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where is the heartbeat in the Balanchine legacy?


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#1 Dale

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Posted 28 May 2002 - 03:10 AM

Interesting posts all. My opinions are closely alighned it would seem with Ari's.

But first, I question the article as a work of journalism. Is it an article on the erosion of Balanchine's school and company, or an opinion piece. If it is an article, it seems to be one made without any outside reporting. That's bad journalism. The article would be richer if Homans had interviewed a few other people. But this is not a surprise, as she has done the same thing in her work for the New Republic. Is it a column? If it is, she should at least establish her credentials so the reader can place and weight her opinions. What is reference for viewing the company? So she was a student at SAB in the 80's. She doesn't make this clear in the story. Has she been watching since the 60's, the 70's? It would have helped me take her points more seriously if I knew what performances are her reference points.

In addition, I found her writing more than a bit cowardly. She mentions that the school no longer has the perfume-spreading Russian teachers. Does this mean the current teachers are at fault? Suki Schorer? Kay Mazzo? Jock Soto or Peter Boal? She mentions some NYCB dancer, "struggles to find more, as if she knows something is missing. But she ends up contriving emotion with breathy flourishes and fake ornamentation." Homans doesn't have the guts to mention the dancers by name. Which one is contriving emotion or using fake ornamentation?

The older Russian teachers are gone. They couldn't live forever. I'm sorry as I'm sure they were inspiring and had much to impart. But Homans does not suggest a solution to replace them. Should the company hire some teachers away from St. Petersburg, whose "Vaganova" teachings might be different than the "Imperial Russian" technique taught by Danilova and Co? I do believe they have had a few visiting Russian teachers and I think it is a good idea. One idea that has been brought up on these boards is that those dancers who receive a solid education elsewhere, but come to SAB for a year or so of polishing, prove to be better off in the long run. Why is this? It has been suggested that SAB, by way of those charming Russian teachers, taught a solid Imperial Russian technique to its students, who then learned the Balanchine Style in company class. Now, the Balanchine style is being taught at SAB, or so I understand, which it wasn't meant to be. There is another belief that it is Stanley Williams' influence or trust in his method and what he stressed at the school that has somewhat changed the company's accent from a Russian one to a Danish one (although he himself was taught by a Russian). I have noticed that NYCB does have a lighter touch than it did during the 70s and 80s. There was a certain gravity in movement (maybe the difference between hitting flatter vs. hitting with top spin in tennis) 20-30 years ago. That might be Williams' influence or Martins'.

About the world that these "Russian" teachers showed to the dancers might be something we can never get back. Unfortunately, it's a different world. "Being real" is where it is at now. Suzanne Farrell was taken to museums, introduced to important people and told stories about the Ballet Russe by Balanchine. According to Robert Garis' book, she was bored by it as a teenager. About 15 years later in Winter Season, it was noted that she and Balanchine both favored gourmet food. Now, she takes her students to museums and talks to her about the important people she met. Is she the only one? I don't know if Peter Martins talks to Janie Taylor or Jared Angle about the artists and writers he met during the 70s or incourages them to go to the museum so they can see the poses of Agon, Apollo or Concerto Barocco in the greek vases. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. It takes two to tango. There are some dancers at NYCB who do a lot of research of the ballets they dance, and others who go their own way.

Homans brings up the idea of former dancers such as Villella, D'Amboise, Farrell etc.. coaching at NYCB. 1) I'd love it, but 2) they have there own companies. Yes, Farrell was fired and hardly utilized while she was there. That's awful and I definitely believe that she should have a place in the company and personal differences should have been put aside or worked out. And I would love to see, as Villella did in Miami, NYCB have the dancers for which certain ballets were created for come in and coach. In interviews, dancers raved about working with Tallchief or Von Aroldingen doing the Balanchine Foundation interpreter project. I think the ballerinas would benefit from, for example, working with McBride when Coppelia re-enters the rep. I'd like to have these people feel at home at NYCB for other "interpreters" have a few guest runs.

NYCB doesn't have McBride, D'Amboise, Hayden or Farrell. But it does have some very good coaches. I've watched Leland, Hendl, von Aroldingen, Martins and Lavery work and I've seen good results. People lauded the coaching the Kirov got when they put on Jewels. Yet, those are the same people who coach the ballet at NYCB. They also are staging Balanchine's ballets all over the world, they can't be incompetent or the Balanchine Foundation wouldn't use them.

However, I believe Alexandra makes a good point. Use it or lose it. In many of the new ballets over the years at NYCB , dancers hardly have had to use their "classical" technique. Class also is important. I remember reading that Balanchine and Williams wanted a step done correctly, but also that it should have a certain special quality. NYCB had had a guest teacher for several years, now Merrill Ashley does most of the teaching this season. I've read that she gives a good, hard class. Are the dancers taking it?

