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      2018 Joint Fundraiser for Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers   02/03/2018

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DefJef

Inactive Member
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About DefJef

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    Member
  • Birthday 05/29/1947

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  • Connection to/interest in ballet** (Please describe. Examples: fan, teacher, dancer, writer, avid balletgoer)
    lover of beauty, art, dance, architecture
  • City**
    New York City
  1. Race, Culture and Ballet

    Bart, I like everything you said in your post this morning. The high cost of attending ballet and studying ballet may be more about the priorities of the young in society today who choose to spend their money (parent's) on cell phones, clothes, pop music concerts, sports and place "arts" lessons, attending theater or ballet low on their priority list (if at all). Yet young children before they are poisoned by pop culture and peer pressure probably would find ballet thrilling and memorable. It is too bad that more young people are not exposed because they often are more colorblind than their parents. I think we learn to "hate". Since money seems to drive everything these days... we must look to how money speaks in the arts and perhaps the solutions will be found in economic priorities and behavior.
  2. Race, Culture and Ballet

    2dds and omnshanti make excellent points. We cannot address the ills of society which are manifest within the subsets of the institutions which make up that society by saying that when society cleans up its acts all the institutions which make it up will follow suit. Which comes first.. the chicken or the egg? In a sense, passing a law such as providing equal access is such a measure. It is a step, but it is not changing minds and behavior. The issues which I am trying to understand are: Do racial featues which are not basically European "jarr" with classical ballet? Does this act much the way saying tbat someone who is say.. too short... would not be a suitable person for ballet? Does ballet (classic) require dancers who are Euro-centric because of its traditional (stereotypical) nature and history? Even if ballet (classic) is more suitable to dancers of European extraction, why are there not more mixed race audiences who can find this form of art attractive enough to attend performances. If the classic librettos don't work with non Europeans should the repertoire be more inclusive or works which are more colorblind and could appeal to and include more racial diversity on both sides of the curtain? Or are other forms of dance filling this "need" for diversity? How much does the appearance of a person account for their ability to be a "successful" dancer completely apart from their technical and artisitic ability? Why do WE see race when we watch movement (dance)?
  3. Race, Culture and Ballet

    Jazz is very much an American music. It's roots are from the African American communities and probably the most well know jazz performers are black males. But there are white jazz musicians and many famous and talented onces. Jazz, albeit modern, and "improvisational" seems to be open to the influence of different forces and not as closed as more tradition based performance arts such a ballet. Notes are colorblind... No? Dance as a whole certainly includes all ethnic groups.. and this makes sense since dance seems to be something common to all humans. One can also observe many Asian musicians who "embrace" European music and are indeed masters at it. Classic music and opera seem to have more African Americans, but still proportionately, they seem under represented. The audiences seem to mirror the ratio of performers. When a performance piece is from a very specific genre and the cast is princes and princesses and so forth... it may be more "accurate" to "follow the script". Othello the Moore is meant to be an African and it might look odd were he Asian. Dunno. But, why do we see race.. which in dance would only be evident in skin tone, facial features and body "type" (perhaps) more than we see the movement itself? Does this make any sense?
  4. Race, Culture and Ballet

    First, I want to say that A few aggressive comments on an online discussion board is not going to offend me after almost 6 decades of dealing with all sorts of people from all classes, races from every corner of the earth. Second, I came to BT as an audience goer. I am not a student of ballet, a teacher, an arts critic, a dancer. I have been "consuming" the arts since I studied architecture in the late 60s, including ballet, theater, music, art and architecture. In the past 6 or seven years at my initiative, my wife and I have begun to attend the Met regularly for ballet and opera. As I watched I realized how beautiful ballet was and how little I understood and so I sought out information and landed here. Isn't the internet a great thing! Politics and art we are told often to do mix. But tell that to some artists who were so political that they changed the world and the way we see it. There is a tremendous element of escapism with the search for truth and beauty in the arts. But the arts have always been about the human condition and how we struggle and suffer and triumph and fall. To tell someone to stop being sensitive to issues of race and therefore you can focus on other things is to ignore the very problem by denying its existence. I usually don't address any poster specifically, but was responding to omshanti's dismissive remarks and simply requested an answer to my direct question. If it was not meant to be aggressive and if this offended anyone, I do apologize. I have, in fact, read the other threads which were linked here and I don't believe the issue has been decided. If BT member do not want to discuss this matter, I will at some time in the future pursue this with some black dancers (if I can find them to speak on this topic) etc., the ABT and the NYCB and whomever else can shed light on it.
  5. Race, Culture and Ballet

