dirac

The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman

180 posts in this topic

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 Martha Graham Dance company calls the repertoire of their founders works “ballets”.

The reason “The Rite of Spring” is called a ballet is because that is all what such ‘serious’ dance works in that era of its creation were called. On the Stravinsky score it is described as, “Pictures from Pagan Russia in two parts “, In lists of his oeuvre it is described as a ballet.

Most dictionaries give the definition of the word ballet to mean, “a theatrical entertainment in which ballet dancing and music, often with scenery and costumes, combine to tell a story, establish an emotional atmosphere, etc.” or, “Dancing in which conventional poses and steps are combined with light flowing figures (as leaps and turns)” The latter two descriptions fit easily with most peoples

understanding of the word.

Although I think of “The Rite of Spring” as a dance work, I would because of common usage often describe it as a ballet even though it is a long way distant from “Swan Lake” which definitely is a ballet.

The executive summary -

"It's ballet if it uses the danse d'ecole (the school vocabulary of ballet) and dancers trained in that." - No argument.

"Pointe work doesn't automatically make it ballet." - Geting difficult here.

"Absence of turnout makes it not ballet." - What about a story ballet made up of character dances performed by dancers trained in the danse d'ecole?

"Good" doesn't make it ballet - nor does "bad" disqualify it." - No Argument

Share this post


Link to post

I'd like to step in and echo Leigh's suggestion about looking up some of the old threads, such as this one. You'll find many answers to your questions and much food for thought.

Share this post


Link to post

I just read Sarah Kaufman's article and why I haven't read the nine pages of comments - and perhaps what I'm about to say have already been mentioned - but it appears that Ms. Kaufman is somehow placing the blame on the current state of ballets on Balanchine's shoulders as if it's all his fault when in truth he has nothing to do with it at all. If he possess a huge influence in which other dance makers follows his style of choreography as some type of blueprint that isn't his fault...it's those choreographers who doesn't appear to possess a unique, individual voice they can call their own. Yes Balanchine has a huge shadow and yes perhaps that shadow is difficult to overcome...but that's when the new generations of choreographers need to step up to the plate and try and discover their own voice, own their style and their own matter of creating dances that goes beyond Balanchine and his style of ballets. If they can't discover their own unique language I don't see why we need to tear down Balanchine and somehow place the blame on his shoulders. Maybe I'm over simplifying, I don't know??

But it wouldn't be the first time someone had to fight against an accepted style of ballet that appears to be norm and was able to overcome that huge influence and create a style that is uniquely their own and become wildly popular with the ballet audience.

I mean isn't that exactly what Fokine had to do in regard to Petipa? Petipa influence was mammoth...perhaps even greater then the current influence Balanchine possess today, but somehow Fokine made it a mission to fight against that influence and create a unique vision for ballet and was very successful.

We just need another Fokine-type choreographer(s) who have the talent, gut and confidence to strike out on their own creating works that speaks of their own taste, style that goes beyond Balanchine. IMO.

Share this post


Link to post

I expressed very similar thoughts elsewhere in this thread.

Share this post


Link to post

Wow, some of those comments don't even make sense, particularly Iain Webb's first paragraph, and I think that goes a long way toward explaining the quality of ballet in the US today. Peter Anastos' statement that "Tudor ballets have little value" (which he does not back up) strikes me as a bizarre, uneducated, and closed-minded point of view.

The most intelligent response, IMO, came from Virginia Johnson.

Share this post


Link to post
The most intelligent response, IMO, came from Virginia Johnson.

I agree.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, miliosr, for the Link. (The print copy hasn't arrived here yet.)

I enjoyed Karole Armitage's response, especially ...

[W]e shouldn’t blame Balanchine for the lack of vision on others’ parts.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks for the Dance Magazine link. Very thought-provoking topic. That said, I really stumbled over the AD of Ballet Idaho saying that Tudor has little value as well. :huh: Surely the answer can't be to dismiss everything that isn't abstract? If there really are too many people in positions of power who dismiss every ballet that isn't Petipa, High Modernism or "done last week" then I can see how that might be a serious problem. The other responses seemed very thoughtful and measured to me, though.

