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Villella To Step Down from MCB


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#256 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 08:04 AM

I too was surprised by the use of the word museum, the implication being that the vibrant repertoire of MCB had become just that.

Could one say of the Museum of Modern Art or the Tate - that they have become irrelevant?


Well, in the case of MoMA at least, it’s become something different than it was when it first began. It’s now an institution more treasured for its permanent collection—i.e., for a half century of art (give or take a few decades) now trapped in amber—than for its feints at championing the new. It’s relevant, but not in the way that it was.

And while an art museum might be be able to thrive on its permanent collection, how many dance companies really could—or should? As much as I kvetch about the quality of most new ballets, I’d rather have them in all their mediocrity than see happen to ballet what happened to opera. Talk about a museum! It’s like a whole art form just ground to a halt. Putatively avant-garde restagings of centuries-old works do not a vibrant genre make, and the few genuinely new compositions that make it to the stage (much less survive in the rep) are only the exceptions that prove the rule.

So, I for one am inclined to look favorably on ADs who don't want their companies to turn into permanent collections—which is how I interpret "museum"—even as I wince at some of the results.

[font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif][size=4]As far as dance, many 1920’s era avant garde works are probably as interesting as those of the present after-modernism period - which under the flash and all the negative-space off balances seem oddly conservative and even reactionary.[/size][/font]


In ballet maybe. There’s some good, non-reactionary stuff happening in other precincts of the dance world, though -- and in terms of "flash," much of it is determinedly lo-fi.

#257 Helene

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 09:09 AM

And while an art museum might be be able to thrive on its permanent collection, how many dance companies really could—or should? As much as I kvetch about the quality of most new ballets, I’d rather have them in all their mediocrity than see happen to ballet what happened to opera. Talk about a museum! It’s like a whole art form just ground to a halt. Putatively avant-garde restagings of centuries-old works do not a vibrant genre make, and the few genuinely new compositions that make it to the stage (much less survive in the rep) are only the exceptions that prove the rule.

There have been a lot of new opera works, many of them in English, that have been produced in the last decade: off the top of my head, in the past few years, I've seen productions of Vancouver Opera's "Lillian Alling", San Francisco Opera's "Heart of a Solider", Dallas Opera's "Moby Dick" -- co-produced with four other companies, the last of which, SFO, will produce it in the Fall -- Seattle Opera's "End of the Affair" -- originally Houston Opera and revised for Seattle and Madison Opera" -- Seattle Opera's "Amelia." Bramwell Tovey's "The Inventor" was presented in Calgary last year and in a concert version with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra -- Tovey is the Music Director -- earlier this month. (Sadly, I had to miss it.) Vancouver Opera does four operas a season, and this season, along with Boheme, Magic Flute, and Pirates of Penzance -- the usual suspects -- it is presenting Tan Dun's "Tea". The Metropolitan Opera has had a handful of commissions, but apart from some Tan Dun and "Ghost of Versailles," (from 20 years ago), I don't think any of them are finished yet. (Operas are like massive infrastructure projects with fickle deadlines, while, in general, ballet commissions go on when scheduled, and scope, subject, and music, among other things, can change.) New York City Opera traditionally was the company that did new work, and not just to open the opera house.

Opera, especially in North America, without much government subsidy, has a much higher bar for new operas: composers don't often coach, unlike choreographers or their stagers, all of the music has to be parted, copied, and changed with revisions, super-titles need to be created for a moving text, and audiences expect more than a lit cyclotron and leotards. Singers aren't on salary and have to be contracted individually.

If no one were to perform "Lillian Alling" in the next three decades, someone in 2042 could pick up a score and listen to rehearsal tapes -- I suspect Vancouver Opera has internal tapes of the actual performances -- and put it on without much problem, given the thousands of capable classically trained singers and musicians that far out-number trained ballet dancers. The original physical staging is pretty much irrelevant to re-producing a work. If there is a question of musical style, there are hundreds of thousands of recordings and, now DVDs, to give it context.

In music, if fashion demands Stokowski's ponderous Bach, the score still exists to be able to gauge the composer's intent with regards to orchestration, dynamics, and tempi. This is not true of ballet, where continuity lies in two places: schooling and passing down style and intent through generations of coaching, and where the rarely-used notational systems capture much less of the nuances, like, for example, some the Stepanov notations that have steps and floor patterns, but none of the choreography above the waist.

It was serendipity that Stepanov notations survived and were accessible and that Hans Beck codified Bournonville choreography in his training and created productions of the key Bournonville works. The early French rep, including "Giselle," was tossed aside and "Giselle" was saved through Petipa's re-working, possibly only because the first Albrecht was Petipa's brother.

