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Amy Reusch

Baryshnikov's NYC Think Tank

48 posts in this topic

If you go back to the NY Times article, you will see that a university in NYC is going to be involved in the Baryshnikov project. Will be very interesting to see how this shapes up.

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I think the discussion above was a theoretical one about creativity ex-institutio or within an institution. But in the article, in the section on the difficulty of fundraising it said: "The center may also affiliate with a local university." There are a lot of ways to "affiliate." It could mean that students could take courses at the Center for credit in exchange for some revenue, say. But it's not a project generated by a university.

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The institutional nature of Baryshikov's center has not yet been fully revealed in public, which is why my comment is relevant to a theoretical discussion. Stay tuned.

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Originally posted by Alexandra

I think that's a good question -- and good answer.  There are places for both, but the avant-garde, even an old one :), doesn't really work very well in an institution.  We coould get into the "tenure" vs. "creativity" debate.  I keep hoping that a new wave of creativity will come from the new university ballet departments, with all their resources (and the built in structure, not to mention the adjacent theater and music departments) but it hasn't happened yet.

I really think something is about to emerge from the university scene, Alexandra. With all the aging baby boomers, and the difficult fiscal climate, universities offer serious subsistence opportunities... no, wait, way better than subsistence.... Perhaps it just my age, but it seems like so many people I know in the arts who would never have considered it 15 years ago are all now either in or chasing university positions... Has there ever before been quite the flight to university dance departments (except perhaps in the early Bennington days?) of serious talent that we're seeing now? I don't know that it's happening in the ballet world to the extent it is in the modern. We've had so many years of "don't think, dear, just do" in ballet that there isn't the crop of ambitious young choreographers that modern turns up... or is it just the authoritarian style of ballet training that squelches and doesn't reward the creative spirit? That's an old issue, but the exit from the cities to the universities is not.

And of course, Mel, I didn't think Baryshnikov invented the idea of a salon... it's just that perhaps he's the first artist to pump $2 Million of his own into it with plans of attracting how much more?

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I don't see it Amy. The one thing the universities are not getting. . .are the best dancers. Until that happens, I think they'll be regarded (at least in ballet) as places people go to gently quit.

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Originally posted by Leigh Witchel

I don't see it Amy.  The one thing the universities are not getting. . .are the best dancers.  Until that happens, I think they'll be regarded (at least in ballet) as places people go to gently quit.

Still in ballet this problem persists? A shame. I think in modern dance it is a very different situation... there are some fabulous modern dancers who went to college... I mean really top of the line modern dancers... I wonder if in ballet, it's begun to change at the regional level? There is the occasional regional principal or soloist with a college degree... although they're probably mostly male.

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I think the difference is that you can begin a modern dance career at 22, but you can't begin a ballet career at that age. So for anyone who has a chance at getting into a good company, college has to wait.

The only program about which I know anything is the one at Indiana University. Violette Verdy teaches there and there's an interview with her on the main site Verdy interview

She said their students do get into companies, but not the biggest ones.

What I thought might come out of the universities, though, were university companies -- although I take Leigh's point that you're unlikely to get the best art unless you have the best dancers. But a university could provide the infrastructure for a company, and, using unpaid student labor :), lots of rehearsals, training in lighting and costume -- and collaboration with musicians!!!

I don't think the young modern dance scene is any healthier than ballet right now, not that I ever bought into the idea that modern dance is inherently creative and ballet is inherently anti-creative. I think you learn by working with masters -- whether the master is Balanchine or Graham. Interesting that Graham produced great rebels, and Balanchine produced imitators. But I think that's an accident of history.

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But history is personality!! :)

Fascinating theory we're evolving -- Be a control freak, produce rebels = good for art. Be gentle, produce imitators = bad for art.

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If I might respond to a number of posts: Yes, Misha talked about Rauschenberg. (But of course Rauschenberg has and had a long time association with Cunningham, as the artistic director and then as an occasional designer for his company. )As for age, the remark was about a point of view, or attitude, not about supporting venerable artists. As for putting himself on the line to raise the loot, Baryshnikov is going on tour (solo) to raise money. He also mentioned, at a seminar at the American Express Tower last week, "having lunch with lady philanthropists." Let's just hope this whole thing happens, becuase it won't hurt, and it might be fabulous. Finally, two last points: Baryshnikov's recognition of Cunningham is only to his credit, and Merce's generosity towards the project, ditto. Baryshnikov has never liked being in a rut--and always sought to do something appropriate to his talents at a given time. (Sic transit White Oak.)

