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"Born to Be Wild"

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#46 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 08:44 PM

Since Mark Morris moved his company to my neighborhood and I've borrowed his name, I feel obliged to offer a bit of a defense.

First of all, there is no evidence that he is hostile to classical ballet. He has, in fact, been commissioned to do works for several ballet companies, including ABT and NYCB. While he joked on film about reading the score, it's worth noting that he can read music while Peter Martins can't, tying Morris more closely to the Balanchine heritage than NYCB's present director. (Unlike Mr. B, however, Morris does not write his own piano reductions of a score for rehearsals. The parallel is far from perfect.) Having seen many of his works, I can assure you that Mortris blends classical and modern techniques (dancers do appear en pointe), creates with a wonderful musicality, and hires, almost exclusively, dancers with classical training.

Second, he was asked to create a 7-minute piece d'occasion, not the new Sleeping Beauty. Rehearsal time was limited, performance conditions (from the filmmakers point of view) far from ideal. So Morris made a noble effort. I doubt that he or anyone involved in the program mourns the fact that Non Troppo is unlikely to get a second performance.

In addition, I would like to echo the many tributes to the background sections of the mini-bios. The astonishing Alonso, for example, is worth a whole evening of PBS programming, and the way she created world-class dancers in the less-than-promising atmosphere of Castor's Cuba is worth longer study.

Similarly, Malakhov's tale reminded me of Alexendra Danilova's memoir of her life before and after the Russian Revolution -- going from the pampered darlings of the Tsar to gifted kids struggling to find food, while rehearsing in unheated studios.

An opportunity missed, alas, but like everyone else, I'm delighted that something about dance reached a national audience.

Finally, I am distressed to learn that tolerance is viewed exclusively as a concern of "coasters." I had hoped that Matthew Shepherd did not die in vain.

#47 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 05 February 2003 - 10:01 PM

MN -

I'm sure Mark Morris isn't hostile to classical ballet. But he's not furthering the tradition either, and that's what people here are hoping for and talking about when they voice reservations. Morris can read music, certainly, but Martins knows the vocabulary of ballet, and though Morris knows choreography (and yes his dancers take a ballet class which he teaches, blah blah blah) he doesn't know ballet. I've seen his choreography for ballet companies - though I have not seen this documentary. He's not in the tradition; it isn't his base idiom. He doesn't intimately know how pointe shoes work (I'm glad this wasn't about ABT's women.) or what classical port de bras are. He's not a ballet choreographer. It doesn't make him a bad choreographer, and being a ballet choreographer doesn't make Martins either better or worse. It just makes him a ballet choreographer. But if you were hoping for the next great Yiddish writer to come along and someone said that the only Yiddish publishing house in town would be doing yet another great English novel translated into Yiddish, you'd feel cheated. Sure, it's a great novel. It's even in Yiddish. But if you try and tell me it's a Yiddish novel, I'm going to tell you every single time that it ain't.

#48 Alexandra


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Posted 05 February 2003 - 10:12 PM

I like the Yiddish novel example, Leigh . Apt in several ways -- good new ballets are probably as plentiful as good new Yiddish novels! (And I agree with what you wrote, obviously.)

I do wish we could get away from thinking that "he's not a ballet choreographer" means "he is not a good choreographer." Apples and melons.

Morris Neighbor, I think there are quite a few modern dance choreographers who hire dancers with classical training because, as Tharp once said, "I want the best technique I can get." And they use that technique, but in a different way than a ballet choreographer would use it. The concern isn't with stylistic niceties, linking steps. I don't think Morris would claim that he's from the Balanchine heritage, though.

#49 GWTW


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 12:56 AM

I can't wait for this to be aired on Mezzo - th eEuropean arts channel. Oh, but then it will have a French voice-over (This week, there was a documentary on Merce cunningham. Merce was honoured with subtitles but everyone else had a French voice-over!!!) and I won't be able to understand anything.:(

#50 atm711


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 06:01 AM

GWTW--don't worry about not understanding it---just watch! Malakhov did drop a 'pearl of wisdom' when he said something to the effect that dancers should dance, not talk.