In my opinion, the companies for which masterworks were created by choreographers with key ties to the companies have the highest responsibility to preserve that rep, and it should be their core, especially when there is a training academy that teaches the style. For NYCB it's Balanchine and Robbins, for ABT it should be Tudor -- through ABT's neglect now on life support through the efforts of New York Theatre Ballet and Sarasota Ballet -- and the mixed bill rep created for it before the full-lengths took over -- for Royal Danish Ballet, the Bournonville rep, and for the Bolshoi and Mariinsky, the classics. (Which they do: despite the "new" choreography -- the Balanchine and the occasional Forsythe and Bejart -- the classical rep is the overwhelming part of their schedule.) Even if the core collection is small, preserving it should be their key mission.

Regarding the Balanchine rep, we are three-fold lucky: like in other major companies, when the performances of the main company falter, the school still has teachers that maintain the continuity and produce great dancers, so many of his disciples have spread across the continent to run their own companies, and there is a Foundation to vet and send stagers to companies that want to perform the rep. It's always good that if there is a fire in the museum and most of the collection is lost, for example when Mariinsky management in the '90's decided that they should misinterpret Guillem as an example, there are ways to re-group. Tudor, whose ballets are much more delicate to preserve, should have been so lucky.

#258 Quiggin

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 10:35 AM

Well, in the case of MoMA at least, it’s become something different than it was when it first began.


MoMa did lag a bit by the mid eighties but curators like Robert Storr helped bring them up to speed again. Along with their affiliated museum PS 1 - they do continue to acquire and show new stuff. Don DeLillo’s Point Omega begins with a meditation on a 2006 MoMa Project, Douglas Gordon’s 24-Hour Psycho. As a big-tent institution they’re better than the current New Museum but less so than the Drawing Center in honing in on interesting new work - or so it seems from California and after a fifteen year lapse in art going in Manhattan. You could say Dia is more the fly in amber, but a fly of a significant period.

What was good about Miami under Villella is that it represented another period of Balanchine, more the City Center period, fast and clean with clear accents, or what my idea of that period was like. It seemed to mix well with Tharp and other new works better than the sometimes overly reverential Balanchine productions of other companies do.

Interesting about the new works outside ballet companies. Do you have a short list of lo-fi works that we, and MCB, should keep an eye on?

#259 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 10:47 AM

I didn't mean to suggest that NO new operas were composed or staged, only that few opera companies, if any, view it as their mission to commission and present new operas as a matter of course and, more important to me, as a means of exploring its possibilities as an art form. (I realize most of them have as their mission just trying to stay alive, so kudos to the regional companies for getting at least some new work in front of us. The Met sure isn't interested. NYCO was, which is why its sad decline is so troubling.) You'd think opera's potential as a vehicle for multimedia spectacle (and I mean that as a good thing) in conjunction with advances in technology would have prompted something more interesting than the Met's new clunker of a Ring cycle. Or, since it's amenable to more intimate productions as well, that there might be a flourishing scene of chamber-scaled operas for club-style venues. I've long thought that there is a connection between an art form's vitality and the amount of disposable work it generates and then cheerfully trashes. I'm concerned that we've reached a point where it's a dispiriting tragedy when a new opera flops.

And of course I'm not suggesting that ballet companies can let their heritage works fall in to disrepair or that they shouldn't work diligently to preserve their special stylistic sauce. But neither of those goals are incompatible with being more than a permanent collection.

#260 Helene

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 11:09 AM

And of course I'm not suggesting that ballet companies can let their heritage works fall in to disrepair or that they shouldn't work diligently to preserve their special stylistic sauce. But neither of those goals are incompatible with being more than a permanent collection.

I agree the goals can be compatible, but, sadly, much of the time they are not, and it's an either/or. My argument is that the preservation of the core rep should be the primary goal of the organization, and the new should be used as a supplement and as food for the dancers. Quoting Patrice Bart from his interview with Marc Haegeman,

The Paris Opera Ballet is by definition a major ‘company of tradition’. And that is precisely what we try to preserve: this particular tradition, with its many aspects such as the hierarchy within the company, the way it is structured and so on. At the same time many works are created for the company to keep it alive. But this historical aspect, which gives the company a firm place in the history of France, is extremely important and unique.



It is necessary to have an open view, to keep up with what is going on in the rest of the world. New, contemporary, creations are essential to keep the classical tradition alive.


MH: Is there any danger that companies are losing their identity because of too many external influences? For example nowadays one can see dancers of a certain company appearing all around the world.

PATRICE BART: I don’t think so. I was étoile here in this company and in the course of my career I danced many times in other places, yet I never felt I was losing my identity. You keep what you have and you take some supplementary colours, to enrich yourself. Somehow it’s important that you keep your origins and that external influences never become too dominant.


