dirac

The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman

180 posts in this topic

So, let's look at the numbers for the San Francisco Ballet . . .

2008-09 and 2009/10 comprised/will comprise 40 works (some are repeats.) Counting up works by the artistic director/ex-Balanchine dancer (Tomasson), the in-house choreographer (Possokhov), the five greats of the 20th century (Ashton, Balanchine, Fokine, Robbins, Tudor), the suggested "spine" of the San Francisco Ballet (Morris, Forsythe) and the hoped-for-saviors in the 21st century (Ratmansky, Wheeldon), I get this breakout:

8 Tomasson (The Nutcracker and Swan Lake repeat)

6 Balanchine (Stravinsky Violin Concerto repeats)

4 Possokhov (There may be a repeat in there)

4 Robbins (The Concert repeats)

3 Morris

3 Wheeldon

2 Forsythe (in the middle, somewhat elevated repeats)

2 Ratmansky (Russian Seasons repeats)

1 Fokine (timed to the Ballet Russes centenary)

1 Tudor (timed to the Tudor centenary)

0 Ashton

(Six other choreographers had one work apiece. Balanchine and Morris were the only two choreogaphers to have an entire mixed rep bill devoted to their works.)

By my count, Balanchine and Balanchine-derived (Tomasson) account for over one-third of the repertory, give or take. (I'm willing to entertain arguments about Tomasson's Swan Lake and The Nutcracker being Balanchine-derived.) The Forsythe/Morris duo account for one-eighth of the repertory over two seasons. Interestingly, when you add up the works based on some connection to City Ballet (Tomasson, Balanchine, Robbins, Wheeldon and Ratmansky), you get near 60%.

I will convince no one with this, I'm sure. At the end of the day, the Jim Williams character (played by Kevin Spacey) in the film version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil may have been right when he said, "Truth, like art, is in the eye of the beholder." :wub:

P.S. Actually, looking at the above list again, a more interesting question arises: Why are so few women represented as choreographers in ballet repertories?

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Is there such a thing as a Balanchine "cult"? Well, just my opinion, but if Ballet Review can devote space to publishing Balanchine's favorite recipes, then I think there's a cult.

Those articles were written by Karin von Aroldingen, one of Balanchine’s most favored dancers, and they are not only about food but about Balanchine in private. Von Aroldingen was his closest friend in his last decade and what she has to say about him is important for the record. Balanchine took cooking seriously, and I think if he had spent an equal amount of time on, say, painting or amateur music making, the subject would be of sufficient interest for a BR article.

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(And the recipe for borscht is delectable.)

Those articles were very moving accounts of Balanchine. There were so many parallels between his cooking style and his approach to ballet, in particular, to make the most of what you have in front of you instead of wishing for what you didn't have.

I think it's pushing it to ascribe Ratmansky and Possokhov to NYCB. If you go that far, you'd have to do the same with Ashton and Tudor, both of whom made works for NYCB.

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.....when you add up the works based on some connection to City Ballet (Tomasson, Balanchine, Robbins, Wheeldon and Ratmansky), you get near 60%

I'm sorry. Statistical generalizations like this are highly misleading in any field of study. Correlations are not cause and effect.

For example, what if I were to ask what percent of the SFB programming had "some connection" to the United States? If one were to include those choreographers who lived here briefly, or perhaps staged a work here, I suspect the percentage would be very high indeed, perhaps even 100%. So what conclusions could you draw? How about.........it is impossible today to be a major choreographer without being dominated by American culture. I don't think so.

miliosr, I really appreciate seeing the raw numbers for SFB. Gives me some perspective. OTOH, I, for one, can see only one conclusion to be drawn from this data that is relevant to this discussion: Balanchine ballets make up 18% (6/34) of SFB's programming (and even that is probably misleading since this statistical analysis would artificially give more weight to choreographers who do shorter ballets).

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SandyMcKean -- But if you accept my argument that City Ballet represents a certain aesthetic (which is overrepresented in the United States), then the numbers do matter.

We could argue endlessly about who fits into the City Ballet aesthetic and who doesn't but my guess is we'll just get diminishing returns. Let's just agree to disagree, shall we? :wub:

Helene -- Um, could you point to where I associated Possokhov with City Ballet? I can take criticism but I would appreciate it if it is for something I actually wrote.

