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Posts posted by Quiggin

  1. Thanks for the link, canbelto, to the Gottlieb review in the Atlantic. I followed it to the Nolan and Marmorstein biographies and found this reminiscence by Leonard Spigelgass about the world Lorenz Hart moved in –


    Larry loved actors. There were often lots of blacks at his parties, which was very unusual in those days. Of course, what an orgy then was wouldn’t be an orgy now. I mean, kissing with the lights on! Shocking!

    You have to understand, homosexuality in that period was on two levels. To the world at large you were beneath contempt, but inside, inside you were a member of the most exclusive club in the world. No ordinary CPA could get into that circle, Larry Hart, Cole Porter, George Cukor. That was the world.

    Gottlieb says that R&H songs were "not as jazzy as the Gershwin songs." But they did indeed become the basis of many great jazz standards. Frank Sinatra first, then Chet Baker and Miles Davis recorded famous versions of My Funny Valentine (Baker 100 times). Bix Beiderbecke started the ball rolling in 1928 with Thou Swell in double time, followed by Lester Young, Blossom Dearie and Ella Fitzgerald. Miles Davis recorded It Never Entered My Mind, as has Anita O'day, in a wonderfully slurred version. There's Blue Moon by Coleman Hawkins (1935) and Mel Tormé (Words & Music above). So there are at least 20 core R&H jazz standards, whereas the biggest Rodgers and Hammerstein jazz hit I can think of has been the treacly My Favorite Things which John Coltrane had made (exorcised?) into a jazz masterpiece.

    Chet Baker


    Bix Beiderbecke


  2. Nice story, dirac. about the Cole Porter bio – sort of like the Lorenz Hart lyric about marriage being the short interval between divorces. Great photo of Balanchine and Hart. 

    I think Hart's long-lived sister-in-law and biographer Dorothy kept the lid on any speculation about his sexuality. I remember hearing there were a pair of twins Hart was mad about, so maybe the twins in Words & Music are something of an in-joke. Of the W&M clips on YT, I especially liked June Allysion in the Vivienne Segal Thou Swell role and Ann Sothern in Where's the Rainbow. Some of the biting irony of the original On Your Toes and Lady is a Trump that you hear in the classic Goddard Lieberson revival recordings seemed missing. But Hart's intricate, self-critiquing lyrics are sometimes more complex than many singers can completely convey. 

    Re Sothern, kept thinking of this yellow dress which was here at the San Francisco modern museum two or three years ago:


    Also: once at a production of Eugene Onegin or Queen of Spades at the Met, I struck up a conversation with a woman who had been a dancer in the original On Your Toes in 1936I asked her about Hart and she remembered him as being very much in love a woman who he always was with (!). When I asked her afterwards what she thought of the Pushkin opera, she put her hands to her ears and said, "too much shooting!" But what about Slaughter on Tenth Avenue I thought later on the way home. 

  3. 39 minutes ago, cobweb said:

    Those are fascinating photos. It looks so different without the costumes I’m used to, it’s hard to recognize it as the same ballet. The long tulle skirts worn now add an entirely new dimension to the ballet. 

    Yes, the City Ballet dancers look slightly like columns in a temple (even though they were supposed to look like "one of those orange groves you see in California"). I do like the sculptural simplicity black and white photography brings to dance, the way it eliminates distractions and bores down to forms.

    My favorite Serenade part (too?) is where the man enters and the three of them make a little vehicle together to move around the stage and then he turns one of the dancers while lying on the floor, like slowly turning pages in a book (my memory may be a little untrustworthy since I haven't seen the ballet for a while).

    Also came across this earlier costumed Orpheus:


  4. Came across the Museum of Performance and Design's images of Serenade from San Francisco Ballet performances of 1952, 1960 and 1962 with Sally Bailey, Janet Sasson, Richard Carter and Roderick Drew. Less streamlined costumes than City Ballet's productions, but interesting peek at past versions.



    Complete list of images:


  5. 10 hours ago, miliosr said:

    David Vaughan

    Thanks for that. According to your Wikipedia link, he worked with both Merce Cunningham and James Waring and contributed to Ballet Review and the Encyclopedia of Dance and Ballet. Not a stringer!

