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Alexandra

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Everything posted by Alexandra

  1. I had the same thought, at first, Steve. Problem is, Oliver (2) wouldn't know about Olivier (1). (I'm posting this publicly in case we have an Ann and an Anne, etc. later on.) The way the board works, if "Oliver" had really been "Olivier," the board would not have let him register. It would say "someone else is using that name." I hate to make Olivier change his log on, since he's been here quite awhile (of course, he's welcome to do it). But it might avoid confusion in the future if Oliver were to add a last initial -- and, again for the future, if someone comes along later and finds that his/her name is very similar to one already on the board, it might help avoid confusion to use the last initial. None of this is an attempt to make Oliver (or Olivier) less welcome. I hope that's understood. And thanks, Oliver, for the kind compliment. And remember, everyone, that Anna Pavlova was known on the home front as "Pavlova II"! alexandra
  2. I have to add a wicked story -- rumor -- that went around when Forsythe was trying to work with the Royal Ballet. It is this: that when he went home, he was complaining that he kept asking them to give him steps and they "couldn't," they kept expecting him to set steps on them. He does mention, I believe, that he works "collaboratively" with dancers. About Grigorovich...Marc, your post trailed off. I know that Soviets (if not Russians) considered Grigorovich a great genius of the 20th century, and I must confess a weakness for Spartacus, but.... I do agree that he uses the classical vocabulary and I definitely agree that he tried very hard to modernize ballet from within. But...I hope there's a better Nutcracker out there! (Marc, have you ever seen Balanchine's?) One of the problems, for me, with Grigorovch, except for the signature motif of the woman grabbing her ankle when she's in a one-hand-over-the-head-lift, no matter what's happening, or what character she's playing, is the elimination of anything that isn't a Big Effect. No little linking steps, no subtlety, no real subsidiary characters (like all the fairies in Sleeping Beauty) You're either the hero, or you're a shepherd -- or a legionnaire, or a whore, etc. I also would classify a lot of the lifts and (remembering Mukhomedov in "The Golden Age") some steps as gymnastic, if not acrobatic. And I would object, also, to the eradication of both mime and character dance in his classical revisions. I still would rather see Spartacus than any Forsythe -- or Lar Lubinovich, or Val Caniparoli (he's real hot here right now; fast worker), etc. than I've yet seen. But if I had to pick a 20th century Russian, I'd pick Lavrovsky. alexandra
  3. I started writing this post after mistakenly posting my earlier one before I'd finished wrting it, but Leigh beat me to it -- and I'd like to second his answer. Anyway. To answer Paul, I'm sorry. I wasn't clear. Let me try again. First, it's not that I think that choreographers "just happen." I think they can be spotted, trained, developed, etc. I meant I think that ballet companies thought that. Yes, the greats were all dancers; I don't think you can be a choreographer unless you have been a dancer. But, except for Fokine, they were not star dancers; injury or a too-late start, or some other impediment sidetracked their careers. Whether they would have become great choreographers if that hadn't happened would make for interesting speculation, but cannot be known. Ashton's comment about it's better to be a dancer than a choreographer was NOT intended to dissuade people from choreographing, but was directed at himself. He reportedly said this frequently and he meant that he would have much rather been a dancer. I've known other dancers (men) who did not choreograph who felt the same way. Their careers were very absorbing and fulfilling and it never occurred to them, they said, to try to choreograph. I was suggesting that may have been what was going on with Balanchine's muses. If you have the opportunity to work with someone like that, you take it. Whether women are actively discouraged today is hard to say. This is one of the cases where it's muddy -- as opposed to law or medicine where it was pretty blatant. It may be as much a case of assumptions on the part of both female dancers and management. Another Danish example, if you can stand it. There's an "exam" at the end of every school year, where each group at the school does a class in front of a table of "judges" (the director, teachers, etc.) Anyone connected with the company can come and watch - wardrobe, pianists, teachers in the academic school and dancers. The years I watched it, nearly every man in the company, from the 16-year-old aspirants to the 60-year-old character dancer to the company's current 20-something stars showed up as though it were his duty. One woman came, a retired ballerina starting to choreograph -- and who is a bit bitter that no one encouraged her sooner, by the way, although, when asked, she said she hadn't ever told anyone she was interested. I'm sure each company's story is different. English ballet, dominated by DeValois and Rambert, where Karsavina coached and Nijinska found a second home for her ballets, haven't produced a major, or even minor, choreographer since Andree Howard. Back to Ms. Bull (I saw her dance, so I'm not very sympathetic. I don't think dancing female-created roles would have helped; I know that's catty.) I don't think it's very easy to make a case that Ashton, Balanchine and Tudor, at least, created roles for women that are in some way inferior, or that their roles misunderstand women. MacMillan and Forsythe is a different matter. But that's about individual psychology, not gender stereotypes. alexandra [This message has been edited by alexandra (edited 03-06-99).]
