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#16 Guest_dancewriter_*

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Posted 06 October 2000 - 03:19 PM

This is a fascinating thread! It brought to mind a ballet choreographed by Jiri Kylian, though the name at this point eludes me (Troy maybe?) Anyway, it was a pure male spectacle, the dancers clad only in loincloths. I watched this with delight. (At the time, I had little experience with all male troupes, and the general male potency of it was new and exciting.) I of course didn't get the sense that this was a hetero- or homosexually oriented piece, and didn't think to myself "I wonder if any of them are gay (or straight)?". That people could see this piece and feel it is homosexually oriented, as there are no females in it, saddens me, as it is obviously not a piece in any way about one or the other, but rather the sexuality of man alone. A group of energetic, acrobatic males in joyous competition, it was exciting, funny, and eye-opening. I wish more people looked at a piece's sexuality this way, rather than caving to one perspective or another. Posted Image

#17 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 06 October 2000 - 03:28 PM

Do you perhaps mean Troy Game by Robert North?

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#18 cargill

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Posted 06 October 2000 - 03:47 PM

Ann, I was going to answer the Agon question too. I think now it is done pretty much as a hot number, but I think that approach is pretty much Heather Watts and continued. If you ever get a chance to see the tape of Diana Adams I think you will be amazed at how cool and dignified it is. Muriel Maffre at SFB is the most recent dancer I have seen that approached it cooly, and it was staggerinly good. The spread leg moment, which I absolutely hate the way it is currently done at NYCB, was just a part of a constant movement and was not held or emphasized. It was just odd shapes dispassionately danced, but the cumulative effect was oddly beautiful. So don't give up on it yet!

#19 Ann

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Posted 06 October 2000 - 05:06 PM

Alexandra

I don't think that any of the dancers themselves are actually 'lewd', nor do I think that they deliberately set out to make this particular step look lewd. I don't believe that the way Agon is danced today can be that far away from how Balanchine choreographed the step originally; at some point, he must have said 'lie on your back, dear, and open your legs wide'. It is difficult to imagine how any dancer could have made the resultant vulgarity look respectable. The best they can do is to perform the movement as rapidly as the music permits while maintaining a bland facial expression.

But Leigh, I would love to have seen what Diana Adams made of Agon - wasn't it choreographed on her? Is the tape commercially available? Certainly I didn't see it in the shop at the Lincoln Centre when I was there last year.

#20 Alexandra

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Posted 06 October 2000 - 05:12 PM

Ann, I think several people have described how the movement can be, has been, and is performed so that it doesn't look lewd. Whether the dancers are setting out to be lewd, or "just doing the step" or it's the result of a mechanical matter of timing, the result is the same. It's not just at NYCB. Dance Theatre of Harlem has done it that way, too. But I'm just repeating what Mary and Leigh have said, that the ballet has changed over time.

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 06 October 2000 - 05:50 PM

A few observations on different points:

Ann - the 1960 tape of Agon is available at the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts in the Dance Collection. It is not commercially available, however, it is open to viewing without requesting permission. The recording is from a kinescope of Canadian Broadcast Corp.'s L'Heure du Concert, and was filmed in Montreal. The members of the original cast include Adams, Arthur Mitchell, Todd Bolender, and Roy Tobias. Francia Russell was in the corps of the original cast, in this, she performs on of the two women in the first pas de trois, with a duet entirely different from the original (and choreographed on her). If there is a dance library in the UK, it's possible this tape may have made its way there. For more information on it, I wrote an article in the Fall 1997 issue of Ballet Review entitled, "Four Decades of Agon."

Back to sexuality. I think Alexandra is right that "lewdness" is more in the coloration of the performance than in the steps, but no choreographic motivation is utterly impersonal or singular. Balanchine loved, was fascinated by, was aroused by women's bodies. William Weslow has more than a few lewd things to say about Balanchine's attitude towards women in Francis Mason's "I Remember Balanchine." He basically said Balanchine liked tall women, especially in extensions, because he could then get under and sniff. All well and good for the National Enquirer, and mildly titillating for all of us, (and not documented except by oral history, by the way) but does it make me look at the famous extensions in the second movement in Symphony in C with jaundiced eyes? Nope. They are still part of a pure choreographic design, whatever might have been thought at the moment of choreography.