    Here's an excerpt from Miami Ballet's Bugaku, only 10 years old. But in 10 years things have changed an awful lot. If the "Chinese" variation in Nutcracker is controversial, what would a general audience today think of the seemingly coyly obsequeous way in which the women hold themselves on stage (– and their orientalizing makeup)? 


    OT: Regarding the sexual line from Prodigal Son's Siren to Agon (which you can project to Bagaku), I began thinking of the talk Joan Acocella gave here in the Bay Area about 15 years ago called "Balanchine and Sex." She originally proposed it as "Ballet and the Crouch," but pulled back at last minute. I assume she might today change parts of it – her harsh criticism of first gen feminisim and being apologetic for the arts of the 80s. But it's interesting how she changed her idea of Balanchine as a Greenbergian abstractionist to something else.


  6. miliosr, who was the writer of the 1984 Dance mag article? A staff member? a stringer?



    This begs the question: what visual references or cues should an artist use when trying to work with Japanese-specific dance movement? Which aspects are OK to investigate and which are not?

    Respectful or playful references are ok – like the ones Degas, Van Gogh and the Nabis (Vallotton, Bonnard, Denis) painters made to Japanese woodblock prints. Which became major innovations in European painting, lessons on flattening the surface plane and activitating the edges of the picture. 

    Or the give and take among filmmakers; for example between the 1960 Magnificent Seven and Kurosawa's Seven Samarai and before that between Kurosawa and John Ford.

    Bugaku doesn't seem to be an homage but an inadvertent caricature of a serious Japanese genre. Balanchine's mind probably was on expanding the vocabulary of Agon – almost to the breaking point – making sexually explicit what was implicit the first time around. He doesn't seem to have been focused on subtle connotations of his source material. 

    For reference, according to Wikipedia, bugaku "is marked by its slow, precise and regal movements ... Its descriptions often use natural metaphors to describe how their movement should be. For example, the dancers might be encouraged to be like a tree swaying in a cool breeze. ... Bugaku court dance draws heavily from the Buddhist imported culture, but also incorporates many traditional Shinto aspects. These influences eventually mixed together and over the years were refined into something uniquely Japanese, bugaku."

  7. On 12/8/2020 at 12:37 PM, canbelto said:

    Not streaming but Katie Williams uploaded the Winter section of Ratmanskys The Seasons.


    Thanks for posting Ratmansky's Winter Season. Intriguing to watch several times over. I didn't know the composer was Glazunov at first and kept thinking it was Tchaikovsky when it was strongest, as during the section where the gnomes are starting fires and playing with flames. Ratmansky's choreography seemed such a strange take on traditional ballet, a little like Ikebana seems to a traditional western flower arranger, with bits of this and that, shorts stems and fat colored leaves or like the mixture of things birds build nests out of. Sometimes Winter looked like Serenade, sometimes Symphony Concertante, which was written for ABT, with one male partnering two or more principal women and a large corps. Ratmansky seems to roughen up traditional classicism by finishing choreographic figures with dancers facing outwards instead of tucked inward, a kind of sawtoothy centrifugal visuality – which refreshens the genre. (Not quite sure how to really characterize and detail it.)

    Came across this letter from Tchaikovsky in Florence to Glanunov, in which Tchaikovsky tells G how his trip to Italy hasn't revived his spirits as it usually does, and then in the second part (the whole letter is worth reading) says something that we want more of but which we're never privileged to hear:


     I am a great admirer of your talent. I awfully appreciate and highly value the seriousness of your aspirations — your artistic integrity, so to speak. And at the same time I often think about you. I feel that there are some particular inclinations, some sort of single-mindedness, which, in the role of an older and loving friend, I need to caution you about — but I still don't know exactly what to tell you. You are an enigma to me in so many ways. You have the genius, but something is hindering it. You have shown your depth and breadth. Something exceptional is expected from you, but these expectations are only justified to a certain extent. I want to contribute to the full flowering of your talent, I want to be useful to you, but before I decide to tell you something more specific, I need to mull it over. What if you are on exactly the right course, and I simply don't understand you?


  8. 12 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

    A life of art-making is rarely depicted as joyful.