As Dirac pointed out, there are others that believe the company has turned the corner. I would like to see the Balanchine and the Robbins (whose works, by the way, have been coached by his personally selected crew way before he died, so I don't know about a decline), and a few other rarely seen ballets by others, including Martins, given more rehearsal time. I'd like to see revivals, but revivals with proper coaching and time.

Some ballets that were brought back for the Balanchine Celebration (such as Bourree Fantastique or Haiff Divertimento), but were hardly shown in subsequent seasons until they've been out of the rep for almost 10 years now. Instead of programing Tchiak. pas de deux again and again, why not Minkus Pas de Trois or Glinka Pas De Trois? I haven't seen Robbins' Mother Goose Suite or Martins' Concerto for Two Solo Pianos in ages. Try a reconstruction such as Cotillion (already done for the Joffrey) or À la Françaix, which is notated. There's a video of it staged by Eglevsky.

I've poured out a lot here, hopes it make sense. I don't think this article tread any new ground or offered any solutions.

#2 Dale

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Posted 29 May 2002 - 02:17 AM

Dirac, I think, considering what she said about them, she should mention dancer's names. I don't think she should make disparaging remarks, yet protect herself by not using the names. It also allows the reader to see examples of what Homans is referring to and to judge Homans' taste. For ex. if one of these dancers who is "contriving emotion or using fake ornamentation" is Ms. Dancer I've seen, I can judge for myself and look for examples. I might think, "Yeah, Homans is right. Mmm..." or I might think, "I've seen that dancer and I disagree." It don't think she backs up her opinion with many examples at all. I think it benefits Homans rather than the dancer or teacher that she doesn't mention names.

Manhattnik, I agree. I don't know when museums became such a bad thing, maybe at the same time when to be called a Liberal or Intellectual was disparaging. Where would NYCB be if it suddenly lost the right to perform all those old "museum" pieces?

#3 Dale

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Posted 29 May 2002 - 07:46 AM

Originally posted by Roma
it was ONE choreographer’s company. And what does it mean to be a museum company? Having a core repertory and taking care of it? When the next Choreographer comes along he will have his own company and train his own dancers. Balanchine's ballets are still the reason for this company's existence, and they should be meticulously coached by people who knew/danced them best while they are still with us. [/B]


Very well put, thank you.

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 May 2002 - 02:47 PM

Sort of a little Preobrazhensky Guard in chiffon!

Actually, this very sort of discussion came up this afternoon between a longtime balletomane and me regarding City Ballet's stewardship of the Balanchine repertoire, and much similar ground was covered, neither of us having yet seen the Homans article. We both noted a blurring of details in steps and in mime, in the former in things like 4Ts and in the latter in Midsummer Night's Dream where the mime used to be all exclamation points - now it's more like a string of comma splices.

Some things have actually sped up since Balanchine died, as if speed alone were the touchstone of the style, as exemplified in the fourth movement of Symphony in C. In this case, faster is not better, it's just faster.

For me, Homans' points were well-taken, and familiar to a certain generation of people who studied at SAB in a certain era!

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 26 May 2002 - 09:44 AM

So, what do you think of today's NYTimes article by Jennifer Homans?

Where Is the Heartbeat in the Balanchine Legacy?

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 26 May 2002 - 01:44 PM

I found the picture of early City Ballet as a little nest of Russian Imperialists wafting around in green scarfs rather original.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 27 May 2002 - 06:04 PM

The people I know who object to erosion in the company's style rarely talk about this or that detail, but at something larger -- the fact that in Balanchine's day, whatever the detail, there was something in the dancing beyond energy -- I just found a quote about this the other day from a dancer who worked with Balanchine, "He didn't want more energy. He wanted more fulfillment of every step." That the dancing itself isn't as strong, as crisp; that the footwork isn't what it was. (This could be said about ABT and the Royal as well, and I think the footwork is deteriorating because contemporary/crossover ballet doesn't care much for steps. It's all lunge, kick, lift, run. In whatsleftofpetipa ballets, the small connecting steps are going so you can put in a few more turns, or run across the stage.)

I also don't think that because there is debate over which change is authentic and which is not, that the correct conclusion is "anything goes, it doesn't matter, whoever is in charge gets to pick." I don't think that all memories or analyses or opinions are equal; some are more informed than others. Someone who has an deep and instinctive grasp of the style and knowledge of the performance tradition can make these decisions.

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 09 June 2002 - 07:23 AM

Here's a link to the Letters to the Editor about Ms. Homan's article. (Ari also posted it on Links.)

(The first letters are about the Kinks!)