  4. This is a response to Paul's last post, which is the last one on the first Battle thread.
  5. Very interesting question/statement, Paul. I can offer a few guesses/observations. First, Ashton once said that no one would want to be a choreographer if he could be a dancer. I'll bet most dancers would agree with that. Most ballet dancers (men and women) don't begin to choreograph until the dancing stops. Some very great ones - Fokine, Balanchine as examples -- seem to have known they wanted to be choreographers since they were two. Second, I don't think any ballet company has a very good program to encourage or train choreographers. All have occasional choreographic workshops; I don't know the gender ratio at NYCB, but I'm not sure it's quite fair to blame the lack of neoclassical choreographers of any gender just on Balanchine. I think (and this is just opinion) that they never thought about it. Choreographers happen. That's the way it always worked. I will say that Balanchine didn't ban female choreographers. I'm too lazy to reach for Repertory in Review, but I'm sure Ruthanna Boris had at least one ballet ("Cakewalk") in repertory. As for his ballerinas, Violette Verdy has choreographed. Farrell has done at least one, possibly two, small ballets for her student program here at the Kennedy Center. (I saw one. Very neo-c, very daughter of Balanchine; her young dancers looked terrific.) Balanchine's attitude towards women seems to have been terribly complex. On the one hand, there were ballerinas and mothers (by today's standards, rank sexism). On the other, when he was married to Tallchief, he did the cooking, not only becuase he was a better cook but, one senses, because it seemed unholy that a ballerina should cook. Arlene Croce wrote an essay about Balanchine and women called, if I remember correctly, "Free and More Equal Than Any Man," mostly about Farrell in "Diamonds."
  6. Gosh, you all have been busy! Giannina, I agree with you. There is something akin to "truth in advertising" in all of this. If I go to see the New Now Dance Company, I won't want to see "Sleeping Beauty." If I go to see the XYZ Ballet, I expect to see ballet. I think the onus is on the directors to find, train, encourage, etc. classical choreographers. They are out there. Estelle -- so many good points, I hardly know where to start. I'll take them in order, but this is going to be long! (What awkward editing? Your posts are great.) The repertory. I agree with what you say, and would only add that ballet seems to be, of necessity, a much more provincial art than music. You have to be there. Videos are still new - very expensive to produce and with a limited market - and not nearly as pervasive as recordings or CDs. So what you know is what you see. Balanchine gave a lot of his works away, Ashton and Robbins really didn't like to see their ballets done on other companies, or, with Ashton, on other casts in his own company. Also, until about the last twenty years, the repertories of the major companies were all quite different. That was part of their charm. I forgot about Van Dantzig. I've only seen his "ballet moderne" stuff. I think he also did a "Swan Lake" -- the Dutch National Ballet has always had a very eclectic repertory, lots of "classics" as well as new works by The Three Vans. I've seen some Van Schayk that I would call neoclassical and some I would call . . .not neoclassical. I haven't seen Van Dantzig's "Romeo," so I can't comment, but Marc's comments make sense to me (and I'm sure he's seen much more of the three Vs than I have.) Yes, hybrid is a negative term for me, as is eclectic. I'd like to keep a kosher kitchen: this is this and that is that. I also love the '30s, '40s period of Modern Dance, which, of course, I didn't see, but I've read about it avidly. Those dancers nearly died for their art, and certainly fought for it and believed in it, and all that technique MEANT something. It wasn't supposed to be used as a trick, which is the way it is used now. I believe roots should be respected; you don't use the heart of a martyred goddess as decorative jewelry. But you are right, that what bothers me is calling it "ballet," because it isn't. I think there are some who are trying to steal ballet's cachet. They don't want to do ballet, they rather scorn it and say quite nasty things about it, but they'll use its name, and claim they're carrying it into the 21st century. As for the actual work, I think some of it is good within its own field, but I've seen very little that I would consider of the first rank. As for Paris doing Martha Graham, I hate to be cynical again, but I think this is all about money. Ballet companies have money and also the institutional underpinnings to produce work. "Appalachian Spring" is, all of a sudden, turning up in all sorts of companies this year; I think I've counted four or five. Why? Because someone is getting paid to stage it. (The same thing is happening with Tudor and Balanchine. Some stagers are more active than others.) I think, at this point, much of the repertory selections are being driven by the salesmen, the ones who want to stage their wares, than by an artistic director with a clear plan. There have been a few repertory modern dance companies over here, but they've never really take off. One of the reasons that's usually given is that you really can't dance a mixed repertory