    Film writers seem to want to project a lot of cliched ideas onto non-verbal art practices – the sadism they depict perhaps is their own at a remove. Before Black Swan there were also Ballerina (Yvette Chauviré, Mia Slavenska) and the Red Shoes. The real life anxieties of dancers – dancing too little, dancing too much, who is getting what parts – are probably too mundane to dramatize in a film. (Megan Fairchild's interview with Jock Soto touched on all sort of interesting details – like the boys bowing and the girls curtseying in the hallways whenever Balanchine would pass by – but were the kind of things that could only be appreciated by a special ballet audience.) 

    Regarding the visual arts, I think Pollock the movie pretty faithfully followed the trajectory of Jackson Pollock's messy life with Lee Krasner, Clement Greenberg and Ruth Klingman. Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan and Wilhelm deKooning were also not easy characters to deal with, Mitchell especially. (The abstract-expressionists started out in the late forties discussing ideas in West Village coffee shops but later graduated to the Cedar Tavern.) I can't think of any of them that you could say were joyful. Many I've met or read about have been, most of the time, pretty dead serious about their work – Donald Judd, Barbara Kruger, Richard Serra, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Or concerned with their relationships to their dealers or their patrons (anxiety about paintings that were being resold too early or for too little). It's a completely demanding life – and the art you make never seems finished and always raises more questions than it answers.

  9. I like the part where Doubrovska reenacts her part as the Siren in Prodigal Son in the small space to the side of her coffee table, standing straight up and then folding herself up on a small patch of floor.

    The film was made by Virginia Brooks whose name only appears in the tail end credits – and lost as these things are on YouTube to those who post them.

    According to her bio at Dance Films Association, Brooks has written reviews for Ballet Review and other dance periodicals, was coordinator of Robbins Film Archive at New York Public Library and has been video editor for the Balanchine Interpreters Archive. In addition to directing the Doubrovska film she made another one called Nutcracker Family.

  10. 3 hours ago, Rock said:

    It's hard to imagine how shocking and new Agon must have seemed in 1957.

    Hal Foster in Conversations About Sculpture with Richard Serra (Yale 2018) talks about how the modern, at least in sculpture and architecture, doesn't date. "You know how modern architecture still looks modern, while everything else – the people, the clothes, the cars – don't," he says.

    You could say the modern – Luis Barragan, Mies van der Rohe, Serra's sculpture, and Balanchine and Agon – doesn't date because it's all structure and essence, whereas postmodernism was about skin and coverings. It feels to me that Pam Tanowitz is trying to burrow down to the bone and structure of movement.

    Richard Serra interestingly points out that his House of Cards, four plates of steel leaning on each other, was directly inspired by Trisha Brown's Leaning Duets which he saw at Judson Dance in 1970.

    It'd be interesting to see how Justin Peck's work looks in ten or twenty years.


  11. Balanchine's work went through an iffy period in the 1990's when it was thought that the repertory might be lost due to bad management and deteriorating quality of performances – maybe Helene and others remember. There was lots of press and soul-searching from Arlene Croce at the New Yorker and elsewhere.

    Balanchine's success in America – and ballet's – was in part a result of the cold war, when the US and the Soviet Union were competing in the arts. There was money from the Ford Foundation  for ballet (as there was from the Rockefeller Brothers (&CIA) fund for MoMA to send abstract expression paintings on tours of Europe). LIncoln Center was built as a showcase for the performing arts and City Ballet became the resident dance company.

    All of that was a big boost to establishing the Balanchine company. Plus there was Lincoln Kirstein as a full time advocate. Ashton may have had the devoted dancers to carry on his legacy but there was no institutional backup.

    Drew's point about Macmillan eclipsing Ashton in the way Robbins works may have overtaken Balanchine's is a good one.

    [I was typing this as Helene was posting her response.]


  12. What worked for me photographically in "Thank you, New York"  is that the backgrounds were "ordinary" and visually calm and the camera moved slowly and in parallel with the dancer. The equivalent of small stage and proscenium was created most of the time (Mearns' scene in Chinatown was handheld and had a different value). They were all one-shot take scenes which seems to make a big difference in immediacy. 