MH: So it isn’t a problem to switch from Petipa to Forsythe?
PATRICE BART: Not at all, for it keeps the dancers on their toes. And if the programming is done in an intelligent way, one will nourish the other. There is no way that a dancer tackles Forsythe in the afternoon and dances Swan Lake the same evening. But if he returns to Swan Lake after having danced Forsythe some months earlier, there is a whole new feeling and approach.


We are lucky that, at least so far, Pacific Northwest Ballet has maintained this balance, and that the classical and neo-classical ballets in its rep are energized by the inclusion of works from the last few decades through premieres. I always think of it as flirting at a party, and then going home and having great sex with your partner, but it's a similar fine line.

I think for opera the bump of new work is made possible by co-commissions and collaborations, where the work gets a much wider audience than anything but a Met-HD broadcast. In Europe, companies are heavily subsidized by the public produce much regietheater, productions which aren't expected to last. In an interview with the Queen of Denmark, Copenhagen Ring director Kasper Bech Holten said that the next time the Ring is produced in Copenhagen, it should reflect it's own time, and that his reflected 2006. In North America, without those subsidies, productions are supposed to last. Speight Jenkins got the Seattle Opera Board to approve a very expensive new Ring for 2001 by promising them that he wouldn't ask for a new production -- typically they last three times over 12 years -- during his tenure and the "Seattle Ring" or "Green Ring" will play for the fourth time next summer. Given the financial situation, it's hard to imagine funding materializing for a new Ring for his successor any time in this decade.

It will be interesting to see what happens to opera in Europe, now that governments are slashing funding for the arts. The audience's expectation is for new takes on operas, old and new, and lots of dominant direction, and for rapidly changing productions, and how and when the opera houses adjust to the new economic realities is still a question.

#261 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 11:43 AM

Interesting about the new works outside ballet companies. Do you have a short list of lo-fi works that we, and MCB, should keep an eye on?


OT OT OT!

Just to be clear, by "lo-fi" I mean work that doesn't trade on extreme virtuosity, magnificently honed physiques, or mood lighting. That doesn't mean that the dancing isn't really hard to do or that no thought at all has been given to sets and costumes.

In no particular order, choreographers whose work I've seen in the past couple of years that I will make every effort to see again (none of whom -- with maybe one exception -- would likely be appropriate for MCB because it's a ballet company and they are not ballet choreographers):

Lo-fi: Wally Cardona, Keely Garfield, David Parker, Pam Tanowitz, Ivy Baldwin, Deganit Shemy, Tere O'Connor, Andrea Mitchell, Kate Weare, Monica Bill Barnes, John Jasperse. Tanowitz is the ballet "maybe." Bless her, she stood up at a pre-performance talk and openly declared her love for petit allegro -- the love that dare not speak its name as far as most contemporary ballet choreographers are concerned, it seems.

Slightly less lo-fi: Doug Elkins, Larry Keigwin, Stephen Petronio, Camille Brown, Pierre Rigal

Ringing changes on traditional forms: Rocio Molina, Pichet Klunchun, Nora Chipmaure, Akram Khan, Shantala Shivalingappa

And Trisha Brown still does it for me. I saw the revival of "Astral Converted" at the Armory last week and loved every minute of it. (Unlike some reviewers I thought it was over too soon.)

I'm sure there are worthy people I'm leaving off the list ... And I'm still coming to grips with the flavor of dance championed in this country most prominently by Cedar Lake Ballet. Usually labelled "European, it's definitely not lo-fi, but it's starting to grow on me.

There should be videos of all this stuff on line somewhere. If I get a chance later today I'll throw up some links in a new thread.

#262 kfw

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 01:02 PM

My argument is that the preservation of the core rep should be the primary goal of the organization, and the new should be used as a supplement and as food for the dancers.



I would think it would be clear to a company’s dancers over time - by everything from number of performances scheduled, to roles given to up-and-coming dancers, to rehearsal time scheduled and enthusiasm shown - just how much the AD values the core rep vs. the new stuff. And I’d think a lot of younger dancers especially would undervalue and under-prioritize the older work if that’s what they saw modeled.

I suppose that's only stating the obvious. But while I never saw Villella dance and I’ve only seen MCB a half a dozen times, like bart, I’m deeply grateful to him for how he’s kept Balanchine’s work alive. It’s been heartwarming to read about even when I couldn’t see it.

#263 Quiggin

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 01:03 PM

In no particular order, choreographers whose work I've seen in the past couple of years that I will make every effort to see again ...


Thanks, Kathleen, for the great list! I've seen bits of Monica Bill Barnes on internet videos.

The only adventurous non-mainstream thing I have managed to get myself out to has been - last night - to Shana Moulton and Nick Hallet's Whispering Pines 10, part of SFMoma's summer Stage Presence series - but closer to opera than to dance.

#264 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 01:31 PM

In my opinion, the companies for which masterworks were created by choreographers with key ties to the companies have the highest responsibility to preserve that rep, and it should be their core, especially when there is a training academy that teaches the style (...) for ABT it should be Tudor ...


