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How far can a choreographer go in expressing ideas?


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#31 papeetepatrick

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 07:54 AM

The thing is yes, on the surface, De Frutos' piece sounds adolescent, but throughout his work, his great work he's really explored the theme of Catholicism in relation to his heritage, he's ARgentinian, sexuality, he's a gay activist and the oppression of women by the Church and he's done so with far greater subtlety and wit - so I'm prepared to give him a free pass.

Thanks, Simon. It's not just the dance itself but his stated intention to "annoy" the Catholic Church and to do so in order to be scandalous (not to be scandalous for some good societal end) that strikes me as adolescent. But you have explained why he hates the Church, and thanks for doing so.


Is that different from what Fellini did in his films--except that it was more well-crafted and thought out? It's okay to do a pitiful protest against the Catholic Church, although that wouldn't keep the piece from being pitiful. I don't myself care to 'annoy' the Catholic Church, but that could certainly be seen as 'being scandalous for some societal good'. You do not need to have the goal of a 'societal good' always in your scandals, and most people don't. But if he hates the Church, it follows naturally that you do your own expression of the hatred, not what would be more 'seemly'. I don't hate the Catholic Church, as not one, but adoring much of the art that it has produced. But since we always talk of ballet in particular as not having to have any particular ideological, societal, or political goal, so that if there is just some desire to 'be bratty', which this sounds like, that just sounds like part and parcel of the rest of the piece. But I'd think that anybody who just wanted to 'annoy the Catholic Church' would at least think they were doing it for some kind of 'societal good', even if it was just their own idea that they had 'hurt feelings' of psychological hangups from being Catholic. That's cool.. My best friend is always going on about how horrible it was to be brought up Catholic. It's just the piece sounds horrible for all reasons described.

Also, what Simon says sounds like it's a continuation of activist work he's long been involved with, so that this could well prove to be an important part of that whole oeuvre when looking back say in 7-10 years. Lots of artists have what they call 'evil works', which are loathed at the time, and they even often decry them themselves--albeit usually some years later, after the sense of epiphanic euphoria has passed. Lyotard's book 'Libidinal Economy' is almost always considered his greatest work, although it caused enormous protest, and he even repudiated it himself, calling it his 'evil book', but it's one of the best things he ever wrote, all about 'Little Girl Marx', and all phillosophers know it practically by heart.

#32 Mashinka

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 07:57 AM

That was no eskimo, that was Ernest Shackleton, that great pioneer of the Ballets Russes. Indeed, what can one say?


That will teach me to rush in without getting a programme! Ernest Shackleton, who would have thought it? :D

#33 Simon G

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 08:17 AM

Here we go, this is pretty much the only excerpt of De Frutos choreography I could find and it's a link from the Sadlers Wells site, for his piece Paseillo

http://www.sadlerswe...ance-Theatre-08


This is from Phoenix's landmark engagement at Sadlers Wells in 2008. Why landmark you may ask? Well to this point Phoenix had been around for over 23 years and had never once played at a major London venue, nor been invited.

Another thing, when De Frutos joined Phoenix, several of the dancers from Rambert Dance Company quit to join him, this is remarkable as Rambert offers incredible benefits, contracts and remuneration to a dancer, it's pretty much the only way a dancer in the UK (non ballet) can be sure of making a good living from dance. It was also an incredible leap of faith as despite De Frutos, to that point Phoenix had a really really poor reputation and went through ADs like kleenex. The most famous one they'd had was Darshan Singh Bhuller - one of the leading lights of London Contemporary Dance Theatre and even he couldn't make much headway into turning it into a good company.

But in two years De Frutos did more than that, he turned it into the most exciting company I'd seen in years and years, just brilliant. And for that he was sacked.

Paseillo is just a beautiful work and if he ever restages it for a company in the US, I really recommend anyone seeing it.

He also did one of the best versions of the Rite of Spring for New Zealand Ballet, which I'd ever seen. As Mashinka mentioned. He very cleverly used the two piano version, and the choreography was just beautiful, witty, intense, powerful and visceral. Google it for photographs the production design is well worth a look.

And best of all with De Frutos, he never chokes you with endless notes in programmes, he just lets the piece to the talking. He is a major major talent - it's a pity Her Royal Highness Dame Monica Mason didn't see fit to hire him if she wanted to bring a shock factor to the RB.

#34 Mashinka

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 08:28 AM

it's a pity Her Royal Highness Dame Monica Mason didn't see fit to hire him if she wanted to bring a shock factor to the RB.


Actually she did. Misty Frontier at the Linbury featuring Nunez if I remember correctly.

#35 Jane Simpson

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 08:31 AM

This is from Phoenix's landmark engagement at Sadlers Wells in 2008. Why landmark you may ask? Well to this point Phoenix had been around for over 23 years and had never once played at a major London venue, nor been invited.


Well, no - they played at Sadler's Wells at least three times before I gave up watching them sometime in the 1990s because I thought their choreography wasn't worthy of either their dancers or their audiences.