Back to the original Kaufman article...I agree with her analysis of the problems ballet is currently facing and that endlessly copying Balanchine can't be the solution. I'm not sure that this is really what most choreographers are still doing, though. I have a European perspective, so that does probably make a huge difference, but I don't see this obsession or cult around his work. Things might be different in the USA, what with so many of his former dancers at the head of ballet companies. And even if there is, that isn't Balanchine's fault. He was a genius who made some of the greatest ballet choreographies of the 20th century, of course these works should be performed and kept in the repertory.

The problem might not be so much that there's too much Balanchine being performed and that his influence stifles everything else, but that the other great masters are being neglected. NYCB performs his work extensively, while most of the other great choreographers of the 20th century have no reliable institution to preserve their work. ABT does perhaps one or two Tudor ballets per season. The Ashton works go through repeated cycles of being pushed out of the RB repertory and then crawling their way back in. And I would argue that even MacMillan gets questionable treatment, since they insist on doing his (in my opinion) inferior evening length ballets while neglecting his shorter works. Lavrovsky has been mostly forgotten, Yakobsen is practically unknown in the West. You could say that Grigorovich gets his due at the Bolshoi, but then, he's still alive and can influence things there. That this erosion is happening is a tragedy, but getting miffed that the Balanchine repertory is getting better treatment strikes me as slightly counter-productive.

As for Balanchine's spell on recent work...I'm not sure if that's true if you look at the more prominent ones. Haven't seen enough of Wheeldon to make a judgement, but Ratmansky seems to be working in a different aesthetic (I think...) and I'm pretty sure that Eifman's inspiration lies elsewhere as well. :)

Share this post


Link to post

It has been a while since I read Kaufman's article, but I don't recall her blaming Balanchine for anything. My impression was that she finds US ballet today dominated perhaps not necessarily by one aesthetic but by choreography and dancers who are more concerned with being eye-catching and superficially entertaining than being expressive and connecting with the audience. While that is not what Balanchine is about, it can be easy to perform his ballets in that manner, and then when a choreographer imitates him but doesn't have his talent/inventiveness when it comes to musicality, creating movement, &c, we get rather watered-down work that only pleases in the short term (and frequently not even that).

Share this post


Link to post

No, the "blaming" was me paraphrasing the article as I understood it. And I do think that her argument is that the Balanchine influence is so overwhelming (in the USA?) that other kinds of styles get pushed to the side. Perhaps they get pushed aside because their great representatives are being neglegected (Ashton, Tudor etc.) and not because Balanchine is ubiquitous and supposedly easy to imitate (which, as you said, isn't really true, or only true on a very superficial level...)?

Share this post


Link to post

I take this article as criticizing "Balanchine" -- the institution, the legacy, the "effect on ballet today" -- more than the man and his creations themselves. Her opening line is intended to provoke: "We are cursed by Balanchine ..." In this sense, there's a similarity to what she does in her article on "Too Many Nutcrackers."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...9112000316.html

Share this post


Link to post
No, the "blaming" was me paraphrasing the article as I understood it. And I do think that her argument is that the Balanchine influence is so overwhelming (in the USA?) that other kinds of styles get pushed to the side. Perhaps they get pushed aside because their great representatives are being neglegected (Ashton, Tudor etc.) and not because Balanchine is ubiquitous and supposedly easy to imitate (which, as you said, isn't really true, or only true on a very superficial level...)?

Thank you for posting, kathaP, and welcome to the board. We had quite a discussion on Kaufman's article when it first came out, as sifting through this thread will indicate. :dunno:

Regarding the Dance Magazine piece, I thought Weiss' defense of Balanchine a very good one.

Share this post


Link to post

A very odd review. She seems to find "Balanchine influence" on each of the three choreographers whose work in this program she does not like. I actually read the piece twice to find convincing evidence for this, but could not find it. Alistair Macaulay would do so, in great detail, but possibly he has fewer space limits than Ms. Kaufman does.

Kaufman's Balanchine business comes across (to me at least) as a kind of writers gimmick. It provides her with a handle to hold the piece together, but there's not much substance there.

Share this post


Link to post
Kaufman's at it again.

I have only been reading Ms Kaufman reviews regularly for the last few years and I am unlikely to ever see most of the works she discusses.

However, can someone enlighten me as to what choreographic genre Ms Kaufman appreciates most?

Share this post


Link to post
Kaufman's Balanchine business comes across (to me at least) as a kind of writers gimmick. It provides her with a handle to hold the piece together, but there's not much substance there.

I agree, bart. It's ultimately uninteresting, and does little to advance the conversation.

