Mashinka

How far can a choreographer go in expressing ideas?

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How far can a choreographer go in expressing ideas and should there be limits? I ask this after viewing a ballet last night which I felt should never have made it to the stage.

The work that leaves me asking the question is Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez by Javier de Frutos and I am in something of a quandary here as I don’t think the moderators would allow me to describe in exact detail what I actually saw. Without going into graphic detail; a Pope with grotesque prosthetic belly and buttocks sexually violates two male acolytes and three pregnant women and encourages them to perform further acts of physical and sexual violence on one another whilst everyone chants prayers in Spanish interspersed with the screaming of obscenities. The whole thing culminates with the beating to death and garrotting of one of the women. It was danced to Ravel's La Valse, a piece I shall have difficulty ever listening to again

The dance element is minimal and includes a parody of the ‘sunburst pose’ from Balanchine’s Apollo, justified no doubt by the women being described as Muses. The ballet is supposed to be a satire inspired by Jean Cocteau, though whether that fastidious aesthete would have approved of this realization of his ideas, I don’t know.

Some people walked out before the end. Many, myself included, booed (the first time in my life I have ever booed dancers). The people to my left and right and those in front simply sat speechless without clapping, but those behind cheered enthusiastically and those same people had laughed hysterically at the sight of a pregnant woman having her face repeatedly smashed against the Pope’s throne. I appreciate that on a first night the audience is made up of a significant number of artists’ friends and relatives, but to respond to such a scene with laughter made what was acutely uncomfortable viewing even worse.

Up until now I’ve always been a great admirer of Javier de Frutos’s work and would concur with Simon G’s description of him on another thread as ‘A class act’. This new work however makes me really worry about his future direction in choreography. The programme on the whole was good, in fact it seemed to get better as the evening progressed but then this vile piece came on and a good night out was ruined. As the programme was of works inspired by Diaghilev I suppose de Frutos may have been aiming for a ‘Rite of Spring’ moment, but whether ED to S&S goes down in history or not remains to be seen. The reviews should be interesting and I will post them as they appear.

Usually when I see acts of simulated sex on stage, I assume the choreographer has run out of ideas and had the acts I witnessed yesterday been of consensual sex I wouldn’t have cared over much; but it was the sexual and physical violence that unsettled me particularly that towards the pregnant women. I am against censorship of any kind but believe serious artists should be able to self-censor and am disappointed that Javier de Frutos in this instance did not.

I appreciate that most of the readers of this post aren’t based in London and may be reluctant to comment on a work they are unable to see for themselves, but based on my description I would be very grateful for as many responses as possible to my original question: How far can a choreographer go in expressing ideas and should there be limits?

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The work that leaves me asking the question is Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez by Javier de Frutos and I am in something of a quandary here as I don’t think the moderators would allow me to describe in exact detail what I actually saw. Without going into graphic detail; a Pope with grotesque prosthetic belly and buttocks sexually violates two male acolytes and three pregnant women and encourages them to perform further acts of physical and sexual violence on one another whilst everyone chants prayers in Spanish interspersed with the screaming of obscenities. The whole thing culminates with the beating to death and garrotting of one of the women. It was danced to Ravel's La Valse, a piece I shall have difficulty ever listening to again . . .

What?! Unbelievable :wink:.

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I appreciate that most of the readers of this post aren’t based in London and may be reluctant to comment on a work they are unable to see for themselves, but based on my description I would be very grateful for as many responses as possible to my original question: How far can a choreographer go in expressing ideas and should there be limits?

I don't think there should be limits, if only it's been proved that there obviously aren't, given what you've described. Such grotesqueries are probably something some artists need to do as some kind of therapy or self-purging, although a little deleuzian auto-critique wouldn't have hurt. Of course, it's not at all ill-advised that they might have done this for some lower venues, I'll agree with you there. I'd have to have seen it, but what it reminded me of was various pieces by Paul McCarthy, the totally crazed sculptor since way back in the 70s, I believe. There were all these sculpted figures and battery-powered to make the figures engage in various illicit acts. They're so elaborate (take up whole gallery rooms) it's hard to tell they're really pretty peanut-brained at first, but some of your descriptions I have only seen in McCarthy's big piese. I haven't even seen what you're talking about in modern dance, never would have imagined that it could be done in a ballet (is there pointe?). Sounds awful, but I don't think it's a bad thing to happen, because there's no way it could become at all influential, or even just trendy, for that matter. The title is amusing, is that really it 'Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez'. So graceless, no wonder what follows is some kind of crude burlesque. Now that I think of it, I would have liked to see it for the wrong reasons: It sounds hilarious in its idiocy. But I don't think you have to worry about it setting any woods on fire, becoming a sensation, etc. Just a curio, don't you think? and will evaporate after this seasion, won't it?

