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Villella To Step Down from MCB


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#211 Helene

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 02:44 PM

SFB just posted a link to a blog post by Katita Waldo, who was brought in to stage "Four Temperaments" when Riccardo Bustamente had to go to Amsterdam to work on "Giselle":

http://www.huffingto..._b_1409291.html

She gives some insight into staging Balanchine.

#212 dirac

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 03:57 PM

(Quiggin)

I always wonder how different Balanchine's works must have looked when they moved from City Center to the voracious stage of State Theater.


In the video biography of Balanchine, he says that he always envisioned a large theater and large stage and had composed with that in mind.


Nevertheless, some of them did look different, at least according to some of the contemporary reviews I've read. Concerto Barocco was one such mentioned but I am not sure about that. Melissa Hayden told Nancy Reynolds that emphases in his training changed as well after the move (from memory: "He wanted big, flowing moves, covering space, whereas before he talked for ours hours about the articulation of the foot....We were not small fry any more...")

(Edited for typo)

Edited by dirac, 10 April 2012 - 04:21 PM.


#213 carbro

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 04:13 PM

I also especially loved her in the Mozart, and Stravinsky's Symphony in 3 Movements, more than in the Violin Concerto, obviously my favorite ballet.

Ha-ha! I thought that throughout her career, Violin Concerto (her very first principle role, and one in which she shone from the start) was her best role.

But I can't completely concur with those of you who have said that a dancer's style will be transmitted to a Company when they become director. I don't think that Peter's style of dancing (perfect, cold, icy) has predominated NYCB these past nearly 30 years.

No, not now, but do you remember the late '80s-early '90s? So cold and clinical. I cut down my attendance then from several times a week to two, three, four times a season. That thing that transforms movement into dance had been drilled out of them. They were merely executing steps. It was painful. I'm glad that Peter Martins (or someone) saw the problem and fixed it. Although I think "fixed" is the wrong word. The corps was over-regimented, and I think the ballet masters just stopped demanding a little less mechanical precision and a lot more humanity.


It also helps that (contrary to what some stories say) she wasn't so much a 'prodigy' as a dancer as she was smart, hard-working, and of course talented. In terms of "teaching" certain qualities, I think it's easier to learn from someone who had to fight to figure things out for herself than from someone to whom they came naturally. It's like trying to work with a math tutor - I'd rather work with someone who had to grind it through and can show me several ways to attack the same problem than with someone who instantly sees one way to get it done but has trouble doing it other ways.

I agree -- I've seen this play out over and over again, in many different situations. Someone that we describe as a "natural" (facility comes easily) may be a pleasure to watch and a challenge to analyze, but they don't necessarily have the objective understanding of "how" they do what they do.

I also agree, both that Lourdes probably had to work hard and figure her way through challenges, and that this kind of person will usually have a depth of understanding that the one with the knack can't have.

(Quiggin)

I always wonder how different Balanchine's works must have looked when they moved from City Center to the voracious stage of State Theater.


In the video biography of Balanchine, he says that he always envisioned a large theater and large stage and had composed with that in mind.

That line is often quoted, but over the years, I've come to feel that Concerto Ballet needs a smaller stage than the one where NYCB usually performs it. Posted Image Posted Image

Editing to add: I was composing this post when dirac posted above. Posted Image

Edited by carbro, 10 April 2012 - 04:16 PM.


#214 Helene

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 04:16 PM

The emphasis in Balanchine's training and coaching changed significantly with the rise of Suzanne Farrell, the year before NYCB moved into the New York State Theater. As Hayden said to Robert Tracy, when he asked her about the "Farrell years",

...I think it was somewhat of a lost time for me. The shape of the classes was different, the tutoring of the other dancers in the company was different. For instance, Suzanne had a bad knee, so we hardly ever jumped in class. And if we didn't do any jumps how were we supposed to sustain our technique...


Croce and other critics noted that Balanchine was opting for a more lyrical, sweeping style with Farrell as the muse, and the NYST stage certainly gave him the room for that kind of look.

#215 Jack Reed

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 05:18 PM

...

Have there been any particularly memorable dancer/performances at Miami that have embodied a signature Villella style or approach - or too many to count?


Have there been performances that put us in mind of Villella's, that made the name "Villella" come to mind, even though we know it's not him? (He performs the Gangster role in Slaughter better than any other in my experience, BTW.) That's never happened to me, although, coming in late once, and consequently having to stand at the back for my first experience of their Emeralds, also missing the opening ensemble for the same reason, I had just begun to watch Catoya's realization of the "Spinner" variation when the name "Verdy" came to my mind, along with the knowledge that it could not be; I had seen Verdy dance that role many times, and then several of her successors in it, in New York and elsewhere, but this was the first time Verdy's name came to me like that. I learned later Verdy had coached Catoya but from a good seat Catoya's individuality was more plain. But a signature Villella role specifically, no.

