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Kathleen O'Connell

Are there ballets that should no longer be staged?

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22 minutes ago, BalanchineFan said:

On a less personal note, art should explore a wide range of behaviors. I don't think anyone should stop performing ballets that people want to see just because the gender roles are problematic. Life is richer and  more contradictory than that.

Also there are many full length "story" ballets for which no one goes for the story. People go to be moved by the story of Romeo & Juliet but everyone  goes to Corsaire to see dancers do tricks. 

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Having seen the original ending of "Giselle" in PNB's version, I have a different take on Albrecht.   He's not only watched Giselle not only sacrifice herself and forgive him, she explicitly gives him back to Bathilde.  (It's very Violetta-like.)  At Giselle's grave, Bathilde, knowing exactly what he's done, forgives him. 

But forgiving doesn't mean forgetting, and the person who is forgiven, lives with the knowledge that the forgiver them knows.  If he or she has a soul, that doesn't mean getting off scot free, and Albrecht lives the rest of his life in a forgiveness sandwich.  Of course, if he's a true cad, there's not much to work with there.

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2 minutes ago, vipa said:

Also there are many full length "story" ballets for which no one goes for the story. People go to be moved by the story of Romeo & Juliet but everyone  goes to Corsaire to see dancers do tricks. 

LOL! Yes, we go for the dancing. I think I'd seen Corsaire PPD 100 times before I realized there was a story.

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14 hours ago, On Pointe said:

If we are going to jettison works of art because they express a viewpoint not aligned with our current sensibility,  how do we start and where do we stop?  As a black American,  I could certainly do without any more showings of Birth of a Nation,  and I like to believe that most white Americans would agree.   But what about Gone With the Wind,  Showboat,  Imitation of Life,  The Member of the Wedding?  All of these films have artistic virtues,  and all of them depict African Americans in demeaning stereotypes.   Even a more current film,  the much-lauded The Help,  is problematic.  Do we throw them out and pretend that the attitudes depicted never existed?

I see that CBS is showing old episodes of I Love Lucy for Christmas.  Lucy was often afraid that her antics would cause Desi to "wallop" her.  On The Honeymooners,  Ralph was always threatening Alice with physical violence  - Bang,  zoom,  to the moon!"

What about the symbolism in Swan Lake? - the innocent White Swan,  the Prince seduced by the evil Black Swan,  just one of the endless expressions in art of white=good,  black=bad.  Perhaps we should stop playing Baby It's Cold Outside,  maybe the rapiest  song ever written.

I think you can appreciate Raymonda,  Le Corsaire,  La Bayadere,  without buying into the racist attitudes on view,  just as you can watch The Cage without being caught up in sexual politics.  Speaking of sexual politics,  a former City Ballet dancer of my acquaintance,  who was with the company during the Golden Era of Balanchine's creativity,  always described the great one as "a dirty old man".

"Hey, what's in this drink?" Yes, On Pointe, it is almost impossible to listen to that line now and not cringe a little. What surprises me today is that in the 50s and 60s persons of steady habits (including my parents) thought nothing of playing "Baby It's Cold Outside" and singing along in front of the children. And don't get me started on "To the moon, Alice!" 

Re On Pointe's important question: "Do we throw them out and pretend that the attitudes depicted never existed?" Interestingly enough, this morning I came across someone considering just this issue: The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield by Michael Mechanic, a senior editor at Mother Jones (he's in charge of their culture section). Mechanic learns that the original lyrics to "Big Bend Gal," a catchy fiddle tune he particularly likes are, to use the current term of art, racially charged.

"As a white musician who cares about racial justice, what do I do with that knowledge? Do I sing the sanitized version, or skip the words, or leave the whole thing in a box? Should I feel conflicted, even, about playing a haunting instrumental like “Mace Bell’s Civil War March” knowing it came from a Texas fiddler who served in the Confederate Army? (And does it matter whether the marchers were advancing or retreating?)"

Later in the article, Mechanic reports back on his discussions with Dom Flemons, one of the founder members of the (excellent!) Carolina Chocolate Drops:

In 2015, [Flemons] performed an instrumental version of Stephen Foster’s “Ring, Ring de Banjo” at a Foster-themed event with the Cincinnati orchestra. Foster’s racist lyrics are “absolutely unacceptable” nowadays, and “I would never think to perform that song outside the context of that specific show,” Flemons says. But these once-popular songs “are a document of what happened,” and failing to acknowledge that history would “completely devalue the strength of how far we’ve come.

