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Patron Saints and Guardian Angels?


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#1 Dale

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Posted 14 July 2001 - 02:25 AM

Howard Gillman, and in his death his foundation, has given a lot of money and support to the Arts. He has been generous with the White Oak project and has housed dancers. The New York City Ballet has received money and support from Irene Diamond and Ann Bass.

I was very impressed when I read in Mary's interview with Duncan Cooper in Ballet Alert that Judy Peabody was kind enough to call him when he was injured and offered emotional support. Not a lot of donors do that sort of thing.

And let's not forget Albert Villars, whose generosity will bring the Kirov to Washington D.C. for 10 straight years. He also is a big contributor to the Met Opera.

[ 07-14-2001: Message edited by: Dale ]

#2 Ed Waffle

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Posted 27 September 2002 - 11:17 AM

Originally posted by atm711
Approve of him or not, Sol Hurok should hold a high place in the popularity of ballet in the US.  


Approve of him? Of course. While someone else may have done so in Hurok's absence, he was the impressario (love that word) who brought ballet to the frozen Midwest during the ballet boom. The people he helped introduce to ballet included my wife and I. The posters for the shows were always the same--the top line, generally (as I recall) in the largest type was:

Sol Hurok presents

"Tonight We Sing" featuring performances by Ezio Pinza, Anna Pavlova, Isaac Stern and Roberta Peters is an over-the-top schmaltz fest biopic. David Wayne is completely unconvincing as Hurok.

Another set of guardian angels might be the people and organizations who managed to save some of the venues for dance.

Here in Motown, for example, there are several individuals who can honestly claim to have "saved" the Music Hall, one of the important venues/presenters downtown. It has been on the edge of closing a number of times, but each time a bunch of people raise enough money to save it--again.

There must have been venues that were saved from the wrecking ball--City Center perhaps. Wasn't Carnegie Hall in danger at one point?

The movie "Carnegie Hall", by the way, features Harold Dryenforth as Walter Damrosch and also Walter Damrosch as himself. Additional cast includes Pinza, Jan Peerce, Rise Stevens, Burno Walter, Lily Pons and Leopold Stowkowski, all as themselves.

#3 Estelle

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Posted 13 July 2001 - 05:08 PM

Drew, I'm not sure, but if I remember correctly, Rene Blum actually was a brother of the French Prime Minister Leon Blum, and died in a nazi death camp.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 12 July 2001 - 07:21 PM

Diaghilev is the obvious one, I think. And, as Jeannie mentioned on another thread, a whole passle of Kings and Queens (not to mention Czars). Not all of them had the best motives, perhaps, but they certainly kept ballet going -- and employed a lot of dancing masters and dancers. And, IMHO, they had a much better track record than the bunch that's running ballet today :) There's still an elite; it's just a different elite, and one that's not necessarily educated and trained in the arts.

I suppose Edward James must count, although his interest, or perhaps his means, to support ballet was shortlived.

In San Francisco, the current incarnation of the San Francisco Ballet owes a lot to Mac Lowry, who wanted to have a first-rate classical company and brought Tomasson in to build one. An extremely controversial move, as both dancers and audience were very attached to the director (Michael Smuin), so one could argue that this was one man being a dictator -- but patron saints are always dictators, I think.

In Denmark, there was a politician -- Niels Mathiesen -- a member of Parliament who (savor these words) loved the arts. He fought for their existence and their funding. He was the first Minister of Culture (before, this had been lumped with the Ministry of the Church, or whatever its name was). In the 19th century, even though there was state support, the Theatre Chief was the Culture Czar, and there were at least two Lincoln Kirsteins, men of taste and passion who had an artistic agenda and went about fulfilling it with amazing taste and efficiency.

In England there was Lillian Baylis, but perhaps one of our British visitors can explain her!!!

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 13 July 2001 - 09:35 AM

Lots of saints and angels, aren't there?

Lucia Chase is an interesting case because she was on stage as well as behind the scenes. I've read that, in the early days, she didn't let anyone know she was funding it -- as she was dancing, as she was going on the road, sharing a room. I think she deserves a lot of credit for what she did and I'll recommend, again, the essay about Chase's directorship in Charles Payne's book about American Ballet Theatre. I read it in my first balletgoing years and found it a real eye-opener. As much as we love to talk about the great years of creation, those choreographers were, to a man or woman, pills. They fought over everything, they'd withdraw works at the drop of a hat, they were always flouncing out to go somewhere better. One reason Chase turned to "the classics" was because she didn't have to deal with choreographers!