What does register, and constitutes the reason I have gone to Florida much more often than to New York for my Balanchine "fix" in recent years, is that the company dances in many ways like Balanchine's did. Especially the corps: MCB opened in New York in January 2009 with Symphony in Three Movements, and Old Audience friends - published and unpublished critics - came up to me at intermission and said the corps was what it used be like. (Guess what? Some of them had "some reservations" about the principals.) And there have been other times it looked a lot like "old times" - the third cast of Sonatine (coached by Verdy and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux) had a couple of blank spots - where the dancers seemed not to know the reason for the movement at that moment - but otherwise looked like time-travel. Not, let it be said, an imitation. Balanchine's company never looked like imitating anything, the extreme example being Farrell, who never changed her steps but usually looked like she was still working on a role she had danced just a few times. But if it rarely looks just like Balanchine's company, it usually manifests the same virtues, less powerfully.

There has only been one time when I saw one of Farrell's dancers look like she might have been Farrell: Coming out of a performance of the "Contrapuntal Blues" section of Clarinade with Erin Mahoney, some one asked me whether I'd ever seen Farrell dance that. "Not until now" I said. My understanding is that Farrell doesn't "show" precisely to prevent imitation, and forbids watching videos for the same reason. Her dancers do make it "come from within", as she says sometimes, and if her company looks a little less solid than Villella's, it may be more a consequence of their shorter time together as much as emulating the style of the person at the top, although I think that's in there too.

(Her company's repertory does include Balanchine ballets she never danced, by the way. Here's Alistair Macaulay in The New York Times for November 23, 2010, after discussing ballets by Bejart, Mejia, and Robbins:

Each of these ballets takes Ms. Farrell’s dancers somewhere new, but none are choreographically substantial. And they suggest that the only ballets in which Ms. Farrell is interested are those in which she danced. When it comes to Balanchine, by contrast, she seems unlimited: her direction is revealing about ballets and roles in which she never danced, and she brings many aspects of his work to life.

)

Their account of Liebeslieder was another occasion for some of NYCB's Old Audience, who came down to DC for the event, to exclaim afterward, "There's Liebeslieder!" I'm not proud to admit, as some of them did, that I doubted whether the troupe could bring it off, but in the event, there it was.

In the June 28, 2009 New York Times, Macaulay wrote about that

But to recall its account of Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Waltzer” (1960) in October after City Ballet’s performance of the same ballet this month is to see a vast difference of tuition; Ms. Farrell’s artists deliver the ballet as if expressing a detailed, adult inner life. Let one example suffice: In terms of ballet caliber, experience and expressive potential, the Farrell company’s Bonnie Pickard is not in the same league as City Ballet’s Jennie Somogyi, but both dance the part-tragic “Liebeslieder” role created for Violette Verdy, and Ms. Pickard makes it enthralling and finds more drama in its detail.



#216 kfw

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 07:31 PM


(Quiggin)

I always wonder how different Balanchine's works must have looked when they moved from City Center to the voracious stage of State Theater.


In the video biography of Balanchine, he says that he always envisioned a large theater and large stage and had composed with that in mind.


Nevertheless, some of them did look different, at least according to some of the contemporary reviews I've read. Concerto Barocco was one such mentioned but I am not sure about that.

And Orpheus, which looked better on the smaller stage.

#217 Quiggin

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 01:56 PM

kfw

And Orpheus, which looked better on the smaller stage.


I would think Apollo would too - one of Diaghilev's stages, the Lyceum in London, is 13 meters wide. Ballets like Symphony in C definitely look much more at home at State Theater than City Center - but I wonder if on the whole Balanchine was going for the longer, lower, wide 50's expansionist look. Here's Allen Hughes' take in May 1964 in the New York Times:

It may be that the men dancers stand to profit most from the greater size of the new stage. They will now have more space in which to get off to the running starts that give impetus and energy to the leaps and turns that are their specialties.

If there is one particular advantage the women will gain, it may be that they can be lighted more flatteringly .. This will help create the illusion of unalloyed loveliness that everyone wants to see in female dancers.

All the dancers will benefit from the fact that the New York State Theater stage is both deeper and farther removed from the audience than the one at City Center. Distance filters out many of the details of strain and wobbliness that are nearly always visible in ballet dancing seen at close stage.


also:

Edward Villella who took the role of the male soloist in Raymonda Variations for the first time, danced magnificently and with a finesse that is mellowing his rugged athlecticism.


Helene

SFB just posted a link to a blog post by Katita Waldo, who was brought in to stage "Four Temperaments" when Riccardo Bustamente had to go to Amsterdam to work on "Giselle"


She was a wonderful dancer to watch - but it will be interesting to see Four Temperaments staged by someone knows it from having been in a production that Bart Cook or someone else from the Trust staged several years ago. It is a bit of a remove.

