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Musagète


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I'm not saying every Balanchine ballet is one of elegance, style, refinement, and idealism. Rubies, for instance, is sexy and jazzy. But just as I associate Petipa with the full-length imperial works of Czarist Russia I do associate Balanchine with making dance beautiful. In fact, that's what I love about Balanchine -- he seemed to believe so much in the ideal that what would be corny in any other context seems so right with him. For instance, the music-hall scene from Union Jack, replete with donkey. It's easy to snicker but its choreographed with so much sincerity that I just became squishy from the adorableness of it all. Balanchine was not by any means British, but he managed to capture England not as it is but as it should be -- with kilts, bagpipes, patriotism, and music halls. In Midsummer's Night Dream a scene that in staged versions of the play is often for laughs (Titania and Bottom) with Balanchine absolutely bubbles over with surreal beauty and sweetness.

Audiences of course change. The audiences that signed up for NYCB at its inception are not the audiences of today, just as the very people who lapped up jazz in the 1920s revolted against rocknroll. Lovers of soul and R&B now are disgusted with hiphop. All I'm saying is that as its been roughly 20 years since Balanchine's death, it's a bit unrealistic to expect all new commissioned ballets to adhere to something Mr. B would have approved of. I guess this happens with every company that is founded on the strength of one vision -- Alvin Ailey company, for instance, also has had to do "soul searching" after Ailey's death. After Cosima Wagner's death the Bayreuth festival also made controversial changes -- the minimalist post-war productions of Wieland Wagner differed radically from Cosi's express wishes. New productions at Bayreuth are still routinely booed.

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But "new" doesn't make the work any more important or good, and new is always compared to the old, for better or worse. Once you've tasted a steak in Sydney, McDonald's will always be McDonalds: good for an occasional pig-fest, but a Big Mac none the same.

I think Helene's hit one very important nub of the argument here. New is fine and dandy, but you need to clear the bar. Why should an audience embrace a third-rate new work over a first-rate older one? I'd happily subsist on a diet of Ashton and Balanchine because they're top rate nutrition, not because I'm closed-minded. When I want filet mignon, don't feed me Velveeta and tell me I have an uneducated palate if I complain. I do agree with canbelto though, that changing styles and visions, even of similar quality, can be a traumatic heave for an audience. It takes a generation sometimes.

Forsythe introduces extra complexity into the argument, but I remember that when Love Songs premiered I was offended at the violence of it. But I also was interested in seeing more because I was offended, but not by incompetence. It demanded further investigation. But that's not the case with Eifman. What I've seen so far has either been not very good or zestily awful. (I haven't yet seen this one, going tonight.)
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One word about how the tastes of audiences change -- yes and no. This is always presented that The Work is shocking and revolutionary and turns people off, and lo and behold, a mere 20 years later, and The Work is no longer shocking -- audiences flock to it. It's a hit!

This is like the old joke about how people in Florida are born Cuban and die Jewish -- that's what the demographic stats read, but they're not the same people. Audiences leave when what they like disappears. Some may stay around to see what's new, but many will not. New people will come in, drawn by something they like. It's not that The Old Fogeys suddenly get smart and learn to appreciate the avant-garde, nor that people who love jazz will automatically be revolted by rock and roll. It's much more fluid than that.

One of the differences about dance today, compared to other art forms, say, literature, is that there doesn't seem to be a consensus. There are a lot of people who love Danielle Steele's novels, but you don't read articles about how she's Jane Austen's, or E.M. Forster's, heir. There may well be people who read both Steele and Austen with pleasure; that's a different question. I doubt, thought, that you'll find an article that would say, to paraphrase something one American critic wrote of Eifman, "The only question is, is she the last great novelist of the 20th century, or the first great one of the 21st?"

Edited by Alexandra
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All I'm saying is that as its been roughly 20 years since Balanchine's death, it's a bit unrealistic to expect all new commissioned ballets to adhere to something Mr. B would have approved of.