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At the same time, with all the clout Baryshnikov has it would be fascinating what would have happened if he had an institutional bent, but he doesn't.

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Originally posted by Alexandra

I think the difference is that you can begin a modern dance career at 22, but you can't begin a ballet career at that age.  So  for anyone who has a chance at getting into a good company, college has to wait.

I don't think any or at least many of those top-of-the-line modern dancers who have college degrees started dance at 22. They might not have been paid until they graduated from college, but I'm sure most of them to be good enough to be accepted into the better college departments were not rote beginners at their admission. I realize that's not what you're saying, but I want to pin you down. Is it really true that anyone with a chance of getting into a good company has always gotten into a company by age 22? I admit any principal has already shown their potential by then, but aren't there exceptions to that rule? Wasn't von Aroldingen one of them? Aren't there a few more?

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Originally posted by Alexandra

-- although I take Leigh's point that you're unlikely to get the best art unless you have the best dancers.

I don't think that's quite what Leigh said. I believe quite a bit of the best art was done on dancers not quite as good as what is now available at the top companies. In fact, I truly think, sometimes choreographing on really good dancers blinds the choreographer to weaknesses in the choreography that would have been glaring on weaker dancers. I think there are some masterpieces out there that are almost dancer-proof. Of course, I've never known great dancers to ruin a masterpiece, or have I???

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But why isn't anyone bringing up the point that it's much harder for young artists in NYC to hang out together now than in the 70s because it's so much harder for them to afford housing? In the 70s NYC was going bankrupt and apartments were pretty darn cheap. Dancers could afford to take 3 classes a day and pay their rent waiting on tables at night. Who has time to hang out when they're paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing? Or is this hang out only for rich kids? I hope Baryshnikov works in some sort of subsidized housing fellowships for his young artists. Or is this center to be some sort of extra curricular activity for students already in housing subsidized by other institutions.

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Originally posted by Alexandra

But history is personality!! :)

Fascinating theory we're evolving -- Be a control freak, produce rebels = good for art.  Be gentle, produce imitators = bad for art.

Was Balanchine gentle?

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Why, Amy, how forties this discussion seems to be getting!:rolleyes:

Alexandra means, and she is quite correct, that a modern dancer can pick up a professional career at age 22, not that s/he begins study at that age. A ballet dancer may even have dropped out of high school in order to accept that first contract. The best ballet dancers have already been scapped up by the time the traditional college years roll around. And while of course there are exceptions ("always" is such a fragile thing, a single example can destroy it), the best ballet dancers are gone from the admissions market while the modern students pursue degrees. To cite a single exception, and there are more, Janice James, who was a University of Utah graduate by the time she entered the corps of NYCB, about the same time that Karin von Aroldingen (who was a teenager then) entered same. Von Aroldingen spent years in the corps before rising to leading parts.

As to great dancers ruining masterpiece ballets, have you ever heard of Rudolf Nureyev? My entry for the "Giselle from Hell" would have been a G. Kirkland/Nureyev pairing - both would have been so into "lookit ME!" that it would have been an enervating thing to watch!

As to dancers in the seventies being able to afford housing, I think this is another example of rose-colored hindsight. Housing in Manhattan then was very likely to have taken 125+% of a dancer's income, and dancers had to band together to obtain an apartment to call home with three or four others, and then be subsidizing from some other source, be it parents, moonlight jobs, or anything else. The dancers then were looking back wistfully to the halcyon days of the early sixties, when a loft in the East Village could be had for $35/month, and even then, that was a strain on their personal economies, as pay was much lower then, and the individual dollar had greater buying power.

I don't think Alexandra's analysis of the control issue is off the mark as to a description of the management theory that seems to be evolving within this thread. And was Balanchine himself gentle? Most of the time - except some people called it "sneaky".

The "Balanchine Machine" was already operating then, and the Old Man was surrounded by torpedoes who could and would do the dirty work for him.

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Originally posted by Amy Reusch

Is it really true that anyone with a chance of getting into a good company has always gotten into a company by age 22?  I admit any principal has already shown their potential by then, but aren't there exceptions to that rule?  

