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The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman


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#76 kfw

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 06:16 PM

The only thing that doesn't compute for me is the use of the word "monotony". I can't even imagine that. I suspect one's relationship to that feeling must have to do with how long one has been immersed. (Fish, I imagine, find water monotonous.) I've been going to ballet for 40 years, but it's only been in the last 10 years that I have gone "over the edge". It's still all too new to me to find monotony anywhere. (Perhaps monotony can only strike in a place like NYC where one can get exposed so frequently.)

If I remember correctly, Kaufman speaks of the early 90's as a time when NYCB danced Balanchine indifferently. I saw a good number of Balanchine ballets for the first in '92 and '93 at the State Theater, and they enthralled me. I suspect the difference isn't length of immersion, but knowledge through experience of what plumbs the depths and what doesn't.

#77 kfw

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 06:29 PM

I can't speak for Hans or Old Fashioned but my use of the word monotonous wasn't referring to the contents of Balanchine's ballets. What I was referring to is their ubiquity -- many, many companies program them and, frequently, the artistic directors program the same ones. The companies and their repertories blur together as a result.

They may blur on the programs, but did they blur when Farrell followed Adams in Agon? When Villella followed Moncion and Tomasson in Prodigal Son? I wasn't there, but I can't imagine so. Aren't great works of art ever vital if they're alive to talented interpreters?

#78 papeetepatrick

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 08:51 PM

before he settled into the High Modernist phase of his last 25 years or so (and which most choreographers appear to be imitating.)


THAT is a clue to the problem too. There's not nearly enough talk on BT about Post-modernism, and it's an unwieldy mess, but it has to be done. I'm not going to outline it, as it's easily accessible, but it DOES follow modernism, so that 'contemporary' has to serve for what is at any given current time. The word 'modern' was outmoded by the period now called 'modernism', which has passed, was severe and disciplined, and there is even talk in theory and philosophy circles right now of 'nostalgia for modernism', but which has been long-gone. If Balanchine's imitators are imitating his 'high modernist' period, they are really just being properly post-modern with all the mediocrity that that usually (not always) implies. I'll put a little more on the 'waiting for the next Balanchine' thread, because you would need a kind of True Modernism to have another 'Balanchine genius-giant' or 'Marttha Graham genius-ginat', and it's not going to happen. Modernism is OVER, and we don't know what's going to happen. But you cannot do real modernism any more.

#79 Helene

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 09:52 PM

I can't speak for Hans or Old Fashioned but my use of the word monotonous wasn't referring to the contents of Balanchine's ballets. What I was referring to is their ubiquity -- many, many companies program them and, frequently, the artistic directors program the same ones. The companies and their repertories blur together as a result.

Part of that is a result of the way the Foundation decides a company is ready to give a work, some of which has to do with company size, some of which has to do with company finances, some to do with who is running the company, and some which has to do with how developed it is. It takes a special exception to be allowed to stage ballets without their original sets and costumes, no matter how much an improvement the replacements are. (Paris Opera Ballet clearly got one for its "Jewels" and PNB for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" re-designs, and PNB got dispensation to stage "Liebeslieder Walzer" excerpts for Russell and Stowell's tribute performance without the original sets, to name three.) Russell or Stowell once said in a Q&A that PNB considered doing "Vienna Waltzes", maybe with sets rented from NYCB?, as a joint venture with San Francisco Ballet, since it needed so many dancers. They'd have to recruit the 12-year-olds to do it on their own.

There are Balanchine "starter" ballets that the Foundation will allow companies to stage, and companies that are building the rep will get the same ones, then expand into the next set, etc. Even if a donor were willing to fund the sets, there are only three US companies -- NYCB, ABT, and SFB -- that are large enough to do the "Union Jack"s and "Vienna Waltzes" or to have a cast for "Symphony in C" that isn't doubled up for the first three movements. Naturally you'll see the same ballets done by many companies: that's where they are in the development cycle.

The same thing is happening in the Robbins rep: first "Fancy Free", then "In the Night", then "The Concert"...

#80 Quiggin

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Posted 13 May 2009 - 10:17 PM

But you cannot do real modernism any more.


Renzo Piano may have just done that with his new Art Institute wing--reviewed in today's New Times. Its stairway is borrowed from the same source as those in the New York State Theater, but done in a completely different tone.