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The only person who matters in these statistics is Balanchine himself. The rest are a different argument - and I'd argue each separately - you may lump Robbins under "Balanchine followers"; I don't, nor particularly Tomasson. Definitely not Ratmansky, and Wheeldon owes as much to Martins and Macmillan as Balanchine.

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That's fine, Leigh. I don't mind if you think that I'm overstating Balanchine's importance as a repertory staple or that I'm seeing a pronounced City Ballet influence at San Francisco Ballet where none exists or that I may be conflating two different phenomena (the overrepresentation of Balanchine in US repertories and the increasing homogenization of ballet repertories at the international level) in my mind. Ballet Talk would be a boring place if we all agreed about everything. I guess I was just trying to show that the phenomena of which I wrote could be occurring. Even if the numbers are inconclusive regarding Balanchine at San Francisco Ballet, I don't think the numbers suggest a pronounced Forsythe/Morris influence at that company or that Balanchine is in danger of disappearing anytime soon. (The numbers actually make me a lot more worried about Ashton, Fokine and Tudor who appear to be entering Blanche "kindness of strangers" DuBois territory.)

As for Ballet Review and the business of the recipes, I would be a lot more receptive to the idea that there's no such thing as a Balanchine cult if I picked up an issue of Ballet Review and found, say, Lynn Seymour talking about Ashton's favorite way to cook chicken or, say, the late Sallie Wilson discussing Tudor's thoughts about lasagna. (YES, I'm being facetious -- but only to make a point.) I've been subscribing to Ballet Review for years and I don't recall any other choreographer getting that kind of treatment.

When Balanchine died, he left certain dances to people in his life as a token of his affection. And now we have a world-striding colossus called the Balanchine Trust. When Balanchine died, his take on classical ballet technique remained uncodified (by his choice.) And now we have Suki Schorer's book which does just that (or attempts to.) When Balanchine died, he consigned a number of his ballets to the dustbin of history. And now we have an initiative to preserve every last scrap. When Balanchine died, you could see his ballets around but it wasn't easy outside of going regularly to the New York City Ballet. And now you can literally see them in Siberia. All of which makes me ask if the entire Balanchine-life-after-death project is becoming too much.

I had better quit while I'm behind. Perky -- did you find the fuel for your flamethrower yet? There may be a few people who want to borrow it! :innocent:

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I would be a lot more receptive to the idea that there's no such thing as a Balanchine cult if I picked up an issue of Ballet Review and found, say, Lynn Seymour talking about Ashton's favorite way to cook chicken or, say, the late Sallie Wilson discussing Tudor's thoughts about lasagna.

Neither Ashton nor Tudor was known for cooking or their use of cooking metaphors in relation to their art. I’m sure if Tudor had ever expressed strong feelings about Italian cuisine they would have made it into BR one way or another. And if a ballerina wants to write an article(s) about the time she spent cooking with a great choreographer and she has good stories to tell, I imagine that piece would be welcomed by BR, no matter who it happened to be.

When Balanchine died, he left certain dances to people in his life as a token of his affection. And now we have a world-striding colossus called the Balanchine Trust.

It’s a conspiracy. Personally, I think the Illuminati are behind it. :innocent:

Balanchine probably left his ballets to individuals not only as a token of affection but because he didn’t trust any institution, even his own, to look after them. Those individuals formed the Balanchine Trust to streamline matters and to ensure the ballets were presented properly.

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dirac -- I was being facetious about the food! I even wrote that I was being facetious!! (I still say, though, that no other choreographer would get that kind of reverent treatment.)

As for the Balanchine Trust, all I suggested is that it, in conjunction with everything else, may be too much.

Good night!

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Helene -- Um, could you point to where I associated Possokhov with City Ballet? I can take criticism but I would appreciate it if it is for something I actually wrote.

I apologize -- I meant to cite Wheeldon, whose primary influence was Macmillan, and, who luckily has a voice of his own and isn't a shadow Macmillan, which would more gruesome than a shadow Balanchine.

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dirac -- I was being facetious about the food! I even wrote that I was being facetious!! (I still say, though, that no other choreographer would get that kind of reverent treatment.)