well. Graham, Humphrey, Limon, all had their own technique. If you dance a Humphrey piece with a Graham technique, it doesn't look like Graham. This is, not surprsingly, an argument with which I have total sympathy. I do understand why the big state companies have wide-ranging repertories, though. But that, too, can be done from a classical base, i.e., without compromising a company's technique or style. I think Ashton's seven years with the Royal Ballet in the 1960s are a great example of this. He brought in a really pop Petit (Paradise Lost); the company didn't die. And he revived "Les Noces" and "Les Biches" -- great works that were out of repertory. It can be done. Marc, how do we classify Grigorovich and Vinogradov? And Eifman? They're in the ballet family rather than the modern dance family, but..... Libby, you got me. I'll pass the buck to Mary and Leigh on that one. Some of the Diamond Project is definitely ballet moderne (hybrid dance, a mixture of modern and ballet techniques), but Christopher Wheeldon has made works for them, too. So I'd say mixed bag. But Mary may have another opinion. My sincerest thanks to everyone for resoponding, and please keep talking! Alexandra
  7. Leigh, thanks for such a good point. I do think lots of people think of dance (modern dance as well as ballet) as some sort of test, but then we have no training in how to watch it. I did a preperformance lecture once where I showed a video and talked over it. I thought I was saying the most obvious things (the sylph could be a dream, or she could be a symbol of James's longing. Look, (as they're walking backwards to the door in the first act), the Sylph's arms -- she's trying to "pull" James out the door) -- but I could tell by people's faces that these things weren't obvious, and they were happy to hear them. One man came up to me afterwards and said his wife had been "dragging" him to the ballet for 40 years and he'd never seen any point to it before. "I learned about poetry and painting and music in school," he said. "But nothing about ballet." Like music or a painting, one should be able to listen to and watch ballet with pleasure without knowing anything about it, but also, you'll probably appreciate it more the more you know. Katharyn -- thank you very much for joining in the fray. I can imagine reading all this in one gulp would produce grave indigestion. I'd like to address some of your points. First, yes, definitely there are bad or silly works in every genre. I'd also like to stress that my complaint against contemporary (nonclassical) ballet is when it's danced by a classical company. If the Martha Graham company put on "Sleeping Beauty," I think people would feel that was odd. Well, why doesn't it work the same way in ballet? I'm not sure there's a new "backlash" against contemporary; some were alarmed back in the late '60s about it. There's a great article by Deborah Jowitt, critic of the Village Voice (and a modern dancer) called "Hybrid: Will Grow in Any Soil" that sounded an alarm in the early '70s. It's one of the clearest expositions of the problem I've read (It's in her collection, Dance Beat). On technique, no kind of dance is "easy," and any style one is not trained in will be difficult, but yes, I know older dancers and balletmasters (who loved dancing modern works and, when they were young dancers, wanted to dance everything, as all young dancers do) talk about how difficult it was to maintain a classical technique when dancing a heavy diet of modern works. (There's an article about this on the main site, in the Ballet Alert! sampler which is in the Reading Room. The interview with Bruce Marks, trained as a modern dancer, switched to ballet, and was one of the leading voices in the push for ballet companies to dance modern works. After directing a mixed-repertory dance company for many years, he changed his mind. Finally, there has to be new repertory, absolutely, but, as Marks and many other people have said, it would be better if it came from within ballet rather than from without, if ballet is to survive in recognizable form. Bottom line, you can't do what ABT tried to do in the 1980s: be the Joffrey Ballet during the week and do a mixed rep, and then turn into a Great Classical Company on the weekend and dance a convincing, international level Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. Pick one. Life is about making choices. alexandra We've all written so long (who am I to complain?) that I'm going to start a new thread)
  8. Estelle, would you count Nijinska as a great neoclassical choreographer? I would. alexandra, who agrees with everyone so far
  9. As with the Audiences thread, I'm just posting something to bring this thread back up. I had missed Barb's post before -- I enjoyed reading it very much, and hope your early training helps with the stick dodging! For newcomers, feel free to continue posting here; and read the posts on the Audiences thread to find out how some of the people who've been with this board since it started (back in November) got into ballet. To confuse things totally, there's a Please Introduce Yourself thread in Anything Goes. Post either place. alexandra
  10. I'm just posting something to move this up into current view. PLEASE DO NOT POST ANY MORE ON THIS THREAD. THERE IS AN AUDIENCES #2 (I hope!) which I'll bring up as soon as I can find it. AND there's a Please Introduce Yourself thread in the Anything Goes Forum. alexandra