I agree completely, canbelto! I think it's wrong for the company to box itself into an esthetic that is too narrow to allow for experimentation and development. But looking at history is not encouraging. When the creative forces behind the development of ballet in Paris and Petersburg died, ballet in those places degenerated into parodies of themselves, and it took an outside force -- Diaghilev -- to shake things up and provide the stimulus for genuine creativity. Although it's also true that the Diaghilev esthetic, which did not primarily emphasize classicism, has not been lasting. The question is, can a company preserve its own heritage while at the same time allowing for internal Diaghilevs?

That said, I do not think that Eifman is one. This is probably unfair, as I've never seen any of Eifman's work, but the many reviews I've read are quite enough to assure me that this choreographer is unworthy of NYCB because he just isn't good enough.

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The question is, can a company preserve its own heritage while at the same time allowing for internal Diaghilevs?

I don't think it's happened yet. Perhaps because "heritage" becomes a turf issue. I also agree with what Ari and canbelto wrote on this subject. I wrote about 20 years ago in a review, about the sons of Balanchine just beginning to choreograph, that "what the company needs is a Fokine, not a dozen Ivanovs." Fokine was working within his tradition, re-examining it, reforming it. And Diaghilev (at least early Diaghlev; I'm one who thinks that Diaghilev tipped the balance in favor of the easel painters and shock value in his later years. He needed money.)

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All I'm saying is that as its been roughly 20 years since Balanchine's death, it's a bit unrealistic to expect all new commissioned ballets to adhere to something Mr. B would have approved of.

I think it depends on the definition of "something Mr. B would have approved of." If it's the relationship between men and women, I think today's audiences are more in tune with Martins', Forsythes' (based on the limited number of his I've seen), and Wheeldon's than Balanchine's. Or Morris' or Taylor's or MacMillans' or Bill T. Jones'. (Although there were forshadowings of this viewpoint in Ivesiana.) I wouldn't have been remotely impressed by Peter Martins' Schubertiad if it was a shadow of Liebeslieder; I thought the ballet was a breakout ballet for Martins because the relationships in it and the inherent tensions were quite the opposite of Balanchine's ballet.

However, if its the relationship between the music and choregraphy, the crafting of steps, the embodiment of the dancers abilities in the choreography, and structure that maintains technique, I'm of the camp that good choreography should include them, until someone else comes along who can create a movement vocabulary so compelling that they're no longer necessary. I certainly haven't seen that in late Martins or Eifman, although I occasionally have the urge for a Big Mac and enjoy Eifman the way I enjoy soap operas and Troy.

I particularly like the Forsythe I've seen because, with judicious selection and prudent programming, these are the kinds of ballets that dancers dance full out, and I see that energy and clarity and bigness transferred to other things they dance. At PNB, in the middle somewhat elevated made a few deserving careers. Even Balanchine used to see dancers differently when other choregraphers showcased them. (In her memoir Merrill Ashley thanked Jacques d'Amboise for creating a ballet for her that did just that. And I've never seen anything by d'Amboise that was better than second rate as a stand-alone piece.) By contrast, Ronald Hynd's Merry Widow provided roles -- and steps and the fusion of movement and music -- for the dancers that brought out a more subdued palate, and made a few more deserving careers, and NYCB has done worse than this ballet.

I don't even mind the third-rate failures if they are reasonable attempts to do something new -- Balanchine and Robbins had their share of these, albeit small shares -- if it isn't clear before the project starts that they are going to be same-old, same-old.

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Two quick points -- Helene, I wouldn't agree that

If it's the relationship between men and women, I think today's audiences are more in tune with Martins', Forsythes' (based on the limited number of his I've seen), and Wheeldon's than Balanchine's.
Not today's NYCB audience, certainly not all of it. (That might make an interesting poll some day.)

And second, yes, some ballets might be fine for other repertories, but that's one of the points. There are different cultures. NYCB wasn't just about new experimental choreography; it was about producing repertory. Other companies acquired ballets that gave dancers' chances, but that wasn't part of the NYCB aesthetic or culture. And that's part of what being a dance center is: setting a standard, not accepting other standards.

