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


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#16 Helene

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Posted 07 October 2013 - 02:49 PM

Kendall has a tendency to question people's statements without giving the reader an adequate sense for why that person's statements are unreliable. We need to see evidence; otherwise, the author comes off badly. As an example:

"Geva wrote later that Georges's father and brother traveled from Georgia for the wedding, though this seems unlikely given the distance, the ruined railways, and the Georgian Balanchivadzes’ poverty. And where were Georges’s mother and his friends in a school chapel wedding? No one has left an account of it except the bride. Georges’s friends heard about it only afterwards; they’d barely known about Geva.

It would have been helpful if she had said the first time she cited info Geva's bio that it had a number of factual issues, but in this case, she's given five reasons why the account is suspect.
 

But for Georges, who did not advertise psychic events, this mariage was an ultraprivate affair, and in private terms a masterstroke."

...

Why state that the marriage was "ultraprivate", but then question why there were few witnesses?


Could she have meant that "ultraprivate" to Balanchine meant that he wasn't interested in talking about it? In the Taper, it was clearly a marriage to address troubling times: even though they were a couple, they were very young, and they'd not have married then in calmer times.
 

So we should assume that Geva needed to lie about her wedding details? Sorry, why precisely? (Or is that being saved for Kendall's next book?).

Geva is not Kendall's subject, and even if she had been, there's enough psychoanalyzing in biography. If a bunch of what Geva wrote in the memoir is suspect, why would the reason for this be something for which Kendall owes an explanation? If it were the only thing in Geva's memoir that was suspect, but Kendall had contrary evidence for it, Kendall wouldn't owe an explanation for that, either.

#17 pherank

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Posted 07 October 2013 - 04:53 PM

 

It would have been helpful if she had said the first time she cited info Geva's bio that it had a number of factual issues, but in this case, she's given five reasons why the account is suspect.

 

 

It's a can of worms though to suggest that Geva made up a story regarding her wedding day. And for me, as a reader, I instantly want to know more, but we don't have much to go on. Mentioning that Georgia was a long ways from St. Petersburg, or that the railways were a mess, doesn't preclude the presence of those two people (and Andrei, aged 12, had earlier traveled on his own to Georgia, and obviously survived). And if Geva's version isn't credible, then what is the more credible version?

 

Geva is not Kendall's subject, and even if she had been, there's enough psychoanalyzing in biography. If a bunch of what Geva wrote in the memoir is suspect, why would the reason for this be something for which Kendall owes an explanation? If it were the only thing in Geva's memoir that was suspect, but Kendall had contrary evidence for it, Kendall wouldn't owe an explanation for that, either.

 

I disagree that Kendall owes no explanations - that goes to the heart of what historical biographies attempt to provide: some facts and "truths" about a subject.

 

A couple of other spots that confused me:

 

"But Maria shouldn't worry about Aunt Mila or him, writes Andrei: the family was taking care of both [in Georgia]. "Better worry about yourself and Zhorzhik [George]," Andrei says, then adds with younger-brother wistfulness, "I can't believe I haven't seen him for five years! And during that time…I've become an artist." Was Maria herself really taking care of Georges, as Andrei implies, doing his laundry, bringing him food? Had she seen his school graduation performance? Had she traveled to Pavlovsk for his lezginka or his semi-failure in Swan Lake? If not, why not?"

> Good questions at the end, but how is Andrei implying that Maria is "taking care" of George (who is at the Mariinsky Theatre school). It would make sense for Andrei to tell his relatives to "take care of" themselves in very troubled times.

…"A postscript at the end of the letter only deepens the mystery surrounding this inscrutable family: "I'm very sorry about Babusia," Andrei writes, "maybe she's happy now." This seems to mean that Babusia, who we assume was Maria's mother and so his and George's grandmother, has died in Petrograd. maybe Maria has been preoccupied with nursing her. But how odd for Andrei to write like this about a grandmother's death--as if he wasn't personally involved. Balanchine, the brother on the spot, never even mentioned a grandmother."

> How does this signal that Andrei didn't feel personally involved? Is Kendall assuming that Andrei needed to write a formal letter on the subject? And how do we know that he hasn't already?



#18 kfw

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Posted 07 October 2013 - 05:30 PM

II'll admit to taking vicarious 'pleasure' in reading about life in Russia of the 1920s - I'm both fascinated and horrified: there is so much to be learned from those events, and those people, but the available records are few, aside from remembrances of the survivors, most of which are bitter and mournful.

Overall, this is an excellent piece of research, and there's little doubt it was an arduous task to cobble together useful and believable information, and weed out the hearsay

 

Likewise, I loved being immersed in St. Petersburg life, and I'm grateful to Kendall for her work. Apollo's Angels author Jennifer Homans, who reviews Kendall's book in the current NY Review of Books, will interview her at the New York Public Library on Tuesday, December 10.



#19 DanielBenton

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 01:46 PM

Pherank, many thanks for the link to Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation.  Too bad this hasn't been widely advertised.



#20 pherank

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 02:43 PM

Pherank, many thanks for the link to Kattner-Ulrich's dissertation.  Too bad this hasn't been widely advertised.

 

Pretty interesting, no? Being a dissertation, I can understand that it isn't widely known, but due to the wonders of the Internet, we can have a look-see.



#21 DanielBenton

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 02:56 PM

Reading Kattner-UlrichI had a strange sense of deja vu, as if I were reading portions of Kendall without the speculative aspects. 