Jack Reed

"Verdy" came to my mind, along with the knowledge that it could not be.

Verdy's apparently the magic key to Balanchine - and to Robbins. But Villella (and Roma Sosenko?) is transmitting something of the overall architecture and animal spirits and spash that seem to be lacking in the other revivals - at least the one I've seen in person and on DVD.

#218 sandik

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 03:52 PM

Here's Allen Hughes' take in May 1964 in the New York Times:

...If there is one particular advantage the women will gain, it may be that they can be lighted more flatteringly .. This will help create the illusion of unalloyed loveliness that everyone wants to see in female dancers.



Wow. "Unalloyed loveliness."

#219 Helene

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Posted 14 July 2012 - 11:49 PM

The Miami Herald has published a new, long article, and it's not pretty:

http://www.miamihera...the-firing.html

It names a bunch of names and coalitions, and the company will be in major trouble if Villella's ouster causes the John F. and James L. Knight Foundation to decide not to give a major grant to the company.

What I find amusing at others' expense is the depiction of a Board President who says donors/board members are unhappy about being asked to shut up and write checks, when the actions of her and a couple of other members of the executive committee are saying the exact same thing, at least to the other board members.

#220 checkwriter

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 04:49 AM

Keep in mind that the 'depiction' is just that - one journalist's (and I use the term loosely) creation of a story using a mix of quotes from attributed and unattributed sources. If you'll read Ms. Levin's other work, you'll see a distinct bias in favor of Mr. Villella, and a consistent use of sources that come straight from Mr. Villella's side of the story. There is always much more going on behind the scenes that wanna-be muckraking journalists either are not privy to, or choose to ignore to the extent it does not fit with their preconceived notion of how the story should go.

That said, what I get from the story (even through Ms. Levin's pro-Villella filter) is that behind the scenes, Mr. Villella was and probably continues to be somewhat of a prima donna (or is it prima oumo?) ignoring the realities of having to operate on a budget and treating donors and audiences with disdain if not contempt. Just look at his radio silence since Ms. Lopez was named as his successor. If he truly had the best interests of the MCB at heart, he would be front and center promoting her, and would be working audiences and donors alike to boost ticket sales and pledges. Instead: nothing. Which tells me that he is more concerned about soothing his own ego than he is about helping the company he founded continue to exist if not thrive.

No matter how talented the artist, for a ballet company to operate in this economy - which has hit south Florida harder than many other areas - there has to be a unity of interest and purpose between the AD and his or her board. If there ever was such a unity at MCB, it appears to have broken down long ago. I don't need Ms. Levin's article to tell me that - just look at the yo-yo budget, the recurring money crises, Mr. Villella's pending departure, and his silence from April on.

#221 Brioche

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 06:32 AM

Never mind!

#222 Birdsall

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 07:03 AM

I suspect that he is deeply wounded. That is MAYBE why he hasn't spoken up about Lopez. MCB was his "baby" and it's being taken away from him. How can he not have some anger or hurt? And artistic minds are emotional. How can you wish someone well (even if that person did nothing to you) when in one sense he might view her as helping to steal his "baby" away, even if it is not her decision. People are feeling creatures. I really can't fault him for being closed mouthed. I suspect every time he talks about this in private he's probably very angry or hurt. You can't expect someone who is hurt deeply to put on a smiley face and hug the person replacing him.

Something similar happened to Judy Drucker who headed up the Concert Association of South Florida and brought some of the best opera singers, for example, to Miami, but she also ignored the rising debt, so the board ousted her. She said that they were taking her "baby" from her. So Miami no longer gets concerts by the top opera singers. I think this is probably a common problem in arts organizations. They are started by someone with vision and a love for the arts, but that singular vision and love for the art form keep them from wanting to pay attention to the cost aspect and thinks the board needs to focus and solve that problem while they create beauty on stage. They want to focus on art and want others to manage the finances. So conflicts arise. I bet this is common.

Without Judy Drucker I don't think Miami would have seen some of the great "stars" that it did in the past. In one season she brought down Kiri Te Kanawa, Montserrat Caballe, Cecilia Bartoli, and Cheryl Studer. But, of course, boards do worry about the money aspect, and that makes sense too. Drucker enabled me to see the biggest names in opera in Florida, so I think she is fabulous, but the board probably doesn't share my enthusiasm for her, and that makes sense too.

Same with MCB. Without Villella there wouldn't be a Miami City Ballet, but he probably cared only about the artistry, and I don't blame him in his position. Anyone in his shoes would have put artistry first. That was his first priority. But the board got tired of the deficit. I don't blame them either. Their top priority is making sure bills are paid probably. This is just a sad story. I'm not sure anyone is totally to blame. It is a sad mess.

