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Everything posted by l'histoire

  1. Farrell's dancing deserves the effusive compliments, unlike some of the celebrated "Balanchine" (or should I just say "NYCB") ballerinas I can think of today (or even of the past ...). But yes, she has lots of lovely things to say.
  2. Thanks for mentioning this, I've just ordered it for summer fun reading! (It's even appalling cheap on Amazon in whatever format you'd like, which is rare for an Oxford book!). I know a lot of China scholars who have studied 'cultural exchanges,' but only in the theatre realm, so I'm excited to read more about ballet, even if it's 'only' focused on Soviet/US exchanges.
  3. I remember that Russell was staging T&V during the same trip; interesting about her being diverted to China. Less so because of China, more so because I thought the Balanchine Trust zealously controls all performances of Balanchine (but what are you going to do when it's being "illegally" performed in Shanghai or Beijing, I guess). Anyways, this is one reason I'd love to hear more about stagers ... staging things! Ballet in China has, I suspect (not knowing anything about figure skating in the PRC), a much longer history than competitive figure skating - ballet had "been there" long before videotapes. I'm mostly interested in Balanchine in China because if it was largely hard for the Soviets to wrap their heads around his neo-classicism on multiple levels, I'm DESPERATELY curious to know what the dancers, company heads, and audiences thought of the first Balanchine performed in China - which had basically absorbed its entire ballet tradition from Russia & then the Soviet Union, and there hadn't been some tradition of "classical ballet" developing somewhat independently during the teens & 20s. But, we're far off topic! Thanks for the note on Russell in the PRC, though. I'd love to see a fuller recounting of what that looked like.
  4. Swans of the Kremlin is quite good & I think any balletomane interested in ballet under the Soviets would find it interesting reading. It's academic, but not overly so. I read it mostly for pleasure, but I always read academic books with an eye towards "is this accessible for an interested lay audience or undergraduates in a course?" (I'm a professor) and would say yes on both counts. My only quibble would be that Ezrahi - like most cultural historians of the Soviet Union, at least in my (relatively limited) reading - discounts the idea that any of the people she's writing about (with a few notable exceptions) could've been "true believers" in socialism. But, that's a historian-on-historian squabble. She also marshaled some great photographs (my favorite is of a bunch of surprised-looking workers in the gilded jewel box of the theatre of the Marinsky in the early '20s. It makes the point rather dramatically that this has been an art confined to the upper echelons of society prior that that). When I dream of projects I'll do in the future, I'd love to do a study of Balanchine in China. Ballet in the PRC has such an interesting, understudied history already. I loved Suzanne Farrell's description of staging Scotch Symphony in 1988 in the Soviet Union for a couple of reasons, but certainly (at least in her telling) it highlighted some of those "gaps in understanding and judgment" - I wish we had more of those kinds of reminiscences, or at least an easier time finding out who-staged-what-where-when.
  5. Again, no. What really defined a samurai, beside his flat-out birth right of class, which is admittedly hard to depict in ballet? The sword on his hip. Don't remember Villalla wearing one when he performed this with McBride. I do remember the flowered bikini. The ballet loses nothing without its psuedo-shunga trappings. "Tea" also can stand on its own without its pseudo-Asian, frankly racist & ultimately stupid caricatures of Asian art. Such things make me sad, because I imagine if Balanchine had ever had serious exposure to East Asian performance traditions, he probably would've found a lot of interesting, beautiful, and fascinating things to take inspiration from in a much less ham-fisted manner. I see the beautiful, slow & deliberate arm movements of kunqu huadan sometimes in the opening of Serenade, even though it was of course not anything Mr B. was drawing from.
  6. Uh, no. At least on the issue of 'cultural appropriation.' The idea that this piece, costumes & all, somehow represents 'Asian' culture (which is a laughable idea in & of itself) if it's performed by Asian dancers is utterly absurd. Bugaku is Balanchine imagining Asia (Japan). Period. Doesn't matter who's performing it, it is still appropriation to the max (I have perhaps misremembered, but I seem to recall seeing something about the premier of the ballet & the Japanese ambassador being offended & leaving early? I can't blame the man if it's true). I'd love to see the ballet in leotard fashion, as I think it would be much less offensive (pretty as the tutus are), but even so - marshaling Asian dancers into the roles will not make it any less "cultural appropriation" than it currently is,. I say that as someone who (a) has spent a hell of a lot of time studying "traditional" Chinese theatre & published a book on the subject with a reputable academic press and (b) is trained in the history of and also teaches the REST of East Asia (Japan and Korea). Also, why in god's name would any Asian company pick THIS Balanchine piece to present, out of the many others available? Yes, it's of interest to those of us who have an interest in Balanchine. But - AFAIK - Balanchine isn't quite so popular in East Asia, ergo, performing one of the REAL Balanchine greats (Serenade, Barocco, Apollo, the like) would be of much more interest to the dancers & the audiences, versus this head-scratching (in many respects) take on Japanese shunga. Balanchine's 'Tea' with the original finger pointing stuff is just gross, wigs or not. Chinese opera (ALL of them, and there are many) is absolutely stunning to watch in motion - to borrow from THAT theatrical tradition, one doesn't need to be reduced to 'index fingers pointing in the air while wearing silly wigs.'
