Neryssa

Balanchine & the Lost Muse: Revolution & the Making of a Chore

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Nothing going on for Balanchine didn't mean ballet had all but died.

Re: Balanchine's absence = ballet absence, I notice a powerful following on this absurd idea...

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KFW shared this link with me - an interview with Kendall regarding the writing of Balanchine and The Lost Muse. And sure enough, there are many fascinating bits in the interview, not the least of which having to do with the actual process of writing this type of book. The interview only adds to the story, which is part of what makes reading so fun, and so maddening: the process of life just goes on and on, and there's no formal summing up, only more information...

Time Out New York: Did you speak Russian when you interviewed Balanchine, which you talk about in the book’s introduction? [Kendall now speaks Russian fairly fluently]

Elizabeth Kendall: No, I did not. I wish I had. I wish I’d known anything more than I did. With Russians—I’m not sure exactly why—it might be because the language is very much an echo chamber, a sound environment because it’s very inflected. So when you cross over into the language, you’re more inside and away from where you were than with some other languages and you become something else—which you do if you speak any language well. But if you go inside the Russian language, you get welcomed in a way into a secret society that’s kind of large and very local. So I wish I had spoken Russian.
Elizabeth Kendall: When you order items [in the Russian archives], there are various catalogs where you find them; when you order, you write down what you need, and you also have to write the theme of your research. And if you change the description of the theme of your research by even one word, all hell breaks loose. So that was my first real archival residency, and I found a lot of stuff. But then I went to the theater museum, which is a museum with exhibitions. And that is a very hip all-women team that was totally welcoming and they were all running around the building trying to figure out with me what these photographs were saying. That was the team where somebody would bring candy, somebody would bring wine, and you would have a tea break and you would sit around the kitchen and talk. What have you found today? It’s very odd because to be an archivist in Russia, you don’t earn very much money, but you’re extremely well educated, and you have a specialty: You’re, like, a Ph.D. in an archive. They’re amazing. The people who run the reading rooms, where you take it to a desk and turn on the little Soviet light—in TsGALI, you write it down by hand, because no photographing and at that time no computers. I would use them, I would say, “I can’t read this handwriting. Would you just tell me what it says?” It took me about two months before I got asked to tea, which is a crossing-over line. In TsGALI, the Soviet one, I was rooting around one day in the various books and I found Vera Kostrovitskaya’s private archives, and that was the greatest find of the whole thing.
Time Out New York: Balanchine and Lidia were quite different—he was the dreamer, and she was the extrovert. I love how you say that she was late to everything. You really get at her personality.

Elizabeth Kendall: Before every yoga class when I was really intensely finishing, when I had to dedicate the practice to somebody, I would really say, “Okay Lidia, this is your time—come back.” [Laughs] It really helped. That’s why I don’t like yoga anymore. She’s not there anymore. I tried evoking George, but he doesn’t really need me as much because he’s alive in many people’s minds and hearts.


And here are some wonderful closing lines:
Time Out New York: What do you want this book to accomplish?

Elizabeth Kendall: I want the book to allow the ballets to be both the timeless machines of emotion that they are and to be real artifacts rooted in history. I want to work against the ahistorical approach to Balanchine’s art that implies that he was born fully formed out of the head of Zeus. I want him to be thought of as a person. I would like the very particular conditions of his time in history to be known more, because I think they’re very much present in the ballets. I’d like people to continue to be aware of Balanchine—that he shouldn’t dwindle out of existence, that a fresh look means fresh talk and fresh awareness about him and his art.

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Oh, I do like the last quote -- I feel that way about many artists I've followed. The repertory is an entity, and we often think of it as a unit, especially if our lives don't overlap with the artist's lifetime (think of Petipa, think of Bournonville) but the fact is that they lived in the world, and continued to develop as they continued to make work -- it's a process, and we sometimes forget that.

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I have read both Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation and Kendall's book and can state that Kattner-Ulrich's work is clear, sober, attributable research which is easy to read and understand. I would read the dissertation FIRST and then enjoy other speculative works for what they are. I guess Kendall was not aware of Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation when she wrote Lost Muse??

