dirac

The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman

180 posts in this topic

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.
here here! I would note that Kaufman's criticisms could just as easily be redirected at the Russians for their flexibility-pyrotechnics.

Is this Balanchine? Or just 21st Century artistic gymnastics trending throughout ballet?

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I find it ironic that decades after Balanchine's last hospital stay and death, after he no longer could withhold ballets or help if someone crossed him, and even more decades after the Ford Foundation grant, and when the Balanchine Trust sends stagers and gives out rights so that the most number of companies and universities can have the real thing, not knock-offs that miss the point, that Balanchine is attributed such posthumous influence of a relatively small subset of his works that remain in the rep.

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I finally read the article. Very frankly, these cynical pieces of criticism usually strike me, and for sure this one strikes me, as little more than the expressions of someone who knows a lot about dance, and who has been involved in dance for so long that they are now easily bored. Boredom does not always equate to the absense of creativity. It may simply be boredom within the obsever.....quite independent of the observed.

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I finally read the article. Very frankly, these cynical pieces of criticism usually strike me, and for sure this one strikes me, as little more than the expressions of someone who knows a lot about dance, and who has been involved in dance for so long that they are now easily bored. Boredom does not always equate to the absense of creativity. It may simply be boredom within the obsever.....quite independent of the observed.

A famous cynic philosopher said, "I am Diogenes the Dog. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy and bite scoundrels."

I think that sounds a bit like Ms Kaufman.

Cynicism has it place in society's that have lost contact with real values and is certainly the antidote for boredom, that is of course if Ms.Kaufman was bored of which I read no proof.

Some things need to be said again and again and again.

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Right.

I didn't mean to say I knew that boredom was the real issue -- after all I've not seen the productions she was writing about. Perhaps the productions were as terrible and derivative as she says (she certainly knows far more about dance than I).

I just read so much negative criticism of new productions that I have to wonder what it takes to have some of these highly informed folks actually enjoy what they see. Does everything have to be a new and accepted masterpiece to get excited? I'm wondering, that's all.

P.S. Cynicism can be fashionable; it can be chic and erudite; it can also be useful when a balloon truly needs popping; but it can also be corrosive, serving little but its own purposes.

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Let's look at the text. She opens with a claim that the Washington Ballet program is

a demonstration of the stultifying effects that the national Balanchine obsession has had on new choreography. ... [E]ach choreogapher -- Karole Armitage, Nicolo Fonte and Edwaard Liang, all Balanchine followers, uses the dancers in the same way, resses them the same way and anchors them in the same erotic-romantic dreamscape.
That's a very big claim. Look at the two parts:

-- she asserts the existence of a "national Balanchine obession"

-- she lumps three choreographers as "followers of Balanchine"

As to the first claim: IS there a "national Balanchine obsession? Compared to what? To Serge Lifar?

As to the second claim: ARE these three choreographers all "followers of Balanchine" in any real way way. "Follower" has a meaning in the English language. That meaning is NOT: "Hey, something makes me feel that these apparently unrelated things are actually connected."

Based on the few Liang works I've seen I know that one could make a point about Balanchine influence. However, if Liang in this work did not do a good job, as Kaufman clalims, perhaps it's not a question of following Balanchine too well, but too poorly.

To support her contention about Armitage, Kaufman asserts that the choreographer was "steeped in Balanchine's aesthetic while a young performer." Supporting evidence for what has happened since Armitage's youth: both used Brahms lieder at least once in their lives. :dunno: The fact that Balanchine used Brahms lieder (Liebesliederwaltzer) successfully and that Armitage (in the work under review) may have used it poorly, is neither here nor there.

By the time she gets to Fonte's work, the final one on the program, Kaurfman seems to have forgotten or gotten fed up with her theme. The Balanchine connection is dropped. Instead, we get references to the Kama Sutra and Torville and Dean -- not the first things that come to mind when you think "Balanchine."

A reader doesn't have to know much about ballet to suspect that Kaufman, in her introduction of Balanchine into this, is taking us on a voyage to the Land of Exaggeration located somewhere on the Planet Malarky.

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It does help to reread the entire thread, then click all the links, then think for awhile about all of it.

I honestly wonder if the original article was so much decrying the influence of Balanchine, or whether it is more a caution to Artistic Directors and Producers about selecting which works to do, and how to program them. It could also be a cri de coeur to choreographers: "For heaven's sake, get off your duffs and find your own voices!"

Let's face it, Balanchine is the ox in the parlor (an ancient variation of the 800-pound gorilla), and many/most of the American ballet choreographers today grew up with him as their primary ballet viewing. Ballet choreographers don't have to adhere to the Balanchine æsthetic, but neither do they have to abandon ballet technique entirely, which was Nijinsky's method. He subverted the third dimension in "Faune", and inverted ballet technique in "Rite of Spring". While it is true that "there is no new thing under the sun", I can sense the feeling of the music writers of the 19th century, complaining of the pervasiveness of stylistic Mendelssohnism.

