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Update on Balanchine videosNew DVDs of Balanchine's ballets are not likely for some time.


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#1 Setpoint99

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 06:29 PM

As a lover of Balanchine's ballets, I have long been disappointed that videos of some of the best of Mr. B's dances are not easily available in video.

Specifically, the two VHS-tape series "Balanchine Celebration," Parts 1 and 2, are no longer in production, and their current prices on Amazon.com are very high (Part 1 currently priced at $250 new or $179-and-upward used, and Part 2 at $345 new).

Those tapes contain seminal performances of, for example, "Apollo" and "Agon," among my personal favorites.

(It is true that another performance of Apollo is available on the DVD, "Jacques D' Amboise: Portrait of an American Dancer," but the version on the VHS series is also wonderful and should still be available.)

So, I wrote a letter to Karin von Aroldingen, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Balanchine Trust (and a former principal dancer with NYC Ballet during Mr. B's time there), urging them to reissue that VHS tape series as a DVD.

I received an e-mail reply from Ellen Sorrin, Director of the Trust. Here is an excerpt:

"The Balanchine Trust does not have the means to re-release those television programs you mention, as we do not own the rights to the entire program, only to the choreographic rights. The producers of the programs would have to re-up the rights from all rights holders, including the Balanchine Trust, in order to release the material again.

"We agree that the material that was filmed when Mr. Balanchine was alive and supervising their recording should be available for all to see. But it is more complicated than that, and while we would support producers who wanted to do that with our rights, it is a huge undertaking that not many producers can do in this economic climate.

". . . Hopefully, one day technology will allow their being accessible to those who honor them, as you do."

Alas, no joy.

#2 carbro

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 07:00 PM

Welcome to BalletAlert, Setpoint, and thank you -- not only for your post but for your efforts to prod the release of video of the ballets.

It's good to learn that Ms. Sorrin "would support producers who wanted to" release videos. Perhaps there's hope for the future :beg: , but I'm not holding my breath.

#3 bart

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 07:58 AM

Thank you, Setpoint99, for taking the time to write to the Balanchine Trust. Maybe more of us should make our feelings known directly, as you did.

carbro, I agree with you entirely. It's refreshing to hear the Balanchine Trust say something other than "No" or "Can't do." As others have pointed out, the Trust is just one part of the puzzle. The truly Byzantine structure of multiple "rights" and restrictive contractual agreements is still the problem that keeps all but a few US performances of Balanchine off the market. It's mind-boggling, but it remains firmly in place.

#4 Setpoint99

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 10:36 AM

Yes, carbro and bart, I think it essential that Balanchine's legacy not diminish in the public eye.

Otherwise, the memory of his incandescent dances, despite best efforts by The Balanchine Trust, Balanchine Foundation, and the NYC Ballet, will have flared brilliantly but briefly, before fading to the background noise of mere dance history--rather like the brief moment of a supernova against the infinite dark firmament.

You have an excellent idea, bart: Let's make a clarion call on this forum and elsewhere for Balanchine lovers to urge that the effort be made to get rights re-approved so a DVD can be produced.

If a flood of such requests hits like a tidal wave, the Balanchine Trust would have to pay attention to such widespread sentiment, and maybe rethink its position that the potential market for a DVD is not great enough to merit the effort.

According to the website of The Balanchine Trust:

"Along with Founding Trustees Karin von Aroldingen and Barbara Horgan, three additional Trustees, Paul H. Epstein, Susan Hendl, and Kay Mazzo Bellas were appointed to serve in shaping policy and practice with regard to the licenses, copyrights, and trademarks of George Balanchine’s works."

(Incidentally, my original post had a minor error: Karin von Aroldingen is [also] Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Balanchine FOUNDATION, not the Trust.)

So, I'll assume that Karin von Aroldingen is the relevant point of contact for those who wish the Trust to pursue "re-upping" the rights to enable production of a DVD. Here is her contact information at the Balanchine Foundation:

Karin von Aroldingen
Vice Chairman
Board of Directors
The George Balanchine Foundation
David H. Koch Theater
20 Lincoln Center
New York, NY 10023
Tel: 212.799.3196

And here, for the record, is contact info for the Balanchine Trust:

The George Balanchine Trust
20 Lincoln Center
New York, NY 10023

Tel: 212.870.5646

I think letters would have more impact.

We could maximize this effort by posting announcements at other dance and arts forums.

Also, could someone start an online petition to urge the Trust to make the effort?

In a perfect world, some person or organization would provide an grant to The Balanchine Trust to pay a creative rights attorney (under the Trust's supervision) to take the labyrinthine journey to get re-permissions for the various rights. Or, perhaps some high-profile, prestigious law firm would do the work pro bono.

Perhaps we all can work together to make something happen.

Any further ideas or suggestions?

