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The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman


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#106 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 01:13 PM

The only person who matters in these statistics is Balanchine himself. The rest are a different argument - and I'd argue each separately - you may lump Robbins under "Balanchine followers"; I don't, nor particularly Tomasson. Definitely not Ratmansky, and Wheeldon owes as much to Martins and Macmillan as Balanchine.

#107 miliosr

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 04:31 PM

That's fine, Leigh. I don't mind if you think that I'm overstating Balanchine's importance as a repertory staple or that I'm seeing a pronounced City Ballet influence at San Francisco Ballet where none exists or that I may be conflating two different phenomena (the overrepresentation of Balanchine in US repertories and the increasing homogenization of ballet repertories at the international level) in my mind. Ballet Talk would be a boring place if we all agreed about everything. I guess I was just trying to show that the phenomena of which I wrote could be occurring. Even if the numbers are inconclusive regarding Balanchine at San Francisco Ballet, I don't think the numbers suggest a pronounced Forsythe/Morris influence at that company or that Balanchine is in danger of disappearing anytime soon. (The numbers actually make me a lot more worried about Ashton, Fokine and Tudor who appear to be entering Blanche "kindness of strangers" DuBois territory.)

As for Ballet Review and the business of the recipes, I would be a lot more receptive to the idea that there's no such thing as a Balanchine cult if I picked up an issue of Ballet Review and found, say, Lynn Seymour talking about Ashton's favorite way to cook chicken or, say, the late Sallie Wilson discussing Tudor's thoughts about lasagna. (YES, I'm being facetious -- but only to make a point.) I've been subscribing to Ballet Review for years and I don't recall any other choreographer getting that kind of treatment.

When Balanchine died, he left certain dances to people in his life as a token of his affection. And now we have a world-striding colossus called the Balanchine Trust. When Balanchine died, his take on classical ballet technique remained uncodified (by his choice.) And now we have Suki Schorer's book which does just that (or attempts to.) When Balanchine died, he consigned a number of his ballets to the dustbin of history. And now we have an initiative to preserve every last scrap. When Balanchine died, you could see his ballets around but it wasn't easy outside of going regularly to the New York City Ballet. And now you can literally see them in Siberia. All of which makes me ask if the entire Balanchine-life-after-death project is becoming too much.

I had better quit while I'm behind. Perky -- did you find the fuel for your flamethrower yet? There may be a few people who want to borrow it! :innocent:

#108 dirac

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 05:28 PM

I would be a lot more receptive to the idea that there's no such thing as a Balanchine cult if I picked up an issue of Ballet Review and found, say, Lynn Seymour talking about Ashton's favorite way to cook chicken or, say, the late Sallie Wilson discussing Tudor's thoughts about lasagna.


Neither Ashton nor Tudor was known for cooking or their use of cooking metaphors in relation to their art. Iím sure if Tudor had ever expressed strong feelings about Italian cuisine they would have made it into BR one way or another. And if a ballerina wants to write an article(s) about the time she spent cooking with a great choreographer and she has good stories to tell, I imagine that piece would be welcomed by BR, no matter who it happened to be.

When Balanchine died, he left certain dances to people in his life as a token of his affection. And now we have a world-striding colossus called the Balanchine Trust.


Itís a conspiracy. Personally, I think the Illuminati are behind it. :innocent:

Balanchine probably left his ballets to individuals not only as a token of affection but because he didnít trust any institution, even his own, to look after them. Those individuals formed the Balanchine Trust to streamline matters and to ensure the ballets were presented properly.

#109 miliosr

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 05:42 PM

dirac -- I was being facetious about the food! I even wrote that I was being facetious!! (I still say, though, that no other choreographer would get that kind of reverent treatment.)

As for the Balanchine Trust, all I suggested is that it, in conjunction with everything else, may be too much.

Good night!

#110 Helene

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 06:12 PM

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.

I apologize -- I meant to cite Wheeldon, whose primary influence was Macmillan, and, who luckily has a voice of his own and isn't a shadow Macmillan, which would more gruesome than a shadow Balanchine.

#111 dirac

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 06:29 PM

dirac -- I was being facetious about the food! I even wrote that I was being facetious!! (I still say, though, that no other choreographer would get that kind of reverent treatment.)


I hereby put the Cooking with Balanchine articles to rest. Although now I'm curious to find out how Ashton liked his chicken. :innocent:

#112 Hans

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 06:41 PM

Well, to judge by "La Fille Mal Gardťe", Ashton liked his chicken dancing onstage. :innocent:

#113 Helene

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Posted 18 May 2009 - 07:01 PM

I saw Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake" (on DVD) for the first time today, and when Kaufman writes "And think outside the box: Turn to a logical but perplexingly untapped source like Matthew Bourne -- the hugely successful British choreographer who turned "Edward Scissorhands" and "Swan Lake" into nonspeaking, all-movement musical-theater sensations." I had to cringe, not because Bourne isn't able to create extremely moving narrative and gesture -- I think of the Swan nuzzling the Prince, the first act of physical affection that Prince has seen, so primal -- and not because the genre isn't ballet, but because the vocabulary is so limited and the movement so dull. (The fast forward button was my best friend.) I'd seen the Bourne "Nutcracker" at Sadlers Wells a few years ago, and the narrative first act was far more powerful in my eyes than the second.

