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Posts posted by Quiggin

  1. 9 minutes ago, pherank said:

    Thanks for bringing up the orchestra -  the conducting for a dance performance is important, to be sure. Interestingly, the Bolshoi's Valery Ovsyanikov was the conductor that night.

    Thanks, I didn't realize that. But the orchestra sounded more French than Russian to my ears. The little ways of playing instruments are passed down over the years by each generation to the other and it would be difficult to mitigate that – although Esa Pekka Salonen does get a slightly different sound from San Francisco Symphony than Michael Tilson Thomas, more in a lovely layering of sound in Ravel and Stravinsky.

  2. I find that we accomodate ourselves to give up a lot of little pleasures in viewing recorded performances of dance without reaily realizing it. It's like the whittling down of the provisions of the Dashwood will at the beginning of Sense and Sensiblity. The lapse or smudging of this nuance and that one at the end of the day add up to a significant loss.

    Also the artifacts of filmmaking – wrinkles in costumes, little bits of color in the background that smart contemporary visual artists would have a field day with – begin to compete with the main attraction. The art director of Renoir's The River told me – it was his first film in color – that he had to run around with a can of spray paint continually blacking out little, seemingly inconsequential, details. Von Sternberg said the same things about his films, he'd look through the viewfinder and then run out and spray something out no one had noticed before. So: everything in the frame of a film is a character and of a different order than on stage.

    Also as a lapsed filmmaker, I always see film in terms of graphic art, of overlapping planes, which I find very exciting, but it doesn't convey any of the spacial depth you'd see on stage.

    And as Gene Kelly once pointed out in a book on musicals called the Fantasy Factory, time rendered on stage is completly different than that in film, and he gives a formula where you mulipy one of them by two or one and a half to get an equivalent.

    Also in general time in film seems rather homogeneous whereas on stage it's variable and elastic and often frought with a feeling of danger, that anything can happen, that the story can go anywhere. Whereas in film it's all a kind of a priori time.

    I do think great dance films can be made and have been made but I think all these things have to be taken into account and adjusted for. Maybe starting again with black and white, some of the crude but often very affecting CBC films of Balanchine in the 50s perhaps have some interesting graphic clues for reimagining the process. Also the 1930s Kodachromes – a very coherent color process – of Cotillon and the first Violin Concerto of 1937 – had a great excitement about them. Again I think dance filmmaking has to be treated as a graphic art.

  3. 6 hours ago, JuliaJ said:

    A couple of problematic things I noticed... Fancy Free was largely lacking in rhythmic, free-moving "jazz" style for the most part, although I agree that the first sailor was a standout.

    There was something about the softer attack of Fancy Free, the longer more evenly distributed phrasing, that I liked at first but then it felt less compelling as it went on. But I did enjoy the French translation of Robbins, their version of American swagger, the raised eyebrow, etc. 

    The contours of the music too were different from say how Leonard Bernstein would conduct it where he has all the impact clustered together right on the front lines. The French version here had some of that attack but also – as a bonus – a longer fanned-out decay of orchestral color and richness.

    I remember long ago reading Virgil Thomson's comments on different national approaches to conducting, Furthwangler, Monteux, etc and was able to retrieve this –


    Keeping downbeats out of a Debussy rendition, for instance, is virtually impossible to anybody but a Frenchman. Steady qualities, a little longer than ours and requiring no percussive definition at all, are its rhythmic foundation. Definition is achieved by a leisurely breathing between phrases and an almost imperceptible waiting between phrases ...


  4. The time frames for Sigfried and Roy are quite different from that of Liberace, early 1950 vs late 60s. And in that context Sigfried and Roy could have been on the cover of Sergeant Pepper and would have "passed" as one of the eccentric actors there before they would have been thought of as a gay couple. (I remember Mitchell Leisen, the director of the delightful screwball comedy "Easy Living," coming to give a talk in a film class dressed up as a Sargeant Pepper character and how that first impressive of loveable eccentricity gave him cover and overrode the fact that he was there with his young boyfriend. The sixties did offer everyone lots of new options of self-presentation.)

