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Contemporary Choreographers Views on Diaghilev


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#1 Mashinka

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 03:57 AM

A programme of new works by contemporary choreographers opens in London next week and there is an interview with them in today's Telegraph. Each choreographer is asked "Could Diaghilev exist today?"

http://www.telegraph...revolution.html

Javier De Frutos explains all too accurately why serious artistic endeavour in the UK is doomed to failure

Not with the Arts Council. Because he would have had to have an education programme and tick some boxes. And he hated boxes. He would have been talking about Matisse and someone in a chenille sweater would have asked, 'But have you thought about some education in schools around the region?’


Wayne McGregor on the other hand, doesn't seem to rate Diaghilev's achievements at all (now theres a surprise)

We look at that period through rose-tinted glasses because a lot of the work was awful.


I wonder how long Mr McGregor's works will last in comparisom with those Diaghilev commissioned?

#2 Simon G

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 07:15 AM

Mashinka,

Yeah, I thought exactly the same when I read the article. De Frutos, as ever, was a class act, MacGregor as ever, an idiot.

I wonder what Monica Mason thinks of her prodigy, especially given her long history of restaging and safeguarding the Diaghilev heritage at the ROH?

#3 leonid17

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 10:42 AM

Diaghilev's Saison Russe and Ballet Russe broke new ground. It was sophisticated in general and took ballet in a mammoth leap into the 20th century.

Mr MacGregor stages works that have so many visual and sound aspects of stimuli all going at one time, I find them akin to brainwashing techniques.

Perhaps some London critics might look into this.


PS I believe Mr MacGregor is little more than a clever publicity stunt for gullible people and for second rate critics who with their support, want to be seen as being at the cutting edge of dance , which his works are certainly not.
How could Mr Macgregor express support for the great magician when every thing he produces moves further away from art and closer to technology.

Given her background in the RB repertoire, I find it very hard to believe that his appointment was entirely of Dame Monica Mason's choosing.

#4 bart

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 12:12 PM

Wayne McGregor on the other hand, doesn't seem to rate Diaghilev's achievements at all (now theres a surprise)


We look at that period through rose-tinted glasses because a lot of the work was awful.

To be fair to Wayne McGregor, here is his statement in its entirety. The sentence that was left out is printed in boldface. Responding to the question, "Could Diaghilev exist today?", McGregor answers:

“We look at that period through rose-tinted glasses because a lot of the work was awful. The great thing is its bravery in terms of bringing people together.”


Some of the work Diaghilev put on stage WAS, if not actually "awful," at least unsuccessful at the time and forgotten today. Much of what we remember about Diaghilev -- and what has been celebrated in the many exhibitions this past year -- are his collaborations (artistic, but also sexual and social).

#5 Simon G

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 01:46 PM

Bart,

What makes me gag in MacGregor's statement is his assumed knowledge as if he was actually there, and the paucity of his awareness of classical ballet (but what's new there). By work that's awful does he mean Les Noces, Sacre, Apollo, Prodigal Son, Massine, Balanchine, Nijinska, the three act classics unseen outside of Russia?

Moreover what exactly is his criteria for "awful"? I find his output pretty "awful" and I'm willing to bet large amounts of dosh that in 100 years time Apollo, Les Noces, Symphonic Variations etc will still be performed - Infra, chroma, symbionts etc not so much.

I hate the fact that around the world ballet companies are falling over themselves to have MacGregor pieces in their rep, ie they're paying large amounts to have women being manipulated into every crotch splitting position the karma sutra has to offer in the name of choreography.

I also think it's pretty grim that Macgregor abuses this position of RB choreographer in residence to make some pretty general and damaging statements about classical ballet and which are printed as in the press as actually meaning something. Afterall, if it wasn't for Diaghilev Macgregor would be unemployed today.

#6 bart

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 02:21 PM

Simon, you may be right. I just wanted to get the full statement on the record as stated.

#7 dirac

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 02:25 PM

Mr McGregor stages works that have so many visual and sound aspects of stimuli all going at one time, I find them akin to brainwashing techniques.


:thanks:


He is a real choreographer, I think. Just not a classical one. As Leigh Witchel said in Ballet Review, as choreographer-in-residence, okay. As resident choreographer, not so much.

#8 leonid17

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 02:43 PM

Wayne McGregor on the other hand, doesn't seem to rate Diaghilev's achievements at all (now theres a surprise)


We look at that period through rose-tinted glasses because a lot of the work was awful.

