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Classical/contemporary


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#16 Alexandra

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Posted 05 March 1999 - 11:02 AM

Leigh, thanks for such a good point. I do think lots of people think of dance (modern dance as well as ballet) as some sort of test, but then we have no training in how to watch it. I did a preperformance lecture once where I showed a video and talked over it. I thought I was saying the most obvious things (the sylph could be a dream, or she could be a symbol of James's longing. Look, (as they're walking backwards to the door in the first act), the Sylph's arms -- she's trying to "pull" James out the door) -- but I could tell by people's faces that these things weren't obvious, and they were happy to hear them. One man came up to me afterwards and said his wife had been "dragging" him to the ballet for 40 years and he'd never seen any point to it before. "I learned about poetry and painting and music in school," he said. "But nothing about ballet."

Like music or a painting, one should be able to listen to and watch ballet with pleasure without knowing anything about it, but also, you'll probably appreciate it more the more you know.

Katharyn -- thank you very much for joining in the fray. I can imagine reading all this in one gulp would produce grave indigestion.

I'd like to address some of your points. First, yes, definitely there are bad or silly works in every genre. I'd also like to stress that my complaint against contemporary (nonclassical) ballet is when it's danced by a classical company. If the Martha Graham company put on "Sleeping Beauty," I think people would feel that was odd. Well, why doesn't it work the same way in ballet?

I'm not sure there's a new "backlash" against contemporary; some were alarmed back in the late '60s about it. There's a great article by Deborah Jowitt, critic of the Village Voice (and a modern dancer) called "Hybrid: Will Grow in Any Soil" that sounded an alarm in the early '70s. It's one of the clearest expositions of the problem I've read (It's in her collection, Dance Beat).

On technique, no kind of dance is "easy," and any style one is not trained in will be difficult, but yes, I know older dancers and balletmasters (who loved dancing modern works and, when they were young dancers, wanted to dance everything, as all young dancers do) talk about how difficult it was to maintain a classical technique when dancing a heavy diet of modern works. (There's an article about this on the main site, in the Ballet Alert! sampler which is in the Reading Room. The interview with Bruce Marks, trained as a modern dancer, switched to ballet, and was one of the leading voices in the push for ballet companies to dance modern works. After directing a mixed-repertory dance company for many years, he changed his mind.

Finally, there has to be new repertory, absolutely, but, as Marks and many other people have said, it would be better if it came from within ballet rather than from without, if ballet is to survive in recognizable form.

Bottom line, you can't do what ABT tried to do in the 1980s: be the Joffrey Ballet during the week and do a mixed rep, and then turn into a Great Classical Company on the weekend and dance a convincing, international level Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. Pick one. Life is about making choices.

alexandra

We've all written so long (who am I to complain?) that I'm going to start a new thread)

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 07 March 1999 - 05:21 PM

Go, Lillian! My dream is that, at a New Now Night in the not too distant future, there will be people with picket signs saying, "We want real ballet!" (Always remembering that if it's the My City Contemporary Dance Company, that's just fine.)

I thank you for pointing out the turned in-turned out difference which is, of course, very valid. I do think you need more than pointe shoes to make it a ballet, though (and some ballet companies, including the Bolshoi last time I saw them, aren't turned out in the classics now; perhaps as a result of the moderne influence). You could put a modern dance on pointe, but it would need more than that (and Rambert and the Limon companies dance Dark Elegies off-pointe, but I'd argue that the work is still a ballet). And my definition, at least, includes character dance and mime as possible material for ballet-making.

I think a ballet makes reference to the established rules of classical form (entree, adagio, soli, coda); even if it breaks the rules, the choreographer knows what they are. Likewise, the steps move through the five positions of the feet, and there are complete phrases, with linking steps, not just high kicks and jumps (no sentence fragments).

I'd agree that Golden Age is a ballet. I think "In the Middle..." looks almost like a ballet when Paris Opera Ballet does it, but they dance everything with their own accent, and so could probably make "Billboards" look like a ballet (this is not a repertory acquisition suggestion).