    Interesting about Mashinka's cite of the early libel case and Liberace's cruel denial of his true self to the very end. In a way each generation had a different way of coming out – of being discreet or open depending on the norms of the time that formed them. David Sedaris has a painfully funny piece on how careful he was growing up to not betray any gestures to his parents that might have shown he was gay – stiff walk, straight wrists – and years later coming home to find his father being best friends with a very much so out-of-closet neighbor who continually refers to the father as "she" or "that thing." (Not sure if I correctly remember the piece, but it went something like that.)


    56 minutes ago, Helene said:

    30 million viewers doesn't sound like local TV to metiffed long-time uber-fans.

    Liberace didn't have a "coast to coast" network show, as Perry Como and Dean Martin did. He was signed to KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, a local station, and that may have been syndicated to other cities with a week or so delay. It would have been hit or miss if you could have caught him. His show is barely mentioned in the New York Times database. I remember those early days of local TV in LA well, the little B movie studios turned to television, even worked for KHJ as a student news sound man for a brief stint, covered the 1968 California primary: Eugene McCarthy, Sam Yorty, Polansky, the search for the girl in the polka dot dress, etc.

  6. As I remember. Liberace's shows were the television equivalent of B movies – they were on local tv and syndicated tv but never on the big networks. His was always a kind of Las Vegas act for tv and Las Vegas seemed to be where his biggest popularity was. Also it seemed to be in the tradition of vaudeville like Joe E Brown or Milton Berle, who did lots of drag routines with Martha Raye, the equivalent of "low comedy." Liberace was able to pass by making it self-parody. Other more genuine performers ran into trouble – like Johnny Ray. Not so sure if Liberace helped advance what was then called Gay LIberation or set it back by being the go-to gay norm. 

  7. There were machine ballets before (Le pas d'acier,etc), but the problem with original production of The Bolt seemed to be that the scenario was satirical and Dimitri Shostakovich's music "too flippant for a proletariat subject," and therefore it was pulled after one performance. The conductor Alexander Gauk said that there were " musical characterizations there worthy of Chekhov's stories," and that he often conducted a suite from the ballet score which was very popular. Shostakovich later incorporated parts of the score into his other works.

    I haven't seen the whole Ratmansky Bolt production for a while and only clips recently. I remember being very much taken with Denis Savin's performance of the character named after him and always wondered if Savin's particular kind of acrobatic dancing in turn influenced some of Ratmansky's choreography for the Shostakovich Trilogy.

    Alexi Ratmansky in his NY Library interview with Paul Holdengraber talks about the great influence that the rather radical works of the Taganka Theater had on him, and that he would sneak out and try to see every production of theirs that he could. The Taganka Theater has deep roots going back to Stanislavski and Brecht, and the founding director Yuri Lyubimov was in the same touring acting and music company as Shostakovich in 1941. Lyubimov did however have something of a falling out with him after Shostakovich signed something or didn't sign something he shouldn't/should have.

    So, Buddy, I know this isn't a great answer but I thought that maybe the key to the Bolt ending – and some of the imagery in the Trilogy – could be found by looking into the dramatic art of the Taganka Theater. I believe they still are around.

    Here's something from Yuri Lyubimov's reminiscence of DS  that Elizabeth Wilson collected for her great Shostakovich oral biography. Not really on topic but I think these things, these footnotes to the arts & culture of the 20th century, should be kept alive wherever, whenever possible –


    For all his nervousness and defenselessness, Shostakovich was a caustic man. HIs table talk was full of sarcasm. He liked his drink and, when in his cups, revealed his wit and irony. HIs mind was similar to Zoshchenko’s. … His letters were written with "English humor,” but in the style of "a Soviet communal apartment."

    Later on his nervousness assumed the character of panic, a kind of conditioned reflex. He used to say: "I’d sign anything even if they hand it to me upside down. All I want is to be left alone.” I think he was only pretending he didn’t care. He knew what it implied when he signed such letters and deep down he suffered. Perhaps he was afraid for his family, especially for his son whom he dearly loved. He was always ready to admit his "mistakes’" (“Yes, yes, yes, I’ve been wrong. Of course, I’ll write an operetta which the People will easily understand."), but I think that this was done cynically and in cold blood. Akhmatova took the same line when talking to foreigners. Zoshchenko, however, tried to justify himself: “On the one hand … but on the other …” and he was punished for it. Because he sought rational explanations, he was not allowed to exist as an artist. On the other hand, Akhmatova was able to keep going after a fashion.

