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In search of the next Balanchine

The next Balanchine   31 members have voted

  1. 1. Are you waiting for the next Balanchine to come along?

    • With bated breath
      2
    • No - today's ballet scene has a lot to offer
      4
    • We were lucky to get one in the last century, don't ask for the moon
      10
    • We've already got one, it's __________
      0
    • It would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath
      15

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97 posts in this topic

We've got overbred, overspecialized dancers and as Alexandra might put it (this is her point, and an excellent one) a "mannerist" art form obsessed with technique at the expense of content. It's still a great art form, but I think we need desperately to back off from form and re-explore content.

I think actually that was what Sarah Kaufman meant in her Something Else Besides Balanchine, please, article. NOT that Balanchine was responsible for this, or less than a great article, but that we're still stretching him, exploring (to an absurd degree, sometimes, which is why I call it Mannerism) things that he did so beautifully.

Re classroom steps, as I wrote, there are times where it's appropriate, but today, I think if a new Petipa did a new-style, but classical, Jardin Animee, and it was the same level, with genius as well as steps, most of the critics writing today would say it was just classroom steps. If a company danced Jardin Animee in bicycle shorts (because then most people wouldn't recognize it; I know I'm being cynical), they'd say it was just classroom steps. I don't think the current critical climate is helpful -- and it would be equally unhelpful if critics wrote that anything that had classical steps in it was great art (and I don't mean to imply that that's what Leigh is suggesting, of course.)

papeetpatrick, I'm sorry thet I wasn't clear. The "musical comedy" reference was mine, not Balanchine's, and I didn't mean that he was referring to Broadway or that genre, but I gather he did not approve of the 1940s version of the Ballet Russe programs, and was worried that the emphasis on drama at the expense of classical dancing was killing ballet and he wanted to get it back to choreography and a cleaner technique.

Re Forsythe, there have been several "choreographers of the decade" that haven't become The One -- Tetley in the '60s (with his consciously crafted blend of modern dance with ballet); Jiri Kylian in the '70s, who was always a blender; and Forsythe in the '80s. I was less enamored of Forsythe than many others because I'd seen some of his early work, where he tried to deal with content, and I thought it awful (his "Daphnis and Chloe" and "Orpheus" for Stuttgart; he tried to tell a story and, to my eyes, couldn't.) I thought (think) he had nothing to say except steps. The all Forsythe program that the Kirov brought was the same ballet four times over, the Work for a Ballet Company ballet. Not to bring up another contentious topic :wink:

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I was posting at the same time as papeetpatrick and missed his mannerism post. I believe Mannerism was called that at the time. I'm referring to what the art dictionary calls "A European art movement and style that developed between 1520 and 1600. It was a style that rejected the calm balance of the High Renaissance in favor of emotion and distortion. Works of art done in this style reflected the tension that marked Europe at this time in history." I'm teaching art history now, and a fresh look at "The Madonna with the Long Neck" (which all of my students -- dance students -- found beautiful and not at all extreme) made me think of ballet today: the very long lines, very long legs and arms (and necks), high extensions, and also, in choreography, stretching velocity, dynamics, line, anything they can stretch. What they're doing, it could be said (and I will write that article someday) is taking something that was considered "perfect" and distorting it, because they recognize the need for something new, but haven't figured out what The Next New Thing Is.

One advantage to having a great choreographer around, aside from giving us something beautiful to look at, is that it gives a model to others. And when there's something exciting going on in ballet -- something new that really is ballet -- there won't be so much insistence that hip hop, roller blading and/or krumping is really ballet. :wink:

Edited by Alexandra

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As I recall, Ashton chose ballet as a young man; Balanchine was sent to ballet as a child and recommitted to it when he came to adolescence. What made ballet a fertile ground for their expression? What would make it so for a young artist today?

Money, of course. But it would also help if writers would stop writing that ballet is dead, praising nonballet choreographers for "daring" to make a ballet that didn't use pointework -- if ballet was valued in some way. (I worry about creativity in dance generally, of course, but limiting remarks to ballet, I'd say the above.)

I would be very interested to read what others think about this.

I write from my London perspective because that is what I have. I obtain a wider view through international friends and newspapers and of course this board.

I am with you on the critics Alexandra and what worries me in London is the lack of an extensive background in classical ballet and dance of a good number of our critics.

