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Lincoln Kirstein: Beliefs of a MasterBalanchine's Spirituality


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#1 pherank

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 07:15 PM

http://www.nybooks.c...agination=false

 

I don't know how many forum members have read this essay, but it is quite interesting reading, and happens to include a portion(?) of a Balanchine interview that appeared in Nedelia, the weekly “cultural” supplement of the newspaper Izvestia. The interview exchange is very thought provoking in itself, but Kirstein's surrounding essay is worth wading through.

 

GRIGOROVICH: Since we are speaking of some kind of affirmation, I affirm the art of representation in its most spectacular brilliance of which theater is capable. I don’t know to what point, personally, I am successful, but I affirm ballet as a great theatrical art, with a complex and active dramatic content, expressed in dance by the accompaniment of painting helping to express this by scenery, with especially commissioned music, and of course with the pantomime of actor-dancers. It is possible to stage a ballet without scenery or costumes by dressing dancers merely in practice clothes, but why limit yourself? It is bad, naturally, if all these theatrical components do not help in expressing the idea which inspires you. But if they do, is it not splendid?

BALANCHINE: What do I affirm or reject? I reject nothing. Why should I? I am not affirming anything either.

“NEDELIA”: But you do express yourself?

BALANCHINE: I am not doing anything in particular. I simply dance. Why must everything be defined by words? When you place flowers on a table, are you affirming or denying or disproving anything? You like flowers because they are beautiful. Well, I like flowers, too. I plant them without considering them articulately. I don’t have a “logical” mind, just three-dimensional plasticity. I am no physicist, no mathematician, no botanist. I know nothing about anything. I just see and hear.

GRIGOROVICH: A flower is beautiful. But it is Nature, not Art. A flower affirms nothing, but the man who plants it affirms both the flower and its beauty. And how about Japanese flower arrangement? Is this not Art?

BALANCHINE: Of course I have a logic. But it is the logic of movement. Something is joined together, something else discarded. I am not trying to prove anything. That is, trying to prove something quite other than the fact of dancing. I only wish to prove the dance by dancing. I want to say: “If you should happen to like it, here they are: dancers dancing. They dance for the pleasure of it, because they wish to.” Don’t other people dance? All of Georgia [his ancestral home] dances! And these people dance for delight without hoping or wishing to prove anything.

GRIGOROVICH: But there is a difference between “just dancing” and ballet. Folk and social dancing are primarily for oneself. Ballet is dancing for an audience. Dancing just for fun is an emotion, whereas ballet is an art which transforms emotion into thought and unites them.

BALANCHINE: I believe in the dance as an independent category, as something that really exists in itself and by itself. However, this may be an unreal or inaccurate metaphysical category, something immaterial, perhaps indefinable.

“NEDELIA”: But you said yourself [at the start of the interview] that your ballets were not “abstractions,” that live people performed them….

BALANCHINE: Yes. They convey the sense of the dance to the spectator, but the dance also exists without spectators!

GRIGOROVICH: Pray, in what form?

BALANCHINE: In the form in which it comes to me; in the form in which I set it out.


#2 sandik

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 09:18 PM

Thanks so much for the excerpt, and for the link.  Balanchine is grappling with questions that have engaged many philosophers talking about dance -- it's a treat to read him working through the issues.



#3 Jayne

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 10:26 PM

interesting stuff, certainly Yuri Grigorovich comes across as far more intellectual and interesting than the general stereotype of a Stalinesque dictator.  



#4 pherank

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 10:27 PM

Thanks so much for the excerpt, and for the link.  Balanchine is grappling with questions that have engaged many philosophers talking about dance -- it's a treat to read him working through the issues.

 

Grigorovitch states his position rather well I thought, and like Balanchine, I see no need to argue against it (as Grigorovitch no doubt expected would happen). But like Balanchine, I enjoy the introduction of new viewpoints and shifted focus to see "what happens".

 

The interesting thing is that the interviewers argue from a defensive position - that Balanchine's explorations might be harmful to what they love: a union of dancing, music and stagecraft. I happen to think that fear is missplaced, and foolish, but that's my opnion. The key line for me, is, "It is possible to stage a ballet without scenery or costumes by dressing dancers merely in practice clothes, but why limit yourself?" Grigorovitch remains hung up on the lack of stagings and doesn't see the increase in attention to choreography and 'the dance'. And doesn't seem to see how that might be a worthy exploration in itself. The concept of 'pure dance' means nothing to him, as if that is something you argue about at university, in class, but no one should be so foolish as to waste time concentrating on dance alone.



#5 sandik

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 11:19 PM

It's a discussion that's been going on since the shift between the danse d'ecole and the ballet d'action!



#6 kfw

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 04:08 AM

Thanks, pherank. I hadn't read that in a long time. It's one of the essays collected in By With To & From: A Lincoln Kirstein Reader. The book is available from Amazon, and as most Ballet Alerter's know, when books are ordered from the Amazon window at the bottom of the page, a small donation is made to this site. 



#7 pherank

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 12:12 PM

Thanks, pherank. I hadn't read that in a long time. It's one of the essays collected in By With To & From: A Lincoln Kirstein Reader. The book is available from Amazon, and as most Ballet Alerter's know, when books are ordered from the Amazon window at the bottom of the page, a small donation is made to this site. 

 

Thanks KFW, I was in fact trying to figure out where this essay appears in print. It's good to remind everyone about the Amazon donation too.



#8 pherank

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 01:41 PM

Does anyone happen to know if the complete Grigorovitch/Balanchine interview is available somewhere (in English)?




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