In short, to bury the hurtful pop culture of our past is to hide from the reality that the horrors of slavery and its aftermath are, to quote the sideview mirror, closer than they appear. Prejudice “is still in our blood, it’s still in our actions, it’s still in our Constitution—little fragments that are left over and covered up by new laws,” Ben Hunter says."

Anyway, read the whole thing, as they say.

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19 hours ago, sandik said:

I took a little break from this thread, and so have a couple of comments on older posts.

Film is a slightly different animal, since it's a fixed form (unless you can do a sweep and replace, as director of "All the Money in the World" did with Kevin Spacey), while in dance there is the possibility of alteration.  We don't lose anything significant if the blackface role in Balanchine's Sonambula is performed without that makeup.  But it's more difficult when it comes to something like Petrouchka -- the "Blackamoor" not only uses blackface makeup, but perpetuates some nasty stereotypes.  And so, as On Pointe asks, do we discard the ballet altogether?  Perform just excerpts?  Dance the whole thing as an artifact of an earlier, awfuller time?  I have no solution to this problem.

 

I've met several younger dance critics who are ready to ditch Fancy Free because of the menacing byplay with the purse.  And every year I hear complaints about yellow-face stereotypes when it comes to Nutcracker.  Pacific Northwest Ballet switched productions a couple of years ago, from a local production to the Balanchine -- the designs for the new show were deemed slightly less offensive, but we're still dealing with mostly white dancers pretending to be Asian.

You are very, very right.

Some years ago,  the Joffrey  Ballet cast Christian Holder as the Blackamoor in Petrouchka,  and I've seen productions of Nutcracker where the few Asian dancers on stage were cast in the Chinese Dance.  So the few visible minority dancers who managed to get hired in ballet companies found themselves participating in perpetuating stereotypes about themselves.  What to do - turn down a solo opportunity,   and perhaps gain a reputation for being difficult or "angry"?  Or perform a role that you and your community find offensive?  I was turned off and shocked by Mark Morris Dance Company casting a black man on pointe in drag as the Maid in Nutcracker.   It struck me as either incredibly tone deaf or a deliberate provocation.  I can't imagine a black parent wanting their child to see that production.

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On 12/20/2017 at 3:51 PM, Kathleen O'Connell said:

 

Raymonda? I don't think we need that one and I'm on the fence about La Bayadere.

We need both.  I saw them by the Mariinsky, and yes.  we need them.

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On 12/20/2017 at 10:00 PM, vipa said:

... everyone  goes to Corsaire to see dancers do tricks. 

"Everyone" is quite an ambitious word...:cool:

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On 12/20/2017 at 3:55 PM, kfw said:

... one thing I at least don’t want to get rid of in any ballet is idealization. It’s not that women are only soft and gentle, or that all are or should be. But love idealizes (for a time), and we need ideals, and behind the ideals is something real.

Verily!

Without dreams, ideals, faith, hope, aspirations ... conscious life is pitiful, as well as precarious. The challenge is to combine all the former in a favorable, salutary way with an attainable yet thorough and unflinching perception of Reality.

Fundamentally, ballet is idealization. At its best, it is truly beautiful—and all great beauty in nature and in art is suggestive of something real beyond our awareness and imagination.

Edited by Royal Blue

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On 12/24/2017 at 8:47 PM, On Pointe said:

Some years ago,  the Joffrey  Ballet cast Christian Holder as the Blackamoor in Petrouchka,  and I've seen productions of Nutcracker where the few Asian dancers on stage were cast in the Chinese Dance.  So the few visible minority dancers who managed to get hired in ballet companies found themselves participating in perpetuating stereotypes about themselves.  What to do - turn down a solo opportunity,   and perhaps gain a reputation for being difficult or "angry"?  Or perform a role that you and your community find offensive?  I was turned off and shocked by Mark Morris Dance Company casting a black man on pointe in drag as the Maid in Nutcracker.   It struck me as either incredibly tone deaf or a deliberate provocation.  I can't imagine a black parent wanting their child to see that production.