  11. Thank you for posting, libby. The way I look at ballet, yes, I would say that Agon and ballet moderne both look contemporary on the outside, but they've got very different bones. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "intent." I'm sure Forsythe and Neumeier and probably many others are quite serious in intent. But I do think there is a spiritual element (not the best word. I don't mean religious, but something that stirs the soul) in both Agon and Giselle. As for your question, a "demicaractere ballet" is something like "Fancy Free," or "Rodeo" (nearly all DeMille), much Fokine and Massine ("Petrouchka," "Boutique Fantasque"). This can get very confusing, because "demicaractere" dancers are also classical dancers; they're classically trained, they're ballet dancers. Same with demicaractere ballets. They're danced by ballet dancers. But instead of symphonic choreography, or abstract choreography, in a demicaractere ballet, the dancers take on different characters -- hmmm. I should have looked this up. I'm quite sure of my examples, less so of the definition. "Swan Lake" has characters, too, but it's not a demicaractere ballet. Hope the examples help. If someone can rescue me with a good definition, please do. Alexandra
  12. Giannina, I'm going to start a new thread and answer you. Thanks for joining in the discussion The last post on the old thread (Contemporary vs. classical/importance) was by Giannina Mooney about Eliot Feld. Giannina, I'm pretty sure Eliot Feld was trained at the High School for the Performing Arts. I think he did study at SAB (wasn't he a Prince in Nutcracker?) but again, there's a difference between taking lessons and immersing yourself in a technique. Yes, he did dance with ABT, but, first of all, that's hardly a classical hothouse and secondly, when I say "you have to grow up with it," I mean from about age 8 or 9 (Yes, Ashton and Tudor came to it as young men, but Ashton is an exception to the other Greats in almost every way, and many people feel that Tudor's lack of facility in creating enchainements was due to the fact that he came to ballet so late). Yes, Feld was considered very promising. I saw several programs of his in the late '70s that were definitely ballet; he was rechoreographing, or making his own versions of some 20th century classics ("The Gods Amused" was a two-Muse Apollo, etc.) His dancers were never classical; I can't think of one. They were all demicaractere, but ABT's rep in the '60s and early '70s was mostly demicaractere, and most of his dancers came from ABT. I remember Michaela Hughes with great affection - what was the Fred Astaire ballet that he did for her? She joined ABT for awhile in the early '80s, I think, and was a wonderful character dancer, one of the few dancers in that company then who really looked alive on stage and had a distinct face and personality. But when she was in a classical solo, it was pretty evident that she wasn't that sort of dancer, and she didn't dance many classical (tutu or Balanchine) roles after that first season. Feld now has something called Ballet Tech and he's stated (and the repertory bears this out) that he's no longer interested in choregraphing ballets but has gone back to his roots. His new works are very grounded in popular culture, as I think they put it in the press releases, telling today's stories of today's youth. Alexandra
  13. Marc, thanks for raising this excellent question. Do you have the attacks on Dead White Men in Europe? It's a big thing over here. It somehow doesn't occur to people that the reason the arts have been dominated by men have been sociological; when you're chained up in a kitchen preparing three sit down meals for an extended family of fifteen, or impregnated once every ten months for twelve years, one didn't have all that much leisure time, much less access to studios, training, etc. In the "private arts," i.e., writing, women have done rather well. So it doesn't bother me at all that, except for Bronislava Nijinska, all the choreographers I've loved are men, and I loathe political correctness (I'm a proud defender of "Far From Denmark," so "Le Corsaire" doesn't outrage me. I did hear that Kofe Annan (sp?) made a speech about it last spring along the same lines you mention. One place where I do think there is a male - well, not plot, but Old Boys Club at work is in the directorships of companies. Ninette de Valois is only the most famous of a slew of women who started a ballet company, scrubbed floors, sewed the costumes, tacked up the flyers, raised the money, trained the dancers, created the repertory - and, when the company began to stabilize and the smell of money was in the air, had it taken from her and given to a board. The fact that the first generation of modern dance choreographers (during the days before grants) was nearly exclusively female should prove that women are capable of creating steps, floor patterns AND coherent plots (think of that!) But since the NEA, more and more men are getting into modern dance. Not that that isn't wonderful of course, but.... Back to the slave traders, I think most people today, men or women, would look at Le Corsaire as fun (although there's a virulent strain of feminists in American dance history studies now, so I can't speak for everyone). Now, there are some 20th century male choreographers whose work seems, to me, to hold women in high contempt, and I can't divorce myself completely from that. I think content, as well as choreography, can be criticized. I don't blame all men, though, for one or two people's twisted psychology. Great question, Marc -- hope EVERYBODY answers it! Alexandra
