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Depictions of Art in Balanchine's Choreography


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#16 bart

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 11:50 AM

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 ...



#17 Quiggin

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 01:31 PM

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.

#18 Paul Parish

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 05:16 PM

Thanks, guys, for the correction.

#19 Eileen

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Posted 26 January 2011 - 08:43 PM


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!

#20 Eileen

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Posted 27 January 2011 - 10:43 AM

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.

#21 Paul Parish

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Posted 28 January 2011 - 09:26 AM

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.....

#22 Quiggin

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 11:53 AM

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.

#23 emzi

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Posted 31 March 2011 - 11:45 AM

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

#24 Helene

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Posted 01 April 2011 - 10:11 PM

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.


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