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Mel, I understand your point and agree with it. I have gone through the thread since dirac revived it. There's a lot of wonderful material to think about in the tread.

My post was directed at this particular piece and not at anything else Ms. Kaufman may have written or implied prior to it.

My feeling is that criticism should be evaluated on the basis of what it actually says. Kaufman may have other issues and concerns, but it is not the job of her readers to look for them elsewhere or between the lines.

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Let's look at the text. She opens with a claim that the Washington Ballet program is
a demonstration of the stultifying effects that the national Balanchine obsession has had on new choreography. ... [E]ach choreogapher -- Karole Armitage, Nicolo Fonte and Edwaard Liang, all Balanchine followers, uses the dancers in the same way, resses them the same way and anchors them in the same erotic-romantic dreamscape.
That's a very big claim. Look at the two parts:

-- she asserts the existence of a "national Balanchine obession"

-- she lumps three choreographers as "followers of Balanchine"

As to the first claim: IS there a "national Balanchine obsession? Compared to what? To Serge Lifar?

As to the second claim: ARE these three choreographers all "followers of Balanchine" in any real way way. "Follower" has a meaning in the English language. That meaning is NOT: "Hey, something makes me feel that these apparently unrelated things are actually connected."

Based on the few Liang works I've seen I know that one could make a point about Balanchine influence. However, if Liang in this work did not do a good job, as Kaufman clalims, perhaps it's not a question of following Balanchine too well, but too poorly.

To support her contention about Armitage, Kaufman asserts that the choreographer was "steeped in Balanchine's aesthetic while a young performer." Supporting evidence for what has happened since Armitage's youth: both used Brahms lieder at least once in their lives. :dunno: The fact that Balanchine used Brahms lieder (Liebesliederwaltzer) successfully and that Armitage (in the work under review) may have used it poorly, is neither here nor there.

By the time she gets to Fonte's work, the final one on the program, Kaurfman seems to have forgotten or gotten fed up with her theme. The Balanchine connection is dropped. Instead, we get references to the Kama Sutra and Torville and Dean -- not the first things that come to mind when you think "Balanchine."

A reader doesn't have to know much about ballet to suspect that Kaufman, in her introduction of Balanchine into this, is taking us on a voyage to the Land of Exaggeration located somewhere on the Planet Malarky.

:)

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As to the second claim: ARE these three choreographers all "followers of Balanchine" in any real way way. "Follower" has a meaning in the English language. That meaning is NOT: "Hey, something makes me feel that these apparently unrelated things are actually connected."

I think she backs up her claim a little better than that, though. She cites high extensions and splayed legs with crotches open. She cites leotards and extreme flexibility and a concomitant exploration of the dancer's "capacities as abstract expressive objects." She cites "the same erotic-romantic dreamscape," which is a much weaker claim, because so many other choreographers, at least as far back as Petipa, have created the same thing. But apart from that, isn't she just saying these were bad leotard ballets?

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Article by John Rockwell.

I espoused similar views during my tenure as chief dance critic at the NYT (both of us pay due homage to Balanchine's genius; it's his latter-day influence and pedantry that are so troubling). Amusingly, I was also attacked as a sexist. Kaufman concludes her lead graf with: "Crotches -- cranked open, screaming at you to notice -- hit a new expressive high mark," and remarks later that a dancer "flashes her crotch at us a few more times." I tell you, girls can get away with this stuff while us boys get blasted. Life is SO unfair...!

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Rockwell notes Kaufman's "nice taste for polemics." He approves of the interest her crusade has captured in dance circles. But the connection to Balanchine -- the exaggerated hook that Kaufman employs to get the readers's attention and to distinguish herself from all those other reviewers who don't like the same ballets -- is still "unproven."

I don't really know Kaufman's aesthetic (and have quickly forgotten Rockwell's). As someone who probably agrees with them in what they DON'T like, I'd sincerely like to know where Kaufman, at least, thinks choreography SHOULD be going in our times.

Is there something I should read to get a sense of that?

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Article by John Rockwell.

I espoused similar views during my tenure as chief dance critic at the NYT (both of us pay due homage to Balanchine's genius; it's his latter-day influence and pedantry that are so troubling). Amusingly, I was also attacked as a sexist. Kaufman concludes her lead graf with: "Crotches -- cranked open, screaming at you to notice -- hit a new expressive high mark," and remarks later that a dancer "flashes her crotch at us a few more times." I tell you, girls can get away with this stuff while us boys get blasted. Life is SO unfair...!

I'm glad he picked these out, because on closer inspection, some of it is worse than other of it, viz., 'cranked open, screaming...'--that is simply repulsive. Even 'flash her crotch' doesn't come close to that blatant abuse of language.

