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Sarah Kaufman's article on the International Ballet Festival


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 February 2003 - 10:05 AM

There's a ton to discuss here.

Read the quotes about the internationalization of the repertory in the middle and see what you think.

Comments, anyone?

#2 dirac

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 09:56 AM

Briefly: I see the fine hand of Lady MacMillan has been at work again, so Washington will see an obscure MacMillan one-acter instead of "Monotones." Perhaps Ashton should have made a strategic marriage to a Much Younger Woman, if only for the sake of his repertory. :D

I was amused by McKenzie's "we're not eclectic -- we're all-encompassing." But that begs the question of whether "all-encompassing" is a Good Thing. I just don't see that a ballet company has any business doing Martha Graham.

Kaiser says, "National style has become more of a romantic notion than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Ballet has become more athletic. The idea of the blushing British ballerina doesn't really exist anymore." I applaud Kaiser for what he's accomplishing in Washington, but this seems just a tad condescending to me ("romantic notion," "blushing British ballerina").

#3 samba38

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 03:01 PM

I, for one, would be interested in an interview/rebuttal from McKenzie. Kaufman casually tosses in toward the end that he is doing possibly lasting damage to the arts by an emphasis on "tricks" over technique, athleticism over artistry. Now, having last seen ABT in the flamboyant Corsaire where tricks are the point of the evening, it's fun, like having dessert for breakfast -- not something you want as a dailydiet.
But I don't see enough of ABT to have an educated opinion on this. I hope those who do will jump in on this.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 03 February 2003 - 03:04 PM

I'd agree with Kaufman on that one. I think there's been a marked emphasis on HOWMANYTURNSCANYOUDOHUHHUHHUH??? in the past ten years, and I don't want to eat desert for breakfast :)

#5 mbjerk

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Posted 04 February 2003 - 03:24 AM

But the focus on quantity has been building forever. Dancers naturally do this in their youth. The competition craze and the sports influence are huge in creating this atmosphere. Kevin was not known for his quantity, but for his quality as a dancer and I know firsthand that he does not emphasize numbers in his coaching. Yet audiences love it for the most part and dancers (especially younger males) will not hold back. Dancers always seek attention, and audiences going bonkers for mucho, macho (even with the women) fulfills that need.

Also, it appears to my eyes that most of these dancers can do ten pirouttes in a perfect position and finish beautifully. Both quantity and quality. Same for Sylvie and her extensions - it does not bother me, but then I look for what whe is saying versus going orgasmic over how high her leg is. Unfortunately many in the audience gasp at the circus......

Unfortunately too, acting seems to be a lost art. I do not think the quantity is to blame, but is the result of a culture of television/movies (special effects), video games (immediate explosions) and winning is everything.

But I agree with you that I would much rather see a clean, well acted/danced, personal performance over a bland, numerically exponential one. And I leave the theater usually without much enjoyment or as an AD used to say - BORING -

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 04 February 2003 - 08:23 AM

An interesting post, as always, mbjerk, and I'm very grateful for the dancer/director perspective on this.

I think there have been times when there are brakes on the dancers' push for quantity, though, and at least four of the great choreographers -- Bournonville, Ashton, Tudor and Balanchine -- harnessed technique in the service of artistry, using bravura rarely and never for its own sake. That's what I mean about the quantity/quality debate. (Bournonville would make the women sew a thread between their legs to their skirts to prevent the leg from going too high; that's one way to do it.)

I take your point that there can be quality with the quantity, but even ten perfectly done pirouettes can do harm in the wrong ballet, I think. I was struck by that in McKenzie's "Swan Lake." Siegfried never stays still for a minute -- he's a little gnat, bouncing and bounding about. He could have Attention Deficit Disorder, a disease for which ballet's princes are not known. So when poor Odette comes on to do her 19th century steps with their 19th century purity, the balance of the ballet is upset. She cannot be the ballerina.

I also think that directors can be quite different than they were as dancers; I don't think dancer behavior is always predictive of how one will be as a director, although it can be.

#7 mbjerk

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Posted 04 February 2003 - 11:38 AM

Yes, a prince should be a prince and not confuse himself with the jester. In that case, it is Kevin who is the leader as both choregographer and director. Yet seeing ten priouttes in his Black Swan variation would not bother me (unless it happened again in the fourth act entrance and with a triple somersault of the cliff).

You are correct in that there is a time and place for it and it is up to the AD or choreographer to enforce that discipline. I remember doing pas de deux with every lift one handed and as many turns as would fit, only to be reprimanded for my lack of taste - "this is not a circus" - I did it on my own and was not coached in that direction, although my partner was somewhat a co-conspirator.

Bournonville always seemed to me the perfect balance of clean, exciting technique and artistry/acting.

#8 samba38

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 07:43 AM

So, Alexandra, can you get an interview with Kevin for Ballet Alert on these points. Maybe Kaufman will pose these interesting points raised above with McKenzie as an advance feature interview before the Feb. 18 opening.
I can be had for cheap thrills -- for a time -- but it worries me that the next generation audience doesn't know these are cheap thrills. There's a parallel here to today's Kisselgoff review of the latest Graham company performance where technique -- the essential Graham was blurred or deliberately distorted. Quite fascinating.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 08:00 AM

Samba, to be honest, about interviews, often people will say what they think you want to say, or feel they have to say. In the same way politicians are. So often it's more interesting to talk to people who have more freedom, or are less protective.

#10 samba38

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 09:03 AM

hmmm. well, I do have some experience (like 30 years) with interviewing... but I've been lucky. I have not done it from the delicate position of a specialty publication but with the powerful access of a major daily at my back. Generally, people will talk to a major daily even if they don't like what we ask. And we have the freedom to hone in on them. (It was in a published interview with the late critic Laurie Horn, for The Miami Herald, that Gelsey Kirkland first publically admitted her cocaine use. ) But I can see where that can be a challenge for a niche publication where a key source in a snit could cut off availibility if they were displeased with how things went in the interview or in print.
So I stand by my point. I want to know what McKenzie says to all this. And I want him questioned by someone serious like you or Sarah who will know when/if he's weasel around. Her problem isn't McKenzie playing elusive, it's The Post -- and other major dailies that seem to view criticism as a brief "they danced pretty" summary -- making it difficult to get space for ideas about art as well as personality. You and Sarah are able to wedge their brains open more often these days. Keep on the pressure. Audiences deserve these strong-minded stories.


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