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Boycotting the ballet


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#1 Steve Keeley

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 01:22 AM

In another topic, a couple of posters expressed reservations about attending a performance by the Universal Ballet because it has received funding from, and was founded by, Rev. Moon. There was no suggestion that the performances were in any way colored by the philosophy of his religion; merely his sponsorship was enough to warrant shunning the company.

I compared this to boycotting the Kirov and Bolshoi in the past while they were sponsored by the communist Soviet government.

I was wondering how others felt about this.

I'm not talking about the case where a company presents works with a blatant political or religious message, but a straightforward classical company tainted only by the beliefs (not expressed in the performances) of it's founders, sponsors, or directors.

Would any of you refuse to attend the Paris Opera Ballet because you don't care for the current leadership in France? How many of you will pass on the National Ballet of Cuba because you don't like Castro? Has anyone refused to attend ABT until they no longer receive funding from Philip Morris?

Under what circumstances (other than a reputation for lousy work) would you shun a ballet company?

~Steve

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 08:35 AM

What a sticky question. Let me make it stickier. :D

A fact of life in ballet (and other arts which don't break even on ticket sales) is they tend to be used as a rehabilitator for people, but nowadays mostly corporations, with an image problem. If there's a particularly bad oil spill or a civil suit or what have you, some lucky company seems to wind up getting a shiny new Nutcracker production.

On the other side of it, the exchange of art and dance can be the first tentative steps towards detente for nations with tense relations or even something that forces people not to hate utterly. I think we saw that a great deal with the tours of NYCB and ABT to Russia in the '60s and the visits of the Bolshoi and Kirov here.

Besides the Universal Ballet, though, I cannot think of any other company which is seen as the arm of a single religious leader. I had very little taste for the preview article in the LA Times about the choreographer of Shim Chung [url="http://"http://www.calendarlive.com/top/1,1419,L-LATimes-Search-X!ArticleDetail-38985,00.html"]http://www.calendarlive.com/top/1,1419,L-L...l-38985,00.html[/url] but no, that isn't going to stop me from seeing them.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 10:35 AM

It is a sticky question. Leigh makes a good point, I think, about corporate sponsorship. There's one Major Tobacco (and food) Company that has a long record of sponsoring the arts, including ballet, and makes no secret of the fact that they're doing it so that they become indispensable to one segment of society.

As in many areas, I have no trouble accepting the principle -- it's only art that matters, who cares who foots the bill -- and yet am squeamish on some of the particulars. I don't know enough about the Universal Church. Is it just a religion -- a nonmainstream, and thus suspect religion, as the Quakers once were (the only intentionally nasty satire in Galeotti's Whims of Cupid, I maintain, is the Quaker dance)? Or will Rev. Moon turn out to be Hitler? I don't know. Religion is different from politics. In theory, no matter how "kooky" or "quaint" I may think a religion is -- what does that matter? Politics is different. I wouldn't want to have praised The National Socialist Ballet to the skies. But I've certainly loved enough dancers supported by Stalin, and Castro -- his lovable side -- has been an ardent supporter of the ballet.

One New York critic wrote, after a very successful tour of the Bolshoi in the 1980s, the very success of which seemed, to me, to upset some writers, that the audience was mostly aging liberals basking in the afterglow of nostalgia, there to support what was left of Red Art. I had a vision of squadrons of little old matinee ladies, otherwise completely uninterested in the ballet, rushing the theater with placards saying, "See the Bolshoi! Remember the Rosenbergs!"

I will say that I don't think seeing the Universal Ballet will support them. From my observations in Washington, the company is barely supported by box office.

If Mr. Park were a nice Virginia Episcopalian with billions to spend on the ballet and willing to do so, I wouldn't care. If Bill Gates decided to adopt PNB as long as every subscriber used Microsoft products, we'd probably bless him.

#4 Natalia

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 12:13 PM

Should we boycott the Vatican Museum because it is "owned" & sponsored by the Pope? By going to the Vatican Museum and admiring the work of Raphael, are we silently 'blessing' the Inquisition or applauding Pope Pius' alleged anti-Jewish stance during WWII?

Weren't the Tsars considered the civilian heads of the Russian Orthodox Church? Ah...then anyone who admires 'The Nutcracker' and 'Sleeping Beauty' is tacitly blessing the Pogroms which decimated 1,000s of Russian & Ukrainean Jews, as those great ballets were fully sponsored by Tsar Alexander III, who implemented the pogroms during his reign, right? Let's all boycott Nutcracker & Sleeping Beauty as anti-semitic works.

And let's not even get started on Wagner operas. No, Hitler did *not* commission them...but you'd think that he did, judging by the boycotts...

