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Is NYCB Treading Water?


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#16 kfw

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Posted 14 October 2011 - 06:45 PM

You can watch a video from the 70s or 60s when Mr. B was still around and boy were those ballets awesome. Now you watch the same ballet by the same company and it is terrible. Forget about the dancer finding their own interpretation, it is the stager that I think is not restaging it how Balanchine actually wanted it.


There is an anecdote in Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear, the new book about a year behind the scenes with Pacific Northwest Ballet, where Peter Boal recalls learning Prodigal Son just after Balanchine had died, and according to Boal, "nobody really knew what the coaching was like." So for six hours he watched the video of Balanchine coaching Baryshnikov. But when he asked Martins to bring in Villella to coach, Martins wouldn't do it. (He hired Villella himself. Villella: "I cost one beer.") Of course there are other stories, old now, of frustrated dancers not being able to work with Farrell and others. What a shame.

#17 Eileen

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 01:40 PM

Speaking to cinnamonswirl's point ...

One thing I realized recently is how differently dancers regard a work or choreographer as compared to an audience member. A friend had asked me to check out a certain choreographer because she was thinking of acquiring a new piece. I did, and totally hated the choreographer's work. I told her this pretty clearly in a long email detailing exactly why I thought this choreographer wasn't any good, so she knew exactly how I'd come to my conclusion. As it turns out, they decided to engage the choreographer anyway, and a few weeks later performed that same work I didn't like.

However, talking to the dancers during the rehearsal process and afterwards, I realized that I had just valued the choreographer based on my audience member's reaction to seeing the piece, but didn't realize what working with the choreographer did for the dancers. For them, they loved working with the choreographer because of the new aspects of performance and stagecraft as well as different ways of moving they learned from the choreographer. They found it valuable because they now had new tools in their toolbox with which they could use on other pieces in the future. For them, the valuable part was not the one piece they worked on, but what they learned from the working process.

So my point is that while we, the audience, react mainly to the performance we see on stage, for the dancers and AD, there's a whole lot of other stuff going on that may not be immediately obvious to us. Clearly, one can't run a company spending money and wasting time on bad pieces all the time, but the value of a choreographer extends well beyond the one night we see a company perform. A pretty close analogy is how an orchestra will bring in different conductors because different conductors can teach an orchestra different things, and while a performance put on by the conductor on one day may not appeal to everyone, one hopes that the orchestra carries with it the lessons it learned from the conductor so it will be better in the future.


I feel I have had this conversation before, made my point before on another thread, but I will repeat it. If dancers want to work with a choreographer, that is irrelevant to the audience. If I want to experience something new, I read a new book, but I do not thrust it upon my friends and insist they read it, too! That is the trouble with the "dancers need new choreography" argument. I'm not necessarily going to read your favorite book, and I'm not gonna watch the dancers' favorite choreographer. Audiences want to be entranced and astonished. Entrance me. Astonish me. Hold my interest. Uplift me. Do not foist upon me your DOA failures like the McCartney venture. Artists are self absorbed creatures, naturally so, but if they can't hold an audience, their company will suffer and their artistic opportunities will be narrowed. Please cinnamonswirl, don't come down too hard on me! It's only my own uninformed but well-financed opinion as an audience member. Well-financed as I have an expensive subscription this season. Don't disappoint me, NYC Ballet! Give me reason to maintain my loyalty, rather than subscribe next year to the NY Philharmonic or Chamber Music Society or sit home in my easy chair with the Yalta volume of Churchill's memoirs. Dancers wanting to work with new choreographers? Why should I pay for it?

#18 Eileen

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 03:35 PM


You can watch a video from the 70s or 60s when Mr. B was still around and boy were those ballets awesome. Now you watch the same ballet by the same company and it is terrible. Forget about the dancer finding their own interpretation, it is the stager that I think is not restaging it how Balanchine actually wanted it.


