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Political correctness and ballet


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#16 BalletNut

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Posted 27 May 2002 - 07:57 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this may be one of those topics that some balletomanes would rather not "go there"...From the familiar vendetta against George "I want to see bones" Balanchine to ostensibly problematic portrayals of "exotic" cultures--think La Bayadere, Le Corsaire, or Bugaku--there are plenty of things in classical ballet that could be read as offensive to our enlightened sensibilities. That ballet is not supposed to be realistic is apparently common knowledge here, but I sometimes think that these issues need to be addressed in order for there to be a solid case in support of ballet--for someone who is convinced that ballet is socially backward, a simple statement of "Well, ballet isn't supposed to be for the masses" is not going to do much for the image of classical ballet. The result of all this, I think, is the proliferation of well-meaning directors and/or choreographers who attempt to draw audiences by proclaiming to subvert the classical paradigm. My concern is that by attempting to escape the inequity of the classical paradigm, one might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I hope that made sense. :)

#17 BalletNut

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Posted 30 May 2002 - 12:43 PM

There's cultural sensitivity and then there's what I can only refer to as "the mushy middle cop-out.";) The latter is what usually gets referred to as Politically Correct these days, and in my opinion it does absolutely nothing to remedy society's deep seated injustices. Rather, it's only a palliative for the privileged groups to feel tolerant without examining their own beliefs, some of which are--horrors!--prejudiced. :rolleyes:
I think we have already established that this kind of thinking is problematic at best. Lest anyone think otherwise, I am a feminist and a registered Democrat. I love ballet. And I don't want a discussion of tolerance, egalitarianism, and dance to turn into a session of feminazi-bashing, liberal-bashing, or Balanchine-bashing.

#18 vagansmom

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Posted 30 May 2002 - 04:21 PM

I LOVE your take on it, Major Mel. Hmm, Presentism - I look forward to bringing that up next time my friends disparage the classics.

I've thought a lot on this subject. It's interesting to me that ballet is judged on a PC scale by the very same people - my co-teachers- in a Montessori school- who strongly believe in presenting our students with a classical education. Our literature and cultural curriculum is heavily laced with Greek and Roman mythology. That's acceptable and laudable. Same with Shakespeare. Our elementary school kids perform Shakespeare plays throughout the year. We encourage it. We take our kids into the city for symphonies twice a year. The music teacher introduces them to opera.

But ballet? "It's degrading to women." "It's passe" ...even when the ballets are based on the very same myths and the very same Shakespeare stories.

:confused: Scratching my head on this one.

#19 vagansmom

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Posted 31 May 2002 - 07:48 PM

Kathleen, Thank you for taking the time to write that post. You've really helped me to formulate a response to my well-meaning friends when they denigrate ballet. Your points about the "oppressions" of ballet being visible as compared to those of other arts may be very helpful.

#20 BW

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Posted 30 May 2002 - 10:24 AM

Isn't this along the same lines as asking if A Tale of Two Cities is still something worth while to have on our reading lists? And perhaps this is why the Christian religions decided not to use the King James Version anymore - on to the common denominator of the Revised Standard!:):rolleyes:

Estelle, I think here, we too, think of "politically correct" in a negative way! It's all about keeping up the appearances that are currently deemed acceptable isn't it?:)

I'll be back to check the rest of the responses after I ponder my next answers.

#21 BW

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Posted 30 May 2002 - 01:05 PM

Gee, please forgive me, if what I wrote sounded defensive - as, I assure you, I didn't mean it to come off that way.

BalletNut,

These are all worthy questions and, I think, deserve thoughtful answers. In bringing up literature from our past, I thought it was a fair way of dealing with the relevancy question.

In re your points about injustice - there's no doubt about it. Let's just look at the price of a ticket, unless one wants to be up in the fourth ring! And then, you really do need a pair of good binoculars. Actually, we should go back to the ballet classes that the dancers had to take in order to become the artists that they are - ballet classes aren't cheap either! Nor are music lessons! This being said, not everyone who's in a "minority" is necessarily poor or unable to afford these things. We all know that in this country the minority is made up of people who hold the arts in high esteem. :) Actually there was someone on this board, I think, who is involved with an organization that brings dance into the classrooms of the most disadvantaged ... and then there's Eliot Feld, and Jacques D'Amboise and their organizations that work with the inner city youth.