Nacho Duato is everywhere this year. I found his work harmlessly pleasant until a modern dancer sitting behind me at a performance, who was seething (I think it was Jardi Tancat) over it, pointed out that this section was "borrowed" from this work by Martha Graham, and that section "quoted" from a dance by Jose Limon. There were more references, but I lost track. But that gets more into "good" vs. "bad" than "ballet" vs. "modern;" again, there are good and bad in both.

It's fascinating to me, that some people recognize a distinction, yet we all have a different dividing line: vocabulary, pointe work, turnout. And others, especially those who've come to ballet after the merging began see it all as ballet, because (I'm guessing) it's done by a ballet company and ballet dancers are dancing it. (I'm not trying to criticize that definition, just trying to summarize the discussion.)

Finally, to Lillian, yes, the two styles, if done right, are very different and very few people can really do them both. I liked the Paul Taylor dancers better in the 1970s, when the dancers were mostly modern trained; now they're ballet trained, and it shows. Air turns are centered instead of rough and powerful and raw.

Fifty years ago, someone in the general audience could tell a Russian dancer from a French dancer from an Italian dancer from a British dancer from a Danish dancer. A professional could tell who the dancer's teacher was.

A hundred years ago, I read in a biography of the Legats, Cecchetti (dear, sweet old grandpa Cecchetti) was considered coarse; Johansson (Legat's teacher, and a pupil of Bournonville) was more refined. Balletic diversity is disappearing. That's at the root of what troubles me.

Please keep posting. I am really very interested in the different points of view - dancers, teachers, watchers, and I've gotten several emails from others who are reading this conversation with great interest, also.

Thanks,
alexandra

#18 Lillian

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Posted 07 March 1999 - 10:35 PM

Dear Alexandra and fellow dance enthusiasts,
I'd like to emphasize a point I made in the first post. Ballet is about lifting up and modern is about getting into the floor. This point is crucial, especially to modern dancers who would probably pass out at the suggestion of a modern piece being done on pointe. I don't think anyone could dance Martha Graham on pointe. The pitch turns alone (turn done with the body parallel to the supporting leg, head down and the other leg in a high arabesque) are unimaginable on pointe.
Women in classical ballet are also expected to dance on pointe and no other kind of dancer is trained for pointe work. Everything Balanchine choreographed (except for the Paul Taylor piece in Episodes) is classical ballet. The Four Temperaments is incredibly classical, it is the style that is different from say, Sleeping Beauty.
Concerning turnout, I think it is Arlene Croce who has written the most interesting essays on the subject. If the Bolshoi dancers weren't dancing turned out, shame on them. Turnout is essential in ballet- not an option or a style.
I'm sorry to sound so picky, but I learned all this when I studied modern with an ex Graham, Limon, Doris Humphrey dancer, Ina Hahn. With the help of Labanotation, this wonderful teacher revived a Humphrey work for her students (most of us were ballet dancers).It was a beautiful little piece set to a partita by Bach. It was also extremely difficult because we had to get down and bend sideways from the waist, and all the fast little steps were done on bent knees. It was a real challenge and not one bit of that dance had any ballet in it .
I liked your point, about modern dance being rough, powerful and raw. This is the best thing about modern dance- the raw energy and abandon. That is probably what attracted Nureyev to Paul Taylor's company.
I'm not surprised about the Duato bit. Although I quite like Jardin Tancat, the rest of his ballets do nothing for me. I find them unmusical, unfocused and too long. Mark Morris is another choreographer I would love to like, but I don't. (sorry to sound so opinionated!)
There are choreographers out there who defy definition in both these categories such as Bejart and Eliot Feld. I have enjoyed both these companies, and they change shoes and styles constantly.
Let us also keep in mind that the reason we don't see more full length classical ballets is because many companies just don't have the talent to fill the roles. These ballets call for stars, a large strong corps de ballet, some good character dancers, and a whole lot of money. Only about six companies in the world can pull that off today.
Concerning your point about all dancers looking the same- it reminds me of sports teams. Our local company Les Grands Ballets Canadiens was full of Americans at one point. If there is no good school with a common technique attached to a company, you're bound to get a bit of everything- the technique milkshake. Does anyone actually teach pure Cecchetti anymore?
This is why the Kirov is still such an interesting company. At one point all those dancers were even wearing the same shoes. Today they probably order Freed's. Ah, the beginning of the end!
(sorry to write so much...this is just such a huge and interesting subject)