#51 Patricia



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Posted 06 February 2003 - 06:49 AM

I haven't read through all the posts, so if I repeat anything, forgive me!:(

The music for the DANCE IN AMERICA piece is the same Morris uses in V, which his company premiered in Fall 2001. With V he uses the complete Schuman piece, not just the finale.

Mark Morris hostile to ballet? What about DRINK TO ME WITH ONLY THINE EYES? It's lovely and delicately classical. GONG is a more agressive-looking because of the pulsating score and daring (for ABT) duets performed in silence, but uses classical ballet language to the fullest. I started taking Angel Corella seriously as a dancer after seeing him in GONG because Morris didn't make him do tricks.

#52 Alexandra


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 07:19 AM

Before this gets completetly out of context, no one said that Morris was hostile to ballet.

Justafan said, several threads up:

Yet I don't think the whole Morris thing worked on a number of different levels. Was it just me, or didn't anyone else think the comments from Morris' dance mistress were hostile to ballet? She basically said Morris doesn't like to choreograph ballet because it's basically "tricks" and he's grounded in the music. But these dancers are so superior, he will deign to choregraph on them and create a musical piece! I was really put off by that comment and found myself scratching my head as to why that was included in the program.

#53 justafan


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 07:36 AM

Whether or not Morris is hostile to ballet -- and since chooses to work with ballet companies fairly often, it suggests that he is not -- I raised the hostility issue because I thought the remarks made by his ballet mistress were superfluous and somewhat hostile. My memory could be faulty, but I think she said that Mark generally considers ballet full of "tricks" and he is more grounded in the music. I think she went on to say that these guys were different, so that he wanted to do this piece.

I thought that whole remark was very strange and wondered why the producers felt the need to include it. Since the program was ostensibly aimed at promoting ballet -- or at least these ballet dancers -- why include a remark which to my mind is a groundless criticism: ballet is not as musical as other dance forms and just a bunch of tricks? Just as odd is the fact that it didn't ring true -- Morris often choreographs with ballet companies.

Whether or not his compositions are ballet is a different issue. But I do agree with most of the other posters. He was an odd choice of choreographer for a ballet program and for a program designed to make the whole art form seem "macho."

Although I enjoyed the program overall, I think some parts of the program didn't add up. Maybe they were trying to tell people already interested in modern dance: hey, you should try ballet. But that's a pretty small group of people. If they were really trying to broaden the audience by highlighting well-known choreographers that have broad appeal they would have brought in Susan Stroman or someone like that. And made some parallel comparisons to ballet and Broadway. I'm not saying they should have done that: I think they should have stuck to ballet.

#54 Alexandra


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Posted 06 February 2003 - 07:44 AM

Paul Taylor lets his work be used by ballet companies all the time and yet is on record as saying that he disliikes ballet. (He's entitled.) Modern dancers often condescend to ballet in their public musings. Basically, the company line is: it's dumb, it's too pretty, it's just steps, it's mindless virtuosity, etc etc etc. But gosh, they can turn, can't they? So let's take that facility and..... I'd note that probably the public dance figure who is the most hostile to ballet at the moment is Mikhail Baryhsnikov, who seems to take every possible opportunity to blast ballet as archaic and boring.

There are some modern dancers, of course, who do love ballet and genuinely appreciate it. And there are ballet people who condescend to modern dance -- anybody can do it, it's clumsy, etc. But there is definitely hostility out there, I agree, and I also agree that it's out of place in a show about ballet. I think when someone makes a remark like that, it indicates that he/she assumes everyone is in agreement on the matter; it's a "truth." And of course, everyone and anyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But if the people putting this program together really believed in BALLET, not cute guys dancing, there would have been a different slant, I think.

There's a school in New Yorik, especially, whose belief system is "Modern dance and Balanchine are good. Everything else is negligible." I know many people like this. And I think this shows in today's media coverage of ballet. What there is of it.

I'm waiting for "Big and Hairy: The Three Tenors Get Down and Dirty."

#55 balletmama



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Posted 06 February 2003 - 08:49 AM

Originally posted by Alexandra
But if the people putting this program together really believed in BALLET, not cute guys dancing, there would have been a different slant, I think.