  14. Thanks for that, Jane. I hadn't thought about your point that Bintley's variety of ballets is good not only for itself, but as a role model for other aspiring choreographers. He's also (I think) the last choreographer making demicaractere ballets. I also agree with your point about taking in a contemporary work "from a position of strength." When the Danes worked, that's how they did it. The dancers and the audience (although, unfortunately, not some of their more important critics) understood this as novelty. I remember once going to the "Modern Night" at the RDB: a Laura Dean, a Forsythe (forget which one, the one with the dwarf) and two neoclassical works by Danish choreographers (Ib Andersen and Anna Laerkesen). I sat next to two old, old ladies who were actually atwitter with excitement. They wanted to be shocked! The Theater then was the city's magic carpet. You trusted it to take you on wonderful rides, and you were confident not only that it would bring you back home again, but that, when you got home, the house would still be there. Thinking of the Danes reminded me that Clive Barnes spent a good part of the 1960s and '70s telling us that Flemming Flindt ("possibly the most interesting young choreographer working today") was the future of ballet. Nothing to do with Jane's post, but I wanted to clarify what I, and I think others, mean by saying that Forsythe's works are not ballet because ballet is a language, a vocabulary. Yes, he does use ballet steps in his works (and I don't mean to beat up on Forsythe. Like Leigh, my only quarrel with him is the notion that he is ballet's future. I think his work must be taken seriously, but as dance, not ballet). Raspberry cup table steal berry berry steel grommet, in the basket over the mountain plate car boat. These are English words and phrases and they look like a sentence, but they're not used in a way that is recognizably English. Again, not a perfect analogy, because this is an incompetent sentence and I don't think Forsythe's works are incompetent, but you can use English words without writing English. Alexandra
  15. Thanks to both Mary and Leigh for your posts -- and setting an example of conciseness, which I will try to follow! Mary, I love the choice between Walt Disney and MTV. I think that says it -- and of course, I don't think anyone of this opinion thinks that "real ballet" is Walt Disney and "real modern dance" is MTV. Both can be more. Leigh, I agree with you about Forsythe -- he, or any artist, should follow his muse, and to hell with labels. "It's not his focus" says it well. I think of it as a matter of language. For Balanchine and Ashton (I have an affirmative action plan for mentioning Ashton, since he's so often ignored, or treated as a retrograde embarrassment) ballet was the language. No matter what they "said," they spoke that native language, although they enriched it immeasurably. As often happens, the problem is one of marketing, not artistry. We're in the century of New Now Shock, and those labels are applied whether they're warranted or not, and work that is now obviously New or Now is devalued. About your dilemma, I can sympathize, and I think the battle between being a choreographer (following one's muse) and a balletmaster (maintaining the art form) is one doesn't get enough attention. If you work for a large institution, I think the balletmaster side has to keep watch on the long view, and that can distract the choreographer. alexandra
  16. An afterthought to my earlier long reply to Estelle. The difference between the neoclassicists and the modernes/contemporaines is that the neoclassicists came OUT OF ballet; even if they broke rules, they knew the rules they were breaking, while the contemporaines come from OUTSIDE OF ballet. Yes, I know Neumeier "studied with" Volkova, as in admired and took classes, and that both Neumeier and Forsythe were members of the Stuttgart ballet, but they did not grow up in ballet and they never had a balletic sensibility. The same thing with America's Eliot Feld (who's now abandoned ballet entirely). He mastered the vocabulary and he could pass, for a time, but his heart was never in it; he remained part modern dancer, mostly Broadway dancer. The real rule breakers -- the Impressionists, and their best balletic analog, Fokine -- understood the rules and could produce rule-bound work before they broke with the rules. Fokine said he made Chopinana "to show that I could do it." I think the modernes are more analogs to Andy Warhol and his "Art is anything I say it is." Which is to say, "Art is anything I can get away with." (I am a great poet; this post is a poem. Well, no, it's not, and the stakeholders of poetry should rise up and say that before I become the acclaimed New Poetess of the age.) So the difference is that of the inside/outside view of ballet, the buy-in to what ballet is all about or the come-from-outside-try-to-worm-your-way-in, that makes the difference. alexandra [This message has been edited by alexandra (edited 03-03-99).]