#19 Alexandra

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Posted 07 March 1999 - 11:32 PM

It is a huge and interesting subject. I'd like to grab your point about only about six companies in the world being able to do the big classical ballets. YES! So why do about 185 of them, right down to your neighborhood company, try to do them? (Three guesses).

I understand your point about turning in and turning out, but I do think there are exceptions -- Forsythe being one, and Tetley being another. He's all long lines and pulling up and sleek turnedout legs, but it's not ballet. (And Tetley's stated mission was to blend ballet and modern dance.)

Lillian, I, at least, don't think you're being picky at all. Anyone who cares about an art form eventually, at least, develops strong opinions. Blast away.

alexandra

#20 cargill

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Posted 08 March 1999 - 03:33 PM

In the topic Ballet/modern #3, Alexandra asked me to say something about the Diamond Project dances. For all those not hanging on NYCB's every move, it is a series of ballets sponsored by someone whose last name is Diamond, to try to bring in new choreography. There have been, I think three series so far, about one every two years. There are usually minimal costumes and small casts, and not much rehearsal time. There are a few rules--ballet vocabulary, point shoes, and live music, though some choreographers bend things. So far, I don't think any of the ballets (there must be about 20 of them so
far) have made much of a mark other than the novelty of a new title. One of the reasons, I think, is that the choreographers don't know the dancers, and by and large just set "their" ballets, rather than work through the dancers. I did enjoy Christopher Wheeldon's latest, where he did a wonderful soaring solo for Meunier, but other than that, I can't really think of a one that I want to see again. To get back to the question, some I would consider ballet, some (like Kevin O'Day) not, but mostly I think they were dull.

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 March 1999 - 01:43 AM

[Administrator's note: the preceding and subsequent posts disappeared during a move; this post and several following posts were in response to those missing posts. A.T.]

Before this degenerates into a miasma, I thought I'd clarify a point quoted slightly out of context.

I am not sneering at Forsythe when I say I haven't seen an adagio from him. I'm saying that in 12 years of watching any of his work when it comes to America I haven't seen an adagio from him. By adagio I don't mean something that is slow. I mean something that uses the adagio vocabulary as opposed to the allegro vocabulary of ballet.

There's little of Forsythe's work I've seen that I haven't admired. But the issue raised here was its relation to classical ballet. And Forsythe's choreography suggests that he takes the portion of classical ballet that suits his purposes - which is a segment of it and leaves the rest unused. If one sees this as where ballet is heading, we are leaving massive portions of it to atrophy, putting it on a diet of shrapnel and water.

This makes Forsythe no less of an artist. But to see him as the standard bearer of ballet post-Balanchine is, in my opinion, erroneous.

That having been said, I also very much agree with your final assessment of the dearth of ballet choreographers being due to the absence of any training in composition. One of the greatest things to happen to choreography in this century was Balanchine. Also, one of the worst things to happen to choreography in this century was Balanchine - he cast a long, crippling shadow. There is little use in emulating his process slavishly, genius has its own rules. His insistence against interpretation of his ballets has been taken so literally by those following that we now really have seen ballets about "nothing at all." A tenet of modernism has calcified into dogma.

One cannot teach genius, as I stated in a post elsewhere, I believe the parthenogenesis of genius. But when can teach craft, and we can teach composition, and not all learning needs to be "on the job" because that's they way Mr. B did it.

