The fell influence of Balanchine, by Sarah Kaufman
Posted 13 May 2009 - 06:16 PM
Posted 13 May 2009 - 06:29 PM
Posted 13 May 2009 - 08:51 PM
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.
Posted 13 May 2009 - 09:52 PM
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"...
Posted 13 May 2009 - 10:17 PM
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.
Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:39 AM
Posted 14 May 2009 - 04:28 AM
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.
Posted 14 May 2009 - 07:23 AM
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.
Posted 14 May 2009 - 03:17 PM
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?
Posted 15 May 2009 - 04:06 PM
In other news, the last paragraph of Alastair Macaulay's review sums up the present situation nicely:
Earnest endeavor indeed . . .
Posted 15 May 2009 - 07:58 PM
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".
Posted 16 May 2009 - 05:15 AM
Posted 16 May 2009 - 07:47 AM
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.
Posted 16 May 2009 - 08:57 AM
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.
Posted 16 May 2009 - 10:26 AM
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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