#36 kfw

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 08:31 AM

:D I dunno, Patrick, I can hardly say I've never delivered an angry insult myself, but I still don't think they ever do any good. I also think the Catholic Church is a pretty lame choice of targets nowadays -- was anyone in the audience really unfamiliar with the fact that the Church is made up of fallible human beings? What did anyone learn? What good could the piece have done? In what way could it have been activist?

De Frutos might likely make your same argument, but that verb "annoy" sounds telling. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. :)

#37 Helene

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 08:37 AM

. I also think the Catholic Church is a pretty lame choice of targets nowadays -- was anyone in the audience really unfamiliar with the fact that the Church is made up of fallible human beings?


I don't think the criticism by artists is nearly exhausted. Just last week at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I saw Javier Fesser's "Camino", which takes a steamroller to Opus Dei.

Given the number and enthusiasm of new converts particularly in Africa and inroads made in India, increasing the Rome's power at a time it has been diminishing in Europe and North America, and continued lawsuits and allegations of sexual abuse, it's not a subject I'd expect to go away any time soon.

#38 Simon G

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 08:39 AM

This is from Phoenix's landmark engagement at Sadlers Wells in 2008. Why landmark you may ask? Well to this point Phoenix had been around for over 23 years and had never once played at a major London venue, nor been invited.


Well, no - they played at Sadler's Wells at least three times before I gave up watching them sometime in the 1990s because I thought their choreography wasn't worthy of either their dancers or their audiences.



Ooops,

Sorry, not Sadlers Wells in the time I started going there, shall I say? I remember seeing them at The Place a couple of times though.

#39 papeetepatrick

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 08:46 AM

:D I dunno, Patrick, I can hardly say I've never delivered an angry insult myself, but I still don't think they ever do any good. I also think the Catholic Church is a pretty lame choice of targets nowadays -- was anyone in the audience really unfamiliar with the fact that the Church is made up of fallible human beings? What did anyone learn? What good could the piece have done? In what way could it have been activist?

De Frutos might likely make your same argument, but that verb "annoy" sounds telling. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. :)


I'm not making myself clear to you, even as of last night. I just said that artistic polemics toward the Catholic Church are not unknown, and they have to be allowed, that Catholic Church is 'made up of fallible human beings' is pretty lame to me. So are the CIA and the FBI made of 'fallible human beings'. And 'what good could the piece have done'? I already answered that. That was for the continuation of Frutos's work as Simon has outlined, even if this one is a 'mistake'. All great artists have a big BOMB. They have that right. And the value of what seems awful in the present may change radically. That's what I said, I wasn't arguing with you, which it seems you think I am. Actually, as we know, the Catholic Church is a quite ripe target for condemnation now, what with problem priests, etc., but it's not a concern of mine. It is just not that important when an important artist has a bomb, and fans should expect to 'be let down' from time to time. After all, they're not the ones doing the work, and they can't expect their heroes to be gods all the time. Some of the time yes, not all the time. But I'm just not emotionally involved with this.

#40 kfw

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 10:08 AM

Patrick, I agree that work like this should be allowed. Absolutely. But the question to me isn't whether the dance succeeds (on its own terms) artistically, but whether it's morally justified (an issue I consider implied in the question "How far can a choreogrpaher go in expressing ideas?").
The victim certainly has not just right but reason to give expression to his pain. After awhile though, unless he has a fresh perspective, he's just venting his spleen. Again, I'm reading this through the lens of that word "annoy."

What's more, the Church is not just the Vatican and the local hierarchies that failed the faithful, it's those faithful parishioners in the pew, the ones who run and fund the soup kitchens and clinics and hospitals. I don't think they deserve to see the liturgy they hold dear interspersed with obscenities. Even protest and condemnation can be civil. Fresh perspective might be to depict the some of those good people for a change. They, not the minority of horribly unfaithful priests and their enablers, are substantially the Catholic Church.

In any case, I respect your point of view, and I take Helene's point that Rome is still ripe for scrutiny and criticism. I think I've said my piece here and I'm going to bow out of the conversation unless it takes a new turn.

#41 dirac

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 10:36 AM

But the question to me isn't whether the dance succeeds (on its own terms) artistically, but whether it's morally justified (an issue I consider implied in the question "How far can a choreogrpaher go in expressing ideas?").

The victim certainly has not just right but reason to give expression to his pain. After awhile though, unless he has a fresh perspective, he's just venting his spleen. Again, I'm reading this through the lens of that word "annoy."


If de Frutos wants to try getting on the hierarchy's nerves I don't see why he shouldn't. Those faithful parishioners adhere to a rich, powerful, and authoritarian institution that is not diffident about wielding its influence. De Frutos is angry at the Church, not at them, and as you note there is a distinction between the two. As Patrick notes, this sort of thing has been going on for about two thousand years, and the Church seems to be managing. I think we're all agreed that Frutos has the right to put it out there, if he can talk somebody into it, and we have the right to praise, criticize, protest, or just not go.

I might agree with you if the piece reflected the anti-'Romanism' that was once prevalent here in the United States, but de Frutos seems to have another beef entirely.


