Balanchine is the future?
Posted 12 August 2000 - 07:13 AM
His final sentence goes:
"For NYCB and Peter Martins, Balanchine is the past. For every other
classical ballet company today, he is the future."
Posted 12 August 2000 - 10:40 AM
His point about ballets being "lit from within" is a good one -- a concrete image for something that's extremely amorphous. The complaints I've heard from former dancers about the company's current technique is that the legs and feet are not as alert and articulated.
I also think his point relative and specific criteria is a good one. Does one compare how a company looks with its peers today? (I don't know many people who would say that NYCB is currently dancing better than Paris or the Kirov.) Or, when there's a company-specific repertory, do you compare it with past standards? I think you need do both.
It will be interesting to see what the Edinburgh audience thinks. Unfortunately, criticism of the New York City Ballet in both countries has become so political it will be hard to tell.
Posted 15 August 2000 - 12:26 PM
Do you mean a Farrell camp and a Martins camp? (I believe there is also a Balanchine Trust camp evolving.) Are there other politics?
Posted 15 August 2000 - 01:28 PM
I don't think it's a Farrell-Martins thing, but I do think there's a pro/anti-Martins thing. And on top of this, there's always the tendency to be a bit defensive of one's own home company and NOT want to praise a foreign company too much because they're seen as a threat.
Of course, there are many critics who actually write what they believe, but even the most honest of us has biases. And sometimes it's hard to separate a bias from the truth. If you really truly believe that Peter Martins is a great ballet director, then you probably like the ballets he's created/commissioned and will write about them with enthusiasm. And vice versa.
When I first started going to the ballet, I used to write, for fun, mock reviews "in the style of" several of the leading critics before their reviews came out. I guess it was a subconscious way of training myself to be a critic, although I wasn't consciously trying to become a critic. And I was pretty good at guessing what they were going to say. When you can do that, it's likely that politics is a part of the picture.
Posted 16 August 2000 - 12:55 PM
Posted 16 August 2000 - 03:47 PM
It’s interesting to think about how I feel about Martins as a ballet director. I don’t like most of his choreography yet I admire him for in many ways “keeping the flame” and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.
I started to write more but I realized it was nothing more than a long defense of Martins.
As far as Balanchine being the future, I hope that his work will always be part of NYCB's present. But I have no doubt that his importance will fade. As you have pointed out look what has happened to the Royal Danish Ballet and Bournonville.
Posted 16 August 2000 - 05:35 PM
I'm glad you brought up the Peter Martins question. I have long been worried about the hostility displayed on this board towards him. His excellent work as both administrator and effective guardian of the Balanchine inheritance doesn't seem to count with his detractors.
The problem seems to be that he isn't Balanchine, who must surely be the hardest act in history to follow.
Posted 16 August 2000 - 05:55 PM
Originally posted by JerryB:
I find that I spend a lot of time thinking about what I see as harsh criticism of Peter Martins and NYCB. Also wondering why there seems to be more anti than pro.
. . .Because he has had the misfortune of being successor to a genius. Be he good or be he bad, he will always be judged on whether or not he's Balanchine. . .and he never will be.
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Posted 16 August 2000 - 08:35 PM
I really don't think it's just as simple as saying that everyone expects him to be Balanchine. I know a lot of people who understand that he's not Balanchine and don't hold that against him The criticism I've read has not been that his ballets aren't as good as Balanchine's. (Although I think that's taken for granted, even by his defenders.) It's way he's cared for the Balanchine repertory and the dancers that has been questioned.
I do agree, Jeff, that anybody who runs that company and choreographs will be labeled "He's not Balanchine," but he didn't have to be a director-choreographer. There are other models.
I'd also say that the New York critics are very divided over Martins and that produces very balanced, if confusing, converage. The New York Times and the New York Post have been exceptionally supportive, and those voices are the ones that most ballet subscribers, and probably funders, read. The harsher criticism has come from the New Yorker, New York, and The Wall Street Journal, and though I admire those writers a great deal, and I think their voices are important ones, they aren't read by as many people.
Posted 17 August 2000 - 10:09 AM
I do think there is a great deal of hostility expressed towards Peter Martins, at this site and elsewhere. I agree that he's being blamed for not being Balanchine, and that anyone who took over his job when he did would be criticized harshly, no matter what his policies.
But what bothers me most about the “debate” (such as it is) is its polarized and emotional nature. The “antis” jump at every chance of criticizing Martins, and twist every observation of the company to make him responsible for whatever it is they dislike.