Anything that current City Ballet people hold dear could go out the window tomorrow if a new genius came in. It is an interesting argument whether an institution MUST preserve its core repertory, the ballets that give it its identity and define its style and personality. If it does, then it must be careful in what it chooses to bring in. Going too far from the core means that the core will erode. And we have examples of that all over the map these days.
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I scribbled this out during my lunch hour, and only just now got a chance to post it, so I may be several posts behind. I apologize in advance if I’m retreading what may be by now old ground, and I especially apologize if I sound like I’m falling on anyone else like a ton of bricks.

I would like to challenge the notion that those of us who admire Balanchine’s ballets and who wish to see his Company and his successors keep his aesthetic alive are 1) conservative in our artistic tastes, 2) averse to being “shocked,” or 3) are less accepting of or open to “new music and unorthodox styles” and that these are the reasons we responded negatively to Eifman’s new ballet. Suggesting that someone who prefers, say, Episodes (or even Prodigal Son) to Musagète is old-fashioned is approximately equivalent to suggesting that someone who prefers Arnold Schoenberg to Def Leppard is old-fashioned. Eifman’s ballet is not “new” in any meaningful sense of the word, just as Def Leppard was not genuinely “new” pop music in its heyday, however “shocking” a thirteen year old boy’s parents might have found it. (Now Hip-Hop – that was new …) New chroeographically? Sorry – I didn’t see anything there that boldly crossed the frontier into new territory, even for a “dramatic” or “expressionistic” effort. Eifman relentlessly mines ballet’s most attention-grabbing “special effects” – extreme extensions, complicated partnering, and the like – but in my opinion does little to expand its vocabulary or the expressive potential of its syntax (something Forsythe, who also mines extremes, has done, I think). What’s more, he relies on those special effects and the alleged shock value of his dramatic material in the same way that the current crop of disaster flick directors do – as a substitute for narrative and dramatic craft. (Unlike Kisselgoff, I didn’t find Musagète particularly “well made.” Nor did it suggest to me that Eifman has “a firm grasp of the classical vocabulary” or that he “did his research” on Balanchine. Because he could quote some of the most iconic gestures in 20th century dance? Please, I could do that.) Let’s just say that Musagète is to a thoughtful exploration of Balanchine’s life and art as “The Day after Tomorrow” is to a thoughtful exploration of the implications of climate change. (Digression: “28 Days Later” is a thoughtful pop examination of humankind undone by its technology. Musagète is pop ballet, but not necessarily good pop ballet. And I’d be the first to tell you that there IS good pop, and that sometimes, only pop will do.) New in its exploration of creativity, human relations, life? Sorry to disappoint, but it serves up the same old tired notions from the last century that we are somehow supposed to find mind-expanding (and yes, shocking) yet one more time: geniuses are tortured, love is torture, art is the product of tortured geniuses’ tortured erotic impulses, tortured geniuses cruelly torture those they love, and tortured geniuses die solitary, tortured deaths etc, etc, etc. It’s a tiresomely sentimental in its way as a Hallmark greeting card. New music? Hello? – we got a smorgasbord of extracts from Bach and about eight minutes of Tchaikovsky’s 4th. (Extracts from longer works are one of my pet peeves, even when Balanchine does it, but let’s save that for another post – I’ve already digressed enough.) To make matters worse, it could have been ANY old music (and I almost mean “old” literally), especially during the T&V pastiche. I was put in mind of something that either Arlene Croce or Pauline Kael said about Flashdance: “The dancing doesn’t go the way the music goes, the dancing goes the way an eggbeater goes.” It’s not as if Eifman chose to challenge himself and his audience with, oh, Sigur Ros or Radiohead or even a dead white avant-garde male like John Cage.

I kept thinking of how Mark Morris might have handled the project: he would have had a lot more fun with the rolling chair and Mourka for starters; he would have done a much better T&V homage, even with modern dancers in bare feet; and I think we might have gotten a wider emotional range as well.

By the way, there’s hardly a bleaker, more genuinely unsettling portrayal of a woman in ballet than Prodigal’s Siren (and talk about women straddling men suggestively…). I've seen it a dozen times and more and it still upsets me. So yes, Balanchine, rarely subjects women to overt violence (which may have been what some found so distressing in Shambards) but Central Park in the Dark is pretty disturbing nonetheless. I think Balanchine's portrayal of women and of the relationships between men and women are more varied and subtle than he is sometimes given credit for. And now that we've had our fill of alienation and anomie, perhaps we will find them new.