    Reminded me slightly of Fred Aistaire's solo in the original Penn Station, "I'll Go my Way" in the Bandwagon or one of many Gene Kellys.

  13. 2 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

    I couldn't think of Balanchine as "all dessert."

    I shouldn't have put that in – though Symphony in C in parts is something of a decadent layered cake – because it detracts for the other things I was trying to say – about Balanchine being boxed in and there being no path to the present through him from his Soviet past. Like that which Robert Rauschenberg made from Kurt Schwitters, Cunningham from Oscar Schlemmer, and the orthodox Minimalists like Andre and Flavin and "down and dirty minimalists" like Richard Serra and Eva Hesse made from Vladimir Tatlin's Constructivism.

    To open up the ideas of Balanchine and reattach them to their sources which could give contemporary correographers a way of building on him. To go back to the Meyerhold exercises and Constructivist "planes of action" which show up in The Four Temperaments and Symphony in Three Movements.

    I always thought this summary from Andrea Harris's Making Ballet American on how Kirstein initially introduced Balanchine to America was a bit of an eye opener:


    ... KIrstein aligned Balanchine with the Soviet avant garde and its revolutionary spirit. Kirstein stressed that B was a graduate of the Soviet State School, not the Imperial Academy (as in postwar versions of B’s biography). Similarly, his main influence wasn’t Russian Imperial choreographer M Petipa, but rather Kaisan Goleizovsky, “a real revolutionary.” Discontented with “the atrophy of the leftovers of the Imperial Theaters, “ Balanchine “risked expulsion” to produce his own experimental choreography, which he rehearsed in a “disused factory” – Kirstein’s nod to the constructivist aesthetic that filled the pages of New Theatre. In Paris, the choreographer struggled against the bourgeois decadence of Diaghilev’s last period and still managed to create notable works; yet none of Balanchine’s previous repertory could predict the future of ballet, with the possible exception of The Seven Capital Sins, Created with the “two superb young German Communist artists,” Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. What Balanchine knew and what Kirstein promised was the imminent death of “ballet as ‘ballet’” in America. Balachine’s new direction would revive the historical method of “Choreodrame,” or “danced dramas,” and out of his and Kirstein’s new SAB would come works whose innovations, rich with meaning would annihilate the idea of ballet “as innocent amusement.”

    I was also trying to open up the discussion to what Digital Season formats could best serve dance and ballet, since it's becoming more and more the way we experience them. (My own idea would be to try a locked two camera-on tripod-technique on a small plain stage where the cameras would be at a 20-30 degree angle, one slightly forward, on slightly back and cuts between triggered by some half-arbitrary mechanism.)

  14. For what it's worth, Balanchine's choreography in the Soviet Union pre-1924 was considered very experimental (parts of his New Ballets survive in opening and the "writhing" on the floor of The Four Temperaments}. It also shares some of the same roots with Cunningham's work which in turns comes from Constructivist and Bauhaus ideas via Black Mountain College. Cunningham apparently kept an eye on Balanchine (enough to comment on his use of time), and Balanchine in his late abstract ballets must have been aware of what was happening downtown.

    The problem is how long can you just maintain a purist Balanchine repertory and not much else, all dessert and no spinach, all past and no present? And Balanchine seems to get more and more boxed into certain ideas of his work: as pure American neoclassical ballet at the same time as being Petipa's heir etc, and he as a charming uncle dispensing witty aphorisms – maybe akin to how Freud got boxed in by his disciples in America.

    Pam Tanowitz's work, with its sliding temporality and abrupt changes of locus might have appealed to Balanchine. Justin Peck says he respects Andrea Miller's work a lot. Maybe the problem with the digital season new works is that the problems weren't strictly laid out – like the givens for Conceptualist art – limiting the number of sites (which all began to look like the same site to the viewer and had different meanings for the  dancers than to an outsider), the number of cuts and crane movements, the number of dancers (five?), etc. I did enjoy the discussions afterwards which reminded me of people sitting around and talking after performances at PS122 in the old days. 

  15. Doing "New Song" (Andrea Miller) in one take lent it a coherence the other films didn't have, and not having the escape valve of a cut or dissolve gave a bit of the excitement of a live performance.  You were in on the whole arc of the performance. Also you could watch things happening close to the camera while other things were developing in the distance, almost "off stage." 

