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Burke on Ballet & Violence against Women

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I definitely can see what Mearns POV was when she tweeted those things (and it's a human reaction.) As someone mentioned, she may have a different outlook some years from now when she isn't in the middle of it all. 

 

My issue is that, when addressing what Burke wrote, both she and Macaulay misrepresent what she said as they argued against it; they make her article seem superficial when it isn't. That doesn't do a real service towards defending the work either. 

 

Artists are free to create work but an essential part of art is what the viewer feels as well. 

 

 

Edited by elena

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I hope this controversy does not cause Martins to refrain from presenting Odessa in future seasons.  It is scheduled to return next season.

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2 hours ago, abatt said:

I hope this controversy does not cause Martins to refrain from presenting Odessa in future seasons.  It is scheduled to return next season.

I can't imagine he will. Martins has taken massive criticisms his whole directorial career. Has he ever cancelled a scheduled ballet for reasons other than injury to dancers or some such? If I were inclined to worry, then I would be more worried about Ratmansky's reaction. But should critics be expected to self-censor? I don't know that I agree with any number of things Burke wrote, but I do not think she was irresponsible. 

 

As for audiences: controversy is likelier to drum up interest than anything else. (To take an extreme example: sales and rentals of Last Tango in Paris are said to have gone up when details recently came out about how the rape scene was filmed keeping the actress in the dark about key aspects of it as the director wanted her to show 'real' humiliation on camera. I hardly know how to comment.)

 

Burke explicitly says that she might react differently to Odessa when seeing it in future -- which makes it pretty clear that she expects to do so. 

 

 I do understand why people involved in the creation of the ballet may feel it got hijacked for this debate, but I think it needs to be emphasized that nothing in the article suggests this ballet or any other should be repressed. The article is calling for choreographers to think differently about what they are doing in some cases. But it's only likely to have any impact as part of a larger series of events/conversations by critics, dancers, and choreographers themselves including discussions of women choreographers etc.

Edited by Drew

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14 hours ago, pherank said:

Burke, Macaulay and Mearns each have their own relationship to the Odessa ballet, which was central to the Burke article. And so each person has their own viewpoint regarding that artwork. Burke used a scene in the ballet as a jumping off point to discuss what she feels are the many "images of violence against women" in contemporary ballet. Macaulay gets to defend himself in the NYT, so I won't say anything about him here, but I can make a good guess as to what Mearns was feeling:

She had just spent weeks working in conjunction with Ratmansky on the Odessa ballet, and judging from her remarks on Twitter, felt that it was a strong piece that they all had high hopes for. And certainly, the creators may have hoped to hear some excited conversation regarding the ballet, but what they got after the first positive reviews was Burke's scathing piece with Odessa set firmly at the center of it all. It's pretty obvious that Mearns thinks that Burke got the piece all wrong, which is a valid issue of another kind, and the ballet creators/preformers no doubt feel that their artwork has been hijacked for someone else's agenda. They are going to feel hurt, and they are going to be pissed off. And it hardly matters if Burke was on a righteous crusade or not - the creators/performers of the art piece are going to feel they have been unfairly maligned even though they performed with only positive intent.

As a boss of mine used to like to say, "feelings are facts too!" - I hated hearing that, but he wasn't wrong.

 

This was "scathing"?  I thought Burke was bending over backwards to be polite to Ratmansky and the piece. It would be more fair to say that she's expressing a point of view, not an "agenda." 

 

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They are going to feel hurt, and they are going to be pissed off.

 

Mearns' hurt fee-fees are not Burke's problem as a writer and critic. Artists and artmakers present themselves and their work onstage to be appraised. This is not to excuse outright cruelty or unseemly comments, but Burke was not guilty of that, and if Mearns is really as upset as you think she is, the old saw about heat and kitchens comes to mind. And I fully appreciate that she wanted to come to the defense of the ballet in good faith. Twitter is not the best place to make a reasoned defense of something.

 

 

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I am glad that someone finally (at least I was unaware of earlier times)  brought this issue up at all. 

 

Of course each audience member has their own way of seeing things and interpreting things, and the artist may have a totally different way of seeing it. 

The issue  is whether something which is undesireable in a society is being unwittingly perpetuated by being made to appear "harmelss and everyday" onstage. 