OT

A painful, horrible, slowly death happening in front of our very eyes...

How I wish I could see more of that...All those years hearing Mme. reminiscing on the impressive, wonderful bulk of his works, and me thinking I was up for such fascinating world once I was able to land in US...

It hasn't happened...

But back to MCB...

#265 bart

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 06:54 AM

[MOD BEANING ON]

This thread is evolving into an interesting discussion of aesthetics. For those who want to talk about the goverenance/financial crisis at MCB, it might be a good idea to post on our newer thread, devoted to current policy matters.

Here's the link.
http://balletalert.i..._15#entry306133

[MOD BEANIE OFF]

#266 Justdoit

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Posted 15 August 2012 - 01:07 PM

Still along the lines of asthetics, so I don't think I am off topic here. All this talk about Villella versus Lopez and the board versus Villella and how this will effect the MCB product, I think is overlooking something truly central to this transition. That's the dancers themselves. They are Miami City Ballet.

Can't have a dance company without the artistic director or the board or the myriad of others doing the jobs that need to keep a company up and going. But, it's the artists themselves who risk everything if they go out on that stage unprepared. Dancers are not children, but hardworking adults who care more about their performances than anyone else.

Anyone who follows the threads about MCB dancers here on BT or other print written about MCB dancers will find a commonality to them. This company is different than other companies. The in-fighting doesn't seem to exist and they support each other much like a very big family. Only this family is in the wings each night of a performance cheering each other on. Did Edward create this climate? No, the dancers did this themselves.

Yes, Edward may have selected the programming each season, but really how much did he do when it came to teaching, coaching and encouraging the growth of each dancer? No one would know the answer to that but the dancers themselves. Just giving a company class everyday is not enough. Even daily class requires a good, solid warm-up for the rehearsals or performances yet to come that day. How do we know even the effect of Edward's daily class on the dancers?

I think we need to look at the overall climate and asthetic standard the dancers have been able to maintain despite all the financial difficulties. Difficulties, that they are fully aware of, which MCB has gone through since it's inception 27 years ago. These are dancers repeatedly recognized for their strong techniques, beautiful clean lines, lyrical interpretations and their palpable love of dance which translates to audiences at EVERY performance, everywhere they perform. Just go to the NYC or Paris reviews or the descriptions of the company made by choreographer Liam Scarlett. Give the dancers the credit they deserve. The dancers of Miami City Ballet are the ultimate producers of the product we've come to recognize as Miami City Ballet.

#267 leibling

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Posted 15 August 2012 - 01:24 PM

I can't help but to second everything that Justdoit wrote about the dancers of MCB. The interesting thing to remember is that Villella hired all of them... and in that sense did help to create the supportive camaraderie that exists in the company. The amount of detail, the devotion to going beyond what is being asked, the pure love of dance that flows off the stage in every performance- these are the traits inherent in the dancers for which the company in recognized. I firmly believe that they will survive this transition because they are Miami City Ballet- able to adapt, roll with the punches, if you will, and still come out better off in the end.

Don't know if this really pertains to any of the political goings on, but I couldn't help but to support Justdoit's statements.

#268 bart

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Posted 15 August 2012 - 04:58 PM

Give the dancers the credit they deserve. The dancers of Miami City Ballet are the ultimate producers of the product we've come to recognize as Miami City Ballet.

Agree 100%, Justdoit.

Based on random observation and no insider information at all, I'm one who tends to credit Villella with the major responsibility for providing the vision for the company and the nuts-and-bolts of preparing the dancers to dance the way they do. That the dancers he has chosen also share his vision is a tribute both to him and to them.

I firmly believe that they will survive this transition because they are Miami City Ballet- able to adapt, roll with the punches, if you will, and still come out better off in the end.

Well put, liebling. I can't imagine what it is like for the dancers now that they are back in the studio preparing for the 2012-13 season. Another factor is the school, which will be changing leadership this season as Linda Villella steps down. (We'll wait for official news about that particular story.)

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the dancers themselves will be allowed to contribute their esprit de corps, smarts, and sheer guts to keep things healthy and on track. That is more than the "grownups" in charge of the company have seemed to have been able to do in recent months.

#269 SandyMcKean

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Posted 16 August 2012 - 01:06 PM

This company is different than other companies. The in-fighting doesn't seem to exist and they support each other much like a very big family.


I think you'd find that PNB in Seattle is much the same.

#270 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 25 August 2012 - 03:26 PM

About Mrs. Villella's resignation, this is what the last poster on the Herald page had to say...

[size=4]"The nail is in the coffin.
Those that voted to fire world class Villela and replace him with unremarkable Lopez are emblematic of what makes Miami a Banana Republic".
[/size]


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