Share this post


Link to post
Kaufman's Balanchine business comes across (to me at least) as a kind of writers gimmick. It provides her with a handle to hold the piece together, but there's not much substance there.

I agree, bart. It's ultimately uninteresting, and does little to advance the conversation.

Agree the logic is not convincing. She's blaming Balanchine for a couple of what sound like uninteresting new pieces.

Share this post


Link to post

Lamenting the sameness of ballet choreography is a valid point, it's the way she does it that irks me.

It's like Kaufman is reducing Balanchine's choreography to a serious of visual "soundbites". Of course Balanchine used some of the visuals she mentions such as leotard clad dancers, high extensions and so on. But they were only a small part of the whole picture and used as a means of advancing his art. If today's new dance makers recycle Mr. B's choreography without adding any thing new or original to it how is this the Master's fault? Actually it makes Balanchine's accomplishments all the more remarkable. He also "recycled" choreography from the previous generation. Look at his many Petipa like steps in many of his more classical ballets. The fact that he still admired and used his choreographic influences while advancing his own style and dance vocabulary is amazing and wonderful.

Lighten up Kaufman! :)

Share this post


Link to post
If today's new dance makers recycle Mr. B's choreography without adding any thing new or original to it how is this the Master's fault?

She never says it's Balanchine's fault, I have to give her credit for that, and under the circumstances, it's not realistic to expect her to emphasize it, maybe not more than once. It's a 'pull all the stops out' kind of writing, probably due to euphoria and 'new freedom' from the Pulitzer she just got. I liked the vulgarity of it as a 'good read' while not taking it literally, because I thought I could read between the lines of it and imagine that these pieces might be very good. After all, she doesn't even know from friggin' Sacher Torte: It's bittersweet, and not more bitter than sweet, I am currently en proces de preparing one, and one must make both an Apricot and a Chocolate Glaze. It's not that she won't 'lighten up' so much as she sounds a little 'lit', herself doing a kind of 'in your face' of the sort she claims to be critiquing. It could be a gimmick, as bart says, a 'handle', but what I was surprised at is that she was condemning things while yet describing at least some of it in a way that you could tell despite her thrust, that at least major points and fragments in some or all of the pieces must surely be quite remarkable. It puts me in mind of old Claudia Cassidy reviews.

What's least convincing is that she says that all 3 pieces were impressive visually and had their 'arresting moments'. So that her only real focus is that 'taken together they come across as bland'. Well, that's something an audience member who is not a professional critic should be more concerned with, s/he is more justified in criticizing programs--as some of us didn't care for PNB's programming at the Joyce. She ought to be able to look at the 3 new works without this consideration for 'how they don't work as an evening's programming' more, because there's no reason to think they nearly always would be programmed that way. It doesn't matter if she wasn't 'properly entertained', and that aspect of seeing the three works together is entirely spurious and self-indulgent. I can't say I respect that at all, although she does, to repeat, say that 'balanchine left behind a collection of masterpieces'.

I don't think she deserved the prize, though, after reading this. It's amusing, but a bit gross.

Share this post


Link to post
I don't think she deserved the prize, though, after reading this. It's amusing, but a bit gross.

I agree, but also b/c of her (also gross) "Assessing the future of modern dance" article, which I won't discuss here in the ballet section.

Share this post


Link to post
If today's new dance makers recycle Mr. B's choreography without adding any thing new or original to it how is this the Master's fault?

She never says it's Balanchine's fault

No, she never does. She just says that people are imitating him to the exclusion of other choreographers, and are doing so without enough imagination.

Share this post


Link to post
Kaufman's Balanchine business comes across (to me at least) as a kind of writers gimmick. It provides her with a handle to hold the piece together, but there's not much substance there.

I agree, bart. It's ultimately uninteresting, and does little to advance the conversation.

Agree the logic is not convincing. She's blaming Balanchine for a couple of what sound like uninteresting new pieces.

That was my impression, as well. Post readers will be in for a long haul if Mr. B is going to be held responsible for every mixed bill of abstract dances Kaufman's not happy about.

(The nitty gritty of her position, for and against, was discussed pretty thoroughly earlier in this thread.)

Share this post


Link to post

Reading all this (plus the review of Washington Ballet's recent triple bill) makes me wonder if, in the event someone actually does choreograph a good/great leotard ballet with high extensions and no scenery, Kaufman would be able/willing to recognize it.

Share this post


Link to post