(I took a little break for holiday things)

Thinking back, Holder was in the first Petrouchka I saw -- I didn't really understand it was a blackface role until later. (I know -- I was very slow on the pick-up. He was also the first Death I saw in Green Table, and possibly the best).  As we talked about elsewhere, there are roles that were originally cast in blackface that don't need to be performed that way (the commedia solo in Sonambula), and roles where the ethnic stereotype seems to be baked in, like the Blackamoor in Petrouchka.  And you put your finger right on the issue here -- what does a person of color do when they want to work in this profession?  You can turn something down once, but you likely won't be asked back.

Morris' Hard Nut has several cringe-worthy stereotypes in it, but the maid is the most problematic.

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Petroushka is an odd case. The objectionable character is a moor ("The Moor"), not a blackamoor, which is at least slightly different. The Moor's main characteristic is that he is "stupid and spiteful, but richly attired" (:1919 Ballet Russes program). He carries a scimitar, with which he eventually kills Petroushka. The Dancer "is captivated by his sumptuous appearance" and "succeeds in fascinating him." Samuel Beckett saw the ballet several times (with Woizikowski and Massine), and was fascinated by the "Moor with his earthball." (In "Murphy" Beckett likens the irregularly beating heart of his main character to "Petroushka in his box".) You could say that the ballet does resonate in other art forms though its characters, which are more than just types.

In a San Francisco Ballet performance a few years ago, the Moor was played by Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, quite nicely, with a bit of dry comedy, but keeping inside the character he created, not patronizing it. It showed that the part can be acted without a stereotyping presentation.

 

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1 hour ago, Quiggin said:

The objectionable character is a moor ("The Moor"), not a blackamoor, which is at least slightly different.

Serves me right for writing without checking -- thanks!

 

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There is no easy solution to the problem of the Moor in Petrushka . Is it enough to say, as I believe, was the case at Sarasota where it was recently staged, that it is an historical staging ? Does that make it acceptable? Does it help to point out that the ballet's staging and design was influenced by a Russophile artistic movement which showed great interest in indigenous popular art and in particular in peasant art and prints of the early nineteenth century or that this is probably the most place and time specific ballet which the Diaghilev company ever staged ?  I am not sure that it does much to ameliorate the situation. At at the end of the day a racial stereotype is a racial stereotype whatever the circumstances of its use, whatever the special pleadings you make for it and its historical context. 

 You see for me there is an even greater problem about this ballet and that is that it is one of the greatest examples of Fokine's revolutionary manifesto in action. In its entirety it is an extraordinary piece of theatre and to banish it from the stage would be an a great artistic loss. In it Fokine's use of the corps marks another step on the way to the liberation of the corps de ballet. In the Polovtsian Dances they were freed from being an amorphous group whose function was to provide moving scenery and a frame for the soloists and transformed into groups who are characters making the corps the ballet. Petrushka set in the St Petersburg of the 1830's or 1840's when the Butter Fair was still held near the Admiralty rather than in the suburbs to which it was eventually banished and died liberates the corps entirely. It may have been a slice of nostalgia for those who created it. It certainly was for Benois who had attended the Fair before it was moved but it was more than that. It was the ballet in which the main characters were given expressive choreography with no hint of virtuoso technique

In this ballet the corps is made up of individuals and groups who emerge from the crowd of revelers and then are swallowed up by it while the audience concentrates on another group or individual. In a great staging there are no obvious divertisements everything is part of the seething life of the fair. The stable boys emerge from the crowd in character, they have come from somewhere, they dance their steps and disappear into the crowd still in  character, they are going somewhere, they have not simply stopped dancing.  In a bad staging they get ready for their moment in front of the audience and when they have stopped dancing they switch off and walk away. In a great staging the dance of the coachmen quietly transforms the natural movement of the Imperial coachman moving his arms to keep warm into a dance in which the other coachmen join him. Divertisements such as the rival street dancers and the merchant and the gypsies are transformed into vignettes in which the dancers who are drawn to the audience's attention are individual characters who you see as if in cinema close up.