#22 Helene

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 03:05 PM

However, Kattern-Ulrichl states,
 

No longer the art form that had all but died out in Western Europe and had stagnated in czarist Russia, he created an entirely new direction in the art of dance, one whose ramifications extended far beyond his own company of dancers.

 

 

Ballet had died in Paris and Copenhagen? In Monte Carlo before Rene Blum was sent to a concentration camp?



#23 pherank

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 04:40 PM

However, Kattern-Ulrichl states,
 

No longer the art form that had all but died out in Western Europe and had stagnated in czarist Russia, he created an entirely new direction in the art of dance, one whose ramifications extended far beyond his own company of dancers.

 

 

Ballet had died in Paris and Copenhagen? In Monte Carlo before Rene Blum was sent to a concentration camp?

 

I suppose the very first sentence could be considered controversial, since it is entirely Western in viewpoint: "In 1924 a small unknown group of young ballet dancers left St. Petersburg for what was to be a four month educational tour of Germany." They were obviously not "unknown" in Russia (and Kendall's book explains all that), but unknown in the West/Europe. It looks like Kattner-Ulrich did publish the dissertation (I don't know if anything was altered before publishing though):

 

http://www.amazon.co...e/dp/383813690X

 

Her statement "no longer the art form that had all but died out in Western Europe" is definitely begging for more details - she must be referring to the post-Diaghilev Ballet Russes era, when companies were certainly struggling, and then WWII. And perhaps she was thinking of Balanchine's remark about how nothing was going on for him, so he would go to America. But I agree with you: that kind of broad, sweeping statement is not a good idea.

 

[Edit] I do like Kattner-Ulrich's listing of the various early Balanchine ballets, as well as the "Correspondence from George Balanchine to Serge Diaghilev (1925 - 1927)". And, the whole section describing the troupe's experiences dancing in Berlin (p100 and beyond) are quite fascinating. If enough people read the dissertation, it would merit its own thread.  ;)



#24 Helene

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 09:48 PM

Her statement "no longer the art form that had all but died out in Western Europe" is definitely begging for more details - she must be referring to the post-Diaghilev Ballet Russes era, when companies were certainly struggling, and then WWII. And perhaps she was thinking of Balanchine's remark about how nothing was going on for him, so he would go to America. But I agree with you: that kind of broad, sweeping statement is not a good idea.

 
Massine was choreographing his first big symphonic ballets in the early 30's, and while the Ballets Russes had its own squabbles and split, it was two companies supporting choreographic talent. "L'Epreuve d'Amour" from 1936 is the last Folkine ballet for which the rights can still be obtained from the estate.  The bio of the estate's site states,
 

1936 marked a Renaissance for Fokine. It began by working with Rene Blum’s Ballet de Monte Carlo. He choreographed three new ballets: Les Elements to music by Bach, Don Juan, and the comedy L'Epreuve d’Amour with designs by Andre Derian to a newly discovered Mozart score. The London papers described the ballet as :a triumph of charming chinoiserie". Fokine also staged most of his Diaghilev repertoire for the company, as well as some of his later successes including Les Elfes, and Igroushki.

 
While Kirstein and Balanchine were still in Europe, Folkine had already made his way to the US and had started his own school and company, which lead to:
 

In the summer of 1934 a return engagement of the Fokine Ballet to Lewisohm Stadium caused a sensation. After 15,000 seats and 2,000 standees were admitted, there were still thousands trying to get in. The police had to be called to control the crowds. On 8 August 1934 the New York Times had a headline on the front page that read “POLICE CALLED AS 10,000 TRY VAINLY TO SEE FOKINE BALLET AT STADIUM”.


Those were the days.

Folkine was also invited by Lucia Chase to be one of the first choreographers for Ballet Theatre in the '40's.

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

#25 pherank

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 10:23 PM

 

In the summer of 1934 a return engagement of the Fokine Ballet to Lewisohm Stadium caused a sensation. After 15,000 seats and 2,000 standees were admitted, there were still thousands trying to get in. The police had to be called to control the crowds. On 8 August 1934 the New York Times had a headline on the front page that read “POLICE CALLED AS 10,000 TRY VAINLY TO SEE FOKINE BALLET AT STADIUM”.


Those were the days.

Folkine was also invited by Lucia Chase to be one of the first choreographers for Ballet Theatre in the '40's.

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

 

 

LOL - Yes, those were the days.

 

Having read many of the pages in the Kattner-Ulrich dissertation (but not all by any means), I can tell that she is purposefully focusing on Balanchine's relationship to the theatre scene in Germany (no doubt because she was at the Berlin Free University to do the research). And she spends some time discussing how little ballet was appreciated by 1920s Berlin - very different to the scene in Paris. The Ballet Russes apparently did not fare well in Germany. I really like some of this dissertation - I would like to see it improved, to deal with some of the weak points we mentioned, but there's some really great information in there too.

 

And that's my feeling about Balanchine and The Lost Muse as well, there are a few assertions that trouble me (or just confuse me as to their meaning), but it is a great story, and there's an awful lot of worthwhile information to wade through, and consider. It inspires me to learn still more...



#26 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 09:11 PM



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...

 
 



#27 pherank

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Posted 10 October 2013 - 12:11 PM

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.  


#28 sandik

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Posted 10 October 2013 - 12:25 PM

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.



#29 DanielBenton

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Posted 12 October 2013 - 11:38 AM

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??



#30 pherank

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Posted 12 October 2013 - 12:34 PM

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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