While Chase may have had a heart of gold, Harkness strikes me as having lots of money and ambition and being a little dim in the taste department. She had some wonderful dancers, though. (Two very different takes on this company are offered by Croce -- forget the title, but it's an evisceration -- and Walter Terry's "Hail, Harkness! Hail!" both in their respective collections.) I've never read an unbiased view of what she did to Joffrey, but this may be one rare instance where there isn't another side to an issue.

I don't know very much about Denham. He's either a Saint or "if I ever get my hands on that s.o.b. I'll wring his neck."

Hurok is an interesting case -- he might be worth a thread. I came into ballet as he was leaving it, and I heard a lot of grumbles about how he had ruined ballet, and I couldn't figure out how someone who presented ballet could be ruining it. I'm beginning to understand that point of view now. He had a grindingly popular taste and skewed repertories accordingly -- nothing wrong with being popular, but there are those who felt that squeezed out art. More importantly, he promoted stars at the expense of companies. I saw the effect of this, reading reviews of the Danes in the 1950s, when their tours were managed by Columbia Arts Management, and 1965, when it was a Hurok special. The reviews of the first tours were all about the company and the ballets. Dancers were barely mentioned, and never one over the other. The 1965 reviews were all Star Fever, 90% reports on dancers and personalities. The contrast, in less than a decade, is incredibly stark.

What's wrong with that? Depends on your point of view. It was undoubtedly fun at the time, but I can see how it was a road to hell. (Yes, he brought ballet to lots of people. So did Columbia Arts Management.)

Volkova was also a hands-on person and not a patron saint (as Leigh mentioned) but was certainly someone I'd like to clone. Her work in England is almost completely unknown. She taught class there after the War and many Sadlers Wells dancers took them -- after taking the mandatory company classes. This upset DeValois, and eventually Volkova moved on -- was squeezed out, really. I didn't know until I talked to Danes (where Volkova ended up, after discovering a teenaged ballerina named Carla Fracci during her very brief tenure in Milan) that Volkova had coached Fonteyn in Aurora and Odette/Odile and it had been felt at the time that Volkova gave her her final ballerina "polishing" -- but I can't find any mention of that in the British press (nor, except for a veiled reference or two, in Fonteyn's autobiography). She was reportedly close to Ashton and attended every rehearsal of "Symphonic Variations" and was helpful when he had the idea of paring it down -- again, no mention of that in books about Ashton. But the first half of this century was Diaghilev-centric (in the West) and the second half was choreographer-centric (like the auteur theory in cinema) and ballet masters, or what went in to actually making a dancer, wasn't really thought of.)

In Copenhagen, Volkova came in when the company had been rent apart by the loss of its director, no successor in sight. She took over the school and, with Stanely Williams (on whom she was a great influence), taught the children. She also taught the aspirants class (the 16 to 18 year olds). She taught company class. She attended every performance. She geared the classes to what the dancers were doing on stage that week. She could make classes that prepared you to do a step you were having trouble with. She trained teachers. She coached dancers and she was absolutely adored. She just forgot to hold press conferences about it.

While they may not have been of such crucial importance in other companies (Volkova was the only one working in Copoenhagen on that level then) there must be other Great Balletmistresses/masters who worked without recognition, yet made a difference. I don't know who was responsible for the Royal Ballet's dancing during the 1960s, a Golden Age. We hear about Rosemary Dunleavy as having an extraordinary memory and being the guardian of the steps at NYCB, and John Taras, especially when he was younger, was reportedly an excellent balletmaster. Patrice Bart is doing the honors in Paris (plug: we have a very interesting interview with him, by Marc Haegeman, in the next issue of DanceView which will be mailed out next week). Others?

And if anyone can fill us in on the Ballet Russe (post-Diaghilev) saints, please do.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 13 July 2001 - 06:22 PM

I don't know much about Blum, but wanted to respond to the teachers question. There is as book by Gretchen Ward Warren called "Master Teachers of the Ballet" (I think).[See corrected title in Victoria's post below.] It's very readable, even if you're not a teacher. It covers 105 teachers who were living when Warren researched the book, which is only about five years old, I believe, and explains their methods and combines capsule biographies with interviews. The appendix contains one class from each teacher. It's a lovely book. (Disclaimer: we share a publisher, but that's not why I'm posting this!)

