Choleric

Depictions of Art in Balanchine's Choreography

24 posts in this topic

In "Serenade," there is a distinct moment when the image of "Psyche and Cupid" is depicted. Are there other moments in Balanchine's choreography where the work of other great artists is also mirrored so distinctly? I'm exploring the topic as a subject for research and appreciate any contributions.

Share this post


Link to post

In "Apollo" before the Pas de Deux begins, Terpsichore's and Apollo's fingers touch each other. Isn't that from the Sistine Chapel?

Share this post


Link to post

In "Apollo" before the Pas de Deux begins, Terpsichore's and Apollo's fingers touch each other. Isn't that from the Sistine Chapel?

Yes, (I believe it's reversed though) and the filmed Balanchine bio-pic shown on Saturday cuts from that image (of God creating Adam) to Apollo and Terpsichore.

My late aunt often spotted images from paintings in Balanchine's work, but I do not remember what they were. Some of his tableaus recall certain painting styles. "La Source" comes to mind, I'm not sure why.

Share this post


Link to post

I found numerous moments in Don Quixote recollective of El Greco paintings, especially the curtain tableau, which seemed to be based on "The Holy Trinity".

Share this post


Link to post

Balanchine was devoutly religious, and sometimes he uses religious imagery.

I did a study of this once and wish I could remember everything as vividly as I did when I wrote about it for Ballet Review back in the 80s. But you may find this helpful. In the first movement, the "Pregheria" of Mozartiana, Balanchine is setting steps to a hymn by Mozart (that Tchaikovsky orchestrated) -- Mozart was setting the words to a religious poem by Thomas Aquinas, Ave verum corpus, which is an ode to the body of Christ (born of the Virgin Mary, who died, Balanchine believed, to save us). There's no overt religiosity in the dance -- well, at one point she does put her hands together in the gesture of prayer, and that's pretty unmistakable --but in fact the imagery reflects loosely the ideas and imagery of the poem. There's a moment at the beginning, where the Virgin Mary is mentioned where the ballerina lifts her arms slowly overhead and goes past the rounded position till her forearms are crossed, that is said to resemble the statue of the Virgin Mary at the church on Bleecker St that Suzanne Farrell regularly attended; There are several liturgical gestures/poses included in this dance, especially the arms lifted wide overhead, which the ballerina does facing upstage at a climax in the musical phrase, which is a gesture the priest does at Mass at the words "Lift up your hearts" -- this pose has been represented in religious paintings and statues.

There's a moment in Don Quixote where Dulcinea dries the Don's feet with her hair, as Mary Magdalen does for Jesus, which has been depicted on many holy cards.

Edited by Helene

Share this post


Link to post

I am vague about these details, but there must be references somewhere -- I thought that the church Ms. Farrell attended was on 71st St, and that Mr. B. traces the pattern of the cross (the one at THAT church) in the stage patterns in the "Preghiera." I will try to get more information.

Share this post


Link to post

Taper described in his Balanchine bio how during one summer break, Diaghilev led a mini-tour of Italy with a handful of the company and taught Balanchine about visual art.

Share this post


Link to post

I am vague about these details, but there must be references somewhere -- I thought that the church Ms. Farrell attended was on 71st St, and that Mr. B. traces the pattern of the cross (the one at THAT church) in the stage patterns in the "Preghiera." I will try to get more information.

I also remember this being a church close to the theater. I never knew about the pattern of the cross, but Farrell said that Balanchine said Farrell resembled the woman in the painting and took the overhead arm position from the painting.

Share this post


Link to post

Dulcinea dries the Don's feet with her hair, as Mary Magdalen does for Jesus, which has been depicted on many holy cards.

So it is. Only wrong Mary. You're right that many people think that was MM, only it's Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. You can't tell one Mary from another in the Bible without a score card! See especially John 12:3.

There are several liturgical gestures/poses included in this dance, especially the arms lifted wide overhead, which the ballerina does facing upstage at a climax in the musical phrase, which is a gesture the priest does at Mass at the words "Lift up your hearts" -- this pose has been represented in religious paintings and statues.

You are so right! I had forgotten that "Sursum Corda" gesture. When I first saw the ballet, I was not much on liturgy.

