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Kirstein, Beaumont, Gossip GirlsNew year, new lessons


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#1 puppytreats

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 08:35 AM

I read Kirstein's New York City Ballet and Beaumont's The Ballet Called "Giselle" over the holidays (a gift to myself).

I expected Beaumont to answer all of the mysteries of "Giselle", but I was disappointed. Beaumont does not focus on the central questions long debated on this website about Loys/Albrecht, regarding the character's true emotions, motivations, and character. Instead, the author summarily remarks that Loys loved Giselle. I thought the entire book would discuss themes about which I have had tortured debates in my mind and struggled for answers. If anyone knows of a book addressing this topic, please recommend it.

I really enjoyed Kirstein's book, despite its structural failures. I found crucial, glorious nuggets of information and wisdom in this book, about art, the business of theater, philosophy, metaphysics, and history, as well as Balanchine's thinking and influences, and Kirstein's admirable character. So many times I felt the urge to pull out my highlighter, which I could not use, since I borrowed the book from the library. If I were interviewing a ballet dancer or artist, I would use many quotations from the book to generate issues into which I would inquire. (Many would make great topics for this board, as well. :>) Mr. Kirstein comes across as so much more humble than I anticipated. This is a particular feat, since the book is presented as a fictional, supposed diary, followed by chronological commentary on the development of Kirstein's interest in art and ballet, and the development of the NYCB. This artifice is unnecessary and diminishes the impact of the commentary. Furthermore, the chronological presentation results in buried insights, which would benefit from a thematic organization. The historical analysis serves a useful purpose, though, and perhaps further reading of books by Kirstein will yield a more satisfying exposition of his themes. Physically, the book is wide, huge and unwieldy, but worth the time to sit with and read in full.

Kirstein discusses Robbins's "The Cage" as a commentary on "Giselle". Has anyone seen this ballet? Please describe it.

Lastly, I watched the season 4 episode of "Gossip Girls" in which Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel appear. The episode involves a gala for the NYCB. Who were the ballet dancers standing with Peter Martins when he gives his little speech?

Happy new year.

#2 Barbara

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 02:40 PM

Puppytreats, just from memory, one of them was Darci Kistler.

#3 puppytreats

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 07:43 AM

Rereading parts of Beaumont, I lost respect for him. Basically, he concludes that Giselle was a hypersensitive neurotic, stating that a man played with her heart, big deal, no harm, no foul. On the other hand, he shows great sympathy for Albrecht, whom he describes as perhaps caught in an arranged marriage and yearning for love. Does he simply identify with the yearning, and not the heartbreak? Does he not have praise for her being so magnanimous in her forgiveness and her courage and sacrifice in protecting her loved one and sending him into the arms of another woman for his own well-being? He also posits that Giselle might be a changeling because she is unlike her mother in temperment. Has this man never been in the presence of a mother and daughter before?

Speaking of Darci Kistler (see post above), she spoke at the Koch Theatre yesterday as part of the Balanchine celebration. She told a story about Mr. B fixing her hairpiece after she came off stage as Dewdrop and then returned onstage to continue dancing. She also said he used class as a laboratory, not a full warm-up.

Wendy Whelan appeared onstage but hardly spoke. I was hoping to hear more from her. Is it really bad that I gushed to her about her being "so beautiful"? I am not sure who was more embarrassed, me or WW :<

#4 pherank

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Posted 23 August 2012 - 09:02 PM

I really enjoyed Kirstein's book, despite its structural failures. I found crucial, glorious nuggets of information and wisdom in this book, about art, the business of theater, philosophy, metaphysics, and history, as well as Balanchine's thinking and influences, and Kirstein's admirable character. So many times I felt the urge to pull out my highlighter, which I could not use, since I borrowed the book from the library.


I just wanted to add that I had much the same experience reading Kirstein's book - I couldn't stop adding flags to the pages, as there are so many important quotes, observations about a great many things. And it contains my favorite Balanchine quote, (on the subject of Stravinsky's Apollon Musagète):

"I began to see how I could clarify, by limiting, by reducing what seemed to be myriad possibilities to the one possibility that is inevitable."

For those that don't know, Lincoln Kirstein was one of the now famous, Monument Men, during WWII. He lived a full life, indeed.
"The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History" is a wonderful book too:
http://www.amazon.co...e/dp/1599951495

Suzanne Farrell's autobiography (with Toni Bentley), Holding On to the Air, is quite informative as well, though it does contain an awful lot of family and love relationship angst, which isn't my cup of tea. But I loved to hear details of the various ballets in her repertoire. I didn't realize that Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise had worked together so much and that they were good friends (at least as good as Farrell generally had). It made me realize that the Jacques d'Amboise DVD is quite incomplete without ANY dances with Farrell shown. It's hard for me to believe that they were never filmed when dancing together.

