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Posts posted by Quiggin

  1. 14 hours ago, BalanchineFan said:

    I just had to stop. It's not about him. His voice is not what has been missing from the conversation. He really doesn't understand.

    I read the whole thing and have highlighted some of it below. I think he makes the whole matter worse. Macaulay should simply say he was trying to be witty in a way that no longer has much standing and that he's learned to move on.


    I learnt my critical style from such exemplars as Clement Crisp, Arlene Croce, and Pauline Kael, all of whom were in their prime when I began in 1978. Crisp: “Béjart and Stravinsky is one of those fabled partnerships, like Romeo and Goneril, or bacon and strawberries.” Croce: “On a grim evening in Stockholm you can throw yourself in a canal or go to the Royal Swedish Ballet.” My own use of sarcasm has varied in quantity more than a few times over the years: I remember paring it away in the early 1990s only to find it burst out not long afterwards...

    There have been also several times when I’ve written a review with the deliberate intention of causing a furor. A critic is useful when she or he provokes debate ...

    I ... meant merely that her weight looked a single sugar plum beyond some ideal. How big is one sugar plum? 

    As it happens, I’m not keen on the super-thin kind of ballerina; it’s well known that, when I came to ballet in the 1970s, I was wild about Lynn Seymour, whose weight was surely greater than Ringer’s. Nonetheless my “one sugar plum too many” words have led many to assume I’m on the side of anorexia. I’m not, but that’s how many now will always see me. 

    As it happens, my close friends included some women who’ve had anorexia and other women who’ve tried to deal with obesity, in some cases consulting doctors. I’m sure I often said the wrong thing, but, in the case of one anorexic friend, over thirty years ago, I visited the doctor we both shared to ask advice on what I should or should not say to help matters if I could. It’s a long story, but that friend recovered from anorexia, and our friendship grew closer. As for obesity, I shared a house for five years with one large lady who ran a group of other women addressing the weight issue; I often opened the door or answered the phone to other women who were dealing with the problem. 

    I’m aware that some male dancers suffer from weight problems and eating disorders too. Nonetheless, ... To be specific, I’ve criticized Mark Morris’s weight in both 1992 (in The New Yorker) and 2001 (in the Times Literary Supplement), on one occasion using the word “obese”. In the New York Times, I singled out New York City Ballet’s Nilas Martins (son of Peter) as “portly”. 

    For many readers, it’s clear that there are rights and wrongs in this story. But are there? Nobody has ever complained that I had written that Nilas Martins was “portly”. Nobody has been outraged retrospectively that one Russian critic in 1892 described the original Sugarplum fairy as “pudgy”. While I remained at the New York Times ... several readers would write to me when they wanted me to criticize a dancer’s weight. Others told me to do so in person, though under their breaths.


  2. How the spoken name sounds with "Ballet" matters too. Chicago sounds better than Illinois, Cleveland than Ohio, Houston than Texas. Philadephia and Pennsylvania, on the other hand. are equally appealing – and in my California imagination equally exotic.  At one time I associated them with "The Philadelphia Story" and "PEnnsyvania 6-500" from "The Glenn Miller Story". Or with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.

    At least ballet companies don't complicate matters by pulling up stakes and moving as sports teams sometimes do, like the once Los Angeles Rams or the Minnesota Lakers.


  3. 2 hours ago, Drew said:

    Louise Fishman (1939-2021) is an interesting figure to me--also linked to abstract expressionism and an explicitly feminist painter as well:

    Both Louise Fishman and Joan Mitchell were represented by Robert Miller Gallery and later followed John Cheim to Cheim & Read. Some very nice catalogues on their works are available to page through online here –



    6 hours ago, dirac said:

    Christmas Card to Grace Hartigan

    There’s no holly, but there is

    the glass and granite towers

    and the white stone lions

    and the pale violet clouds. And

    the great tree of balls in

    Rockefeller Plaza is public.


    Poem Read at Joan Mitchell's

    I hope there will be more

    more drives to Bear mountain and searches for hamburgers,

    more evenings avoiding the latest Japanese movies and watching

    Helen Vinson and Warner Baxter in Vogues of 1938 instead,

    more discussions in lobbies of the respective greatnesses of

    Diana Adams and Allegra Kent,

    more sunburns and more half-mile swims in which Joe beats me

    as Jane [Freilicher] watches, lotion-covered and sleepy, more arguments over

    Faulkner's inferiority to Tolstoy while sand gets into my bathing

    trunks ...

