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romantic pas de deux for same-sex couples


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#1 Paul Parish

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 08:58 PM

I've just been re-reading one of my favorite dance-writers, Keith White, who wrote thoughtful candid , subtle essays about dancing for a gay paper in SF until he died about 10 years ago..... of AIDS, not yet 40.....

He was a gentle brave guy, and also a real dancer -- Violette Verdy had offered him a scholarship to SAB when she spotted him in Sarasota Florida (taking class from Trinette Singleton), which he declined in order to finish his design degree -- but when he moved to New York he took class from David Howard and Nancy Bielski and others and hung out with the Joffrey dancers (Bobby Blankshine was his best friend) and wrote the first history of the Joffrey, did site evaluations for the NY arts council....

SOmeone we'd have all loved -- I miss him so bad -- and maybe some of you remember him (Mme. Hermine? Leigh? Glebb? but you all may be too young, he moved here in 1980)

In NY, Keith ran a nightclub (Flamingo?), worked for CBS at one point, knew show biz as a working pro, could design and construct the costumes (he worked for Grace at one point I think), and hte sets, play the music, do the steps, coach the dancers, and write in such a way that ten years later his reviews, if you love dancing, you realize SEEM like reporting but in fact are giving you the real deal (for 25 dollars per article).

I say all this because the thing he said he most wanted to see at hte ballet, that he believed most people wanted to see, and that ballet could uniquely deliver, was romance -- not just sensuality, not just beauty, but character and personality and physicality and technique and art AND love.... and he wanted to see more of it than was appearing; he loved it in heterosexual duets, and sort of deplored the Forsythe Love SOngs (and noticed that Forsythe himself had lost interest interest in Love Songs and had pulled it from his own repertory) --

and he was especially looking for same-sex pas de deux that would do this for gay and Lesbian couples..... He instanced "Gemini," the male duet from Lubovitch's Concerto 622, and duets from Petit's Intermittences du Coeur as some the best so far....

Are any of these still in repertory anywhere? Anybody seen them? Are there new worthy contenders? i'm posting this at least in part in answer to Leigh's and Alexandra's requests for "what WOULD you like to see a chorepgrapher do for you....... that's what Keith would have wanted. If you want to get the audience back to the theater, and not just friends and family, give them a romance with some depth to it, and not just moves nobody's seen before, nor mere exploitation of the body beautiful (dancers' beauty is a pre-requisite, not the thing itself).

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 09:13 PM

There are teases -- but I don't think any real, open honest ones in ballet. (There are LOTS in modern. I can't count how many "my partner died of AIDS" dances, I've seen, some of them very moving--and interesting.)

There are a lot of male-male pas de deux by Bejart, and some of them are very sensual (at least from a woman's point of view -- I'm thinking of "Songs of a Wayfarer.") But they're not openly romantic, at least not the ones I've seen.

Arlene Croce wrote a piece about Smuin's "Romeo and Juliet" which I only remember vaguely, but I do remember that she wrote that one of the reasons she thought that R&J was so popular was because of "all those boys." But it's still hidden sensualitiy/sexualiity.

A story, which I think Paul will appreciate. One summer I happened to see five "my partner died of AIDS" dances in a row, one each week. And the night editor at the Post that I drew every week was a really nice guy, but he didn't have a clue. Male-male duets were not part of his world. He didn't mind them. He just didn't expect them. So he'd read the copy and he'd say. "Wait a minute. You say 'then Harry and Bob dance; it could be a love duet, it could be a" -- whatever. brother/brother, caregiver/patient, whatever. "Yes," I'd say. "But Harry and Bob are both men's names -- OH!"

#3 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 09:29 PM

Paul -

I moved back to NYC in '84 after college, so Keith White was sadly before my time.

To the broader question though - this one is a tough issue.
The toughest problem for ballet is it doesn't have the vocabulary (yet?) to do this. For male/male partnering, the classical paradigm is loaded with traps. Do you turn one of the men into a "girl"? I don't know if anyone recalls Ulysses Dove's Serious Pleasures for ABT from the early 90s, but that had some male partnering that so trenchantly depicted an S/M relationship it made my skin crawl.

For female partnering, the situation's tough because of pointe work. The pointe shoe is not made for stability, and it's really not meant to remain flat on the floor either. A woman in a pointe shoe really can't bear weight.