    Omshanti, I do tend to see the world in a non racists way, which is easy for me as a white man who has had a good education and so forth. However, my wife is Hispanic and works with underprivileged people in her job and is exposed to the effects of racism has on society on a daily basis. It was actually her comment to me about the lack of black faces at the ABT which inspired me to raise this issue for discussion. My sense is that ballet itself is not racists but is very much a Euro-centric dance and very much a "relic" or a tradition which dates back a hundred fifty years or so at most (guess). However, is there a place for blacks inside of such a Euro-centric vernacular? When I visit a museum and view renaissance paintings from Italy I do not expect to see Blacks in the paintings. They were not part of Italian renaissance society for the most part. Ballet as abstract art form... movement, discipline and so on is NOT stuck in a cultural milieu as such. So if you can "see past" the librettos you could cast a black in any role... or as I believe Helene suggested to frame the libretto to a more contemporary setting which skin color would not seem so "discordant". Again, my sense is that Ballet is NOT making much of an effort to remove race barriers, and neither are other races running to embrace it. We are less of a melting pot (as in alloy) and more of a stew of races all in the same pot! I certainly would not say that there a direct effort at exclusion, because I simply have no evidence of such. But from the financing of ballet as noted on another thread, the appeal to the extremely wealthy patrons DOES hearken back to even the Renaissance where arts were done for and at the behest of wealthy patrons and nobles. Why our city can give George Steinbrenner hundreds of millions of dollars and public parks (in the poor south Bronx) and give hardly anything to our arts institutions baffles me and I suppose it means that the arts must be supported by wealthy patrons, who I would imagine are 99.9% lilly white. So I ask YOU omshanti.. Why do we see proportionately fewer blacks on stage, in the ballet schools and in the audience than what we have in the general population in NYC for example?
  6. Race, Culture and Ballet

    Helen, I am well aware, as most are, thate West Side Story is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliette. Same story different vernacular. I recall being told once that there are only 7 plots themes in all of litereature. I don't care about the period of the story or the location, Verona or the South Bronx.. then and now... Perhaps, the question is: Is the vernacular of ballet a historical relic that we hold onto because it is part of our (europeans') past? Or is it and can it be a living art form where the color of the skin of the dancers matters not?
  7. Race, Culture and Ballet

    First, let me dispel the notion that I believe that racism is a white expression of superiority over blacks. It is far more pervasive than that. And yes Alvin Ailey would be practicing racism by excluding whites from his company, were he to do it. Call it bigotry, tribalism chauvinism.. it exists in many flavors and nuances. Some is very overt and ugly... some is less obvious but insidious. For whatever reason humans define themselves in terms of membership is some group... some of those groups are genetically determined and others you can chose.. and acquire membership in, or earn it by some metric standard of achievement. All of these groups practice on some level a sort of me first you second (or not at all) exclusionary "racism". "Membership has its privileges." was even an American Express marketing slogan some years back. Tribalism in the past may have served as a survival strategy. We still very much embrace the notion of the family as being the ultimate place of refuge and support. Blood is thicker than water as the saying goes. Tribalism and all that goes with it - "racism" is a vestige which we need to deal with. The great Dr King told us that it is the content of your character, and not the color of your skin which matters. And with this simple phrase he was telling us that we can come from different tribes, different cultures and so forth, but it is how we conduct ourselves that that matters, that we are to be judged by our actions, ideas and achievements, not our ancestors and so on. Many institutions are being dragged into the 21st century despite Dr. Kings plea coming almost 50 years ago. In some area we have made advancement, in others we have not and perhaps regressed. Americans, in particular if not in the top economic segment are "losing" ground at we advance into the 21st century. Our democratic freedoms are being taken away from us at an alarming rate. Racism is not disappearing. To bring this back to ballet and away from the larger political discussion, how can ballet be MORE inclusive or rather LESS exclusionary or Africans, Asians, and other no Europeans? What is ballet as a mega institution doing to fight this type of racism? What are the various communities doing to fight racism? If you look to the middle east you can see how we fight bigotry in the 21st century. We try to destroy our adversary... In ballet do they largely ignore them? Cuba is an example of a non Euro centric country which HAS ballet and HAS produced many wonderful dancers who have gone on to bigger stages and to appear on the world's stage. And I suppose these geniuses are embraced and thrust out in to the spotlight for their talent as well as to prove that there is no racism at work. But I ask why must so many, perhaps most of these talented black and Hispanic dancers come from outside our borders? Why are they not coming from within our own cities? That is the question and the place were I suspect you can see the racism in the institution of ballet. This may be due to the racism of society at large more so than within ballet itself... but I am curious as to what and how the grand ballet companies are facing this issue? Are they seeking a pass on racism by taking on the Cubans, for example? I am not a dancer and don't know what the make up of the ABT or Joffrey school is, for example, but I suspect it is quite white. Why IS that? I never said that things cannot change... I am only saying that from my perspective we may not be making much progress.
  8. Race, Culture and Ballet