  17. Thanks, Estelle, for a very interesting post, that really raises a lot of good questions. To your three main points, I would say: First, yes, the pre-20th century ballet repertory is not nearly as rich as that of opera, but I would argue that the 20th century classical/neoclassical repertory is richer. There's much fine repertory that's never done now -- lots of Fokine and Ashton, for starters. In Paris, there are Leo Staats ballets, and why have Neumeier do a "new" Sylvia when Darsonval revived a lovely "traditional" Sylvia a decade ago? Somehow, in the 1970s and '80s, it became the norm to "update" the classics. Nureyev's aren't my favorite versions, either, but they're a lot more pristine than most of what followed. Second, as for living classical or neoclassical choreographers, there aren't many, but there are some. Some that aren't of the first rank, shall we say -- and I don't mean I'm suggesting that their works should form the core repertory -- but they do exist: the house choreographers I mentioned before. But there are some young men -- Michael Corder, Christopher Wheeldon are the most known. I haven't seen enough Bintley to be sure, but I think he's neoclassical. (Cranko and MacMillan are in this line. I don't think they're the equal of Ashton or Balanchine, but they're not negligible.) Ib Andersen has done twelve ballets that are "after Balanchine," in a way, but, at least the two I've seen, not formulaic. Unfortunately, he's not attached to any company now, and his name has often come up in conversations I've had with people about contemporary choreography; I can remember three times when three very different people have said, "Oh, they won't use him. He's too much of a threat," which speaks volumes about what's going on in the ballet world. Finally, I've gotten many reports since I started Ballet Alert about someone -- Christopher Stowell, Ricardo Bustamente -- doing a classical piece at a workshop, but it never gets into repertory. Thre is a prejudice in ballet, at the moment, against ballet. Third, I found your ballet contemporaine/ballet neoclassique question especially interesting. Perhaps this is an American versus European view again, but in my eyes, Balanchine, even Agon and Four Temperaments, are very much related to Giselle -- not in theme or story or content, of course, but in language. They use the same vocabulary and the same aesthetic. To me, your list of "Balanchine, Nijinska, Fokine, Tudor, Ashton" (I'm not sure I would include Lifar with those luminaries; he's neoclassical, but I'd rank him with MacMillan, Cranko, Robbins) are neoclassical. I'd even put Petit and Bejart in this line; I haven't seen enough Spoerli to know exactly where to place him, but my guess (from reports I've gotten from colleagues) is that he's rather like our Ben Stevenson; he's classical, but his works are not for the ages. Van Manen, in the 1960s and '70s, did use a classical base -- although he'd always muck it up, turning a plie into a squat, or having a foot wiggle at the end of an arabesque to show he was modern; I haven't seen a new Van Manen work in years, so I don't know how he turned out. The others: "Kylian, Forsythe, Neumeier, or even Mats Ek" are what I'm calling ballet moderne; they're hybrids. They're more descended from Butler and Tetley and, some of them, influenced by Bausch. I guess the European equivalent of Tetley and Butler is Birgit Cullberg, Eks' mother. They do not use the classical vocabulary (Balanchine grafted foreign material to a classical base; these moderns just use a movement here and a step there) and their aesthetic is anti-classical. I see the "three-generation theory" at work here. When a major change occurs (and I mean change, as in the world turned upside down, not evolution, as in something a little new) the generation that lives through it is horrified and says, "No, this is wrong. There is this, and there is that, and you can't do this." The second generation, their children, remembers the old, and grows up with the new, and is often divided as to the relative merits, but can see the distinction clearly. The third generation, the grandchildren, have known nothing but the new, and can no longer see the distinction; it's all become blended. Does this make any sense? alexandra
  18. Anyone is welcome to add to this; it's a very American, east coast, view and, I'm sure, could use some additions. When did ballet moderne begin? Probably with John Butler and Glen Tetley in the 1960s. They experimented with combining modern dance and ballet techniques. Wits complained that they merged the awkwardness of modern dance with the artificialty of ballet. Modern Dance purists were furious that their art had been pillaged -- the contraction on pointe, taking something that is the soul of Graham technique and making it decorative -- is one of the most often cited examples of this. Ballet purists complained that this wasn't ballet. Balanchine and Ashton were entering the most productive phases of their careers. In the 1970s, Robert Joffrey, who directed a small, rootless company which had an eclectic repertory and some very interesting, though certainly not first-rate classical, dancers, began to invite modern dance choreographers to make "ballets." The critics went bananas; they loved it. This was art. The theory was that because there weren't a lot of good, young, ballet choreographers out there, ballet was fallow (or had run its course) and that creativity had to be imported. That's the roots of what's happened today. Lots more things have come into play, not the least of which is money. Ballet moderne is much cheaper to produce (smaller casts, less elaborate sets and costumes, taped music). Audiences, especially ballet-new audiences, like it (if you had a hanging on stage, you could get people "new to ballet" to come, but that wouldn't make the hanging a ballet). Several modern choreographers got on the "circuit," getting plugged into the cycle of grant-getting, etc., and ballet companies stopped trying to encourage classical choreographers -- not in all cases, but definitely in some. In others, there's a "house choreographer," usually the artistic director, who does not welcome rivals, and churns out his versions of "the classics" which now includes Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella -- and Dracula. I actually think that ballet moderne is beginning to run its course. It may turn into another form entirely; I could imagine a Joffrey-type ballet invented today that took the pop variety of contemporary ballet on a very successful cross-country tour. (I'm not necessarily against that.) The trend now is tipping in favor of the house choreographers (like Kent Stowell and Ben Stevenson) who are making wildly popular, though not, I would argue, anywhere near great, "full-evening" ballets that audiences adore. The advent of the Eifman Ballet is part of this trend. (I'm not at all saying that this is a good thing, just that the ballet moderne wing is fading.) Comments welcome. alexandra
