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Jane Simpson

NYCB after Martins?

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All the talk about NYCB on other threads made me wonder how people see the future of the company. Say, 5 years after Peter Martins retires, what would you want/expect the company to looke like? Who would be running it - dancer, choreographer, administrator...? Would Martins' own ballets still be danced? What proportion of the rep would be Balanchine? Would there be more imported works, more classics?

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What an interesting, and scary, topic.

Despite what one might think of some of his decisions, Martins has done a commendable job of shepherding and husbanding the company. I'd like to think the board would appoint a director who understands the company's roots, and who won't try to turn it upside down.

If this was a horserace, I'd put my money on Wheeldon right now. If he doesn't get the Royal Ballet instead.

[ 07-09-2001: Message edited by: Manhattnik ]

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The great thing about appointing someone like Wheeldon would be that the company would again have a gifted creator at its heart. Martins has of course made some nice ballets, but it seems to me that he hasn't known how to use his dancers well, to choreograph things that advance them. Already Wheeldon has pushed Ansanelli ahead light years. Also, he really appreciates (and, I think, understands) the style of Balanchine and Robbins; I can see him advancing that, as well.

Would the board ever want to bring Farrell back?

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Martins is what, 50 something? That means that, unless he gets bored, he's going to be around at least 10 and maybe 20 or more years, so it's a bit premature to be writing his obit.

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I agree, Stan, but I don't think Jane meant to be writing his obit, or in the hopes that he'd be gone. I think her question is a good one, because I think it's the next director who will really determine the shape of the company.

I'd also agree with Manhattnik that Martins has shepherded the company well, generally speaking; he's kept the shape of the company. In all our talks about internationalization, NYCB hasn't come up as a bad example, and with reason. I think the structure of what Balanchine and Kirstein built is still there. I think they'd recognize it. And I think that is no small accomplishment, given the current ballet world.

So the Next Director will really matter. If that structure has settled a bit oddly and could use some adjustment here and there, it's the next one who will snap it back in place -- or push it further off. (I think if you follow the history of the Royal Ballet, you see this pattern.)

As for the repertory, personally, I'd hate for it to become an omnivore company. I want companies to maintain their identities, and NYCB is Balanchine's baby. Robbins, of course, deserves a place as well. Whether any ballets from the last 18 years will survive? Again that depends on who's next. I definitely hope the trend to doing "the classics" is gone, but I fear it isn't. I'm saddened that a whole generation of dancegoers will have that "Swan Lake" as their model, and I don't want to see City Ballet do "Merry Widow" or "Madame Butterfly," or "Le Corsaire."

The real paradox will be when the company gets a choreographer who is on Balanchine's level, or who catches the public's imagination. That's when Balanchine will begin to disappear, or, at best (given what's happened elsewhere) become the company's Festival choreographer: works carefully (or uncarefully) maintained and dragged out for special occasions. At first once a year, then every five, then..... (Disclaimer: no, that's not what I want to happen; it's a prediction.)

[ 07-09-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Is it the norm to hand the reigns over to someone who will choreograph for the company?

I like Wheeldon, but I'd like to see the company run by someone who's Balanchine rooted, who didn't come from another company. Suki (who's last name I can't spell) from SAB might be a candidate.

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Diana, I think that's a very good question. NYCB's identity has always been that it's a creative institution rather than a custodial one. (Meaning the new works come from in-house choreographers. With very rare exceptions -- Balanchine's stripped down "Les Sylphides" being one -- the repertory has always been generated in house.

Of course, nothing is written in stone. If the board felt that it was more important to preserve Balanchine's works than keep that tradition, they could certainly put in a conservator, someone who wasn't necessarily a choreographer but whose primary interest was to preserve as much of that choreography as possible, even at the expense of his own career. (My personal Ballet Hero is Hans Beck, a choreographer of no small talent -- he did those solos in Napoli -- who didn't choreograph but, instead, saved 17 of Bournonville's works for 35 years.)

This makes it interesting. For whom would you vote? The choreographer or the conservator? (Not suggesting a change now, to be clear, but, as Jane postulated, when the current director resigns, happily, at a ripe old age.)

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The choreographer.

Without new work I think many dancers and companies stagnate. They have to move with the times. I think Wheeldon is very gifted, though very young. In another ten years he probably could run an important company like NYCB very well. In ten years I think he would definitly learn how to preserve as well as create.