Did you check the Verdy interview? She lists the companies that the Indiana U students enter after graduation. Mid or lower level regional companies, all. Nothing wrong with that, and you can have a satisfying career, but it's highly unlikely you're going to get into ABT or NYCB.

A few years ago, at Goucher College, which had an excellent ballet program, there was a girl named Pamela Croce who discovered ballet at 18. She was so good that for her graduation performance, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, who was the artist in residence, not only made a ballet for her, but staged Rubies for her, and she was terrific. She could not get a job. At 22, she was "too old to train to our ways." The companies all wanted young kids -- 15, 17, 18. For some, 18 was too old.

And, as Mel said, of course there are always exceptions. Another anecdote, this time a modern dance one, at D.C.'s Dance Place in the 1980s, a young man (and I cannot remember his name!) came to watch his girlfriend take class, became enchanted with it, decided to try it himself -- he was 26. Within two years he was dancing with several companies in New York, and dancing well. (This was in the minimalist phase of modern dance, though, where running and walking with elan could get you far!)

As for the rents, I think the oil crisis years of the late 1970s were the turning point, weren't they? I remember stories of friends in college then desperately trying to get an apartment, and being forced to triple-up or taking filthy sublets with roaches and rats. But the Glory Days of New York dance, the '40s and '50s, that's when rents, both apartments and studios -- and tickets! -- were cheap. Listening to people talk about those times, it's as if the city were one big, happy commune. I'm sure that wasn't the view from the Upper East Side, but it sure sounds like it would have been fun to have been a dancer or a dance follower then.

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Anna Kisselgoff makes an interesting comment in today's Sunday Times:

 

THE YEAR IN DANCE

Cool Is No Longer Cool. Feeling Is Back.

By ANNA KISSELGOFF

or all the high spots in dance this year, a great deal of what was on view was superficial rather than deep. It could excite and entertain but it did not disturb.  

This is not to say that dance needs to revert to narrative and dramatic content, although, in some quarters, it has. Formal choreography (George Balanchine) can have a greater impact than any literal work. Form has its own value. Any modernist can tell you that.

 

But has anyone noticed that no one is choreographing like Merce Cunningham, the supreme formalist, except Merce Cunningham? Somehow, choreographers are flailing about in search of feeling. Doug Varone and Pascal Rioult are two who succeed with highly physical choreography that builds into strong emotional undercurrents. Cool is no longer cool.

No matter how serious, too much choreography today remains on the surface. Perhaps that is why some producers from major theaters and festivals made for the exits in November after a performance by the Silesian Dance Theater from Bytom, Poland. The piece that the company's director, Jacek Luminski, presented at the Kitchen, "Straight Into the Eyes," was neither fun nor fluent, as so many works are today. Instead, it was full of unstated emotion. The specific meaning was unclear, but the sense of unease in the dancers' encounters was stirring enough to have most of the audience remain for a discussion afterward with the choreographer.

This was not a spectacular, even slick, ready-made production that could go straight into the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. We have come a long way since 1968-9, when Harvey Lichtenstein, then the Academy's new director, introduced relative unknowns like Twyla Tharp, Eliot Feld and yes, Alvin Ailey and Mr. Cunningham to a wider audience.

At that time, Mr. Lichtenstein as well as Norman Singer at Hunter College and City Center, and Charles Reinhart, then producer of a major modern-dance series in New York, were willing to nurture the untested. They did not import the latest from Europe.

Nor were these now-celebrated choreographers invited to be part of an official arts community. They were rebels and formed their own community.

The recognition that choreographers today need support in their search for new directions was obvious this year when the term "mentor" was suddenly heard with increasing frequency.

The opening of Dance Theater Workshop's new building in October was a welcome event. This venerable experimental dance sponsor now offers choreographers and dancers a larger theater, studio space and a technology lab. The mentors it provides are not artistic guides but experts in media technology. They will offer advice to choreographers, chosen for fellowships.

Still, we are in the age of panel-approved artists, and in two well-intentioned new projects, the use of mentors implies art directed from above. Mikhail Baryshnikov is creating a center for artists, chosen by a panel, to work with mentors. Rolex, the Swiss watchmaker, is subsidizing mentors and their "protégés," chosen by a panel.

What about those who are not chosen? Perhaps they can band together as Paris's best painters once did in a Salon des Refusés. The idea of William Forsythe and Robert Wilson attempting to preserve their current provocateur status while acting as Rolex mentors is hilarious. In the past, creativity came from choreographers who rebelled against mentors. There is a difference between nurturing and mentoring.