  4. Another cohort that might be of interest are the "women of Ninth Street" – Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Elaine de Kooning (who also wrote about ballet), Lee Krasner and Grace Hartigan – all of whom held their own at the "Club" of Abstract-Expressionists of the 1950s. Frankenthaler's complex woodcuts are currently on view at the Dulwich gallery in London and a large (underlit) Joan Mitchell show is on display here in San Francisco, after which it will move onto Baltimore and Paris.

    Ninth Street Women


    Frankenthaler at Dulwich –


    Nice talk on Mitchell's work at SF MOMA by Stanley Whitney –


  5. Natalia Goncharova is indeed a major artist – you can see traces of her influence in New York gallery painting today. We mustn't forget that the Soviet Union of the 1920s was a very encouraging climate for women artists – for Lyubov Popova and Alexandra Exter (who also did sets and costumes for ballet), as well as Goncharova. From the Tate show The short life of the equal woman


    In the early 1920s, along with the Bolshevik campaign for the emancipation of women under socialism, the constructivist refusal of conventional notions of artistic genius – traditionally associated with masculinity – and its rejection of the hierarchy between fine and utilitarian arts – women were more often linked with the latter – facilitated the unusual, widespread participation of women artists in the young Soviet art world.



    Good discussion. I think Balanchine may have had trouble with Onegin based on the distortions to, and sentimentalization of, Pushkin's story. (And what Balanchine himself could have done with Tatiana's dream!). Also the British were a little cool on Balanchine in general in the 50s, complaining that his choreography of ballets like Symphony in C was cold and mathematical. 

    I find Peck and Ratmansky works inventive and witty enough to fit into the City Ballet repertoire and hold up their end of the evening programs. Russian Seasons can be very affecting and Ratmansky's recent Bernstein Bubble for ABT was full of wonderful variations. What's nice about Pam Tanowitz's work is how it cleanses the palate of postmodernist empty gestured, live-fish-in-a-basket choreography such as Wayne McGregor's and treats the parts of dance as simple set of materials to be assembled and incrementally varied.

    Well, Balanchine was a unique phenomenon and it's difficult to hold him a kind of norm. He brought the inheritance of the traditional Russian ballet, the radical Soviet avant garde of the early twenties (out of whose style book The Four Temperaments comes) and ideas he had worked on in Diaghilev's company. Only Ratmansky has some of that depth of experience, with the Bolshoi and via the Taganka Theater productions he watched closely. In the art world the parallels would be with the Black Mountain College where young artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly were exposed to the Bauhaus teachings of Kurt Schwitters and Josef Albers. Now it's Matisse who often seems to be a point of reference in the art world, not only with his color sense but with the way he pushes the dynamics of the painting right to the edges of the canvas. I wonder if there's a point of reference in the past that young choreographers could open and and have a dialogue with – Ballets suédois, Kurt Jooss – that would enrichen their work and help them use the space of the "canvas" in a different way. Some place outside the closed loop of the usual influences.



    23 hours ago, dirac said:

    Neither man is known for his lightness of touch ...

    I left out "these days" to reflect my own thinking on Spielberg.  I imagine Justin Peck's choreography getting lost in all the restless production values – hot colors, big sets, camera movements, etc. Translating the stage musical and choreography to the screen is always problematic in that film basically a realistic medium. Its tendency is to document everything, major and minor, with a ruthless eye that gives every element an equivalent value, whereas on stage you only notice the magic, not the clunkiness of the sets and furniture and the awkwardness of physical space.  

    Directors who might have been interesing choices: 1) small scale - someone like the Chantal Ackerman or Jacques Demy who in different ways would have separated the everday actions from the songs and dance, foregrounded Peck's choreography against simple backgrounds, thus making them discrete elements – two films checkerboarded or running in parallel. Or 2) big scale - Martin Scorsese, who has a subtler sense of the craft and better understanding of cinematic values than Speilberg.  Even Julian Schnabel would have been a more sober choice and would have cooled everything down a couple of notches. 

  8. 12 hours ago, pherank said:

    The problem with a lot of opera glasses and binoculars is that they don't have a wide field of view - they're great for looking at a PDD, but not for taking in the entire stage.