Such critics that we have, overtly support dance works simply because of the credo (To paraphrase)” …that they are new and old classical is for a cultural elite and not of or for ordinary people.” How wrong can they be?

As any balletgoer knows, the majority of an audience is made up of people who have to work for a living, or are retired, certainly not members of the financial elite.

In general, important classical ballets are today less valued by critics than they once were and not just by critics.

To be specific, young dancers of the Royal Ballet are becoming seasoned in a company whose choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton gave it its status through his works and the development of many dancers. Yet, they are going to dance for goodness knows how many seasons without any knowledge of many of his celebrated ballets.

I have touched on creativity being blighted by lack of opportunity in my todays Balanchine post.

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I'm teaching art history now, and a fresh look at "The Madonna with the Long Neck" (which all of my students -- dancd students -- found beautiful and not at all extreme) made me think of ballet today: the very long lines, very long legs and arms (and necks), high extensions, and also, in choreography, stretching velocity, dynamics, line, anything they can stretch. What they're doing, it could be said (and I will write that article someday) is taking something that was considered "perfect" and distorting it, because they recognize the need for something new, but haven't figured out what The Next New Thing Is.

I love the connection you make.

For those who need to refresh their visual memories:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Parmigianino_003b.jpg

There's another even more important distortion here: the size and elongation of the Christ Child. Proportion is out of wack all over the picture. The column and the tiny man (presumeably far away) are a particularly unsuccessful example of this.

I'm not so much troubled by elongation, either in this picture or in the favored "look" among young female dancers. Sometimes elongation, like any distortion of the body's original shape, works. Sometimes it doesn't. What is bothersome about the Parmigiano picture, and which reminds me about the way certain young dancers aspire to perform today, is the absence of weight in these figures. They are out of real contact with each other (eg., the child's position in the lap) and also with what dancers would call the floor. It's the drapery that seems to give them substance.

In Four Temperaments, which Leigh mentions, the dancers have tremendous visual weight. I don't mean heaviness. Of course they move lightly (and often swiftly). Visual weight is something that makes you want to look more deeply at a figure, even if it's flying as (apparently) freely as a bird.

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Good point (about the Child) bart, and good points about the lack of weight, too. There's a lassitude to Italian Mannerist paintings -- that would not have been a flaw, to them, but something even more Extremely Beautiful.

Leonid, I'm very grateful for your London view :wink:

And, to really stir the pot about Great Choreographers of the Century, I must insert Bejart, whom many in Europe would consider The Man. (I do realize that many in Russia would also add Yuri Grigorovich.) Ah, dance. The universal language :)

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There's a lassitude to Italian Mannerist paintings -- that would not have been a flaw, to them, but something even more Extremely Beautiful.

And it's not possible to say they would be wrong to think so. My art history teacher in a Baroque Painting and Sculpture course was naturally always talking at least some about Parmigianino and Tintoretto, about Brill as well, and although a Baroque specialist herself, she would speak of these often as being 'very beautiful. And of course with Tintoretto especially, we have an unsurpassed master. It's only when the more robust and muscular starts seeming really necessary that those things begin to reek of the overdone. And so that, while I wasn't sure if the 'famous Mannerism' had been called such, there are, of course, many examples of art becoming mannered, and it can be in the popular arts as well as the high arts. It can be seen as a kind of decay, but won't necessarily be. And there definitely is a place for the excessive, the extreme, the unbalanced even, the bizarre and the grotesque have their merits in all the Arts, it's just a matter of deciding when it's teetering toward collapse too much. But America in the 80s and 90s has been full of mannerism of all kinds. And the Balanchine imitators are perfect examples of mannerism.

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The all Forsythe program that the Kirov brought was the same ballet four times over, the Work for a Ballet Company ballet. Not to bring up another contentious topic :wink:

A huge, huge topic and I'm an odd one to defend Forsythe as I've slammed him as much as lauded him, but Forsythe "for export" is a completely different animal than the work he made for his own company. I didn't see that kind of potential in Forsythe outside of the works he made for Ballett Frankfurt (Maybe in France/Dance - made in '83 for POB) . The "for export" pieces are steps and sensations. I didn't see the Daphnis or Orpheus - by the time he did Artifact and Czar he was working with his own themes without narratives and I'd argue he was successful. (Paging Marc, who would argue vociferously that he wasn't!)