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On the whole, I agree with Patrick.

I don't think there should be limits.
But then I add my own limits to that. People's imagination should be free, but there are limits as to what I am personally willing to look at, pay for, think about, and respect.

As someone unfamiliar with the London dance scene, my feeling is that I need some context. I don't know the work of Javier de Frutos. Is this piece at all typical? Were people misled by the advertising? Does the piece have a coherent, consistent point of view, or one of those half-parodies which actually panders to the lower instincts while claiming to be subversive?

Is it even "dance"? (You mention that the dance elements are "minimal".) A parody of the Apollo sunburst might work for me. But without putting it in context -- for example, a parody the ballet itself, or of Balanchine -- it just seems as obvious and clumsy as, for example, inserting the image of Washington Cross the Delaware. I don't like works that strain to dumb-down their own allusions. Similarly, using "La Valse" seems like a bit of heavy-handed irony that would turn me off, no matter what the Pope was doing onstage.

It sounds like the audience reactiion was quite varied. Was de Frutos possibly aiming at provking a scandal (in the sense of "epater le bourgeois")? Was he hoping for a public condemnation from the Archbishop of Westminster or picketing by the Legion of Decency? If so, it doesn't seem to have worked.

It doesn't sound like this piece will NOT gain a place in the permanent repertoire -- or even in the history of outrageous events.

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People's imagination should be free, but there are limits as to what I am personally willing to look at, pay for, think about, and respect.

Oh, good heavens, yes, i sure wouldn't pay for this thing, and it sounds as if you couldn't actually 'think about' it if you tried :flowers: I'd look at it, but probably not respect it, but I'm just guessing.

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How far can a choreographer go in expressing ideas and should there be limits? I ask this after viewing a ballet last night which I felt should never have made it to the stage.

Thanks for starting the topic, Mashinka. You vividly evoke the performance. :flowers: Without having seen the work in question, I would say that it's the audience who has to determine the limits, by walking out or booing or asking for their money back. If a company hires a choreographer and gives him carte blanche, they have to live with the results.

As the programme was of works inspired by Diaghilev I suppose de Frutos may have been aiming for a ‘Rite of Spring’ moment, but whether ED to S&S goes down in history or not remains to be seen. The reviews should be interesting and I will post them as they appear.

You are probably right about that. Unfortunately, the bar for shocking people is very high these days.

(By all means post a few reviews if the comments are interesting, but please bear in mind we try to avoid posting too many such links in discussion threads. Thanks. :))

Simon, did you see this?

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De Frutos said in an interview a few days ago:

“Diaghilev always really liked a succès de scandale. He wanted them to happen. Nothing you can do today would be scandalous any more except for annoying the Catholic Church. So that is my target.”

(I haven't seen the piece.)

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Choreographers CAN put onstage whatever they want, as long as they realize that the audience is also free to throw cabbages, tomatoes, the odd piece of offal....

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De Frutos said in an interview a few days ago:

“Diaghilev always really liked a succès de scandale. He wanted them to happen. Nothing you can do today would be scandalous any more except for annoying the Catholic Church. So that is my target.”

(I haven't seen the piece.)

Thanks for the quote Jane, in that context the whole thing starts to make more sense. Although the religiously minded always take offence at the first whiff of 'blasphemy', he may not get that succès de scandale after all due to the short run of this piece as I seem to remember that the protests against The Satanic Verses and Jerry Springer: the Opera, were incredibly slow off the mark, probably due the religious rarely reading contemporary literature or visiting theatres.

As someone unfamiliar with the London dance scene, my feeling is that I need some context. I don't know the work of Javier de Frutos. Is this piece at all typical? Were people misled by the advertising?

In his earlier years de Frutos was in the habit of dancing naked. He is now engaged in what I would call mainstream choreography and I would rate him as one of the finest working in the UK. He doesn't have a discernible style as his works are quite varied from a Hollywood musical homage for Rambert Dance to a superb Rite of Spring for the New Zealand Ballet. He has worked with a number of companies including the Royal Ballet (though not in the main house). I count myself very much a fan and silly though it sounds, I feel personally let down by him on this occasion.