    I have a big pair of classic 7x35 binoculars which do allow a fairly wide view – 4 or 5 dancers worth from the rear of orchestra with a fairly natural amount of 3D. But switching between my single lens distance glasses and binoculars is always a bit of a comedy routine with me. And then deciding between the intimacy of a close up vs the overall view – have I missed someone entering and exiting?

  9. A closer look at the order list shows there may be some duplications, so  that number should perhaps be readjusted to 30-40-50 copies? But there are also three electronic resource vendors providing online copies – Alexander Street, Axis and Overdrive.



  10. I'm number 32 of 40 on the waiting list for Swan Dive at the San Francisco Public Library. It turns out it might not such a long wait as I originally thought since, digging deeper into the record, I see that the library has ordered something like 83 copies! In comparison they purchased/leased 10 copies of Rachel Cusk's Second Place and only two of Susan Bernofsky's well-reviewed (except by Joy Williams in Bookforum) biography of Robert Walser, the last two books I've requested. Anyway I look forward to reading Swan Dive, at least from the intriguing excerpts. 

  11. 16 hours ago, pherank said:

    I've always wondered what happened to the rest of the Cotillon footage - all we ever see are some brief shots, played back at the wrong frame speed. Film cameras were heavy and cumbersome in that era, so I can't believe someone was running about taking "snapshots" with the film camera. There had to have been a long sequence of the ballet filmed, originally. Perhaps now in someone's attic?

    Was probably filmed with a Cine-Kodak, a small popular 16mm camera that could take 50 or 100 foot loads that allowed for about 1 1/2 to 3 minutes worth of shooting before having to be reloaded. It featured  a waist-level viewfinder which helped the cameraperson escape notice by ushers, though the sound of the gears grinding away might have limited filming to scenes when the full orchestra was playing. The 16 frames per second recording rate looks speeded up when played at 24 fps but may partially be corrected by double printing every other frame.

    I originally thought Ann Barzel might have filmed Cotillon but according the the NYC Public Library Performing Arts catalogue, it was Laird Goldsborough, and features members of the Monte Carlo Ballet Russe, including Tamara Toumanova, Olga Morosova, Tatiana Riabouchinska, and David Lichine. 7 minutes in total exists.

    Barzel did preserve intriguing glimpses of many other ballets including, Ballet Imperial with Mary Anne Moylan, Interplay, Union Pacific, etc.  


  12. Thanks for the Bently background. Karinska's costumes are definitely brilliant and players in the drama but I thought the seed may have been planted by the stagecraft of the earlier version. 

    Adrian Stokes gives a nicely detailed act by act description of the 1933 Cotillon in Tonight the Ballet, where he refers to Bérard's costumes as "prismatic-colored." 

    per Cartier-Bresson:


  13. You might begin at its source, Cotillion, a Kodachrome clip (by Anne Barzel?) of which is here:


    Christian (Bebè) Berard did the costumes which most likely determined Karinska's lovely purple and black layered ones for La Valse – and which I prefer to the newer white ones. Berard also did the sets and the first version of the black dresses – and set the tone – for Mozartiana in 1933. Kirstein describes the colors of Cotillon as "pistache, purples, gilt and black" and the ballet "full of migraine and nervous ennui, the desperate gaiety of insecure adolescence" in a enthusiastic 11/01/1933 Vogue article, which leads with this photo:


    (I'm a bit of a Berard fan – so therefore all the linkages.)

  14. Thanks for posting that comparison, very helpful. Agree with pherank about Peck – it's is too fast for my eyes, nothing there for them to catch on – maybe in person it's different. There seems to be a tendency of City Ballet dancers in the past 20 years, who were always speedy, to put the locus of that speed at the elbows and wrists without it coming from the body and along whole arm. It seems like a kind of rococo ornamentation of the choreography, the lacy finish of a splash of water. Maybe it was always there in the Balanchine works, maybe it comes from Verdy rather than Farrell, but seems to have become emphasised in recent years by the more virtuosic dancers. Hallberg may want something freer, but not as staccato. 

  15. Meanwhile across Grove Street at the San Francisco Symphony:


    David Kim ... felt his white colleagues in San Francisco, who make up 83 percent of the orchestra, did not share his urgency about building a culture more welcoming to Asian, Black and Latino players.