#22 Alexandra

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Posted 09 March 1999 - 01:55 AM

Just to hit a few points without completely recapping, or this thread will become interminable, I don't think people were putting forth the names of Corder and Wheeldon et al. as GREAT classical choreographers, merely that there were living people choreographing recognizably classical ballets. I would add one more sadly, prematurely, dead name to this list, and that is Clark Tippet, whose "Bruch Violin Concerto" is one choreographer's attempt to make a classical ballet using the materials of classical dancing -- genres (classique/noble/character/demicaractere), style, all within the context of his (ABT's) repertory. It's touring America -- Ed, it's coming to Detroit soon. If anyone is curious about it, I posted a review of it, trying to explain these elements, back in December. It's in the Reading Room, under Reviews. It's nine years old. Tippet died two years after it was created.

Back to this thread, I think terminology is extremely important in any serious discussion about art. I also think there's a big difference between what is popular and what is good, between what I "like" and what is judged by people who actually spend their lives thinking about such things to be great. (Fifty years ago, the most popular, adored, all-time-greatest choreographer was Leonid Massine.) I'm quite ready to believe that many British ballet fans prefer MacMillan to Ashton, if only bcause they see very little of the latter and what they see is not very well done, but that doesn't speak to their relative worth as choreographers. I really don't think Forsythe has been around long enough to get into "is great/is not" discussion. (Again, this, to me, is a very different question than whether one likes him or not. Like anything you please.)

To me, it matters a great deal whether something is "ballet" or "notballet" (which I'd be more than happy to substitute for "ballet moderne") for all the reasons ranging from truth in advertising to direction of ballet to problems of technique, not to mention aesthetic, that have been mentioned here.

I brought up the opera analogy and I'll stand by it. I'm certainly not an expert in that field, but I'm generally conversant with its history and repertory. Messaien and Warlock are, as far as I know, generally considered "classical musicians," and part of the main line of opera (part of the problem is that "classical" has about 20 different shades of meaning. Yes, they are modern, contemporary, not Verdi, however you want to put it, and I'm sure a great huge chunk of the Puccini fans can't stand them, but they're a continuation, a development, of the main line.

Every art form has "rigid" classifications. Blank verse is blank verse; it is different from free verse. The reason we have such terms is so that when we talk, we know what we're talking about. Some are horizontal, i.e., of the same general type or rank (sonnet, epic poem, elegy; Aristotelian rules of aesthetics would rank them, and not in that order, I know). Others are vertical (poem, rhyme, limerick), and everyone knows that a poem is "greater" than a "limerick," although a limerick may not only be more popular but sell more beer than a poem.

Dance is the poorest of the arts in these phrases, I think. The best/worst example of this is "modern dance," which says nothing and everything, and which everyone has always found inadequate but no one has bettered. Since the Judson Church days here (the '60s) during the "dance is whatever I say it is and you can't stop me" phase, everything became dance. "Dances" had no steps, no dancers, used words. Since then, at least in America, there seems to be little attempt to classify. Ballet is not simply classical ballet (hard to remember in the post-Balanchine age where "pure dancing" dominates. It's also demicaractere and character. (I'd argue that Afternoon of a Faune -- Nijinsky's, not Robbins' -- is very much a ballet; it's out of the character dance line and it's not danse d'ecole, but it's a ballet. I don't buy the "Nijinsky was the first really modern dance choreographer" line at all, and I think that's been put forward because people see very little character dance these days, and therefore it's not part of our universe.)

I agree wholeheartedly that there's not much even halfway decent classical ballet being reproduced today, but I haven't seen anything in the notballet category that's worth seeing twice, either. (Taylor and Cunningham are Giants and still work, but they're in the "more of the same" phase. I keep going to things that I read are new and wonderful, but I think it's just wishful thinking. (I read the posts about "Carmen" at ballet.co. I have to say that nothing made me want to catch a plane.)

Why? I think (and this is purely opinion) partly because dancing has gotten too narrow. In ballet, everything here is "son of Balanchine," but the Balanchine aesthetic has probably run its course. The same thing that happened to modern dance in the time after the giants is happening in ballet now. I also think that abstract ballet feeds off narrative. The only way an audience can respond to abstraction is through the images narrative works have built up in their minds. When those memories grow dim, or are nonexistent, the abstraction is without inner meaning or reference.