A personal moment of a similar sort. The most recent concert had a classical ballet in it that was as pure as I could make it - Quodlibet. I choreographed the finale using a dancer from last year who was acting as a "place marker" until I could get a permanent cast member. Abraham is the fiance of another of my dancers, endearingly heterosexual and blessed with a beautiful physique and leg lines (and he is enjoyably vain about all this, like many dancers).

In the final to Quodlibet the two women take his hands, then pose. Then he turns, then they turn and pose. It's musical, and it forms a classical design in space. It's a totally apropos series of movements. But I also knew I set that particular moment because he has a beautiful butt (to be blunt!) and he knew it too, and made jokes about it. Mary made more than one joke about "The Russian Wink" as Abraham turned to pose in pointe tendue, a term they ascribed to comments about Nureyev, and that I had never heard before. There was nothing lewd in the moment in performance, and I hadn't even thought about this story until we began this discussion, but I guess it shows that even in our most classical moments, we are sensual beings as well!

Putting aside my own moment of lewdness, I think a choreographer who ought to come up in this discussion is Hans van Manen. I think much of his output as a choreographer attempts to reconcile classicism and sensuality. Do people think he succeeds?

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#22 ORZAK

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Posted 06 October 2000 - 08:01 PM

Part of what constitutes lewdness, sexuality and sensuality, it seems to me, is a child of the time in which it is born. Nijinsky in Le Apre Midi d'un Faun (Afternoon of a Faun) was considered terribly lewd to the Paris of 1911. When the Joffrey did it a few years ago - and it was televised no one blinked - or swooned.

I also think that almost everything we do, view and enjoy has a deal of sexuality implicit in it. There is always a certain tension between the genders. The difference is in the explicitness of it. The bedroom scene in Romeo & Juliet is certainly an example of implied sexuality. I, for one, do not go to the ballet (or most anywhere else for that matter) for explicit sexuality.

As for the matter of the assumption that any male associated with the ballet, either as a dancer or as a member of the audience, is as most assumptions often are, trite and ill informed. We are never going to banish those assumptions from the face of the earth, I am afraid. A man who is not homosexual and either dances or enjoys the ballet - does not need to defend himself or his tastes in any way. If I happened to enjoy smoking cigars ringside at a boxing match, I wouldn't bother defending it.

Ironically, up until the advent of the pointe shoe, dance including ballet, was the purview of the male. Women were excluded from the ballet early in its history. Certainly in folk dance, men are predominant - women mostly filling secondary roles. Basheva

#23 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 October 2000 - 08:57 PM

And a brief return to the "Icarus" ballet from the 70s Joffrey rep - the work was an exhausting pas de deux between two men, putatively father and son, in the midst of a huge mirrored construction. The title of the work was "The Relativity of Icarus", and I never figured out what the hell that meant, but there was another character in the work - The Sun - danced by Ann Marie de Angelo, a most mystical and mysterious part, near acrobatics, indeed, sometimes over the line into it. Her character was both hot and cool at the same time, but unmistakably female, providing a contrast to the two men, usually danced by Ted Nelson and Russell Sultzbach. The homoerotic element was there, of course, but it was muted by the strangeness of the sets and music, which was by Josť Serebrier. It was disturbing, but not, I think, because of its portrayal of a sort of sexuality, but by the nearly Brechtian Verfremdungheit (foreignness).

