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Ivor Guest has passed away

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The truly remarkable dance historian Ivor Guest has died today, April 4. 

If ballet heaven does exist Ivor is already there, my heart goes to his widow, the amazing notator Ann Hutchinson. 

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Posted (edited)

His books were among the first works of serious ballet history--probably the first--that I ever encountered.  Rest in peace.

Edited by Drew

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3 hours ago, Gnossie said:

The truly remarkable dance historian Ivor Guest has died today, April 4. 

If ballet heaven does exist Ivor is already there, my heart goes to his widow, the amazing notator Ann Hutchinson. 

 

Thank you for letting us know, Gnossie. I am very sorry to hear this. His book "The Romantic Ballet in Paris" is one of my favorites. Condolences to Ms. Hutchinson.

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Damn -- I knew he was getting frail, but this is still sad news.

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What sad news.  May he rest in peace.

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Macaulay in his obituary, with his numerous shallow clichés is misleading the reader. "Transformed Study of Dance History". Nothing could be further from truth. Ivor Guest did what a historian is supposed to do: worked with archives and the sources. I can't think of many (honestly, I can't think of practically any, really) active ballet historians writing in English today who care much about the sources. So much easier, than spending countless hours in the libraries and the archives, is to rehash the same, limited amount, already quoted, for example, by Guest, and to indulge instead in vacuous sociological-postmodernist newspeak. Compared to them Guest was a man of Old School. He didn't care much about Marx, Derrida or Foucault. He respected facts. His books, especially the earlier ones, were not written by a scholar but rather by an enthusiast, in the best sense of the word; popularly written they constitute the best example of "popular literature". In some of them, he sometimes indulges in giving too much space to gossip from patently unreliable sources, without duly warning the reader, while he could try to make a deeper analysis of the works, of the styles. Only in his last two works, on the period 1772-1795, and on the period 1792-1815, Guest approaches the methods and the work style of a professional historian. These two works are particularly valuable. All of his works on the history of ballet, however, are highly commendable because he knew his subject well, and he loved ballet after all.

There were some great ballet historians before Guest, including several learned French authors and some Russians, practically none will remain, I am afraid, after him.

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4 hours ago, Drew said:

Finally, a couple of obits! Unusual delay. In addition to the above, we now have an obit from The Times, posted today on Legacy.com:

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/thetimes-uk/obituary.aspx?n=ivor-forbes-guest&pid=188693694&fhid=33653

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5 hours ago, Laurent said:

Macaulay in his obituary, with his numerous shallow clichés is misleading the reader. "Transformed Study of Dance History". Nothing could be further from truth. Ivor Guest did what a historian is supposed to do: worked with archives and the sources. I can't think of many (honestly, I can't think of practically any, really) active ballet historians writing in English today who care much about the sources. So much easier, than spending countless hours in the libraries and the archives, is to rehash the same, limited amount, already quoted, for example, by Guest, and to indulge instead in vacuous sociological-postmodernist newspeak. Compared to them Guest was a man of Old School. He didn't care much about Marx, Derrida or Foucault. He respected facts. His books, especially the earlier ones, were not written by a scholar but rather by an enthusiast, in the best sense of the word; popularly written they constitute the best example of "popular literature". In some of them, he sometimes indulges in giving too much space to gossip from patently unreliable sources, without duly warning the reader, while he could try to make a deeper analysis of the works, of the styles. Only in his last two works, on the period 1772-1795, and on the period 1792-1815, Guest approaches the methods and the work style of a professional historian. These two works are particularly valuable. All of his works on the history of ballet, however, are highly commendable because he knew his subject well, and he loved ballet after all.

There were some great ballet historians before Guest, including several learned French authors and some Russians, practically none will remain, I am afraid, after him.

But I think he did "transform" the field, at least for English speakers, in that he did do the homework, and he did take the topic seriously.  Yes, you can tell he was an enthusiast -- his love for dance comes through in almost everything he wrote -- but unlike some of his predecessors who too often would substitute that love for research (what I think of as the "you had to have been there" school), Guest gives us information. 

He did have some wonderful colleagues (too many to list, but Parmenia Miguel's work was incredibly helpful to me when I was just starting out), but I do see other people coming along and doing the work.  Right now, most of the scholarship is focused on more limited topics -- individuals, organizations, discrete time periods -- but then, much of Guest's work had the same kind of scope.

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On ‎10‎.‎4‎.‎2018 at 4:11 PM, Laurent said:

Ivor Guest did what a historian is supposed to do: worked with archives and the sources. I can't think of many (honestly, I can't think of practically any, really) active ballet historians writing in English today who care much about the sources.