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:) How is it that Ballet and choreography seems to escape the censor. In other fields such as films, TV or even books, the genre is accompanied by a clearly defined code stating content, violence level

and recommended age of viewer. Although I have not seen this piece, after what I have read, I would not want to. It seems to neglect the deflines of moral and ethical decency.

There should be a limit to the lengths to which a choreographer stoops in prodicing what is techanaly classed as an Art. Personally I think it sounds as if it is sick and degrading. What is more it also could be seem to promote violence. Something all told not appreciated by me myself in my interest in Ballet. I realise there are other Ballets that contain elements of sex. drugs, murder and violence, but which are portrayed in an acceptable manner. I am not old fashioned or blinkered, but I would like to see "Limits" established for this kind of production.even if it restricts the creaters artistic freedom. After all do we not all enjoy our interest for the pleasure it gives us?

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But then, where does it stop? I disagree that print media like books have a censor or rating program, at least in the US. Once you decide to disallow one form of speech, what's to stop whatever authority from disallowing all sorts of licit expression?

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Yes, censorship is over. And it should be. I can't think of anything more implausible than pretending we could even do it, as if we could return to pre-porno days--at least not in Western democracies; there's plenty of it in the Arab world and others. The public either accepts or not, and underage people are kept out of things. Legal censorship is for the birds. Of course, there are 'snuff films'. That's definitely out in my book, but just vile behaviours onstage, with people acting like idiots, has to be allowed.

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Yes, censroship is over. And it should be. I can't think of anything more implausible than pretending we could even do it, as if we could return to pre-porno days--at least not in Western democracies; there's plenty of it in the Arab world and others. The public either accepts or not, and underage people are kept out of things. Legal censorship is for the birds. Of course, there are 'snuff films'. That's definitely out in my book, but just vile behaviours onstage, with people acting like idiots, has to be allowed.

I wonder if underage folks really weren't allowed in the theater in this case. I'm opposed to legal censorship unless the vile behaviour involves children, but not to setting age limits for viewing the stuff.

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From the Sadler's Wells website:

Javier De Frutos: Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez

Olivier Award-winner Javier De Frutos's Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez is a cautionary fable inspired by Cocteau's scenarios and designs for Les Ballets Russes and set to Maurice Ravel's La Valse. De Frutos joins forces with theatre designer Katrina Lindsay and lighting designer Michael Hulls.

Eternal Damnation to Sancho & Sanchez contains scenes of an adult nature and some violence.

Nothing in the first paragraph prepares one for the second paragraph, which was in any case printed in much smaller type.

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I wonder if underage folks really weren't allowed in the theater in this case. I'm opposed to legal censorship unless the vile behaviour involves children, but not to setting age limits for viewing the stuff.

Thanks kfw, oh I wasn't referring to this particular dance piece, and really probably would never be talking about a dance piece (although can we be sure?). I was thinking of PG, R, X ratings for movies, I guess, and was writing very fast, so I'm now wondering, though, do you also think the movie ratings shouldn't be age-limited. If the 'vile behaviours' are in a movie about paedophilia (which I guess is what you mean by 'vile behaviours'), they should not be censored if the movie is to to honest, but you bring up an interesting point: Should a ballet with all these extreme acts be different in its policy, in that what Mashinka has described to us may be outrageous, but there just shouldn't be any explicit-looking sex things that involve children. If the theme was still child molestation, or whatever kind of vileness, there could be a way of evoking it without being too explicit, which in thinking about it now, it probably ought to be forbidden in ballet choreography whereas some kind of simulation would probably be the norm in a 'realistic film', wouldn't it?

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Patrick, I can't imagine how a kid could be enriched by any work of art dealing with paedophilia or a lot of other vile adult behaviour, or not be hurt by it. I'm all for movie ratings for the same reason I'm all for parenting. I remember as an 11-year old hearing a recording of the pop singer Melanie -- remember her, I know you're old enough? :wacko: -- in which she practically yelled out an accusation in raw pain. It disturbed me.

I wrote a preview piece for a film festival today and in it referred to John Waters' "Pink Flamingos" as

variously decried and celebrated for its outré behavior and graphic perversity.

That pretty much illustrates my philosophy. Let people know what they're in for, and don't let the PC crowd scare you away from "moral judgment." What would they say about a snuff film?