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Oh, please defend him, Leigh. We haven't had a good Forsythe discussion in a long time! I'll meet you halfway and say he can MOVE people. I haven't seen "Impressing the Czar." We never got the Frankfurt Ballet at the Kennedy Center until the very end, so what I know of Forsythe is his For Export work, back to (in addition to what I wrote earlier) his after-Bausch period. (SFB did a piece from that era, but I don't remember his name.) Anyway, for me, at least, he wasn't the Next Great One, although for many, many people he was and is.

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You're thinking of The New Sleep - SFB did it in '87 - it was high For Export (it seems every company got a piece of his from 1987-91 - the holdout was ABT.)

I'm sympathetic to him at least partly because he was my generation's "nearly The One" and I think he has a particular historical resonance to those who came of age in ballet in the eighties.

To my mind, Artifact is even better than Czar. It's less combative and less pretentious (every Forsythe work has some pretentiousness. The price of admission.) But he stuck to his theme - Memory and the endurance of art - and the dance sections reflect and distill the themes - he does make choreography in Artifact that functions as metaphor as well. Czar grew around In the Middle (another for export work) and it doesn't feel integrated into the whole. Weirdly, the Forsythe pieces I think are most successful are *about* ballet. He might disagree.

To get back to the point of the discussion though, it's not about ballets looking more like Forsythe's work. It's about making ballets that dig into their ideas, whatever they are. It is, most importantly, about saying something because it is what you need and have to say.

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When talking about the search for a new Balanchine, for the sake of the discussion can it be confirmed whether or not Balanchine was a choreographer of ballets or a highly skilled artisan of dance works because they are for me quite different genres.

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Yes, Leigh. "New Sleep" it was. (Lots of walking around with potted palms on the head, as I remember it.)

Leonid, I agree what that your two questions are very different ones. I've been assuming when people ask about The Next Balanchine they are speaking of a towering figure in the field of ballet. I think the search for a new Martha or Merce would be a different question -- and one worth asking :thumbsup:

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Has any company, in recent years, focused on -- and sought serious funding for -- an effort to get choreographers to work with them in the tradition of (though not as carbon-copies of) the great ballet makers of the past?

I have a friend, a former dancer, who is very excited by the support that Richmond Ballet in Richmond, Virginia is giving choreographers, Jessica Lang among others. Having seen only one new work one time I don't feel I can comment on their quality or their status as ballet vs. modern dance, but this past fall they had premieres by William Soleau, Todd Rosenlieb, and Gina Patterson.

Does anyone know these names? The company boasts of having commissioned 50 works in 25 years of existence.

Alexandra? Anyone? Someone here must know this company.

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I've seen the company twice, but don't know the choreographers you mentioned, unfortunately. They are known for commissioning new work. The first time I saw them I thought they were very interesting -- all long lines, some beautiful dancers (in a mixed repertory). The second time, they were rather awkward in Balanchine, very good in a 1960s-ish blend of modern and ballet. I'd be interested in seeing their work -- or at least hearing about it! You're not too far. Please go and report!

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I've heard of the company, but I've never seen a performance. A former teaching colleague danced one of the Shade solos in their 'La Bayadère'.

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[T]hey had premieres by William Soleau, Todd Rosenlieb, and Gina Patterson.

Does anyone know these names?

I know a little about Gina Patterson. She danced for a number of years with Ballet Florida (before moving to Ballet Austin). That was before my time here, but I find it suggestive that she participated in BF's "Step Ahead" program for young choreographers. This was a vital and popular program, but fizzled out a few years ago as the company's economic position declined.

I DID see a number of Step Ahead seasons (after Patterson left) and was impressed. All the works were enjoyable at least, and quite well-danced and produced. One or two were much more than that.

The best work, in my opinion, was by a BF dancer, Jerry Opendaker, whose "Coeur de Basque" still remains in my rather vividly in my mind. It was "a first work -- and I don't know whether it conformed to Leigh's standard of a work that

digs into the ideas of the choreographers -- but it was full of beautiful and quite original movements and images. BF later produced it on one (and possibly two) of its regular programs.

Opendaker later particiapted of the NYCB choreographers workshop and produced a couple of other pieces. For some reason, these pieces never developed on -- or went more deeply into -- the impulses that generated Coeur de Basque.

I have no explanation for this. My own feeling is that the environment -- small-town; fairly in-bred ballet community; no serious local competition or even role models; few opportunities to see first-qualtiy work produced by others; companyleadership which was most comfortable with a fairly narrow network of contacts and ideas -- may have kept Opendaker from expanding his choreographic potential.