  19. One of the reasons I started this site was a concern that, in this time between the Giants, when there's no presiding Giant of a choreographer (like a Balanchine) to set a standard in choreography, or company (like the Royal) to serve as a model for great, living, breathing classical dancing, the waters tend to get a bit muddy. Part of the muddiness is the fact that, in the past 15 years, and especially in the past five, a distinction between classical ballet (as the root of a classical ballet company) and the never-properly-named hybrid ballet-modern combination (as a novelty to supplement the repertory) has not only begun to erode, but what was once considered novelty is becoming central. This affects the nature of a ballet company and it's concerned me (and many others.) This is why, to me, the issue matters. We all like different things, for different reasons. Some like classical ballet because it's beautiful or, because as someone posted earlier, because it's what we're used to. Some like contemporary ballet because it's exciting, some because it has no rules and can be enjoyed on its own merits. I'm not trying to attack anyone's taste, and I'd like to take the discussion beyond what I/we "like" to what is the nature of ballet, what should a company's repertory be, etc. I know most people go to see dance because it's fun, and that's how it should be; that's the short term response to what we see. But there's a long term effect of what we see that, eventually, will determine what we see. That is why I think this question matters. Ninette De Valois once wrote that a company's repertory should be composed of the following: the classics (which, for her, writing in the 1930s, meant Petipa); modern classics; national works (not necessarily those designed to last, but those that would be enjoyed by a local audience and give a new company a national identity); and novelty (works not designed to last, but which would prove amusing or excting, or just plain interesting, to the audience) -- an audience whose tastes had been educated by directors who knew what they were doing. I think that formula still holds today and is infinitely expandable. When that formula is out of whack, things begin to go wrong. If a company presents only the 19th century classics, everyone gets bored. If novelty begins to dominate, however, there can be several negative effects. When novelty achieves critical mass, the nature of the company changes. One of these effects is that a new audience, drawn to the new works, understandably believes that these works are not only great, but are what the company should be doing. Anything else is "old-fashioned." This is what is happening, with at least one segment of the audience now. Imagine if an opera company, to boost ticket sales, decided to do "West Side Story." Now, WSS is a very good musical. It may be a better musical, in fact, than some of the operas in the repertory are operas, if that makes sense. (A first-rate musical vs. a fourth-rate opera; no names given.) Well, suppose hundreds of people flock to West Side, ignoring not only the old chestnuts, (Carmen, La Boheme, etc.) but the more "difficult" operas, Wagner, anything from the 20th century. The new audience is delighted to have discovered what they have every reason to believe is "opera," the management begins to program more musicals, the opera audience drizzles away, etc. That's what's happening in ballet. It's not an exact analogy, because I don't think ballet moderne is a direct analog to musicals, but the difference between ballet moderne and classical ballet, and musicals and opera, is the point I'm trying to make. I don't accept the notion that Tetley, Forsythe, Nacho Duato and/or Val Caniparoli are part of the Lully/Noverre/Bournonville/Petipa/Balanchine/Ashton line, any more than I accept the notion that the artist formerly known as Prince is "Our Mozart," as was said at the time the Joffrey Ballet was producing Billboards. Finally (honest), a steady diet of contemporary ballet affects the dancers. It erodes their classical technique -- all over the world, linking steps, the small, lovely things that make up classical style and have, in various guises, since the 16th century, are being lost in favor of kick, kick, roll on the floor, jump, jump, kick the woman in the face and drag her between your legs, walk around with a plant on your head, etc. Watching some of this stuff is like reading a novel that's composed of a dialogue of curses; it may be exciting and modern, but the vocabulary is limited. Those are the main points. Sorry it's so long. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, pro or con. I'm going to post another thread, about the history of contemporary ballet. alexandra [This message has been edited by alexandra (edited 03-02-99).]
  20. Thanks, Giannina, for your kind words, but I'd also like your opinions! Actually, since this issue is, I think, one of the central ones in ballet right now and because there are so many side of the argument -- and because I don't have a pressing deadline tonight -- I'm going to post about several aspects of the issue. Hope people will join in -- This thread has gotten too long; it loads very slowly. So please post replies on the new threads that I'm about to post. Thanks, all. alexandra
