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NYCB on 60 Minutes, Sun Nov 25

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This was definitely a "feel good" 60 Minutes episode. I guess they figure nobody wants to hear about fraud, corruption, pollution, or war at the end of a pleasant holiday weekend. Actually, I think one of Martins' gifts was not in what he personally has created, but in identifying great choreographers and having them create works at NYCB - Wheeldon, Ratmansky. Yes, he has done a lot of pandering too (Paul McCartney, Susan Stroman), but he has also brought important, serious works into the rep as well. I think the McCartney piece probably did bring in new audiences, but I'm not sure whether those audiences ever returned again to see the traditional rep of NYCB. Also, from a fundraising point of view, the McCartney gimmick paid off big time because the gala that year brought in an enormous amount of money from wealthy people who would pay big bucks to shake hands with Sir Paul at the gala supper ball.

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I was surprised that they allowed Stahl to do the report, as she is a former ballet board member. Additionally, this seemed to sit in the can for a year. The McCartney ballet premiered in the fall of 2011. And I believe Fairchild made his Apollo debut also in early fall 2011. I find Martins' decision to invite Paul McCartney to compose his ballet to attract new, young audiences questionable at best. Young under-30, or even under-40, audiences are not seeking out music from a geezer like the ex-Beatle. That ballet is aimed at aging baby boomers, who are now reaching social security age. I will finally note that the ballet and dance audiences I experience (granted not in New York) are considerably younger than the classical music audiences. I don't think aging audiences are the ballet's biggest problem -- at least not in the Washington, D.C. area where I'm seeing many young professionals and young families making up the ballet crowd.

Ah, but the boomers have money to give. Most young professionals/families with small children are not in a position to make major donations to the arts. Major benefactors tend to be of the baby boomer generation.

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Yes, of course, but don't say that Paul McCartney was meant to attract a younger crowd. That's just silly. Plenty of regional companies around the country have a far younger footprint and reach 20-, 30- and 40-something audiences using more contemporary music including the likes of Beck, Outkast, The Shins, etc. I won't vouch for the quality or staying-power of the choreography, but the intention is clear.

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I thought the McCartney work did attract a younger audience. When I waited on line to buy my ticket for the opening night gala, I had a brief conversation with the young man in front of me. (I would guess that he was in his 30s.) He had never been to any ballet, and was there solely because he wanted to hear McCartney's new work and, hopefully, see McCartney in the flesh on stage. I'm guessing that there were others like him that attended Ocean's Kingdom.

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Martins then offered an explanation, which seems to be that audiences have slipped because the Cold War is over. (In other words, people were coming to see "heroes," not ballet). He then basically contradicted her, claiming (falsely) that the company has “sold our houses, all the time.”

I found this bizarre too. Isn't this exactly the opposite of what Balanchine was about? Obviously there were "stars" but the choreography was always front and center at NYCB. If McKenzie said this I wouldn't blink, but coming from the no star company this is a completely weird statement to make.

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I don't have the patience to listen to the interview again. (By the way, it is now on sale at amazon.com for $19, making me laugh.) Did he say "sold out" for McCartney, or "all the time", in general, which of course, is not true.

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It's pretty much guaranteed that Balanchine never heard "great genius of all time" during his lifetime. Certainly Stravinsky never did.

Perhaps not those exact words,.. but there is a poignant section at the end of the Balanchine biography DVD that shows him receiving the Kennedy Center Honors (in 1978, the first year of the awards). The narrator says, essentially, that all sorts of such tributes were being bestowed on him, but by then he knew his importance without being told.

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This was definitely a "feel good" 60 Minutes episode.

Yes, and the one moment it wasn’t was the worst part, in my opinion. I don’t know what Stahl’s point was in asking Martins about criticism of his choreography if she was going to let him get away with the old what-do-the-critics-know-? nonsense. Was anyone expected to buy that? But I wasn’t looking for an expose’ or bashing or anything necessarily critical at all. I just would have liked something with a point of view, or at least a focus, not to mention fewer misleading statements.

I suppose that in the spirit of Thanksgiving I should be thankful for the previously unseen dancing clips. smile.png

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I was surprised that they allowed Stahl to do the report, as she is a former ballet board member. Additionally, this seemed to sit in the can for a year. The McCartney ballet premiered in the fall of 2011. And I believe Fairchild made his Apollo debut also in early fall 2011. I find Martins' decision to invite Paul McCartney to compose his ballet to attract new, young audiences questionable at best. Young under-30, or even under-40, audiences are not seeking out music from a geezer like the ex-Beatle. That ballet is aimed at aging baby boomers, who are now reaching social security age. I will finally note that the ballet and dance audiences I experience (granted not in New York) are considerably younger than the classical music audiences. I don't think aging audiences are the ballet's biggest problem -- at least not in the Washington, D.C. area where I'm seeing many young professionals and young families making up the ballet crowd.