To be fair to Wayne McGregor, here is his statement in its entirety. The sentence that was left out is printed in boldface. Responding to the question, "Could Diaghilev exist today?", McGregor answers:

“We look at that period through rose-tinted glasses because a lot of the work was awful. The great thing is its bravery in terms of bringing people together.”


Some of the work Diaghilev put on stage WAS, if not actually "awful," at least unsuccessful at the time and forgotten today. Much of what we remember about Diaghilev -- and what has been celebrated in the many exhibitions this past year -- are his collaborations (artistic, but also sexual and social).


Diaghilev's company was breaking new ground in so many ways and the record of the ballets that have survived to this day is evidence of his lasting significance. The fact that attempts are being made to revive
works out of the repertoire for decades gives credence to his personal stature and his companies works. A number of his works were definitely outre but apart from Les Sylphides, Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty
they were all an experiment of some kind.

#9 Quiggin

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Posted 09 October 2009 - 07:21 PM

There may be a bit of rose colored glassiness to our admiration of Ballets Russes. I don't have my notes but according to Alice B. Toklas and Boris Kochno, the audience had changed greatly by the mid twenties -- the smart people weren't going any longer, and the real innovative work was being done in Russia -- that's why Diaghiliev commissioned Prokofiev to compose "Le Pas d'acier" and why he hired Balanchine who had cut his choreographic teeth on the Russian avant garde. Diaghiliev gave him some guidance but he was pretty full formed, and D's attentions were then on Igor Markevitch ("half-Igor"), I believe. Some of Nijinska's choreography had to be abandoned, the accents were so impossible, even "Les Noces" is supposed to be hellishly difficult to bring off -- I can't remember if it's Maria Tallchief who talks about this. "Petrushka" does holds up, but does "Sheherazade" -- as much as say "La Bayadere"?

#10 Simon G

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 03:35 AM

There may be a bit of rose colored glassiness to our admiration of Ballets Russes. I don't have my notes but according to Alice B. Toklas and Boris Kochno, the audience had changed greatly by the mid twenties -- the smart people weren't going any longer, and the real innovative work was being done in Russia -- that's why Diaghiliev commissioned Prokofiev to compose "Le Pas d'acier" and why he hired Balanchine who had cut his choreographic teeth on the Russian avant garde. Diaghiliev gave him some guidance but he was pretty full formed, and D's attentions were then on Igor Markevitch ("half-Igor"), I believe. Some of Nijinska's choreography had to be abandoned, the accents were so impossible, even "Les Noces" is supposed to be hellishly difficult to bring off -- I can't remember if it's Maria Tallchief who talks about this. "Petrushka" does holds up, but does "Sheherazade" -- as much as say "La Bayadere"?



Quiggin,

I don't think it's so much rose-tinted, but rather an acknowledgement of how this was a vital era in ballet history when ballet as an art form actually meant something, had a vital impact within society. Yes, Schehrazade is a minor work compared to say La Bayadere and certain works are enshrined within legend of the original creators. No one knows how Nijinsky danced the golden slave, the faun, spectre etc with any authority, no true film exists, perhaps if we did know he wouldn't hold such a legendary position within ballet history. But by the same token to dismiss those phenomenal contributions as "awful" is banal and stupid. Certainly the recreations of Apres Midi d'une faune are limpid, sensuous, incredibly beautiful and still unnerving in their intensity.

To assert that there was a freedom of exchange of ideas, talents, choreographers etc between the Ballets Russes and Communist Russia is slightly hokey, likewise to suggest that choreographically the interesting work was taking place behind the iron curtain, 80+ years on the work of the Russes is still being performed, not so the work of the Kirov and Bolshoi from that period. I'd be interested to read Toklas' and Kochno's writings of the ballet of that period, what did they mean by "smart people"? And what work were they comparing and contrasting?

Nijinska's work is a bugger to bring off, and good. This was a woman who understood ballet intimately and pushed it into realms no choreographer today and certainly not MacGregor has the ability, inclination, knowledge or talent to follow. Les Noces everytime I see it just stuns me, the Royal Ballet do a phenomenally accurate and breathtaking production, the production Nijinska taught them with Beriosova and later Mason; ditto their Firebird taught them by Karsarvina to Fonteyn and again to Mason - and this is why MacGregor's comments are so irritating, the RB more than any company forged those links with the Ballets Russes as part of their heritage. I really reject that notion of "these works are so hard to perform, let's call them impossible and eject them from the rep" - that's such sloppy thinking, masterpieces are hard but that's the job of top flight ballet companies. If not then just bring in vacuous modern choreographers who don't choreograph ballet, but think using ballet dancers makes the work ballet.