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Yes, that's a good thing to say about 'Pink Flamingos', I guess. Sounds fine to me. Don't know what you mean about the 'pc' crowd. They're all different stripes, I think. If you mean 'hipsters', then that might mean more tha type that go along with the pro-Polanski petition, I don't think anybody except the most extreme is interested in supporting a snuff film, so I think that's across-the-board objecionable. Non-violent pornography isn't the same, even if you think it can be art or never be art. I guess I draw the line at extreme REAL violence, or at least the most important line, and I don't know even the 'hippest, coolest' types who would find anything in a snuff film to do anything bot condemn. They need a basically criminal mindset, don't they? I do recall a clip of a man trapped in a midtown elevator that was going around some of the theory/media studies/philosophy blogs a couple of years ago. I thought all these socialist types, who are so deeply concerned with people they don't know more then their own even in many cases, who didn't realize what a monstrously cruel thing this was to observe as a curious spectacle (it was I think on 6th Avenue, oh yes, now I remember, in the McGraw Hill Building, in a car I had been in when I worked there back in the 70s, the elevator banks are still the same even though there's a lot of Morgan Stanley in it) were completely out of touch. It ruined the man's life to be stuck in this elevator and be unable to get any signal for help through all this time. That's a little like a snuff film. Some of these bloggers were making jokes about it, and I protested vehemently. Now, although the ballet of Frutos sounds trashy, I probably would just dislike it or think it was silly and maybe even funny in a low way, but looking at someone suffering is the worse. So I guess I don't quite answer your question, because these same people who thought it okay to laugh at the man trapped in the elevator were among those most involved in the (quite legitimate) protests against Abu Ghraib, the whole issue of torture that has been such an important issue in the last few years. Even so, i don't think even these childish people would support a snuff film, but you may have meant that as an extreme case, so I just answered as best I could.

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......don't let the PC crowd scare you away from "moral judgment." What would they say about a snuff film?

They would disapprove, I expect.

I note for the record that 'snuff films' as the term is commonly used and understood are generally believed to be a variety of urban myth and legend.

.....I can't imagine how a kid could be enriched by any work of art dealing with paedophilia or a lot of other vile adult behaviour, or not be hurt by it.

I quite agree.

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De Frutos said in an interview a few days ago:

"Diaghilev always really liked a succès de scandale. He wanted them to happen. Nothing you can do today would be scandalous any more except for annoying the Catholic Church. So that is my target."

(I haven't seen the piece.)

Well, he's forthright about his motivation, anyway. :wacko: If I believed in censorship this piece as described would be a tempting target, but. I do understand how you feel, Nanarina (referring to Nanarina's earlier post, which I'm not quoting). It's certainly not what I come to a dance performance for.

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Snuff films are sometimes said to be 'urban legend', and probably mostly are, but I find it difficult to believe that they have not been actually made in various vicious circles, and simply never circulated. There are hardcore sadists who have killed people in their cruelty, so i can't imagine they've never filmed any of it. All that stuff with Crispo back in the 80s has a 'snuff aura' to it, although it wasn't filmed. I can't imagine that they haven't been, although I admit i don't know anyone who has ever seen one.

I just think that if Gilles de Rais and Erzbeth Bathory did what they did that it's not a very far leap in the modern day to capture these secret sadistic rituals on film. Come to think of it, there are very famous photographs that Georges Bataille has reproduced in one of his books of a torture to death of a Chinese man, I think it's called 'the thousand cuts', I have seen these horrific photographs, that's not substantially different from a snuff film, just not a moving picture.

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Snuff films are sometimes said to be 'urban legend', and probably mostly are, but I find it difficult to believe that they have not been actually made in various vicious circles, and simply never circulated. There are hardcore sadists who have killed people in their cruelty, so i can't imagine they've never filmed any of it.

I do see what you mean, and I don't want to send the thread too far afield, but part of the definition of snuff film as commonly used is that it is a movie made for circulation. Murderers have filmed murders, I believe, but it's not the same thing. I mentioned it only to clarify matters for those relatively unfamiliar with the term and to make sure we didn't spend too much time discussing hypothetical views of the nonexistent, to borrow a phrase.

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I went to see the In the Spirit of Diaghilev programme last night because of the De Frutos, I wasn't going to as those kind of evenings are always much of a muchness, contemporary choreographers reimaging classics very badly, but once I read about the booing etc I thought I'd give it a go. I have to say it was a very very strange evening all round.

Wayne McGregor was his usual self, a rather pretentious concept backed up by his dancers doing their usual funky chicken movements, completely inoffensive.