People are turning back to narrative, but no one seems to remember how to make a narrative ballet -- well, a first-rate one, anyway. Also, the fact that "classical music" has been, shall we say, not very tuneful for the past 50 years (the aftershock of Stravinsky, musicologists say) has left choreographers with little new music to use. This, too, is changing. Young musicians in the Baltic States, I learned recently from a choreographer working here, are writing chamber music and symphonies that are looking both back and forward.

Which is probably what ballet needs to do.

If I could run a choreographer's workshop for ballet choreographers, I'd first make them stage some 19th century balets, then some 20th century (generally agreed upon) masterworks -- works whose structure and vocabulary are considered nearly flawless. The 19th century ones would have to be as close to the old versoins as we could get. None of this "throw out the character dancing and mime because I don't get it" stuff. I think this would serve the same purpose that painting the Old Masters does for budding painters. You have to recreate that lighting, draw those long fingers, reproduce that smile, before you can use the skills to express your own imagination.

The ones who did well with those stagings, those I would let try to make a ballet, and see how they do from there.

Modern dance students in the States all take "composition" courses, and many find Labanotation courses, Effort/Shape, helpful in analyzing dances, I'm told. I that such analysis is important. I did learn a terrible truth, though, about the way this idea is carried out at at least one American university. They take two semesters of composition. In the first semester, they do only solos. In the second, they do groups. Only they never get to the groups -- too many rehearsals, too many schedule conflicts. That explained a lot to me why choreography here looks the way it does!

I would also suggest that great artists in any medium need to know the other arts. Go to theater, concerts, operas, as much dance as possible. Read books, not to look for novels to dramatize, but to think about something other than themselves. Those skills were not being taught at the university where I was teaching, and the students looked utterly bewildered when I suggested it. And so they made dance after dance about how hard it was to be a dance student, and how terrible it was to break up with their boyfriends.

#23 Giannina

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Posted 05 March 1999 - 11:29 AM

Katharyn said that a classical company needs to add modern dance to its repetroire as a means of keeping balanced and versitile. I've heard some dancers say the same thing...that they like the added challenge. I, however, feel cheated if I pay to see classical ballet at one of the major ballet companys and get a sampling of modern dance. Had I wanted modern I would have gone elsewhere.

Giannina

#24 Estelle

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Posted 05 March 1999 - 11:39 AM

(Apologies for the awful editing of my posts-but I'm afraid I don't know how to improve it!)

What a big thread- it's interesting, but I'm getting a bit lost...

Alexandra, you wrote some time ago:
"First, yes, the pre-20th century ballet repertory is not nearly as rich as that of opera, but I would argue that the 20th century classical/neoclassical repertory is richer. There's much fine repertory that's never done now -- lots of Fokine and Ashton, for starters." Well, perhaps one of the problems is that the "classical" repertory for music or opera has been around long enough to become a part of the "common culture", while the 20th-century repertory
for classical dance was created at the same time as other dance forms, and is less widely
known (and even some parts of the 19th century repertory- there was no complete "Swan Lake" in the POB repertory before the 1960s, for example). The "standard" repertory depends on the country- Ashton is almost unknown in France, for example...

I'm afraid I haven't seen any work by the active "neoclassical" choreographers you quoted. And in France, even "ballet moderne"
young choreographers are quite rare (the only ones coming to my mind are Maillot and Malandain)... By the way, would you include Rudi Van Dantig in the list? I saw his "Romeo and Juliet" yesterday by the Ballet de Marseille, it looked quite classical to my untrained eye(but I'm afraid I didn't find it very interesting- or maybe it's just I'm becoming severely allergic to Prokofiev's ballet music).

You used the word "hybrid" for some choreographers such as Forsythe or Kylian, is it a negative term for you? Is it the fact that some people consider their works as "ballet" which disturbs you, or do you think their works aren't good, or both?