I know from experience that male/male partnering is harder than hell to choreograph. It tends to fall into archetypical boxes - "Buddy" competitions (Great Galloping Gottschalk comes to mind) - rivals or enemies (Iago and Othello) and occasionally lovers. I've always admired the male duet in Agon because it's *just* a duet with almost no overtones. You can make a female duet that's just a duet, but to mangle Balanchine, you might be able to put eight men onstage and it's nobody, but put two onstage and it's a Story. The best loving pairing I've seen so far is Lubovich's Concerto 622. It's the only romantic male/male pas de deux where the issue seemed organic, rather than forced. A friend in Holland mentioned that van Manen has been able to make dances that reached that goal as well, but I haven't seen them.

My earliest attempts (from '93 - '95) were a sort of artistic coming out, and I wouldn't say they were romantic. I also found, that like coming out, once I had finally "said it", I felt released of a need to repeat myself. Of course, this is personal. Other people can and should work differently. In '01 I did "Duet" where I tried to see if I could make "just a duet" where the men had no relationship other than two dancers onstage. I wanted to see how I did if I stripped things bare, and what I wanted to add to that foundation.

#4 Paul Parish

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 09:38 PM

Thanks, Alexandra....NOthing against any of those, but NB they're all elegies....
and forgive me, but there's always a threat of emotional blackmail in "this is my story" -- the artists almost always fail to come up with art that truly encompasses that plight, but have to sentimentallize.... as Aristotle said, poetry is truer than history

i'm not asking for a same-sex version of "poet and sleepwalker marry and move to Scarsdale" -- but for something with poetic resonance in a generous range of emotions, with somehow complex characterizations -- not saying the protagonists have to be as complex as say James -- could be as simple, psychologically, as Gennaro, but it would be great if they seemed to be representative people recognizably in love and not necessarily doomed....

of course, there aren;'t many paradigms of modern love out htere right now in ANY medium -- and pop music has been devoted to anger for 20 years, so we're starving for it on many fronts....

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 09:47 PM

I agree with you on the emotional blackmail. The same summer as all those AIDS dances (and of course, this is NOT to in any way minimize the pain of losing anyone to that, or any other, illness) all the women were doing "When I was 8" -- slap side of head three times with open palm -- "I was raped" -- turn three times, glower at audience -- "by my FAH ther" [Our dancers talk. It's a DC thing.] Not to minimize that, either, but is everyone really suffering from trauma? Or has it become a pose?

To take Paul's wish -- "it would be great if they seemed to be representative people recognizably in love and not necessarily doomed...." -- and Leigh's comment that male-male duets are hell to choreograph because of the Cliche Trap -- isn't that a problem with all duets now? I read about 18th century ballets about war and jealousy and power and there's not a love pas de deux in the whole three hours. Now we can't make a ballet without them, and the whole thing is built on a wispy little woman in a nightie being flung around by a sweating, heaving man and they don't get to live happily ever after in Scarsdale, or anywhere else, either).

It would be nice to think that the 21st century had some happiness in it that would be expressed in fiction, and film, and dance, but with what's going on in pop culture, it's doubtful.

But then, geniuses always smash trends -- so live in hope.

#6 Paul Parish

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 09:48 PM

Thanks, Leigh -- yes, the technique poses huge challenges

Keith saw same-sex partnering as a new frontier -- the stereotypes might imprison you or they might be something like Kansas you could leave behind, at least for while.....

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 09:56 PM

Do you know what I think the cliche problem is really about? It's a realism problem. We've gotten away from objective art. It's either bloodlessly abstract -- kick turn toss heave -- or roll around on the floor as realistically as possible. The idea of metaphor -- that the dip in the White Swan pas de deux meant "kiss" (as Cyril W. Beaumont wrote) which meant that Odette and Siegfried didn't have to kiss -- it was already in the choreography. That's all gone.

Maybe that is the road out of Kansas. Turn away from realism (which would encourage people to turn away from violence and anger as well).

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 09:56 PM

For Paul and anyone else out there -

Assuming that ballet could import an example from another discipline, can you name something you'd like to see as a model? Classical literature, film, biography - you name it.

#9 Paul Parish

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Posted 04 December 2002 - 10:36 PM

leigh, I['ll email you...