#24 Guest_TheBangGroup_*

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Posted 07 October 2000 - 11:36 AM

I've just joined this group. It's a pleasure to see so much thoughtful writing in it.
I think Agon is a very sexy ballet and I like sexy ballets. I like when the ballerina parts her legs on the floor. I don't accept categories like "bad taste" as being relevent. I don't think "lewdness" is any more to be avoided than "wholesomeness" is. I think Balanchine was unburdened by the desire to flatter middle class moralities. I'm glad about that.
The central pas de deux in Agon seems to me to be about a complicated, adult, urban relationship. Sex is part of such relationships. Balanchine made ballet expressive of contemporary psycho-sexual concerns at the same time that he was inventing his own neo classicism. This is partly why Agon is thrilling. The other thing that is so sexy about Agon is its rhythm. The syncopations and suspensions in the actual phrases are just plain hot.
David

#25 Guest_Anthony_*

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Posted 07 October 2000 - 03:29 PM

I was going to avoid getting in to this discussion - it's way too big and complex for me - but Leigh wrote something which caught my attention; so I thought I'd drop in anyway.

"Objects of ideal" - I like that expression, Leigh, and the way that you distinguish between "ideal" and "desire". I'm sure psychologists could tell me with great enthusiasm that the dividing line between the two is very thin, or perhaps non-existent - to which I would simply reply, 'rubbish'. I don't intend to get roped in to a discussion about the deep recesses of the human mind; but I do think the two sentiments are quite separate. Why is this important?

Well, I think part of the reason many 'normal'/macho men feel alienated by ballet is that they're affected by seeing the male performers, as well as the women, and that frightens them. With the women, it's sexual attraction - all well and good. But seeing men...? It's a somewhat different sensation, but they don't stop for long enough to realise that. Defensive mode cuts in.

But notice that sporting events are usually split in to two very clear categories - Men's events and Women's events. So in this field the same 'normal' men aren't confronted with the confusing coincidence of the two sentiments they experience when seeing dance. When it's the men's relays, and they're watching guys running (in tights, most likely) - well, it's OK, the sportsmen are impressive athletes, and the (male) spectators are happy to acknowledge their envy of the athletes. When they're whistling at the women athletes, it's for a different reason, and no-one doubts that.

I'm quite happy to admit that when I watch ballet, I'm (often) attracted to the women, but that I'm also green with envy at the guys. I wish I could do what they do, and I wish I had the physique. But I do know the difference between wanting to be like someone, and wanting to take someone home with me. Posted Image

I've said enough here - I'm not going to get involved with the 'sexy ballets' discussion, I think that boils down to a matter of taste. Perhaps I'm not entirely liberated, whatever that is, but I do find overtly sexual dance a bit tacky. For me, dance and music belong in a very special category of their own, that resides somewhat above sexuality. Other people are entitled to their own opinions.

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Leigh, I'm sorry if you get hacked off at guys who overdo the "I'm straight, honest!" routine. I can understand how annoying it is, particularly since they're trying to distance themselves from being gay as if there's something wrong with it. In an ideal world, men shouldn't be dissuaded from taking an interest in dance for fear of being branded 'gay' - but then, in an ideal world, being gay shouldn't itself be a stigma.


A.

#26 Alexandra

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Posted 07 October 2000 - 04:09 PM

Hello, David. It's good to see you here.

One story of what "Agon" is "about" is that it was created shortly after Tanaquil LeClerq was receiving physical therapy for polio, and Balanchine had been fascinated by watching the therapists manipulate her useless limbs. (I don't mean to suggest that "Agon" is that literal.)

David, I object to lewdness or blatant vulgarity in ballet not because of middle-class sensibilities, but because it's against the aesthetic of the art form. Modern dance can be anything -- lewd (or chaste, I suppose) -- but the point of ballet is to be artificial (not in the sense of fake, but in the sense of deliberately not real).

The larger point is whether it's appropriate to this particular ballet or not. There's nothing in written or oral tradition that says that pas de deux is "about" sex, or that the woman is supposed to spread her legs and grind her hips. It depends on the performer, and it's changed over time -- and has gotten much more lewd since Balanchine's death. There's a similar moment in "Tarantella" -- the woman does a plie, on pointe, in a wide second position. Some women turn the plie into a squat and deliver it with a knowing look to the audience that is extremely vulgar. Others do it quickly, and it's a witty step.

