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Dale

where is the heartbeat in the Balanchine legacy?

50 posts in this topic

Originally posted by BalletNut

.....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.

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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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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?

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I adore the Balanchine and Robbins legacy, but I would hate NYCB to become simply a museum. The institution has too much vibrancy and talent and LIFE. The director of any company has a responsibility to the future as well as the past.

Rick

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I was talking to someone about the article last night and she said, well in another 50 years there won't be anybody who remembers "how it was when Balanchine was around" and they'll be a repeat article talking about Martins!

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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?

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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.

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We can argue about the merits of the article for a long time, but I think that there is a larger point that Homans was trying to make. We were left a legacy, which is our cultural heritage, and we seem to be so ready and willing to put it aside and to erect something new in it’s place.

There was an example that I kept thinking of throughout the discussion about details. There is a video at the NYPL of Maria Tallchief coaching Peter Boal and Judith Fugate in Scotch Symphony. Both knew the choreography very well, but Tallchief was just not happy with the way it looked and kept saying to Fugate (Boal was perfect) "this is not the way I did it, this doesn’t look right, feel right." And she would adjust one detail after another and suddenly the steps came alive, and became vibrant and meaningful in a way that they have not been at NYCB for a long time. There is a diagonal in the pdd where the girl is lifted in sissones. Fugate kept doing them from pointe, and Tallchief kept saying that something was wrong. Finally, she realized that she never did this movement on pointe, and the whole phrase took on a completely different look and meaning. It was as if she took the dust off. And almost at every correction Fugate would say that this was the way she always did it. The point is of course that an experienced stager, who knows instinctively what Balanchine would have wanted, will know which details are important and which are not, and even how much freedom to allow any particular dancer, to make the ballet look as if it indeed has heartbeat.

Farrell has said that if she doesn’t do in rehearsal as Balanchine would have wished, she can’t sleep at night. I doubt very much that The Ultimate Authority loses any sleep over any of Balanchine’s repertory. Yes, things could be a lot worse, but one only needs to look at MCB, at their beautifully resonant stagings to see how much better things could be.

Why are we so prepared to accept this “inevitable” change in the way Balanchine’s ballets look? NYCB is not a workshop for new choreography, it is not A choreographer’s company, 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.

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"NYCB is not a workshop for new choreography, it is not A choreographer’s company"

I think it was always intended to be a workshop for new choreography, wasn't it?

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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.

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Calliope, what I meant is that NYCB was created to serve one man's vision, not a multitude of opinions. In that sense it was not a Workshop.

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What did Balanchine want that company to be after his death? Did he want a museum that preserved his choreography?

And how does one know when the new Choreographer comes along? What if someone thinks s/he's The One but no one else thinks so?

How does Martins see himself?

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Jumping into this late:

It's interesting that Homans edits Lincoln Kirstein right out of the history of NYCB and of SAB. This is rather consistent with the "Hagiography of Mr. B," Balanchine as "Genius" element of her article. But in fact I think the colaboration between Kirstein and Balanchine is one of the keys to understanding the history of the Company.

Re Martins -- The fact that we can recognize Balanchine's company in the company that exists today; that the Ballets continue to be performed -- sometimes the better, sometimes the worse for wear, but still recognizably themselves -- is a major tribute to Peter Martins' leadership. Look at the Royal Ballet and its Ashton repertory by way of contrast and Thank Heaven we had Martins here and not some American version of Kenneth MacMillain to take over the legacy.

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vagansmom, this is what I meant earlier. I was not disparaging the preservation of Balanchine per se; I was disagreeing with the blatant nostalgia that Homans was employing. My beef with it is precisely that the "next one" might not be given a chance if we are too busy whining about the good old days. I love museums, and I do think that NYCB should keep its Balanchine heritage as a valuable part of its mission. I would hope that Martins doesn't see himself as the Next Balanchine--I don't care much for his choreography, myself--but I think that he does have an enormous responsibility for keeping Balanchine's works from stagnating the way Homans thinks they are. Treating them as "museum pieces" instead of as living, breathing, art is what I think causes this. This is not is support of posthumous tweaking at all; I just think that these works are less at the center of NYCB and not as much creative energy has been devoted to staging them and keeping them alive as has been devoted to newer works.

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Thanks to Michael for injecting Lincoln Kirstein into this discussion. After all, without LK, there would be no SAB, NYCB, or Balanchine legacy. It's a sad fact that Kirstein's contributions are often overlooked today, even within the company he co-founded.

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What bothered me the most about the aritcle was its timing. How ungenerous and unseemly is it to post such a diatribe against Martins while he is sponsoring the generation of so many new ballets with the Diamond project and NY Choreographic Institute. With the limited space devoted to dance it seems rather hateful to spend so much on a diatribe about the past when Martins is clearly looking ahead. I must blame the editors more than Hommans for this unseemly negativism in the midst of such a wonderful creative burst that is ongoing at NYCB. The space would better be devoted to articles about the Diamond project and the NY Choreographi Institute at this time. Post that diatribe in August or Spetember when a lot less dance is in town and the space is less needed for discussing what is hapenning now. I really find it upsetting that there were something like 5 new ballets presented and a number of Diamond project revivals taking place in the weeks preceeding the article that the most important thing she had to discuss was how terrible NYCB is with Martins at the helm. Even if I completely agreed with eveyrthing she said (which I don't) it was an inappropriate, carping, ungenerous diatribe that should not have been published at this time. What a waste of space. :)

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I think the timing was appropriate. Here's a company that's spending all this money on new works that are hardly ever seen again and yet the let the main staple of the company's rep fall by the wayside.