You also wrote: "I'd also like to stress that my complaint against contemporary (nonclassical) ballet is when it's danced by a classical company. If the Martha Graham company put on "Sleeping Beauty," I think people would feel that was odd. Well, why
doesn't it work the same way in ballet?" I see what you mean. On the other hand, I was quite happy to see some works of Graham in the POB repertory, even though they weren't danced very well. But the French context is special: the dance scene mostly is divided between "the POB" and "anything else", at least in term of company sizes and state subsidies. The POB subsidies are higher than the sum of those of all the other French companies, so it's not so surprising that people expect much from the POB, and so even expect them to have a really large repertory... And there are modern works whose preservation seems as difficult as the preservation of ballet works- seeing anything by Graham, Limon or Humphrey in France is almost impossible; perhaps the situation would be clearer if there also were some "repertory" steady modern companies?



[This message has been edited by Estelle (edited 03-05-99).]

#25 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 05 March 1999 - 02:43 PM

You are quite right Estelle, Rudi van Dantzig's "Romeo and Juliet" is a classical ballet, as is his "Swan Lake", but that doesn't necessarily make him a neoclassical choreographer.
Van Dantzig's "Romeo" is rather exceptional. It was a commission from the Dutch National Ballet he first turned down -- indeed, it was to alien for him. When he eventually did the ballet (somewhere in the mid-sixties) he followed Lavrovsky's staging, used Prokofiev's music, and thus proved Ashton was right when he remarked that "Anybody could get up and do Romeo and Juliet, it's all there structured for you."

By the way, I don't think Van Dantzig's "Romeo" is that uninteresting Estelle; it's quite comparable to MacMillan's version of the ballet, only it's less well known. Of course, it won't be for his "Romeo and Juliet" or his "Swan Lake" that van Dantzig will be remembered in books on ballet history. Pieces like "Monument for a Dead Boy", are more like it, and are quite a different kettle of fish.

The same could be said about the other famous Dutch choreographer Toer van Schayk. It's not because his "Nutcracker and Mouseking" is a purely classical ballet, that van Schayk has to be considered a neoclassical artist. Those works are probably merely escapades for them.

Where to classify these guys then? Well, perhaps Alexandra's term "hybrid" is an idea.

#26 Alexandra

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Posted 05 March 1999 - 06:33 PM

Gosh, you all have been busy!

Giannina, I agree with you. There is something akin to "truth in advertising" in all of this. If I go to see the New Now Dance Company, I won't want to see "Sleeping Beauty." If I go to see the XYZ Ballet, I expect to see ballet. I think the onus is on the directors to find, train, encourage, etc. classical choreographers. They are out there.

Estelle -- so many good points, I hardly know where to start. I'll take them in order, but this is going to be long! (What awkward editing? Your posts are great.)

The repertory. I agree with what you say, and would only add that ballet seems to be, of necessity, a much more provincial art than music. You have to be there. Videos are still new - very expensive to produce and with a limited market - and not nearly as pervasive as recordings or CDs. So what you know is what you see. Balanchine
gave a lot of his works away, Ashton and Robbins really didn't like to see their ballets done on other companies, or, with Ashton, on other casts in his own company. Also, until about the last twenty years, the repertories of the major companies were all quite different. That was part of their charm.

I forgot about Van Dantzig. I've only seen his "ballet moderne" stuff. I think he also did a "Swan Lake" -- the Dutch National Ballet has always had a very eclectic repertory, lots of "classics" as well as new works by The Three Vans. I've seen some Van Schayk that I would call neoclassical and some I would call . . .not neoclassical. I haven't seen Van Dantzig's "Romeo," so I can't comment, but Marc's comments make sense to me (and I'm sure he's seen much more of the three Vs than I have.)

Yes, hybrid is a negative term for me, as is eclectic. I'd like to keep a kosher kitchen: this is this and that is that. I also love the '30s, '40s period of Modern Dance, which, of course, I didn't see, but I've read about it avidly. Those dancers nearly died for their art, and certainly fought for it and believed in it, and all that technique MEANT something. It wasn't supposed to be used as a trick, which is the way it is used now. I believe roots should be respected; you don't use the heart of a martyred goddess as decorative jewelry.