There is an anecdote in Where Snowflakes Dance and Swear, the new book about a year behind the scenes with Pacific Northwest Ballet, where Peter Boal recalls learning Prodigal Son just after Balanchine had died, and according to Boal, "nobody really knew what the coaching was like." So for six hours he watched the video of Balanchine coaching Baryshnikov. But when he asked Martins to bring in Villella to coach, Martins wouldn't do it. (He hired Villella himself. Villella: "I cost one beer.") Of course there are other stories, old now, of frustrated dancers not being able to work with Farrell and others. What a shame.


If this story is true, it casts Martins in a poor light indeed. What pettiness. Villella is raised in my esteem - he coached Peter Boal for the price of a beer.

#19 Drew

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 04:38 PM

Dancers wanting to work with new choreographers? Why should I pay for it?


There's a balance I think...Perhaps the company (any company) would not be able to keep some top dancers without new works? Perhaps some dancers would grow bored and their boredom would show in how they performed even the works you (who "pay for it") most want to see? It's not unheard of for even failed works to develop aspects of dancers that then inform their other performances in positive ways...Dancers are living bodies who need to be inspired in a particular way (not a book, as you made the comparison, to be put down or picked up at will with no harm done to the words on the page while the book stands sitting unread on a shelf).

Having said that, I don't entirely disagree with you at all (and I also know you are just trying to make a point): dancers' desire for new work should not serve as the main basis for a company's artistic policies, certainly not for a major ballet company's policies. But I don't think it can be entirely dismissed either, especially when a company is founded on a principle of creativity.

For that matter, audience popularity--that is, what people are willing to pay for--should not be the main basis for a company's artistic policies either: no matter how much they pay. It's a balancing act there too. After all, it's not as if Variations For a Door and a Sigh which the company revived so brilliantly--with Von Aroldingen's coaching as I understand--is ever likely to be a sold out affair...

#20 LiLing

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 06:50 PM

I don't see the issue here as whether or not new works should be put up. The issue is the choreographers who have been chosen in the last few seasons. There is always a risk with a new work, no artist creates at the same level every time. How often is Beethoven's eighth symphony played? But it had to come before the ninth That being said, Weeldon and Ratmansky have done valuable work. If they do occasionally produce something less successful than their norm, that was a risk worth taking. Remember, all the masterpieces we love were once new works. I don't want to mention names, but some of the recent flops were no suprise, based on their previous work. I don't understand why less established choreographers are being commissioned to do works on the main stage of a world class co. when they have the Choreographic Institute, and the SAB spring concerts to try things out.
Isn't that why the Choreographic Institute was created? :wallbash:

#21 abatt

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Posted 15 October 2011 - 08:14 PM

The dancers are eager to learn new roles in old ballets too. I recall reading an interview w. Tiler Peck in which she said she would love to perform the lead in Swan Lake. I think that learning and performing Odette-Odile might have been a more gratifying experience for her than having a new work created on her that was mediocre (Stroman ballet).

#22 Eileen

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 02:48 AM

The dancers are eager to learn new roles in old ballets too. I recall reading an interview w. Tiler Peck in which she said she would love to perform the lead in Swan Lake. I think that learning and performing Odette-Odile might have been a more gratifying experience for her than having a new work created on her that was mediocre (Stroman ballet).


Excellent point, Abatt.

#23 cinnamonswirl

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 06:36 AM

^ Absolutely. Presumably most of the dancers at City Ballet are there because they WANT to learn and dance Balanchine ballets.

But I do remember an interview Wendy Whelan gave, I think it was in the newsletter sent to Guild members, in which she specifically talked about the importance of new works. She said that at that point in her career (this would have been 3 or 4 years ago), she had learned all of the Balanchine ballets she was ever going to learn, and so she had to have new works created on her to sustain her artistically.

Much as I prefer NYCB's to ABT's rep, in many respects I find ABT to be the more exciting company at the moment. City Ballet has lost a lot of its spark. And certainly there is a problem with how NYCB is acquiring new ballets (or rather, what new ballets it is acquiring).