I don't think I'd agree with her on what not to like. If she is going to subsume 3 works by choreographers to her own continued polemic, she isn't thinking of aesthetics anyway. She, not quite tacitly, admits that all three works have something going for them, and they clearly all took a lot of work to do. But the emphasis is on all three together--which does not mean anything, and is disrespectful less to Balanchine than the new choreographers. It's still important to me that she wants to 'make her point' about the Balanchine 'followers' more than she wants to talk about the individual works. And in her capacity as an Establishment critic, she really should not be writing something that is reducible to 'a whole that didn't equal the sum of its parts'. It was the separate parts that she was to distinguish and judge, not talk about 'trends in ballet', or not mainly that. Let her go back three different nights and watch each one separately if it's all too much for her.

I remember liking some other things I read not too long ago by Rockwell, but I can't remember it just now.

But this article does come across as though she has somehow been given license (or even the prize) for this continued thesis. And even if it has merit (and I'm sure it does), it is not proven by going to an evening in which the three pieces 'don't add up to anything but more Balanchinettes'. It's a sloppy piece.

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Peter Boal was steeped in Balanchine, but from the aesthetic and taste he's shown in his new works selections at PNB, I wonder if the few years he spent in Europe away from NYCB were more influential than the decades he spent at SAB and NYCB. Ulysses Dove, apart from "Red Angels"? Victor Quijada? Marco Goeke? Jiri Kylian? Jean-Christophe Maillot? Susan Stroman? Molissa Fenley? Sonia Dawkins? Mark Morris? Twyla Tharp? Those don't even take into account the modern choreographers from the Celebrate Seattle Festival, like Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown.

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Thanks for the link, innopac. I see Rockwell’s feeling sorry for himself. I can’t say the “Balanchine orthodoxy” hangs heavy in San Francisco, where his works were barely seen this season, as was mentioned much earlier in this thread. And surely Mark Morris has received something well beyond “cautious approval"??

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If she is going to subsume 3 works by choreographers to her own continued polemic, she isn't thinking of aesthetics anyway. She, not quite tacitly, admits that all three works have something going for them, and they clearly all took a lot of work to do. But the emphasis is on all three together--which does not mean anything, and is disrespectful less to Balanchine than the new choreographers. It's still important to me that she wants to 'make her point' about the Balanchine 'followers' more than she wants to talk about the individual works. And in her capacity as an Establishment critic, she really should not be writing something that is reducible to 'a whole that didn't equal the sum of its parts'. I remember liking some other things I read not too long ago by Rockwell, but I can't remember it just now.

I see nothing in the review in question to suggest anything polemical in Ms Kaufman’s writing. Where is the defining thesis serving as the subject of her polemic?

Ms Kaufman may repeat her argument when she sees works that to her, find echoes of Balanchine’s choreography, so what is the problem? This is hardly polemical.

I think this thread may encourage those not familiar with her reviews to become addicted to her writing looking for controversy which in itself is an attraction to many, as the above confirms.

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Alice Kaderlan writing in her Seattle P-I blog, said of PNB's current All-Balanchine program:

Taken together, the three works on this program could serve as a Balanchine primer. Even in the two earliest works, "Serenade" and ""The Four Temperaments," there are the signature movements that Balanchine pulled out of his astonishingly vivid imagination – flexed feet into pointed toes, ribbon-like interweavings, side-facing plies, hyperextended torsos, thrusting hips, backward jumps, arms at right angles and much more.

Balanchine had a rich and wide-ranging vocabulary, and the ballet world might be a better place had his successors not focused on one or two extremes, illuminating little.

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If she is going to subsume 3 works by choreographers to her own continued polemic, she isn't thinking of aesthetics anyway. She, not quite tacitly, admits that all three works have something going for them, and they clearly all took a lot of work to do. But the emphasis is on all three together--which does not mean anything, and is disrespectful less to Balanchine than the new choreographers. It's still important to me that she wants to 'make her point' about the Balanchine 'followers' more than she wants to talk about the individual works. And in her capacity as an Establishment critic, she really should not be writing something that is reducible to 'a whole that didn't equal the sum of its parts'. I remember liking some other things I read not too long ago by Rockwell, but I can't remember it just now.

I see nothing in the review in question to suggest anything polemical in Ms Kaufman’s writing. Where is the defining thesis serving as the subject of her polemic?

Ms Kaufman may repeat her argument when she sees works that to her, find echoes of Balanchine’s choreography, so what is the problem? This is hardly polemical.

I think this thread may encourage those not familiar with her reviews to become addicted to her writing looking for controversy which in itself is an attraction to many, as the above confirms.