In an experimental piece, the choreogrpaher can do anything he wants (I can still call it tasteless, but I have less ground to stand on Posted Image ) But in a classical ballet, it's not prudery or pettiness that points out deviations.

#27 ORZAK

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Posted 07 October 2000 - 05:17 PM

Alexandra, I agree completely!! It seems to me that the underlying goal of the ballet is "beauty". Whether it is portraying angst, temptation, love, hate, etc. -it is presenting the body at its most beautiful in movement. Other dance forms are, of course, often beautiful - but that is usually not their principle aim.

Even in moments of great emotional impact - the toes are pointed, the body is aligned, the movement flows - even frenetically - it flows. That, in my opinion, sets the ballet apart. It is also that "apartness" that allows the ballet to deal with the "ideal" and even the "fanciful" - wilis, sylphs, swans ( as Alexandra said above). In the mad scene in Giselle there is not a moment when the ballerina is not beautiful to see.

Comedy in the ballet is often portrayed by destroying that beauty. Toes are turned in -arms flop; that is part of the comedic aspect in ballet, in my opinion.

[This message has been edited by ORZAK (edited October 07, 2000).]

[This message has been edited by ORZAK (edited October 07, 2000).]

#28 Guest_TheBangGroup_*

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Posted 07 October 2000 - 06:16 PM

Actually, I think ballet is marvelous at conveying passion of several sorts, sexual and otherwise. Lewdness is one of many things a ballet can convey,sometimes memorably, as in Agon. I do think objecting to lewdness in general represents a middle class ethic. In the sense that propriety is favored over substance. Pas de deux needn't be about sex at all of course; they can be about many things. But I think eschewing sexual expression in so rich an art form as ballet is incomprehensible so I may not be an acute observer of this phenomenon. I think Balanchine often revelled in things some people considered "vulgar" and it's part of why he was great. Choreographers of ballet ought to get as close as they can to the "truth" and not worry too much about whether the "truth" is vulgar.
David

#29 kfw

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Posted 07 October 2000 - 09:40 PM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by TheBangGroup:
But I think eschewing sexual expression in so rich an art form as ballet is incomprehensible so I may not be an acute observer of this phenomenon.

David, no one has been talking about ballet eschewing sexual expression. It's just that as several people have said, ballet creates an artificial world and shows us an idealized beauty. Just as a romantic word can be a lot sexier than a blatant come-on, the sexuality in this idealized world is a lot deeper, ultimately, than mere vulgarity is. Lewdness is simply out of place here. It's not a matter of prudery, but of aesthetic taste.

#30 Juliet

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Posted 07 October 2000 - 10:25 PM

I don't think ballet creates an artificial world. A lot of Sleeping Beauty is a good deal more real to me than "reality."

I like sexy ballets. What is lewd for me may not be what is lewd for you. What is sexy for me may not be sexy to you. A group of men dancing is extremely sexy , I think, but it might not be for you--this ballet, this week.

I am not looking for idealization when I look at a stage. Beauty is different for everyone; at different times in a person's life the definition may vary. I dislike vulgarity: my definition is quite different than yours may be, however.

I don't think Agon is sexy in the least. Depending on the performer, the "look" can vary enormously--as pointed out in the note on Tarantella, a step can either look quick and saucy or like a woman is inserting a tampon.

I happen to like MacMillan (I am not even ducking!)...although not, I must say, Manon. What I find sexy in Romeo and Juliet might be the music one night, the way she touches him another, Mercutio, the third....

I think there is room for tremendous difference in this world....that said, the grand pdd in Sleeping Beauty is one of the loveliest things I know: because there is room for scope and imagination. Scope and imagination is the sexiest thing I know and what better place for it than ballet....

We all see differently.

[This message has been edited by Juliet (edited October 07, 2000).]


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