I remember when, in the mid-nineties, Tobi Tobias, a leading “anti,” criticized Martins in New York Mag for not casting the company’s talented young dancers in the Balanchine repertory. When he cast Monique Meunier (one of Tobias’s favorites) in Farrell’s role in Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, she was on him immediately, reviling him for taking chances with a young dancer in a demanding role.
The trouble I have with this kind of criticism is that it decides in advance to hate someone and then feels obliged to carp at everything he does, no matter what. People who argue like this make it difficult to discuss the very real issues at stake—the way the Balanchine heritage is being preserved, the choice of new choreographers, the nature of the new ballets to be encouraged (i.e. plotless, practice-clothed and edgy, with no other approaches permitted), the enforced retirements of older dancers, the addition of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake into the repertory, etc. Issues are difficult and many-layered, and it’s a lot easier to slam someone’s personality.
As for the “pros,” I don’t know of any, other than Kisselgoff and Wendy Wasserstein (and maybe Leigh Witchel ).
[This message has been edited by Ari (edited August 17, 2000).]
Posted 17 August 2000 - 12:06 PM
I prefer to think of myself as Switzerland in this conflict.
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Posted 17 August 2000 - 12:39 PM
Ari, I agree with some of what you said, but not all. Sometimes there does seem to be a political tinge to the reviews, but on the pro as well as anti sides. The NYTimes has become almost an NYCB apologist, and that's no more fair or believable than someone who says, "Aha! Another bad thing Peter Martins has done."
Martins has been criticized most strongly for geting rid of some of the people recognized as good Balanchine stagers, namely Violette Verdy and Suzanne Farrell, and for the way he developed, or did not develop, dancers, and I think it is a very legitimate criticism to make, especially in a company that had a ballerina conveyor belt. They went ten years without a new ballerina. But a few seasons ago, when the new generation started coming up, this criticism stopped. So not all of the writing has been kneejerk. There's also been praise, here and elsewhere, for the new choreographic institute. And finally, among the NY critics, Clive Barnes, Jack Anderson and Jennifer Dunning are also firmly on the pro-Martins side of the great divide as well as Kisselgoff. It was Barnes, when Croce wrote that piece that the Balanchine ballets had had the hearts ripped out of them, who wrote that the company had never danced Balanchine better.
Posted 17 August 2000 - 01:34 PM
This was precisely my point, Alexandra. The debate has become polarized--you're either for him or agin' him, with nothing in between. Few people will admit to being biased--everyone claims to be virtuously neutral--but when the same people come out time after time on the same side of the fence, it does make you wonder.
And I'm not just talking about professional critics here, I'm talking about ordinary fans, such as me and others on this board.
Posted 17 August 2000 - 01:55 PM
If you go back and read criticsm of NYCB in the early 70's after Farrell's departure, you'll find that Balanchine was criticized for failing to develop any ballerinas except Gelsey Kirkland. At that time, McBride waa considered the standard bearer. Kent and Verdy were dancing less often and Hayden was on the verge of retirement. Leland, Mazzo and Von Arnoldigen were considered less than classically and technically perfect.
Just about the time Farrell returned, we saw the advent of Ashley and then shortly there after the rise of Nichols and Calegari.
Maybe these things are cyclical? The later 80's and early 90's didn't produce many ballerinas any where it seems to me.
Posted 17 August 2000 - 02:46 PM
Ari, I think sometimes, too, when there's a polarized debate, the readers become political as well. If I love what Martins is doing, then I'll see the anti-Martins stuff as pervasive. Conversely, if one thinks that he should be ridden out of town on a rail, then every time the NYTimes says, "Never has there been such an exciting season with so many ballets brilliantly danced," it will seem as though he "has the critics in his pocket." I have to say I think fans have every right to be polarized. People are passionate about what they see and what they like.
(For the record, not that it matters, I am neither pro nor con. I haven't seen the company enough in the last decade to take sides. I think the Talk magazine piece was injudicious, as was the disposing of Verdy and Farrell. I disagree with some of his casting, but I disagree with nearly everyone's casting But I am not anti-Diamond Project; I think he is right to develop new choreographers and I don't think it's his fault that none have rained down from the clouds. I think the choreographic institute is totally positive and a very good idea. When I saw the company this spring, for the first time in three years, of the two Balanchine ballets I saw, one (Brahms-Schoenberg) was in very good shape, I thought, and the other (Symphony in C) was a bit down at heel, but still acceptable. And compared to ABT's current emphasis on virtuosity at the expense of everything else, the NYCB dancers are blessedly tasteful. It is possible to be pro- or anti-anybody situationally.)
No reason to stop this particular discussion, but please don't forget the topic of the thread, which was a British critic saying that Balanchine was NYCB's past and every other company's future.
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