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About l'histoire

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  • Connection to/interest in ballet** (Please describe. Examples: fan, teacher, dancer, writer, avid balletgoer)
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  1. Are there ballets that should no longer be staged?

    Truly, that's fine to say (I would say it's privilege to be able to say that - I don't have that privilege, because I'm an historian) - I agree "we're all humans." A lot of my teaching is "we're all humans." I try really hard to impress upon students, c. 2018, that someone who lived 2000, 3000 years before them was a human with emotions just like them. But at the same time (as I also impress upon my students), we must recognize that it means something radically different to exist in the US, c. 2018, vs. the PRC, c. 1958, vs. the Hei'an period, c. 1128, vs. the Song dynasty, c. 1028. These things are not all the same. They are simply not. As much as we might like them to be. You might treat them as though they're the same, because humans, but they are not to someone who has to sit down with sources, write this history. It's nice to say "oh we're all the same," but - we're not. We can't be. For a variety of political, cultural, and social reasons. In any case, my original point was simply that yes, certain things are really problematic, no, that doesn't mean they should be taken of the stage, but they should be recognized as such. It's not shaming the original production to go "Gee, I don't know, Allegra Kent in a flowered bikini in an Orientalist marriage night fantasy is kind of problematic here." (Really, if Bugaku was one of Balanchine's leotard ballets, I probably wouldn't even BE here talking). We can't just say "oh well we're all humans, ergo this has no power dynamic to it & thus is neutral." I can't figure out how to quote Drew here, but this gets to the heart of it for me: "discussing creatively and respectfully how to produce them in 2018. That's something different from censorship--call it not "live and let live" (a phrase Quinten used) but "live and discuss," "live and learn," "live and re-imagine" etc." My entire academic career is built around talking about how people reimagine culture, both within a specific cultural context & also transnationally. Some of it IS censorship. A lot of it is not - just people trying to figure out how to reinterpret centuries-old things (much, much, much older & more ingrained than Bugaku) into THEIR context. Which is not ours. Just like the moment of creation of Bugaku is not OUR moment. I guess it looks old & dated at this point, but as someone who deals with old & dated things, they still have power.
  2. Are there ballets that should no longer be staged?

    Forgive me if I misunderstood your reason for quoting her; my assumption was that it was the "tradition [you] mentioned above" re: abandoned courtesans. Yes of course she echoes other things. She is a highly literate Chinese person c. late 19th/early 20th c. writing in classical Chinese, writing classical Chinese poetry (she's actually nothing special in many respects. We think she's special 'cause she got her head chopped off & was a woman. In fact, there were many women doing the exact same thing as her - who didn't get their heads chopped off. Xu Zihua, who I mentioned earlier, is a splendid example). There is nothing else to do in her literary tradition BUT echo things that have come before - that doesn't mean you can't do something interesting & new, but Qiu Jin is nothing "new" in most respects. She's doing what generations have done before her. If you're looking for "radical" in her poetry, well .... Maybe it looks radical in translation. Japanese intellectuals writing "kanshi" - Chinese-style poetry - c. the same period are doing THE SAME THING, even if they are men. Chinese men are doing the same thing. Many WOMEN are doing the same thing. Li Bai can look really modern. The Shijing can look really modern, too. So can Catullus, or Sappho (among others), for that matter. I teach Sei Shonagon (from the Hei'an period), and my students love her - she's a 10th century Tumblr! She's crazily "modern." And? So? She's still not. She was a Hei'an aristocrat. No matter how much her snarky commentary may read well to us, she's still not - will never be - one of us. She couldn't be. She's been dead over a thousand years.
  3. Are there ballets that should no longer be staged?

    Hello again, sorry to pop my head up again at inopportune times (semester has started again & I have a lot of my own work I'm attending to, thus super interesting BA discussions are taking a back seat. I missed this discussion earlier). 1. We're not talking abandoned courtesans. And bluntly, the trope of "abandoned courtesan" has a COMPLETELY different inflection if we're talking Madame Butterfly (which is not about what's going in Asia, let's face it) vs. one of the great Ming-Qing (courtesan) poets, of which there are many. Dorothy Ko's _Teachers of the Inner Chambers_ is splendid in discussing this. If we're talking "lovesick young women," still different. My primary area of focus is ghost operas (guixi), the most of which focus on young women dying for various reasons & then returning in a ghostly form. Seriously, I've spent a lot of time looking at these things. They're not "Madame Butterfly" just written by Asian people, I promise. 2. I'm not sure why we're quoting the Yijing. I can quote a number of quite famous poems from the Shijing that are - bluntly - about sexual desire and love - correct places be damned. And, a good whack of the Shijing is older the YIjing, so .... You also can't separate ANY of the Classics from Confucianism as a whole. I give a lecture entitled "From Romance to Bromance," which is on later Confucian & neo-confucian interpretations of "the classics." These things are old. They've been read & re-read many times, and reinterpreted many times. I can give you multiple examples of a poem that is _obviously_ a love poem being "reinterpreted" - and reinterpreted through the ages, century after century - as some claptrap about a ruler and his official. 3. Qiu Jin is great (truly). I love her, I teach with her. Basically all my classes read her. I admit I have more fondness for her very good friend, Xu Zihua, who is the one who went to collect her beheaded body & bury Qiu Jin ("Who will come with me to bury Autumn?") & had to carry on (and did). But Qiu Jin was not an abandoned courtesan. She was a woman from an elite family who CHOSE to leave her family to go pursue other things. And she did. Don't trot out Qiu Jin to say something about "abandoned courtesans." She was neither abandoned, nor a courtesan. She was a HIGHLY literate woman from an elite family & made her own choices. The "don't tell me women are not heroes" poem is actually addressed to a Japanese man she met while traveling. She is 100% engaging with - for the time - current international relations via her poetry. She is not a weeping, lonely courtesan & to paint her as such is ... pretty absurd.
  4. Are there ballets that should no longer be staged?