    Feeling isolated and angry, Kim, 40, began to question his career. In March he resigned as the sole musician of color on an orchestra committee focused on equity and inclusion. And after the ensemble resumed live performances in May, he took time off, feeling on several occasions too distraught to play.


    In a way this plays into the longtime criticism of San Francisco being politically progressive but culturally conservative and protective of the status quo, at least in the visual arts, architecture and opera.

  16. I look forward to revivals of Shadows of Transparence (Sibelius/Tudor), 13, rue de Fleurus - pas de Deux (V. Thomson/H. Ross) and Tra La La with costumes by Nikki de Sainte-Phalle. 

    The recent biography of Gorey, Born to Be Posthumous by Mark Dery is reviewed in a recent issue of the LRB.


    He loved in particular the work of the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine who in 1974 he considered ‘the great genius in the arts today’. Balanchine was as laconic as Gorey, who liked quoting the choreographer’s frequent advice in rehearsal, ‘Better don’t do.’

    Ballet, untranslatable and ephemeral, is the opposite of James [Henry, to whom he preferred Jane Austen]. Motive and character development are irrelevant, no two performances are identical. Gorey went to every performance. His balletomania partook of the same rigid routine as the rest of his life and after the Lincoln Centre’s theatre opened in 1964 it became ‘for all practical purposes’ his home for five months of the year. During the interval he would take up his position in the Grand Promenade ‘leaning in his full-length fur coat, in his full-length beard’ against one of Elie Nadelman’s massive statues of voluptuous female nudes, apparently just as much of a fixture. ‘You can often hear me bitching about somebody’s performance,’ he confessed, ‘but I’m bitching on a terribly high level.’ ‘Ballet in a Nutshell’, an illustration for Dance Magazine from 1974, shows a silhouetted figure comparing notes on the performance during the intermission. She remarks: ‘her feet are like baked potatoes wrapped in foil.’


    Born to be Posthumous I just realized has a history here at Ballet Alert with Dery's Author's Call in 2012 asking us all for Edward Gorey anecdotes.



  17. Mitchum and Russell were also in Macao, clips of which seem unwatchable today, though I may have thought differently when I saw it years ago in a good print von Sternberg showed in a class he once (or twice) gave. I guess Sternberg got the Macao job because of Shanghai Express and Shanghai Gesture. (Interestingly parts of Shanghai Express were filmed in a little alleyway that the Santa Fe RR tracks go, or then went, through, not far from original Trader Joe's in Pasadena). William Wellman also gave – or rather spoke at – a class, Albert Johnson's, and told a story (which I may have posted before) about seeing Robert Mitchum for the first time. Mitchum was hitchhiking, walking forward along the side of the road with his thumb out, maybe somewhere between Palm Springs and LA, I'm not sure. Wellman said he knew immediately that Mitchum would become a big star from the way he moved his ass. In effect his swagger was his screen test.  I remember thinking how amazing it was that someone of Wellman's generation would comment, and rather glowingly at that, on the sensuality of another male. It was struggled with but just not talked about.

  18. 1 hour ago, On Pointe said:

    Whenever you have a he said-she said situation,  an eyewitness statement is helpful in assessing credibility.  Or other victims coming forth - if AR did it to her he probably did it to others.  But this isn't a Weinstein,  Moonves or Lauer situation.  A woman who can take on the entire ballet world with an anti-racism campaign,  screams at her boss and calls herself the Rogue Ballerina seems to me to have the strength and self-possession to put a two-bit harasser in his place.

    I've been in bullying situations in grade school and football practice and at summer camp. Someone picks on you everyday and no one in the group notices or wants to notice. For the bully repetition is part of the game. When I complained to a friend of my summer camp situation, he said for me to take care of it myself, we were all on our own now.

    AR did not necessarily do it to anyone else – often only one victim needs to be chosen. 

    And how many battles on how many fronts was Pazcoguin going to conduct at once. Maybe the AR one was the least of them then.

    As far as HR or administrators, they're stucturally on the side of management and the status quo. Read the comments section of the NYT on workplace issues for many eye-opening stories on HR fumbles.

  19. I think On Pointe's comments on getting a two-for or three-for-one hire make sense. PNB seems overly playful with its answer to a serious problem, blurring the issues.