Share this post


Link to post

I am vague about these details, but there must be references somewhere -- I thought that the church Ms. Farrell attended was on 71st St, and that Mr. B. traces the pattern of the cross (the one at THAT church) in the stage patterns in the "Preghiera." I will try to get more information.

Yes, in her bio she describes it as

the Virgin at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on 71st and Broadway that Mr. B knew I attended.
.

Share this post


Link to post

When Damian Woetzel performed Prodigal Son, I always got the sense that he was channeling various artwork which depicts Christ on the cross. In particular, I got this impression in the scene after he has been robbed and he is standing up against the piece of scenery that is used alternately as a fence and a table. In that scene, the table is now vertical, and the Prodigal stands in front of it, barely able to stand on his feet, using one of the rungs on the left to dangle and hold himself up. That imagery never came through so strongly to me when other dancers performed the role.

Share this post


Link to post

As I understand it, there are many 'quotations' from visual art in Balanchine's work -- I've heard that Peter Boal did some research into this when he was pursuing an art history degree. He gave a talk here in Seattle about vis art references in dance in conjunction with an exhibit of works from the Picasso museum, but I was stuck doing other things, and haven't yet tracked down anyone who was able to go.

Share this post


Link to post

Balanchine's neoclassical, leotard ballets are frequently compared to Picasso insofar as Balanchine breaks up the classical line of the body in those ballets, and angularity is a key component to successful performance of the leotard ballets.

Share this post


Link to post

Thank you to everyone for these wonderful responses! I am so fortunate to benefit from the wealth of knowledge here!

Share this post


Link to post

In "Apollo" before the Pas de Deux begins, Terpsichore's and Apollo's fingers touch each other. Isn't that from the Sistine Chapel?

Yes, (I believe it's reversed though) and the filmed Balanchine bio-pic shown on Saturday cuts from that image (of God creating Adam) to Apollo and Terpsichore.

My late aunt often spotted images from paintings in Balanchine's work, but I do not remember what they were. Some of his tableaus recall certain painting styles. "La Source" comes to mind, I'm not sure why.

Fascinating! I didn't make that connection but it's so clear now!

Share this post


Link to post

Taper described in his Balanchine bio how during one summer break, Diaghilev led a mini-tour of Italy with a handful of the company and taught Balanchine about visual art.

This appears to have been a favorite technique of Diaghilev's. Earlier, he did the same with Massine, who had been hesitant to attempt choreography until he looked closely at a painting of The Annunciation by Simone Martini, in the Uffizi .. and felt the calling.

Although Balanchine invented the character of The Siren in Prodigal son, he may have also been thinking of depictions of the Temptation of Eve, several of which show The Serpent winding its coils around Eve (and even around Adam). The Siren, usually danced by a long-legged dancer, mimics both seduction and enslavement. Below is a link to William Blake's version. Substitute a male figure for the Eve figure, and you have a version of Prodigal Son.

http://www.ncu.edu.t.../park467_12.jpg

On the other hand, according to Agnes de Mille (as quoted by Taper), the pas de deux between Siren and Son may have been based upon a circus trick.

For this ballet Balanchine turned away from the classical vocabulary he had employed in Apollo, but her remembered the lesson he had learned about unity of tone. This time his palette of movement contained borrowings from gymnasts, circus performers, and acrobats. In an interesting article, "Acrobatics and the New Choreography," ... Agnes de Mille discussed some of these devises and the uses to which Balanchine had put them: the circus trick employed in the duet betwen the Siren (Doubrovska) and the Prodigal Son (Lifar) -- "one of the most important seductions to be found on any modern stage," she wrote -- in which Doubrovska wraps herself around Lifar's waist like a a belt and then slides slowly down his body to the floor where, as he sinks down beside her, their limbs intertwine in an inextricable tangle ...

Share this post


Link to post

Balanchine's relation to Picasso may be in how they both borrowed from artists who were their contemporaries - Picasso taking a particular way of packing a figure into painting from Matisse's Blue Nude and his deadpan neoclassicism from Picabia (both were competing for the same post-cubist audience), while Balanchine would mischievously borrow forms from deMille, Tudor and Graham and just slightly parody them.