    Ratmansky interview at NYPL


    Yuri Lyubimov obiturary




  8. Satire or no I do think cubanmiamiboy has a point about the moving goal posts in this particular instance of gender fluidity.

    Aren't the Trocks though, following Susan Sontag, really High Camp performers, aware of their spectacle? And aren't the differences between say an orthodox ABT performance of Swan Lake and their version really the subject. The differences in size, proportion, recoil – the robust specifications – over the standard off-the-shelf performance as the thing, as the specialty of the house. It's an overlap of parody and good faith, a passionate half-heartedness, a sort of a post-modern approach. 

    John Kelly does that with his Maria Callas performances and Audra MacDonald tried something even more bizarre when she sang Billie Holiday songs with all the artifacts of Holiday's deteriorating late style, the catches in her voice and sibilance of the microphone pickup, almost even the scratches in the record. They became the subject.

  9. From the Times too, not streaming but clipped –

    Paul Taylor solo from Episodes – Michael Trusnov. Balanchine following out his ideas in the Melancholic vein but harder –


    Lauren Lovette and Joseph Gordon in Violin Concerto. How sweet and different an interpretation, not lacking though in the right amount of astringency. Linked earlier by bellawood but worth revisiting –


    Set among the water towers Hilla & Berndt Becher later photographed, Trisha Brown's Roof piece, recreated as Room/Roof on many little Zoomy screens –




  10. Russell Page designed many gardens in Europe as well as the Frick garden in New York. I remember seeing a series of low-cut white 'Iceberg' rose bushes floating above a sea of blue pansies on the Fifth Ave side (though it may not have been a direct Page design).

    From "The Education of a Gardener" –


    There is so often in landscape gardening a special difficulty: that gap so hard to bridge, between good design and good planting.

    Processes have always given me more satisfactions than results. Perhaps this is peculiarly English and may explain our national affection for a pursuit which is always changing: growth and decay, the swing of seasons, our inconstant weather speeding or retarding the development of a trees or the flowering and seeding of a plant.

    I have had to remember that I have been making other people’s gardens and that the garden must be theirs. People’s wishes and hopes and requirements are contributory factors just like soil, an oak wood, or lack of water. Where I have worked well the garden will be content to be itself and bear no obvious label.

    The Paul Rudolf Foundation on the Bass Residence, 1970-76, with Paul Rudolf and Russell Page drawings –


    Rudolph’s most ambitious residence in both size and scope was, in his mind, also his greatest. Dazzling if not domestic, its stark white forms seem to hover above the landscape rather then grow out of it in an elegant counterpoint of floating horizontal planes and volumes. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater had been a fascination for thirty years, since his time at Auburn, and it is said that Rudolph visited it shortly before beginning the design for the Bass project.

    "[The] ideal of weight and counterweight, similar to the movement of the human body, became the genesis of this house."


  11. Mashinka –

    Here in the UK we applaud  the medical profession on Thursdays, we come out of front doors, stand on balconies or lean from windows to clap, shout and cheer, next time I do this I'll be thinking of doctors and nurses worldwide. 

    I think in Spain too they applaud every evening. In Italy they used to sing in the evenings but that may have given way to applause – in Bergamo someone said she never wanted to hear singing again, there had been so many deaths. Difficult time to figure out how to respond beyond being super prudent and protecting others as well as yourself.

    How celebrities are coping doesn't seem to be the key to life anymore which is perhaps a good thing. More about how Cristian and the front line healthcare workers are doing, as well as how the second ring of essential services, the staff at the pharmacy and the workers at the grocery store and the farmers at the greenmarket, are doing. They counsel us when we should be offering them whatever counsel and support we can.

    We're all in this together.

  12. 6 hours ago, nanushka said:

    Oh dear yes, that was supposed to be the downfall of civilized society, I believe! (This was 1961.)

    Well yes. Librarians as a group are fairly progressive and want the best materials for their patrons. Knowing the full shadings of a word is important for writing essays and poetry (Robert Graves recommended saving up and buying the entire 20v OED). A word carries all its meanings with it like recessive and dominant traits in a seed.

