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#31 Alexandra


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Posted 09 March 1999 - 11:21 AM

Just a quickie on terminology. For music, I used "classical" in the "this way to the classical collection, rock and rap are under the stairs, jazz and folk are to the right." I did not mean that Messaien was "classical" in the sense that Mozart and Beethoven are "classical" (vs. "romantic," "contemporary," etc.) Sorry. I thought that was obvious.

I didn't think Bausch had yet come up. I actually would call her a great choreographer, although I don't particularly "like" all of her work. And I think she's several notches above her many followers who (as imitators nearly always do) rip off the externals -- the potted plants, the angst -- and not the genius. I would also add that I think it would be very dangerous for a ballet company that wanted to remain a ballet company to perform Bausch regularly. (Style creeps in to other works. When ABT was dancing Tharp regularly, they started to dance classical ballet a la Tharp. There's a moment in "Push Comes to Shove" when the corps does an arabesque penchee, and ducks their heads under their arms and looks at the audience. It's cute, and everyone knew it referred to the Kingdom of the Shades. It was less cute when they started to do it while dancing Shades.)

On Ashton v. MacMillan, I can't think of any of the British ballet critics I know, or have read, which includes at least all of the ones who saw his or her first ballet prior to 1990, who would rank MacMillan higher than Ashton. I have read sentences like, "Our two great choreographers," yes. Americans will write the same thing about Balanchine and Robbins, but I don't think we're saying they're equal. I know this kind of back and forth makes it sound like a food fight, and I don't mean it that way; anyone who thinks MacMillan is great is certainly welcome to do so. I think such discussions are useful in helping to form one's personal aesthetic, though. At least, they were to me when I was trying to learn everything I could about ballet in six months, and they still are.

Another thought on contemporary (another bad word which could cover a multitude of sins) ballet choreography and how it's gone astray. This is part of the narrowing problem. I know Balanchine is not the reference point for places outside America, but here, at least, many young choreographers seem to think that "contemporary" started with "Agon." I've heard/read people who think that works like "Scotch Symphony" or "Divertimento No. 15" are almost the silly indulgences of an old man, or a cynical pandering to a conservative audience. I think this misunderstands Balanchine, and I don't think ballet will be revived from within solely from this strain.

Someone mentioned "Ondine." I wish I could come over and see "Ondine," but then I wonder if such a delicate work can be revived. There's also the problem that the score is at odds with the ballet's theme. (It has a very then-contemporary score which is not what Balanchine would call "musique dansant," with a 19th century story and a choreography and structure that seem more in sync with the story than the score.)


#32 Jane Simpson

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Posted 09 March 1999 - 02:19 PM

One of the interesting things about Ondine is that the music has just recently started to be known and accepted by music audiences in the UK, thanks to the championship of compser/conductor Oliver Knussen. It will be very interesting to see how opinions of the ballet change over the years as the music becomes more accessible. The last revival, 10 years or so ago, was quite well received - though it was very disappointing that Kirkland, announced to dance it, never did. The 3 ballerinas scheduled for it - Durante, Yoshida and Wildor - could all in different ways be very well worth watching. The main thing to remember is that although the first 2 minutes, even for an Ashton lover, are awful, it isn't like that all the way through!

#33 Alexandra


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Posted 09 March 1999 - 10:07 PM

Mary, you must have been posting at the same time I was writing, so I missed acknowledging your post in my response above. Thanks for mentioning Leigh's great comment about "confusing plotless with pointless." I'd forgotten to second that earlier. I think that could easily characterize a lot of the new ballets (especially the "after Balanchine" ballets) being made today. So much is just setting steps to music. And I don't blame audiences for finding such work both trivial and boring.

Jane, I'm sure the score to "Ondine" will be perceived much differently now, especially if it's gotten a good aring. I was referring to what I read in, I think, David Vaughan's critical biography of Ashton, that there were some ideas he couldn't use because they just didn't work with the music. I can imagine Kirkland as a wonderful Ondine. I remember when she first started coming up, I asked an older colleague if she was like anyone who'd gone before, and he said, in a curious way, she was like Fonteyn, because they were both "as pure and clear as water."

