Jump to content


Political correctness and ballet


  • Please log in to reply
22 replies to this topic

#1 BalletNut

BalletNut

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 573 posts

Posted 27 May 2002 - 07:57 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this may be one of those topics that some balletomanes would rather not "go there"...From the familiar vendetta against George "I want to see bones" Balanchine to ostensibly problematic portrayals of "exotic" cultures--think La Bayadere, Le Corsaire, or Bugaku--there are plenty of things in classical ballet that could be read as offensive to our enlightened sensibilities. That ballet is not supposed to be realistic is apparently common knowledge here, but I sometimes think that these issues need to be addressed in order for there to be a solid case in support of ballet--for someone who is convinced that ballet is socially backward, a simple statement of "Well, ballet isn't supposed to be for the masses" is not going to do much for the image of classical ballet. The result of all this, I think, is the proliferation of well-meaning directors and/or choreographers who attempt to draw audiences by proclaiming to subvert the classical paradigm. My concern is that by attempting to escape the inequity of the classical paradigm, one might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I hope that made sense. :mad:

#2 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 27 May 2002 - 08:43 PM

No, it made sense, Ballet Nut.

The problem is, it's hell to answer. I think the question is analogous to asking what to do about Shylock, or the relationship of Petruchio and Katharine in Taming of the Shrew. But those are only specific instances, and I think you were asking a broader question.

I think it's important to believe that classicism can reflect every society it lives in - that it never becomes irrelevant, simply because it does step out of time. It's also important that while we do create ballets and classicism for our time, we recognize the timeline we live on. Something came before us, something will come after us, we can't know the future, but we can at least know what came before us.

As to Politically Incorrect ballet - I think everyone has got to find their own way, and there will be huge debates. I also agree with you that they should be discussed openly. It's better for everyone. A classic example are blackface roles. Other people might still stage them, I would be inclined not to - it doesn't bother me that a divertissement from La Sonnambula once done in blackface has been changed - but I could also argue for a setting where the blackface was part of the decadence of the Baron's household. If nothing else, as you implied, taking it for granted is not a good option.

#3 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 29 May 2002 - 08:03 PM

I know this is a tough topic, but I hope it provokes some discussion, so here are some questions.

You're taking an intelligent, well-meaning friend to the ballet. At the end of it, s/he asks you any of the following questions:
  • Why are the women always so thin? Do they have to be?
  • Why are there so few minorities involved?
  • How come the men manipulate the women but not the other way around? Why are the women always muses and never creators?
  • Why does it have to emulate as politically repressive system as monarchy? Why isn't ballet more egalitarian?
  • It just doesn't seem relevant. What makes ballet relevant?

It wouldn't hurt to have some answers handy, now would it? (For those of us who are Jewish, it reminds me of the "What says the Wise Child?" section of the Haggadah!)

#4 BryMar1995

BryMar1995

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 38 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 07:52 AM

Yes, Leigh, it would be great to have some answers to those questions handy, because the art is under a lot of pressure, even under attack, as being anachronistic, stagnant and oppressive. Why do I have to constantly apologize for my art? It is what it is! We can also ask if those who work in classical ballet will be able to or even feel compelled to make ballet harmonius to the current paradigm (Politically Correct ballet, what would that be? Does anyone do it now?) Or is classic ballet unable to bend and flow with the times? What will the direction be for ballet in the 21st century? Evolution, revolution. or oblivion? Ballet has always had its reformers, Noverre, Fokine, Balanchine, Tudor, and DeMille. Can ballet be reformed to be more PC? Does it need to be? With the exception of Forsythe's radical revisionism, reform attempts always seems to lead to a hybid/fusion of ballet/modern. Some feel that these options are inadequate or usuitable.

I wonder sometimes if ballet is and easy target for today's PC witch hunts. Does Opera, Theater, Music or the plastic and visual arts get the same knocking? Does it depend on what lens we are taught to look at art through? Having worked in a modern dance university environment, I know that a lot of misiformation about ballet is being spread as knowledge. It comes out mainly as Modern = good, Ballet = bad.