I have often wondered what Opendaker might have accomplished if he'd been in New York. Where an aspiring choreographer lives can't help but play a big role in whether or not he/she develops. Some places are more likely to produce collaborative creative work (and choreography is a collaboration) than others. They provide access to the best dancers; the chance to see a variety of challenging works; the impetus of competition; knowledgeable critical feedback; access to work opportunities; etc.

Adam had Paris; Petipa had St. Petersburg; Ashton had London; the later Balanchine, along with Robbins, had New York City; Tudor had London AND NYC. This must be more than a coincidence.

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Adam had Paris; Petipa had St. Petersburg; Ashton had London; the later Balanchine, along with Robbins, had New York City; Tudor had London AND NYC. This must be more than a coincidence.

Ah, but Bournonville had only Copenhagen!!!! I think it certainly helps if you're in a big city -- many more opportunities, etc, as bart mentioned. But you need teh training (which the first Mr. B had, in Paris with Vestris), and then you need an institution in which you can work, with financial backing, and which will keep your works alive.

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Question: was Copenhagen as isolated and provincial as we tend to think it was? Weren't there important French and Italian influences in his background and early life?

Also, royal court -- even a small and relatively unpretentious one -- must have had some sort of magnetic effect on wandering artists and connoisseurs of ballet and theater, of which there were many in Europe at the time.

Or, is Bournonville one of those rare people who, having been given a good start through his family connections, goes on to work and create more or less in isolation -- sui generis -- in spite of or maybe even because of the placidity and provincialism of his environment? Perhaps he was one of those creators who seem to require peace, quiet, stability, and support -- rather than stimulation, variety, and risk.

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Question: was Copenhagen as isolated and provincial as we tend to think it was? Weren't there important French and Italian influences in his background and early life?

Also, royal court -- even a small and relatively unpretentious one -- must have had some sort of magnetic effect on wandering artists and connoisseurs of ballet and theater, of which there were many in Europe at the time.

Or, is Bournonville one of those rare people who, having been given a good start through his family connections, goes on to work and create more or less in isolation -- sui generis -- in spite of or maybe even because of the placidity and provincialism of his environment? Perhaps he was one of those creators who seem to require peace, quiet, stability, and support -- rather than stimulation, variety, and risk.

Obviously, Alexandra knows all of the answers which certainly I'm not pretending to answer by responding prematurely, and I certainly owe what understanding and appreciation I have of Bournonville to her; but just wanted to quickly say that all these things you wrote seem to me now to characterize the special quality of Bournonville, the 'subtle Danish art', as Alexandra has before said. But it IS a provincialism that you get too, but in a really good sense of the word-, the 'peace, quiet, stability, and support'-as you say- and then the presentation of that surely must owe something to the sophistication of Paris and its strong traditional structures--and the combination is, I think or think likely, special and unique. What other small country has a ballet tradition all its own that is not at all like the others? I like the totally unlikely aspect of Bournonville's output. It's one of those things that seems as if it could easily have missed its chance.

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Question: was Copenhagen as isolated and provincial as we tend to think it was? Weren't there important French and Italian influences in his background and early life?

Also, royal court -- even a small and relatively unpretentious one -- must have had some sort of magnetic effect on wandering artists and connoisseurs of ballet and theater, of which there were many in Europe at the time.

Or, is Bournonville one of those rare people who, having been given a good start through his family connections, goes on to work and create more or less in isolation -- sui generis -- in spite of or maybe even because of the placidity and provincialism of his environment? Perhaps he was one of those creators who seem to require peace, quiet, stability, and support -- rather than stimulation, variety, and risk.

To answer the first part of you question, I think possibly there is not much in translation to form an opinion about the cultural life of the first half of the 19th century. Copenhagen was at the centre of an important trading nation at the time of Auguste Bournonville and Norway was part of its Kingdom as were/had been parts of Germany, East Africa and the West Indies.

It is difficult for very many people to appreciate the amount of Handel operas and music that has been played of late as they find it difficult to engage with the style. If you can't engage with Bournonvilles ballets it is not that they are weak or unsophisticated, I would suggest it is the inability to make the journey to meet the genre.

Auguste Bournonville’s ballets are exceptionally sophisticated (not as described elsewhere) as was the choreographers background and as indeed was the great man was himself.