Balanchine's sense of the 2-dimensional visual arts may not have been that sophisticated, despite Balanchine's Diaghilev story about being made to sit in front of a work of art for an hour or two while Diaghilev was having lunch. Balanchine's taste in sets, such as "Jewels," was fairly rudimentary - he would never set a ballet to a Manet painting as was done by Ninette de Valois with "Bar at the Folies Bergere" - he would cut all that away. He would more comfortably borrow from real life - as he did with the Piccadilly Circus flashing lights for "Apollo." In "I Remember Balanchine" he tells Ruthanna Boris something about how to observe all the little details in life, even pieces of glass in the gutter.

Share this post


Link to post

I am vague about these details, but there must be references somewhere -- I thought that the church Ms. Farrell attended was on 71st St, and that Mr. B. traces the pattern of the cross (the one at THAT church) in the stage patterns in the "Preghiera." I will try to get more information.

Yes, in her bio she describes it as

the Virgin at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on 71st and Broadway that Mr. B knew I attended.
.

Thank you!

Share this post


Link to post

This subject has been so fascinating. I never realized there were correlations between Picasso and Balanchine. I never knew (or I had forgotten as I own Suzanne's memoir) that a pose in Mozartiana was based on a depiction of the Virgin in a church nearby on West 71st Street, or that Suzanne prayed there.

I thought Prodigal Son was based on the style of Roualt, who did the sets, or am I mistaken? My knowledge of art is rudimentary. Thank you for all the enlightenment.

Share this post


Link to post

Balanchine is following Picasso into a fascination with the forms of African art -- Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein was one of his first exercises in incorporating hte African mask into European art. Balanchine used many African-based forms, which were right there on the surface of American popular dancing -- the Charleston, the Lindy hop, Savoy-style, used many African postures and movements, the pevic tilts,, the alternating turn-in-turn-out, the Charleston kicks he uses so much in the black-leotard ballets were moves that came into American popular dancing from our African-american fellow citizens....

Gotta run, will add more to this later maybe.....

Share this post


Link to post

It was in “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” that Picasso incorporated African masks (they were “magic things” to Picasso) on the two horrific figures on the right side of the painting. “The Portrait of Gertrude Stein” came a year or so earlier, before Picasso had come across African and Oceanic materials at the Musee de l’Homme, and was strongly influenced instead by Iberian sculptures. Stein's pose is based on an Ingres portrait of a man, very heartly looking. The three other Demoiselles were also based on Iberian sources and their startling and partitioned arrangement help make the “axial rotation” that drags the poor spectator into the scene, as their fierce looks drill into him or her. Do some distant cousins of the “Demoiselles” haunt the “Four Temperaments?”

Interestingly Loie Fuller’s dance version of “Salome” may have been the influence on Picasso’s “Nu a la draperie” which is very African mask-like with scratched marks all over it - John Richardson makes the case for Fuller’s influence. "Nu a la draperie" was intended to trump Matisse's shocking "Blue Nude" (which recently made a quiet visit to the San Francisco museum in a show on Matisse and sculpture).

A lot of that influence of Cubism turning or canting the planes towards the spectator is similar to Nijinksy's poses in “Faun” and Massine in “Parade” and probably came to Balanchine in Russia through all the Cubist influenced theatrical stagings - by way of Tatlin and the Pevsners, and maybe the Shchukin collection.

There may be other Picasso-like traits or parallels in Balanchine, such as in the artist and model relation that Picasso was obsessed by in the late twenties (in which Picasso and the model switch roles and sexes). In “Liebeslieder” the male uses the woman’s leg to inscribe great arcs on the stage floor - as if with a compass - and in "Symphony in C" the woman’s leg makes a line across stage and pierces an opening that corps members describe with their hands.

Share this post


Link to post

hi helene i was wondering if you could help my freind is righting a final paper in uni and she has chose to wright it on agnes de mille. i have noticed in this discusion board you mentioned the article written by her which is called "Acrobatics and the New Choreography" myself and my friend are having trouble finding it and i was wondering if you could possibly let me no how to get ahold of it for her, this would be a big help thank you

Share this post


Link to post

That was bart who mentioned the de Mille article, which was cited by Bernard Taper in his biography of George Balanchine. A trusty bing search brings up this auction item, "Theatre Guild Magazine January 1930", which lists the de Mille article in the contents.

You or your friend might be able to get access to it from a major city or university library. Librarians should be able to help you search whether it was reprinted elsewhere, if the original is not available.

Please let us know if you find it. I'm sure others would like to read it.

Share this post


Link to post