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ChoreographersHow do you describe their "musicality"


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#16 Jack Reed

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 10:30 AM

Thanks, Simon G, there's two books there I've been intending to put on my "must read" stack, but I was hoping for a more specific reference. Still...

Anyway, I'll offer some rumination and experience which may be different enough to add something at the risk of being completely off track, but having come into ballet as a classical-music fan, I try to listen pretty closely as I watch, because that's how I get the greatest reward, and so, I often sense a weakness in the relationship between what I hear and what I see.

(Audible) music and (visible) movement can each separately be expressive; but sometimes, or often, choreographers don't show me in their work that they hear much of what is expressed in the music. They use the beat, of course, and the general mood, like in a film, and that's about it.

Sometimes Balanchine is crash-go-the-cymbals-and-up-goes-Pat-McBride (Who am I quoting? Can't remember.), which, depending on the choreographic context, might be okay at that point, but a little boring at length. But at his best -- or, for me, anybody's best -- he conceives a line of expression complementary to his composer-collaborator's; as he's supposed to have said in response to a question, "Tchaikovsky told me to", which I've known to irritate the literal-minded ("Tchaikovsky's dead!" Well, I guess he doesn't speak to you, then.). That's what makes Balanchine the best in my experience -- what makes his choreography weak for some makes it strong for me: It's invisible. They're dancing what they hear. Except, no improvisation could be so good for so long. There's some of the wonder of it.

This invisibility of Balanchine's choreography was made more vivid on a program with four modern-dance choreographers I saw in the Chicago Dance Festival here last August. The other dances seemed to me to lack the degree of organic unity, if you will, that his had.

Speaking of Pat McBride, what he conceived of, moment by moment, for his dancers in Rubies so complemented Stravinsky's witty Capriccio, already a minor favorite of mine, which I felt I knew note by note and phrase by phrase, that seeing it was the experience that -- I'm not too proud to say it -- hooked me on ballet, it so amplified my experience of one of my favorites.

#17 Hans

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 12:07 PM

This might sound strange, but although I often find myself jarred or annoyed by Balanchine's choreography, I can see where he is going with it, and I do think he is musical in his own way, even if it's not what I would have done.


It does sound strange, only because people who dislike Balanchine find his musicality too slickly or simplistically mimetic--i.e., "visualizing" the music in obvious or (merely) clever ways ("Mickey Mousing," as per LitLing above). Some say this about Mark Morris too.

I find his musicality neither jarring nor slick, however--no accounting for taste, I guess!--but I can understand the criticism. Can you elaborate on your sense of annoyance?


I would first like to point out that generalisations such as "people who dislike Balanchine" are not helpful in a discussion. Similarly, people may dislike his musicality for many reasons--perhaps they do not find it "simplistically mimetic" or "slick" (a word I did not and would not use) at all but object to some other aspect of it. I am not one who dislikes all of Balanchine's choreography: I adore much of it, particularly Apollo and 4T's. Some of his choreography I find very fussy and embroidered when simplicity would be preferable--and sometimes the opposite--and then at other times the choreography fails to build to a climax when the music does. I find Walpurgisnacht almost unwatchable for this reason--the music "tells" me one thing, and it apparently "told" Balanchine something else! Still, I can understand what he is doing; that is, I can see how he fits the steps to the music and why it makes sense. It does not, in certain ballets, have that "inevitable" feeling for me (in others, it does) but I understand it from a theoretical point of view.

This last is not directed at anyone in particular--it is inspired instead by several threads that have been active in the past month or so: I hope we can all avoid thinking of others in terms of "pro" or "anti" a particular artist. One of the main principles of this board is that there is room for all politely expressed opinions, even those that perhaps cannot be labeled neatly as belonging to one "side" or another. We are not here to choose sides against each other; rather, I hope that by carefully reading each other's posts we find ourselves enriched by the discussion, even when (or maybe particularly when) we do not fully agree.

#18 Ray

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 03:54 PM

This might sound strange, but although I often find myself jarred or annoyed by Balanchine's choreography, I can see where he is going with it, and I do think he is musical in his own way, even if it's not what I would have done.


It does sound strange, only because people who dislike Balanchine find his musicality too slickly or simplistically mimetic--i.e., "visualizing" the music in obvious or (merely) clever ways ("Mickey Mousing," as per LitLing above). Some say this about Mark Morris too.

I find his musicality neither jarring nor slick, however--no accounting for taste, I guess!--but I can understand the criticism. Can you elaborate on your sense of annoyance?


I would first like to point out that generalisations such as "people who dislike Balanchine" are not helpful in a discussion. Similarly, people may dislike his musicality for many reasons--perhaps they do not find it "simplistically mimetic" or "slick" (a word I did not and would not use) at all but object to some other aspect of it. I am not one who dislikes all of Balanchine's choreography: I adore much of it, particularly Apollo and 4T's. Some of his choreography I find very fussy and embroidered when simplicity would be preferable--and sometimes the opposite--and then at other times the choreography fails to build to a climax when the music does. I find Walpurgisnacht almost unwatchable for this reason--the music "tells" me one thing, and it apparently "told" Balanchine something else! Still, I can understand what he is doing; that is, I can see how he fits the steps to the music and why it makes sense. It does not, in certain ballets, have that "inevitable" feeling for me (in others, it does) but I understand it from a theoretical point of view.


Sorry, Hans, for the generalization--I meant to say "some people," but by the time I thought of changing it, it had been quoted out several times already. The main point of my post was a genuine desire to understand yours. I have no other agenda, having thrown away my Balanchine altar many years ago! (OK, I admit I still go there occasionally). I was familiar with one strand of dislike--the music-aping one--but not yours, and I wanted to hear more. So thanks for saying more.

#19 Hans

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 04:15 PM

I understand, and thank you for explaining. :rofl:

#20 innopac

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Posted 12 September 2009 - 03:31 AM

A short clip of Mark Morris talking about his choreography's relation to music and why he believes in only using live music.

#21 bart

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Posted 12 September 2009 - 06:47 AM

Thanks, innopac, for the fascinating clip. It was a long-ago film showing Morris working on l'Allegro ... etc. that made me a fan. I liked the way he responds to and rebuts accusations of "music visualization ("Like that's a crime or something.") :smilie_mondieu:


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