The father of Auguste was the French born Antoine who had been born into a theatrical family who had studied with one of the greatest names of ballet history Jean Georges Noverre who had performed at Fontainebleau and has been called the creator of ballet d’action and world famous for his” Les Lettres sur La Danse et sur Les Ballets”.

It was from this kind of background Antoine (described as beautiful as Apollo) was confirmed when he was appointed to premier danseur at the Royal Swedish Opera a post he would depart from following the assassination of Gustav III.

From Sweden Auguste gained employment with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. Here he was to dance in seminal works by Vincenzo Galeotti, (a pupil of Gasparo Angiolini) who had collaborated with Gluck at the Vienna Court theatre and spent some time as balletmaster at the St,Petersburg Imperial Theatres.

Auguste was not just a scion of ballet history royal blood he was a scion of imperial ballet ballet history blood.

Auguste Bournonville path to glory was not too dissimilar to Balanchine. Both, for dancer choreographers, had a privileged social backgrounds compared to most dancers. Both had a privileged artistic and historical background, Balanchine’s musical training by descent via Tchaikovsky, goes back to the Johannes Ockeghem in the 15th century.

Bournonville’s ballets capture commonplace characters with a vivid reality in narrative works that achieve an economy of expression which is highly sophisticated. That is to say his characters are as

real as those that appearing in Shakespeare plays.

It takes the admiration of a genre, to be able to rise above critical reception of Bournonville’s sophistication which has not been tainted

by familiarity and study of 20th century aesthetics.

There has recently been a Bournonville revival in Copenhagen which although it is a new work look at, we are still far short of knowing a quarter of this mans ouevre to fully judge him. We measure Petipa’s

unseen works because studies in English have been available for more than fifty years. This is not entirely the case of Bournonville.

Galeotti was the starting point for Bournonville, as Petipa (who was musically trained) was for Balanchine.

Ashton came from a distinctly upper middle class background and although not having the advantage of the Imperial School had distinguished Russian teachers and studied choreography with Massine and Nijinska.

The answer Bart, is that the toffs have it. (TFIC)

Was Bournonville a victim of the dramatic social, industrial and technical changes of the late 19th century and early 20th century as happened to Petipa?

Has anyone counted recently the number of works by Balanchine that have not been revived? Were they just plain bad or unsophisticated?

PS

I have avoided dates as I am not at home to confirm them and have late made a correction thanks to Alexandra spotting an error in confusing names of Antoine and August. (ADDED) Truly I do know the difference.

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Just a quick note -- thanks for this, leonid, but I think there's a confusion between August and Antoine. It is Antoine (the father) who was premier danseur in Sweden (August was balletmaster there much later) and who came from Sweden to Copenhagen, and danced in Galeotti ballets. I'd also point out that Copenhagen may have been a trading center, but it was still a very small city in Bournonville's day -- 100,000 -- and Heiberg's literary magazine had 100 subscribers. He made work in a very small pond.

Many of Bournonville's serious ballets were lost in 1929, I believe, because Harald Lander, whose forte was comedy, either was not interested in them, or could not stage them.

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The answer Bart, is that the toffs have it. (TFIC)

For a moment, I thought I didn't have it and wasn't one of them (frightful thought), though, since I didn't know whether that was a British or internet acronym (still don't), but do now know it is not Transportation For Illinois Coalition.

I suppose that one is an internet one, and most will know it, though I didn't: 'Tongue Firmly in Cheek'.

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It is difficult for very many people to appreciate the amount of Handel operas and music that has been played of late as they find it difficult to engage with the style. If you can't engage with Bournonvilles ballets it is not that they are weak or unsophisticated, I would suggest it is the inability to make the journey to meet the genre.

I find that a very odd assertion when theatres are packed for Handel Operas. Was Agrippina with Sarah Connelly at the ENO difficult to engage with? Not for the packed audience the night I went and when Danielle de Niese sings her Cleopatra at Glyndebourne tickets aren't to be had for love nor money. Handel did create the odd work where you are better off buying the CD (Orlando springs to mind) but out of about 40 operas there are few that don't offer opportunities for imaginative stagings. As for Handel's other works Messiah, Water Music and Royal Fireworks are staples of every concert hall in Britain making me think he is the easiest of composers to appreciate, certainly in the UK.

Bournonville's works are the balletic equivalent of a de-tox and I defy anyone to leave a performance of his in Copenhagen without either a smile on the lips or a tear in the eye.

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