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Fancy Free - threatening?


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#1 kbarber

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 03:51 AM

I came across this statement in a review of Daniel Ulbricht's group at Jacob's Pillow:
"The second half of the program was devoted to Jerome Robbins 1944 classic Fancy Free, with music by Leonard Bernstein. This ballet (which inspired the musical On the Town) would never get past the 21st-century political-correctness censors. The three sailors pursuit of a couple of pretty women, meant to be playful, comes off at moments as threatening. "
http://blog.timesuni...ow-71614/34032/

Do you agree?

#2 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 04:18 AM

Sailors on shore leave flirting with pretty women is fine. Three strangers snatching a woman's handbag on a city street and teasing her by tossing it back and forth to keep it out of her reach? That's not politically incorrect so much as plain old cruel and definitely threatening. We may know they're good guys, but she doesn't, and it's a sour moment. That the situation might ever have seemed "playful" to Robbins strikes me as a real failure of empathy on his part. 



#3 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 04:34 AM

I actually don't agree. I think that at one point there might have been a sort of assumption that sailors are nice guys and wouldn't mean anything other than being playful. How it's taken now, well that might be different.



#4 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 05:19 AM

I'm sorry, but I can't see the way Robbins' sailors torment the woman with the red handbag as anything but mean. They may not have meant to harm her, but they had the power to humiliate her, and they used it -- perhaps thoughtlessly, which is almost worse.



#5 Helene

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 05:29 AM

While some different casts make the torment more blatant and aggressive, the underlying disrespect is still there.  Robbins may have been reflecting societal norms, but sensitivity isn't anything I'd have expected from him, based on the way he tormented dancers.



#6 dirac

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 05:35 AM

I actually don't agree. I think that at one point there might have been a sort of assumption that sailors are nice guys and wouldn't mean anything other than being playful. How it's taken now, well that might be different.

 

I think that's very possible, Mme. Hermine. Another related possibility is that something has been lost in coaching transmission over the years, or lost and intermittently recovered. I recall that when Arlene Croce reviewed NYCB's Fancy Free from the late seventies/early eighties, she noted that the lighthearted casual style that ABT still had was missing from NYCB's version and specifically mentioned the red shoulder bag business ("These boys might be muggers."). These are basically nice boys, and the girls are also nice but savvy and can hold their own. But a casual throwaway style can be tricky to carry off.



#7 kfw

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 06:32 AM

I'm sorry, but I can't see the way Robbins' sailors torment the woman with the red handbag as anything but mean. They may not have meant to harm her, but they had the power to humiliate her, and they used it -- perhaps thoughtlessly, which is almost worse.

 

I think they could only humiliate her if she took that as their intent. I agree with Mme. Hermine, and I wonder if that sort of behavior was not uncommon at the time - sexist and regrettable, yes, but unconsciously so on the guys' part, and not perceived as such by the woman, so not actually inflicting cruelty. But the moment makes me uncomfortable today. 

 

In regards to dirac's good point about the style possibly having change over the years, I would think that the woman's acting would be even more important than that of the guys. I think I recall someone - Faye Arthurs? - at NYCB in the mid-nineties almost playing along, indicating that she was more or less amused. Still, one feels bad for the woman, and a little embarrassed - at least I was - for the guys, who are acting like boys. 



#8 atm711

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 06:55 AM

Another case of taking it "out of its time"---this was  New York City during World War 2---and these young sailors could have been our brothers or cousins.  Muriel Bentley, the original handbag girl portrayed her as an aloof girl who could take care of herself.  Apparently it does not play too well in current times.



#9 abatt

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 07:18 AM

I don't think we have a sense today of the level of enormous respect that Americans had for military service men who fought in WWII.   They were considered the greatest generation, heroes who saved the world.  

 

Today we always hear in the media about creeps in the military who do horrible things. There is less support for the Amer. military today because of these types of incidents.  Also, the wars the US is involved in today are unpopular wars, which is unfairly reflected onto the military.

 

For these reasons, I doubt that people of earlier generations would have viewed Robbin's goofy fun loving sailor boys as a threat.



#10 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 07:19 AM

 

I'm sorry, but I can't see the way Robbins' sailors torment the woman with the red handbag as anything but mean. They may not have meant to harm her, but they had the power to humiliate her, and they used it -- perhaps thoughtlessly, which is almost worse.