Sometimes, common sense has to prevail.

[ 07-24-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 01:00 PM

Not forgetting for one second that Frederick the Great of Prussia was a big ballet fan :D

Seriously, good points, Jeannie. I was thinking of the Pope, too. When I was growing up, I remember editorials written during John Kennedy's campaign for president about how the Pope would be calling him every day, giving him commands, telling him how to govern. I think this is all part of a very understandable Fear of the Unknown, or Fear of the Other.

But what about from the other side of this question? Are there those who would hesitate, or boycott, a company because of its sponsorship? Felursus and atm both expressed concerns earlier. Let's hear that side, too.

#6 dirac

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 01:19 PM

As noted, this is a knotty question. During the Cold War, the arts (and sports, and space exploration, and so on) were exploited for propaganda purposes by both sides. The Communists were more systematic about it, of course, being Communists, but everyone was getting in on the act. In principle, I'd say that the business of examining people's motives for supporting the arts is not a particularly useful exercise; we can accept the art, with thanks, without buying anything else they're selling. However, I'm pretty certain that it would not have been right for us to welcome the Bolshoi or the Kirov during the time, let's say, of Stalin's purges or the Moscow Trials. In the sixties, I think the cultural opening followed the political sea change; it was a consequence of the thaw, not an instigator of it . ( Think of the Waldorf Conference a couple of decades earlier, which was supposed to bring American and Soviet artists together in a free exchange of ideas. But it couldn't really do that in any meaningful sense, because the Americans who attended did so of their own free will while the Soviets were there mainly out of a disinclination to be imprisoned or shot.)

Re: the Universal Church, I am simply too ignorant to judge. Tom Wolfe once observed that a cult is a religion without political clout. As far as I know, we're not talking about Jim Jones and the People's Temple here, or anything else that would prevent me from seeing the company. One hears that the Rev. Moon is a con artist, but he would not be the first spiritual leader of whom that was said, alas.

#7 cargill

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Posted 24 July 2001 - 03:59 PM

I had a Cuban friend who loved ballet and Alonso especially, but he refused to see the Cuban ballet because of Castro; he just couldn't bring himself to go. It is easy to say art and politics should be separate, but it is difficult when it is personal. On the other hand, he was not arguing that the Cuban Ballet shouldn't come to Washington or that others shouldn't see them.
I remember the 80's Bolshoi tour, and I certainly didn't get the feeling that the audience was made up of leftists. On the other hand, after seeing those men, I did think that the Russians should just send the Bolshoi around to American army bases, and we would surrender immediately.
But I think it is best to at least try to separate art and politics. I don't agree with US policy towards Latin America, but am very glad to see Conterto Barocco.

#8 Dale

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 06:04 AM

A lot of what everybody has said makes sense, and I also agree with Mary. It depends on how close it hits personally. I can go to a ballet company supported by Phillip Morris because I don't buy into the hype and I don't smoke cigerettes (although I love Triscuts).

But if I found out my mother got Alzheimer's from her moisturizer or makeup, and the maker of those items was the main sponsor for a ballet company, I might think about not going.

It's easy to think intellectually that Wagner operas did not kill the Jews during the Holocaust but I know survivers who can't hear German singing without thinking about the camps. I try to take these things on a case-by-case basis. I expect to see La Bayadere next week, not receive a religious conversion (who know, maybe they'll have a subliminal message played softly under the music :D ).

Do ballet companies have this dilemma? Would NYCB or ABT ever turn down money from a convicted murderer? Or for a company that caused the death of millions of people? Or a cult leader? It would be interesting to find one that said no to tobacco companies.

#9 felursus

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 03:24 PM

About the only thing I know about the Reverend Moon is that he touts himself as the next Messiah and loathes homosexuality. Perhaps there are some on this list with a little more exposure to the tenets of Universalism (or whatever the correct term for his religion is.

During the Soviet era there were many people who boycotted the Bolshoi and Kirov - for all kinds of political reasons. Some of the "anti" actions went a little beyond the pale - such as releasing white mice in the London Colissum (poor mice) and then screaming: "Mouse!" loudly so as to disturb a performance. There were also colorful demonstrations - such as the person with a little ballerina in a (bird) cage to make the point of "captive" artists.