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It might not hurt for the administrative/creative functions to be shared or separated. Yes, Balanchine did everything, but that doesn't mean that everyone who follows him can or should. Not all choreographers have a taste or talent for administration, and it seems reasonable to recognize this.

As for the choreographer/conservator question, that might be very difficult to settle, depending on the choreographer. Someone who is working at Balanchine's level is not going to be wildly interested in spending a lot of time curating someone else's stuff, however distinguished, and understandably so. Since we're talking about someone of formidable creative powers here, it is reasonable to think that he (yes, I know, I'm not using the P.C. he/she, but let's get real) will have his own ideas about style and those ideas will differ from Balanchine's in many respects. In the worst-case scenario, you might have a fundamental stylistic conflict, and in such a conflict it's probable that the works whose maker is alive and monitoring their care and feeding have a better chance of survival. At the very least, you'd have to bring someone else in to keep an eye on the Balanchine/Robbins repertory.

Having said that, I don't think we have to worry about a new Balanchine popping up any time soon. But when he does show up, I suspect he'll want to put his own stamp on a company and not spend his time genuflecting to someone else's accomplishments.

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In answer to several questions, I don't think that either Farrell or Suki Schorer are logical candidates to replace Martins at some point in the feature. Farrell and Martins are similiar in age and Schorer is probably 10 years older.

Happily, there are many people on staff about Martins age or younger who are looking after the Balanchine and Robbins repertoire. And I think the tradition of highly schooled ballet masters will continue and preserve these works. People like Sean Lavery and Rosemary Dunleavy already play important roles in the artistic administration of the company, so a new "choreographer/artistic director" would not be going it alone.

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I'd like to underscore Liebs' last point, which I think is very important -- that the new director would not be going it alone, because there are people on staff that would continue the company's traditions.

I think, though, that it may be dangerous to assume this. Yes, it's the way it's supposed to work, and I don't think there is any reason at the present time to believe it wouldn't work, but the past decade has seen such upheaval in the ballet world internationally that I don't think it's certain. Two or three different people on the board, who knows? A financial crisis we can't foresee..... There are companies that have been turned upside down and passed from director to director with traditions broken, or no chance of a tradition growing. That's why I thought it was worth spending so much time on the situation in Boston. I think we need to be aware of these things are they're happening. Otherwise, we're left in a desert saying, "when did they cut down all the trees?"

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LMCTech you stated: "Without new work I think many dancers and companies stagnate. They have to move with the times"

I might be getting off subject a bit here, but with NYCB being a company that develops in house choreography I just wonder if that new choreography is strong enough to sustain? Granted, a lot of new ballets are done at NYCB but very few seem to have staying power. I think NYCB would most definitely have someone looking after the Balanchine/Robbins rep. but I don't know that someone new would feel the need to tinker with the huge rep already there.

Is it necessary for NYCB to move with the times? I suppose it depends on whether you're a fan of the new or the old.

Are Wheeldon's works really "new" either?

Sorry if I got off topic, I think it's a good topic but one that is hard to answer because I don't think NYCB has figured out the direction it's going in now.

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As your writings on Bournonville show so well, Alexandra, it's awfully hard to get a ballet "back" once its tradition of being performed is broken. I am glad that NYCB's roots are so strong and deep in this city (Balanchine was very smart indeed to want a school before a company!), but ballet roots are always fragile. I shudder to think of a board that decides it needs to prove that it can dance Giselle as well as anyone!

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Manhattnik, I toyed with the idea of having a thread that said, "Top 10 ways to get NYCB off its moorings," and definitely "Giselle" -- how about the Mats Ek "Giselle?" or should there be a new version -- was one of them. And then I thought, why give anyone a battle plan? (with no disrespect to either board or management of NYCB, but there could always be the Hostile Takeover model that worked so well, so quickly, in Copenhagen :-) )

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Oh, let's cast an NYCB Giselle, shall we?

Giselle: Miranda Weese

Albrecht: Damian Woetzel

Wilfred: Jared Angle

Berthe: Deanna McBrearty

Duke of Courland: Albert Evans

Peasant Pas: Tom Gold and Janie Taylor

Myrtha: Monique Meunier

Moyna: Pascal van Kipnis

Zulma: Jennifer Tinsley

I'm sorry, I just had to....

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Oh, how could I have forgotten?

Bathilde: Helene Alexopolous

Hilarion: Sebastien Marcovicci

Marcovicci would also play Hilarion with the alternate leads:

Giselle: Yvonne Borree

Albrecht: Nikolaj Hubbe

[ 07-10-2001: Message edited by: Manhattnik ]

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As delightfully wicked as this is, before the thread gets totally off-track, I think it's an interesting, serious question, and I'd like to read some more answers :)

I'd add that in addition to A) Creator and B) Conservator, it is possible to have C) Creator/Conservator and D) neither. Always looking on the bright side....