    Ballet teachers assiduously (more than sedulously) comment about French vs Italian vs Russian ways of executing movements and standing in position (Pascal Molat most recently in an online class practice). After that you can be as free, descriptive and unrestricted, as you want.

  13. For the record, Webster's Second was prescriptive; the Third was descriptive. There was a big argument about this back in the day, and libraries were criticized for not keeping the Second alongside the Third. (I ended up with one of the "tossed" copies.) The Second also seemed to have better literary citations for usage rather than from magazines and now-forgotten contemporary writers like the Third, and so it has aged better. A Fourth International apparently was intended but never produced.

    I think dirac's point is right that one would be reticent to talk, but reluctant, not reticent, to watch. Watching is too passive an activity and lacks the sharp intent that talking has to be matched up with reticent.

    Anyway Webster's Second does offer Gia Kourlas this alternative: "I could understand that Ms Waterbury would be loath to watch the episode."


  14. "Such fine and noble reticence," Tennyson in Webster's Second. Related to TACIT, to pass over in silence. OED:  Reluctance to perform a particular action; disinclination, hesitation. 

    It be nice if ballet were treated in film and fiction as an unglamorous crafts-oriented business where everyone who was doing something to build a show were treated equally. Penelope Fitzgerald had just the right tone for depicting the world of child actors in At Freddy's and the world of the BBC during World War II in the delightful Human Voices

    For me the Waterbury case comes down to being about the commodification of intimacy and making tokens of that intimacy for exchange. And that fact that it's among the men – not between the original couple – and how they are always bidding up the stakes gives it an homoerotic turn (-Epistemology of the Closet). Some of that could come over in a Law and Order episode, at least as I remember them from the mid-nineties when that show and Homicide Life on the Streets (an early version of The Wire) were the highlights of the week in the small town I was then living in.

  15. The lawsuit shouldn't overshadow their fruitful relationship. Nadine Meisner says this –


    Over this long period [twelve years] Perrot’s example became an important formative influence on Petipa and a creative friendship was formed. Although this ended with a widely publicized court battle over copyright (about which more later), Petipa never lost his high esteem for Perrot.

    Meisner will present Petipa's point of view, then gently correct it for the recond. What's impressive about the book is the number of footnotes in Russian cyrillic – so it appears she done lots of primary research rather than recycle others' takes on the subject. But I don't have the book at hand yet (which I eventually will), I'm working from a borrowed view via Google books.

  16. Good question but a formidable task with something so ephemeral as dance. No equivalent exists of X-raying a painting to see what came before.

    The new Nadine Meisner Petipa book, however, may provide some hints. From the LRB review, "The Bedroom of a Sorcerer" –


    In his memoir, Petipa’s score-settling pushes out details of the construction of his ballets. Meisner explains what Petipa took from Jules Perrot and Arthur Saint-Léon, his collaborators at the Imperial Ballet; how French and Italian techniques intermingled in the Russian context; how grand ballets differ from ballets-féeries; and how Petipa responded to demands for more or less patriotic content.

    Meisner –


    It was also from Perrot that Petipa acquired the ability to manipulate large numbers of dancers …

    This was beyond Saint-Léon, who in Khudekov’s words “did not know how to deal with big numbers of people [ … ] All his morceaux d’ensemble are lifeless and colorless."  On the other hand, Saint-Léon was a ballerina’s ideal maker of solos. "St Léon knew how to compose those correct, rhythmic movements which in ballet language are called classical dance-variations. Soloists used to say that it was always comfortable for them to dance variations composed by this ballet master." [Ekaterina Vazem?] (The musical logic and delicate stitching of the Saint-Léon variation is evident in the reconstructions by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Pierre Lacotte of the pas de  six from La Vivandière.)


    I've always enjoyed looking at these Royal Ballet's reconstructions of simple pre-Petipa choreography and steps –



  17. The Times published an interactive chart today that allows you to plot various shelter-in-place / flattening the curve scenarios as an epidemiologist would. It looks as if a 60 day or even 90 day stay at home period would be most effective, especially in hard hit areas such as New York and Seattle. This of course would impact heavily on all arts events in those areas.

