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The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman


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#121 SandyMcKean

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Posted 19 May 2009 - 03:49 PM

Leigh and Helene, great stuff.......thanks for the insight.

Leigh, I have saved your definition including amplifications (and with Helene's addition). I also get your point very clearly about "quality" -- my instincts feel this loud and clear. This interchange has inspired me to "mine" BT for old threads on this so basic of topics ("What is ballet?"). My education continues.

#122 SandyMcKean

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 04:04 PM

It's ballet if it uses the danse d'ecole (the school vocabulary of ballet).........
.
.
Absence of turnout makes it not ballet.

Leigh, I've started doing my homework, but I've run into a snag already. I recently saw the Ballet Russes film being screened here in Seattle as discussed in the BT thread "Mariinsky's Firebird, Rite of Spring, Les Noces, screenings at cinemas".

I am having trouble reconciling your "executive summary" with Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring". My initial reaction is to call this piece "a ballet", and I feel that it is. But doesn't it pretty strongly violate the 2 principles quoted above?

#123 Helene

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 11:28 PM

I don't think Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" is a ballet. It was a work created by a man known as the greatest male classical ballet dancer of his time, created for and performed by a ballet company, but I don't see how it is a ballet.

#124 SandyMcKean

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 11:15 AM

OK....good. As I am attempting to answer this question of "What is ballet?" for myself, my current thinking is that Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" can't be a ballet strictly speaking. That makes me a little uncomfortable, but it does seem logical.

Interesting that nearly all I read about Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" says things like "revolutionary ballet", or "sensation in the world of ballet", or some such language. I suspect if I asked many knowledgable people to name a ballet of the early 20th century that caused a near revolt due to its break with tradition, most would mention Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" as they just assume that it qualifies as a ballet.

These distinctions can be carried too far of course. I can live some ambiguity.......so for me I accept the "executive summary" as posed in this thread (and as I'm educating myself since being inspired by this thread), but still be comfortable with me and others calling Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" a ballet. :wink:

#125 papeetepatrick

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 01:01 PM

OK....good. As I am attempting to answer this question of "What is ballet?" for myself, my current thinking is that Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" can't be a ballet strictly speaking. That makes me a little uncomfortable, but it does seem logical.

Interesting that nearly all I read about Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" says things like "revolutionary ballet", or "sensation in the world of ballet", or some such language. I suspect if I asked many knowledgable people to name a ballet of the early 20th century that caused a near revolt due to its break with tradition, most would mention Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" as they just assume that it qualifies as a ballet.

These distinctions can be carried too far of course. I can live some ambiguity.......so for me I accept the "executive summary" as posed in this thread (and as I'm educating myself since being inspired by this thread), but still be comfortable with me and others calling Nijinsky's "Rite of Spring" a ballet. :wink:


This is very good IMO. I can live with some ambiguity too, and I wouldn't have been specialized myself to think about Nijiinsky's Rite of Spring as being other than a ballet. And although Copland subtitiled his score for 'Appalachian Spring' 'ballet for Martha', it doesn't follow that the piece is a ballet, but I don't care if it was called one. There's also a video collection of 'Five Dances by Martha Graham' made about 1991, with 'Diversion of Angels', 'Heroidiade', 'Il Penitente', etc., and the narrator speaks of the more than -'140 ballets Martha created'. Well, none of them are ballets literally, of course, so I also like to know the refined definitions, but am not bothered if these are not insisted upon by masses of general public viewers.

#126 leonid17

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 03:00 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 Martha Graham Dance company calls the repertoire of their founders works “ballets”.
The reason “The Rite of Spring” is called a ballet is because that is all what such ‘serious’ dance works in that era of its creation were called. On the Stravinsky score it is described as, “Pictures from Pagan Russia in two parts “, In lists of his oeuvre it is described as a ballet.
Most dictionaries give the definition of the word ballet to mean, “a theatrical entertainment in which ballet dancing and music, often with scenery and costumes, combine to tell a story, establish an emotional atmosphere, etc.” or, “Dancing in which conventional poses and steps are combined with light flowing figures (as leaps and turns)” The latter two descriptions fit easily with most peoples
understanding of the word.
Although I think of “The Rite of Spring” as a dance work, I would because of common usage often describe it as a ballet even though it is a long way distant from “Swan Lake” which definitely is a ballet.

The executive summary -

"It's ballet if it uses the danse d'ecole (the school vocabulary of ballet) and dancers trained in that." - No argument.
"Pointe work doesn't automatically make it ballet." - Geting difficult here.
"Absence of turnout makes it not ballet." - What about a story ballet made up of character dances performed by dancers trained in the danse d'ecole?
"Good" doesn't make it ballet - nor does "bad" disqualify it." - No Argument

#127 dirac

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 04:05 PM

I'd like to step in and echo Leigh's suggestion about looking up some of the old threads, such as this one. You'll find many answers to your questions and much food for thought.