There is probably more good quiet modernism taking place, in the visual arts at least, than (bad) post-modernism. Ballet is a little more conservative than the rest of the arts and takes a while to catch up, so there is a still a lot of pastiche / hodge podge choreography being done. There were many, many examples of this in the New Works programs in San Francisco last year.

Incidently, Croce points out, in an interview with Sally Banes, that in 1965 when she began Ballet Review, Balanchine and his fortunes were at a low ebb. He had lost a good part of his audience in the move to Lincoln Center and Sol Hurok's programs--the Bolshoi and Nureyev--were the thing to go to. He had to start over from square one.

And the huge ballets Helene mentions that few companies can do these days were devised to fill that huge stage.

#81 EAW

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:39 AM

Can someone please explain how ballets such as Mozartiana, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Sonatine,Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3 and Coppelia exemplify the High Modernist phase of Balanchine's last 25 years?

#82 miliosr

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 04:28 AM

kfw -- Again, my point isn't that Balanchine's best works aren't great works of art. What I'm trying to get across is that the similarity in programming at the Balanchine spin-off companies blurs their identities to the point that they are basically interchangeable with one another in terms of their repertories. I look around the country and I see one company: the New York City Ballet. (But I respect the fact that others can look at the same companies and not see that.)

EAW -- I look at the ballets you have listed and see (to varying extents) a stripping away or at least a streamlining, which, to me, is the hallmark of High Modernism. But, again, different people can look at the same works and see different things. We may just have to agree to disagree on that score.

#83 papeetepatrick

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 07:23 AM

There is probably more good quiet modernism taking place, in the visual arts at least, than (bad) post-modernism. Ballet is a little more conservative than the rest of the arts and takes a while to catch up, so there is a still a lot of pastiche / hodge podge choreography being done. There were many, many examples of this in the New Works programs in San Francisco last year.


Excellent point. But there can be no return to a Modernist Period as such, so your point is good because there are still some Romantic works of art in all fields, etc., and some of them work. Still, could be along the lines of miliosr's remark about 'singular successes', but that's all right with me. Just so we get something good at least from time to time, I'm become so innured to things that really please me being rare, Piano's work is wonderful (I finally got over to the Morgan a few months ago), but even if you call it 'modernism', it's part of the holdouts who still love that bygone period, PLUS who are able to afford it. Pastiche/hodge podge seems to me one of the characteristics or symptoms of post-modernism, although there have been some worthy works done within it already.

#84 bart

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Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:17 PM

What I'm trying to get across is that the similarity in programming at the Balanchine spin-off companies blurs their identities to the point that they are basically interchangeable with one another in terms of their repertories.

We have to keep in mind that many of us do not have the option of frequent NYCB attendance. When Jewels (for example) is done by a number of regional companies, it may look like this is repetition. When virtually every company visiting Washington brings along a Balanchine, this may indeed feel like over-kill. But -- for those in Miami, Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco, and other cities with Children of Balanchine companies, their hometown version will probably be their only chance to see a well-done live performance of a work they want to see.

This makes the problem raised by Kaufman even harder to solve. What WOULD companies have to do to bring about the revolution in ballet style and repertoire that she and a number of posters are calling for? Dancing Ashton properly, for example, would seem to involve major refocusing of time and effort in both ballet schools and companies. A lot of education -- of dancers, of audiences -- seems needed. This, in turn, means a redirection of economic resources. I'd love to see this happen. But, CAN it happen? Under what conditions? What would we be willing to sacrifice in order to make it work?

#85 miliosr

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Posted 15 May 2009 - 04:06 PM

Again, I would just posit that an art form which can only sustain two modes (19th century and Balanchine) due to inclination or paucity of resources (take your pick) is an art form doomed to irrelevancy.

In other news, the last paragraph of Alastair Macaulay's review sums up the present situation nicely:

http://www.nytimes.c...n...1&ref=dance

Earnest endeavor indeed . . .

#86 Quiggin

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Posted 15 May 2009 - 07:58 PM

the last paragraph of Alastair Macaulay's review sums up the present situation nicely.


miliosr, say if by a miraculous fiat the Balanchine influence were totally rolled back, what sorts of ballets would there be ideally, what sort of ballet vocabulary would persist, what sort of dance would show off our time? (Forgive me if I've missed out along the way, we're in the middle of a long, long thread.)