  7. As the occasional resident "Hi hey hello, I'm a fan but I do this as a profession [I am a professional historian & my first book was on mid-century Chinese opera]" person in these conversations, I really would love to see Bugaku staged as a leotard ballet. I have said so to well-respected, long-standing members of this board. I don't think there's any reason to revive it in its current form (original form?) as pretty as the tutus are (and they are pretty. Last time I was at the V&A - a number of years ago - I got to see Susanne Farrell's Bugaku tutu, and it was gorgeous). It would be an interesting ballet to watch as a leotard ballet. With all the Orientalist nonsense (which I don't fault Balanchine for, per se), it's ... much less interesting. Strip it down to its bones, then let people decide its worth.
  8. Of course many facets of identity are culturally constructed. The IDEA of what a man or woman SHOULD be (you know, "gender") is a cultural construct, which is what I was saying (and I'm not saying you have to pick one or the other, though in functional point of fact, in many places you actually DO have to pick). I wasn't debating the fact that people can feel "in between" (to say the least); I was objecting to the idea that gender - as a construct - is somehow inherent in human existence or linked to what genitals you're born with (it's not). The reason people feel that "people with penises should be like THIS" or "people with vaginas should be like THAT" is a CULTURAL construct. It's not inherent in biology.
  9. First of all, gender is not "an identity," it's a cultural construct. Second, a "dan" is a ROLE, it has nothing to do with the sex or gender of the performer. You can have a dan who has identified as male since birth (like Mei Lanfang), or a dan who has identified as female since birth (like a great many dan in the modern era). Women were, from the 18th century on (until the 20th century), BANNED from Chinese stages, so you had no choice BUT to have men playing "women's" roles until the mid-20th century (when women started playing dan roles again). Yes, Mei Lanfang was one of the "great four dan," he also had a lot of reasons for throwing about his masculinity (if interested, please look at Joshua Goldstein's fabulous monograph, _Drama Kings_, published by UC Press). And please don't conflate "Chinese opera" with "Peking opera." Peking opera itself (never mind its status as "the" Chinese opera) is a relatively recent invention. If we're going to bow our heads to anything as "Chinese opera," it should be kunqu, or as it's often called in Chinese - "Mother of a hundred [styles of] opera."
  10. Realize I'm several weeks late, but no, I still don't understand what Balanchine's obsession with Farrell with was "bizarre." Bizarre in what way? Balanchine had fallen in love with young ballerinas before, that was nothing new; he'd done a lot of choreography for them, too. Farrell wasn't the first. I'd just like to know why the Farrell/Balanchine affair was "bizarre," when his others - with LeClerq, Tallchief, etc - weren't.
  11. This is all assuming he WANTED (or felt like he could) write about all that (or "as told to" all that). I agree it's a shame he never published anything, but perhaps it's the historian in me - we simply can't expect such riches from our sources. OTOH, if his archive is safely with Columbia, suffice to say, scholars will pull out of it things Mitchell never would've dreamed of speaking about. The autobiographical archive is fetishized in the field of history & generally overvalued, though it is of course valuable.
  12. Why "bizarre"? There's a reason the documentary made of her is called Elusive Muse - I actually think that captures Balanchine's presentation of Dulcinea in Don Q to a 't,' from what I've seen/read of the ballet. I can appreciate the fact that Balanchine's Don Q wasn't the bravura-fest that most versions of the ballet are (even if I think its potential of being revived handily are slim to none).
  13. I feel this way about the Peony Pavilion (a famous Chinese opera, which is a supreme & beloved achievement as a work of literature & as excerpts in traditional Chinese opera), which the National Ballet of China made into a ballet. As highly stylized as Chinese opera is, it's still not ballet (and I've been horrified by what parts of the ballet I've seen, insofar as "telling the story") - it is a glorious piece of literature that is "undanceable."
  14. I'm an East Asian specialist, and have never read Don Quixote in its entirety, though I think we were forced to read excerpts in HS. Regardless, I appreciate you highlighting that Balanchine had his particular twist/emphasis, just as Petipa has his .... Much like many of the sprawling works I read, it seems well-nigh impossible to distill the "entirety" into an evening's ballet, so you have to pick some angle. One reason I'm such a Balanchine devotee: one doesn't have to have these conversations watching Concerto Barocco or Serenade.
