Alexandra

Francis Mason

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There's an obituary in today's NY Times (by Alastair Macaulay) of Francis Mason, who died Thursday at 88. He was, among many other things, the editor of Ballet Review for the last 30 years, as well as the author of "I Remember Balanchine" and co-author of Balanchine's Complete book of Ballets.

Francis Mason, Voice for Dance Over 5 Decades, Dies at 88

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Deepest condolences. The dance world is truly diminished by his passing.

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So sorry to hear this.

We've lost another window to a world now past...

So grateful for his many contributions, I cannot begin to count the times I've learned about ballet and dance from his efforts.

RIP

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He's been a friend to us all, but he had interests beyond dance. When someone passes, maybe it's time to pause and reflect who they were and how they came our way...

Striking, isn't it, that Mason resisted attending dance -- friends had almost to force him to the premiere of Orpheus, according to Macaulay's obituary -- but then, when he'd begun to have the experience -- well, by only a year later, he had a regular radio program about it! So often those who resist something initially become its strongest enthusiasts.

I was also interested to learn he'd attended St. John's College in Annapolis, arriving, I'd guess, about the same time their New Program was instituted in 1937. I encountered something like it in my second college, and I think it generally lives up to its ambitious aims:

http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/about/main.shtml

More briefly, this approach develops the ability of independent and critical thought, rather than mere preparation to do what's done. I don't want to take away from what he brought along on his own to his life and career(s), but I think his great-books experience helped him become the able, self-directing generalist he seems to have been.

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I recall Francis joking about being dragged to Orpheus - and hating Massine.

I was lucky to receive his support in many areas. I'm so happy for his long, full life - all the good he did (and if you knew him - the absolutely nerve-wracking things that could come out of his mouth in the most jovial tone.) He'll be missed terribly.

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I was saddened to hear of the passing of Francis Mason.

I first encountered him in London when he presented a series of dance films at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

I enjoyed "I Remember Balanchine," and am sad that so many ripened fruit are dropping off the tree leaving an unclosable aesthetic gap in ballet and dance commentary.

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.....so many ripened fruit are dropping off the tree leaving an unclosable aesthetic gap in ballet and dance commentary.

Wonderfully put. My first exposure to Francis Mason was "I Remember Balanchine" which impressed me. After that, when I encountered his name, I felt a familiarization with him. It was nice to see the pictures of him accompanying the articles on the web.

May he rest in peace.

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Had he never written a word, the dance world would still owe Francis Mason a huge debt of gratitude. From his efforts to promote American companies during his days at the London embassy, to his years of service on the Graham Co. board through both days of triumph and trial, he worked to promote an art form he loved, with no thought of personal gain or credit.

I hope he knew he was appriciated, may he rest in peace.

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"101 Stories of the Great Ballets" was one of the first reference books about dance that I bought, and it is practically in tatters from overuse. Mason was invaluable, an independent and creative thinker who saw what needed doing and did it.

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We all owe Mason a great deal. He will be misssed, as will all the excellent work he did and supported in others.

My own favorite is I Remember Balanchine, which he edited. And then there is Ballet Review: a journal that allowed its excellent writers the SPACE to develop their ideas, whether reportage, high-level ballet history, critical essays, or performance reviews.

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Jack, I'm CERTAIN you're right. I've often thought so myself. Francis's bullshit detector was first rate, and so was his eye for talent. And he knew how to make the case for it.

After WW2 the American Information Service asked him to come work in Washington and he said, "That wasteland? Never!"

"But we need you -- what would you LIKE to do for us?"

"Send me to Belgrade"

"What! Belgrade? On't you want London or Moscow?"

He replied, no, but that Marshall Tito was trying to make some distance between himself and Stalin and was open to Americans, and if he went to Belgrade Francis could bring American artists and show them some of hte virtues of free-thinking, and he did, and brought dancers and exhibitions by photographers and painters and many people behind the iron curtain saw them, the crowds for the Family of Man were waiting all night...

The ability to think like that was partly inherent and partly the result of a really liberal education, and St Johns's Great Books method had a lot to do with how independently he could think.

Great man.

He's been a friend to us all, but he had interests beyond dance. When someone passes, maybe it's time to pause and reflect who they were and how they came our way...

Striking, isn't it, that Mason resisted attending dance -- friends had almost to force him to the premiere of Orpheus, according to Macaulay's obituary -- but then, when he'd begun to have the experience -- well, by only a year later, he had a regular radio program about it! So often those who resist something initially become its strongest enthusiasts.