#5 Helene

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 12:38 AM

In the Balanchine bio on PNB, d'Amboise and Farrell danced together in "Apollo," as Apollo and Terpsichore, with Gloria Govrin*, and, if I remember correctly, Patricia Neary, and "Movements for Orchestra." (This entry in the NYPL catalog says there's a film of a "studio rehearsal.") There was also a clip of them dancing together in "Meditation" that was excerpted in "Elusive Muse;" the NYPL catalog lists this as having been broadcast (with three other PdD) on WNET in 1966. They are also a couple in the complete "Davidsbundlertanze," one of the last works Balanchine choreographed, which was produced by CBS. There's an entry for a stage rehearsal

By the time of the late '70's "Dance in America" video, d'Amboise had given up many of his virtuoso roles, and it was Peter Martins who partnered Farrell, in d'Amboise's role in "Diamonds" and in the roles Balanchine created for Farrell and Martins: "Chaconne" and "Tzigane."

The NYPL entry for "A Stravinsky Portrait" dated 1972 reads (emphasis mine):

Summary: Film clips of Igor Stravinsky at his home in Hollywood, California, in London, and in Hamburg with various friends and associates, including his wife Vera Stravinsky, Robert Craft, Pierre Boulez, Nicolas Nabokov, George Balanchine, Suzanne Farrell, Jacques d'Amboise, Gloria Govrin, Gerald Heard and Christopher Isherwood. Of particular dance interest are several brief conversations between Stravinsky and Balanchine regarding tempo, pulse and time; and a brief clip of Balanchine in Hamburg rehearsing Apollon musagète for a performance on German TV by Suzanne Farrell, Jacques d'Amboise, Gloria Govrin and the New York City Ballet to a new recording of the music conducted by Stravinsky
Telecast on WNET-TV, June 11, 1972.


According to the entry for this 1982 videocasette, it's a complete recording of the "Apollon musagete" filmed in Hamburg for German TV in 1966.

The company went to Germany to film a bunch of ballets during the period that Farrell was not in the company.

#6 puppytreats

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 08:44 AM

Suzanne Farrell's autobiography (with Toni Bentley), Holding On to the Air, is quite informative as well, though it does contain an awful lot of family and love relationship angst, which isn't my cup of tea. But I loved to hear details of the various ballets in her repertoire. I didn't realize that Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise had worked together so much and that they were good friends (at least as good as Farrell generally had). It made me realize that the Jacques d'Amboise DVD is quite incomplete without ANY dances with Farrell shown. It's hard for me to believe that they were never filmed when dancing together.


Farrell's book contains sparse details about her personal relationships, I thought. She was a frustrating narrator, in that regard. She also did not fully describe her artistic or philosophical beliefs, other than to express conclusorily her belief in Balanchine. She declared him infallible, even after he apologized to her for what he expressed that he came to believe was his mistake that caused her enormous pain (unless he apologized to let her feel better or make peace, but I did not get that impression). I respect her privacy, as well as her decision regarding what she chose write about and what she chose to keep to herself, but I found her to be a somewhat unreliable narrator based on this statement, or a person lacking in self-awareness.

I enjoyed the description of her history and ballets, however. I learned a great deal about the company, its dances, and its dancers from her book, as well as about Beijart and his company

Toni Bentley's first memoir describes the dancers as brushes and paint in an artwork. This gave me a greater understanding of a dancer as artist.

Farrell seemed to me to express a more spiritual and physical side of dance, which I really appreciated. She did not really ascribe words to dance, which may be appropriate for a wordless art, but left me wanting to know more, and feeling unfulfilled. I did, however, really admire her from what I learned in her book.

#7 Helene

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 10:12 AM

Farrell's book contains sparse details about her personal relationships, I thought. She was a frustrating narrator, in that regard.

I remember pages and pages about the dance she and Balanchine did, his courting through her mother and "poor Eddie Bigelow," her decision to marry Mejia, Balanchine's reaction, etc. She might have been frustrating in what she chose to disclose and her point of view, and she didn't give details about her later relationship with Mejia, but a big chunk of the book before she left the company was about relationships.

#8 puppytreats

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 10:29 AM


Farrell's book contains sparse details about her personal relationships, I thought. She was a frustrating narrator, in that regard.

I remember pages and pages about the dance she and Balanchine did, his courting through her mother and "poor Eddie Bigelow," her decision to marry Mejia, Balanchine's reaction, etc. She might have been frustrating in what she chose to disclose and her point of view, and she didn't give details about her later relationship with Mejia, but a big chunk of the book before she left the company was about relationships. (Emphasis added by puppytreats)

Yes, she told us that had omelettes with and brought danish to Mr. B., but she really did not discuss her feelings as events occurred or in retrospect, except to express some anxiety about the pressure.

#9 pherank

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Posted 24 August 2012 - 03:53 PM

I respect her privacy, as well as her decision regarding what she chose write about and what she chose to keep to herself, but I found her to be a somewhat unreliable narrator based on this statement, or a person lacking in self-awareness.


