Posted 09 March 1999 - 11:21 AM
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.)
Posted 09 March 1999 - 02:19 PM
Posted 09 March 1999 - 10:07 PM
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.
Posted 10 March 1999 - 03:06 PM
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.
Posted 11 March 1999 - 12:20 AM
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.
Posted 11 March 1999 - 08:57 AM
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).]
Posted 26 March 1999 - 05:48 PM
Posted 27 March 1999 - 03:03 PM
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).]
Posted 29 March 1999 - 10:51 AM
I'm not sure if the good citizens of Little Odessa/Brighton Beach would agree with you, but I know what you mean.
[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited March 30, 1999).]
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