Jump to content


"Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear"Inside the Land of Ballet


  • Please log in to reply
73 replies to this topic

#1 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,018 posts

Posted 09 October 2011 - 08:01 PM

I just finished reading an advanced copy of Stephen Manes' "When Snowflakes Dance and Swear". Manes spent a little over a year at PNB, from preparation of the 2007-8 season, Boal's third with the company, to the very beginning of the 2008-9 season, and he followed just about every aspect of life in the company and the hundreds -- thousands if you consider families and mentors -- of people that make a season possible. It is similar to Joseph Mazo's "Dance is a Contact Sport" in that Manes dedicated his life to a season with a company, but far from being just about dancers and/choreographers. Manes takes an in-depth look at the school, classes, coaching, backstage, PR, the front of the house, administration, touring, auditions, fundraising, the orchestra, the Board: all of the aspects that come together to make the organization run and the performances happen. He even pays a visit to The Barn in Carlisle, PA. He also avoids the self-consciously cuteness in which Mazo wrote, but Mazo wrote in the '70s.

Many people have asked over and over again, "How are works transmitted?" "How do the dancers learn them?" "How do dancers work?" This books describes all of these in great detail, including the contrast in style, approach, and expectation of different stagers/stager-choreographers/choreographers, and, because that season boasted so many new works of different sizes and demands, there is quite a contrast. (The one thing they had in common, how many times they praised and encouraged, was the biggest surprise to me.)

The book gives a robust portrait of Peter Boal in a critical year in his first 5-year term as Artistic Director, and in-depth descriptions of the crucible of that period: a production of Jean-Christopher Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette", which replaced a much-loved version of Kent Stowell's, "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet". Boal had five of Stowell's Juliets and several Romeos among his Principal Dancers; with one exception the stagers rejected all of them, which in a perverse way was an advantage, because everyone was equally unhappy and insulted, especially as the stagers tried to audition them in the non-title roles -- PNB didn't have enough performances to offer that many casts in the Stowell version -- and the one exception was unhappy because she felt that Boal would always favor Carla Korbes.

2007-8 was also a critical point in the transition from Francia Russell and Kent Stowell to Peter Boal, two years away from the honeymoon, and the adjustment was huge, however well as it was handled publicly, and the detailed descriptions of the making of each rep and special performance, presentation, and gala/party over the year establish context.

Whatever anyone thinks of Peter Boal, there is someone in the book who will validate their conclusion, because, ultimately, this is a book about work and, by extension, about business, and Peter Boal is the boss. There are limited resources -- time and money -- and limited opportunity, and no matter how much money he and his staff raise, time and opportunity are still limited.

PNB is run, at least in this period, on a pretty strict business model, to produce a small operating surplus each year. That limited the amount of new work that Boal could produce, especially going forward, which is not entirely a bad thing, based on the company's experience of conflicting schedules, the logistics of so many stagers, time and money restrictions during the 2007-8 season, as well as giving dancers the opportunity to fine-tune and deepen their interpretations by repeating the ballets sooner than later. The book was written about the season before the financial crisis hit, after PNB had deferred an endowment gift on which the 2008-9 season budget relied, only to find the value of the endowment reduced below contributions, and before "Nutcracker" suffered the triple-whammy of the financial crisis, a new Christmas show in town, and a massive snow storm that crippled the city, whose poor response toppled then-mayor Nickels.

It's also a book about communication, and setting expectations, and often, the lack of both. I found it pretty astonishing that stager after stager from the modern dance world, whether their experience was with smaller companies or in an established theater like in Monte Carlo, seemed to have no idea about what it would mean to their rehearsal process to work in a repertory company with a union. What was a given to Stacy Caddell or Brian Reeder or Benjamin Millepied, all NYCB veterans for whom this was not news, seemed astonishing to the Monte Carlo team among others.

There are many profiles, both of dancers, stagers, choreographers, and people behind the scenes, and for NYCB fans, Carla Korbes, who was cast widely in the season, is a featured player, with appearances by Miranda Weese, Seth Orza, and Sarah Ricard Orza. I thought the most fascinating was the one of Bruce Wells -- what a perspective Wells has. Maillot's thoughts were also a highlight. There is also an epilogue, to bring the reader up-to-date through last season.

It's a fascinating story, regardless of whether the reader has ever seen Pacific Northwest Ballet.

The book is available through amazon.com, amazon.ca, and amazon.co.uk in hardcover and Kindle editions, as well as from Japanese and European amazon.com sites. It's also available in Nook and Adobe formats.

Here's the website to the book, from which you can read six chapters:
http://wheresnowflak...ceandswear.com/

#2 innopac

innopac

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 783 posts

Posted 29 December 2011 - 03:44 PM

[size=4][font=times new roman,times,serif]Where Snowflakes Dance & Swear: Q&A with Stephen Manes[/font][/size]

[size=4][font=times new roman,times,serif]interview by Emilia & Linda [The Ballet Bag] on 26 December 2011[/font][/size]
http://www.theballet...-stephen-manes/



#3 SandyMcKean

SandyMcKean

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 928 posts

Posted 07 January 2012 - 04:10 PM

In the interview innopac cites above, Stephen Manes makes a powerful observation when asked what he found that was extraordinary in the world of ballet:

So is the teaching. What surprised me in the PNB school was the authority conveyed by the instructors thanks to their professional experience and knowledge. I also found their total absence of condescension toward their students noteworthy. I suspect there are lessons to be learned from this by teachers of almost anything


It struck me (as it obviously did him) how different primary education in this country might be if it had the aspects of: "hands-on" by teachers that really knew their subject from experience, truly loved the subject themselves, and always put the students and the subject first. Some sort of intra-country "Peace Corps" perhaps?????