I don't think that the answer to the problem which this ballet presents is simply to drop the work from the repertory which is what seems to have happened at Covent Garden. But then there is so much missing repertory there that it is hard to tell whether the failure to revive works is deliberate or the result of inadvertence or indifference although there are rumours that Alex Beard won't countenance a revival because of the Moor.

ENB performed it a couple of years ago  in a disappointing staging supervised by the the choreographer's grand daughter which failed to make a convincing case for its survival as no one in the corps seemed interested in maintaining their characterisation  beyond the point at which they were actually dancing. The result was that it looked like the very thing that Fokine was trying to escape from and regressed into a ballet with living scenery and divertisements. It is a great work and the role of Petrushka is a difficult one to pull off. I have no doubt that the reason I want to see it keep its place in the repertory is because I have seen Petrushka danced by a number of great dancers over the years including both Nureyev and Alexander Grant but for me the greatest exponent of the role is David Bintley who gave the most profound and moving account of the role that I ever expect to see. I hope that someone comes up with a satisfactory solution to the problem of the Moor as Petrushka is an extraordinary ballet and the role of Petrushka is one which dance actors should have the opportunity to perform.

Edited by Ashton Fan

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Someone like Peter Sellars might be able to find a way rethink and recast Petroushka – after researching varying portrayals in 19th century art (an extensive genre) – or starting from scratch. Paul Taylor did an interesting version I saw here in San Francisco called the Le Grand Puppetier. Taylor used a piano roll reduction of the score (it was one of the ballets Stravinsky himself transcribed to piano player). What was especially nice about this version is that it was done on a smaller stage which gave it a great immediacy – it seemed to slash right in your face. The stages it's now usually presented on are somewhat larger than those of the original Ballets Russes and give it perhaps a somewhat harder and overly complex look.

A description by Frederick Winship in the UPI archives:

Quote

At the beginning of the dance, which is choreographed in balletic style throughout but danced barefoot, the Emperor (Stravinsky's Charlatan character dressed as Napoleon) is attempting without success to interest his daughter (Stravinsky's Ballerina) in a gay suitor of Taylor's own creation. The daughter loves the Red Guardsman, and the Puppet loves the daughter, resulting in a trio number that is a highlight of the work.

For a time the Emperor looses his power to enforce his will on his daughter and the puppet gets the upper hand, reducing his master to a broken doll. But like Napoleon returning from Elba, the Emperor stages a comeback and puts his puppet back on a string. Not a happy ending, but "Petrouchka" didn't have one either.
 

https://www.upi.com/Archives/2004/03/14/Choreographer-Taylor-reworks-Petrouchka/3724421090003/?spt=su

Edited by Quiggin

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Uh, I know he's popular but Manon and Mayerling by Kenneth MacMillan certainly depict some violent attitudes towards women that are disturbing. 

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19 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

There is no easy solution to the problem of the Moor in Petrushka . Is it enough to say, as I believe, was the case at Sarasota where it was recently staged, that it is an historical staging ? Does that make it acceptable? Does it help to point out that the ballet's staging and design was influenced by a Russophile artistic movement which showed great interest in indigenous popular art and in particular in peasant art and prints of the early nineteenth century or that this is probably the most place and time specific ballet which the Diaghilev company ever staged ?  I am not sure that it does much to ameliorate the situation. At at the end of the day a racial stereotype is a racial stereotype whatever the circumstances of its use, whatever the special pleadings you make for it and its historical context. 

 You see for me there is an even greater problem about this ballet and that is that it is one of the greatest examples of Fokine's revolutionary manifesto in action. In its entirety it is an extraordinary piece of theatre and to banish it from the stage would be an a great artistic loss....

All good points (I didn't want to copy the entire post since it's just a couple entries above) -- I agree that Petrouchka is an excellent example of the reforms that Fokine was looking for in the theater.  I love Sylphides, but it doesn't really have the same variety of characters and specificity of detail.  I taught dance history for a number of years, and spent a chunk of time on Fokine and his manifesto -- I would often show the opening scenes of Petrouchka, but it took a long time to give the Moor a context that justified showing it.

