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NPR Punk v. Opera: where does ballet fit in?


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#16 Hans

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Posted 16 January 2003 - 09:23 AM

Yes, that is true. And to think the Nutcracker used to be criticized for making the audience wait too long to see the ballerina!

However, I do see what you mean--it's not easy to view the tutu (especially in its present form) as a shortened version of the wide skirts all women used to wear, and the idea of both showing the legs and keeping the male partner a decent distance away is definitely an old-fashioned one.

One thing that might explain the popularity of opera but not ballet is that while opera was in its Romantic period (Verdi, Wagner, &c), ballet was having its Classical (or Neoclassical, depending on one's perspective) period with classical tutus and the like (strangely enough, Classical ballet is danced to Romantic music). Therefore, while opera was becoming less and less formal in structure and more extreme emotionally, ballet was becoming more formal, up until the 20th century. Then all hell broke loose ;).

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 16 January 2003 - 09:40 AM

Originally posted by Hans
One thing that might explain the popularity of opera but not ballet is that while opera was in its Romantic period (Verdi, Wagner, &c), ballet was having its Classical (or Neoclassical, depending on one's perspective) period with classical tutus and the like (strangely enough, Classical ballet is danced to Romantic music).  


I know this is the way dance history is taught, but I think that we know more about the 19th century now than when the first books (that are still used, or that form the basis for later books) were written. Ballet's classical period took place at the same time every other art form's classical period took place -- we just don't have any left (Noverre's "Jason et Medea," Gardel's "Alfred le Grand," etc.) Romantic ballet rebelled against both classical content and classical form in the same way that music did.

Petipa, at least the works we have of his, was a throwback, and was basically making 18th century ballets with 19th century content and technique. Sleeping Beauty was a conscious attempt to recreate the ballet de fee.

I think the confusion also involves what is "classical" -- people used "classical ballet" in the same way they used "classical music," not to indicate a time period or aesthetic, but "something that isn't popular." Since "Swan Lake" Act II is thought of as the epitome of "classical ballet," somehow this became "Ballet is odd. It is the only art form where the classical period follows the Romantic." (I think there were a lot of things written when people who had not grown up with the art form were confronting it for the first time and trying to make sense out of it, and this is one of them. I know this is all OT, but since many of us have read the same books, I thought I should add that historical note.)

#18 Hans

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Posted 16 January 2003 - 08:24 PM

I wrote that way in order to be clear--I have suspected for a long time now that ballet's classical period was in the 18th century, but late 19th century ballet is so often referred to as classical that I didn't want to confuse anyone. Perhaps we could make this into a different thread, but does that then make Petipa neoclassical (it's actually a rather apt term, IMO) and Balanchine neoromantic? I've thought for a while that neoromantic fits Balanchine better than neoclassical (and not just because of the hand position ;)).

#19 Mel Johnson

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Posted 17 January 2003 - 04:11 AM

Like Picasso, Balanchine went through "periods" where he choreographed more in one style than another. Then, just when you thought you had him nailed down, he'd come out with something in a completely different style. He had both neoclassic and neoromantic periods, but they were all punctuated by other outputs that confounded classification. It kind of reminds me of Stephen Vincent Benet's description of Robert E. Lee, when he wrote that you could pin him down and examine what he did and come out with a conclusion regarding his mind, but there was a matter of the heart: "That he kept hidden, safe from all the picklocks of biographers." I've always found Balanchine enigmatic in that fashion.

#20 julip

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Posted 30 January 2003 - 11:56 PM

Being known to be somewhat of a 'punk', I'm feeling a bit of internal pressure to answear to this thread.

Maybe I should start by first stating why a good deal of people refer to me as...a 'punk'. On the outset its obvious...purple hair, tatoos, clothing you would never find in a department store, on and on. Then you dig a bit deeper and you see the music (fast, furious, no holds barred wether its Sex Pistols, Steve Reich, or Ritalin Kids). Go a bit further down that track and you see where it all comes from...a love of chaos (not anarchy), a love of extremes, a love of truth. Put them together with a personality that lives to the extreme in the moment...you get somewhat of that 'punk' personality.

After stating all that, I feel like I can tackle this thread. Why do I, as a punk type...why do I LOVE ballet? Hmm, maybe I should break this down, why do I love to DO ballet, why do I love to watch ballet...

Why do I love to DO ballet? It is extreme. it pushes everything to its maximum. It particular I love the extreme of the exhaustion. You go to a concert at a club and you can somewhat experience that. But its nothing compared to what taking a class in classical ballet technique does to your body. There is so much truth in it. Your soul is bared, your mind is completly open, and your body is broken down to its bare roots to express what nothing else could possibly do. It is not chaotic, however it is so dependent on the moment that it borders on that. If one step is taken wrong, then the body goes into chaos to try and regain itself...and that to me is exciting, walking that line between the ultimate control and chaos.

Why do I love to WATCH ballet? ok, honest truth...if I wasn't a dancer more than likely I would never watch classical or romantic ballet. Modern and contemporary dance is a different story. Because I am a dancer, I understand the extremes of ballet and I can appreciate them...but they don't thrill me. Rarely has that happened, and those times it has always been contemporary ballet. The fact that there is not alot of truth in classical ballet on the stage turns me off also. It always hits me as contrived, not relevant, and not current. I want something that hits me as something real and in the moment, not something that was created over a hundred years ago. Alot of that is performance, and the fact that so many dancers don't seem to be willing to give themselves totally over and let go of that safety net of technique...and instead just trust that it will be there to hold them up, and in the meantime take the risk and push everything further. Theres nothing terribly chaotic about ballet, especially since not many performers are willing to push themselves that much further and take the risk.

Holy cow...that got a bit long didn't it. Well, there you go... an answear from a 'punk' dancer. I think I'm going to go listen to The All American Rejects, they're one of those new punkers, you know (to quote Henry Rollins) they look like one of the Replacements thats been drug through the gutter for three blocks.

m/ >-< m/

#21 atm711

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Posted 31 January 2003 - 05:58 AM

Fendrock writes:


[font="century gothic"]"...many find the dances of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier to be the dullest part of the Nutcracker"[/font]


Ouch!:) That one hurt. The PDD is the only part of the 'Nutcracker' I can watch.


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