    Well, no, that's not precisely what I'm saying. But the issue of transfer from, say, China to Korea or Korea to Japan circa (pick an ancient century: 3rd c. AD, 7th c. AD) is fundamentally different that Balanchine being saddled with a Japanese score & having to do "something" with it. We're talking a very different flow when it comes to Japanese court writers in the 8th c AD, HAVING to borrow from China because 'oh hello we have a very minor tradition of written language - which is YOURS to begin with' versus Petipa in St. P, creating Raymonda. There are 8 billion reasons for this. I will not bore with you talk on Chinese literary forms & how that was THE accepted form in China, Korea, AND Japan for many centuries (classical Chinese was THE literary language in China, Japan & Korea well into the 19th century), but I will say it's not really "borrowing," not the way we're talking about here. Same thing with Japan (or China or Korea) "borrowing" from the West in the late 19th/20th c. (artistically speaking). Yes, it's quite true they took on forms from the West. But it was most often to make a comment on domestic society (I would add a few paragraphs here, but everyone has been delightfully patient with me & I don't want to wear out my welcome!). They're not "borrowing" from the West to reinvent the West, or provide some vision of the West. They take the form (something new to East Asian culture) for the purposes of dealing with the East Asian present (the Japanese "I" novel would be a splendid example: borrowed from the West but reinvented for Japanese purposes - and has now become a Japanese "thing"). FYI, I'm just as agog at Chinese dramas, c. 1955, that feature people in whiteface (yes, such a thing exists) as I am at Bugaku. And at least Bugaku has lasting artistic value. Whether we like it or not, there's a very serious power dynamic in place when in comes to "the West" (I realize Balanchine once characterized himself as "an Oriental," and bluntly - you're welcome to disagree with me - it's one of the few, possibly the only, Balanchine quotes that makes me roll my eyes and go 'Oh come ON.' I'm familiar with "Russians that are Russians but don't live in St P or Moscow," and revisiting that quote hurt me). This is what concerns me (not the ballet, but the idea that some cultural production couldn't reinforce already problematic ideas). It presents a certain view of "the Orient" & that ought to be complicated. As a related, but different, example, I love - LOVE! - Orientalist European art from the 19th century. I also recognize that it's incredibly problematic. I hang it in my house (via exhibition posters) with impunity, but would NEVER show it to my students without a serious discussion attending it. Obviously, people who spend even a small portion of their free time on Ballet Alert are not the kind of people I would feel anxious about looking at these things. But they ARE problematic. I think this is the discussion we're ultimately having? We're not talking "to each other" in the sense that someone who spends time on Ballet Alert will need to be convinced Orientalist art is potentially problematic. But what does it mean for people who don't spend their time on a ballet board? Ultimately, I'm a cultural historian - that most hated breed of historian, at least in the current academic climate - so I DO take culture seriously. Even, as someone said earlier, a rarely seen ballet (so who cares, right? I do agree that Bugaku "isn't important" vs. any popularly viewed TV show, or even versus Balanchine's great, famous ballets) . But it all matters. I'm not saying Bugaku needs to be taken off stages in any respect, just that - we need to think about it in its context. It is by far not the most problematic ballet (to me) that has been brought up in this thread, but we can't just think about it as pretty tutus, drink umbrellas, flowered bikinis, and nice choreography. I give Balanchine way more of a pass than I do contemporary stagings of various classics featuring blackface in Russia (!). It's true that ballet goers are, in general, a lot more sophisticated than the students I teach; I probably wouldn't have to say to anyone on this board, for example, that the shorthand "Japs" for "Japanese" is rather problematic (something I dealt with last semester, so - not far off). But Bugaku is interesting: it says something about a certain moment (its creation) about East-West interactions (interesting!), but it's still performed, however rarely. What does it say to contemporary audiences? How does it say it? Is that message problematic? So ... what do we do now? These are the things I'm interested in.
  5. Are there ballets that should no longer be staged?

    Also please forgive me, there were a lot of interesting posts I wanted to quote specifically but I've been having trouble with the board software on my laptop. I've been reading Ballet Alert for many years, and have always appreciated the thoughtfulness and intelligence of contributors (still do, obviously), and am a little embarrassed that my first foray into what is apparently a somewhat hot topic has led to me being unable to respond in the way I'd like to.
  6. Are there ballets that should no longer be staged?

