Jump to content


This site uses cookies. By using this site, you agree to accept cookies, unless you've opted out. (US government web page with instructions to opt out: http://www.usa.gov/optout-instructions.shtml)

Sexuality?


  • Please log in to reply
43 replies to this topic

#1 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 05 October 2000 - 09:37 AM

Given the threads on anything goes (and a current discussion on alt.arts.ballet) this seemed like a germane time to discuss this issue.

I'm offering it broadly because many different areas of it have been touched upon. Ann mentioned that thinking elements of MacMillan's Manon are in bad taste may amount to a sort of prudery. On a.a.b. there is talk of combating the sexual stereotyping heterosexual men in ballet feel.

What do you think of overtly sexual ballet? How does it affect the ballet? Have you seen ballets where sexuality is handled effectively? What about same-sex dancing - that ranges from the male and female duets in Agon to the paean to love in a time of AIDS in Concerto No. 622 by Lar Lubovitch and many things in between.

What about the sexual stereotypes in ballet? I understand that straight men in ballet must get frustrated at people's prejudices, but as a gay man, I honestly get tired of heterosexual men that overcompensate with yet another "See, there are plenty of straight men in ballet!" article or announcement. The very implication that there needs to be straight men in ballet also implies that there are too many gay men in it. We have a hell of a lot to do with this art form. There is nothing wrong or gender-oriented with being enamored with its beauty. I am not going to act any less "gay" (whatever acting less gay means), or be less visible, so someone can feel secure about his masculinity. If anyone thinks that loving ballet for its beauty rather than its athleticism renders him suspect, that's his problem, not mine.

I'm sure that for women in ballet, straight or gay, it's an entirely different visibility issue.

So let's all jump into the fray, but keep it tolerant, and keep it relevant to ballet, please!

------------------
Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/lwitchel"]Personal Page and Dance Writing[/url]
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/dnceasever"]Dance as Ever[/url]

#2 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,275 posts

Posted 05 October 2000 - 09:56 AM

It's a broad issue. Two quick comments. We have had discussions before about the current trend to overt sexuality (gay or straight) in ballet. If a ballet has that as its subject, to me, that is one thing. The tendency to sexualize everything under the guise of being "modern" and make anything that had a subtle twinge of sexuality into something LEWD, in neon, is, to me, extremely distasteful. Implying that anyone who has that view does so because he/she is sexually repressed is as offensive as saying it's because he/she is stupid. (A friend of mine once came up with a great retort to this: I don't go to the ballet for sex. I have other outlets.) One of the man misunderstandings in pop culture in the last forty years is that "adult" means "dirty words and overt sexual content." (And it is an OLD concept, from the 1960s. There's nothing new or modern about it.)

The second comment is about a detail. I had to think for quite awhile what you meant by same-sex duets in "Agon." I have never considered those segments a male or female pas de deux. To me, they're both parts of a pas de trois. I certainly haven't seen anything sexual in them. The man's "duet" is mildly combative, or at least has suggestions of courtly dueling. I think I must just be blind to sexuality watching women -- the female "duet" is, to me, two dancers dancing. Both Bournonville and Petipa have many dances with the women -- dancing a deux or in a Rockettes line -- hold hands. I don't think that we're just "discovering" a hidden lesbian undercurrent in ballet.

I've been, not offended, but estranged by sexual political content in modern dance, by all (gay) male companies that really make me feel that, as a woman, there is no place for me in their world. There are some militant feminist companies in D.C. who can't seem to make dances about anything except child molestation and rape. Without intending to trivialize this issue at all, I find it hard to believe that every company has at least one woman who can stand there and say (our modern dancers have been talking for years) "When I was eight" [twitches head, puts knees together] "I was raped" (bends in middle) "by my FA-THER" [hits self on head three times, falls to floor, groans]. A male friend of mine said he felt a terrible compulsion during intermissions to go up to any woman and start babbling, "I've never raped anybody. I swear. I like women. I...." I do think that, whatever the intent, these dances can be alienating.

But, as always, it depends on the viewer. Ken mentioned the Joffrey's "Daedalus and Icarus." I know gay men who found that ballet extremely erotic, and affirming, at a time when it was still barely permissible to be publicly gay.