Rick

#5 Calliope

Calliope

    Gold Circle

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 805 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 08:10 AM

I think you can take just about anything and make it politically correct. But considering nothing about politics is correct....

I look forward to the day when a woman heads a ballet company for a length of time. How we'd answer these questions.

Did Graham have these problems?

Ballet is in a sense a field of dictators, an AD, a choreographer a composter and a dancer. All doing what they individually think is correct/right.

#6 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 08:16 AM

To be fair, women have headed ballet companies, both here and in other countries. Ninette de Valois at the Royal Ballet, Marie Rambert at Ballet Rambert, Brigitte Lefevre at the POB (and several other female directors there previously), Virginia Williams at Boston Ballet as well as Anna Marie Holmes, Lucia Chase at ABT, Victoria Morgan at Cincinnati Ballet are some names that come off the top of my head. Certainly the power is disproportionate, but it isn't unheard of.

#7 Estelle

Estelle

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,706 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 08:17 AM

Originally posted by Calliope

I look forward to the day when a woman heads a ballet company for a length of time.  How we'd answer these questions.


Do you mean "as a choreographer"? Because there have been several examples of female artistic directors, at least in Europe (Lefevre, Hightower and Verdy in Paris, Haydee in Stuttgart, Pietragalla in Marseille, Glushak in Toulouse,
Terabust in Milan, Bjorn in Denmark and Finland, Gielgud in Denmark and in Australia... and also
in the past Dame Ninette de Valois, of course).

"Politically correct" isn't a common notion in French (here when people use "politiquement correct" it usually sounds negative, like "very conventional" or "hypocrit"...) but the questions Leigh asked are quite common. I've sometimes replied to "ballet is relevant" something like "is Mozart relevant?" (and often the people who ask such questions about ballet criticize classical music far less, perhaps because it's not narrative). Also, not so many people ask "why do basketball players have to be tall?" or "why do swimmers have to be tall with muscular shoulders?"...

(Leigh, it seems that we posted at the same time :) )

#8 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 08:24 AM

I'd add to "Is Mozart relevant" the fact that I think classical ballet goes beyond relevance by stepping outside of time. Formalism (something that encompasses more than just the classical here) remains durable because of its abstraction. It becomes a text that can be reread 200 years later, just like Mozart. The Four Temperaments was choreographed in 1946, and I think it has an amazing impact even today. Perhaps that isn't relevance, but it certainly is durability.

Anyone care to add to the handy answer on relevance or try for some of the others?

#9 Calliope

Calliope

    Gold Circle

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 805 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 09:55 AM

Sorry I did mean a female choreographer.

#10 BW

BW

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,048 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 10:24 AM

Isn't this along the same lines as asking if A Tale of Two Cities is still something worth while to have on our reading lists? And perhaps this is why the Christian religions decided not to use the King James Version anymore - on to the common denominator of the Revised Standard!:):rolleyes:

Estelle, I think here, we too, think of "politically correct" in a negative way! It's all about keeping up the appearances that are currently deemed acceptable isn't it?:)

I'll be back to check the rest of the responses after I ponder my next answers.

#11 dirac

dirac

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 25,312 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 11:23 AM

I think we should try not to be too defensive here; it's perfectly fair to ask why "ballet is woman" and yet (notwithstanding the examples given above of women running companies and choreographing), the great names in ballet choreography have been men, for example, and why it is that retired dancers who run companies in general tend to be ex-danseurs, while their former partners tend to wind up running the school when they run anything. It's also perfectly understandable that someone would go to the ballet and wonder why quite a few of the women have scrawny arms, jutting collarbones, and sticklike legs, or why African-Americans are out in force for Ailey or Bill T. Jones, while at the ballet it often seems to be ain't-nobody-here-but-us-prosperous-white-folks, and could it be possible to bridge that difference somehow? It's not attacking ballet to ask Leigh's questions; it's just, well, asking the questions.



