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where is the heartbeat in the Balanchine legacy?


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#31 Calliope

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Posted 09 June 2002 - 12:17 PM

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...

#32 Calliope

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Posted 10 June 2002 - 03:31 PM

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.

#33 BalletNut

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Posted 28 May 2002 - 10:17 AM

I'm no NYCBer myself, but I would like to think that the death of the founding choreographer shouldn't have to mean the death of an entire legacy. Maybe his ballets are getting stagnant; maybe the dancers' training isn't what it used to be. However, I am a little wary of romanticizing the past the way that Homans does, however idyllic it may have been. I think that that sort of reactionary attitude might be the culprit behind the stagnation she so deplores. She doesn't seem to want to accept the inevitable fact that dances and choreography change over time, no matter what, and in doing so is damning the NYCB to an eternity of--gasp--museum companyhood. Isn't this what Balanchine and his exalted Russian colleagues were trying to escape in the first place?

Originally posted by BW
Or, do you think that this too shall pass and that New York City Ballet, along with its School of American Ballet, shall evolve on its own, all in good time?

Maybe the Balanchine legacy as many people know it is going to hell in a handbasket; but maybe, just maybe, the company is "between choreographers" and going through an artistic rough spot.

#34 BalletNut

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Posted 30 May 2002 - 01:03 PM

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.

#35 vagansmom

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Posted 29 May 2002 - 04:37 PM

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?

#36 Roma

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Posted 29 May 2002 - 07:08 AM

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.

#37 Roma

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Posted 29 May 2002 - 04:20 PM

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.

#38 stan

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Posted 27 May 2002 - 06:34 AM

I certainly agree that Homans was short on details in her critique. Who exactly is "step-driven and one-dimensional"? Maria Kowrowski?! But it is also true that Martins has a lot to answer for. Why, for example, go to the trouble of reviving the Sylvia Pas de Deux for the Balanchine Celebration only to let it totally drop out of the repertoire?

#39 stan

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Posted 27 May 2002 - 02:31 PM

On the "little details that disappear" issue, I agree with Leigh that this is rarely black and white. Here's an example. Everone is familiar with the moment in the second movement of Symphony in C where Farrell did a penchee arabesque and touched her forehead to her knee. Kowrowski does the penchee arabesque but the forehead doesn't touch the knee. Why? It's hard to believe she can't do it or is not familiar with the business. I suspect that she chose not to do it for some reason. Does this make her performance inferior? Does it detract from "Balanchine's legacy"? I don't think so.

#40 BW

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Posted 26 May 2002 - 05:14 PM

Bobbi, why is it that you say so definitely

"So, yes, it would be ideal and wonderful to have Balanchine-era dancers coach today's dancers. But it's not going to happen."


Why does this have to be true? I really don't believe it has to be so at all. There are quite a number of former dancers from Balanchine's era who are still more than alive and kicking who could easily be invited to work with the current company members.

However, I do think your remembrance of Patti McBride's saying how it was that Balanchine communicated the subtle nuance of that particular move - of using her hand as though she were "begging for money" is truly the kind of detail that makes all the difference in the world...visually speaking. I know from my own limited experience of watching a rehearsal during which the choreographer, or the experienced dancer in the role if it is not a new one, has shown the tiniest detail in the way the fingers are held or the angle at which the wrist is bent, or the slightest change in the angle of the head...changes the whole effect.

I found Ms. Homans' article to be very interesting and well written. Yes, there was a great deal of history thrown in...but I've seen pictures of some of the Russians with their flowing scarves and the references she makes to George Balanchine's history is important. I think in reading this article one must remember that not everyone is up to speed on the history of the New York City Ballet.

Actually, I found it rather refreshing...to see someone be so direct. Is she correct? I couldn't possibly say. I only know what I've seen myself and what I've heard from those who performed at NYCB while Mr. Balanchine was still alive.

But back to the initial idea that there is real value in bringing in dancers who danced in the originals or, at least, in the versions danced while George Balanchine was still alive. As someone posted, this observation is not new. This being said, why is it not generally done?

#41 BW

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Posted 28 May 2002 - 05:36 AM

Unlike the rest of you, I did gain something from her piece, however I am but a lowly neophyte in this Byzantine world of ballet:)

Dale, thank you for wrapping it all up so well. Leigh, Alexandra, Ari, dirac, Calliope, Mel, atm, Farrell Fan, stan, kfw, Bobbi, glebb, and Brymar - I've gotten a great deal from reading your posts, too. Okay, so if Ms. Homans, who danced with PNB and is apparently writing or has written a book on classical ballet, has truly not offered those with experience and longevity anything new, then where does one go from here?


What's next? What do you propose to do about airing your own views in regard to her article? Write a letter to the editor? Write a nice note to NYCB? Not waste your breath? Actually, I am not meaning to sound "flip" - but for those who have the experience of watching this company over the course of many years, and have mentioned your concerns about various aspects from coaching to training, what happens next? Something? Nothing?

I'm not suggesting that NYCB is an organization built on the "will of the people" or that it has any democratic leanings within itself as an institution, but how are changes made? Generally speaking who are the people who have enough influence to effect change? Is it the board of directors? Or, do you think that this too shall pass and that New York City Ballet, along with its School of American Ballet, shall evolve on its own, all in good time?

#42 Farrell Fan

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Posted 31 May 2002 - 03:01 AM

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.

#43 Farrell Fan

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Posted 26 May 2002 - 02:41 PM

The idea that the Balanchine era was one of "a Russian-American hybrid culture, which nourished generations of American dancers" is novel and interesting. Jennifer Homans then goes on to blame the current state of the Balanchine repertory at NYCB on the fact that many dancers thus nourished have left and are rarely invited back to teach or coach. Although the latter point has been made often, that doesn't make it any less valid. Still, it seems a ludicrous overstatement that "at the City Ballet, Balanchine ballets have become boring, pompous, and passe." The enthusiastic audiences that throng the all-Balanchine evenings at NYCB indicate otherwise.

From my admittedly prejudiced perspective, the key sentence in this article is. "Suzanne Farrell's company, based in Washington, continues to present his ballets with dramatic freshness and a lively intelligence." But for Peter Martins, she could have done the same at NYCB.

#44 Farrell Fan

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Posted 26 May 2002 - 06:57 PM

Okay, I will henceforth refer to Peter Martins as Ballet Master in Chief and Ultimate Authority.

#45 Farrell Fan

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Posted 02 June 2002 - 03:32 PM

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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