I hereby put the Cooking with Balanchine articles to rest. Although now I'm curious to find out how Ashton liked his chicken. :innocent:

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Well, to judge by "La Fille Mal Gardée", Ashton liked his chicken dancing onstage. :innocent:

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I saw Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" (on DVD) for the first time today, and when Kaufman writes "And think outside the box: Turn to a logical but perplexingly untapped source like Matthew Bourne -- the hugely successful British choreographer who turned "Edward Scissorhands" and "Swan Lake" into nonspeaking, all-movement musical-theater sensations." I had to cringe, not because Bourne isn't able to create extremely moving narrative and gesture -- I think of the Swan nuzzling the Prince, the first act of physical affection that Prince has seen, so primal -- and not because the genre isn't ballet, but because the vocabulary is so limited and the movement so dull. (The fast forward button was my best friend.) I'd seen the Bourne "Nutcracker" at Sadlers Wells a few years ago, and the narrative first act was far more powerful in my eyes than the second.

Bourne isn't the only one whose narrative and theatrical ability out paces his choreography: I'd say the same of Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette", which PNB will revive this coming Fall in the season opener.

The Bolshoi tried a similar thinking out of the box by hiring a theater man and a dance choreographer for it's "Romeo and Juliet", which was amusing, but quite the dud overall.

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Bourne isn't the only one whose narrative and theatrical ability out paces his choreography: I'd say the same of Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette", which PNB will revive this coming Fall in the season opener.

I can't dispute Helene's comment on Maillot's R&J; however, I found this ballet one of the most moving artisitic experiences I've ever had (at least as PNB did it).

We may be looking at a definitional problem here. What exactly is ballet? What is the essence of ballet? I surely don't know the answers to such questions, but I do believe ballet is more than the choreography alone (dance vocabulary), and more than any other single aspect of ballet. Likely I'd put more emphasis on the emotional impact of a ballet on the audience than Helene would. It is in this area that Maillot's R&J shines I think. I've never been so driven to see multiple performances of a ballet; nor have I ever dragged multiple friends to a ballet like I did for Maillot's R&J. The production was a huge box office success, and I heard one cultured elderly gentleman claim after a performance that altho he had seen dozens of R&J's in his time (the play etc), no performance affected him so deeply as this one. I tended to agree.

If I were to venture to say what I do think ballet is all about, I'd have to say something banal along the lines of: the magic that happens when the creator of the work and the performers of the work reach something inside of audience members such that an audience member experiences something meaningful to them, something personal, something universal. This simplistic view naturally applies to all the arts.....and that's as it should be in my mind. So perhaps Maillot's R&J does have a limited dance vocabulary, but it has so much else that is magnificent that most in the audience come away having experienced that magical union of work, performer, audience.

So what distingishes ballet from a play, or a musical, or a poetry reading under my crude definition? Hard to say I guess. However, ballet is like pornography for me: I know it when I see it. :P

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I hate to be like this, but you know what you like, and that makes it good dance, but that doesn't make it ballet.

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Long discussion (obviously) and one that was really discussed at length in the first years of Ballet Talk (there may be some great threads about it if you search the archives)

The executive summary -

It's ballet if it uses the danse d'ecole (the school vocabulary of ballet) and dancers trained in that.

Pointe work doesn't automatically make it ballet.

Absence of turnout makes it not ballet.

"Good" doesn't make it ballet - nor does "bad" disqualify it.

And just wait until you read the discussions on "classical!"

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Leigh, I appreciate the "executive summary" (and an excellent one at that I suspect). Beyond that I will definitiely do some BT searchs for old threads on this subject.

While I'm doing that, I would like to ask you to do a couple of other things to round out his sub-thread:

1. Given your definition is Malliot's R&J ballet or not?

2. If one of the existential fundamentals of ballet is use of "danse d'ecole (the school vocabulary of ballet)", then how could a choreographer ever be considered to use a limited ballet vocabulary (as Helene suggests above) since I presume that the "danse d'ecole" vocabulary is by definition fixed. I assume for example that I could get a relatively small book that would list and graphically demonstrate the entire "danse d'ecole" vocabulary. Would limited be that, say, if only 50% of the steps dancers take in a dance are from the "danse d'ecole" vocabulary? Or alternatively perhaps that only 30% of the "danse d'ecole" vocabulary is used as steps in the entire ballet even tho all the steps are from that vocabulary?

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Because I haven't seen the Maillot I'm loath to answer.

The thing I'd like to reiterate is that quality doesn't factor into this. There's great modern and contemporary dance and crap ballet. Nor does exclusivity to "classical" - plenty of other things are ballet.

This is a topic Alexandra does better than I but the discussion a long while back about touched a lot upon a choreographer's "home base." Nijinska "spoke" ballet. It's how she trained, it's what she knew and her dancers were classically trained. Her Les Noces is a turned in work of genius and modernism - and it's ballet.