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I have read both Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation and Kendall's book and can state that Kattner-Ulrich's work is clear, sober, attributable research which is easy to read and understand. I would read the dissertation FIRST and then enjoy other speculative works for what they are. I guess Kendall was not aware of Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation when she wrote Lost Muse??

I really don't know, DB - I've since returned the book to the library, so can't look through the bibliography. But I'm guessing, no.

I tend to agree that Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation is well done, and easy to read. Aside from a few points I stumbeld over, it is a good compendium of reminiscences from people like Geva, Markova and Danilova.

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I have read both Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation and Kendall's book and can state that Kattner-Ulrich's work is clear, sober, attributable research which is easy to read and understand. I would read the dissertation FIRST and then enjoy other speculative works for what they are. I guess Kendall was not aware of Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation when she wrote Lost Muse??

She doesn't list it in her bibliography.

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I also recently finished reading this book. It was indeed a fascinating read. Although I've read many books about this era in Russian Ballet, there was much in this book that was new to me. Also a great deal that was new to me about Balanchine. In fact, this book fills in the gaps for me about how Balanchine became the choreographer that he did. I had no idea just how much choreography he did in Russia before leaving. Perhaps the most fascinating of all for me were the various "avant-garde" influences on Balanchine in Russia, before he even got to Diaghilev. I did not know what an interesting person and choreographer Preobrazhenskaya was ( I knew she was an acclaimed teacher, but not her other talents), nor was I aware of the considerable bohemian and artistic avant-garde in St. Petersburg at that time. The influence of the "NEP" on ballet in Russia was another revelation. And in addition to all that, the story of Lidochka! In that regard, however, I did feel that Kendall was pushing more than a little in trying to make Lidochka such an important, even primary, influence on Balanchine's life. Although I'm sure she was important to him in certain ways, I became less convinced as the book went on that she had the kind of influence Kendall was proposing. I also enjoyed the later section of the book where Kendall points out how, specifically, Balanchine's Russian roots and experiences influenced his choreography in the West. Oh, yes, and the convoluted dynamics of Balanchine's family.....this book is SO rich in so many ways that I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in ballet! And bravos to the author for an exceptional body of research.

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Thanks Stage Right for your comment. I think Kendall's book should be read together with Kattner-Ulrich's 2008 dissertation, which covers not only the pieces GB did before leaving Russia, but also the works he did after leaving. Both works have their strengths and together we hopefully get a more complete picture. Kattner-Ulrich also mentions Ivanova and her demise and makes a surmise about her influence on GB. Moreover, Kattner-Ulrich systematically discusses the influences on GB of Isadora Duncan, Kasian Goleizovsky, Fyodor Lopukhov and Diaghilev, and traces these influences in his pieces we know about up through Apollon Musagete

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...Although I'm sure she was important to him in certain ways, I became less convinced as the book went on that she had the kind of influence Kendall was proposing. I also enjoyed the later section of the book where Kendall points out how, specifically, Balanchine's Russian roots and experiences influenced his choreography in the West. Oh, yes, and the convoluted dynamics of Balanchine's family.....this book is SO rich in so many ways that I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in ballet! And bravos to the author for an exceptional body of research.

Hi Stage Right - If you read the interview with Kendall mentioned above, I think you will understand better that even Kendall was unsure if the "Lost Muse" notion would work. But she felt that it was worth showing the connections between Ivanova and Balanchine, and letting readers decide for themselves. I tend to agree with you that some of Kendall's assertions go too far, given the evidence, but I appreciated her efforts all the same. It was good of her to celebrate the short life of Lidia Ivanova.

In Alexandra Danilova's autobiography, Choura, she recounts a dream that Balanchine told her about:

'George told me that not long after Lidia was drowned, he saw her in a dream. "I am so lonely," she said, reaching out to me. "I want Choura." "No, no," he said, and he pulled me back, away from her.

We all loved Lidia and were terribly upset at losing her. But it was years before we understood what had gone on; the extent of the tragedy dawned on us only later. In a sense, she was a casualty of the Revolution.'

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...Although I'm sure she was important to him in certain ways, I became less convinced as the book went on that she had the kind of influence Kendall was proposing. I also enjoyed the later section of the book where Kendall points out how, specifically, Balanchine's Russian roots and experiences influenced his choreography in the West. Oh, yes, and the convoluted dynamics of Balanchine's family.....this book is SO rich in so many ways that I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in ballet! And bravos to the author for an exceptional body of research.