Cherkaoui again, his usual self, very overwrought, reimagining the "faun" for the umpteenth time. I think there should be a morartorium called on all reworkings involving swans, fauns, sylphs, princesses etc etc The thing is it was completely inoffensive and passed the time a bit, but you came away thinking "blah, so what?"

Russell Maliphant again a choreographer I do like, but this didn't really extend or build on his style and rep and I think this was the crux of the problem with evenings like this when commissions are obviously linked to a theme all that happens is real creativity gets lost behind the concept and slavish adherence to the concept or "spirit" of the event.

And then there was De Frutos and all I can say is wow. Yes, Mashinka is right it was most definitely in your face, offensive, not great De Frutos, gratutious and provocative in a vile and scatalogical way and all I can say is Thank God. I mean, yes, De Frutos is obviously very angry, not just at his own background but I get a feeling he's angry with the dance establishment at the moment (for good reason), the thing he chose to focus on in terms of Diaghilev's spirit was precisely I feel Diaghilev's absolute indifference to social mores, conventions, his relentless purusit of self expression at the expense of acceptability and his love of scandal, sensation and provocation.

Finally in a rather inispid and tedious evening this was a piece in Diaghilev's "spirit". And I'm not saying I enjoyed the piece or thought it was particularly good, but by the same token it was wonderful to see someone so established just not care about delighting or entertaining the punters, for all the reasons that Mashinka rightly criticised the piece, and I'm not arguing with her assessment, but I was happy to see it on stage. (Does that sound schizoid of me?)

For our American friends a bit of back story: Javier De Frutos has been choreographing for years and his work has always been provocative, but he is a very great choreographer who does know what he's doing and has created some phenomenally beautiful work.

Phoenix Dance Company is based in the North of England in Leeds and has been around for over twenty years and for most of that time has been rather mediocre, a second/third tier company at best, with variable dancer quality, not great choreography but funded by Leeds Council. It's always received polite and friendly and rather patronising reviews, crits etc from the London based media who viewed it as a bit of a parochial cousin from the backwaters. It's also had a very chequered history regarding it's artistic directors, no one has ever really given it the "face lift" they promised they would and have left after a few years. Though it has had some very good people at its helm.

In 2006 Javier De Frutos was appointed AD and in the space of a couple of years he turned it into a world class company. Because it was him, he attracted a totally new batch of dancers from top companies, he revitalised the entire rep, bringing in amongst others, Jane Dudley's Harmonica Breakdown, Limon's The Moor's Pavane, Robert Cohan's Forest and he choreographed several beautiful beautiful works. He also had one stinker and that stinker was later used against him. In his very short tenure Phoneix became a company which toured internationally and to London and was ranked under him as being world class, with good reason, it was, bloody wonderful.

Earlier this year he was fired. Reasons cited included his "destruction of the spirit of Phoenix" (ie destroying a 20 year reputation for abject mediocrity); also as reported in several newspapers people in Leeds council felt his direction was "too poofy" and his one choreographic failutre a piece called "Cattle Call" was used against him to block out his remarkable achievements.

He was fired, all the great dancers immediately left, the rights to perform all the great work he brought in to the company, (including his own) were rescinded. Now Phoenix is doing very silly student pieces reminiscent of bad 80s student dance workshops, the company is new and made up of very inexperienced dancers, they no longer tour to anywhere of any real note and when they do it's mainly University theatres etc It's a real crying shame.

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I am horrified that de Frutos has lost his job at Phoenix, Simon's assessment of that company's chequered past is quite accurate and I seem to remember one AD in particular being a spectacular failure: firing de Frutos sounds like a classic case of shooting ones self in the foot. I am sorry also that reference was made to his sexuality, although certain critics have been guilty of that too. Under those circumstances he is justified in feeling angry, I just hope he falls on his feet and returns to the quality work that I know he is capable of.

:wacko: Simon, did you figure out the significance of the Eskimo who stood at the side of the stage and then fell over at the start of the McGregor work? I presume he was a metaphor of some sort, but have no idea what.

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De Frutos said in an interview a few days ago:

"Diaghilev always really liked a succès de scandale. He wanted them to happen. Nothing you can do today would be scandalous any more except for annoying the Catholic Church. So that is my target."

(I haven't seen the piece.)

Well, he's forthright about his motivation, anyway. :wacko:

It's a rather adolescent motive, isn't it? Constructively criticize the Catholic Church would be one thing. To just take pot shots for the sake of irritating it is another.

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