To me this is the core of the matter. I think the people who put together the program were thinking back to the old days when Baryshnikov was a heart-throb (sp?) and wanting to recreate that. But although we heard a lot about Baryshikov's love life, in fact it was his fantastic leaping that got people's attention.

#56 dirac


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Posted 07 February 2003 - 02:06 PM

I suspect the program was more in line with television programs of the past such as Gene Kelly's "Dancing is a Man's Game" and one on Edward Villella called, I think, "Edward Villella: A Man Who Dances" or something like that. They're meant to showcase dance, and secondarily ballet, as something that it's okay for (straight) guys to do. This is well-intentioned, but it's certainly not ideal if you're hoping for a show on ballet dancers that showcases their art, which I think most of us were. It's not an attack on Morris to say that he isn't a choreographer ideally suited to the latter purpose (or the former, as some have pointed out).

(I also wonder if modern dance choreographers work with ballet companies not only for the opportunity to work with dancers with those special skills, but also for access to the larger opera-house audience they might have more difficulty reaching otherwise?)

#57 Watermill


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Posted 11 February 2003 - 08:22 AM

Well, this program has finally rolled across the Oregon Trail to be viewed in Portland. I think its so quaint that OPB ships the PBS specials in covered wagons. Its so much more organic and envoirnmentally friendly that those high tech satellite thingies....

I would have to agree with those who found the People magazine treatment a weakness. My pet peeve was the overuse of Le Corsaire clips. My favorites were the competition clips with all their youthful zest. To see the great Alonzo and hear the Cuban audience was another. I found the Morris piece underwhelming, but would agree with Morris Meighbor's thoughts on the matter.

One burning question remains:

Will these guys have to get chest hair implants before they can be Artistic Directors?

#58 pleiades



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Posted 11 February 2003 - 09:31 PM

I liked the program in general -- at least the dance footage -- and the Morris piece in particular for a reason that's important to me as an adult ballet student: I got to see how all four dancers, each with their own style, made the same steps their own. Malakhov's petit allegro was very different from Carreno's, from Stiefels, etc. The ability to see four spectacularly gifted dancers doing the same steps at the same time (instead of one night after the other) was really wonderful.

#59 vrsfanatic


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Posted 12 February 2003 - 03:37 AM

I am a bit confused. I recognize that this is the first time in a long time that ballet has been put in the limelight like this, a documentary, newspaper and magazine reviews, discussions on the Internet. This is great but I do not see how these four men, collectively, are really so much better than the male dancers who were performing with ABT during the 1980's. There was of course Baryshnikov himself, Anthony Dowell, Johann Renvall, Julio Bocca, Danilo Radojevic, Ricardo Bustamante, Wes Chapman...these are just a few. If we discuss the PR value of this program I can agree upon the basis of these discussions, but to not recognize the accomplishments of the many dancers who paved the way is difficult for me. This is not a first in the history of ABT.

Also Morris did make a remark regarding the fact that these young men are doing steps that did not exist previously to Baryshnikov inventing them. I do not have the direct quote as I have only seen it once, but the inference was there. It is a disappointment that Mr. Morris has not taken an interest to read even a pedagogy book or two on Russian ballet. Some of the books were written before the birth of Baryshnikov and the steps existed then. It is just too misleading. Perhaps Mr. Morris had never seen these steps before but they did indeed exist, some of them for centuries.

It is too bad that the documentary highlighted the Morris piece as it did not do the virtuoso abilities and artistic temperments of these four justice. They are indeed remarkable dancers. We all have our favorites. They tended to look average to me. Sorry!


#60 balletmama



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Posted 12 February 2003 - 05:36 AM

It's interesting to imagine the effect a p.r. campaign to push these men might have. There is a real parallel here between their packaging and that of the Three Tenors. Yesterday, while driving my favorite young dancer to class, I heard Sound Check on WNYC, which had a program about Jose Carreras. In talking about the Three Tenors, the opera critic (I think it was Fred Plotkin) said the three tenors do not draw people to opera; they only draw people to themselves.

He also complained that they sing too much pop music and don't do it well.

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