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Leigh Witchel

Editorial Advisor
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Everything posted by Leigh Witchel

  1. One more thing to add - Ashton style seems closely related to Ceccheti training. He didn't just dream it up out of thin air. It came from the training he received and the classes he took.
  2. Hi - Odd to pop your head back into a thread after a decade, but I've been thinking about this a lot and I feel as if I only had some answer to this last year. It wasn't a dancer that showed me, but staging - as with the Ashton Festival at Lincoln Center in '04. And this time, the '14 Ashton Festival put on by Sarasota Ballet. Margaret Barbieri and Iain Webb's settings were so specific that it was clear - at least from their eyes - what makes a ballet an Ashton ballet. Musicality: Ashton's musicality is melodic. In one of the first entrances of a quartet of chic ladies in Scenes de Ballets, they hop forward and in exactly on the melodic line. You can practically hear Ashton singing it as he demonstrated. You could see that in all the ballets from Birthday Offering through Les Illuminations. Speed: We love to think of this as the province of Balanchine. That's parochialism. Ashton is blisteringly quick. Footwork: Ashtonian footwork is fast and under the body. The point of pointework isn't as much to travel (think of Balanchine's female duet in Agon) as to show detail work - and also states of emotion. When an Ashton ballerina gets lifted doing a battement serre; it's the fluttering of her heart. Narrative: Search on Youtube for Lynn Seymour doing A Month in the Country and look at the first variation. It isn't a variation - it's a monologue where she's joking, or flirting. No step is without dramatic intent and to divide an Ashton ballet into choreography and acting is a mistake. They happen at the same time. Epaulement: This is the big one. Ashton epaulement is classical-plus. A cambre back goes back, and then more back for a greater, exaggerated sweep. A bend to the side is all the way to the side. A great place to look for this is the opening entrance of the couples in Birthday Offering. As one of Sarasota's dancers, Daniel Pratt, joked to me in an imitation of Barbieri on the mike during a stage rehearsal. "DANIEL PRATT! More body!" It would be harmful to compare Sarasota to the Royal - but it did a phenomenal job for what it is. And what a joy it was to look at four days of Ashton so clearly presented that for the first time in 20 years, I felt I could finally say, "THAT'S Ashton style!"
  3. Estelle and I were there - it's promising. It needs a little work, but not much. What's missing (the story's emotions, the "flesh on the bones" as it were) is probably just a matter of doing it more. Bart is strong at pastiche and classical vocabulary. Lacroix's costumes have a fortune in brocade. The sets are a problem - they're too abstracted where a pastiche like this would benefit from a naturalistic setting (think of Giselle in a setting composed of all rope - you spend more time thinking about the concept than the characters.) I'll write about this, probably for Ballet Review. Natalia - that is exactly the opening night cast.
  4. But I did - http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/theater/changing_of_the_askegard_R5W3htjIkD1hhHX4dsaThP The Post had only limited room (Stefanie Cohen did a companion interview) so it's a very tightly written piece.
  5. My guess is that Hallberg will simply remain a principal at ABT, not become a guest principal. He'll just have a curtailed schedule.
  6. It's not the word; it's that people don't always understand that racism and discrimination don't require animus. I remember the surprise I had when working years ago on a discrimination case. The lawyer on the case explained to me that the plaintiff did not need to prove that the defendant - an employer - did not dislike older/non-white/female/whatever people at all. The plaintiff only needed to show statistical proof (in a large enough sampling) of a trend of not hiring them. Racism and discrimination isn't only a feeling - it's a behavior. Like one Asian woman at NYCB in 30 years. The numbers speak louder than anything else. But haven't we been on this train already?
  7. Tangential to the main thrust of this topic, but regarding Balanchine - the original cast members that I interviewed on Agon back in '97 seemed to think that his primary fascination with casting Mitchell and Adams was not social, but aesthetic - he was fascinated by the design possibilities of dark skin against light skin. Mitchell echoed this in a coaching session in '02, when he regretted slightly using two dancers of similar skin tone - both light-skinned black, losing that contrast. It's not as if Balanchine could have been ignorant of the greater implications, but they didn't seem to think it was the first thing on his mind. When I went to St. Petersburg and saw the enormous "Moors' Heads" vases in Yussopov Palace I wondered if that wasn't what Balanchine was showing when he worked with Josephine Baker, or the all-black cast of Cabin in the Sky, or Agon - a fascination from his childhood culture with the exotic.
  8. If you're talking about my reports on the Interpreters Archive, those have all been in Dance View (the print magazine). Forthcoming is a piece on Suki Schorer coaching La Source (second ballerina role) and Conrad Ludlow coaching Liebesleider Walzer.
  9. The Graham case seemed to be an example of a court willing to make bad law (finding a choreographer's works to be for hire) in order to get a good outcome (freeing Graham's works up to be done by the Graham company) For added complexity, some countries, such as France, have the concept of the moral right of an artist to the integrity of the work - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_rights_%28copyright_law%29 - in United States, that is a much weaker right.