#3 Victoria Leigh

Victoria Leigh

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 603 posts

Posted 05 October 2000 - 10:19 AM

Very interesting post, Leigh, and isn't it a shame that this kind of prejudice, like any other kind of prejudice, causes the issue of sexual stereotyping in the first place? The fact that ballet is considered (by people everywhere, probably, but perhaps more prevalent in this country?) to be something that straight men don't do, causes the ones who are straight to over react and over emphasize their straightness, places the gay men in an inferior position that they don't deserve and then they sometimes over react, and the end result is the same as that caused by racial stereotyping or any other kind of stupid prejudice. It has hurt ballet because it has kept away young male dancers, and anyone who teaches knows very well how hard it is to get boys to study ballet in the first place, and then to keep them past the age of 12 or 13.

This is a subject that can be looked at from many angles, but these are the first thoughts I had when reading your post today.

#4 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 05 October 2000 - 10:29 AM

Just to clarify, I put the duets in Agon as one polarity of the scale because they aren't sexual, to me. I see a sort of goofy sisterhood in the female duet, and a sportiveness in the male one, but they are, as Alexandra said, dancers dancing.

------------------
Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/lwitchel"]Personal Page and Dance Writing[/url]
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/dnceasever"]Dance as Ever[/url]

#5 salzberg

salzberg

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 115 posts

Posted 05 October 2000 - 10:34 AM

As Freud is reputed to have said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

#6 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,380 posts

Posted 05 October 2000 - 01:27 PM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Leigh Witchel:
What about the sexual stereotypes in ballet? I understand that straight men in ballet must get frustrated at people's prejudices, but as a gay man, I honestly get tired of heterosexual men that overcompensate with yet another "See, there are plenty of straight men in ballet!" article or announcement. The very implication that there needs to be straight men in ballet also implies that there are too many gay men in it.

Leigh, I don't think it implies that necessarily. Some of us straight men just don't want to be taken for gay simply because we love ballet -- we don't want to have to deal with kneejerk prejudice and we want to be seen for who we are.

As for loving ballet for its athleticism, this straight guy at least watches athletics for the athleticism and also enjoys the beauty, the grace, that's part and parcel of that. In ballet, the grace is what draws me, not the athletic achievement that I know makes it possible. And while I always enjoy male pyrotechnics, I wouldn't pay much to see an all-male troupe, except maybe the Trocks.

I've never quite understood why more straight men don't appreciate ballet anyhow, outside of the fact that it's not socially acceptable in many circles. Show me a heterosexual man who doesn't like to watch an attractive woman move! I would think that would be a good place to begin in learning to appreciate ballet.

#7 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 05 October 2000 - 02:53 PM

Thanks for talking, everybody. I find what Ken said about watching beautiful women interesting and understandable, and it brings up an interesting point. A particular irony for me is that I tend not to view male dancers (especially onstage) as "objects of desire" but as "objects of ideal". I'm not using the appropriate critical terms, I'm sure, but it's not a sexual desire that I find attractive in the dancers I love but the fact they represented an ideal in behavior or grace I wanted to achieve myself.

I'm curious - for how many of us are the dancers onstage "objects of desire" and for how many "objects of ideal?" I wonder why we choose one path or the other. (I'm not making a value judgment here. I think either is valid.)

------------------
Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/lwitchel"]Personal Page and Dance Writing[/url]
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/dnceasever"]Dance as Ever[/url]

#8 salzberg

salzberg

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 115 posts

Posted 05 October 2000 - 03:27 PM

I'm not sure the two are mutually exclusive, Leigh. There are dancers to whom I'm incredibly attracted, but whose dancing I don't care for, particularly; likewise, there are dancers whose dancing I adore but to whom I am not attracted. . .and there are some dancers who attract me in both ways.

#9 cargill

cargill

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 645 posts

Posted 06 October 2000 - 08:16 AM

Leigh, in his original post, asked about effective specifically sexual ballets. I myself would eliminate most of Macmillan here, because he is usually so explicit that he doesn't use dance vocabulary--grab and grope is not effective choreographically for me. One of the best examples is Balanchine's Prodigal Son, when the Siren comes on carried by the goons and just snakes her hand behind her head. It is stunningly effective without being in the least vulgar. No matter how many times I have seen it, it still looks bracing. Also Tudor's Echoing of Trumpets, which ABT did a few years ago. There was such a musical imagination there, and the effect was just harrowing, but again, it was all through the choreography--no one was just slung around for effect.
I hadn't thought of the gaoler scene in Manon as a moral triumph for her. I can see that interpretation, but to me it looks like Macmillan is just gloating over her humiliation once more, and she just creeps out without any relation to her development, followed by Des Grieux doing a set of steps which say a lot about Dowell's dancing but not much about Des Grieux's character.