Puppytreats and Helene,
You both make valid points - the Farrell book IS frustrating at times, but I do think we get enough background information about her sheltered upbringing and daily life to figure out that she's not an intellectual, and probably distrusting of the role of the intellect in her art, and definitely "lacking in self-awareness" through much of her youth/career. I find her book to be something of a "coming of age" story: detailing what she went through to gain some measure of self. Though perhaps not "self-actualized", she had reached a point in life (at the time of the book's publishing) to be able to see some of the reasons behind what went on. But like many dancers in the big companies, she was focused on the day-to-day of dancing for the company, and obviously knew little of the consequences of her actions. She was just a kid (in my view) through much of the book narrative, and living in the service of someone else. As she herself points out, much of life at the NYCB was similar to life in the military: someone else tells you what you will be doing, how you will be doing it, and what you will be wearing. That's just not an environment for producing great thinkers, let alone great writers ;)

#10 dirac

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Posted 29 August 2012 - 02:53 PM

Well, Gelsey Kirkland is articulate to a fault :), but then she’s not in any way typical.

Farrell’s book breaks down roughly into two sections which strike me as very different from each other. The first part of the book has a distinct narrative arc that concludes with her return to the company in the seventies and then a less personal and notably sketchier section follows with discussions about (some) of the ballets she danced when she returned and vignettes from her private life. There was a lot she seems to have not wanted to talk about, even when the book was at its most personal in the early sections, and I suspect the awkward structure grew out of that. One respects her feelings, of course, but it’s hard to read the book without awareness of the canyonlike spaces between the lines of her story, for instance when her personal relationship with Balanchine, described with such detail in Part 1, more or less vanishes in Part 2 without any examination or explanation.

Another factor is her seeming wish to defend Balanchine against his detractors – she only mentions Kirkland once, but I think she did want to present a sort of "Not Dancing on My Grave" story to rebut Kirkland’s. This is reasonable and admirable, but it does result in a certain amount of whitewashing and minimizing of conflict.

The comments on the ballets in the second part of the book, particularly Davidsbundlertanze and Mozartiana, are acute and illuminating, as pherank notes. But I thought Farrell' s personal story was valuable, as well. It's too bad the personal and artistic concerns couldn't have been better balanced in the book as a whole.

I didn't realize that Farrell and Jacques d'Amboise had worked together so much and that they were good friends


Judging by d'Amboise's less-than-gushing treatment of Farrell in his book, the friendship may have been more one-sided than Farrell realized....


#11 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 05:22 PM

[font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Well, Gelsey Kirkland is articulate to a fault Posted Image, but then she’s not in any way typical.[/font]

I don't think that Kirkland will win any prizes for personal insight or objectivity.

#12 kfw

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 08:36 AM

I borrowed the book from the library. If I were interviewing a ballet dancer or artist, I would use many quotations from the book to generate issues into whic Mr. Kirstein comes across as so much more humble than I anticipated. This is a particular feat, since the book is presented as a fictional, supposed diary, followed by chronological commentary on the development of Kirstein's interest in art and ballet, and the development of the NYCB. This artifice is unnecessary and diminishes the impact of the commentary. Furthermore, the chronological presentation results in buried insights, which would benefit from a thematic organization. The historical analysis serves a useful purpose, though, and perhaps further reading of books by Kirstein will yield a more satisfying exposition of his themes. Physically, the book is wide, huge and unwieldy, but worth the time to sit with and read in full.


Kirstein's 30 Years: NYC Ballet, which lacks photos and so is a much smaller and more comfortable to handle book, has the same text. Searching through the Amazon link at the bottom of this page, I find copies available at ridiculously cheap prices. Personally I like the chronological format, and the "imaginary diary" is a useful device to advance it.

#13 pherank

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 12:26 PM

[font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][size=4]Judging by d'Amboise's less-than-gushing treatment of Farrell in his book, the friendship may have been more one-sided than Farrell realized....[/size][/font]


I haven't read d'Amboise's book, though I own the DVD on d'Amboise which includes a live interview. He's definitely a character, and not afraid to say whatever springs into his mind.I don't think he worries much about other people's feelings.
This reminds me that I had heard of some kind of falling out between Peter Martins and Suzanne Farrell regarding her retirement, but that makes little sense going by Farrell's description of events: once her hip had been replaced her years as an active soloist were basically over. And it was Martins who effectively ended their dance partnership to work full time as company director.I wonder if anyone knows more about this original "falling out" (I'm not thinking of her more recent dismissal from the NYCB's teaching roster to cut costs).

Kirstein's 30 Years: NYC Ballet, which lacks photos and so is a much smaller and more comfortable to handle book, has the same text. Searching through the Amazon link at the bottom of this page, I find copies available at ridiculously cheap prices. Personally I like the chronological format, and the "imaginary diary" is a useful device to advance it.


I personally like to buy hardcover copies of books that I admire most - usually on Amazon or eBay. I believe I spent 5 cents for a very good copy of the Kirstein book (only the book jacket had some markings). Effectively paying for shipping and little more.

#14 Helene

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Posted 21 September 2012 - 02:03 PM

I don't think there's ever been anything documented about a disagreement about Farrell's retirement, which would be "official news" per our policy. Post-retirement and her expectation that there would be a place for her, yes.

Martins continued to choreograph for her after her hip surgery, and he came out of retirement to partner her in "Sophisticated Lady" for her final performance.


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