#5 Jack Reed

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 12:54 PM

Yes, thanks for trying to "do something", Setpoint99!

"We agree that the material that was filmed when Mr. Balanchine was alive and supervising their recording should be available for all to see."


This was the best part of this exchange, for me. Especially that Sorrin referred specifically to the Balancine-supervised performances! Ideally, I'd like all of the films and videos of Balanchine-supervised performances to be available, too, because watching those when I can manage it does wonders for me but watching NYCB today - on screen or on stage - does little or nothing for me. In particular, the 1993 "Balanchine Celebration" video was, after all, shot in 1993, ten years after Balanchine's death, and hardly supervised by him, and it's mostly an example of the company's dancing since his time. (It looks to me like Setpoint99 and Sorrin are talking about different things here.)

Some would say NYCB dances better, some would say worse, than in Balanchine's day; obviously this "Old Audience" member says "worse", but most of us familiar with both periods in the company's history can agree there is a difference, and the availability of video material from both eras could further sensitize today's audiences to what they're looking at. I think the venerable method of comparison and contrast is a great way to sensitize your appreciation of anything, regardless whether a particular experience is "representative" or not. (I'm glad some enjoy the present way NYCB dances, but at the risk of sounding condescending or something, I must add I think they're missing something some of them might like even more.)


Apollo and Agon are among my top favorite Balanchine ballets, too, and in that distant utopia we wander in when we cannot grasp the fleeting moment (apologies to Ernst Junger), we'd have available to us not only the Farrell-Martins Apollo broadcast in October, 1982 or even the Watts-Tomlinson Agon broadcast in February, 1983, and many other ballets recorded during or at the end of Balanchine's time, but also the large-cast ballets Don Quixote and A Midsummer Night's Dream, which show the quality of the company's dancing in all ranks when those were filmed in the '60s. (Today people seem to discuss the company in conventional terms, mainly according to the dancing of a few principals. Back in the day, you could watch nearly anybody on stage - granted, the principals had the best parts, and were the most satisfying.)

"But it is more complicated than that, and while we would support producers who wanted to do that with our rights, it is a huge undertaking that not many producers can do in this economic climate."


I'm glad you haven't lost track of the scale of this job, Setpoint99. Sorrin is talking about money, of course, and I'm no intellectual-property lawyer, but sometimes at least it's even more than that: When I attended the premiere of the 1965 film of Don Quixote at the Kennedy Center in 2007, the program listed about twenty or thirty individuals and organizations who had given permission for the showing. As far as I know, rights-holders like that are entitled to compensation for their assent, but what if they're no longer around to give their assent under any circumstances? In some cases, some of the obstacles may be insuperable.

(The laws are different in different countries - the '60s Midsummer with Farrell, Villella, and Mitchell - and a concluding fountain scene never staged in a theater, AFAIK! - has even been broadcast in Europe, I understand - but here we are.)

#6 California

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 03:24 PM

". . . Hopefully, one day technology will allow their being accessible to those who honor them, as you do."


I was pleased to see that in the letter from the Trust, Sorrin referred to "technology," not just DVDs. I'd suggest that letter-writers use that language. In other discussions in the last year or so, many of us have hoped that more ballet could be available for (paid) download from a site like iTunes. It eliminates the need to maintain a physical supply of anything that needs storage space, as DVDs do. The book publishing industry is in the midst of transition to eBooks (for better or worse!), and the DVD industry is also moving in these new electronic directions.

#7 Setpoint99

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 08:08 PM

For starters, I would like to get the "Balanchine Celebration" performances from VHS tapes onto DVD. I wasn't aware that they are from the post-Balanchine era. Yes--even better, as you point out, Jack--would be videos of ballets performed under Balanchine's supervision. They are, after all, the "gold standard" versions of his work.

I, too, have been concerned about the loss of fidelity to the original Balanchine dances through successive generations of dancers at NYC Ballet.

(Incidentally, the Trust does make a good faith effort. For example, for performances of Balanchine dances by other ballet companies--which are not the subject of discussion here--the Balanchine Trust requires use of its preceptors to try to maintain quality control, but nothing is as good as what I would call the "first-generation" performances by the NYC Ballet itself.)

Further on this subject, Jennifer Homans, author of Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet, laments the decline in performance quality of ballet dancers in general:

"Committed and well-trained dancers are still in good supply, but very few are exciting or interesting enough to draw or hold an audience. Technically conservative, their dancing is opaque and flat, emotionally dimmed. And although many can perform astonishing stunts, the overall level of technique has fallen. Today’s dancers are more brittle and unsubtle, with fewer half-tones than their predecessors."

Do they need someone to personally inspire and energize them . . . someone like a Balanchine?

See <http://www.tnr.com/p...63/ballet-over> for an excerpt of her book.

As you note, Jack, "some of the obstacles may be insuperable." Yes, it may be harder to find every party involved than to merely get their actual signoffs.