Libby, I don't think the question is naive at all; thank you for asking it and thank you for posting. Forsythe's work appears in several American companies' repertories and I have read him referred to as "the future of ballet," or "the hope of ballet," a sentiment with which I disagree. (I think Leigh also mentioned this.) I really think it's too early to judge his work; he's in mid-career. I don't see him as a particularly important force here, at least not at this stage. He's based in Europe, and his reputation (like Neumeier's) seems different there. Heinz Spoerli has ballets in the repertories of a lot of ballet companies in Europe and we see very little of it here. And all the comments that I and others have made about the Balanchine influence must seem totally irrelevant to Estelle and Mark, because I don't think there are dozens of "sons of Balanchine" scattered throughout Europe. So yes, I think, too, that it is very much what you see.

I can certainly sympathize with your comments on popularity, and it is a difficult subject to discuss, because if you say a popular choreographer isn't a total genius, that would naturally offend the people who like his work, and sound horribly snobby, to boot. On the other hand, taste in anything changes the more we see; audiences new to ballet will like different things than those who see a lot of it. And, as you point out, if you ever see something you regard as perfect, it's hard to accept something less. Until, of course, something just as perfect comes along.


#34 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 10 March 1999 - 03:06 PM

Balanchine's influence is undoubtedly less important in Europe than it is in America, yet I always felt that he left such an indelible mark on 20th-century ballet that many choreographers coming after him would have worked in different way if they hadn't known him, just as most composers in the 2nd half of the 19th century (and even later) are in a way tributary to Wagner's music, whether they liked him or not, whether they admitted it or not.

It's also interesting to note that the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam is with New York City Ballet the main treasurer of Balanchine's heritage. The Dutch company has more than 20 works of Mr. B. on its repertoire and every season has at least one of his ballets programmed.

Even smaller companies like the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium are not unfamiliar with Balanchine ("Four Temperaments" can be seen this year). And at least one Belgian choreographer, Jan Fabre, is tributary to Balanchine.

And yes, even the Russians are making progress. Now that a leading company like the Kirov is exploring his repertoire more and more, perhaps even out there they will see the light.

That said, it still is a fact that Balanchine remains an "American" choreographer, just as much as Neumeier and Forsyth remain "European" choregraphers for Americans. Some of Balanchine's work is little appreciated over here (not to say hardly ever shown): for example "Stars and Stripes", "Western Symphony", or "Union Jack" are forbidden territory for most of us or at best considered expensive jokes. Even (and by this I am somewhat indirectly answering your question of some while ago, Alexandra) his reputed "Nutcracker"; some people over here will say that Walt Disney might have done a better job on that one.

Whatever, future of ballet, genius, popular -- fine, as long as you are in the right part of the world.

#35 Alexandra


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Posted 11 March 1999 - 12:20 AM

In some ways, Balanchine is an American choreographer, but in others, I think he's old school European. The first time I saw the Kirov do "Theme and Variations," I had the sense that he had been choreographing for that company all along -- these people knew what a Polonaise was, and it showed. And their "Scotch Symphony" is danced by a company that knows "Giselle." It's not that they turn it into "Giselle," but they know what's going on in the wings in ways that American dancers don't. [I should say that this is NOT the general American opinion, I think, which is that only NYCB dances Balanchine as he was intended to be danced.]

I see "Union Jack" is a good, old-fashioned Franco-Russian character ballet with (inaccurate) British trappings. Even "Stars and Stripes" and "Western Symphony" are classical ballets with Americana costumes, but that's just the surface. I've always thought this was Balanchine as marketeer. Americans were squeamish about ballet; it was foreign, too fancy. So he put it in cowboy clothes, and cheerleader/drum major outfits. What could be more American? (Bournonville did something similar, actually. "The Tyroleans" was a Greek ballet in liederhosen. He changed the characters names to Swiss peasants' names and set it in the Alps, but it was the myth of Anacreon. He chuckles about tricking his audience in "My Theatre Life.")

As for "The Nutcracker" being Walt Disney? There really is a huge gulf between European and American perceptions. To me, Walt Disney is cartoon -- simple message, broad characters, rather unsophisticated structure, aimed at a mass audience. Well, Balanchine's "Nutcracker" was aimed at a general audience, if not a mass one, but other than that, I don't see a cartoon there at all. It's not the story, it's the music and the dancing. The story has to be told well, of course, because it's theater, but that's not the point of it. What makes that Nutcracker Balanchine's is the choreography and the way in which it is danced.

