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Karin von Aroldingen


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I've always been curious about the career of Karen Von Aroldingen. When she was dancing she seemed to have inspired alot of dislike and yet Balanchine made many roles on her and she danced alot of the repertory.

What was it about her that people did'nt like? She seems to have had a different body type than what was popular at City Ballet at that time, but it had to have been more than that.

I've only ever seen her dance on video. She seemed to have a sort of glamorous oddball presense to her. I love her in the Davidsbundlertanze. Such a moving and bittersweet performance. She must have meant a great deal to Balanchine to have inspired such a heartbreakingly beautiful role.

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I would also like to know why she was disliked.

Like you, I've only seen her on video, and in the little I've seen of her I really enjoyed. She didn't seem to fit the role in Emeralds, but she was spectacular in Stravinsky Violin Concerto, especially the first pas de deux, and was lovely in Elégie. She also makes a fiery Siren.

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It's true Perky, Karin did not have long legs. Her feet were big. Her head was big. I didn't love how she held her hands. But she was beautiful facially with incredible cheek bones. I always thought that Violette was Balanchines French beauty and Karin was his German beauty.

Von Aroldingen did not have the typical Balanchine body and mind you there were some great beauties in the company in those years. One could easily mistake the souvenir program for a book of models.

Karin had great musicality, sophistication and could also jazz it up. She didn't seem afraid of not dancing pretty.

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I thought she was wonderful. And she rang the chimes of the guy who used to sit next to me on one of my subscriptions series. He'd look at the program and if she was dancing that night, he'd say "Oh yes -- Karin von Aroldingdingdingding." I suppose some people did dislike her although I didn't know any of them. What mattered was that Balanchine loved her.

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It took me awhile to warm to her, because of the body (short legs, long torso, and, hence, no line in the sense that I was used to line). She took a lot of hits from some critics who viewed this as bad dancing. I understood her better when a colleague explained to me that she was a character ballerina -- rare in this country and in her time -- and that's how Balanchine most often used her. Her created repertory was extraordinary; I can't think of another ballerina's anywhere who had one like it. In a waltz gown, she was, indeed, beautiful, and there was a wistfulness in roles like "Vienna Waltzes" and a womanliness in "Davidsbundlertanze" that I've neve seen matched.

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I was one of those who didn't like her. To me, she was not a classical dancer in a company that had little to offer women who weren't. Balanchine partially solved the problem by making ballets on her in which he built on her strengths and hid her weaknesses, but she also danced repertory standards (Dew Drop, Titania, 1st movement Bizet, Liebeslieder Walzer, etc.) in which she -- and, consequently, the ballets -- did not look good.

She and Balanchine were close personal friends, and he appeared to use her to express a vision of mature womanliness that he couldn't with other ballerinas. But it was hard for me to watch her onstage.

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She was pretty unforgettable in VIENNA WALTZES'S TALES FROM THE VIENNA WOODS, STRAVINSKY VIOLIN CONCERTO, Eurydice in ORPHEUS, and, most of all, as leader of the MacDonalds in the "drumming" section of UNION JACK (I remember orchestra members lining up along the pit to watch her do this in '76). Ms. Von Aroldingen was fearless.

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As Ari put it, "it was hard for me to watch her onstage". I tried so hard to like her, for it was no fault of her own that she stuck out like a sore thumb among the sylphlike others and in an angular, not sultry-Govrinish, way.

I gained the most respect for her about a decade ago when I read her account in I Remember Balanchine.

I wish that, as the young dancer I was, I could have gotten past her physical image. It wasn't only the shape of her body that wasn't pleasing for me to watch in action, it was the way she held and moved her head and how she didn't smile, ever, giving her countenance a chiseled hardness.

As her warm personality radiated from her story in the book, I felt terrible for having disliked watching her onstage. I saw her so often and really tried to like her, but just couldn't, and that made me cross with myself. When I see dance photos of her now, I find her striking to look at!

In her section of I Remember Balanchine she recalls:

"Balanchine was so at ease with me. I never threatened him.....As a child, he had a German nursemaid named Barbara....When Balanchine left Russia, the first country he and his dancers stayed in was Germany. He said that going down the Rhine was the greatest thing because they had been starving in Russia....I think he admired the civilized disciplines of the German people......I'm a "mother" to everyone, even my husband. I have that in me, Mother Nature. Balanchine had that quality, too, always trying to help."

I like that image -- von Aroldingen as Mother Nature. It seems perfect. I wish I had known to think of her that way in the 60s when I watched her dance so often.