I think she has a point. It deals with one part of the issue I was trying to deal with above. I don't think you can institutionalize creativity. She put it much more concretely.

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Somehow, the idea of classical ballet as "outsider art" is a very stimulating and exciting prospect to me. Let's hope something like this begins to coalesce of itself!:)

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As to dancers in the seventies being able to afford housing, I think this is another example of rose-colored hindsight. Housing in Manhattan then was very likely to have taken 125+% of a dancer's income, and dancers had to band together to obtain an apartment to call home with three or four others, and then be subsidizing from some other source, be it parents, moonlight jobs, or anything else. The dancers then were looking back wistfully to the halcyon days of the early sixties, when a loft in the East Village could be had for $35/month, and even then, that was a strain on their personal economies, as pay was much lower then, and the individual dollar had greater buying power.

Apartments in NYC in the 1970s were very affordable compared to now. It's true it might have been difficult to afford them on a dancer's salary, but it was very possible to afford them on a waitress/waiter's salary, which was the standard ploy of the aspiring dancer. For instance, my husband (not a dancer, but at that time a poet-playwright) picked up his 1-bedroom apartment on 81st at Amsterdam as late as 1978... I no longer have records of what his original rent was but with steady rent stablization increases it hadn't yet reached $400/month when we left it in 1990. And I had many friends in the same situation, so it was by no means unsual. I don't think there is anything comparable available now, not even in alphabet city.

Alexandra, I am sorry to realize there has been little change in the ballet dancer's access to higher education. I went to Purchase in the late 70s/early 80s and I had two classmates who actually made careers in ballet, one male who danced with ABT and a female who became a principal for Houston. I had hoped that 20 years later things had improved. I guess we won't get many dancers out of colleges until we get more retired dancers into colleges... maybe in another 50 years?

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I'm afraid you've provided me with yet another example of rose-colored hindsight, Amy, plus a little example of the subtleties of "what a difference a decade makes". Actors were indeed able to afford and manage a rent-controlled apartment in the 1970s with a supplement of waiter wages. By the mid-1970s, though, dancers were already taking more and more classes and becoming members of small performing ensembles at a higher rate than ever before. Restaurants were loth to hire dancers because most of their time was already spoken for, and if and when they did show up on time, they were half-dead. Actors and singers had it easier. At least their schedules were more predictable, and they weren't likely to have hurt themselves during their chosen vocational hours, so that they could still wait tables!

Even with rent control, the dancer was not so fortunate, and the days of the sixties, when a dancer COULD pull off an apartment in Christopher Street and did have the time to use for a second job, were over by the seventies.

Ballet dancers now are availing themselves of college and university educations more than ever before. It's just that they're doing it after their performing careers have started to wind down as part of Career Transition for Dancers. You will always have the mind; you will not long have the body for ballet!

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Mel, restaurants may have prefered actors & singers, but I knew many many many dancers & choreographers who were waiters & waitresses & bartenders. True, few of my friends could afford a space as posh as Christopher Street, I meant merely a place somewhere on Manhattan isle, not the west village... although some were there, more often the upper west side, spanish harlem, alphabet city, soho, etc. They were much too late for rent control, but rent stablization was still available... and regarding always having the mind... there's something that seems to happen to dancers when they drop out of school... I don't know what it is... but the pre-professional dancers all seemed to be top students with very high grades... I didn't run into the "dumb dancer" stereotypes until the professional level and then mostly in ballet... it's as if they decided they'd never have to think again, or they weren't socializing with intellectuals or what... I don't know, but there definitely is a dumb dancer type out there and it is very sad... 4 years seems like a terribly long time to a young person, but in retrospect... I wonder how many of those dancers who went to college and went on to a professional career regret having done so before their career instead of afterwards? (although hopefully they have no compunctions about going back to university afterward either).

I really resent being told my personal experience is some rosy colored recollection. It wasn't all that rosy, as I recollect.

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I think this subdiscussion has run its course. I would like to state, though, on behalf of the board, and for the benefit of the many dancers who read us, that college attendance and intelligence are not the same thing.

We have a policy that when two posters are locked in a disagreement that seems unlikely to be resolved that they take it to email.

Please return to the topic, which is Baryshnikov's new Think Tank.

Thank you :)

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