I totally agree on your various points. The San Francisco audiences are also a mix, though certainly weighted toward white, middle-aged couples. But there's more diversity than the uninitiated realize. I think it is important to add that young people certainly don't have a problem with archaic, 'mythical' themes either, if they are presented in a way that pulls them in (think Lord of the Rings, and inumerable spinoff films and mythic TV shows).

The only strategy that will really knock anyone over though, is to create really solid ballets, with excellent staging, choreography, performances, and, first-rate NEW music. And that's what we're not seeing very often. Maybe Martins should invite Christopher Wheeldon to create a ballet with Danny Elfman as composer. That might reach the 30-somethings at least.

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Maybe Martins should invite Christopher Wheeldon to create a ballet with Danny Elfman as composer. That might reach the 30-somethings at least.

Now that's an idea that might have legs. smile.png

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for whatever reason(s) Tharp's RABBIT AND ROGUE to Elfman's commissioned didn't stay in ABT's repertory.

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The only strategy that will really knock anyone over though, is to create really solid ballets, with excellent staging, choreography, performances, and, first-rate NEW music. And that's what we're not seeing very often. Maybe Martins should invite Christopher Wheeldon to create a ballet with Danny Elfman as composer. That might reach the 30-somethings at least.

I actually think NYCB has done a decent job of securing a variety of new music for its aprés-Balanchine ballets. I'm not a fan of Martins' choreography, but I do respect his willingness to put money in the hands of living composers. I respect his willingness to champion other choreographers, too, and bless him for keeping that costume shop going.

I thought Sufjan Stevens' score for Justin Peck's "Year of the Rabbit" threaded the indie / serious needle rather nicely but I do wish Martins would give up squandering the company's blood and treasure on gala bait brand-names who don't haven't a clue about live theater in general and ballet in particular.

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I thought Sufjan Stevens' score for Justin Peck's "Year of the Rabbit" threaded the indie / serious needle rather nicely but I do wish Martins would give up squandering the company's blood and treasure on gala bait brand-names who don't haven't a clue about live theater in general and ballet in particular.

It's the old Quantity VS Quality situation. I don't think many people (often including dancers and dance administrators) realize quite how difficult it is to create ballet music that is worth a damn. Simply writing pieces with a particular dance rhythm is clearly not enough - there often needs to be a programmatic/cinematic quality to the score, since audiences want music that is emotionally exciting, and even intellectually stimulating. And the other issue is: How to create choreography that is appropriate to the score, and EXTENDS the score? Since we're really talking about two sides of the same coin. The choreography and the score have to appear to work together. Calling in Sir Paul, for example, to deliver some music isn't going to guarantee much of anything, since he isn't used to writing for dance productions, and has created relatively little orchestral music (and that is what this commision called for).

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Who would be a composer to fit that bill, pherank? I was wondering just that the other day...

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Who would be a composer to fit that bill, pherank? I was wondering just that the other day...

Well some people would argue that almost no one working in classical music today would make a good fit. Which is kind of depressing. (And the Pop music world is going to be totally hit and miss since they don't think in terms of music for classical dance, period.) Leonard Bernstein was the last really good composer to venture into ballet music (my opinon), and it didn't always work out, naturally. And Bernstein was under so much pressure NOT to compose, and stick to the 'serious' business of conducting, that he wasn't able to create a vast catalog of ballet/stage scores.

I wonder sometimes if some of the great film music composers would have the ability if they had been given the chance: Elmer Bernstein, Maurice Jarre, Henry Mancini, Michel Legrand, (and now Elfman).

Because they absolutely understood working with moods and characterizations.

Quincy Jones? Bacharach? John Williams? Maybe not. ;) Duke Ellington (with Billy Strayhorn helping him) would have been REALLY interesting.

To me, it's a cultural issue, not one of talent. These days, musicians and composers are simply not groomed to create such music. Classical Ballet has become an exotic art in the West, and not really part of everyday life. But I don't see it being all that much different in Russia at present.

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But working with composional stucture and engaging rhythm is so far from film scoring... I wish the phoenix would hurry up and re-ignite classical music...

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Joby Talbot's new score for Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is quite successful, I would say.

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This is a misleading piece with a badly flawed premise. Early on, Stahl says the job of saving Classical Ballet from becoming a dying art form has fallen on the shoulders of Peter Martins. Martins seems to agree, saying that someone has to devote his life to “preserve and protect” Balanchine’s legacy.

Excuse me? Never mind that Balanchine’s work is NOT Classical Ballet, and there are other people taking care of that. How about the other people who are taking care of Balanchine’s work, in many cases doing arguably a more successful job than Martins? Stahl mentions that there are other companies run by NYCB alumni, but never names one. For her, NYCB is the “mother ship,” and the very survival of Ballet depends on Martins’ quest to fill empty chairs at Lincoln Center. This is the Gotham-centric view taken to an extreme. (I’m a New Yorker and I do think we’re the capital of the world, but the world does not rise or fall on what happens here.)