The Vainonen Nutcracker (which I just saw, about 60 years after the fact) and all its progeny seem to see the story as predominant. To me, that version seemed very cartoonlike, with a simplified story but, more importantly, very simplified dancing. Now, of course, any semblance of story is thrown to the wind, and we have Drosselmeyer as a child molester and Masha's dream a real, five-star nightmare. Yes, that suits the book, perhaps, but not the music. (Vainonen's version seems to deliberately ignore the music. I mean literally. There are theatrical effects built into the score that he pretends aren't there.)

Balanchine modernized the dancing, leaving the music to tell the story. At least, that's the view from here.


#36 Kevin Ng

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Posted 11 March 1999 - 08:57 AM

On the subject of Nutcracker, in my opinion Balanchine's production is the greatest, far superior to Peter Wright's both productions for the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the Kirov Vainonen production seen in London 2 years ago. I remember that I was so taken by Alastair Macaulay's (now critic of Financial Times) analysis of its merits in "Dance Theatre Journal" that I flew to NY to see it one Christmas when I was still resident in London. The best cast I saw was Darci Kistler as Sugar Plum, in 1989.

Marc mentioned Walt Disney. Actually the Nutcracker Suite in the Walt Disney cartoon "Fantasia" offered me far more kinaesthetic and visual excitement as well as poetry than many dull productions nowadays, e.g. Stephen Jefferies' production for Hong Kong Ballet. I urge dance-lovers to rewatch "Fantasia"! Arlene Croce wrote that Disney employed ballet dancers to model the steps for 'Dance of the Hours' - Irina Baronova, David Lichine, Tatiana Riabouchinska.

[This message has been edited by Kevin Ng (edited 03-11-99).]

#37 Natalia


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Posted 26 March 1999 - 05:48 PM

It's been facsinating reading the 5 different threads under this discussion-topic. I am a little surprised that nobody has mentioned the Boris Eifman ballets yet, as many consider him to be today's great ballet choreographer. He caused quite a splash in New York City during the past two tours AND is wildly popular in St. Petersburg. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that he is very MacMillan-esque. What do all of you think (who have seen his work)? Is he today's great Ballet-Modern choreographer or not?

#38 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 March 1999 - 03:03 PM

Well, Jeannie, I'm not sure if Eifman is today's great modern-ballet choreographer. He's certainly the great modern-ballet choreographer of 1953.

Eifman works in a vocabulary and narrative style discarded by western choreographers decades ago. I applaud Kisselgoff's kindness in attributing what I consider re-inventing the wheel to artistic courage, but I find the artistic naivete of Eifman unwatchable. It isn't Macmillan that he reminds me of, but Bejart. The same theatrical devices, only far staler, the same grandiose pretentiousness of thought, the same lack of logic and acuity to back the pretensions up.

What artist in their right mind would have Tchaikovsky played by two seperate characters after we have seen this device done to death by Bejart? What dramaturge would assume that characterizations not created by Tchaikovsky but by Petipa and his librettists would have *any* resonance in Tchaikovsky's life? I certainly understand the presence in the ballet of von Meck and Milukova, but DROSSELMEIER? Prince Desire? Who, mind you, was lying on the floor in a white classical tunic, and whom Tchaikovsky's double awoke by kissing on the lips. It's a wonder he didn't try to slip him any tongue. I slid under my seat, howling with laughter.

Yes, there are some good dancers and dancing within the company, but not enough to save the choreographer from his own inanity. Nor do I doubt Eifman's seriousness of purpose, I believe he thinks he is saying something of importance. But this is not an adolescent boy, this is a middle aged man. All the sincerity in the world cannot save the naivete of his concepts and the juvenile nature of his artistic vision.

[This message has been edited by Leigh Witchel (edited March 27, 1999).]

#39 Natalia


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Posted 29 March 1999 - 10:51 AM

LOL, Leigh, you have me in tears of laughter. Posted Image

I'm not sure if the good citizens of Little Odessa/Brighton Beach would agree with you, but I know what you mean. Posted Image

- Jeannie

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited March 30, 1999).]

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