#24 bart

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 07:14 AM

I don't recall many opera singers lamenting the chance to have new work composed for -- and in collaboration with -- them. Of course any performing artist would probably love, and be flattered by, that process.

Is there something unique about dancers that makes them so deeply devoted to the feelings expressed by Ms. Whelan ... to the extent that dances seek it out even when the finished work is not significant?

This sort of thinking is completely understandable. But it does seem to focus more on the creative process rather than the created product.

The audience's perspective is the reverse, tending to value product over process.

#25 abatt

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 07:36 AM

^
But I do remember an interview Wendy Whelan gave, I think it was in the newsletter sent to Guild members, in which she specifically talked about the importance of new works. She said that at that point in her career (this would have been 3 or 4 years ago), she had learned all of the Balanchine ballets she was ever going to learn, and so she had to have new works created on her to sustain her artistically.


In a film presented by Wheeldon -Morphoses (before Wheeldon left that company) Wendy Whelan mentioned that her goal in her remaining dancing years was to have new works created on her. However, I think the point of the Times article that began this thread is that the younger generation at NYCB should be trained in important roles with substantial challenges and depth (Mozartiana Chaconne, for example), instead of killing time and energy on the new nonsense ballets that fall out of rep after the perfunctory number of performances needed to minimally justify their existence. Meanwhiile some of the old guard continues endlessly in the same old Balanchine/Robbins roles they have performed for substantial periods. In fact, the article mentioned that nobody other than Whelan has done MacDonald 0f Sleat in Union Jack at NYCB for some 18 years. (Not sure if that's true, but that's what the article said. I don't recall ever seeing anyone other than Whelan in that role for the entire time I've been attending NYCB.) Personally, I'd love to see a revival of Balanchine's Ballade instead of a new ballet. Also, what ever happened to Dove's "Red Angels". That was a big hit from an old Diamond Project, but it seems to have disappeared from NYCB's rep.

#26 kfw

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 08:13 AM

the article mentioned that nobody other than Whelan has done MacDonald 0f Sleat in Union Jack at NYCB for some 18 years. (Not sure if that's true, but that's what the article said.


Sofiane Sylve did it in D.C. in 2006.




#27 Jayne

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 12:53 PM

PNB has done Red Angels a number of times, and Grand Rapids Ballet has it in their 2012 season. I think NYCB should do some sort of populist rep in each season, where season ticket holders get to nominate programs and say why on their website, and then hold a vote among season ticket holders. JMTC.

#28 E Johnson

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 01:07 PM

Also, what ever happened to Dove's "Red Angels". That was a big hit from an old Diamond Project, but it seems to have disappeared from NYCB's rep.

NYCB did it last year at Fall for Dance. I really like it but my guess is its hard to cast, Evans' role in particular; the music also isn't performed by very many violinists, I don't think.

#29 dirac

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 03:27 PM

Is there something unique about dancers that makes them so deeply devoted to the feelings expressed by Ms. Whelan ... to the extent that dances seek it out even when the finished work is not significant? This sort of thinking is completely understandable. But it does seem to focus more on the creative process rather than the created product.


To paraphrase Suzanne Farrell in a different context, Whelan is not a spectator. It does make sense that a dancer can benefit from having a role made on her, even if it's not a great role, and developing a personal repertory than from dancing only or mainly in someone else's parts no matter how distinguished. It's true that dancers have achieved greatness in the latter way, but I can understand from a dancer's point of view why they need the stimulation of new roles even if there's no guarantee they will survive. In Maria Kowroski's DanceView interview she talked at some length about how many roles had been made for her and what she'd learned from the process.

#30 miliosr

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 04:25 PM

Here's the thing . . .

It's swell that Whelan and Kowroski and Mearns are getting a lot out of the process. But what about those of us in the audience? I'm not a foundation for the arts -- I don't feel I should have to shell out $100 per ticket to see crappy works that everyone knows will be dead-on-arrival all in the name of subsidizing someone's artistic development.


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