I agree with dirac that MacGregor is a real choreographer, but his work is doing very little for ballet, in fact I think it's doing great harm to ballet - what's also evident is how expendable that work is in terms of repeat performances for the companies he creates for, not just the RB the works don't have permanence.

#11 leonid17

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 10:23 AM

There may be a bit of rose colored glassiness to our admiration of Ballets Russes.


I have seen 16 revivals of ballets produced by Serge Diaghilev therefore I can only speak for what I have seen. I would be happy to watch each one of those ballets again and again, but not necessarily year after year. They are definitely much more than watchable than many works that have followed and they remain important art works of the 20th century.

Of the other 32 ballets Diaghilev produced, which I have not seen, many were never meant to last and were in a good number of cases staged as little more than a pièce d'occasion because his "special audience" did not go to see ballets over and over again as they have done in succeeding years.

These ballets were all performed by outstanding artists and those ballets that I have seen revived by the Royal Ballet, Festival Ballet and Western Theatre Ballet, were all given in highly successful performances
re-inforcing their historical status.

You write, “I don't have my notes but according to Alice B. Toklas and Boris Kochno, the audience had changed greatly by the mid twenties -- the smart people weren't going any longer."

One reason, is that both in London and Paris some were dead or older, the First World War change the pattern of behaviour of the upper class (I don't understand the expression "smart people" which sounds journalese), with many of them having lost family members. There were also societal changes and "new money" changed the audiences by the mid-1920's.

You also say,"...and the real innovative work was being done in Russia," What evidence is there of successful ballets surviving or were even staged in Russia in the mid 1920's.

Furthermore, when you write "-- that's why Diaghilev commissioned Prokofiev to compose "Le Pas d'acier" and why he hired Balanchine who had cut his choreographic teeth on the Russian avant garde."
Successful and lasting ballet of the 1920's seasons were: - Season 1920 Le Tricorne ( Massine / De Falla), Season 1923 Les Noces ( Nijinska / Stravinsky), Season 1924 Les Biches ( Nijinska / Poulenc),
Season 1928 Apollon musagète ( Balanchine / Stravinsky), Season 1929 Le Fils Prodigue [The Prodigal son] ( Balanchine / Prokofiev).

Diaghlev had used the music of at least 28 different composers for ballets by the time Prokoviev arrived. It was his policy to bring variety of musical styles to his audiences, not his desperation that brought about Prokoviev's employment.

How meaningful is it to measure a work which is not comparing like with like when you say/ “but does "Sheherazade" -- as much as say "La Bayadere"?" Scheherazade holds up very well if given in an excellent production which in my opinion has not been seen since the 1960's.

The tragedy of this discussion in the case of the RB is that a academic classical ballet company would go out side their genre to stage so called modern works that could be dance be modern companies.

I truly can find no logic in having dancers study at school for eight years then the slog of regularly going to class to maintain their turn out and technical vocabulary only to be asked to perform a kinf of modern dance and not a ballet.

#12 Quiggin

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 11:32 AM

Simon and Leonid, I'm off for an architectural walking tour, but I'll look for my notes this (California) evening. My immediate sense is that the Russian avant garde in the late teens and early twenties was a highly significant factor in all the arts, not quite the father of it all but of a lot, my bias of course ... Leonid, who were the dancers in the Scheherazade you saw in the 1960s -- and in some of the revivals of the other Ballets Russes pieces that you especially liked?

#13 Simon G

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 03:00 PM

Hi Quiggin,

Yes, there's truth that in the mid 20s the Ballets Russes was winding down, they never really fully recovered from the financially disastrous Sleeping Beauty, but in the final years from 1924 on Diaghilev produced Les Noces, Les Biches, Le Train Bleu, Apollo and Prodigal Son. Work in the reps of companies throughout the world 80+ years later. One could say that the legend of the BR is rose-tinted, or perhaps that there's a lasting admiration and regard for a period of dance when they were really getting something right.

MacGregor's argument that all the BR really did was bring people together is so facile. A bit like bringing togther Joby Talbot of the Divine Comedy to orchestrate the White Stripes into a rather mundane piece of music or British ARtist Julian Opie to put a walk/don't walk light show at the back of a stage? At least Diaghilev had a total understanding of the homogeny of design, music, dance. And much of the work was "awful"? Because the deluge of naff contemporary work on show throughout the world performed one season, gone the next is brilliant?

