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The Balanchine StyleBalanchine vs. Robbins


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#1 Eileen

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 06:12 AM

At the Studio Talk with Sean Lavery on Saturday afternoon, an audience member asked the dancers what they see as the difference between Balanchine and Robbins. Jenny Ringer said Balanchine is ethereal and Robbins down to earth. That in Balanchine, the dancers are directed outward, to the audience, and in Robbins the dancers are interacting with each other. I thought about it and had a few ideas.

My first thought was: Balanchine never choreographed to Chopin, and Robbins most definitely did! (Well, Balanchine early in his career had two minor pieces to Chopin according to Choreography by Balanchine.) But Robbins - Dances at a Gathering, The Concert, please add more if you remember.

But most significant, Balanchine was a romantic and Robbins a realist. Despite all the Chopin, Robbins' ballets are about the interactions of people in life. They satirize romanticism (The girl in The Concert), they display fellowship (Dances at a Gathering) and even dancing against the romantic music (one of the episodes of Dances has Sara Mearns dancing slowly to fast Chopin - which piece? Please tell me. I hear it but can't identify.) They deal with grittiness - NY Export: Opus Jazz, West Side Story, the sailors in Fancy Free (a sanitized balletic grittiness).

Balanchine had experienced Russia at its best and worst. As a result of his privations in the revolution, he loved America and he idealized America in his American ballets - Square Dance, Stars & Stripes, Western Symphony. These are stylized, romantic ballets that observe all the courtly choreographic conventions. Robbins was born and raised in New Jersey - he was an American and he did not romanticize America. He had lived it and he depicted it. What is Glass Pieces but New Yorkers walking, walking quickly and intently, together but oblivious of each other, then jumping up, first one then another, to do their own thing. A real New York ballet. (I saw it when it first was created in 1983 and only appreciated it years later.)

Please give me your thoughts.

#2 richard53dog

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 06:37 AM

My first thought was: Balanchine never choreographed to Chopin, and Robbins most definitely did! (Well, Balanchine early in his career had two minor pieces to Chopin according to Choreography by Balanchine.) But Robbins - Dances at a Gathering, The Concert, please add more if you remember.

Please give me your thoughts.



Eileen, in addition to DAAG and the Concert, Robbins created two other pieces to music by Chopin; Other Dances and In the Night.

I think you make a good point as far as the difference to their approach to American themes, particularly Balanchine's romaticizing of them as opposed to Robbins' grittier treatment.

#3 bart

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 08:10 AM

Thank you, Eileen, for starting this topic. The session with Lavery and Ringer must have been fascinating.

I can't wait to read the responses to your questions. One of my first reactions had to do with the characterization of Balanchine as fundamentally "romantic," even small-"r" romantic. All those modernist ballets -- to frequently driving and decidedly un-romantic scores by Stravinsky, Prokoviev, Hindemuth, even Weill -- popped into mind.

Balanchine's work seems to transcend such categories. The distinctive features that I think of when I say "Balanchine" tends to have to do with movement vocabulary and the relationship of movement to music. But even in these matters, his work is larger than a single category ... and harder to pin down.

#4 Eileen

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 08:51 AM

Thank you, Eileen, for starting this topic. The session with Lavery and Ringer must have been fascinating.

I can't wait to read the responses to your questions. One of my first reactions had to do with the characterization of Balanchine as fundamentally "romantic," even small-"r" romantic. All those modernist ballets -- to frequently driving and decidedly un-romantic scores by Stravinsky, Prokoviev, Hindemuth, even Weill -- popped into mind.

Balanchine's work seems to transcend such categories. The distinctive features that I think of when I say "Balanchine" tends to have to do with movement vocabulary and the relationship of movement to music. But even in these matters, his work is larger than a single category ... and harder to pin down.


Absolutely, Balanchine's overall work transcends categories. I meant to say (and didn't put the thought in the right place) that in Balanchine's treatment of American themes, he is a romantic. Thanks for clarifying.

#5 Eileen

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 09:41 AM


Thank you, Eileen, for starting this topic. The session with Lavery and Ringer must have been fascinating.

I can't wait to read the responses to your questions. One of my first reactions had to do with the characterization of Balanchine as fundamentally "romantic," even small-"r" romantic. All those modernist ballets -- to frequently driving and decidedly un-romantic scores by Stravinsky, Prokoviev, Hindemuth, even Weill -- popped into mind.

Balanchine's work seems to transcend such categories. The distinctive features that I think of when I say "Balanchine" tends to have to do with movement vocabulary and the relationship of movement to music. But even in these matters, his work is larger than a single category ... and harder to pin down.


Absolutely, Balanchine's overall work transcends categories. I meant to say (and didn't put the thought in the right place) that in Balanchine's treatment of American themes, he is a romantic. Thanks for clarifying.


I just read Robbins' 1998 obituary by Anna Kisselgoff in the Times. She wrote: "''Dance is about relationships,'' Mr. Robbins said. But unlike others who created ballets with pioneers and cowboys, Mr. Robbins did not indulge in ''Americana.'' He was not concerned with the myth of America but with its reality."

The "others" are Balanchine and DeMille, obviously.

#6 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 10:38 AM

When Sean Lavery brought up the question about how the dancers' compared Balanchine to Robbins, I remembered that when I first began carefully watching the company in 1978, my feeling (epitomized by "Liebeslieber Walzer" in 1983) was that in Robbins the dancers were talking to each other, and in Balanchine, their SOULS were talking to each other.