California raises an excellent point. The Balanchine Trust also could get revenue from making the videos available for download on iTunes. And they could be streamed by services such as Netflix.

On a slightly different subject, the Balanchine Foundation has other video material not available for purchase by the masses. It sells a video (in VHS or DVD format--see <http://balanchine.or...sicdances.html>) to "educational institutions": "Music Dances: Balanchine Choreographs Stravinsky." The Balanchine Foundation says, "The video aims to reach a wide audience, non-specialists in dance or music, students as well as scholars."

Also, the Foundation's website says, "The George Balanchine Foundation Video Archives consists of two collections: the Archive of Lost Choreography and the Interpreters Archive. With the video archive program, the Foundation offers an invaluable reference tool that preserves forever Balanchine's views about his own choreography. The Archive of Lost Choreography is dedicated to the retrieval of Balanchine choreography no longer performed and in danger of permanently disappearing. The Interpreters Archive features the creators of important Balanchine roles as they teach and coach the roles with dancers of today. This provides a unique record of the choreography as it first took shape."

Master tapes of the above archives are at the NYC Library for the Performing Arts, with copies available at what the Foundation describes as "non-circulating research repositories around the world." (See <http://balanchine.or...archives.html>.)

Why not allow such videos to be sold or streamed to a wider audience? I'm sure that many balletomanes would be interested in viewing them. The videos may be specialized, technical, not of mass appeal, and not performances per se, but those who would be interested are a self-selected group certainly be willing to pay to see them.

At any rate, I've just ordered the book, Stravinsky and Balanchine: A Journey of Invention, by Charles M. Joseph, a fine tale of that wondrous, sublime, and creative partnership. One can at least dream about the past.

#8 Amy Reusch

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 09:54 PM

It's always a matter of the rights...

I wonder, in terms of finding the financial backing to help a producer invest in the reissue of the Balanchine Celebration, if something like kickstarter.com wouldn't help group many small donors together enough to fund the working through of all the rights?... The internet seems to have the means these days to reach the niche market for these videos... But maybe kickstart is not the sort of tool open to an organization like the Trust or the producers of the video?

#9 Setpoint99

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Posted 20 February 2012 - 11:42 AM

[font=times new roman,times,serif]Good idea, Amy.[/font]

[font=times new roman,times,serif]As to whether that could happen, I agree that we don't know offhand whether ". . . kickstart is . . . the sort of tool open to an organization like the Trust or the producers of the video."[/font]

[font=times new roman,times,serif]Secondly, as you know, startup proposals on these websites ask for a specific, minimum amount of financing. It may not be possible to accurately estimate the total cost required for the complicated and uncertain effort to renew creative rights for a Balanchine video.[/font]

[font=times new roman,times,serif]But maybe I'm wrong--I would like to be wrong on this. I would like to see it all happen, somehow.[/font]

#10 4mrdncr

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 11:02 PM

First let me say I,too, want to see the various Balanchine videos mentioned above--and preferably at home rather than driving 4hrs into NYC to go to the library at Lincoln Center. However... Getting distribution rights for the various platforms current today (DVD,streaming,broadcast,hotels/airplanes, educational, ...?) are all complicated and all different. (Case in point: Remember it took over 10 years to re-up the rights to PBS' "Eyes on the Prize" and re-broadcast it.) And as mentioned above, it is a separate MONETARY consideration for each of the talent/heirs/organizations involved; not just a matter of locating them. All this of course in addition to any payments to lawyers and researchers--yes, there are people whose sole job is to research rights owners.

Although it was originaly created for independent films**, Kickstarter now caters to many other projects so doing one to raise funds to re-acquire rights to further a release of Balanchine videos may be possible. In fact I, too, have also been considering a v. necessary Kickstarter campaign to help fund completion of my own project--including getting the necessary music/choreographic rights. But I know it takes MUCH (think full-time work) networking/promotion/effort for a campaign to succeed. So, if I do, can anyone here advise or help pass the word (eg. to other ballet sites/blogs?)

**FYI: Kickstarter projects must designate a specific time limit to raise the funds(site rules stipulate between 30-90 days, or maybe it's only 30-60 now?)and a $ goal. If the goal is reached within the time limit, great! The filmmaker gets the funds. If not, then no donor's credit card is charged and NO ONE gets any $. I don't know if this makes Kickstarter better or not than some other sites which forward the funds as donations arrive.

#11 Amy Reusch

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 07:51 AM

Thanks 4rmdncr, when Kickstarter first popped up on my internet feeds it was for dance company tour projects, then later Iwas surprised to read somewhere that it was started to attract seed money to for-profit ventures. Your explanation makes the most sense. Fundraising in the internet age has evolved into a more complex but malleable thing, hasn't it? Interesting development, I wonder how the new world will shape up.


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