And Alexandra, you're absolutely right about the power of metaphor...

the very ending of hte White Swan is the most ravishing portrayal of consummation I've ever seen in any medium -- it's a pianissimo climax, as great in its way as the final aria in Tirstan and Isolde -- The white swan's petite serres create the shimmer of ecstasy, it's not hot or heavy but rather the thrill of true love, two people who've found each other and KNOW each other-- which is what makes Act 3 such a betrayal... it's THE most romantic piece of choreography I've ever encountered. In a way, the metaphor is extremely graphic -- its meaning is unmisundertandable, absolutely objective -- and yet, there's nothing vulgar about it.....

why don't they make htem like that any more???? -- it's the sort of thing Balanchine could do, in hte culminations of hte adages in Bizet, the Grand pas in Midsummer Night's Dream, and Barocco..... though in Barocco she's already made her reverence, up and off,.... there's no applause break, so Mr B had to get her out of the promenade and offstage so the music could continue..... the others can swoon and have a moment to come to....

in any case, those are clearly symbols of love -- not realistic examples..... which only means that they're even more powerful, as e=mc squared is more powerful than any particular calculation of matter yielding energy.....

PS to Leigh
I've seen some very lovely things done with Remy CHarlip's "Woomooloomoo Cuddle duet" -- do you know his airmail dances? Remy draws a page-full of positions (for 2 dancers in this case, and the support is beautifully imagined and very tender) which are to be completed kind of like connect-the-dots pictures.... very playful. But since he leaves the transitions between hte images completely up to the dancers, and they can be arranged in any order, the dance-making itself is still up for grabs and should be considered to be choreography......the images are very very dear, poignant, adorable..... he suggested using Lew Harrison's Lullaby, whch is a very loving piece of music...... That might be worth a look-see......

#10 carbro

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Posted 05 December 2002 - 12:33 AM

Robbins made a timid suggestion in Goldberg, Part I, didn't he, with two men?

Clearly, with two women, partnering would be a definite problem. But wouldn't the possibilities expand in one for two men? So much more can be described by mutual and/or alternating partnerings.

I think the Lubovitch is beautiful and so moving.

#11 Mashinka

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Posted 05 December 2002 - 02:09 AM

I imagine the earliest same-sex pas de deux (semi romantic) would be the two girls in Nijinska's Les Biches which dates from the 1920's. There is nothing ambiguous about their relationship.

#12 Mel Johnson

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Posted 05 December 2002 - 03:03 AM

There's also the "secrets" section of John Taras' "Designs with Strings" (what secret do those two girls have together?), and an entire Arpino ballet "Reflections of Icarus" which was as much about the scenery as it was about the Pilobolus-influenced gymnastic/choreographic extended male pas de deux that went on.

#13 Ari

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Posted 05 December 2002 - 06:17 AM

Isn't there a lesbian couple in Nijinska's Les Biches?

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 05 December 2002 - 07:40 AM

The leading character in Les Biches is sexually ambiguous -- La Garconne. But, as I remember it, it's a characterization (neither happy nor sad) and done through costume and glance more than movement. I never thought La Garconne and The Hostess were a couple -- but I saw the ballet during my more naive youth :(

Back to metaphor, the problem is you have to be a really good choreographer to do it -- both Balanchine and Ashton could and did, but who else since Petipa and Bournonville (one of the sexiest pas de deux in ballet is the violin duet in Kermesse, where the boy, who's been watching the girls from the window, comes in and plays his viola to make them dance. It's an absolute metaphor for adolescent sexuality, and power of sexuality -- I can make you do anything, and you'll love it!. And yet it's very beautiful and not the least graphic.

Often an audience won't understand metaphor -- I certainly didn't know that dip in White Swan "meant" "kiss" before reading Beaumont. I FELT the meaning, but didn't know the words -- like watching a foreign film. You think you know what they're saying until you check the subtitles. Some viewers will sense it, others won't, and get bored, and say, "why don't they kiss? Aren't they supposed to be in love?"

One gay relationship done through metaphor -- though certainly not a happy one -- is that of Petrushka and The Charlatan (Nijinsky and Diaghilev). That's objective art dressed up as a folk tale, but since we see the costumes/scenery/story first and may lose patience with them if they're not to our taste, or don't seem "modern" enough, we never get through to the seventh layer, to what anything really "means."

#15 Mashinka

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Posted 05 December 2002 - 08:19 AM

I was referring not to the The Hostess and the girl/boy in blue but to the two girls in grey who bouree on with their arms around each otherís shoulders and keep checking during their dancing that they are not being observed.

Intriguingly I remember reading that this section has occasionally been cut due to reasons of prudery. Could it be that you saw a censored version?

For the record I first saw this danced by the RB around 1965 and remember it being danced by Merle Park and Maryon Lane. Does anyone else remember those performances?


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