#4 ora

ora

    New Member

  • New Member
  • Pip
  • 4 posts

Posted 19 January 2012 - 05:37 AM

Excellent topic in regards the business of ballet company evolving, making and driving. Just the sort of work that I have been asked to look for, and now I know where to look. Thanks for identifying and describing the work. Can you tell if a book that is desribed as a posthumous revelation on living as a dancer, by a Robert Gladstein is available? The book was to be published exactly 20 years after his passing. I have not been able to find a copy and wonder if any of you can tell if it is worth a search? Perhaps you might just tell why such a seemingly good idea was to be published so long after passing?

#5 puppytreats

puppytreats

    Gold Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 751 posts

Posted 19 January 2012 - 08:30 AM

I have been reading this book and learning a tremendous amount. I found surprising the deferral to stagers by the artistic director on issues casting, particulary since this seemed to contrast with the practice described on this board on discussions regarding RDB and Mr. Hubbe.

The writing style of the book, so far, disappoints. I derive pleasure in the facts and the details about which I am learning as I read, but not from any turn of phrase. I feel like I am reading a unedited sports blog, instead.

#6 Jayne

Jayne

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 870 posts

Posted 22 January 2012 - 08:24 PM

I read the book in November, but was busy during the holidays and failed to write a review here. I do recall that the book is self-published, which explains the lack of editorial supervision. A good editor would have cut some of the banal quotes to simple summaries and easily cut 200 pages from the book. But it's still an excellent read. I'll try to put together a formal review next weekend.

#7 SandyMcKean

SandyMcKean

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 928 posts

Posted 23 January 2012 - 12:48 PM

I'll try to put together a formal review next weekend.


I will greatly look forward to that. (I am in the middle of reading the book -- and enjoying it very much. For PNB regulars like me, it's like reading a book about one's own family!!)

#8 cahill

cahill

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 86 posts

Posted 30 January 2012 - 12:57 PM

An interesting interview with the author can be found here

http://tendusunderap...er A Palm Tree)

#9 cobweb

cobweb

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 121 posts

Posted 30 January 2012 - 07:41 PM

I'm in the midst of this book, which I find entertaining, enlightening, and very, very frustrating. It seems like the author followed the company for a year, taking notes (or recording?) everything, then just published it all with no editing whatsoever. There are endless (and I do mean endless!) accounts of rehearsals with dancers grimacing, laughing, and being given notes; endless lengthy quotations from dancers and staff, rambling, unfocused, ungrammatical, and with no editorial comment whatsoever. Quel mess!!! There is so much interesting information scattered about, about dancers and the backstage workings of a major ballet company, that I wish it had been cut to something like half -- or less -- of the current length and given some authorial/editorial commentary and a major, major overhaul for focus.

#10 Olatunji

Olatunji

    New Member

  • New Member
  • Pip
  • 5 posts

Posted 31 January 2012 - 05:47 AM

Was the Gladstein book at any point the one you are talking about? The inference that the thing is probably a vanity publication and that no one knows where it is and that it was supposed to be published only xx years following his "passing" intrigues. The reference at another site suggests that it is in content and reference a bit touchy;why? Is it a good danse read?

#11 cobweb

cobweb

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 121 posts

Posted 31 January 2012 - 12:34 PM

Olatunji, I'm not sure if that question was for me? I haven't read the Gladstein book, I'm talking about Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear. I don't really see it as touchy, sure there are hurt feelings about casting and promotions, intra-company divorces, etc, but I suspect it's a very muted version of the real thing. (Of course, I'm only halfway through right now.) It's both a "good dance read" and a long, long slog.

#12 ora

ora

    New Member

  • New Member
  • Pip
  • 4 posts

Posted 03 February 2012 - 06:24 AM

Apologies for having begun this Gladstein Book reference. I am now told, without explanation, that this is a work NOT for me. This from a teacher who says he knows. My guardian mentor is always asking after old SFB stuff, looking for mention of someone she knew from that company who she lost long ago, thinking that such items are just laying about now that I am in this country and visiting on this coast. I somewhat naturally assumed that this was such a work.

#13 puppytreats

puppytreats

    Gold Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 751 posts

Posted 12 February 2012 - 07:34 AM

Ch. 18, n.10 - source of cited source?

#14 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,018 posts

Posted 12 February 2012 - 07:39 AM

Context is always helpful.

#15 puppytreats

puppytreats

    Gold Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 751 posts

Posted 12 February 2012 - 12:11 PM

The book names a NY ballerina, discloses her pay, and cites her form 1099 as a source, not a form 990 or other public document.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):