    Perhaps all hierarchy should be done away with in ballet and, as in small repertory companies that do Shaw or Shakespeare, every night of a run everyone plays a different part. Peck's and Ratmansky's tend to be built on a non-hierarchical, egalitarian basis, so why not an ever-changing "Sleeping Beauty"?

    Interesting that weight lifting is mentioned above as a masculine-identified activity since that's a relatively recent thing. My father's generation would do a set of push ups and sit ups in the morning – no gym work, maybe an occasional basketball game. Weight lifting was considered a niche activity limited to muscle beaches, and a bit suspect at that. And as I remember it was the gay community in the late 70s who cut their hair short and that took to weight lifting and made it a trend, while heterosexual men hestitatingly followed. 

    But regarding gender fluidity and the general public imagination, I wonder what sort of a metaphor it makes outside the righting of social discrimination. (And why does it sometimes trump the righting of social discimination involving a greater number of individuals?)  Is it a potential demonstration of free will or Americans' standing right to be able to remake themselves at any moment from scratch – a promise of personal happiness in a restless, never resting, country? 

  20. Jenny Gilbert had this to say in a recent ENB review at the Arts Desk about the changes there in a nine year period (excerpt orginally posted in our Links section):


    Today, ENB is a very different beast from its first, 1950s incarnation in one very striking respect: it’s no longer predominantly white. Although classical dance has a better record on racial diversity than some other performance disciplines, over the nine years of Tamara Rojo’s reign at ENB, it has made enormous strides. No company, with the exception of Ballet Black, has done more to change the look of ballet in Britain, alongside a noticeable raising of technical standards among the men. Whether or not one has led directly to the other (and it's distinctly possible), it’s all to the good. The result is a more exciting presentation all round.

    Putting together the comments at SF_Ballet202, it seems that the middle mangagement, like many HR departments at corporations, is most concerned with the comfort level of the board members and the  and big sponsors who don't seem to like changes to the traditional look of the ballet. (The recent negative reaction to the Peter Sellars/John Adams very multi-cultural "Girls of the Golden West" perhaps provides an example of what is feared at the Opera House.)  

    The in-house solutions to the problems at SF Ballet seem at best half-hearted. Tomasson in the recent panel discussion linked above thought that offering $10 tickets to the ballet, an otherwise fine idea, would help with diversity – but that would only seem to show a new audience that what was on stage was not diverse.  There also seemed to be a bit of finger-crossing faith that brilliant art form of ballet, if kept pure, would heal itself on its own of its social inequities.

    The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a bit more progressive than the ballet, but also tone deaf in lots of ways, at least until a recent shakeup. Its expanded galleries opened a few years ago to reveal an entire floor entirely devoted solely to big-scale German male artists who were popular in New York in the 1990s when the collection was formed. The Abstract-Expressionist floor below it featured only two women artists, Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner, in a section some people referred to  as "the women's room." The problem with both the ballet and museum is that San Francisco is not big enough to engender competing narratives and cross-institution critiques – ABT vs NYCB, downtown vs uptown, MoMA vs the Whitney or the Guggenheim, etc – that would help sharpen our eyes.

    It would seem that someone like Tamara Rojo has to come in and, with great charm and style, change the long-standing culture, all the fussy little fall-backs of "we can't do this because," "we've never done that," "I have some issues with that"/"what issues"/"I can't say right now, just issues" ...

  21. And I would think that doing makeup for black and white movies would be fairly straight forward compared to preparing for Technicolor – for the high heat, high intensity lighting that three-strip photography required.

    But also the subject matter of the 1940s was shifting towards shadowy film noir, the small studios perhaps leading the large ones on this. Val Lewton (at RKO) and Fritz Lang, Welles with "Citizen Kane" and "Magnicent Ambersons," the films of Max Ophuls. All requiring a different kind of actress/actor, smaller scaled, slightly flawed, with some sort of worrisome past. MGM fell in with "Laura" and Crawford with the upscale film noir "Mildred Pierce," directed by Michael Curtiz. Even Lubitsch's tone shifts with "To Be or Not to Be." (Interesting as I put this down is how much of Hollywood has a European basis – on one hand John Ford, Howard Hawks, Ben Hecht, Preston Sturges but on the other von Sternberg, Billy Wilder, etc.)

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