#128 GeorgeB fan

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Posted 09 June 2009 - 05:41 AM

I just read Sarah Kaufman's article and why I haven't read the nine pages of comments - and perhaps what I'm about to say have already been mentioned - but it appears that Ms. Kaufman is somehow placing the blame on the current state of ballets on Balanchine's shoulders as if it's all his fault when in truth he has nothing to do with it at all. If he possess a huge influence in which other dance makers follows his style of choreography as some type of blueprint that isn't his fault...it's those choreographers who doesn't appear to possess a unique, individual voice they can call their own. Yes Balanchine has a huge shadow and yes perhaps that shadow is difficult to overcome...but that's when the new generations of choreographers need to step up to the plate and try and discover their own voice, own their style and their own matter of creating dances that goes beyond Balanchine and his style of ballets. If they can't discover their own unique language I don't see why we need to tear down Balanchine and somehow place the blame on his shoulders. Maybe I'm over simplifying, I don't know??

But it wouldn't be the first time someone had to fight against an accepted style of ballet that appears to be norm and was able to overcome that huge influence and create a style that is uniquely their own and become wildly popular with the ballet audience.

I mean isn't that exactly what Fokine had to do in regard to Petipa? Petipa influence was mammoth...perhaps even greater then the current influence Balanchine possess today, but somehow Fokine made it a mission to fight against that influence and create a unique vision for ballet and was very successful.

We just need another Fokine-type choreographer(s) who have the talent, gut and confidence to strike out on their own creating works that speaks of their own taste, style that goes beyond Balanchine. IMO.

#129 SandyMcKean

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Posted 09 June 2009 - 10:26 AM

I expressed very similar thoughts elsewhere in this thread.

#130 miliosr

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Posted 28 June 2009 - 04:03 PM

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

Another precinct heard from in the last paragraph on the first page!

#131 miliosr

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 09:47 AM

Dance Magazine's January issue contains a mini-forum about the Kaufman article and Balanchine's influence more generally:

http://www.dancemaga...g-on-Balanchine

#132 Hans

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 11:33 AM

Wow, some of those comments don't even make sense, particularly Iain Webb's first paragraph, and I think that goes a long way toward explaining the quality of ballet in the US today. Peter Anastos' statement that "Tudor ballets have little value" (which he does not back up) strikes me as a bizarre, uneducated, and closed-minded point of view.

The most intelligent response, IMO, came from Virginia Johnson.

#133 miliosr

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 11:37 AM

The most intelligent response, IMO, came from Virginia Johnson.


I agree.

#134 bart

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 12:36 PM

Thanks, miliosr, for the Link. (The print copy hasn't arrived here yet.)
I enjoyed Karole Armitage's response, especially ...

[W]e shouldn’t blame Balanchine for the lack of vision on others’ parts.



#135 kathaP

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 12:44 PM

Thanks for the Dance Magazine link. Very thought-provoking topic. That said, I really stumbled over the AD of Ballet Idaho saying that Tudor has little value as well. :huh: Surely the answer can't be to dismiss everything that isn't abstract? If there really are too many people in positions of power who dismiss every ballet that isn't Petipa, High Modernism or "done last week" then I can see how that might be a serious problem. The other responses seemed very thoughtful and measured to me, though.

Back to the original Kaufman article...I agree with her analysis of the problems ballet is currently facing and that endlessly copying Balanchine can't be the solution. I'm not sure that this is really what most choreographers are still doing, though. I have a European perspective, so that does probably make a huge difference, but I don't see this obsession or cult around his work. Things might be different in the USA, what with so many of his former dancers at the head of ballet companies. And even if there is, that isn't Balanchine's fault. He was a genius who made some of the greatest ballet choreographies of the 20th century, of course these works should be performed and kept in the repertory.

The problem might not be so much that there's too much Balanchine being performed and that his influence stifles everything else, but that the other great masters are being neglected. NYCB performs his work extensively, while most of the other great choreographers of the 20th century have no reliable institution to preserve their work. ABT does perhaps one or two Tudor ballets per season. The Ashton works go through repeated cycles of being pushed out of the RB repertory and then crawling their way back in. And I would argue that even MacMillan gets questionable treatment, since they insist on doing his (in my opinion) inferior evening length ballets while neglecting his shorter works. Lavrovsky has been mostly forgotten, Yakobsen is practically unknown in the West. You could say that Grigorovich gets his due at the Bolshoi, but then, he's still alive and can influence things there. That this erosion is happening is a tragedy, but getting miffed that the Balanchine repertory is getting better treatment strikes me as slightly counter-productive.

As for Balanchine's spell on recent work...I'm not sure if that's true if you look at the more prominent ones. Haven't seen enough of Wheeldon to make a judgement, but Ratmansky seems to be working in a different aesthetic (I think...) and I'm pretty sure that Eifman's inspiration lies elsewhere as well. :)


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