It was interesting the way they ran them, to me. The first three are positive -- and all from people associated with the company, like it's chairman -- while the last three aren't. They usually mix 'em up.

Any comments?

http://www.nytimes.c...rts/09MAIL.html

#9 atm711

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Posted 26 May 2002 - 12:51 PM

Ms. Homans seems to think that Balanchine received no inspiration from working in the US for 50 years. He might have been surrounded by his 'Russian peers' at his School, but so were other dance studios in NY at the time. She comes to the heart of her article in the last couple of paragraphs, and it comes across as just another 'Martins Bashing', and I'm the last one to defend Martins. Unrelated to the article is the photo accompanying it---the well-known one of Villela and Balanchine rehearsing 'Swan Lake", where they are both posed in fifth pos. with arms overhead. Everytime I see this photo I think Villela should sue to have himself cut out of it. The contrast between the two men is so great. Villela is all tautness, hunched shoulders , tenseness, while Balanchine is all lyricism., and his arms should be the envy of every dancer.

#10 dirac

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Posted 26 May 2002 - 03:36 PM

What Leigh said. As one who doesn't get to see NYCB, I can't address this from the point of view of a regular attendee, but it does seem to me that even those who were most sternly critical of Martins about a decade ago have seen some light at the end of the tunnel. They could, of course, be wrong, but I don't think Homans makes a very persuasive case here. I mean, what is Martins supposed to do about the fact that SAB is no longer crawling with White Russians? It's a matter of tone; her criticisms tend to be made with a "Tina, bring me the axe!" approach when a scalpel could do the job much better. Some of her articles for The New Republic so far have also shown a similar lack of nuance and rhetorical overkill. I'd enjoy reading her more if she just settled down a bit.



At least the Times now has a defense against anyone who would say the paper has taken a monolithically pro-Martins stand. :)

#11 dirac

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Posted 28 May 2002 - 01:05 PM

I'm not a dancer, but I wonder if it might be frustrating after a time to have few or no roles made for you, even if the old roles you're given are great ones and the new ones rather less so.



Dale, I doubt Homans' piece was intended as reporting, but rather as a Sunday edition "Whither the...." thumbsucker. The articles she's done for The New Republic have been mostly reviews. As for not naming the dancer, maybe it was better in that context not to single out any individuals, I would think?

#12 kfw

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Posted 27 May 2002 - 05:39 PM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Ari
[B] In addition, Balanchine, like any artist, was always changing elements of his style, and a member of the NYCB of 1952 is going to remember ballets being danced very differently from a member from 1962, or 1972. Martins has, understandably, chosen to preserve the style that he remembers (circa 1967-1983), and has gathered other dancers from that era to help him.


I don't know, Ari, certainly the whole ensemble needs to dance a particular ballet in the same style, but beyond that it seems to me that because Balanchine did change the elements of his style, Martins has no business insisting they be danced only one way, when it's possible to preserve other ways. Doesn't he acknowledge that he's in a unique position to preserve Balanchine's work? I'm not aware of anyone who says Symphony in C was danced better in '83 than it was in '48. Soon, of course, that preservation won't be possible.

#13 Nanatchka

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Posted 28 May 2002 - 11:15 AM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by BalletNut
[B].....Isn't this what Balanchine and his exalted Russian colleagues were trying to escape in the first place?

I think perhaps they were trying to escape the privations of the Revolution, when coffee cake was truly used coffee grounds.

#14 Nanatchka

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Posted 29 May 2002 - 05:44 AM

The whole issue of funding--and as a CEO Peter Martins cannot be flawed--plays into repertory decisions. People often like to talk to the people they fund (ie living choreographers). People like to underwrite new work. Thus the company requires new work, without regard to what the dancers might or might not like. If there was a moment for funding NYCB solely as a Balanchine Legacy company, it is now past. However, what Homans was addressing was what the Balanchine now looks like. Hers is a sincere and authentic voice, coming from a particular point of view. Thus we engage in a "conversation" with her, as readers, and here as a discussion group. I would say that makes her article extremely succesful.

#15 Manhattnik

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Posted 28 May 2002 - 12:28 PM

Did Homans ever get over the fact that Diaghilev died in 1929?

I wish people would get away from the "museum = bad" equation. I think NYCB is, or can be, a magnificent museum devoted to the works of one of the 20th Century's greatest artists. What's wrong with that?

I know, the poor dancers will wither on the vine unless they get to dance new Kevin O'Day ballets from time to time. Give me a break.

Sure, there are things I wish Martins would do; I wish he would get over being so insecure and defensive with the press already. But I have to give him a B plus or even an A minus for his work. Things could be a bit better, and could be a whole heck of a lot worse.


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