There are times when things are taken for granted and are "just fine", and then there are times when they are not. (ways of depicting peoples, minorities, and that sort of thing) 

I got the impression that Burke was more calling into discussion what she perceived as using certain "images" just to achieve an effect, and not going into them deeper. What I am not sure of (having obviously not seen the piece... I am in Germany...) is if a choreographer is really  ever aware of what they are putting out there, and very often their intent is quite different to what the audience member feels. 

 

Oh, dear.. I am afraid I am not very good at putting this into words. But I have seen multiple examples of this throughout my years as a dancer, then teacher and (very minor) choreographer. 

 

-d-

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The topic of violence against women on stage has come up again with the Royal Ballet's production of Arthur Pita's "The Wind." 

As posted in Sunday links, Luke Jennings in "Royal Triple Bill – and Yet More Sexual Violence" notes that –

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There is an increasingly acute issue surrounding women's roles in ballet. In the last few seasons the Royal Ballet stage has seen record numbers of female characters brutalised and killed. Emily, Mary-Jane, and Annie eviscerated in Sweet Violets, Justine hanged and Elizabeth murdered in Frankenstein, Stephanie raped and Mary shot in Mayerling, the girl raped in The Invitation, the youngest sister hanged in Las Hermanas, and the woman raped and murdered in The Judas Tree. Consider this body-count alongside the number of recent abstract works in which women are split, splayed and otherwise manhandled, and certain embedded attitudes reveal themselves.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/nov/12/royal-ballet-mixed-bill-review-arthur-pita-twyla-tharp

Hannah Furness (also citing Burke's essay) summarizes the responses –

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Kevin Hare, the Royal Ballet's director, said the company "remains committed to presenting works that are thought provoking, raise debate and celebrate the beauty of dance.”

The criticism comes just weeks after a production of Kenneth MacMillan’s The Judas Tree, which included a visceral gang rape scene which left audience members disturbed at the “graphic visual degradations”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/12/royal-ballet-accused-gratuitous-abuse-audiences-despair-rape/

 

So what it that makes violence against women a go-to dramatic device in contemporary ballets – at least in big opera house venues?  This doesn't seem to be the case with small companies, at least as I can glean from watching clips at Jacob's Pillow.  With British choreographers is it a sort of Francis Bacon existentialism intensification and activization of the choreographic narrative?  etc etc

 

Edited by Quiggin

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2 hours ago, Quiggin said:

So what it that makes violence against women a go-to dramatic device in contemporary ballets – at least in big opera house venues?  This doesn't seem to be the case with small companies, at least as I can glean from watching clips at Jacob's Pillow.  With British choreographers is it a sort of Francis Bacon existentialism intensification and activization of the choreographic narrative?  etc etc

Placing females in 'precarious' situations (usually violent), sometimes to be rescued by 'heroic' males, is one of the oldest and most overused plot devices in the arts. Certainly the film world has been over-relying on this approach since its inception. I think modern ballet is simply echoing what has worked elsewhere. Originality is hard to come by in all times.

The article specifically mentions Arthur Pita, known as 'the David Lynch of dance'. Lynch himself was long accused of creating scenes of gratuitous violence against women in his films, but that interpretation somewhat misses the mark - Lynch's latest work, Twin Peaks: The Return makes it fairly clear that, in Lynch's view, females are a constant target of predators and manipulators, and males are the main instigators of this brutality (but not males alone). And males are shown to be pawns of greater forces - not the "masters of their own fate" as is constantly depicted in stories. Males in European-based cultures have been especially enamored of the whole notion of "mastery" over situations and other people, but that notion is mostly a chimera, imo. [I never thought about it before, but it's interesting that the "chimera" was always a female monster.]

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The Arthur Pita choreography has gotten fairly good notices – it's the cluster of ballets with violence against women at the Royal Ballet that was the issue. Pherank you're right about the old plot device but a lot of fine choreographers have passed on it – too many other much fresher things for them to work with. And Jennings does say, "Elsewhere in the British arts establishment, the question of female agency in performance is a live topic. At Covent Garden, it’s not even a conversation."

Some of this choreography is by gay males – so I'm wondering what that says: a kind of internalized lessened self-regard, or a preemptive move of some sort, or a kind of beating the other choreographers at their own game?