  16. I enjoyed, as always, Pam Tanowitz's choreography, and Russell Janzen's dancing was fascinating to watch. I was distracted by it being filmed on location with all the big statement architecture behind. I wished I were seeing it on a small dark stage with a simple set where there would just be the steps and nothing else. I think the "flaws" that Tanowtiz was interested in and the side angles could have been approximated there just as well. I hope she continues to work on it and extends it for City Ballet when they return to State Theater.

    The conversation afterwards was interesting and I guess I'm contradicting much of the intent of the piece as discussed.

  17. The first and the Diana Adams parts of Figure in the Carpet held up the best for me (perhaps as a whole the ballet remembers better than plays). The inner sections seem as if they would be very problematic to present today. 

    There is a good account of the ballet's genesis in Gottlieb's Reading Dance by Rosanne Klass who originally suggested a ballet based on the esthetics of Persian carpet art to coincide with a Congress of Iranian visual art. Kirstein gave it its title after a Henry James story about a secret shared, never to be revealed, by a married couple. Except for the Sands of the Desert section, the ballet turned out less abstract than Klass and Kirstein had envisoned.


    Instead of a purely abstract ballet, Balanchine decided to do a court ballet ... I think the reasons were probably twofold. First of all, I recall being told in late January that Panamerica, the recent evening of ballets based on Latin American themes, had been a financial fiasco and that Balanchine, Kirstein, or both felt they couldn't risk another financial flop, so they decided to do something colorful, theatrical, more surefire for the spring season ... Eventually – possibly taking their cue from Dr. Pope's analogy between Persian and baroque aesthetics – either Lincoln or Mr. B or both together hit on Handel's Royal Fireworks Music and Water Music and the idea of the court ballet, though which came first I don't know.

    She also remembers that Balanchine


    told me that he had a special affinity for Oriental carpets, that when he was a child in Georgia his home was filled with them. "I was a very naughty little boy," he said. " I took my penknife and cut out one of the flowers out of the carpet."

    Klass's letter, which was received by the Performing Arts Library in 1986 and one of their few reference materials on the ballet, is worth reading in its entirety.

    Was that young Alistair Cooke introducing the ballet?

  18. Thanks for the clips, miliosr, and the original notice, volcanohunter.

    In the Funny Girl version of Swan Lake, Rall seems to carry himself like Eglevsky in Balanchine's Ivanov version. The widescreen overhead crane shot struggles a bit to take everything in, but it's interesting to watch especially if you can filter Streisand out.

    From Playbill:


    Born December 27, 1929, in Kansas City, Missouri, Mr. Rall began taking dance lessons, enrolled by his mom, at the age of four and would go on to perform as a child in Seattle vaudeville acts. Incidentally, one of his first Broadway credits was the 1948 musical comedy Look, Ma, I’m Dancin, choreographed by Jerome Robbins. (Two years prior, he appeared in the Robbins-choreographed Fancy Free and Interplay as part of a Broadway engagement with Ballet Theatre). His onstage collaboration with Robbins continued into the 1950s with Miss Liberty and Call Me Madam.

    He also danced with Bob Fosse in a movie adaptation of My Sister Eileen, with Betty Garrett as Ruth, and on stage in Milk and Honey, with Molly Picon. 

    From IMDB trivia:


    Had a crossed eye as a child and relied on the advice of a doctor who suggested visual exercises. Since Tommy couldn't read very well, his mother decided on dance lessons to correct it, which relies heavily on spotting and focusing.

    His first MGM movie role was a short subject called "Vendetta," ... the story of Carlo Pozzo di Borgo, a boyhood friend of Napoleon Bonaparte's who later turned against him.


  19. Balanchine left out some of Emeralds (Violet Verdy's solo?) from the Dance in America broadcast but on the other hand he did create an additional ending which retroactively gave the piece a different, graver, tone.

    I wouldn't mind any well-curated group of excerpts. I always wondered what a City Ballet at St Marks Church evening would look like, with excerpts from Violin Concerto or a reduced Symphony in Three Movements with a diagonal line of dozen dancers sweeping across the room and giving way to one of the pas de deux. A dance or two from  Liebeslieder alternating with ones from Agon. Soupir variations. Danses Concertantes (coached by Suzanne Farrell) alongside the similar Cunningham/Satie Septet. All with a small group accompaniment.