For myself, I use the term "politically correct" sparingly, if at all. It once had its uses as a characterization of excessive forms of sensitivity in relation to racial/sexual matters, but nowadays it seems to be deployed as a denigration of virtually any such sensitivity.

#12 BalletNut

BalletNut

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 573 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 12:43 PM

There's cultural sensitivity and then there's what I can only refer to as "the mushy middle cop-out.";) The latter is what usually gets referred to as Politically Correct these days, and in my opinion it does absolutely nothing to remedy society's deep seated injustices. Rather, it's only a palliative for the privileged groups to feel tolerant without examining their own beliefs, some of which are--horrors!--prejudiced. :rolleyes:
I think we have already established that this kind of thinking is problematic at best. Lest anyone think otherwise, I am a feminist and a registered Democrat. I love ballet. And I don't want a discussion of tolerance, egalitarianism, and dance to turn into a session of feminazi-bashing, liberal-bashing, or Balanchine-bashing.

#13 BW

BW

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,048 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 01:05 PM

Gee, please forgive me, if what I wrote sounded defensive - as, I assure you, I didn't mean it to come off that way.

BalletNut,

These are all worthy questions and, I think, deserve thoughtful answers. In bringing up literature from our past, I thought it was a fair way of dealing with the relevancy question.

In re your points about injustice - there's no doubt about it. Let's just look at the price of a ticket, unless one wants to be up in the fourth ring! And then, you really do need a pair of good binoculars. Actually, we should go back to the ballet classes that the dancers had to take in order to become the artists that they are - ballet classes aren't cheap either! Nor are music lessons! This being said, not everyone who's in a "minority" is necessarily poor or unable to afford these things. We all know that in this country the minority is made up of people who hold the arts in high esteem. :) Actually there was someone on this board, I think, who is involved with an organization that brings dance into the classrooms of the most disadvantaged ... and then there's Eliot Feld, and Jacques D'Amboise and their organizations that work with the inner city youth.

Recently, I heard a short piece on NPR, discussing the value of the arts and that finally their impact on an individual's learning curve has been studied - and it's a proven fact that if children are exposed to music, dance and fine arts at a young age, and that they are given just as much weight as academics, that their test scores show marked improvement. This being now "proven" may offer some hope for the public. Just possibly it will trickle down to the ballet companies who will start to offer certain, seasonal, special, cut rate prices so that more people will be able to come to see their performances. Hope springs eternal. :)

Now, as for the why the women are so thin? Well, thankfully they're all not skeletal, but am I correct in saying that the thinness factor really became the "norm" during Balanchine's time? Hasn't the NYCB been known for that, at least in the past? Today, I don't think that this is so true...although they are certainly not corpulent.

#14 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 02:06 PM

Back to ballet itself, rather than the management and adminstration thereof:

Isn't judging works of the past by the standards and moral climate of today considered "presentism"? And like all those other "isms", isn't that Politically Incorrect?;)

#15 vagansmom

vagansmom

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 543 posts

Posted 30 May 2002 - 04:21 PM

I LOVE your take on it, Major Mel. Hmm, Presentism - I look forward to bringing that up next time my friends disparage the classics.

I've thought a lot on this subject. It's interesting to me that ballet is judged on a PC scale by the very same people - my co-teachers- in a Montessori school- who strongly believe in presenting our students with a classical education. Our literature and cultural curriculum is heavily laced with Greek and Roman mythology. That's acceptable and laudable. Same with Shakespeare. Our elementary school kids perform Shakespeare plays throughout the year. We encourage it. We take our kids into the city for symphonies twice a year. The music teacher introduces them to opera.

But ballet? "It's degrading to women." "It's passe" ...even when the ballets are based on the very same myths and the very same Shakespeare stories.

:confused: Scratching my head on this one.


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):