The reason I am more sceptical about the Moonies than about even tobacco companies paying for a ballet is that people generally acknowledge that cigarettes are bad for you and know that the cigarette companies are trying to buy good publicity. When a cult of the magnitude of the Moonies does something like this it is to promote respectability. We note that there is no "Vatican Ballet Company" or a "Canterbury Contemporary Dance Company" (For those of you not acquainted with the Church of England - Episcopalian, in the US), Canterbury is the seat of the archbishop considered to be the chief prelate.) Jeannie's analogy of the Vatican Museum doesnt' work: we all know that they own fabulous works of art. Opening the museum to the general public isn't a propaganda ploy to make the Catholic Church more popular. A lot of the art in the museum is pre-Christian anyway, so some of the exhibits don't even 'promote' Christianity in any case. Besides, the real sin here would be in NOT making the art available to the public.

Of course, many people in the audience will be completely unaware of the connection of the Universal Ballet with the Moonies - whereas people were well aware that the Kirov and Bolshoi were from the Soviet Union. Therefore, they haven't even been given the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they want to go and see them. Just a thought.... :D

#10 Steve Keeley

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 08:37 PM

Originally posted by felursus:
Of course, many people in the audience will be completely unaware of the connection of the Universal Ballet with the Moonies -


And they're likely to stay unaware, unless they recognize the names of Dr. & Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, listed in the program as Founders & Patrons. There is no mention anywhere in the complimentary program or the souvenir book of the Unification Church.

~Steve

#11 Mashinka

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Posted 26 July 2001 - 05:56 AM

So the Rev. Moon is a homophobe is he? How delightfully ironic then that he chooses to support an art form that gives so much pleasure to and provides so much employment for gay men!

The demonstrations against the Bolshoi that Felursus mentions took place in 1974 and the pathetic stunt of a van with a caged ballerina on the roof was supposed to be a reference to Galina and Valery Panov who in fact were finally issued visas during that Bolshoi season. The demonstrations had nothing to do with the international campaign to free the Panovs and Panov himself had insisted vehemently that he wanted no demonstrations against the dancers on his behalf. As a result of the actions of a minority, London ballet-goers were denied sight of the Bolshoi for the next 12 years.

#12 Estelle

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Posted 26 July 2001 - 07:32 AM

Originally posted by Steve Keeley:

Under what circumstances (other than a reputation for lousy work) would you shun a ballet company?

~Steve


Well, I think that if I were 100% sure that the main sponsor of the performances of company X was Mr So-and-so whose money came
from drug dealing, proxenetism and child pornography, and/or the money from ticket sales would be used directly for some criminal action, or more generally some purpose I would disapprove, I wouldn't hesitate much to boycott. But fortunately such cases are unlikely to happen often...

felursus, there must be plenty of web sites about Rev. Moon- but of course the problem is that, as is often the case on the Internet, it's hard to know which sources are reliable.
For example I've found the following article on the site of the French monthly magazine "Le monde diplomatique" (but it's in French):
[url="http://"http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/1996/04/MCGILL/2619.html"]http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/1996/04/M...CGILL/2619.html[/url]

#13 Natalia

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Posted 26 July 2001 - 12:17 PM

I seem to recall hearing Pope John Paul II talking openly against homosexuality in many televised speeches...and never a word from the Rev. Moon or anyone in his organization (although I know that the Unification Church is basically conservative, so I wouldn't doubt what Felursus writes). And, of course, I beg to differ with Felursus in that the arts institutions founded and supported by the Roman Catholic Church -- such as the Vatican Museum -- can be compared to arts institutions founded & supported by other religions. Great paintings - great ballet - great TV broadcasts...whatever.

With this, I'll excuse myself from further comment in this discussion, as I know the human being behind the name 'Felursus,' who happens to be one of the sweetest people I know in my circle of ballet friends. This is a great discussion topic but I don't want to hurt nice people, unintentionally. :D

[ 07-26-2001: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

#14 atm711

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Posted 26 July 2001 - 01:04 PM

Quoted from the LA Times article:

"Adrienne Dellas-Thornton (founder of UB) insists that, despite her membershipin the Unification Church her association with Universal Ballet has always been professional, not religious. Company officials are equally adament that it's a dance organization, not a representative of the church"----It seems to me that the lady doth protest too much.

Cults, or supposed cults, leave a bad taste in my mouth. I have a dear family member a part of one to this day--and it tries any means to seem "respectable" and boasts of many prominent Hollywood people in its membership. However, all this talk has not prevented me from seeing "La Bayadere", I already have my tickets. (I must have a touch of larceny in my heart--the lower prices lured me)

#15 PK

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Posted 26 July 2001 - 01:31 PM

I'd possibly see the Universal Ballet to check it out but I certainly wouldn't send my daughter to a summer program at their school(I almost did).At least you should get more informed about Moon and how a certain behavior is expected from the Kirov students.You know-cults do pass on certain expectations.That's the plan!You can check out danceart.com. and other sites on the web. :eek:


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