to communicate the same way. The actor will make all sorts of choices that transmit different ideas to the audience, hopefully compelling ones. Imagination is required to find a solution through the fundamental dilemma. This is as true with Lankedem as with other tricky parts made difficult for very different reasons, Albrecht for instance. The Bolshoi's production is a work of imaginations so limited that they could think of nowhere to go with the characters, no other dramatic/comedic opportunities, than to focus intently on communicating the bluntest of ethnic stereotypes. I just can't find my way to seeing historical accuracy as an excuse for what I saw last Sunday. But Lankedem didn't single handedly ruin the whole ballet for me. I thought the whole thing was pretty awful.

#146 Helene

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 09:38 PM

 There is no Muslim character in the ballet that's made up of anti-Muslim stereotypes. Seyd is actually quite a multi-dimensional character (at least, by ballet standards), capable of falling in love (with Medora) and being loved (by Gulnare), and, at least in the performance I watched, quite handsome and, contrary to what you are saying, not portrayed as silly at all (according to the program notes, it was Alexey Loparevich).  Isaac is made up entirely of centuries-old antisemitic stereotypes.  

I was one of the people who recognized the stereotype, starting with the program where the character's first name was "Isaac", but thought that Yanin's characterization was quite likable, and that he overcame the baggage. (The coins malfunctioned during the Sunday matinee and refused to roll out, leaving a few confused looks on stage.) As for there being no anti-Muslim stereotype, a man who owns a harem and is supposed to be the ruler of the land but who is outsmarted by every female in the ballet (except Zulmea) because of his desire/sexuality, isn't exactly a glowing portrait. If anything, this reminded me of all the ageism in ballet plots, where there's always an old guy trying to sell off a young woman to the highest bidder -- the next oldest guy -- the old guys get humiliated and lose the girl, and the young guy gets her, although, like in Don Q, the girl is the one who wears the pants and the brains.

If the Bolshoi did not feel they were doing anything wrong, why the change in the program notes and in the costume and mime of the "old maid" character?  Why did they feel it was important to identify the slave trader as a Jew in their domestic program notes and omit this identification in the Kennedy Center program notes?  Bizarre.

Because wording is tempered for an audience does not necessarily mean that the company thinks what they print in Russia is wrong; someone knew it wouldn't fly in the US, and do we even know the company did the translation and edits? Lots of things get toned down/left out in translation moving from culture to culture. It's smart business.

The problem as I see it is that what the Bolshoi's production plays for laughs are simply not funny. Hooked nose, stingy jew getting his comeuppence? Not funny. Muslim character getting kicked in the ass while praying towards Mecca? Not funny. These are mime and makeup jokes, as far as I can tell, invented by this production because the designers thought they would get a response from the audience. Bad taste but also a miscalculation I would think. Show me where the evidence is that these specific mime sequences have historical precedent? And even if they do, they are no longer functional. Those mime sequences are there to be funny. They're not. So why do them like that?

I happen to agree that they aren't funny, but I've never liked slapstick and really don't like much physical humor or grotesque physical stereotypes, which is one of the reasons I loved NYCB's Troy Schumacher's Puck last weekend -- he avoided all of the obvious physical humor that's crept into the role and which makes me roll my eyes. What I loved about Yanin, Loparevich, and Petukhov was that I liked their characters despite all of the nonsense surrounding them. (Of course, it didn't hurt that Conrad is such an idiot.)

#147 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 10:26 PM

 I do not know of any ballet where the racist elements were central to the story, hence they can always be judiciously removed.  

Raymonda...and then, I will quote myself from an older thread on this subject.

But it refers to a tradition, thankfully discarded, but part of theatrical heritage nonetheless. I would hate to see it lost, and perhaps one day society will be enlightened enough to take these things in their historical contexts.What would Petrouchka be if the third puppet were blanded down? Would this character be as effective as a counterpoint to Petrouchka if he were of European stock?I'm for keeping these "racist" references and keeping them in perspective as historical artifacts


The world should just stop viciously digging in and arguing on this subject, and just try to enjoy performances more often. I personally agree with Lewis Segal statement that ballet form is racially stereotyped by nature. Let's not forget that the most of today's well known choreographies were created in the XIX Century, and princesses, kings, queens and african slavery were still current at the time. Let's also not forget that Russia was still living in a pre-capitalist stage, and from there they abruptely jumped into communism, without having the time to develop a strong middle class. Hence, the characters on this stories talk about all of these extreme social differences. We shouldn't change anything, and just try to understand a little more the stories and the times when they were created. If Abderrakhan or Othello require a specific darker makeup and characterization because it's intrinsec to the role, let's work on it. If the Willis require some lightening makeup because it's intrinsec to their nature, let's give it to them too. Overall, let's respect tradition, history and accuracy, and soften up a little the subject of race in ballet. On top of everything, I would hate to see choreographies getting lost, mixed up, chopped off or forgotten becaused of lack of comprehensive knowledge and common sense. At the end, I can't forget the fact that i never had the opportunity to watch Raymonda back in Cuba. It's considered racist and offensive, and it has never been staged. Do we want that?



#148 Helene

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 11:05 PM

I think Ilya's point, if I understand it, is that the characters that he finds offensive were not even part of the original but were added, and he's asking why. If that's the case, then leaving them out isn't untrue to the original; it would be the opposite.

Ilya, please correct me if I've misunderstood.

#149 Mashinka

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 02:32 AM

Meanwhile Christian bandits are romantized in the ballet.



How do we know they are Christian? I've a feeling Byron didn't intend them as such,

That man of loneliness and mystery,
Scarce seen to smile, and seldom heard to sigh;
Whose name appals the fiercest of his crew,
And tints each swarthy cheek with sallower hue:

The word swarthy is the giveaway there, hinting that Conrad's crew are of Mediterranean appearance. Although the word Corsaire is French, it was the Barbary version that struck terror in the hearts of many in the region (and beyond, over a million of my Irish compatriots were kidnapped and sold into slavery by them).

This link is useful:

http://en.wikipedia....Barbary_pirates

Byron knew the Muslim world well and was fascinated by it, but he loved Greece better and died in the war of independence against the Turks. Corsaire is a nod to the time he spent in both cultures.

#150 Ilya

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 03:31 AM

I think Ilya's point, if I understand it, is that the characters that he finds offensive were not even part of the original but were added, and he's asking why. If that's the case, then leaving them out isn't untrue to the original; it would be the opposite.


This is not entirely my point. My points are (1) there is no "THE" original, (2) we do not really know for sure how exactly those characters were portrayed in the 19th century and (3) Bolshoi retained very significant 20th century add-ons such as making Conrad a dancing role and keeping some 20th century choreography for the two pdd's. Why not retain another 20th century tradition: toning down the offensive parts? And, if they insist on keeping the offensive parts in the ballet, why not at least tone down the domestic program notes?


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