  10. It depends on the contract made at the time. A company could acquire all rights, but what seems most usual at present is for the choreographer to retain the rights to the work, granting a license to perform to the commissioning company for a specified period of time.
  11. Simon - I only saw Muntagirov once, so it's not fair for me to make an assessment, but is he really all that? I only saw him in the Black and White program, which didn't show anyone to their best advantage (though Suite en Blanc helped) and he seemed talented, but I didn't see what was exceptional. I've seen BRB more than ENB but between the two, BRB produced a more finished product. They do idiomatic Ashton and surprisingly good Balanchine - and I'm really impressed with Desmond Kelly's coaching of both.
  12. I saw Richard Move do a wicked re-enactment of this with Anthony of Anthony and the Johnsons as Helen Keller.
  13. When I was just starting to choreograph, I was sitting in on the rehearsals of an older, more experienced choreographer who had been with several major companies. He was working on tailoring portions of the male variation from Grand Pas Classique for a young professional dancer who was quite good, but everything he was trying was just too intricate. "Can I try something?" I asked, and showed him a simpler variation of a tour jete. "Of course, that's perfect. Why didn't I think of that?" "Do you really want to know?" I asked. He looked at me. "Because you can dance and I can't." I said. Natural dancers can have a harder time with choreography because every idea works in their bodies - they didn't have to figure things out. They have to work harder to learn which ideas are good and which aren't worth the audience looking at.
  14. I don't know what they've announced already, so I don't want to scoop Works and Process, but I do think they are hoping he might attend, but not counting on it. As is usual with this specific program, Avi and Emery are using the same music; five short (unrelated) chamber pieces.
  15. I will be moderating the October New Dance Commissions program; I hope to see some of you there!
  16. I think it was less a modern feminist re-reading than closer to the original one of class. It's not that Giselle was spirited because she was a strong woman - it was because she was a peasant girl, not a noblewoman who could afford the luxury of delicate sensibilities.
  17. Hey all - for a potential Post article, is anyone here or does anyone know any former dancers (any discipline) who are now working on their PhD thesis on a scientific subject? Social sciences also acceptable as long as the thesis involves the scientific method. It's much better if the person is in the NYC area. Send me a PM or write me at press [at] leighwitchel.com
  18. Leave us charming, please. The reviews I dread writing more than any other, is when something was "fine." There was nothing really wrong. It didn't suck. But it didn't have any hook or distinction. It's not fair to bury it, and there isn't much praise to offer. It was fine. It usually takes until 5:30 am to wring out 350 miserable words, and I need every hackneyed adjective I can get.
  19. Yes, although I'm disappointed (given Siff's wonderful alter-ego as leader of La Gran Scena - opera's answer to The Trocks) that he didn't try to get the caption of Roberta Peters as Despina fooled with to identify it as him. I think we've discussed a few words in dance that have become cliched: "iconic" and "amplitude" spring right to mind.
  20. The more I have to write, the more sympathetic I am to this problem. When a cliche ends up in my reviews, it's usually because of one or more of the following: I have to explain something I've explained before. I don't have the space to go into detail. I have to qualify or explain a distinction or shading to the general reader. I don't have the time to think of something that's better. If I don't catch it, often my editor does and asks for a fix. (Why I love editors chapter 452a . . .) But she's grinding out copy on a daily basis and occasionally we both goof.
  21. Folks - I know we've been more lenient, particularly on the Russian company forums, but we need to take it easy on unsourced information. Otherwise we'll just back-and-forth on its veracity.
  22. If ticket prices go up to a point where people who go regularly will save it only for a special occasion, it impacts programming and artistic decisions as well. It's already happened - examples are the full length productions of first Swan Lake and then Romeo + Juliet. Not so much that they were done - NYCB has always survived by creating novelties that sell tickets. But they are getting programed in large proportion, and a rep program was even canceled in favor of an additional performance of Swan Lake. None of this is meaningful in isolation. But it's a trend. How much of the programming is now full-length works? The company still won't look that reality in the face and include acting classes at SAB to prepare the dancers for it. And that perhaps different dancers should be hired if this is the new repertory. It's like dripping water on a stone. We're not going to see the real effects of these decisions until the stone changes shape.
  23. I wouldn't be so hard on Parker, even with that statement. Her position may be low-effort, but it's similar to a "rainmaker" in a law firm; I assume she attracts attention and money.
  24. It's sad to hear this - and makes me realize how disconnected I have been from that reality for a while. When I was a dance student, the reason I went to NYCB so much was because I could afford it. I wouldn't have the job I have today without that access - writing about the very company that is unwittingly cutting off a future generation of artists and writers. Fall for Dance packs its house because the ticket prices are affordable. Dancers' Choice sells out in part because of the low seat prices. Even revenue on the Boston T went up when they lowered the price instead of raising it. NYCB was originally aligned with Morton Baum - and is in the State Theater, as a "people's theater" with accessible prices. I recognize that fiscal responsibility is an issue, but a ballet company's product is the development of culture, not ticket sales. If you start making the first responsibility to make a profit, pretty soon the art is going to look that way as well, with no risks and no experimentation, except what seems trendy enough to be commercially viable.
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