    Hans, I suppose that as new ballets are created the librettos and stories can have more universal appeal than romance between princes and princesses and then more "ethnic" groups will "fit" in. But this means that the classic and romantic ballet will be like a relic from the past... and increasingly smaller part of the dance repertoire. Does the vocabulary of ballet DOES end itself to a more universal storyline than those we see in the traditional repertoire?
  9. Race, Culture and Ballet

    Mel, Admittedly the world is full of many many talented wonderful non racists people. We read their books, watch their movies, see them dance and so on . But, in my opinion, these "evolved" people are few and far between and vastly outnumbered by what I would characterized as "unevolved" people. Racism is one example of the expression of power and control which seems to be so much a part of the human condition. For whatever reasons we worship power and its various forms of expression, money property, weapons whatever. As I noted above the expression of racism in ballet is woven throughout the entire genre. I don't think that all people in the field or even most.. are racist. Arts people tend to be color blind because beauty and truth are. But it appears to me that Ballet is a Euro-centric experience which by definition is racist. This may be unavoidable since cultures develop separately and seem to set themselves up on a pedestal. Today we call it multi-culturalism which I suppose is meant to give equal "value" to all cultures. But the fact remains that many within any one of these cultures within the multi cultures DO believe in their superiority and "purity" and seek to perpetuate the purity. I would like to see more black faces in the ballet and in the audience because I believe that ballet is beautiful and there is no reason that blacks cannot engage in THIS form of beauty. I fear that the unstated "racist" barriers are preventing this from taking place and this will continue into the foreseeable future. It is sad, but true. Actually to sound a really depressing note, I see very little hope for humanity, which has proved that it can and has spoiled the planet, and still resorts to violence at conflict resolution. We may be experiencing the end stage of the human experiment, our misbehavior is having a globally catastrophic effect. Didn't Nero fiddle whilst Rome went up in flames? Take a look around the world... what do you see?
  10. Dancers at auction

    The problem is not that people with cash support the arts as opposed to buying another pied a terre, rather it is the egotism it appeals to to and the crass commercialism. Put on top of that it reminds us of selling and owning slaves it is a completely odious activity. Shame on these companies who allow and promote such activities. The ABT has their printed list of sponsors which are tiered by how much cash the donor gives. That is enough in my opinion. Even a plaque in the hall in bronze listing all the sponsors in order of their gilt amount should be enough to massage the ego of the wealthy generati. In actual fact this privatization and appeal to the ideal rich to "own" a ballerina" may be just another thing which is off putting to the normal people who work for a living and enjoy or aspire to be in the ballet. The practice is so "American" and so repulsive. I think these companies need to hear from balletomanes or are offended by this. I intend to write a letter, which will be ignored because they are interested in the cash and will do whatever it takes to get it... as obviously a tax deduction doesn't cut for the generati. Is this the result of free market capitalism? Is this the gilded age coming around again where they rob and exploit the people and then give a library or sponsor a dancer to assuage their guilt? And how humiliating for a dancer who is not bid for! The amount of ways that this practice is odious is too hard to count.
  11. Race, Culture and Ballet