#10 cerky

cerky

    New Member

  • New Member
  • Pip
  • 4 posts

Posted 06 October 2000 - 11:06 AM

Limon's Moor's Pavane. The sexual energy between the Iago character and his wife was subtle but there. A pleasure to perform.

#11 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 06 October 2000 - 11:16 AM

I agree about both of those works, and think it's telling that one is a ballet strongly influenced by the German expressionism of the time, the other is a progeny of Graham.

For better or for worse, the relationship of a man to a woman in classical ballet is a stable and idealized one. She puts out her hand, he is there to receive it. I think it's one of the most beautiful things about ballet, but it is chaste.

When we try and talk about sexuality in ballet, it seems there is no choice but to bring in additional vocabulary to depict it. Prodigal Son or Bugaku are two examples. So is the Agon pas de deux, perhaps?

Any comments?

------------------
Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/lwitchel"]Personal Page and Dance Writing[/url]
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/dnceasever"]Dance as Ever[/url]

[This message has been edited by Leigh Witchel (edited October 06, 2000).]

#12 Ann

Ann

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 79 posts

Posted 06 October 2000 - 12:32 PM

Leigh

Very quickly - I have visitors downstairs - don't get me started on the Agon pas de deux! Alexandra knows, because I've raised this before, how I feel about Balanchine's requirement for the ballerina, in the briefest of costumes, to lie on her back and split her legs open as though for a gynaecological examination. If that isn't lewd, or vulgar, I truly don't know what is. And no-one says a word.

Don't get me wrong - I still think Agon is Balanchine's greatest achievement, a work of astonishing genius, and I'll go on watching it every chance I can. But I just wish someone had spoken strongly to Mr B at the time he created it.

#13 Ann

Ann

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 79 posts

Posted 06 October 2000 - 12:40 PM

Again, very quickly - I've just remembered that I was the one who accused poor Ed of suspected 'prudery' and I realise that the above message is going me make me a prime suspect of the very same sin. Hmm... make allowances for me.

#14 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 06 October 2000 - 01:07 PM

Ann -

Have you looked at earlier tapes of Agon? What is interesting is that Diana Adams in the pas (visible on a tape from 1960) is anything but "gynecological" at that moment (probably because her body was long, but didn't move into the extreme shapes of someone like Heather Watts or Wendy Whelan - or probably Kent and Farrell when they assumed the roles early on.)

Both with Agon or Manon, I wonder how much overt sexuality gets added onto a less obvious interpretation as time passes (see the previous story of Ashton's pas in The Dream)

How do other people feel about the Agon pas? Or any other area in this broad topic?

------------------
Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/lwitchel"]Personal Page and Dance Writing[/url]
[url="http://"http://members.aol.com/dnceasever"]Dance as Ever[/url]

#15 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,275 posts

Posted 06 October 2000 - 01:38 PM

I'm glad Ann raised the point about Agon Lewd. Ann, I've seen it danced that way too, and I've had exactly the same reaction. I'd argue that this isn't prudery, but simply an instinctive reaction to something that doesn't fit, that seems out of place in the context of the rest of the ballet.

When Miami City Ballet did "Agon" here a few weeks ago (staged by Farrell) there was no lewdness. It's interesting -- this could be seen as part of the cleaning process, of saying, "Yes, I know you've seen this done this way, but when Mr. B taught it to me, that wasn't what he wanted."

There are also differences in dancers, I think. If Diana Adams had done exactly the same thing, it may well not have looked lewd, because she was not a lewd dancer.

(Ann, you're forgiven Posted Image. I think we all suffer from some strain of the "If I think it, it's OK; if you think it, it's prudery" -- fill in any word you want for "prudery") It all comes from a desire, I think, for other people to see the same things in a work that we do.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):