  20. My first glimpse of nudity in performance was at an event that featured a Surrealist program many years ago at Schoenberg Hall at UCLA. A group of 12 nude men and women quietly bicycled out onto the stage, circled about, and then bicyled off, all with the upmost gravity. It was shocking and bracing at the same time. And that's kind of where I associate nudity on stage – with the sixties, with Dionysus 69 and the Living Theater, where it meant something politically and culturally. Now in ballet and in theater I don't think it has much meaning, other than perhaps a kind of stand-in for personal freedom or as a symbol of perceived societal hypocracy. But it would be one-note, it couldn't be developed choreographically (or at least without being at the expense of all the other elements).

    Also in dance, let alone ballet, I think it would be distracting because of the different ways the newly freed parts of dancers' bodies would behave. Clothes do focus one's attention on the choreography. In a certain way practice clothes are more nude than nakedness is nude. 

    There's also the fact that our bodies age differently and older dancers would have more lines and different contours than younger ones. Would dancers then be separated by what their bodies were doing in time, older dancers in the corps, etc?

    Added: Dancers wear warmers and layers to protect them from chills in the auditorium. Working without clothes would make them even more vulnerable to colds, pulled muscles, etc

  21. If City Ballet has changed, it's perhaps because society has also changed. How people enter a room, how they walk on the street is different than it was 50 years ago.

    My general impression about how Balanchine interpretations have shifted at City Ballet is that they seem to be cleaner and more finely detailed – due to greater technical proficiency of the dancers and the biases of different coaches or simply the mechanics of coaching and trying to carry certain remembered details over the years. Your eye is drawn more to a dancer's periphery, to fingers, forearms and feet, to their quickness and speed rather than how the dancer as a character is possessing space. Villella I thought was able to coach in an older way of being present. 

    But music has changed too. Pianists don't play in big architectural contours like Sviatislav Richter but foreground more of the inner details and transparency – or so it seems from listening to the current Chopin Institute Festival in Warsaw, as I have been this week:


  22. Didn't know it was the Vertigo score at first and thought the composer was quoting from it – and, at a few moments, from Mahler! It has the feeling of being the music of transitions, the equivalent of a slow lap dissolve.

    I thought San Francisco Art Institute was an effective setting for Justin Peck's incisive choreography for Joseph Walsh. The plaza and cafe have some of the greatest views of the north bay (the architect, Paffard Keatinge-Clay, was student of Le Corbusier and had a difficult time practicing here in San Francisco). Photography seemed smooth and well done. Must have been difficult to figure out and weave together. Well worth watching. 

  23. Les Enfants du Paradis may be more a critic's pick than a director's choice. It was often on best lists in journals like Film Quarterly when Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris were reviewing there. You can also understand why Truffaut liked it when you think of films like Jules and Jim

    But cinematically Les Enfants du Paradis is fairly conventional and more of a filmed stage play when compared to say Jean Renoir's films like Rules of the Game and A Day in the Country (with Sylvia Bataille) with their long takes and surprising camera moves and clever ways of compressing the story. Or Antonioni's La Notte with the marvelous scene with Jean Moreau in the passenger seat involved in an animated conversation with the driver of the car (her only happy scene in the movie) that the camera follows alongside, a little behind, then a little forward of. You don't ever hear a word of the conversation, only the sound of the rain and the windshield wipers. It's the kind of thing you could do in a film but not in a novel or on the stage.

    But it's amazing how strong the list is – Tarkovski's Andrei Rublev with the long scene of casting the church bell, Rohmer's quirky and melancholic Rayon Vert, the delightful Band Wagon, and yes Cleo from 5 to 7 with its bizarre cafe scene and the piano lesson with young Michel Legrand. It's the list that young filmmakers like George Lucas and Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader used to have on their "must see" lists – perhaps missing Lady from Shanhai, a Jean Rouch film like Chronicle of a Summer, and something by Shirley Clark. It might also stand as a kind of cultural record of the 20th century.

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