Strictly speaking, any scholar that claims to be a historian are always expected to work with sources! Primary sources combined with secondary and research literature.

I have come across some of his works, but I haven't had oppurtunities to read them yet. Based on the quick overview of his works, I could use them as references but with extreme caution, depending on the formulation of the research question and context of the research.

 

 

 

Edited by Lam

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Lam,

Perhaps I have missed something and, if I have, I apolgise for being so dense. Why do you consider Ivor Guest's scholarship to be suspect and say that his works should only be used with extreme caution?  If, as you say, you have not read any of them how do you know? Are you simply naturally cautious about any work of scholarship or is your caution limited to works on  dance related topics ? I am genuinely interested to know the reason for your caution.

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12 hours ago, Lam said:

Strictly speaking, any scholar that claims to be a historian are always expected to work with sources! Primary sources combined with secondary and research literature.

Strictly speaking, yes, ideally at least. The majority of those who write today, for example, about ballet history in the 19th century, I do not know who do they think of themselves, but very few go to the trouble of digging up and thoroughly analyzing available sources.  Muddy socio-literary-gender studies displaying limited knowledge of the historical context are, unfortunately, more frequent than works that broaden our knowledge of ballet throughout its history.

 

Quote

I have come across some of his works, but I haven't had oppurtunities to read them yet. Based on the quick overview of his works, I could use them as references but with extreme caution, depending on the formulation of the research question and context of the research.

All written word has to be taken with caution, always. Scholars build their reputation with their work, however, as the people who write about anything build their reputation with the quality of what they write. I can say that I am very well familiar with Ivor Guest's published work on ballet in Paris. It is uniformly of high quality. Towards the end of his career Guest was moving towards more scholarly studies compared to his earliest work. There are relatively few topics where, one can argue, his presentation has been too much colored by overrelying on dubious sources (for example the position he accords to Adèle Dumilâtre, there are very compelling reasons to believe that the original Myrtha was in fact an excellent danseuse, something one misses reading his Romantic Ballet in Paris). Guest was prepared to correct the wrong information, when he later discovered that it was incorrect. He does this tacitly, for example, in his volume on ballet in Paris under Napoleon I Bonaparte, correcting certain information from his earlier volume on ballet in Paris beginning with the accession to the throne of Louis XVI and concluding with the Reign of Terror. Mistakes, errors of judgement, or even typos, are practically absent from Guest's works. Regrettably, he never wrote a separate study of ballet in Paris after 1870 where he could give due to the last two great representatives of the refined French school, Léontine Beaugrand and Julia Subra. With the great Parisian critics of the Romantic period, Guest shared a strong distaste for the circus acrobatics of Italian guest ballerinas who dominated the European stage after the Franco-Prussian war. He held it responsible, rightly, in my opinion, for the demise of refined danse d'école, as catering to the tastes of simple, unrefined folk. It is curious that Marius Petipa held similar views, despite the fact that he was giving in, reportedly reluctantly, to including displays of tour de force into the parts choreographed for specific Italian ballerinas who were visiting Petersbourg in the later years of the 19th century.

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38 minutes ago, Laurent said:

Muddy socio-literary-gender studies displaying limited knowledge of the historical context are, unfortunately, more frequent than works that broaden our knowledge of ballet throughout its history.

Could you perhaps give examples? I think I know what you mean.

Ballet is a specific research subject that generally falls under cultural history cateogory (if one has to classify it, but it doesn't mean that ballet history shouldn't be dealt from another historical method such as political or social history). I consider ballet to be an interdisciplinary subject that can't be dealt alone from the historical perspective. Dissertations are scattered among multiple humanities disciplines in the Art department.  For me this means that the researches were done by dancers, musiologist, historians, art historians, literary critic, art critics, theater and theatrelogists.  

There are sources but interpretations of the sources can be diffrent depending on formulation of the research question. The first lesson I learned when I entered university is that history can never be re-enact of fully recovered. You can only recontruct the past. 

38 minutes ago, Laurent said:

With the great Parisian critics of the Romantic period, Guest shared a strong distaste for the circus acrobatics of Italian guest ballerinas who dominated the European stage after the Franco-Prussian war. He held it responsible, rightly, in my opinion, for the demise of refined danse d'école, as catering to the tastes of simple, unrefined folk

That is one way to look at it. Various factors contributed to the erosion of the France's ballet institution and refined danse d'école and thus should be considered in broader political, social and cultural context though. 

Edited by Lam

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9 minutes ago, Lam said:

Could you perhaps give examples? I think I know what you mean.

An internet forum is not a platform for sharing such details.