  15. I'm not surprised. Here's a quote from one of the critics I study, re: 16th century drama, which is often incredibly long, dense, and stupidly complex (seriously, the "origin" play I l study has 34 acts. Thirty four. That's a lot! We're talking 18 hours at a minimum to get through the whole thing!): I mean, isn't Don Q read against Balanchine's maxim that "there are no mothers-in-law in ballet"? Don Q (the novel) wasn't MEANT to be a ballet (I have the same issue with things like Mayerling - you're seriously making a ballet about THAT? Well, godspeed ...). I appreciate that Mr B. gave Farrell this love letter, but I don't think Balanchine's focus on the Don & Dulcinea is any more admirable than Petipa picking out the parts he was interested in. They're just artistic decisions about what to focus on in a work that was never intended to be presented to audiences in such a manner.
  16. I mean, I've always gotten the impression this is one reason the ballet was/is disliked: people walk in expecting one thing, and get something totally different. I study various 20th century adaptations of one play, which was originally written in the late 16th century; the primary "adaptation" (which has generally been wildly popular) that has been passed down since then could probably be said to be like Petipa's "distillation" of the original Don Q novel. That 16th century play is also radically different from its late 14th century source material. This is just how things work - cultural workers take what they like, interpretations take root, and so here we are, with more focus on Kitri's variations than the Don & Dulcinea. The latter isn't necessarily "better," just different.
  17. Drew, I sincerely hope I didn't offend you. I absolutely understand the value of looking at things that aren't looked at often - I've literally made my career on things (plays, in this case, which are sometimes not so different than ballets) that haven't ever been seen, or published, or written about since the early 1950s. They're not necessarily great, but they are valuable (but, as I said upthread, I can make more sense of *some* of their value because I have scripts, which are not all equivalent to ballet - how do you make sense of a ballet without dancers in front of you doing it, or at the very minimum recordings? Notations are ... not really sufficient, at best. Yes, I realize there's a recording of the Don Q premier, which helps a bit. What would we be saying if there was nothing?). I'm not saying it wouldn't be "useful" for NYCB to revive it, but the question remains: what does it replace? What does that do to ticket sales? A "suite" sounds like an appropriate replacement. But then, we weren't discussing how to excerpt it to make it more palatable. I agree 100% with Gottleib's assessment that one SHOULD be able to revisit an entire corpus, but how often does that happen - for a company, and more importantly, an audience? Capitalism is dreadful & I hate to think of artistic groups deciding on what-to-do-when-and-how based on a financial logic, but let's face it, that has a lot to do with programming choices. How many of the current NYCB ticket-buying audience is willing to purchase tickets for a revived Don Q because "You need King Lear all the time, but every decade or so you also need Timon of Athens" (I grew up in the DC area & don't ever remember seeing Timon of Athens advertised by the Folger, though they've performed it in the past couple of years). It's an "academic" mindset because people who spend a lot of time thinking about these things recognize the importance, but the people who are buying the tickets don't necessarily.
  18. I've never read a review of the ballet as anything other than a curiosity (you know, the sort of thing academics might enjoy ...). I personally think Farrell revived it because (a) she's the only one that can and (b) it's a personally important ballet to her, which is fair enough to me. I'm glad she got to coach some people in the role of Dulcinea, just like I'm glad she got to coach some people in Meditations. Of course, all the reviews find beautiful parts in it, but does anyone speak of it as a viable, revivable production? I haven't seen one review that even gestures towards that as a possibility - maybe you have. If so, I would love to see them (really). I do believe "seeing" is an important part of understanding choreographers oeuvres, but this is the difficulty ballet faces. There's a very complicated triangulation that goes on deciding what to stage & when. I'm sure there are things NYCB's home audience would find interest in. But it's a big, elaborate, full-length ballet - we're not talking reviving "PAMGG." What will it replace on the schedule?
  19. IIRC, one of the constant features of the reviews of Farrell's revival of Don Q was that "hey it's nice to see the genius not at his best, in an emotionally important moment" (someone upthread I believe described it as a "time capsule" - it does seem so, when looking for the transcendent). But, I think of Acocella's review of it from the New Yorker ("Backstory," 25 July 2005), where she is discussing the solo we are all raving over & how Farrell ("She") differed from her ("they") dancers: Anyways, as a cultural historian who has to spend a lot of time reading *really not good* cultural products (far worse than Balanchine's Don Q, I assure you), yes, there is much to be learned by things that don't quite work (or don't work at all). I've built my career on studying things that weren't terribly successful, actually, because they are often more revealing than the "hits." As I like to remind my students, "I don't care if you LIKE it, that's not why we're watching or reading it." But obviously, someone going to ballet for an evening of pleasure is not going to want to pay money to see something they aren't going to like for some educational reason. The big problem is, unlike the plays I deal with (which I can just read in script form - it loses something, but I can still take in something the original author wanted to convey), you can't just "read" a ballet without having it in front of you, with dancers. Even if you have notations: way different than dealing with a drama script. What IS the answer for ballet? I really don't know. But ultimately, they CAN'T "revive" it without her permission, at least as far as I understand.