9 hours ago, Quiggin said:

Someone like Peter Sellars might be able to find a way rethink and recast Petroushka – after researching varying portrayals in 19th century art (an extensive genre) – or starting from scratch. Paul Taylor did an interesting version I saw here in San Francisco called the Le Grand Puppetier. Taylor used a piano roll reduction of the score (it was one of the ballets Stravinsky himself transcribed to piano player). What was especially nice about this version is that it was done on a smaller stage which gave it a great immediacy – it seemed to slash right in your face. The stages it's now usually presented on are somewhat larger than those of the original Ballets Russes and give it perhaps a somewhat harder and overly complex look.

A description by Frederick Winship in the UPI archives:

https://www.upi.com/Archives/2004/03/14/Choreographer-Taylor-reworks-Petrouchka/3724421090003/?spt=su

I didn't know about the Taylor work -- I'll have to look for it.  I think his revision of Sacre is fantastic. 

I'd be very interested in what Sellars would make of the work, but I'll bet it would be something that none of us would expect.

 

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The Paul Taylor version sounds interesting. I wonder how effective it was thought to be by those  who were familiar with the Fokine original ? Did it jar or was it simply accepted as an interesting use of a great score ? A rethink or re-imagining of the narrative is not quite what I am hoping for at present, least of all one devised by Peter Sellars. I recently saw his production of Purcell's The Indian Queen which was a re-imagining with a spoken text which must have been added in the mistaken belief that it would make the piece more relevant and accessible. The problem with this idea was that the text was badly written and pedestrian. Instead of making the piece more immediate  and accessible it simply drew attention to the fact that it was a modern addition which had no natural relationship to the music to which it had been attached. As a piece of music theatre the staging was earnest, pretentious and dull .

I respect your views about the ballet but surely teaching about it in the context of the Fokine reforms is not quite the same as having the experience of seeing it in the theatre with a cast who have been carefully selected and coached ? My experience of it in performance is that in the theatre the crowd scene really comes to life and can be at least as interesting as the puppet drama itself and sometimes more interesting if the dancer cast as Petrushka is not really  suited to the role. 

The figures who you see momentarily during the crowd scene have an extraordinary degree of interest and individuality if the dancers involved understand that they are performing characters who have an existence before the spotlight falls on them and continue to have an existence after the audience's focus has shifted elsewhere. It is not enough for the dancers appearing as the street entertainers to simply wave their arms about in a nicely balletic fashion which is what they did at the ENB revival. They have to know that the dancers are there to earn money and that they arguing about possession of a good pitch on which to perform and because where they perform will affect their earnings it really matters to them who wins possession of it. 

You see in my mind's eye I can still conjure up performances by individual dancers who had the ability to inhabit the character who they were playing all the time they were on the stage . Ann Jenner playing one of the street dancers on the Coven Garden stage ; David Drew playing the coachman who initiates the dance of the coachmen; Deidre Eyden leading the wet nurses ; Gary Grant as one of the stable boys and at Sadler's Wells David Morse as a gloriously drunk merchant .

At the moment I should just like to see Fokine's Petrushka restored to the stage in a form which makes it a viable piece of theatre. This would seem to require either that the Moor retains his costume and loses his make up or the black face make up is retained as part of an historical staging. Neither solution is entirely satisfactory but one needs to be selected if Petrushka is to be restored to the stage because with the right cast, stager and coaches it is not simply an interesting bit of dance history but an extraordinarily effective piece of dance theatre. 

 

Edited by Ashton Fan

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As far as MacMillan ballets like Manon and Mayerling are concerned I think that you might have some difficulty sweeping them from the stage. They seem to be very popular with the dancers and are often cited by them as the reason they choose to join the RB. I think that for the performer the pleasure lies in what Yanowsky describes as the space between the choreography and the character which enables the dancers to give their own individual interpretation of the characters they are playing. As for the younger dancers they are said to crowd the wings at Covent Garden to watch the final scene of Manon.

I suspect that every company member has thought long and hard about how they would perform the leading roles in these ballets if ever they were offered the opportunity to dance them. The result is that both ballets are part of the RB's artistic DNA and its collective memory. They are revived so regularly that they are not in danger of withering and dying through neglect.  As long as they continue looking fresh in revival and are popular with  the dancers and their audience it  seems unlikely that they will disappear from the stage.