I forgot to mention Constant Lambert, who was of crucial importance to the Royal Ballet, I think, because he served as musical advisor. Ashton didn't have the musical education Balanchine had; he wasn't a musician. Lambert had not only knowledge of music, but connections to musicians. I don't know of a Lambert working today; perhaps one is.

[ 07-13-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 13 July 2001 - 10:39 PM

Thanks, Victoria!

#8 atm711

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Posted 25 September 2002 - 10:22 AM

Approve of him or not, Sol Hurok should hold a high place in the popularity of ballet in the US. For one thing, he brought glamor and excitement in 1933 with a tour of the Blum/deBasil Ballet Russe that had Balanchine and Massine as choreographers and a Company that included Danilova and the three famous baby ballerinas. Apparently he helped the Company survive, for although they had an artistic success in Europe, things financial were not going so well. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The book on Rebekah Harkness is 'Blue Blood' by Craig Unger, also offering an unflattering portrait.

#9 dirac

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Posted 13 July 2001 - 04:29 AM

How about Ida Rubinstein? I suppose we must add her to the ranks of frustrated-ballerina-rich-ladies, but she did commission works from Bakst, Fokine, Ravel, Stravinsky, et al., not to mention keeping a youthful Ashton gainfully employed (he got a lot of social mileage out of a wicked imitation of her frightful dancing later on).

[ 07-13-2001: Message edited by: dirac ]

#10 dirac

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Posted 13 July 2001 - 04:33 AM

Almost forgot. This is not a ballet example, but there's also Bethsabee de Rothschild's loyal support of Martha Graham.

#11 dirac

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 05:05 PM

David Wayne was indeed a most unlikely Hurok. Superb actor in comedy, but he had "Hero's Sidekick" written all over him. :)


I wonder if Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would count as a benefactor to the fine arts, apart from the aesthetic qualities of its movies? One unfortunate byproduct of the disappearance of the we-don't -care-about-plot-or-character-let's-do-a-musical genre is that it is no longer possible to haul in Melchior, Pinza, Traubel, Tallchief, et al. out of left field to back up, say, Esther Williams. These flicks were not deathless masterpieces, but people who would never have seen Melchior live got to see him belting for all he was worth. The first tenor I ever heard was Mario Lanza my father was a big fan.

#12 Nanatchka

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Posted 25 September 2002 - 10:18 AM

For those who want to read about this:
There's a Sol Hurok bio called "Impressario," out of print.
There's Jack Anderson's "The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

The Ford Foundation's McNeil Lowry was the great ballet fan. He wrote a wonderful article for the New Yorker years ago....

Through the National Endowment for the Arts, and our state Arts Endowments, we are all patrons, though its diminshing returns. I wish I could earmark my whole federal tax return that way...

#13 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 12 July 2001 - 04:37 PM

Patron Saints was the title of a book (I can't recall the author) detailing the five young heirs who responsible for bringing modern art to America. Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg were among them, I believe.

Every country has their legendary facilitator, perhaps an artist themselves (Kirstein was a fine poet among other talents), perhaps not. But they made art possible. And then there were the brilliant administrators, or the people who took the reins of a faltering company when it was falling apart. Or the impressarios.

Let's talk about the people who don't make ballets, but make it all possible.

#14 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 13 July 2001 - 12:09 AM

Just to mention not just the patrons, how about the impressarios like Sol Hurok? What was his place in American ballet (I guess we should ask the same about Sergei Denham, et al.) I know NYCB's history rather well, but not that of the Ballet Russes, and they really brought ballet to all of America.

When I mentioned people behind the scenes who saved ballet companies, I was actually thinking of Vera Volkova, another type of guardian angel entirely! I'd love to hear opinion from POB watchers on how much of the strength of POB is Claude Bessy as well as Nureyev's tenure.

#15 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 12 July 2001 - 10:16 PM

I believe there is a biography of Rebecca Harkness. Not certain of the title, but I think it was called Blue Blood, or something like that.

Liebs and vrsfanatic, I too believe that Lucia Chase qualifies. Even if there was initially the thread of self gratification, she pretty much single-handedly kept that company going, through wars and fires and everything else, for a lot of years! She maintained the classical repertoire, and brought many choreographers to prominence, including Tudor, DeMille, Robbins, Dollar, and many others.


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