However, I have to agree that I don't think decisions like this should be made in secret closed door meetings. Look how it comes out in the end anyway. Honesty and open-ness is the best policy. I suspect this executive board meant well, but they are going to come off as the villains in the piece because of the secrecy. They should have been open about it from the beginning.

#223 checkwriter

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 07:26 AM

Good points all round, Birdsall. The problem is the days when an AD can ignore budgets are long gone, at least until the next investment bubble starts to fill. And at some point, it would be nice if Mr. Villella would stop licking his wounds and start thinking of his legacy. Had he been more gracious, it's not unthinkable that he could have secured himself an 'emeritus' post, with a continuing income and presence - and without all of the headaches being an AD brings with it.

As for the Executive Board's 'secrecy' - I count about 50 board members in total, larger than some state senates. It's difficult to get things done with a group that size, particularly when the decisions are difficult. A group like that needs a core set of people to make the decisions and get things done. That said, I'm not sure there is a 'best' way to have done this - would it have been any better if the issues had been out in the press (leaks expand the more people you have involved) for months on end?

#224 vrsfanatic

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 07:32 AM

Just a side note...before MCB, Judy Drucker also brought wonderful ballet to South Florida. Ms. Drucker's Concert Association was instrumental in bring various high level performing groups to South Florida. Since Ms. Drucker and her wonderful supporters are no longer active in the community, international exposure to first rate ballet companies does not happen here on a regular basis. One would think that with A. Arsht and Audre D. Carlin on the Board of ABT, at least ABT would be able to tour to Miami as they did when Ms. Drucker and Mrs. Carlin (AKA Audre Deckman Mendel) were teaming together to help to develop the arts in South Florida.

As for Mr. Villella being upset, who can blame him? Having been in the ballet business my whole life, this situation is not unusual. I am sure we can all name names and companies that have had Boards handled these situations poorly. The directors I know generally do remain silent and move on. Keeping him on for more than a year cannot lead the company in a good direction. What was this Board thinking? Maybe it was in his contract that he would be given 18 months notice?

#225 Helene

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 08:57 AM

According to the article, "[Powerful board members] confronted the 75-year-old director with a stark choice: renounce his current contract and agree to retire by spring 2013, or the company would be forced to declare bankruptcy." If the his contractual term could be changed, then, ultimately, they were re-negotiating his existing contract, and other things may have changed.

No matter how talented the artist, for a ballet company to operate in this economy - which has hit south Florida harder than many other areas - there has to be a unity of interest and purpose between the AD and his or her board. If there ever was such a unity at MCB, it appears to have broken down long ago. I don't need Ms. Levin's article to tell me that - just look at the yo-yo budget, the recurring money crises, Mr. Villella's pending departure, and his silence from April on.

As far as unity is concerned, group think and rubber-stamping are the downside of it.

Villella is ultimately accountable to the Board, and the Board approved the budgets with the tours to NYC and Paris and the yo-yo budgets. If Villella went over budget, he should be held accountable, but if over the years he stomped his foot and refused to change course or cut the budget, the Board is ultimately accountable. If donations are down, it's up to them to force a mid-course correction. (They did it before: he cut a bunch of positions.) The Board is responsible for taking into consideration the state of the economy, fluctuating small donations, foundation support, donor fatigue, etc. and saying "yes" or "no" to the budget. It's very possible that until recently, the MCB Board were willing to be rubber-stampers and be accountable for fiscal irresponsibility, but that's a bit like an indulgent parent saying "We can't control our child."

There was at least one more option besides "You leave, or we file bankruptcy," which is "You come up with an acceptable budget, or we don't approve it." That's a message that could have public sentiment on the Board's side. Villella might have left on his own, under the guise of not being able to work under those circumstances.

The board members responsible for Villella's ouster chose to force him out, under the premise that the institution is more important than Villella and that it will continue to thrive in whatever artistic direction it takes. They hired Lopez and agreed to take on the financial burden of Morphoses to get her, when other qualified candidates had support from parts of the institution and no such encumbrances: they got "their" person in rather than choosing someone that was specifically loyal to Villella's artistic legacy. In fact, they got someone who by convincing them to take on Morphoses showed success in finding a solution to taking over a company from artistic founder and giving it a chance to survive, even if the result is quite different from the original vision. The institution is more important to them than Villella, and it's not surprising that he, like many entrepreneurs -- not just artists -- is not interested in helping the institution to perpetuate itself without him.

Balanchine often said he would walk away from NYCB and start a little company in Switzerland. He considered his legacy the present, what he was doing at the time. It's possible that Villella feels the same: that his years with the company and the dancers he trained are his legacy, not the institution. It's really Villella's prerogative to decide where his energy goes, and he has no obligation to an institution that has cut off his hand.


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