But you are right, that what bothers me is calling it "ballet," because it isn't. I think there are some who are trying to steal ballet's cachet. They don't want to do ballet, they rather scorn it and say quite nasty things about it, but they'll use its name, and claim they're carrying it into the 21st century.

As for the actual work, I think some of it is good within its own field, but I've seen very little that I would consider of the first rank.

As for Paris doing Martha Graham, I hate to be cynical again, but I think this is all about money. Ballet companies have money and also the institutional underpinnings to produce work. "Appalachian Spring" is, all of a sudden, turning up in all sorts of companies this year; I think I've counted four or five. Why? Because someone is getting paid to stage it. (The same thing is happening with Tudor and Balanchine. Some stagers are more active than others.) I think, at this point, much of the repertory selections are being driven by the salesmen, the ones who want to stage their wares, than by an artistic director with a clear plan.

There have been a few repertory modern dance companies over here, but they've never really take off. One of the reasons that's usually given is that you really can't dance a mixed repertory well. Graham, Humphrey, Limon, all had their own technique. If you dance a Humphrey piece with a Graham technique, it doesn't look like Graham. This is, not surprsingly, an argument with which I have total sympathy.

I do understand why the big state companies have wide-ranging repertories, though. But that, too, can be done from a classical base, i.e., without compromising a company's technique or style. I think Ashton's seven years with the Royal Ballet in the 1960s are a great example of this. He brought in a really pop Petit (Paradise Lost); the company didn't die. And he revived "Les Noces" and "Les Biches" -- great works that were out of repertory. It can be done.

Marc, how do we classify Grigorovich and Vinogradov? And Eifman? They're in the ballet family rather than the modern dance family, but.....

Libby, you got me. I'll pass the buck to Mary and Leigh on that one. Some of the Diamond Project is definitely ballet moderne (hybrid dance, a mixture of modern and ballet techniques), but Christopher Wheeldon has made works for them, too. So I'd say mixed bag. But Mary may have another opinion.

My sincerest thanks to everyone for resoponding, and please keep talking!

Alexandra

#27 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 07 March 1999 - 06:39 AM

With his ballets, new works as well as stagings of the classics, Grigorovich provided, in my opinion, one of the most convincing answers of a 20th-century choreographer to the problem of how to present the tradition of academic dance in a for a contemporary audience fully acceptable guise. Yet, in doing so, Grigorovich never got away from the classical structures. That's why some critics considered him to be too traditional -- thanks for the compliment. Grigorovich's "Nutcracker" is one of the best I've ever seen.

Vinogradov and Eifman tried or try to give answers as well, but in their cases I fully understand your hesitation concerning their classification, Alexandra. They started from the academic dance idiom as well, yet deliberately reacted against it and travelled away from it (in Eifman's case quite far) by introducing alien ways of movements, patterns, shapes, gymnastics (something Grigorovich never did). As with many western choreographers, who influenced these Russians, some people call this an "enrichment", others... well, will think differently. However, the end-result is completely different from the starting point (of course next to some more "modern" pieces Vinogradov did also his versions of "Coppélia", "Cinderella", "Fille mal gardée" etc which are still in a classical mould).

If somebody wants to call the pieces of Vinogradov and Eifman "ballets", that's fine with me. Yet, are they still "classical" works, that's another question. Perhaps, I can answer this one this way.

In 1995 Forsythe scrapped a commission to create a new work for the Royal Ballet, because he felt the classically-trained dancers of that company would in his opinion be UNABLE to dance his choreography in an acceptable way. -- Sounds to me, that Mr. Forsythe had at that point completely forsaken his roots.





Regarding Grigorovich

#28 Alexandra

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Posted 07 March 1999 - 12:59 PM

I have to add a wicked story -- rumor -- that went around when Forsythe was trying to work with the Royal Ballet. It is this: that when he went home, he was complaining that he kept asking them to give him steps and they "couldn't," they kept expecting him to set steps on them. He does mention, I believe, that he works "collaboratively" with dancers.