Stahl does confront Martins with the horrendous reviews of his choreography, which he brushes off as merely the work of the ignorant. But more pointedly, she raises the question of how a guy who admits saying “all ballerinas are bitches,” can run a company whose founder believed “ballet is woman.”

For Martins and Stahl, the ballerina ideal is passé. Their dreamed-of new audience seems to consist mostly of young women swooning over sexy young male performers, a la Justin Bieber or Beatlemania. The most astonishing thing about this piece is that it includes not one word from a woman. In 13 minutes, the only speakers are Martins, Sir Paul McCartney, Robbie Fairchild, and some little boys from SAB. Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Wendy Whelan et al are seen but not heard or named. Suzanne Farrell appears only as a fleeting image over Martins’ crack that he doesn’t like ballerinas.

I realize that 60 Minutes is not conventional journalism. It likes to focus on one place and one scene rather than a survey. But this claims to be a report on the state of Ballet today, and it is no such thing.

Full disclosure: I’m no more objective than Lesley Stahl. In fact I am an audience member On Strike against New York City Ballet. I began my protest nearly a year ago;

you can read it at http://occupythearts...0&max-results=3

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Just a few thoughts in passing before I return to the surreal activities I laughingly refer to as real life:

... I wish the phoenix would hurry up and re-ignite classical music...

It still blazes for me. As our esteemed, late, great conductor of the Chicago Symphony, Georg Solti, put it at a speaking engagement I attended, when asked about programming more contemporary compositions, "There's been a lot of good music written in the last 300 years. If somebody writes more of it, that's fine."

But as to the problem of NYCB Nutcracker prices, discussed in the blog flipsy links to, for little more money you can get a much better performance of Balanchine's Nutcracker by visiting Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and watching MCB's. (May I point out that someone living in the latitude of New York or Chicago or Washington already has good reason to visit Florida in the wintertime?)

I haven't seen the 60 Minutes interview and may not bother, judging by the characteristics of it reflected in this intelligent discussion, which looks more rewarding to follow. Keep it up, folks.

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I was curious to see how the new super-sized pricing might be impacting ticket sales for Nutcracker at NYCB. On weeknights, they are having difficulty selling tickets up in the third and fourth rings. There also seems to be an abundance of expensive seats available on weeknights in the orchestra. Of course, the closer you get to X-Mas, the more tickets that are sold. The new website format, that shows you every available seat, is very telling.

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I was curious to see how the new super-sized pricing might be impacting ticket sales for Nutcracker at NYCB.

Perhaps that's why they were so resistant to switching to this new seat selection system (which I love)!

But I also wonder if they are hurting because of the big decline in Europeans visiting the US in the last few years. When the Euro was strong compared to the dollar, we saw lots of news stories about Europeans flocking to New York for cheap holiday shopping. Presumably many tourists also visited iconic entertainment venues, like The Nutcracker. Those days are over. (This is certainly not the only factor, of course, but it can't help.)

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Jack, I still recommend seeing the segment, it is a visual treat... regardless of philosohy.

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It is as if NYCB thinks it should be able to price it's tickets like a Broadway hit show... without taking into account the marketing forces and production situation that supports such prices. Nutcracker is their only production roughly equivalent and how many years in row can we be expected to go to the same Broadway show? Phantom, the current title holder, has been running only 24 years... NYCB's Nutcracker has been running almost 60 years...

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Thank you, flipsy. indeed. the stupidity of Stahl presuming that NYCB is anything like a 'mother ship' twenty-five years after it ceased to be that for Balanchine ballets

is really breathtaking. she is stuck in the late Eighties, at best, before Martins had had his effect. She probably is not even aware of the brilliance of many other companies

(run by Balanchine dancers/disciples) in his repertory, and the fact that many Balanchine ballets have been best done by MCB or PNB for years..... It hardly helps to have

Ashley Bouder and Tiler Peck at NYCB if Martins casts the likes of Yvonne Borree-- and even Megan Fairchild--in Square Dance, for instance.

I think the very unsophisticated focus on the actual brutal difficulty of ballet comes, sadly, from the imbecility of the general public on the subject now.

A close friend of mine took her niece to a ballet recently--first time for the niece--and the girl's first comment was 'Aunt Kathy, why didn't you tell me the guys in ballet

were so RIPPED?!?!?'

I rest my case. sigh.

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Yes, of course, but don't say that Paul McCartney was meant to attract a younger crowd. ....

Oh but the 'younger crowd' that NYCB desires is comprised of 60-something Baby Boomers, in which case McCartney was a good choice to get 'butts in the seats.' The 60-somethings are younger than the 80-somethings shown entering the lobby in the 60 Minutes piece! Everything is relative.

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