#42 Nanarina

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 01:57 PM

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. :D 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.





Thank you Dirac I cannot help wondering what the world is coming to, have we totally lost every sense of decency, morality when we allow such diverse actions without a second thought .
No wonder the moral decoline of humanity is as it is. If I am being old fashioned, so be it, I am not being small minded, if people want to witness a freedom of choice, it should be done in their own homes, not pushed down the throats of everyone. The kind of things that seem to be considered appropriate in this thread, are very risky, what happens if the children you are so keen to protect stumble against something unsavory by accident. The damage is therefore done.


Just as a matter of interest, these "snuff movies " or recordings do exist even in the UK, Take the case of "The Fred and Rose West Murderers", The Moors Killers, and there has been another arrest, but I cannot remember the perpetraitors name. I will say no more.

#43 Simon G

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 02:44 PM

Thank you Dirac I cannot help wondering what the world is coming to, have we totally lost every sense of decency, morality when we allow such diverse actions without a second thought .
No wonder the moral decoline of humanity is as it is. If I am being old fashioned, so be it, I am not being small minded, if people want to witness a freedom of choice, it should be done in their own homes, not pushed down the throats of everyone. The kind of things that seem to be considered appropriate in this thread, are very risky, what happens if the children you are so keen to protect stumble against something unsavory by accident. The damage is therefore done.


Just as a matter of interest, these "snuff movies " or recordings do exist even in the UK, Take the case of "The Fred and Rose West Murderers", The Moors Killers, and there has been another arrest, but I cannot remember the perpetraitors name. I will say no more.



I'm sorry Nanarina but your post is a pretty convincing argument for a total absence of censorship and all the reason I need to allow choreographer's to go as far as they possibly want.

For starters let's not get hysterical, Snuff, the sexual torture of individuals to death for the sole purpose of underground commercial distribution IS an urban myth. Yes, Papeet may have a point, the idea is there and they may very well exist, but there is no evidence that they do. Furthermore it's one hell of a jump to go from De Frutos's work to snuff.

Hindley and Brady made recordings of their murders true, sound recordings, I dare say had they video equipment they would have made movies, Fred and Rose West again made films, true. But this is the pattern of serial killers to make and keep souvenirs. Again it's not snuff. Snuff is made specifically as pornography for commercial distribution and indeed I think it's incredibly insulting to Javier De Frutos a renowned and supremely talented choreographer to align him to the purveyors of snuff pornography.

What happens if children stumble across something "nasty in the woodshed"? They have done for years and pretty much survived intact. I'd be far more inclined to worry about the DVD's hidden in daddy's special draw at home than a piece of dance theatre which one has to pay for, comes with an age limit and warning and is advertised as being unsuitable for children.

De Frutos pushed the work down no one's throat, I made a decision to be there to watch it. Just as any act or art, performance, needs a conscious decision by the viewer to be there, in a private or public building for the purpose of performance - if you don't want to be there don't go.

You say the world has no morality when we allow diverse actions without a second thought? What on earth do you mean by diverse actions? Allow? Who then is the moral censor and arbiter what's with the collective "we"? To my mind there's nothing more immoral than the suppression of free thought and expression counter culture, religion or politcal. De Frutos has an extremely complex relationship to his Catholicism, and it's a source of huge pain which runs throughout his work - and indeed Catholicism has a great deal a very great deal to answer for. A half hour piece at the end of an evening by De Frutos can't come close to rivaling the damage done by the Catholic church to itself.

And finally what sense of decency and morality have we actually lost? Decent as say, the Holy Roman Empire, the third Reich, the Crusades, World War 1 & 2, the Boer war, Jack the Ripper, the Borgias, Auschwitz? Caligula, Attila the Hun, Hitler, Stalin?

Though actually you may have a point, some very pretty and morally decent ballets were made under the Red Peril.

#44 dirac

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Posted 16 October 2009 - 05:31 PM

And finally what sense of decency and morality have we actually lost? Decent as say, the Holy Roman Empire, the third Reich, the Crusades, World War 1 & 2, the Boer war, Jack the Ripper, the Borgias, Auschwitz? Caligula, Attila the Hun, Hitler, Stalin?


Morality, perhaps not. Propriety, yes. I would say that the sense of what is decent and seemly to be presented and discussed in public has changed. It gets harder and harder to shock anyone and artists trying for such an effect have to go further and further. I think that in the long run this greater openness is a Good Thing, but I also understand why Nanarina feels that way.

De Frutos has an extremely complex relationship to his Catholicism, and it's a source of huge pain which runs throughout his work...


It sounds similar to that of Andres Serrano, whose work caused a serious fuss here in the States awhile back.


#45 Nanarina

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Posted 17 October 2009 - 08:21 AM

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?


:o Mashinka If you had known what this production contained would you have still gone to see it? And was there any warning of it's content beforehand. If it had been looked at by Ther Board of Censors, you may have been spared the experience and a spoilt evenings entertainment. I think that cenorship is valid, it provides information in the sense of Codes and suitability, which allow people to make their own choices. Watch if you want or decline.


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