  20. I didn't see Farrell's revival with her company, but I do remember reading a New Yorker (I think??) article about it. I wish I could find it now, I've been searching for it the past few hours & it's not popping up, so I gave up. Regardless, there was a lovely article after she revived it for SFB that described how *she* danced it, and how the people she coached danced it. There was a wonderfully poetic comparison between Farrell & her dancers. The description of Farrell in the role of Dulcinea was haunting. I'm not surprised she didn't "give" it to NYCB, which I think was the initial "Oh but we invited her to ..." invitation. The way she & others talk about it in the 'Elusive Muse' documentary, and watching her on screen, yeah - it's special for her. I don't blame her for going "No, you can't have it" to an organization that, based on New Yorker et al. publications, had actively turned her out (for whatever justified, or not, reason).
  21. Farrell owns the rights to Don Q, or did (I don't entirely understand how the Balanchine Foundation works - it's possible she's since signed over 'her' rights to them? Same thing with Meditation). But at that point in time (when NYCB was considering doing Don Q again, back in the 90s or early 2000s, non?), she wasn't "invited" back to stage it - they asked if they could perform it (and she apparently said 'no'), because no one other than her had the rights TO perform it without going through her. I'm pretty sure this was pretty explicitly taken up in a New Yorker article, though I don't have the time to lay hands on where this was spelled out in detail.
  22. Thanks for giving me an excuse to go back and rewatch Elusive Muse - Bejart says that "she's like a violin, the music comes out from her body." The interview with him in the documentary is quite lovely.
  23. This isn't a 'hmmm,' at least not to someone who has viewed several EEO complaints (I am certainly not saying this particular case made it to the EEO, however) - there's often a 'OK, if we give you THIS much [could be financial, could be something else], you'll go away after we meet your demands & won't file suit & will sign an NDA and won't talk' agreement. I think complainants generally want to get this stuff over with & aren't gunning for the courts - at least in my experience. Can you really blame them? Look how this society treats victims of sexual assault. It's all nice & well to say "Well, the complainant should die on their sword!", but that's not really fair, is it? It's perhaps not the most 'morally pure' thing to say "I'll take money to have this chapter in my life ended and won't talk about it publicly," but it's understandable, I think. My best friend filed a suit against her former employer with our state labor board & set out the terms - none of which were financial, or caused her any benefit - but I'm quite sure she could've asked for XYZ payment from her employer to "settle the matter to avoid adverse publicity" (especially if she'd signed an NDA) and the company would've CHEERFULLY have done it. I know they've offered in previous cases they've had. At this point, she's very free to talk to potential employees about her experience, should she wish to. The difference between her case & this NYCB shakeup is that no one cares about some random tech startup, whereas the NYCB is covered in the NYT. One male principal resigning rather suddenly + 2 on "probation" is a much different matter than "Shakeup at a tech startup you've never heard of in a city you've probably never heard of!"
  24. I know no professor of history who doesn't teach this stuff in the way Drew describes. I am not in favor of just being like "Whoops, the 19th century with all their ideals didn't exist!!!" If I taught class on dance, you can bet your bottom I would teach it as they describe, and would feel free to show blackface & non-blackface versions. And talk about what's going on in a much more sophisticated way than "But Petipa!". In fact, I teach plenty of Chinese movies with "white" face/"Japanese" face. And we talk about all the issues wrapped up in it, and why a c. 1960 Chinese film depicting either is different than, oh, I don't know, a 19th c. ballet depicting "Africans" in blackface, at least where absurd makeup is concerned. I show plenty of "racist" stuff. Actually, one of my acknowledged specialities is teaching with propaganda. I'm actually quite good with taking outlandish representations & TEACHING with them. I don't say "But well you know, back in the day!! This was OK!!" No one I know does. I've probably spent more time watching Leni Reifenstahl's films than most people on this board. I simply have no patience with the "but we've been doing it THIS way for that long! That's the way it should be!!!" I am admittedly a Balanchine devotee when it comes to ballet, and while Balanchine *certainly* isn't free from problematic points (either in choreography or his personal life), the corps at least isn't painted up to make them look "black." I find Bugaku incredibly problematic on multiple levels (which I've discussed on this board), but at least Balanchine didn't feel the need to paint them yellow.
  25. Precisely, Drew. To act as if it's only the US that has "issues" with blackface representations is naive, at best. An (American) friend of mine (who has spent more time living abroad in Europe & Asia than in the United States) was working in Leiden and her first run-in with Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete") at Christmas-time was quite shocking for her. Her toddler daughter was also rather shocked! There are plenty of Dutch activists working against the continuation of this tradition. It's not just American "hysteria."
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