History of ballet involves events, dates, names, who said what and when, and so on, like any other history. Broad analyses are possible only when the factual and material base is well established. This is still very far from accomplished when we talk about ballet. Majority of people who write about ballet today have but a rudimentary knowledge of its history, the wikipedia articles, riddled with gross errors that nobody seems to notice, are considered primary sources of information, and so on.

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5 minutes ago, Laurent said:

An internet forum is not a platform for sharing such details.

History of ballet involves events, dates, names, who said what and when, and so on, like any other history. Broad analyses are possible only when the factual and material base is well established. This is still very far from accomplished when we talk about ballet. Majority of people who write about ballet today have but a rudimentary knowledge of its history, the wikipedia articles, riddled with gross errors that nobody seems to notice, are considered primary sources of information, and so on.

History of ballet involves events, dates, names, who said what and when, and so on, like any other history. Broad analyses are possible only when the factual and material base is well established.

- Yes, I know. But it isn't just that though. 

I disagree. Broad analysis can already be made. As a future historian myself I can't agree to that kind of simplified view of what history research is. Perhaps if you view history simply as a study of the past from which we can learn from then, I guess, but that view is severely outdated within the circles of academic historians.

5 minutes ago, Laurent said:

Majority of people who write about ballet today have but a rudimentary knowledge of its history, the wikipedia articles, riddled with gross errors that nobody seems to notice, are considered primary sources of information, and so on.

I can agree to that to some extent. But then there are trained academic historians and amateur historians. I don't consider all, wro writes history as historians though.  That is a separate issue itself. I myself can name well done dissertations, but since I can't name them here in the forum, I won't.

Edited by Lam

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I won't divert the topic further from Ivor Guest passing by discussing what history and specifically ballet history is. I am more than happy to discuss this elsewhere or through PM.

Edited by Lam

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Perhaps it is cultural differences at work here but generally when writing about the recent deceased it is not considered courteous to attempt to tear their reputation to threads in obits.  I imagine friends and relatives of Ivor Guest would want to read tributes by ballet goers that have enjoyed his books over a long period of time.

Perhaps hyper critical views of his work belong in a separate thread, preferably written by those that have actually read him.

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Just now, Mashinka said:

Perhaps it is cultural differences at work here but generally when writing about the recent deceased it is not considered courteous to attempt to tear their reputation to threads in obits.  I imagine friends and relatives of Ivor Guest would want to read tributes by ballet goers that have enjoyed his books over a long period of time.

Perhaps hyper critical views of his work belong in a separate thread, preferably written by those that have actually read him.

My intention was not to tear anyone's reputation to threads in this discussion. I do consider Ivor Guest as s scholar of merit, even though I haven't had oppurtunities or time to read his works though. I came across to his works through other scholars references to his works.

And what cultural differences? I am aware that it is not polite to speak ill about the deceased. Where did I tear anyone's reputation to shreds though?

By this  --- "I can agree to that to some extent. But then there are trained academic historians and amateur historians. I don't consider all, wro writes history as historians though. - This was not a reference to Ivor Guest.

 

Just now, Lam said:

Majority of people who write about ballet today have but a rudimentary knowledge of its history, the wikipedia articles, riddled with gross errors that nobody seems to notice, are considered primary sources of information, and so on.

I was merely responding to this though. I was merely responding to the authoritive claim to what history is and what history research should be. My views were offered from the historian point of view,

 

Edited by Lam

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Belatedly, let me just note that in 2008 Ivor Guest received the Lifetime Achievement Award for the Selma Jeanne Cohen Prize in Dance Aesthetics (along with Ann Hutchinson Guest and Sally Banes) from the American Society for Aesthetics. It was a great honor to meet him and we are all very saddened by this loss.

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Posted (edited)

 

One of the problems for any historian, apart from doing the research carefully and being critical of the source material he or she is using , is that their work is inevitably a product of the time and  place in which they are working and the prevailing fashions in scholarship. No one is completely immune from this however rigorous and objective they try to be. Ivor Guest was fortunate to be working at a time when there was a genuine interest in the history and development of ballet as an art form among a fairly wide public and non-specialist publishers were far more willing to publish books on dance history and research than they are today. His books may not look at ballet in its social context and cultural setting in the way that is fashionable today but that does not, it seems to me, diminish their worth as works of scholarship. For English speaking readers they represent pioneering works on  topics which probably would not otherwise have appeared in English at all.

The pity is that the results of so much dance research today seem to be confined to the pages of learned specialist journals which can hardly be described as accessible to those outside the charmed circle of professional dance scholarship. If the fruits of current dance scholarship are virtually inaccessible and much of it unreadable by non specialists it is questionable  what sort of use it has.  It does not seem to have much effect or influence on those who commission and stage the great dance works of the past but then of course no one wants to be accused of being a mere museum curator.