I was also interested to learn he'd attended St. John's College in Annapolis, arriving, I'd guess, about the same time their New Program was instituted in 1937. I encountered something like it in my second college, and I think it generally lives up to its ambitious aims:

http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/about/main.shtml

More briefly, this approach develops the ability of independent and critical thought, rather than mere preparation to do what's done. I don't want to take away from what he brought along on his own to his life and career(s), but I think his great-books experience helped him become the able, self-directing generalist he seems to have been.

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... Francis's bullshit detector was first rate, and so was his eye for talent. ...

By definition, "greats" are not something you get accustomed to, but the repeated experience of them can "spoil" you in the best sense, so that when you encounter later anything that doesn't measure up, you know it for what it is.

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Did anyone here go to the memorial service?

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I heard from George Jackson that it was well attended, and that the speakers came. He said Marvin Hoshino spoke very well. There were performances.

Peter Quanz had choreographed the Schumann/Heine lied "Wehmut" for ABT's Jared Matthews; NYCB's Rebecca Krohn and Ask la Cour did the Walking pas de deux from "Emeralds"; and... Blakeley White-McGuire and Samuel Pott the Bride &Groom

duo from "Appalachian Spring".

He also mentioned that Clive Barnes's memorial comes within a few days.

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The Fall 2009 Ballet Review just arrived, containing a treat: Francis Mason writing on "Merce Cunningham on Martha Graham."

BR is not on-line, so I've included a section from the conclusion. His starting point is Merce's early education in the theater (Cornish School, Seattle), which included exposure to Graham technique.

Later, as a young man, he reached New York and was invited by Graham to take class with her company. Eventually he performed with her company.

(I've cut out parts of this section, so it stays more or less within copyright guidelines.)

When I fist came to New York there was a general feeling that if you were in one group you didn't have anything to do with other dance companies. I had never see ballet, so the first year I was in the city I went to Ballet russe de Monte Carlo. I sneaked in at intermission. It was so bewildering to me. I saw Alexandra Danilova, this astonishing creature. There was real wit in her dancing ... But hther was a sense also that there was this woman with a warmth, all-pervading. Wonderful.

[ ... ]

Martha suggested that I study at the School of American Ballet. [ ...] She called up Lincoln Kirstein. I went to the school and was terrified because Lincoln was such a fierce person or thought he was. Lincoln said, "Well, what do you want to study? You're a modern dancer. What do you want?" O can still hear him shouting at me: "What do you want to study ballet for?" I said, "Well, I like all kinds of dancing." Which is true.

[ ... ] When I studied at the School of American Ballet, I couldn't go all the time. I was trying to learn something about ballet, which I knew I didn't know enough about. I began to read about it and find out its history. I read the letters of Noverre and a wonderful book by the Italian Carlo Blasis, with beautiful drawings of the classical positions.

I continued to dance with Martha.

[ ... ]

When I was ready to leave Martha and her company, I told her that I wanted to work on my own things. At that time there were not that many male modern dancers. Mostly they were in ballet. I knew that it would be difficult to replace me, so I told her I would stay another year to give her time to find someone.

[ ... ]

Coming to New York, that in itself was so interesting. The city struck me from the first day I was here. You turn a corner and find something exciting. With all the difficulties, New York remains colossal. You can have a far more pleasant day-to-day existence in London or Paris, but if you're attracted to New York, somehow you can't ait to come home.

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Thanks Bart.

I've been meaning to write. I treasure Mason's contribution to the world. His books, interviews and stewardship of Ballet Review have been invaluable to me. I can read I Remember Balanchine for days. Add in his work for the Martha Graham company and as a cultural ambassador, his passing is a great loss, yet also a great life.

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Just read the news. Mr. Mason will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.

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Me, too, Dale -- His books will stand up to re-reading over and over. I Remember Balanchine is just fabulous -- esp of course, William Weslow [what would that book be like if they ALL talked like that, but of course, you don't get THAT from hardly anybody.]

And the strength of the book is that it doesn't depend on any one person's being wonderful -- He understood that different people would have different kinds of relationships with Balanchine, would see him from different experiential points, and that the mosaic would be endlessly fascinating....

Thanks Bart.

I've been meaning to write. I treasure Mason's contribution to the world. His books, interviews and stewardship of Ballet Review have been invaluable to me. I can read I Remember Balanchine for days. Add in his work for the Martha Graham company and as a cultural ambassador, his passing is a great loss, yet also a great life.

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