    The reason that ballet is lilly white is racism. But this expression of racism is to be found in many places. It does not rest solely with the ADs or the owner's and sponsor's of major companies, but sure they too are guilty of racism. It is also found in our educational system, it is found in our economic system which treats blacks in such a manner that proportionately very few can afford to do ballet even if it were "accessible". It is found in the peer pressure of the black culture which discourages their people from "embracing" white culture. This was a tragic failure of the promise of the 60s where we thought we could all embrace all cultures. This did not come to pass. The racism is found in the body of work which is largely about European "themes" (princes and princesses) though not entirely. But the question is SHOULD ballet be more inclusive? Have we been denied some great dancers who never were trained? Perhaps, ballet is never going to be embraced by the black community, promoted to their young and so hardly any dancers will appear on the stage of the main companies. There are sports where few blacks participate. Surfing and Wind surfing come to mind... sailing is another. In many of these "cultures' it is not a policy of racism which excludes blacks, but something is at work which prevents them from participating in larger numbers. What would you call it if not racism?
  12. Race and the Arts: does this matter?

    What I am getting from some of the comments here is that rich white folks are racist.. they stick together, support only lily white Euro-centric arts and do little to promote, support and encourage minority participation on the arts. As important as financial suppert is for the arts, when rich white folks buy in and then control it something is terribly wrong. What's the deal with dancer's having sponsors at the ABT? Can't they just give their support without their names being placed there? How much money do I have to give to have my own ballerina? What do I get for it? Does this bother anyone else?
  13. Race, Culture and Ballet

    Carbro, Thanks for the links.. I'll read them! Well as far as the number of blacks in the audience at a typical ABT or Met Opera performace, I stand by my estimate and if I was off by a factor or 2 that would be 50 out of 3,500 seats! There is still something going on. Since you attend ABT performances, what would be your estimate of black faces in the audience?
  14. I am always struck by how few non Caucasian dancers there are in ballet. My first reaction is that ballet is so Euro-centric that is holds little appeal to non Europeans or those who upbringing was not Euro-centric culturally based. However, in cities like NYC, San Francisco, Washington, Boston, London, LA and so on we have large black, Asian and Hispanic populations all living in more or less the same "cultural milieu". Admittedly there are entrenched ethnic communities which strive to celebrate their culture of "origin" etc. So what are the reasons there are proportionately so few non Caucasians on stage and in the audience? On a typical performance at the ABT, if there are 20 black faces in the audience it seems like a lot. Could this also be attributed to the cost of a ballet education and years of training involved? How about the fact that the Dance Theatre of Harlem is filled with blacks and many of them talented dancers? Would it be odd if more ballet dancers were black and Asian? Is ballet very much a Euro-centric art form that simply doesn't work with people of other ethnic groups? ... a black Juliette? Clearly blacks and Asians are very athletic and make some great dancers... and Michelle Kwan is a prime example of one. What say you?
  15. Contradiction

    Hans, I have thought about trying to see rehearsals at both the Met and the ABT... if that is possible for someone who is not a professional such as myself. On the one hand I would imagine I might discover some of the answers to the questions I find swirling in my head answered as the performers prepare their magic. On the other hand I love the feeling of not seeing the nuts and bolts and just experiencing the finished work of art. I have similar conflict about actually seeing an artist outside of their medium. This is not that I place them on a pedestal (which I do to some extent)... but I am not sure that it would add to my experience and illusions which are created by seeing only the "performance". For the dancers, teachers and so on, it may be hard to even uderstand the place I am seeing this from as they are so intimately involved with every aspect of dance and I am merely a consumer of their talent and hard work. Would you or others here at BT recommend that I DO try to see some of these magnificant works in rehearsal? Is this something that balletomanes who are not dancers or ex dancers etc inevitably do at some point? What I fear is that I will see all sorts of matters of timing and very minor technical things being sorted out as opposed to the etheral matters which attract me so much now. Your point about interaction of dancers is well taken and I can see this with my binocs which is much harder to see without them. There is in fact, more "acting" (interacting) taking place than I would have thought. My previous notion was that to see a ballet was like seeing a human clockwork in time/space/motion. How wrong I was! And how amazing it is that so many of these young dancers possess so much artistry in those bodies at such an early stage in their lives. edit thanks for the suggestion kfw
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