I, for one, am grateful to the late Ivor Guest for the research he undertook and the books he chose to write. If only we had the prospect of a work about Petipa in the offing that was half as good as the one Guest wrote about Perrot. I have always found it advisable to read a book before I start to criticise an author for his scholarship and methodology and always try to bear in mind  the audience for whom he was writing. Guest's books were directed at an educated non specialist audience rather than a scholarly one which is why they are readable. I do not believe that the nature of the audience for whom he was writing would have made him conclude that he could afford to let the standard of his scholarship slip .   

Edited by Ashton Fan

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4 hours ago, Lam said:

I don't consider all, wro writes history as historians though.  That is a separate issue itself. I myself can name well done dissertations, but since I can't name them here in the forum, I won't.

There is no reason you can't name or discuss them here in the thread.  Moderators determine whether something is appropriate, not other members.

 

4 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Perhaps it is cultural differences at work here but generally when writing about the recent deceased it is not considered courteous to attempt to tear their reputation to threads in obits.  I imagine friends and relatives of Ivor Guest would want to read tributes by ballet goers that have enjoyed his books over a long period of time.

Perhaps hyper critical views of his work belong in a separate thread, preferably written by those that have actually read him.

Moderators determine whether something is appropriate.  There are so many things in this short post that violate policy that I would typically delete it altogether, but to make a general points:

1.  We are not a fan board, and if people have criticisms, they can criticize, particularly the veracity of what is being written in the obituaries, including claims and characterizations.

2.  What  friends and relatives of the deceased want to read is not a board concern.  Members decide what to post with board policy about the subject is based on their own sensibilities, including whether to avoid posting or to create a new thread to expand upon a subject and to be more critical, and other members are free to make their own conclusions about the member, including matters of intelligence, taste, knowledge, and humor, as long as they don't post about them here.

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Just now, Ashton Fan said:

I have always found it advisable to read a book before I start to criticise an author for his scholarship and methodology and always try to bear in mind  the audience for whom he was writing. Guest's books were directed at an educated non specialist audience rather than a scholarly one which is why they are readable. I do not believe that the nature of the audience for whom he was writing would have made him conclude that he could afford to let the standard of his scholarship slip .   

To clarify some points, I didn't question Guest's methology or his works!? When I wrote "I don't consider all who write history to be historian", -  I did not refer to Ivor Guest. I was suggesting that instead of blaming solely on Italian dancers, one should also consider broader historical context. 

 

15 hours ago, Ashton Fan said:

Lam,

Perhaps I have missed something and, if I have, I apolgise for being so dense. Why do you consider Ivor Guest's scholarship to be suspect and say that his works should only be used with extreme caution?  If, as you say, you have not read any of them how do you know? Are you simply naturally cautious about any work of scholarship or is your caution limited to works on  dance related topics ? I am genuinely interested to know the reason for your caution.

We are taught in seminars to be highly critical and cautious about everything, the sources, the literature etc and in addition to also consider the ethical questions. Everything has to be evaluated and the usage of sources has to be justified  and  It's impossible to be objective but one should still aim to be as objective as possible. My post wasn't meant to be an offense to Ivor Guest. His works are still quoted and used and I think  he did a massive and valuable ballet history research that other historians have also used. That's how I came across his works.

Just now, Ashton Fan said:

The pity is that the results of so much dance research today seem to be confined to the pages of learned specialist journals which can hardly be described as accessible to those outside the charmed circle of professional dance scholarship. If the fruits of current dance scholarship are virtually inaccessible and much of it unreadable by non specialists it is questionable  what sort of use it has.

This is a general big problem in humanities department. How to make research and research results more known and more accessible to wider audience, like for example the publications in natural sciences. But then again unfortunaly there is also the kind of attitude within the academic circles (at leasti in my university) that research shouldn't be done or made more accessible to wider public. This does not necessarily concern dance research specifically, which is new field to me too, So can't say much about it.

And also funding issues :(

 

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7 hours ago, Lam said:

To clarify some points, I didn't question Guest's methology or his works!? When I wrote "I don't consider all who write history to be historian", -  I did not refer to Ivor Guest. I was suggesting that instead of blaming solely on Italian dancers, one should also consider broader historical context. 

cechetti??????

This is a general big problem in humanities department. How to make research and research results more known and more accessible to wider audience, like for example the publications in natural sciences. But then again unfortunaly there is also the kind of attitude within the academic circles (at leasti in my university) that research shouldn't be done or made more accessible to wider public. 

Why? Monopoly? Competition? Forbidden knowledge? Secrets of the trade? Esoterica?

 

Edited by Vs1
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