    Well, yes. When it's part of an entire cultural construction that presents the Orient in a certain way, it does - it's part of it, part of the post-war history of it. It's not just Bugaku; it's not just the ridiculous Chinese dance in the Nutcracker (as someone who literally makes my living studying Chinese performance art, I still have no idea where the "index finger in the air = Chinese!" thing comes from, and it seems that's finally going by the wayside - good!), it's not just blackface or ridiculous Orientalist plots strung together so we can see some beautiful ballerinas doing their thing (as in a great many ballets of late 19th c. origin). It's all of it, and the long history of it, and there is a l-o-n-g history of it. The idea that all East Asian countries "borrow" from each other in the same way that, say, Europe has "borrowed" anything from "the Orient" or created Le Corsaire or Madame Butterfly is rather absurd - this is not how cultural flow has functioned in East Asia. There was borrowing yes, but with an entirely different inflection when we're talking "Japan taking on the Chinese poet Li Bai" versus "Raymonda" (or Bugaku). It truly isn't a matter of someone watching the ballet and going "Oh, wow, now I see, Japanese women are subservient sex toys!" - it's the matter of something perpetuating things that *already alive and well in the dominant culture.* Again, do I think that was Balanchine's intent? NO! But he wasn't immune to imperial Russian or US culture. How could he be? I would love to see Bugaku as a leotard ballet, truly, versus how it exists now, which is basically a leotard ballet trussed up in bizarre clothing (horse hair wigs and cocktail umbrellas and flowered bikinis - Seriously? I say that as someone who finds the tutus from the 1st part quite beautiful, and yes, resembling a lotus, despite the hair and makeup. But I think I'd find Kent & Villella - or contemporary artists - just as moving in practice clothes as weird wigs and half-dressed, truly). And, bluntly, my experience as a professor (of East Asian history - I'm not just yammering on here with no basis in my own professional experience) has been that many are racist, and many are ignorant - not stupid - but it means that it is not a given that the sorts of cultural signals some people read as obvious ("Oh hey this is pretty racist!") read as such. I don't think Asian cultures "need protecting." I just think they have the right not to presented in often profoundly absurd, sexist, orientalist ways. I teach students semester after semester the AMAZING cultural - social - political achievements that have happened in East Asia over the centuries. Were this not a ballet board, I could go on at length.
  7. Are there ballets that should no longer be staged?

    Gonna go on a limb here, but I'm p. sure Mr B. knew little-to-nothing about Heian-era aesthetics (also, the women had blackened front teeth & umpteen-thousand layers of kimonos in that period, which is not exactly jiving with my experiences with Bugaku, but your mileage may vary. The spectacular photo of Kent & Villella features Kent in a flowered bikini, which I'm quite certain was not authentic Heian-era gear. Perhaps someone does do it with 18 layers of kimono on the woman? If so, I'd LOVE to see photos, and I mean that sincerely). The issue with cultural appropriation is not that people borrow from other cultures. The issue is that there is a power imbalance here & always has been (at least since the 19th c. on) - "I can borrow from you, transform you to my liking, AND HAVE THE PLATFORM TO DO SO'- the reverse is not possible, and it contributes to other issues, whether we like it to or not (I've only seen Bugaku on recording & rather like the ballet - think it's quite cool in a lot of ways! - but also recognize that it's Really Problematic). The "borrowing" is always done from a dominant culture, frequently for reasons of feminizing an Other. I sincerely doubt that Balanchine was TRYING to do this in Bugaku, but this is the insidious nature of "orientalism," etc: people aren't TRYING to perpetrate these things, but they do, because of overarching views on the Other, or the Orient (among other things). And that's precisely what makes them so insidious, and why they need to be called out. You shouldn't have to be in blackface or yellowface for someone to say "Oh hey maybe this is problematic."
  8. I've been registered on BT for years, but haven't bothered to comment before this; I think aurora's point was that the late 20th c. hooped tutu has not always been standard. The in-between look of the Mariinsky version is equally as 'ahistorical' and, dare I say it, silly looking - at least, that was my impression viewing the clip (Ratmansky's point that one does not show one's underwear to the czar - nor a ruffled tutu panty, presumably - is well taken. Pick one, was my thought upon viewing the Mariinsky clip). Furthermore, IMHO, trying to create the same kind of aesthetic with a long, puffy, bell-type tutu as seen in the Wiki photos with today's dancers - who look NOTHING like late 19th c. dancers - would look ridiculous. Part of the reason those old photographs look so nice is the balance between the larger bust, the very narrow waist, and the flair after the hips. Pray tell, who on stage today could replicate that look (no one, because that's not what ballerinas look like today)? Perhaps the "cocktail dresses" should have a little more "oomf" below the hips, but they look very nice in motion & also play into the aesthetic the creators were after. I find the big platter tutus that flop over ballerinas heads in penche, among other moments, extremely distasteful, but they're all over the place. I think the softer, non-hooped, loosely-tacked "Karinska tutus" used in a variety of Balanchine ballets much more aesthetically pleasing - but I don't complain about the 'pancake' tutus; that's the aesthetic these days, regardless of how attractive it is.