I always think that we need to remember that the myth of MacMillan the great story teller is largely the result of the audience's response to Manon in its first season. The critics loathed it but as the audience wanted to see it ticket sales were good and so it survived. There is little  sign of the audiences tiring of it. Every three years its revival is announced, everyone groans and then inexplicably they find themselves compelled to buy tickets because of the advertised casts being dangled before their eyes. 

As far as other MacMillan works are concerned the tide may be changing.The company recently revived "The Invitation"., Most people I know expressed dissatisfaction with the revival which they felt had failed to come to theatrical  life . I can't help wondering whether the failure was attributable to the casting and coaching, which seems unlikely as the cast were strong,  or whether it was the subject matter of the work which was the problem. Could it be that sexually predatory adults and rape don't actually seem that suitable for balletic treatment any more? Could it be that  the revelations of the levels of child sexual abuse which have taken place in the church, children's homes and elsewhere have made the subject matter of the ballet unpalatable?  Perhaps The Invitation has become a period piece. I wonder whether it is the subject matter which has made current audiences unable or unwilling to feel any sympathy for the adults in the ballet and whether it was that which stopped the ballet working as a piece of theatre? Because it seemed to me that the work was stopped in its theatrical tracks and just refused to go. The husband's "remorse" rings hollow today when it probably did not to its original audience. Perhaps we have grown a little wiser.

I experienced the same theatrically unhelpful response at a performance of Emlyn Williams' play Accolade which I attended a couple of years ago.The play is the story of an extremely successful writer who has been offered a knighthood but whose life is about to be "destroyed" by a press revelation that he had sex with an underage girl at a party. I suspect that the original audience was expected to feel that it was a terrible thing that a man's reputation should be destroyed by such a "minor misdemeanor" and that they willingly complied. The audience sat and watched and gave the action of the play a stony response. It clearly had no sympathy for the main character's situation. When the writer trotted out the excuse that the girl had looked much older you could almost hear the audience collectively intoning the words of Mandy Rice Davies "He would say that would not he?".

These combined experiences lead me to hope that The Invitation and one or two more of MacMillan's shabby little shockers could be quietly lost. But then there are always Lady M's views to contend with. Unfortunately she thinks that these works are evidence of her late husband's rebel genius because they challenged the ballet establishment's ideas of what were appropriate subjects for ballet. I can't help wonder whether their daughter, who I assume will inherit the performance rights, feels the same about them?

Edited by Ashton Fan

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I don;t think Manon and Mayerling should be canned. But if we're talking about ballets with offensive/disturbing subtexts that need to go, I think those two ballets come to mind as having very disturbing attitudes towards women.

As for classical ballets my jaw dropped when I read ABT's synopsis for Le Corsaire:

Quote

 "Dealers and buyers fill a noisy bazaar where slaved girls are being treated. Conrad and his men arrive as Lankedem, the owner of the bazaar, is selling girls."

 

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55 minutes ago, canbelto said:

As for classical ballets my jaw dropped when I read ABT's synopsis for Le Corsaire:

 

But Pennsylvania Ballet changed "slave" to "servant" in their staging of Corsaire last year and I don't think it really made any difference - or was even noticed by most people. I asked about this at the pre-performance talk and the marketing director said he was the one who wanted the change.

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Ashton Fan, by "Peter Sellars" I was thinking of any quick thinking New York downtown – or London – director who could remold the ballet. The Taylor version worked because it was internally consistant, intimate, was its own thing and yet at the same time referred to the original.

Thank you for your discussion of the problems with MacMillan (and Williams). It's the kind of overwrought ballet I can never bring myself to see anymore. (Nice article by Jann Parry at Dance Tabs about Le Rossignol – too bad that won't be seen instead of the heavy-gun ballets.)

Quote

As for classical ballets my jaw dropped when I read ABT's synopsis for Le Corsaire ...

The only problem with taking the word "slave" out of at least some literature, you make people think the service was voluntary and everyone was happy and so the terrible history is seamlessly corrected.

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4 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

These combined experiences lead me to hope that The Invitation and one or two more of MacMillan's shabby little shockers could be quietly lost. But then there are always Lady M's views to contend with. Unfortunately she thinks that these works are evidence of her late husband's rebel genius because they challenged the ballet establishment's ideas of what were appropriate subjects for ballet. I can't help wonder whether their daughter, who I assume will inherit the performance rights, feels the same about them?