Hi Stage Right - If you read the interview with Kendall mentioned above, I think you will understand better that even Kendall was unsure if the "Lost Muse" notion would work. But she felt that it was worth showing the connections between Ivanova and Balanchine, and letting readers decide for themselves. I tend to agree with you that some of Kendall's assertions go too far, given the evidence, but I appreciated her efforts all the same. It was good of her to celebrate the short life of Lidia Ivanova.

I agree pherank. I'm very glad she wrote this book and introduced us to this multi-faceted young woman. I just thought the lost muse connection was a bit shakier than it seemed, and I'm glad to know that Kendall was uncertain too. But it makes a great 'hook' for the book and readers who might otherwise give it a pass.

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The Ballet Review issue just received (41.4 - Winter 2013-14, pp.4-6) has a review of Kendall's book byJay Rogoff. He pretty well dissects the strengths and weaknesses of the book and sums it up:

"Kendall displays a touching protectiveness toward Ivanova and Balanchine, whom she familiarly calls

'Lidochka' and 'Georges'. While such intense affection for her subjects leads her into biographical

fiction and skews her insights about his work, her obsessive devotion to both has yielded a major

contribution to our understanding of the Russian nurture and development of Balanchine's genius."

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This has been posted before in daily links by dirac but I thought I'd add it here too.

Laura Jacobs in the London Review of Books makes a strong case supporting Kendall's thesis in Balanchine & the Lost Muse. She says that "Kendall’s portrait of Balanchine’s first twenty years will now be the standard reference for this period"– "free of [Taper's] mythical guidance (‘soft focus’ might be a better way to put it) and revised."

Most of the review is behind a pay wall but worth getting an issue (or a subscription) or looking at in the library.

Some of the section on Serenade:

In the New York Review, setting the tone, the historian Jennifer Homans wrote that ‘with scant supporting evidence’ Kendall is determined to give Ivanova ‘pride of place in Balanchine’s psyche and art’. I would argue that Kendall has given Ivanova, finally, her rightful place in Balanchine’s psyche and art, and that she has done so on compelling evidence . . .

We know that Serenade owes a great deal to the moonlit groupings in Fokine’s Les Sylphides, a seminal work that Balanchine greatly admired. Kendall reminds us that Serenade is musically connected to a lost Fokine ballet, Eros, which was choreographed to the same score, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. Lida was in Eros and was reportedly unforgettable . . .

Ivanova wasn’t a muse to Balanchine in the way we understand his muses today – a ballerina he fell in love with and either married or wanted to marry. Some reviewers have missed this point but Kendall is clear: ‘Lidochka wasn’t anybody’s personal muse. She’d invented herself. Even so young, she was muse to her age … she’d divined new ways to move, new ways to use ballet. Georges absorbed her discoveries.’

In fact, this flapper-Columbine, this brilliant girl, seizing the day and tempting fate, presented Balanchine with yet another template of female autonomy, one quite different from his mother’s aloof beauty. This persona, to borrow a term from Martha Graham (who borrowed it from Henrik Ibsen), is ‘doom eager’. As Graham said, ‘You are doom eager for destiny no matter what it costs you.’

In Balanchine’s ballets this is often the girl or woman who waltzes. We first see her in Serenade, then spectral in La Sonnambula (1946), then ecstatically avid in La Valse (1951) ... She is self-dramatising in 1960’s Liebeslieder Walzer (the Violette Verdy role) ...

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n19/laura-jacobs/the-girl-who-waltzes

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I just ran across Summers with George Balanchine, a short article Kendall published last year, with a two-minute clip of her speaking. In the article she describes taking a train from St. Petersburg and visiting the old dacha settlement in Finland, now called Zakhotskoe, where the Balanchines had a home. Having read the book, I’m also intrigued by three photos not included in it. One is of the handsome “Balanchivadze” home. Another is of the home’s wide, stone staircase, which is all that now remains. But my favorite, from the National Archives of Georgia, and all the more evocative for being blurry and faded, is a shot of Balanchine’s sister Tamara and two friends on a swing. It can be enlarged.

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