In the same way, I'd argue that Mark Morris isn't a ballet choreographer, though he's made works on ballet companies that can be danced as ballets. It's not his home base. (This is a very gray area.)

Also, danse d'ecole isn't just a laundry list of steps. It involves placement, carriage, alignment, port de bras, "center of gravity" . . . a modern dancer and a ballet dancer hold themselves differently and approach movement differently. The same with choreographers trained in both disciplines.

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then how could a choreographer ever be considered to use a limited ballet vocabulary (as Helene suggests above) since I presume that the "danse d'ecole" vocabulary is by definition fixed.

To be clear on this, I think that Bourne has a very limited dance vocabulary, not ballet vocabulary. I think Maillot's movement vocabulary is greater and more varied than Bourne's (not a high bar in this aspect, in my opinion), and his sense of structure and his ability to move groups around and create striking stage pictures is very impressive. I happen to like a wider range of choreography, although I appreciate "Romeo et Juliette" as a close-to-great theatrical experience that I'd find great without the Friar In Asylum angle, since I'm pretty much allergic to writhing, which, if anything, made me distant from the drama.

To Leigh's executive summary, I'd add:

-Just because it's performed by a ballet company doesn't make it ballet.

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Leigh and Helene, great stuff.......thanks for the insight.

Leigh, I have saved your definition including amplifications (and with Helene's addition). I also get your point very clearly about "quality" -- my instincts feel this loud and clear. This interchange has inspired me to "mine" BT for old threads on this so basic of topics ("What is ballet?"). My education continues.

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It's ballet if it uses the danse d'ecole (the school vocabulary of ballet).........

.

.

Absence of turnout makes it not ballet.

Leigh, I've started doing my homework, but I've run into a snag already. I recently saw the Ballet Russes film being screened here in Seattle as discussed in the BT thread "Mariinsky's Firebird, Rite of Spring, Les Noces, screenings at cinemas".

I am having trouble reconciling your "executive summary" with Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring". My initial reaction is to call this piece "a ballet", and I feel that it is. But doesn't it pretty strongly violate the 2 principles quoted above?

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I don't think Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" is a ballet. It was a work created by a man known as the greatest male classical ballet dancer of his time, created for and performed by a ballet company, but I don't see how it is a ballet.

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OK....good. As I am attempting to answer this question of "What is ballet?" for myself, my current thinking is that Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" can't be a ballet strictly speaking. That makes me a little uncomfortable, but it does seem logical.

Interesting that nearly all I read about Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" says things like "revolutionary ballet", or "sensation in the world of ballet", or some such language. I suspect if I asked many knowledgable people to name a ballet of the early 20th century that caused a near revolt due to its break with tradition, most would mention Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" as they just assume that it qualifies as a ballet.

These distinctions can be carried too far of course. I can live some ambiguity.......so for me I accept the "executive summary" as posed in this thread (and as I'm educating myself since being inspired by this thread), but still be comfortable with me and others calling Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" a ballet. :wink:

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OK....good. As I am attempting to answer this question of "What is ballet?" for myself, my current thinking is that Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" can't be a ballet strictly speaking. That makes me a little uncomfortable, but it does seem logical.

Interesting that nearly all I read about Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" says things like "revolutionary ballet", or "sensation in the world of ballet", or some such language. I suspect if I asked many knowledgable people to name a ballet of the early 20th century that caused a near revolt due to its break with tradition, most would mention Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" as they just assume that it qualifies as a ballet.

These distinctions can be carried too far of course. I can live some ambiguity.......so for me I accept the "executive summary" as posed in this thread (and as I'm educating myself since being inspired by this thread), but still be comfortable with me and others calling Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" a ballet. :wink:

This is very good IMO. I can live with some ambiguity too, and I wouldn't have been specialized myself to think about Nijiinsky's Rite of Spring as being other than a ballet. And although Copland subtitiled his score for 'Appalachian Spring' 'ballet for Martha', it doesn't follow that the piece is a ballet, but I don't care if it was called one. There's also a video collection of 'Five Dances by Martha Graham' made about 1991, with 'Diversion of Angels', 'Heroidiade', 'Il Penitente', etc., and the narrator speaks of the more than -'140 ballets Martha created'. Well, none of them are ballets literally, of course, so I also like to know the refined definitions, but am not bothered if these are not insisted upon by masses of general public viewers.

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