Joseph Kerman once described "Tosca," famously, as a "shabby little shocker," popular with the vulgarians in the cheap seats. Not, perhaps, the happiest phrase. He later said he regretted the overstatement.  (He also predicted that Tosca, Turandot, and Strauss' Salome would fall out of the repertoire. A musicologist of distinction but The Opera Nostradamus, he wasn't.)

I saw "The Invitation" some years ago with San Francisco Ballet and I recall that it still had considerable impact. I saw "The Invitation" some years ago with San Francisco Ballet and I recall that it still had considerable impact. It's certainly possible that its time has passed, although it probably never would have arrived on schedule for you. :)

I doubt if Charlotte MacMillan will share your views of her father's work..........

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4 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

I always think that we need to remember that the myth of MacMillan the great story teller is largely the result of the audience's response to Manon in its first season. The critics loathed it but as the audience wanted to see it ticket sales were good and so it survived. There is little  sign of the audiences tiring of it. Every three years its revival is announced, everyone groans and then inexplicably they find themselves compelled to buy tickets because of the advertised casts being dangled before their eyes.

As far as other MacMillan works are concerned the tide may be changing.The company recently revived "The Invitation"., Most people I know expressed dissatisfaction with the revival which they felt had failed to come to theatrical  life . I can't help wondering whether the failure was attributable to the casting and coaching, which seems unlikely as the cast were strong,  or whether it was the subject matter of the work which was the problem. Could it be that sexually predatory adults and rape don't actually seem that suitable for balletic treatment any more? Could it be that  the revelations of the levels of child sexual abuse which have taken place in the church, children's homes and elsewhere have made the subject matter of the ballet unpalatable?  Perhaps The Invitation has become a period piece. I wonder whether it is the subject matter which has made current audiences unable or unwilling to feel any sympathy for the adults in the ballet and whether it was that which stopped the ballet working as a piece of theatre? Because it seemed to me that the work was stopped in its theatrical tracks and just refused to go. The husband's "remorse" rings hollow today when it probably did not to its original audience. Perhaps we have grown a little wiser.

 

I didn't see the recent revival of The Invitation but I did see it when it was new . I can assure that 'sexually predatory adults and rape' were far from 'suitable' subjects for ballet in those days, and the subject matter was far from 'palatable'.  I don't remember feeling any sympathy at all for the adults in the ballet - the impression I got was that this was something that had happened before, more than once probably - that the husband's remorse was possibly genuine for the moment but wouldn't prevent him from doing the same thing again, and that his wife had covered up for him before.  The format of the ballet was never satisfactory, though.

Also, I think Manon took quite a long time to catch on at the box office, unless a big star was dancing - the last time I saw it at Covent Garden, sometime in the mid-1990s, I had a £10 stand-by ticket in the the centre stalls and reckoned there were at least another 100 empty seats around me.

 

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Fascinating discussion about Petrouchka. Ashtonfan makes me want to see the ballet again.

Manon is here to stay I suppose—at least for the foreseeable future. But, for myself, I have found the choreography for Manon rather limiting of ballerina individuality. I am speaking of dance individuality. The various swoony-acrobatic pas de deux, for example, flatten out all kinds of inflections and musical subtleties that, say, Petipa variations, positively require. Of course, a ballerina’s charisma and dramatic intensity can still have a distinctive impact, but I still don’t think of Manon as the ballet in which to assess a ballerina’s individuality. I realize I may be failing to ‘get’ something about Macmillan, but...

For me, the issue re violence against women in ballet narratives is not that it is (or should be) off limits as a topic, but concern that ballets are, so to speak, ‘getting off’ on it or using it as a ‘go to’ effect for some sensational choreography or just revealing a particular personal obsession of a choreographer on the bodies of the dancers. Or simply that it may too often be favored as a story over other stories that could also be danced. But you can’t simply rule out difficult subject matter. (Though I do think that last point can become an excuse for choreographers who don’t want to reflect on the issue further.) 

Edited by Drew

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The Mariinsky’s Soviet Version of Corsaire makes it clear that the men selling and buying women are the bad guys (who are punished in the end) and Medora uses her influence over Conrad to get the other women free despite it causing a mutiny. So I feel it has a more serious subtext than other versions.

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