#7 perky

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 06:07 PM

When Sean Lavery brought up the question about how the dancers' compared Balanchine to Robbins, I remembered that when I first began carefully watching the company in 1978, my feeling (epitomized by "Liebeslieber Walzer" in 1983) was that in Robbins the dancers were talking to each other, and in Balanchine, their SOULS were talking to each other.



Wow Violin Concerto, you really socked me in the gut with that statement about Balanchine. It made me realize why I love his ballets so much.
I've always been drawn to mystics. They vibrate to a higher tune than the rest of us. They have the ability to transcend normal human needs and wants in order to communicate and draw closer to the Divine. I think that's how Balanchine lived, loved and created. He did say he was a cloud in pants after all. :)

#8 Eileen

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 06:36 PM


When Sean Lavery brought up the question about how the dancers' compared Balanchine to Robbins, I remembered that when I first began carefully watching the company in 1978, my feeling (epitomized by "Liebeslieber Walzer" in 1983) was that in Robbins the dancers were talking to each other, and in Balanchine, their SOULS were talking to each other.



Wow Violin Concerto, you really socked me in the gut with that statement about Balanchine. It made me realize why I love his ballets so much.
I've always been drawn to mystics. They vibrate to a higher tune than the rest of us. They have the ability to transcend normal human needs and wants in order to communicate and draw closer to the Divine. I think that's how Balanchine lived, loved and created. He did say he was a cloud in pants after all. :)


Did he really say that? ViolinConcerto, I also started going to NYCB in 1978, but I did not appreciate the leotard ballets and stripped down aesthetic at that point - I was too young and callow. I wanted frou frou and scenery and stars like that other company. As time went by and I saw more, Balanchine convinced me of his way. I became a worshiper.

#9 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 24 January 2011 - 07:44 PM



When Sean Lavery brought up the question about how the dancers' compared Balanchine to Robbins, I remembered that when I first began carefully watching the company in 1978, my feeling (epitomized by "Liebeslieber Walzer" in 1983) was that in Robbins the dancers were talking to each other, and in Balanchine, their SOULS were talking to each other.



Wow Violin Concerto, you really socked me in the gut with that statement about Balanchine. It made me realize why I love his ballets so much.
I've always been drawn to mystics. They vibrate to a higher tune than the rest of us. They have the ability to transcend normal human needs and wants in order to communicate and draw closer to the Divine. I think that's how Balanchine lived, loved and created. He did say he was a cloud in pants after all. :)


Did he really say that? ViolinConcerto, I also started going to NYCB in 1978, but I did not appreciate the leotard ballets and stripped down aesthetic at that point - I was too young and callow. I wanted frou frou and scenery and stars like that other company. As time went by and I saw more, Balanchine convinced me of his way. I became a worshiper.



No, Balanchine didn't say any of the above.... that was what I felt his ballets showed.

#10 carbro

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 11:26 PM



Wow Violin Concerto, you really socked me in the gut with that statement about Balanchine. It made me realize why I love his ballets so much.
I've always been drawn to mystics. They vibrate to a higher tune than the rest of us. They have the ability to transcend normal human needs and wants in order to communicate and draw closer to the Divine. I think that's how Balanchine lived, loved and created. He did say he was a cloud in pants after all. :)

Did he really say that?

No, Balanchine didn't say any of the above....


Yes, Balanchine (cited by Taper, I believe) did say he was a cloud with pants, but it wasn't original with him. He stole borrowed the description from Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

#11 Carl Steeg MD

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 06:13 AM

At the Studio Talk with Sean Lavery on Saturday afternoon, an audience member asked the dancers what they see as the difference between Balanchine and Robbins. Jenny Ringer said Balanchine is ethereal and Robbins down to earth. That in Balanchine, the dancers are directed outward, to the audience, and in Robbins the dancers are interacting with each other. I thought about it and had a few ideas.

My first thought was: Balanchine never choreographed to Chopin, and Robbins most definitely did! (Well, Balanchine early in his career had two minor pieces to Chopin according to Choreography by Balanchine.) But Robbins - Dances at a Gathering, The Concert, please add more if you remember.

But most significant, Balanchine was a romantic and Robbins a realist. Despite all the Chopin, Robbins' ballets are about the interactions of people in life. They satirize romanticism (The girl in The Concert), they display fellowship (Dances at a Gathering) and even dancing against the romantic music (one of the episodes of Dances has Sara Mearns dancing slowly to fast Chopin - which piece? Please tell me. I hear it but can't identify.) They deal with grittiness - NY Export: Opus Jazz, West Side Story, the sailors in Fancy Free (a sanitized balletic grittiness).

Balanchine had experienced Russia at its best and worst. As a result of his privations in the revolution, he loved America and he idealized America in his American ballets - Square Dance, Stars & Stripes, Western Symphony. These are stylized, romantic ballets that observe all the courtly choreographic conventions. Robbins was born and raised in New Jersey - he was an American and he did not romanticize America. He had lived it and he depicted it. What is Glass Pieces but New Yorkers walking, walking quickly and intently, together but oblivious of each other, then jumping up, first one then another, to do their own thing. A real New York ballet. (I saw it when it first was created in 1983 and only appreciated it years later.)

Please give me your thoughts.




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