Bourne isn't the only one whose narrative and theatrical ability out paces his choreography: I'd say the same of Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette", which PNB will revive this coming Fall in the season opener.

The Bolshoi tried a similar thinking out of the box by hiring a theater man and a dance choreographer for it's "Romeo and Juliet", which was amusing, but quite the dud overall.

#114 SandyMcKean

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 10:23 AM

Bourne isn't the only one whose narrative and theatrical ability out paces his choreography: I'd say the same of Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette", which PNB will revive this coming Fall in the season opener.

I can't dispute Helene's comment on Maillot's R&J; however, I found this ballet one of the most moving artisitic experiences I've ever had (at least as PNB did it).

We may be looking at a definitional problem here. What exactly is ballet? What is the essence of ballet? I surely don't know the answers to such questions, but I do believe ballet is more than the choreography alone (dance vocabulary), and more than any other single aspect of ballet. Likely I'd put more emphasis on the emotional impact of a ballet on the audience than Helene would. It is in this area that Maillot's R&J shines I think. I've never been so driven to see multiple performances of a ballet; nor have I ever dragged multiple friends to a ballet like I did for Maillot's R&J. The production was a huge box office success, and I heard one cultured elderly gentleman claim after a performance that altho he had seen dozens of R&J's in his time (the play etc), no performance affected him so deeply as this one. I tended to agree.

If I were to venture to say what I do think ballet is all about, I'd have to say something banal along the lines of: the magic that happens when the creator of the work and the performers of the work reach something inside of audience members such that an audience member experiences something meaningful to them, something personal, something universal. This simplistic view naturally applies to all the arts.....and that's as it should be in my mind. So perhaps Maillot's R&J does have a limited dance vocabulary, but it has so much else that is magnificent that most in the audience come away having experienced that magical union of work, performer, audience.

So what distingishes ballet from a play, or a musical, or a poetry reading under my crude definition? Hard to say I guess. However, ballet is like pornography for me: I know it when I see it. :P

#115 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 10:29 AM

I hate to be like this, but you know what you like, and that makes it good dance, but that doesn't make it ballet.

#116 SandyMcKean

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 12:03 PM

OK, I'll bite. What is it that makes ballet??

#117 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 12:24 PM

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 executive summary -

It's ballet if it uses the danse d'ecole (the school vocabulary of ballet) and dancers trained in that.

Pointe work doesn't automatically make it ballet.
Absence of turnout makes it not ballet.
"Good" doesn't make it ballet - nor does "bad" disqualify it.

And just wait until you read the discussions on "classical!"

#118 SandyMcKean

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 01:59 PM

Leigh, I appreciate the "executive summary" (and an excellent one at that I suspect). Beyond that I will definitiely do some BT searchs for old threads on this subject.

While I'm doing that, I would like to ask you to do a couple of other things to round out his sub-thread:

1. Given your definition is Malliot's R&J ballet or not?

2. If one of the existential fundamentals of ballet is use of "danse d'ecole (the school vocabulary of ballet)", then how could a choreographer ever be considered to use a limited ballet vocabulary (as Helene suggests above) since I presume that the "danse d'ecole" vocabulary is by definition fixed. I assume for example that I could get a relatively small book that would list and graphically demonstrate the entire "danse d'ecole" vocabulary. Would limited be that, say, if only 50% of the steps dancers take in a dance are from the "danse d'ecole" vocabulary? Or alternatively perhaps that only 30% of the "danse d'ecole" vocabulary is used as steps in the entire ballet even tho all the steps are from that vocabulary?

#119 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 03:00 PM

Because I haven't seen the Maillot I'm loath to answer.

The thing I'd like to reiterate is that quality doesn't factor into this. There's great modern and contemporary dance and crap ballet. Nor does exclusivity to "classical" - plenty of other things are ballet.

This is a topic Alexandra does better than I but the discussion a long while back about touched a lot upon a choreographer's "home base." Nijinska "spoke" ballet. It's how she trained, it's what she knew and her dancers were classically trained. Her Les Noces is a turned in work of genius and modernism - and it's ballet.

In the same way, I'd argue that Mark Morris isn't a ballet choreographer, though he's made works on ballet companies that can be danced as ballets. It's not his home base. (This is a very gray area.)

Also, danse d'ecole isn't just a laundry list of steps. It involves placement, carriage, alignment, port de bras, "center of gravity" . . . a modern dancer and a ballet dancer hold themselves differently and approach movement differently. The same with choreographers trained in both disciplines.

#120 Helene

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 03:15 PM

then how could a choreographer ever be considered to use a limited ballet vocabulary (as Helene suggests above) since I presume that the "danse d'ecole" vocabulary is by definition fixed.

To be clear on this, I think that Bourne has a very limited dance vocabulary, not ballet vocabulary. I think Maillot's movement vocabulary is greater and more varied than Bourne's (not a high bar in this aspect, in my opinion), and his sense of structure and his ability to move groups around and create striking stage pictures is very impressive. I happen to like a wider range of choreography, although I appreciate "Romeo et Juliette" as a close-to-great theatrical experience that I'd find great without the Friar In Asylum angle, since I'm pretty much allergic to writhing, which, if anything, made me distant from the drama.

To Leigh's executive summary, I'd add:

-Just because it's performed by a ballet company doesn't make it ballet.


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