I'm not sure there's ever a "good" time for criticism, but it also is press, and sometimes the bad press brings people in as well.

I doubt the article really had any influence except to maybe spark conversation.

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The Diamond Project has hardly been neglected by the New York Times. But perhaps the Balanchine legacy has been neglected by NYCB, so I agree with Calliope: What better time to call attention to that than on the eve of another Diamond Project?

There's more to Jennifer Homans' article than a diatribe. While she failed to take Lincoln Kirstein's role into account, her emphasis on the "etiquette and sumptuous rituals of the Imperial Court," and "the majestic incense-suffused rituals of the Russian Orthodox Church" as important influences on Balanchine is an unusual point, worth making. So is the whole idea of the Russian-American atmosphere at SAB. That's gone now, because with the exception of Madame Tumkovsky, all those people are dead. Can't blame that on Martins, but some NYCB fans are distressed that the greatest living inheritors of that heritage are not asked to contribute their abilities to the company, where only the limited Martins view of Balanchine prevails.

That said, I reiterate that calling the Balanchine repertory at NYCB, "boring, pompous, and passe" is ridiculous.

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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.com/2002/06/09/arts/09MAIL.html

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My favorite letter in the group was that of Laura Segal. (Isn't she a critic?) I was more than a little surprised that the first three letters, favorable to NYCB, are from people with connections to it. The fourth letter is also pro-NYCB, making the final tally 4-3. But that's from someone who advises Homans to watch the company in rehearsal. That would indicate that the writer is at least a member of the NYCB Guild. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- so am I. All the letters come down firmly on one side or the other. My letter to the Times said the Homans article was overstated but had good points and that the heartbeat of the Balanchine legacy could be found in the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Since I've sent them quite a few letters in the past on NYCB and SF, some of which they've printed, I didn't expect them to this time.

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I'm actually surprised they ran so many responses, but I think it's telling that those who agreed with article don't work for the company.

Time after time I read articles with dancers at NYCB who mention how they get thrown on in roles. There was an article in Dance Magazine not to long ago with corps members and Jessy Hendrickson recounts how she got thrown in to a principal role, shortly after joining the company. Granted, she did it for Workshop, but still. It's the non-chalant casting like that that makes me worry. Debuts are exciting, but gone are the days when people used have to earn roles, corps roles even. And I know times have changed, but to constantly hear dancers say they're thrown in roles just makes me sad. I dare to say that as much as I love the Balanchine, I don't go to NYCB that much to see it anymore, the difference between 5 years ago and today is measurable.

And unfortunately I don't think we'll ever see a change. To go back to rehearsing would mean somebody would have to admit to dropping the ball somewhere...

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Calliope, dancers being thrown into roles is nothing new; it happened in Balanchine's day all the time. I agree it shouldn't have to happen, though. I blame the size of the repertoire that the company dances each season. If they did fewer ballets, they'd have to schedule more performances of each ballet, with alternate casts. This would ensure that there was at least one other dancer prepared to go on in case the scheduled dancer had to drop out.

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Peter Martins, Kay Mezzo, Katrina Killian, Darci Kistler, Susan Pillare, Suki Schorer, Sheryl Ware, Garielle Whittle, Peter Frame, Kyra Nichols, Olga Kostritzky, Andrei Kramarevsky, Antonina Tumkovsky are the faculty members at SAB that dated to Balanchines time. In addition I know that Merril Ashley was very involved in the current workshop teaching 3 casts of Ballo della Regina. The NYCB staff includes: Ballet Master in Chief: Peter Martins Ballet Mistress: Rosemary Dunleavy Assistant Ballet Masters: Victor Castelli, Jean-Pierre Frohlich, Lisa Jackson, Russell Kaiser, Sara Leland, Christine Redpath, Susan Hendl* (*guest) Assistant to the Ballet Master in Chief: Sean Lavery Teaching Associate: Merrill Ashley Children's Ballet Mistress: Garielle Whittle all dating to Balanchines time. So the notion that the folks dating to Balanchines time are no longer at work in the company or school is pure and simple HOGWASH!!! And the above doesn't even include the folks such as Karen Von Aroldingen who work for the Balanchine Trust and I would guess are also involved.

The main person that I would have liked to see as an active participant in the company and the school is of course Suzanne Farrell. The fact that she is missing is a major loss and maybe we should blame that on PM. So if the topic is "Isnt it awful that SF is no longer working with the school and company" I would agree. But to berate PM for the lack of Russians and prior stars in working with the company is just garbage.

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One could argue that Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and Donald are all still at Disney, but when there is a lack of direction coming from the top, it doesn't matter who you have working for you.

I suppose the next question could be, with all those Balanchine brass there, why don't they concentrate on Balanchine?

Disney is a fitting reference, because they decided to try "new things" and found they lost a generation of kids who thought the characters only existed at Theme Parks, they've recently decided to go back to putting those classic characters back on tv and films.

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