Patrick may have been referring to a Nietszche aphorism which I goes something like "a nation is a detour of nature to arrive at six or seven great men--Yes and then to get around them."

Balanchine seems to have been a fortuitous and inadvertant product (he would be the first to say this) of two great cultures, that of the late dreamy late 19th century, and that of the great fertile period of zig-zaggy artistic revolt in the the teens and twenties.

Our own period is fairly anaesthesized, in a sort of shell shocked withdrawal. The chances of us producing anything interesting seems to be fairly iffy.

On the other hand, there is a Nietszche aphorism that goes "Great men are necessary; the age in which they appear is accidental...they are stronger...the age is relatively much younger, thinner, more immature, less assured, more childish".

#87 miliosr

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 05:15 AM

I wish I knew what the way forward was, Quiggin. In the modern dance, the post-modernists tried to return to some mythical Eden (to a time before Martha Graham and Jose Limon [or even Isadora Duncan] existed) but that has led to an even worse dead end than exists in the classical ballet. The Mariinski/Kirov went back in time w/ their four hour recreation of the Imperial Russian Sleeping Beauty but that gave no clues as to the future (and was inauthentic to boot -- late-20th century bodies distorting a 19th century work.) I guess all I can suggest is to look to underexplored choreographers to see if there is something there that we missed; something that can be used as a launch pad to the future. That to me would be more productive than endlessly idling in neutral.

#88 papeetepatrick

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 07:47 AM

After a few days of this discussion, I still sympathize with the dissatisfaction, but don't think it all that mysterious. Some of what bart said about economics plays into this, and the fact that Balanchine's legend DID continue to grow after his death; and it was already big enough while he was alive. At some point this translates into a kind of fame and mystique that the public is willing to pay for because they've heard more about it. There's also a glamour about Balanchine (leaving aside the more serious merits of his and other masters' choreography, since that's been done to death anyway) that doesn't exist to the same degree in Ashton and Tudor--at least in the U.S.. It probably has to do with the glory days of the New York City Ballet when Balanchine was still alive and creating, but also New York City Ballet still for most people means 'Balanchine', and they've always had the support and money when others don't. PLUS they get to stay in one place for liong periods of time. All this exposure spreads Balanchine far and wide. When ballet begins to spread to the provinces, there is not going to be that much room for maneuvering all that wildly, so it's natural to go to the biggest blue ribbon name, especially when that name also DOES supply the goods, even if one would like to see some Ashton and Tudor when one is more knowledgeable. What Sandy wrote: "Perhaps monotony can only strike in a place like NYC where one can get exposed so frequently".is, in fact, true. He's fallen in love with ballet primarily because of being fascinated by Balanchine at PNB (or I think that's what he's saying, in any case, through Balanchine's works. I was glad he mentioned this, because we New Yorkers ARE pampered with cultural luxury, and it's understandable that those outside this should not be expected to sympathize that much. Just so long as I can keep it, it's small price to pay. Yeah, it's nice here :clapping:

And, while, in an ideal world, some of the other work really ought to be more available, Balanchine certainly is not a bad way to start. It's even interesting that with all these NYCB offshoots, Balanchine has rooted itself all over the U.S. (what the Mariinsky or POB does with it is not the issue, I think). But that's not the whole story. It's not just about Balanchine's works, it's about the Balanchine Cult, and this is bound to be irritating even as 'Balanchine nation' may or may not be a natural, or 'the least bad' evolution, for the dissemination of ballet. There's a Martha Graham Cult as well, and these are inevitable with two artistic tyrants like this ('tyrant' is meant in the good sense, but there's no point in pretending both weren't as ruthless as they come--they had to be). What the most hardcore Balanchine fans have to accept, since it's fact, is that there is supernal quality in his work, but also, Balanchine SELLS. That needs to be understood as a fact, without any of these very sentimental anti-commercial 'pure art' (even thought it IS 'great art') fantasies. Balanchine is a hot property right now. It's just like Barbra Streisand. She SELLS. And it doesn't take away from the magnificence of her artistry, even if the fees in Vegas, other places in recent years, etc., seem s litte ridiculous sometimes. Sports stars ditto. That economic hurdle has to be finally taken into consideration even after all the quite well-thought-out protests are listened to. People will pay for a prestige item, and Balanchine is a prestige commodity on top of everything else.