About Grigorovich...Marc, your post trailed off. I know that Soviets (if not Russians) considered Grigorovich a great genius of the 20th century, and I must confess a weakness for Spartacus, but.... I do agree that he uses the classical vocabulary and I definitely agree that he tried very hard to modernize ballet from within. But...I hope there's a better Nutcracker out there! (Marc, have you ever seen Balanchine's?)

One of the problems, for me, with Grigorovch, except for the signature motif of the woman grabbing her ankle when she's in a one-hand-over-the-head-lift, no matter what's happening, or what character she's playing, is the elimination of anything that isn't a Big Effect. No little linking steps, no subtlety, no real subsidiary characters (like all the fairies in Sleeping Beauty) You're either the hero, or you're a shepherd -- or a legionnaire, or a whore, etc. I also would classify a lot of the lifts and (remembering Mukhomedov in "The Golden Age") some steps as gymnastic, if not acrobatic. And I would object, also, to the eradication of both mime and character dance in his classical revisions.

I still would rather see Spartacus than any Forsythe -- or Lar Lubinovich, or Val Caniparoli (he's real hot here right now; fast worker), etc. than I've yet seen. But if I had to pick a 20th century Russian, I'd pick Lavrovsky.

alexandra

#29 Lillian

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Posted 07 March 1999 - 03:00 PM

There is another side to this issue - the difference in technique involved in these two dance forms. To put it simply, a ballet dancer lifts up (the extreme is pointe) and turns out and a modern dancer gets down to the floor and works turned in. As long as they are turning out, you're looking at classical ballet. I don't know if this makes sense but as someone who has danced both, I can tell you it is difficult to master these two extremes.I can think of very few dancers who have.
Many companies have added modern dance to their repertory to attract a new younger audience and to produce dance with a low overhead. Unfortunately this forces them to form a diverse company which looks mediocre in all circumstances.
I am surprised at this policy because I find modern dance more of an acquired taste than classical ballet. Anyone who has sat through an evening of Molissa Fenley works, better know what they are getting into.
Here in Montreal, this "contemporary ballet" has all but taken over. A lot of this "new" choreography is pure pretentious garbage that gets a lot of critical attention because it is so "cutting edge". Please. I wonder if anybody who knows anything about dance can sit through more than 15 minutes of a company like La La La Human Steps. And to top it all off, ballet companies are so desperate for choreographers that they ask modern dancers to produce ballets for them. Has that experiment ever really worked?
The Peter Martins ballet, Adams Violin Concerto drove me up the wall because I thought the ballet dancers (Merril Ashley and Adam Luders) made the modern dancers look awful. And I'm someone who really loves modern dance. I just don't think they go together.
And then you see a ballet like In Paradisium by James Kudelka or a beautiful piece by Nacho Duato and you have to rethink the whole issue over again...
I still consider that crazy mess of a ballet (which I quite enjoyed), the Golden Age, classical because of the pointe shoes. In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, as well. Take the pointe shoes off the girls, have them hit the floor and stop turning out, and only then have do you have modern dance.

#30 cargill

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Posted 09 March 1999 - 11:15 AM

This is in response to the interesting discussion on the previous thread. what recent derivations of Fokine and Ashton have been done? Here in the US we get almost no new single-act ballets with characterization or Cechetti-like steps. (I would say we get none, but there might be one somewhere--if so it hasn't come to New York.) I certianly agree with Leigh's point that most of our post-Balanchine choreography seems to confuse plotless with pointless. Balanchine leared much wandering through Petipa's forests, and surely current choreogrpahers, audiences, and dancers could learn from great 20th-century ballets, but where are Fokine, Nijinska, Tudor, and Ashton?
The supposed fact that more people like Macmillan than Ashton is beside the point. It is as if a statement about the dangerous fat content of fast food hambergers is answered by quoting statistics on how many were sold. That is an observation, not an evaluation. I really haven't seen enough Forsythe to make any judgements, but what I have seen uses only a very limited vocabulary. And why do so many pro-Forsythians seem so desperately hostile to other styles?


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