  21. Of course quality matters most, and I honor choreographers like Graham and Taylor; I don't want them to be ballet. And no one I know who loves ballet wants a new choreographer to produce something that looks like Petipa, Balanchine or Ashton. That's one of the things that's always thrown out by defenders of ballet moderne as true ballet, and I find it a bit upsetting, because it's knocking down a straw man; we never say we want imitations. In fact, we say over and over and over that we don't want imitations. I don't think those [ballet modern, i.e., Tetley, Forsythe, et al. vs. Sons of Balanchine] are the only two choices. If the Forsythe dancers "reject" the notion that what they do is not ballet, too bad. As someone wrote on alt.arts.ballet when this subject was discussed a few months ago, you can make roller skates and call them ear muffs if you want, but they won't keep your ears warm. I would argue quite passionately that Forsythe and the many, many choreographers like him are not making ballet. Every modern dance company's dancers (at least, those in America) I know of takes ballet class now. That does not make their companies ballet companies. Ballet is a vocabulary, but it is also an aesthetic. Putting the women on pointe and using a few ballet steps here or there does not make something a ballet. Does what something is called matter? I think yes, because without distinctions established and maintained, ballet will be subsumed into some general mishmash called dance. It may be interesting and exciting to watch and it may be fine as a novelty, but when it becomes the main dish, then what we think of as ballet will no longer be so. What I've never understood is why the avant-gardist choreographers, who practically spit on ballet in everything they say (I'm not bound by rules, I go beyond classicism, etc.), are is anxious to be considered ballet choreographers? What's interesting to me about this argument is that it happens only in dance. Skat singers don't go around saying they do opera. Opera and musical comedy remain distinct genres, even in America. Classical theater, Broadway and off-Broadway have specific connotations; the kind of fare offered is instantly understood when so categorized. But in dance, we're supposed to be above categories; they don't matter. And that I don't understand. Anybody have any theories, pro or con? alexandra
  22. I'll chime in on this one. I don't think "classical form" can be divorced from "classical technique" or "classical style," and so, while mixing jazz, etc., to produce a two or three-act dance piece could certainly be done, it would not be a ballet. I also don't think that you need jazz, or popular dance styles, to be contemporary. alexandra
  23. Glad you posted this, Celia -- very imaginative! I should first hasten to say that, although Fonteyn was my first ballerina and I'm a great admirer, I saw her very seldom and at the end of her career, so I'm not the best person to speculate on what she could have done (she did an awful lot! For a good retrospective of her career, see Keith Money's "Fonteyn: The Making of a Legend.") She did dance one Balanchine role, and was not considered a success in it -- "Ballet Imperial." Perhaps she was too imperial. I don't think it was lack of legginess as much as the fact that Fonteyn was very classical and very centered, as opposed to neoclassical and uncentered. I love the idea of pairing Farrell and Nureyev; I used to fantasize about that when it was actually a possibility! She would have been a bit tall for him, but so were Gregory and Evdokimova, and that didn't deter him. Thanks for your good ideas -- please keep posting!
  24. Welcome, Libby, and thanks all -- lots of good answers and interesting points. I wholeheartedly second Mary's answer. There are some ballet moderne works that I've enjoyed while I was watching them, though I, like Victoria, don't remember them very clearly, Mary points out a lot of the reasons why. I'd add that, for the most part, there are few, sometimes no, steps in them. Just jump, jump, turn, turn, roll on the floor, up and extend. Over and over and over. I can't think of a single work in this category that I'd judge great, and if I read one more promotional blurb about a company whose repertory "goes to the cutting edge, standing classicism on its ear" I will scream. I think what I resent about most of the choreographers of this genre is that they pose as avant-gardists. A suspicion I'd long harbored -- that ballet moderne was much easier to choreograph than works requiring a classical vocabulary -- was confirmed when, in a discussion with a young choreographer who was appalled at the notion that he choreograph a classical ballet because he was "contemporary," the young man mumbled, "Well, classical ballet is harder to do." Aha! I think anyone who loves classical or neoclassical ballet would kill for a 21st century "Swan Lake" and can't wait for the next Balanchine; it isn't a fear of the new and a clinging to the old. Libby, you're right. I, too, read all the time statements by company directors that say they don't want their companies to be a museum and to me, that's one of the things that sounds good until you examine it. Can you imagine the Louvre throwing out all their masterpieces to make room for new work? And then judging that work as preferable simply because it's new? I agree, though, that ballet has to be renewed and everyone, dancers and audience, need new works. I just worry when "new" is beginning to be defined as "modern dance" or, in some cases, anti-classical. Paul, I think your point about the music is a key. Anyone who is sensitive to music will like or dislike ballets depending on whether we like or dislike the music AND how well, or ill, a choreographer uses that music. It also depends on what you've seen. I remember I once liked Glen Tetley's "Voluntaries" Why do they always pick on this one? I'd ask. And then, after watching Balanchine for ten years, I saw "Voluntaries" again and could hardly stand to watch it. When the organ swells, he has them do lifts. That's the extent of the musicality. Giannina, we do like what we're used to and know something about. I'd add that one of the things people who dislike ballet moderne -- or, at least, a predominance of ballet moderne in a ballet company's repertory -- is that it can cause the dancers' classical technique to become sloppy. One of the "avant garde" cliches is that rules are there to be broken. Good Lord if you want to be modern, you can't have rules, now, can you! I've watched rehearsals where a dancer is scolded for being "too classical." "You're not in the classroom any more, dear," said the producer, wanting the dancer to do two fast pirouettes and hell with the form. Libby, this issue probably isn't a big deal to most people in the audience, because you'll either like it or you won't, but for those who really like classical ballet, it's worrisome that these works have stopped being novelties, supplementing the classics, and are becoming, in some repertories, the main dish. Alexandra - who offers these comments to keep the discussion going, please!
  25. So, Celia, did you ever come up with your list? alexandra
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