She has nothing but warm words for Balanchine and she and her husband were two of his closest friends at the end of his life. It is refreshing to know that she is yet another Balanchine dancer who had no "issues" with him and has only fond memories of their relationship.

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I quite enjoyed the quote from her in "Balanchine's Ballerinas," where she's telling Tracy why her technique differed from that of Farrell: "I had more elevation. She never had elevation," she explained, helpfully.

I've only seen her on the Dance in America tapes, and she does seem to look best in the roles that were custom-built for her. I was disappointed with the "Emeralds" pas de deux with Sean Lavery (and Mimi Paul looks so beautiful in the photographs). I also remember wondering, when I first saw the "Prodigal Son," why Balanchine had cast Giselle's mom as the Siren. She was certainly chilling, but again, she just doesn't look right; the choreography and the costume need a lady with very long stems. I did like her in Davidsbundlertanze very much; there are other important roles in that one, but Balanchine gave her a little extra to carry, and she does it beautifully.

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Seeing dancers today in her roles (Who Cares, her solo in Union Jack -- I think it was MacDougall of Sleat ?) makes one realize what a strong technician she was. She MOVED.

I think another reason for Balanchine's attraction for her was his attraction to German expressionism -- there's a strain of that in his work. Perhaps that's why he wanted her in Prodigal Son. (The "goons" in that ballet are very similar to a group of men from a Mary Wigman piece of that period, judged by a few photos I've seen of it; and the "bridge" the Siren has to make needs someone with short legs so that the body looks like a flat table, not a slanted one.)

But I think there were many ballet fans who would agree with what Ari and Marga have written.

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I came upon this thread many years after....but wanted to share something meaningful to me about Karin von Aroldingen: it must have been 1981, and I had been to a performance of Davidsbundlertanze at Lincoln Center. I don't believe Karin danced in it, but perhaps she did--it's too long ago now to be certain. The friend I attended the performance with and I went over to the Empire Coffee Shop (still in existence then), across from Lincoln Center. We ended up going into the pub section. There were only two tables with people at them: Peter Martins sat alone at a table near the entrance. I thought he was so handsome, and I didn't want to sit and stare at him so obviously, so I chose a table further down by the windows, next to a table with two people at it. I didn't look at them as we sat down, but immediately said to my friend, "Wasn't that a WONDERFUL performance!", and proceeded to discuss Davidsbundlertanze with him. A bit later my friend excused himself to use the men's room, and I casually looked at the people at the next table. Suddenly, I realized that the small, old man there was George Balanchine!! Sitting with him was a glamorous, European-looking woman who I recognized as Karin von Aroldingen. She met my eyes, and smiled, as she could see the recognition dawn in my eyes. To say I was thrilled is putting it mildly. Then Balanchine himself began to comment on the ballet. He said, "It is not for teenagers. It is about men and women and love". Not long after, having finished their meal, they got up, put on their coats, and left, and I watched out the window as Karin held an umbrella over Balanchine, and they walked slowly up Broadway. It was a magical encounter for me. Recently I read about how caring von Aroldingen was to Balanchine in Jacques D'Amboise's autobiography, and I have great respect for her.

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What a lovely memory, Stage Right! I'm sure you'll treasure it forever.

I saw Karin von Aroldingen on a panel about 12 (?) years ago (I have a very bad sense of time for almost everything that happened after I left high school :blushing: ) She said she and Balanchine became friends after she invited him for dinner shortly after she joined NYCB. He liked her cooking, and as an accomplished cook himself, the two bonded over their kitchen skills.

You never knew which dancers would show up in the Empire Coffee Shop, just around the corner from New York State Theater. I never had the pleasure of running into Balanchine there, but I saw many lesser lights. It was quite an institution, as was Charlie, the waiter. Sadly, nothing has replaced it. Those were different times.

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Ms. von Aroldingen had a unique look, style and way of moving (and as other posters have mentioned, body) that made her stand out in whatever she did onstage.

She started out as an acrobat, and Mr. B. used that training to the max -- especially in what I call the "Spider Walk" in "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." When I first started watching the company, I found her face sort of forbidding and stern. But when she did "Liebeslieder" I was able to link to her tenderness. By that time I had heard from some dancers about how she cared for Mr. B. when he was in the hospital for his last illness, and that made me respect her all the more, and I never felt she looked stern after that.

After she retired, I happened to pass her at the bar after the promenade had emptied out, and I told her how much I missed her very individual style, and she was gracious in her response. While I was never comfortable with her in the "Tales of the Vienna Woods" section of "Vienna Waltzes," I think of her every time I see the Siren in "Prodigal Son," MadDonald of Sleath in "Union Jack" and, of course, the "Violin Concerto"

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