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The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman


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#91 dirac

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 01:22 PM

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.


That is also my impression. With the exception of "Jewels," SF audiences seem to regard going to see Balanchine as a little like eating your spinach.

There may have been periods in Balanchine's career when he qualified as a cult figure, but no longer, I think, any more than you would talk of a 'Shakespeare cult.' You could if you stretched the definition far enough, but it doesn't really fit.

#92 papeetepatrick

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 01:42 PM

There may have been periods in Balanchine's career when he qualified as a cult figure, but no longer, I think, any more than you would talk of a 'Shakespeare cult.' You could if you stretched the definition far enough, but it doesn't really fit.


But you WOULD talk of a 'shakespeare cult', by the definition I gave. You don't have to respect my derfinition, but that's the one I'm sticking with. How could there not be a 'Shakespeare cult' if there is a 'Mozart cult', which there most definitely is, and a 'Wagner cult', which there even more obviously is. I'm talking about a fierce 'inner circle of devoted supporters', and that exists with Balanchine. I never said it shouldn't, but they are not immune from penetration from without, any more than the 'Mozart cult' can definitively 'defeat' the 'Beethoven cult' (and they 'would'). It's an attitude fans get. Some get past this, some don't. Fandom is okay, but it can be too extreme to remain immune from detractors, as we see from this thread. That should come as little surprise, nor should it be surpsiring that some of it is boring.

#93 Jack Reed

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Posted 16 May 2009 - 08:18 PM

I like the spinach analogy in dirac's Post #91. Spinach can be delectable, but it depends how well selected and prepared it is. There's lots of ill-prepared tough old leaves around today being passed off as Balanchine, and understandably, people don't much like the flavor. Especially many of us who acquired a taste for it in the master's restaurant. (Chez Georges?) It's normal to begin your career by imitating masters, but the young chefs Kaufman complains about -- and maybe Kaufman herself -- need to develop their palates with better experience.

It's late, and my metaphors are running away with me. I've just returned home from seeing some minor choreographic efforts of a local teacher who imitates Balanchine's style less than he emulates his principles. I'll try to return to this when I'm in better control. There doesn't look like much trouble carrying on without my two cents, and I'll sign off with the comment that one of the best things about Kaufman's article is this thread.

#94 EricMontreal22

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 02:29 AM

Surely this is no longer true? When I fell in love with Petipa era ballet it would have been bizarre to think of any company tour coming to "little ol' " Victoria, BC, Canada with the full Sleeping Beauty. In the past 10 years *three* companies have. I think ballet has moved back towards narrative works--for good and bad.

#95 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 06:25 AM

That's my anecdotal observation in SF as well. I think it's a stretch to call it a "Balanchine company" at this point. Even from the dancers one sees dutiful Balanchine performances and far more committed dancing in Forsythe or Morris. Which is why I don't buy Kaufman's argument - the more historical a figure Balanchine inevitably becomes, the more his influence wanes, even at City Ballet.

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.


That is also my impression. With the exception of "Jewels," SF audiences seem to regard going to see Balanchine as a little like eating your spinach.

There may have been periods in Balanchine's career when he qualified as a cult figure, but no longer, I think, any more than you would talk of a 'Shakespeare cult.' You could if you stretched the definition far enough, but it doesn't really fit.



#96 papeetepatrick

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 07:34 AM

why I don't buy Kaufman's argument - the more historical a figure Balanchine inevitably becomes, the more his influence wanes, even at City Ballet.


That's the single most interesting remark from my point of view, even though the discussion has been lively. Since she is talking about anything but a 'waning', this is the best refutation of what she claims, and doesn't have so much to do with personal attachments and tastes, however important those are. Makes sense, and you would be one of those likely to know it. Thanks, that helps.

#97 Helene

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 08:16 AM

Which is why I don't buy Kaufman's argument - the more historical a figure Balanchine inevitably becomes, the more his influence wanes, even at City Ballet.


That may be true in San Francisco, although dutiful is the last word I would describe for their recent performances of "Jewels", particularly given the engagement of the corps in each ballet, but I don't see it in Seattle, Phoenix, or even Portland. That may change over time, but by then, Forsythe and Morris will be in the same boat.

#98 Quiggin

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 09:58 AM

Helene:

Dutiful is the last word I would describe for their recent performances of "Jewels".


The corps work did firm up considerably over the course of the week or 10 days, especially in Diamonds. Rubies never did--the heavy red costumes may have been a dulling factor. As a result of all the in-performance development of Diamonds, Theme & Variations for Tina LeBlanc’s farewell was all you’d want it to be.

There was very fine soloist work--not at all dutiful--during the week or so: Maria Kochetkova and Tara Domitro in Emeralds and Rubies, Isaac Hernandez (of the smooth Sean Lavery walk), Sofiane Sylve or Sarah van Patten in Diamonds, depending on what style you like, languid with a slight retard, or crisp and very high.

In contrast, Stravinsky Violin Concerto a few weeks back seemed dutiful; the lines and counterpoint never really sharpened up.

#99 miliosr

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 10:42 AM

Hmmm. This thread has so many sub-threads . . .

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. If a leading dance critic (Robert Gottlieb) can suggest in the pages of The New York Observer that the Mariinski/Kirov should "absorb Balanchine's approach" and "catch up" to his aesthetic, then I think there's a cult. If Suzanne Farell can resurrect a Balanchine obscurity (Pithoprakta) (which even the Old Master didn't think worth reviving in his lifetime) while a Tudor masterpiece (Romeo and Juliet) slides into oblivion, then I think there's a cult (and a problem.)

As to the comments from various posters that neither the dancers at the San Francisco Ballet nor its audience much like dancing/watching Balanchine, then why does Helgi Tomasson persist with it? It seems to me that this actually confirms San Francisco Ballet as a Balanchine company -- you're going to get Balanchine whether you want it or not (the "spinach" idea.)

As to whether Balanchine's influence will lessen with time, when I can reasonably expect this to happen? I look around and see the opposite happening. Not only do you have a dozen or so ex-Balanchine dancers controlling leading institutions in the United States but you have Monica Mason in London programming more Balanchine than Ashton in recent seasons and now Nikolaj Hubbe is calling the shots at the Royal Danish Ballet (although, to be fair, his "ballerina"/"danseur" programs at the end of 2010 look like he's trying to think outside of the box.)

Heading back to my hermitage to keep working on The Gospel of the Balanchine Apostates . . . :clapping:

#100 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 17 May 2009 - 07:19 PM

Companies tend to hire bankable names. That's going to be either ex-principal dancers from either ABT or NYCB - I don't think it has all that much to do with Balanchine.

At this point I think some research is necessary. If you're convinced that Balanchine is overrepresented in repertory it's time to get out a spreadsheet and visit websites of companies throughout the country and check repertory for this year and next. How much Balanchine is actually being done, and in what proportion?

#101 miliosr

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 04:05 AM

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?

#102 dirac

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 09:35 AM

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.

#103 Helene

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 11:20 AM

(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.

#104 SandyMcKean

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 12:13 PM

.....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).

#105 miliosr

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 12:32 PM

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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