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The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman


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#166 leonid17

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 09:48 AM

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.

#167 Helene

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 09:55 AM

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.

#168 papeetepatrick

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 11:22 AM

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.

#169 leonid17

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 11:53 AM

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.

#170 Alexandra

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 12:24 PM

Moderator's hat on --

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

Alexandra

#171 bart

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 01:08 PM

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.)

#172 Helene

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Posted 21 April 2010 - 07:13 AM

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.

#173 dirac

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Posted 21 April 2010 - 09:05 AM

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.

#174 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 21 April 2010 - 09:09 AM

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.

#175 SandyMcKean

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Posted 21 April 2010 - 09:59 AM

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.

#176 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 21 April 2010 - 11:07 AM

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.


There are days when I think NYCB is really a Robbins company now -- the dancers often look better and happier in his ballets -- and there's a certain strain of NYCB alumni choreography that seems to owe as much to him as Balanchine. Leotards, sharp edges, and the absence of narrative are neither necessary nor sufficient to make a Balanchine ballet, but people sometimes carry on as if they were. A lot of choreography that's alleged to be influenced by Balanchine strikes me as being only superficially like the Agon pas de deux -- i.e., alike in the leotards, in pushing the body to extremes, in complicated partnering -- but so different in rhetoric and structure as to be like Balanchine in the way that carob is like chocolate.

"Square Dance" and "Episodes" aside*, Balanchine rarely used the kind of mix-and-match score that Robbins did in all those piano ballets and even in "Glass Pieces." The whole suite of dances to a bunch of short stuff genre seems Robbinsonian to me, not Balanchinean, as does the refusal of hierarchy. In a Balanchine ballet we see each dancer and what they do in relation to a central couple (or, more likely, in relation to the central ballerina), but starting with Robbins (and maybe Kylian, too?) gets harder and harder to find the queen bee. Everybody's nobody in "Fool's Paradise" in a way that they aren't in "Agon." Liang's new work "Ballo Per Sei" is a lot more like "2 & 3 Part Inventions" than it is like "Square Dance."


* I know everyone will come up with examples that I've somehow missed ... Midsummer, for instance.

* Edited to add DUH! "Vienna Waltzes" and "Union Jack" - but maybe not "Western Symphony" and "Start & Stripes" ...

#177 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 21 April 2010 - 11:47 AM

Even with the exceptions and examples, I think there's a point here.

To me, what makes a ballet influenced by Balanchine goes deeper than speed, footwork and leotards.

Here are some other ideas of what makes something Balanchinean to throw around (or disagree with)

Balanchine was symphonic in his approach to music.
Balanchine used form as metaphor.
Balanchine was highly influenced by German expressionism as well as the danse d'ecole.
Balanchine tended to choreograph primarily for the lower body.
Balanchine's partnering tends to be very formal with few overhead lifts. (He's pre-soviet. Tschaikovsky pas de deux was done seemingly in response to a visit by the Bolshoi.)

There are of course more.

Who's been influenced by these factors?

#178 bart

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Posted 25 April 2010 - 07:54 AM

Kaufman's thesis resurfaces in Claudia Lo Rocca's article on new choreography for the NYCB spring season, from the NY Times.

http://www.nytimes.c....html?ref=dance

Even as Mr. Martins cringed at the idea that American ballet is overly enthralled with Balanchine and his aesthetic (as the Washington Post critic Sarah Kaufman has suggested), he said he would like to believe that City Ballet remains at the forefront of change, as it did when Balanchine exploded ideas of what ballet could say and do. A potent symbol of experimentation, Balanchine is now also, as Mr. Wheeldon put it, “an unattainable benchmark.”

The Balanchine style can sometimes seem the “only way for ballet to develop,” Mr. Ratmansky added. “And I’m sure it’s not the only way.”

This seems like a balanced view of the nature of Balanchine's influence. More good contemporary work, please! By all means, let's learn new ways of expressing beauty and visual/emotional depth in dance. If a powerful new style develops, even better ... so long as it is expressed in good work. But don't blame Balanchine when things go wrong with an particular piece of new choreography.

Sometimes it seems to me that U.S. ballet should worry less about the "fell influence of Balanchine" and more about the unambitious recycling of the same 3 or 4 classical story ballets that just about every every sizable company engages in. Opera and opera audiences are more respectful of and interested in a wide range of opera repertoire, as opposed to ballet companies and ballet audiences, who seem stuck in a pattern of endless repetitions of Swan Lake, Giselle, and a few others, along with a few worthy but over-familiar pas de deux, while ignoring much of ballet's rich and (in the U.S.) languishing classical, romantic and 20th century heritage. Give audiences and choreographers the chance to see that kind of work, and the problem of new choreography might take care of itself.

#179 Helene

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Posted 25 April 2010 - 08:03 AM

Balanchine tended to choreograph primarily for the lower body.

I would have had this on my list until PNB's recent "All Balanchine" rep, where though "Square Dance" and "Four Temperaments", the dancers that articulated through their torso gave the most illuminating reads on their parts. Watching the Mariinsky during the last City Center season a couple of springs ago, the quality I noticed most was how neutered many of the dancers looked, with emphasis on the upper back and leg extension and feet that made the waist through the upper thighs a bit of a no man's zone, regardless of the rep or costuming. That makes sense for tutus, but not leotard ballets or the men. With an emphasis on the entire torso, the logical place for that movement to go is the pelvis, which is what is the easiest thing to focus on. When a dancer doesn't rush and completes the entire ripple, it's a whole other story.

#180 miliosr

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Posted 29 May 2010 - 11:58 AM

While she doesn't address the Kaufman article directly, Laura Jacobs discusses its thesis in The New Criterion:

http://www.newcriter...-Diaghilev-5296


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