 

I think they could only humiliate her if she took that as their intent. I agree with Mme. Hermine, and I wonder if that sort of behavior was not uncommon at the time - sexist and regrettable, yes, but unconsciously so on the guys' part, and not perceived as such by the woman, so not actually inflicting cruelty. But the moment makes me uncomfortable today. 

 

In regards to dirac's good point about the style possibly having change over the years, I would think that the woman's acting would be even more important than that of the guys. I think I recall someone - Faye Arthurs? - at NYCB in the mid-nineties almost playing along, indicating that she was more or less amused. Still, one feels bad for the woman, and a little embarrassed - at least I was - for the guys, who are acting like boys. 

 

 

What do you think their intent might have been? 

 

Also, would we be as comfortable giving their behavior a pass for being typical of their time if the victim of their prank had been African-American or Jewish? 



#11 kfw

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 07:28 AM

What do you think their intent might have been? 

 

Also, would we be as comfortable giving their behavior a pass for being typical of their time if the victim of their prank had been African-American or Jewish? 

 

 

Good questions, but I don't think your implied analogy holds. The guys are acting in sexist fashion, but not because they dislike women. In fact, they're acting like little boys who pester little girls and make them cry. They do it because they want attention. They do it because they like the girls.



#12 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 08:15 AM

 

What do you think their intent might have been? 

 

Also, would we be as comfortable giving their behavior a pass for being typical of their time if the victim of their prank had been African-American or Jewish? 

 

 

Good questions, but I don't think your implied analogy holds. The guys are acting in sexist fashion, but not because they dislike women. In fact, they're acting like little boys who pester little girls and make them cry. They do it because they want attention. They do it because they like the girls.

 

 

They may like women just fine, but their behavior suggests that they don't fully respect them: how else should one interpret the freedom they seem to believe they have to take a (weaker) stranger's property away from her and then tease her when she tries to get it back? Casual prejudice isn't only a function of not liking the members of a particular group. It's tied up with respect and power, too.

 

I'm not suggesting that the handbag grab is on a scale with the depredations visited on African Americans, Jews, Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps, etc. -- the shameful list goes on and on -- just that there is nothing wrong with being repulsed by the sailors' behavior now, even if it was typical of its time. (And I'm not convinced that it was.) I see this episode as a failure of empathy on Robbins' part precisely because -- and perhaps just at that moment -- he couldn't see past the casual sexism of his day.



#13 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 08:30 AM

Similar in my mind to the (whether alleged or not) circumstance of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square, I still do not agree.



#14 kfw

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 08:40 AM

They may like women just fine, but their behavior suggests that they don't fully respect them: how else should one interpret the freedom they seem to believe they have to take a (weaker) stranger's property away from her and then tease her when she tries to get it back? Casual prejudice isn't only a function of not liking the members of a particular group. It's tied up with respect and power, too.

 

I'm not suggesting that the handbag grab is on a scale with the depredations visited on African Americans, Jews, Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps, etc. -- the shameful list goes on and on -- just that there is nothing wrong with being repulsed by the sailors' behavior now, even if it was typical of its time. (And I'm not convinced that it was.) I see this episode as a failure of empathy on Robbins' part precisely because -- and perhaps just at that moment -- he couldn't see past the casual sexism of his day.

 

 

I think we pretty much agree, and I especially like your last sentence. They're disrespectful of her as a woman, which is sexist. So was Robbins in choreographing that episode. But for me their behavior, even allowing for a difference in scale, does not bring to mind the way Jews, African-Americans and Japanese-Americans were treated, because I think the sailors interact with the woman in the first place because they're attracted to her, and they want to be with her. Yes they treat her as inferior, but they do so in that very different context. Also, as I said earlier, the incident makes me uncomfortable too.



#15 dirac

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 09:31 AM

Another case of taking it "out of its time"---this was  New York City during World War 2---and these young sailors could have been our brothers or cousins.  Muriel Bentley, the original handbag girl portrayed her as an aloof girl who could take care of herself.  Apparently it does not play too well in current times.

 

Just so. These are young men are teasing young women who can handle themselves. (I tend to see the shoulder bag girl as a little like Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas, marching through a bunch of guys to tell off Ray Liotta for standing her up.) 




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