    Deborah L. Birx in todays press conference (Thurs the 26th) described a more sophisticated way of measuring data and constructing these models than this one does, so it's a only rough sketch of what could happen.

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/25/opinion/coronavirus-trump-reopen-america.html?action=click&module=Top Stories&pgtype=Homepage

    Unfortunately the present administration has not yet filled many important jobs to deal with the crisis (Times today: Unfilled jobs and high turnover mean the government is ill equipped for a public health crisis, said many former and current federal officials and disaster experts.) Lucky for us Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci have been around to give the public sober and helpful answers.

    Dr. Fauci was an important actor in the AIDS crisis. In the 1980s he listened to ACT UP Treatment & Data Committee members with their on the ground reports, their drug and dossage recommendations, and helped open up many early protocols for promising drugs. Previously these evaluations took up to nine years. Many of the fast track protocols established then helped future groups of patients get early access to promising treatments. 


  18. The only thing I can suggest is to read the fascinating source material, the ETA Hoffmann stories, The Girl with the Enamel Eyes and The Sandman. Dr Coppelius, a kind of analogue of Dosselmeyer in Nutcracker and the Mouse King, appears in both tales.

    In Hoffmann's originals there is most often a psychotic break with reality (even Clara in Nutcracker undergoes something of one) – and an anxiety about mechanical human-like dolls. Free will is discussed by the characters and overly perfect hostesses and guests at tea parties are suspected of being automatons. The original of Frantz tries to throw the original of Swanilda from a church tower after being given a telescope by Coppelius which makes him go mad. (Glasses and optical viewing devises are best to be avoided if find yourself in an ETA Hoffmann story!) Some of this trickles down into the various ballet versions, Coppelia and Nutcracker

    Freud wrote his famous essay on the uncanny, Das Unheimliche, based on Der Sandmann, and others followed his lead in defining the uncanny (or unhomely) and its eerie feeling: Lacan ("the field where we do not know how to distinguish bad and good, pleasure from displeasure"), Kristeva (abjection and "what is the self and what is the other"), etc (:Wikipedia).

    I would like to hear more about the second act of the ballet and the meaning of all the fertility symbols, dance of hours, war and peace, etc, as wonderfully reproduced in the Balanchine version (of which Danilova staged most of the first).

    Best of luck, eab4. Maybe you can give us a summary of your findings.

  19. Yes, it has to be one or two people. In publishing there have been individual brilliant editors, Max Perkins, Howard Moss, Gordon Lish who have really helped writers narrow their focus. In the art world it seems its one's immediate peers who share the same esthetic and mission are the ones who are often the most helpful. The film business, despite the auteur theory (which does have its virtues), is often a collaboration between a writer and a director. For instance Fellini worked with the Italian writer Ennio Flaiano for his first ten films through Giulietta of the Spirits and they all have similar themes and obssessions (Flaiano also wrote La Dolce Vita's twin, La Notte.)

    I don't know how it works in the dance world. With Cunningham I sometimes would think it should end right HERE but it would go on too long and dilute the effect. Diaghilev seemed to know his choreographers and composers well enought to sense what was strong and what needed to go. Robbins? Ashton? Taylor? Who were their editors?

    In response to:

    37 minutes ago, pherank said:

    But creation by committee rarely yields spectacular artistic results - thus network TV and Hollywood blockbusters.


  20. It all makes you see Hansel and Gretel, or at least the reviews of it, in a different light. Luke Jennings in the Guardian –


    The Witch plays obsessive, fetishistic games with the children, forcing them to participate in a grotesque doll's tea-party before tying them up and submitting them to depravities which Scarlett leaves to our imagination. Among the Witch's many deranged tics are a fondness for a ventriloquist's dummy. The Sandman, his ever-present familiar, closely resembles this horrid object and is always ready to join his master's perverted games. Abject and despoiled, made up like dolls, the children despair of escaping until one day, in circumstances which are not fully made clear, they overcome their tormentors and make their way back to their father's house. It's deserted, and as they look around it, Scarlett suggests that their experiences have traumatised them to the point where they have adopted the doomed personae of their father and stepmother.