Recently, I heard a short piece on NPR, discussing the value of the arts and that finally their impact on an individual's learning curve has been studied - and it's a proven fact that if children are exposed to music, dance and fine arts at a young age, and that they are given just as much weight as academics, that their test scores show marked improvement. This being now "proven" may offer some hope for the public. Just possibly it will trickle down to the ballet companies who will start to offer certain, seasonal, special, cut rate prices so that more people will be able to come to see their performances. Hope springs eternal. :)

Now, as for the why the women are so thin? Well, thankfully they're all not skeletal, but am I correct in saying that the thinness factor really became the "norm" during Balanchine's time? Hasn't the NYCB been known for that, at least in the past? Today, I don't think that this is so true...although they are certainly not corpulent.

#22 moira lawry

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Posted 31 May 2002 - 10:14 AM

Hello, I've been lurking, but when I saw this post, I had to register and post a reply. My daughter (and our whole family) has found a great sense of meaning from classical ballet. This is part of a reply that I wrote to TIME magazine last September when they had an article on home education. They used the example of a dyslexic dance student to 'prove' that home education did not work and that it was undemocratic.

> Dance, in particular, has a meaning to girls and young
> women. By adolescence, a growing girl knows that she
> is a second-class citizen. She knows she will never
> been seen as fully human because her body will always
> be objectified. Ballet, more than any other art, is a
> humanizing activity because it allows her to use the
> very object that ensnares her to create beauty. Our body is our voice.
>
> In ballet after ballet, the condition of women is
> symbolized. We are half-human/half-woman (Swan Lake,
> Chopiniana), poor and exploited by the rich (Giselle),
> enslaved (Le Corsaire, La Bayadere), young and under
> the thumb of older people (Romeo and Juliet), under
> the curse of an evil spell (Swan Lake, Sleeping
> Beauty, The Firebird), or a victim of men's whimsies
> (Coppelia, Manon), and in many ballets, love enslaves
> and liberates in turn, or women are in love and unable
> to do anything about it because of external
> circumstances. In every single case, our beauty and
> dignity, and our transforming ability to love even
> after death shows through. We are essentially human
> even in oppression. It is a wonderful message for
> growing girls, and one which they will not find in
> poetry or literature or art. The frailties of our personalities are
> cloaked in white tulle rather than blood and violence,
> as they are in Euripedes's plays, so the lessons are easier to take. I think of ballet
> as 'our' art.
>
> I should also like to dispute your claim that the
> function of a liberal education is to, "Expose people
> to fields they normally wouldn't investigate." The
> function of a liberal education is to be able to use
> one's mind, senses and feelings (and body in dance and
> drama) to explore what it means to be human, and thus
> be free to decide for oneself what it means to live a
> worthwhile life. The arts go one step further: they
> teach one to portray that meaning to others.
>
> It takes a long time to understand just one of the
> arts. Levels of meanings of works percolate
> only very slowly into our hearts, and ability to
> express meaning must be nurtured on its slow way. The
> knowledge of human frailty, our similarities, and
> understanding of why we are different are what one
> gets from the arts, and that is precisely what is
> needed to shape character in a democracy.
>


The pointe shoe can be compared to a steel-toe boot. One wears them for safety. Steel toe boots are horribly uncomfortable. One of my little toes was almost cut off by one once.

#23 moira lawry

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Posted 01 June 2002 - 12:04 AM

There does seem to be an appeal in performing arts to depict foreign cultures. You see it from Shakespeare's Verona to La Bayadere. I don't mind misconceptions about cultures, as long as there aren't trivializations or tokenism or a paternalistic attitude.

It is quite nice, actually, to look far from one's own world and realize that whatever their class or culture, people still have the same struggles. They love and hate, their infants die, they have petty jealousies, they objectify other people--- just like we do!

There is a famous ink drawing of a rhinoceros by a European artist who had seen a rhino once. The drawing is full of inaccuracies. Obviously, the farther one is from a culture in space and time, the more innacurate the depiction. I could write about Americans and many Americans would protest that I was saying incorrect things about them because it has been two years since I've lived in America. On the other hand, my depictions of British people would probably be even more inaccurate because I've lived here only two years. I would probably make a mess of describing the neighborhood I live in, with its Muslim women draped head-to-toe and its punks in black leather, because I know nothing about those cultures/subcultures. I still do try to describe them.

Even people living in a culture, and native to that culture, make mistakes. A Greek friend objects to the dramatists' idea that ancient Athenians exposed the babies they didn't want. He says, "It is drama-- it is not supposed to be true." As it turns out, we have more evidence than just Athenian playwrights to show that the Athenians did expose their babies.


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