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There could be worse models than the Joffrey when Robert Joffrey was running it. Joffrey collected interesting, historical ballets just as others might collect Old Masters. Arpino created the modern, with-it stuff. It made for a company with a distinctly split personality, yet I think it was very successful at what it did.

NYCB is fortunate in that it already has several wings of Old Masters in its repertory.

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I would like to clarify my previous statement.

A company needs to do new works. Whether they stay in the repertory is another matter. Many mediocre new works stay in the repertory of a company for a few seasons then disappear. But NYCB will always do Balanchine. They should also get the experience of creating a ballet, because it is a totally different process and necessary to a dancers development as an artist.

I worry that a leader that is only a conservator would lose good dancers because they were not getting challenged as they could in a company with a leader who makes new works (preferably good ones). I suppose they could bring in outside choreographers, but that lacks continuity. I don't worry that the NYCB board would ever choose a leader that had no interest in conserving.

I also don't worry that the next leader of the NYCB would create so many new works that the Balanchine (and Robbins, I might add) would get pushed out. Those older works after all, sell tickets.

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When the beloved, legendary founder-head of an artistic institution passes on, the immediate successor is almost always the fall guy. The press and the public, in their grief for the great one, tend to attack every move of the hapless new director as retrograde, inept, or disrespectful of the institution's tradition. That person is then hounded out of position, and, their need for a blood sacrifice sated, the fans are able to accept the efforts of the third person to take on the job. The classic example is New York's Public Theater: When Joe Papp died, the directorship went to the unjustly maligned Joanne Akalaitis, and from her to George C. Wolfe.

The interesting thing about Martins is how he has managed to hold on to his directorship, despite unceasing, bitter criticism from some who see nothing of merit in the work he has done for nearly twenty years. These are the same people who will be poised to attack HIS successor.

Whoever takes over, one can only hope and pray that it will be an actual ballet dancer, someone who has danced Balanchine, Robbins' and yes, Martins' ballets.

Over the years, many choreographic darlings of the avant-garde have been proposed as the "true" heirs of Balanchine, mainly because they said they were. One can only pray that the company's board will act prudently when the time comes, and choose wisely.

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In general, this may be true, that the successor of a great person is maligned unfairly, but I don't think it is always the case. Ashton took over the Royal Ballet from de Valois, one of the all time great, imaginary leaders, and there was no outburst of criticism of his leadership. By and large, he was praised for his additions to their repertoire, especially for bringing in Nijinska. (No grumbling about doing old choreography, or cries for the new.)

It is certainly true that many New York writers have been critical of Peter Martins recently, but that attitude developed gradually. If you read things written soon after he assumed the position, people were, as I recall, extremely positive. And one of the first major things he did was revive Liebeslieder Walzer, which was, in my opinion, brilliantly cast and carefully rehearsed, and was greated by almost uniform rapture--I don't remember any complaints. Certainly Croce, who people would put firmly in the anti-Martins camp now I think, praised it and him to the skys. I think it is a little too easy to dismiss all the Peter Martins comments as a knee-jerk reaction of post-genius depression.

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I agree, particularly with the last sentence. I also think one's perceptions of how Martins' directorship is perceived in the press depends very much on which press one reads. The daily press is generally very supportive. The weekly/monthly/occasional press is mixed. The subscriber/audience/fan reaction is, of course, impossible to measure. It would be interesting to take a poll :)

For regular NYCB-goers, what's your perception of the kind of direction people would like the company to take? More Balanchine/Robbins? More Diamond Projects? More Wheeldon? More something else? Has Wheeldon's appointment as resident choreographer meant that he's seen as the annointed successor?

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i always felt that at least these days, a company would do better to have a director who was not a choreographer, and not necessarily only a conservator but a combination of conservator and nurturer. another balanchine (in the sense of the scope of his genius) would be nice, but i'm not sure that it could happen again these days, not for all practical purposes. and if that is the case, then someone with love for what came before and enthusiasm for what is coming ahead, along with a nurturing spirit for what is, might be just the thing.

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I keep reading this: another Balanchine would be nice but unlikely. Why is that unlikely?

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You beat me to the question, LMCTech.

Geniuses are rare, certainly, but is genius a unique occurrence?

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