Somewhat related to this the Washington Post today has opinion piece by Allison Yarrow on the misogeny of Saturday Night Live writers –

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The show consistently cheered male sexuality and reinforced its boundlessness (consent be damned), while shaming women who reached for power or were unlucky enough to be publicly associated with sex.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/11/20/al-frankens-saturday-night-live-era-was-full-of-jokes-disparaging-women/?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-c%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.7e63ba2b0f47

Edited by Quiggin

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1 hour ago, Quiggin said:

The Arthur Pita choreography has gotten fairly good notices – it's the cluster of ballets with violence against women at the Royal Ballet that was the issue. Pherank you're right about the old plot device but a lot of fine choreographers have passed on it – too many other much fresher things for them to work with. And Jennings does say, "Elsewhere in the British arts establishment, the question of female agency in performance is a live topic. At Covent Garden, it’s not even a conversation."

Some of this choreography is by gay males – so I'm wondering what that says: a kind of internalized lessened self-regard, or a preemptive move of some sort, or a kind of beating the other choreographers at their own game?

I totally understand why someone would question the current repertoire at Covent Garden as it seems to totally ignore current issues. Part of the problem is that the rep is chosen well in advance of a season, but, there's an obvious slant towards what seem to be misogynist or sadistic themes. I do wonder what many modern choreographers feel is "healthy" subject matter for dance. Somehow the vocabulary of steps/movements in dance has been skewed too far towards violent motions presumably because they are obvious and dramatic. "There are no mothers-in-law in ballet", but there are rapists, apparently.

The subject of gay men's views on women is a really complex topic. ;)

Some gay men in the dance community seem very attuned to women's issues in the present day, and others are completely uninterested in those issues. I wouldn't be surprised if we could find both gay male choreographers who are feminism advocates (and try to bring that into their work), and ones who are essentially misogynists. And everything in between of course.

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On 11/20/2017 at 7:49 PM, pherank said:


The subject of gay men's views on women is a really complex topic. ;)

Some gay men in the dance community seem very attuned to women's issues in the present day, and others are completely uninterested in those issues. I wouldn't be surprised if we could find both gay male choreographers who are feminism advocates (and try to bring that into their work), and ones who are essentially misogynists. And everything in between of course.

Which is to say that gay men and women often have the same variety of experience and opinion that het men and women do!

It interests me that this conversation (implied violence against women represented by the ballet rep) is being pursued at the same time as the discussions in the bigger world about harassment and aggression.  I'm not always a believer in serendipity, but there are times when it seems pretty obvious.

There's all kinds of element to this discussion, not the least of which is the fundamental physics of ballet technique, which was developed at a time when male/female relationships were very different than they are today.  The technique and the repertory tend to replicate and reinforce those mores, while the world has moved on.

 

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2 minutes ago, sandik said:

There's all kinds of element to this discussion, not the least of which is the fundamental physics of ballet technique, which was developed at a time when male/female relationships were very different than they are today.  The technique and the repertory tend to replicate and reinforce those mores, while the world has moved on.

If you go back to Bournonville, you have men and women dancing pretty much in parallel, and the place in class where technique differs is way past barre to the big jumping combinations.   I think it's more the fundamental physics of partnering technique.

It was interesting to hear dancers who performed in "Plot Point" and/or "Afternoon Ball" in PNB's "Her Story" Q&A's talking about whether Company class was useful for that work, and the answer was pretty much "no" for "Plot Point."  

There's the current argument about whether to present works that came out of a specific period authentically when it comes to partnering and the underlying assumptions about the relationships of those times.  Ratmansky got himself into boiling oil when he probably was thinking about classical ballets presented in as authentic a way as we can, and Balanchine in many of his tutu ballets maintained this relationship, while both choreographers, in their more modern-day/contemporary ballet works present(ed) quite different relationship dynamics (ex: "Central Park in the Dark," "Odessa.")  

Last night I was at a Seattle Opera presentation about Puccini by Jonathan Dean.  In one part he played examples of music representing famous kisses in Puccini, and one of the questions to the audience was "Who is kissing whom?"  To the Turandot (last act) example, I replied, "It depends on the production."  Dean replied, that no, Puccini's stage instructions were from a specific time, with specific assumptions that it would be the male.  I smiled, because in the last production of Turandot Seattle Opera did, and which I saw last month performed in Vancouver Opera, Turandot kisses Calaf at that moment :)

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