What if find worrying about the tenuous soundbites Macgregor is increasingly called upon to provide for publications and interviews such as this is that he doesn't know what he's talking about, yet his word is taken as law and authority. The position he's got shaping the choreographic output of ballet companies is even more worrying. Ballet is ballet, what's wrong with a company actually performing it when it is a ballet company? The RB's championing of Macgregor is so sad because it doesn't need to apologise for what it is or its heritage, its heritage was not "awful" it's magnificent.

#14 Quiggin

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 08:58 PM

What evidence is there of successful ballets surviving or were even staged in Russia in the mid 1920's?


Stephen Press in his solid "Prokofiev's Ballet's for Diaghilev" says this in the Pas d'acier chapter:

With the appearance of Rolf de Mare Ballet Suedois in the early 1920’s Diaghilev’s company was no longer perceived as being the leader of Parisian theatrical modernism...After the financial crisis in late 1922 and early 1923 Diaghiliev’s company was forced into a chameleon-like existence, dependent on the whims of wealthy French and British patrons... "Le Pas d’acier" became the return to bankable Russian exoticism ... Constructivism, futurism, and poster-like agitprop of contemporary Soviet theater would be transplanted to Paris and London through “Le Pas d’acier". ... Russian theatrical precedents existed for Diaghiliev’s planned ballet, the closest being the second act from the first Soviet ballet Krasniy vikhr’ (Red Whirlwind), choreographed by Lopukhov.”


Regarding Balanchine -- who seems a force apart from the Ballets Russes (look at his 1933 season without Diaghiliev) -- Elizabeth Suritz says Balanchine was exposed to and participated in the best of the Russian avant garde: Lopukhov, Goleizovsky, Gorsky, he worked closely with the Factory of the Eccentric Actor, he saw Meyerhold, Tairov, Vakhtangov, he was exposed to Tatlin and Malevich and Akhmatova and Acmeism (Tim Scholl makes the literary connections). Suritz:

Lopuhov’s "Firebird" was a very different version from that of Fokine premiered in October 1921, so it was possible that Balanchine danced in its corps de ballet. Seeing Lopukhova’s keen sense of style in his reconstruction of the classics must have been an important experience for Balanchine the young dancer, who had already begun to choreograph.


There was most likely no equivalent to what was happening in the arts in Russia in Paris -- or London: who was the equivalent to Tatlin and Malevich in England: Duncan Grant? Vanessa Bell? (O K maybe Wyndham Lewis). Cubism was in the doldrums and Picasso was in his conservative neo-classissism stage, as was Stravinsky.

Kochno was the person who talked about the changing Ballets Russes audience and it was admittedly very late:

The last season of the Ballets Russes in Paris, in 1929, attracted a new audience -- unfashionable but young and enthusiastic. During the previous seasons, everyone in the boxes and orchestra knew each other, and people chatted among themselves as if they were in a private drawing room. This year the theater was invaded by a nameless crowd for whom the dance seemed to be a discovery, and they applauded the performers warmly...


Massine was the choreographer with unruly accents, not Nijinska -- apologies. According to Kochno, 'Rossignol' had to be rechoreographed by Balanchine:

... its failure was due to Massine’s hermetic choreography; he had followed the principle of imposing a rhythm on the dance steps that was independent of the musical rhythm ... the ballet gave the impression of having been poorly rehearsed and led people to say that the dancers ... had no ear.


Toklas I misremembered. She was talking about Post World War II Paris:

What is going on in Paris is hard to say. Sartre is condsidered demode --- Jean Cocteau’s new piece -- 'L’Aigle a Deux Tete' -- is praised but not enthusiastically. There is a great deal of mediocre music played at far too many concerts. Lifar is dancing again in London and Monaco -- not in Paris yet. He has his lovely green color but looks too heavy for good dancing.


She does later add this interesting observation:

I learned a lot about the Russians from knowing very intimately a Russian brother and sister -- emigres of the early twenties. He was the painter Tchelitchew. He was an absolute cannibal, he devoured everythig -- men, women, children -- flats, furniture -- everything but the Russian Ballet which he caressed. His sister was like one of the sisters in Turgenev [Chekhov?]


#15 dirac

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 02:56 PM

One reason, is that both in London and Paris some were dead or older, the First World War change the pattern of behaviour of the upper class (I don't understand the expression "smart people" which sounds journalese)......


‘Smart people’ I take to mean those who are au courant with what’s happening artistically and intellectually and although there can be overlap between such folk and the upper classes it’s not the same thing.

Leonid, who were the dancers in the Scheherazade you saw in the 1960s -- and in some of the revivals of the other Ballets Russes pieces that you especially liked?


It might be material for another thread, but I too would like to hear about those, leonid.


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