It confirms no such thing. If you have something like that to say to me or about me, then pm me. This has happened twice now. And if you quote me, I would appreciate your leaving my paragraphs in the form I wrote them, as I did yours. If you leave out sentences in a paragraph quoted (which you did), then indicate it with '...'. Otherwise, I shall feel free to misquote you in the same fashion.

Rockwell himself uses the word 'polemic', so perhaps you should write him a letter, you can ask him 'what's the problem?' I already specified what annoyed me about this review, and that is all I have to address. My point is that the works came across sounding like they might be very good, and that the review shortchanged them. Now we need to know more about these particular works.

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If she is going to subsume 3 works by choreographers to her own continued polemic, she isn't thinking of aesthetics anyway. She, not quite tacitly, admits that all three works have something going for them, and they clearly all took a lot of work to do. But the emphasis is on all three together--which does not mean anything, and is disrespectful less to Balanchine than the new choreographers. It's still important to me that she wants to 'make her point' about the Balanchine 'followers' more than she wants to talk about the individual works. And in her capacity as an Establishment critic, she really should not be writing something that is reducible to 'a whole that didn't equal the sum of its parts'. I remember liking some other things I read not too long ago by Rockwell, but I can't remember it just now.

I see nothing in the review in question to suggest anything polemical in Ms Kaufman’s writing. Where is the defining thesis serving as the subject of her polemic?

Ms Kaufman may repeat her argument when she sees works that to her, find echoes of Balanchine’s choreography, so what is the problem? This is hardly polemical.

I think this thread may encourage those not familiar with her reviews to become addicted to her writing looking for controversy which in itself is an attraction to many, as the above confirms.

It confirms no such thing. If you have something like that to say to me or about me, then pm me. This has happened twice now. And if you quote me, I would appreciate your leaving my paragraphs in the form I wrote them, as I did yours. If you leave out sentences in a paragraph quoted (which you did), then indicate it with '...'. Otherwise, I shall feel free to misquote you in the same fashion.

Rockwell himself uses the word 'polemic', so perhaps you should write him a letter, you can ask him 'what's the problem?' I already specified what annoyed me about this review, and that is all I have to address. My point is that the works came across sounding like they might be very good, and that the review shortchanged them. Now we need to know more about these particular works.

When I said, " as the above confirms", it was referring I thought quite clearly to the thread (see above) not particularising an individual.

It was you that wrote, " If she is going to subsume 3 works by choreographers to her own continued polemic,..." and I therefore took up your point.

I have no animus towards you and I am somewhat shocked you should publicly express such a view.

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Moderator's hat on --

All right, please -- quit it! We don't discuss the discussion here. Back to the topic.

Alexandra

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As one who has gone way out on a limb on this last Kaufman article, I have to admit that we may be taking this one short review just a little too seriously. (I admit that I tend to get protective about Balanchine when his name is, as I perceive it, used in vain.)

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Perhaps Ms. Kaufman would be happy with New York Theatre Ballet's upcoming performances:

Program One: April 23 & 24 at 7:00 pm

* Soiree Musicale – Tudor

* Capriol Suite – Ashton

* Suite from Mazurkas – Limón

* Three Virgins and A Devil – de Mille

Program Two: May 14 & 15 at 7:00 pm

* Trio Con Brio, Soiree Musicale, Judgment of Paris- Tudor

* Suite from Mazurkas – Limón

* Capriol Suite - Ashton

I know I would.

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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.

Hear hear! I would note that Kaufman's criticisms could just as easily be redirected at the Russians for their flexibility-pyrotechnics.

Is this Balanchine? Or just 21st Century artistic gymnastics trending throughout ballet?

Interesting point, Jayne. I think extensions would have kept going up even without the example of Balanchine. The flexibility of the men today is quite something.

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For the record, I talked to Nicolo Fonte for several hours last year in an interview. In terms of his influences, if I recall correctly, he did mention Balanchine early on (he loved watching it and dancing it) but so would many choreographers. His main influence as a choreographer was his employer, Nacho Duato.

Wouldn't Armitage be as influenced by Cunningham as Balanchine? Mostly, she does her own thing. I think Liaang is less influenced by Balanchine in his work than Forsythe and Wheeldon. They're more immediately proximate. Interestingly at this point, I wonder if current choreographers can be said to be influenced by Balanchine except indirectly? It's now two (dance) generations passed - the last ballerina he hired is retiring this year.

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Interestingly at this point, I wonder if current choreographers can be said to be influenced by Balanchine except indirectly.

Indeed......right on the money.

Seems to me all this "over influence" talk about Mr B makes about as much sense as to say that all of western philosophy is merely a direct restatement of Plato, Aristole, and Socrates....."Why can't these 18th century philosophers break out of the mold that these 3 Greeks inflicted on us all"......phooey, say I. What is wonderful is that we have great new choregraphy at all. Enjoy it.

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