I can see what miliosr and Kaufman are saying, but i just don't know enough of Ashton and almost none of Tudor to say much. What I know of Ashton I'd like to see, but probably imagine I'd rather see it with the Royal Ballet (I'm sure I could get over that). In any case, I don't think imitations of any of these masters, whether one or the other, is the problem. The problem is that there needs to be something that makes the imitations irrelevant. Until then, they'll seem irritating, no matter who is being imitated, if that's all there is.

Quiggin, those aren't the Nietzsche aphorisms I was thinking of, but they're good too. He is dangerous and always makes you rethink something. The one I was referring to I can't get close enough to to find by googling. It may come to me, but mainly had to do with the idea of 'giants' no longer holding sway. That probably is always lessening. I probably don't think that's wonderful, but a lot of 'humanists' do.

#89 Quiggin

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 08:57 AM

Balanchine is a hot property right now. It's just like Barbra Streisand. She SELLS.


I don't think there's really a Balanchine cult, but that Balanchine may be a sort of dancer's dancer, like Robert Frank is a photographer's photographer, or the pianist-writer Felisberto Hernandez is a writer's writer. Their work appeals to an audience who's hip to what they're elaborating on and what they're leaving out.

Balanchine doesn't really sell in San Francisco, with a supposedly Balanchine company. People go dutifully to see his work, but really loosen up to the big Scott Joplin MacMillan and Jerome Robbins pieces. Romeo and Juliet and Tomasson's Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid sell tickets and fill the house. There is only one Balanchine program next year.

*

miliosr, perhaps small some movement and dance workshops could be established, like Judson in New York in the sixties, where people could try out different ways of being on the stage. There could be demonstrations on how simple movements are handled in the Ashton, Bournonville, Mariinsky, Gorsky and purist Petipa modes. Dancers or choreographers could be asked to do their own version of an Agon-like primer of basic steps and some developments of those.

#90 papeetepatrick

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 10:26 AM

I don't think there's really a Balanchine cult, but that Balanchine may be a sort of dancer's dancer,


Okay, we disagree. If there's no Balanchine cult, there's no Streisand Cult, no Mariinsky Cult, no Maria Callas Cult, no Martha Graham Cult, no Nureyev Cult, no Derrida Cult, no Sontag Cult, no Sinatra Cult, no Garbo Cult, no Krishnamurti Cult (he's another example, just like Balanchine and Farrell, who always claimed not to 'be a Cult', and the denial of the perfectly normal Cult Status for great artists is always telling: It's an attempt to remain a cult without the apparent 'vulgarity' of it. Benjamin wrote of the 'bad cult of the film star', so yes, that may not include in its material expression 'classical artists', but it does identify cults around personality. And cults exist even when their 'leaders' tell people it's not there. It has to do with whether or not the cult is overstated or understated and even hidden. But if there is an exclusive group at the core of literally anything, there is a cult, and the resistance to this is because of snobbery and bad connotations with religious and other cults. Inner circles around a great figure always form a kind of cult. I guess you could call him a 'dancer's dancer', because we don't see him as a dancer primarily, but in his demonstrations to his dancers, as to Villella on 'Apollo', and how Villella understood by Balanchine's own physical movements exactly what he hadn't understood.

But it always gets back around to things like this, and ultimately I end up on the side of miliosr and Kaufman because the pedestal is endlessly protected from all sullying by any other artists, considered without exception to be inferior. What the cult members don't realize is that they do Balanchine a disservice by enlessly deifying him above all others, and that it turns people off who love Balanchine like I do. And people are not going to buy it at some point. They ARE buying Balanchine still, and notably, but they do this partially because of the way the Balanchine Machine operates. There's a 'Buckingham Palace Machinery' that's used as an expression quite frequently, and it if's good enough for the Queen of England, then it's good enough..... If anything, it might well lead to an eventual movement as far away from Balanchine, who is fashionable now (dread word that, 'fashionable', that's a fact too), and like all fashions, won't last.

So that I was using the term 'cult' as something that has to apply with anybody with a huge following, which Balanchine has, even if Helgi and the others sell the tickets in San Francisco. People did not program Balanchine all over the world so that some audiences would attend hiw works and be 'dutiful',. They program him because he DOES have appeal.


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