    Jennings says this of the Royal Ballet's hands-off approach –


    The problem is that in the wake of the stellar careers of Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan, Royal Ballet choreographers are regarded as geniuses to be left to their own devices, rather than – as would be the case in publishing, theatre, film or television – required to justify their artistic decisions in rigorous, minute-by-minute detail.


  21. 43 minutes ago, eduardo said:

    You’re so right about the smiles in Emeralds! I really disliked them!

    I think it was Tom Cruise who introduced the broad smile as the default facial expression. I once came across a comment on a discussion group asking why no one smiled in 19th century photographs and Renaissance paintings. For dancers it looks as if it's difficult for them to make the smile look natural and do all the steps at the same time. To me it seems out of place in most dramatic works and for lighter ballets you should perhaps laugh with your body instead. Nothing should distract from, or countradict, what dancers are saying with their bodies – and they have the means to say a lot. For example with the mute mime of The Four Temperaments and the little jokes of displacement of Donizetti Variations. End of rant.

    Added: and of course Farrell's and Martins's performance in Diamonds is the standard, I didn't want to imply otherwise.

    One other thing: in programs notes such as those at the beginning of the performance, it would be nice to cite Tim Scholl's idea that Jewels references the precious stones of Sleeping Beauty rather than use the commercial hook of Van Cleef and Arpels, which was just Balanchine's tossed off pitch, not his deeper motivation.

  22. Interesting version of Jewels which I'm used to seeing in the PBS version directed by Balanchine and under Helgi Tomasson's guardianship at San Francisco ballet. I also remember a very noble and effective Igor Zelensky in Diamonds at City Ballet. This broadcast of the Bavaraian State Ballet's Emeralds had lots of smiles, and knowing smiles, which for me go against its sombre and wistful mood. The effect was more of the character of a social Fragonard painting than an introspective one by Watteau. I thought that Alina Somova was fascinating in Diamonds. Her detailing was much finer than Suzanne Farrell's and the delicate sideways crisscrossing of her feet (don't know the ballet term) was a stroboscopic marvel. She seemed to want to dramatize the choreography based on what she heard in Tchaikovsky's music and gave the ballet lots of little stories ( in comparison Farrell and Martins were completely neutral, verging on poker-faced). At the end of the variable weathers there was a sudden smile, a bit startling, directed at her partner like a burst of sunlight through the clouds. 


  23. The idea for the closures of public gatherings is to flatten the spike in new cases so that hospitals will not be overwhelmed. A vaccine on the other hand will take a year or a year and a half at best – according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAID director. It seems to be a prudent decision to close the ballet and symphony for however long it takes, as the audience demographic, a great many of it over 50 years old, would be especially vulnerable to the effects of a coronavirus infection. In Italy the choices doctors are having to make are being compared to those in wartime (:NYT today). According to a Statnews report people are more contagious before they are ill than afterwards, so it would be difficult to screen people effectively before an event.


    Anyway time to follow the Ballet live-streamed. Perhaps some creative new models of recording performances might be an happy result. (Rene Clair anyone? Jean Renoir? Michangelo Antonioni?)

    And remember plain soap and hand washing is the most effective protection (it dissolves the fatty links of the virus), followed by 70-91% alcohol wipes, according to:


  24. This has happened so fast. I almost went tonight but thought tomorrow afternoon would be better, less crowded, I could walk. But it's the dancers who've prepared so long for this who are the most affected. The mysterious world of Balanchine's Shakespeare ballet is one that we'll all have to wait to visit when this program is repeated – this summer? next year?

    Lots of other things in SF are being cancelled, even outdoor events. According to the Director of Public Health in an earlier story in the Examiner –


    Colfax said that taking these measures now is the best course of action.

    “If we wait to take stronger action until we have multiple confirmed cases and deaths, the window of opportunity we have now will have closed,” he said.


  25. Quote

    ... says Helgi Tomasson. “We will miss them, but I support their wish to return to their European roots.”

    This may be key. As you get older you do long for those little things you grew up with. I will miss them both. My memories are of them in Seven Sonatas but also Sofiane S in various Balanchine works. But there's still an half a season left in which to say our goodbyes.

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