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In search of the next Balanchine


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Poll: The next Balanchine (31 member(s) have cast votes)

Are you waiting for the next Balanchine to come along?

  1. With bated breath (2 votes [6.45%])

    Percentage of vote: 6.45%

  2. No - today's ballet scene has a lot to offer (4 votes [12.90%])

    Percentage of vote: 12.90%

  3. We were lucky to get one in the last century, don't ask for the moon (10 votes [32.26%])

    Percentage of vote: 32.26%

  4. We've already got one, it's __________ (0 votes [0.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 0.00%

  5. It would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath (15 votes [48.39%])

    Percentage of vote: 48.39%

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#76 Alexandra

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 04:33 PM

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:

#77 Alexandra

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 04:42 PM

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, 16 July 2009 - 04:58 PM.


#78 leonid17

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 04:48 PM

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.

#79 bart

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 04:55 PM

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....ianino_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.

#80 Alexandra

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 05:08 PM

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 :)

#81 papeetepatrick

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 05:54 PM

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.

#82 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 06:03 PM

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!)

#83 Alexandra

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 06:10 PM

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.

#84 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 16 July 2009 - 06:22 PM

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.

#85 leonid17

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 08:37 AM

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.

#86 Alexandra

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 10:54 AM

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:

#87 kfw

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 06:38 PM

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.

#88 Alexandra

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 06:47 PM

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!

#89 Hans

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 06:47 PM

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'.

#90 bart

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 04:27 AM

[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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