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Alexandra,

Those are interesting points you make.

The first one, regarding onceshunned/nowworshipped, while I agree that this is due in large part to different audiences, I do think that as time passes, people grow. What was once shocking tends to lose its shock value over time. For instance, when the Vietnam Memorial "winning" plan was announced, there was an incredible amount of vitriol directed at Maya Lin's design. This can be seen in the documentary abour her life. At the time, this was because the design was by an Asian American woman, because had none of the features of a traditional memorial, and well, because the wounds of Vietnam were so strong that ANY design was bound to seem inadequate. Today, I'd guess that even the original protesters acknowledge the incredible simplicity and profundity of Lin;s design. Sometimes, you need time to appreciate (or unappreciate) a work. I mean, the films of the 1930s MGM were praised for their lushness, production values, and "wholesomeness." Today, while some of the MGM films of the 1930s are still revered, many of them seem dated.

I am by no means defending Eifman's work or saying that 20 years from now we'll all think its a masterpiece. Just that the NYCB is probably in "transition" and the newer ballets need time and perspective before we can judge them properly.

As for preserving the ideals of a company such as the NYCB, this is a hard question. But I do think companies evolve, and this would be true even if Martins brought back Farrell, McBride, Villela, Ambroise, and declared that from now on, the NYCB would only dance Robbins and Balanchine works. I mean, even when Balanchine was alive the company constantly evolved. It just happens. The Metropolitan Opera of the prewar years, with its familiar "paired" casts and emphasis on Wagner (Flagstad/Melchior/Schorr/Lawrence) or Mozart (Pinza/Baccaloni/Rethberg/Novotna) became very different when Bing took over, and the emphasis veered towards Italian-rep and powerhouse artists (Tebaldi/Milanov/Tucker/Corelli/Warren/delMonaco). I know Farrell, Tallchief, and other Balanchine ballerinas have been very outspoken about how they think Balanchine wanted his ballets danced, but with today's artists, would we even want carbon copies of those old performances? Is it even desirable for Maria Kowrowski to dance exactly like Suzanne Farrell? (the 'pairing' happened AGAIN in the Eifman ballet).

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Kathleen, thank you for your eloquence! (not to mention taking your lunch hour to consider these issues.) I can't comment on the work because I haven't seen it, but I certainly agree with your general points. To me, Balanchine's "subject matter" (including male/female roles), like everything else including the costumes, match the music. In Tchaikovsky, the man presents the woman. In Stravinsky -- or, as you note, Prokofiev -- it's different. And I have to thank you for saying:

Suggesting that someone who prefers, say, Episodes (or even Prodigal Son) to Musagète is old-fashioned is approximately equivalent to suggesting that someone who prefers Arnold Schoenberg to Def Leppard is old-fashioned.

canbelto, I don't think it's desirable for anybody to try to dance exactly like any other dancer, and I really don't think most people do. One wants someone of the LEVEL of a prior dancer, and someone appropriate to the role. (Some say this is type casting, I'll always say, "No, it's emploi!!" And technically, those are different: type casting is a matter of personality, emploi is a matter of body type.)

Your Vietnam Memorial example is a very good one about the stages in the life of public art. The Viet Vets were disappointed initially because they, or at least the vocal majority, wanted a memorial just like Iwo Jima. (And lobbied until they got one. Just as that -- three soldiers, graphically realistic soldiers, down to the bullet belts -- was unveiled, The Wall had become acclaimed, and the Viet Vets were more reconciled to it. But there were some people -- the critics I read, not to mention me, as someone who knows little about architecture/sculpture and was active against the Vietnam War -- who loved it from the beginning because it was so subtle and so unlike Iwo Jima (not that there's anything wrong with IJ). And now people put flowers there, and teddy bears, and all of this stuff...making it realistic again, and ruining (for me) the purity of it.

But that's a slightly different issue -- public art, mass art, MUST appeal to many people. Fine art doesn't have to.

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an overproduced mess is just a mess, and will pass away

a work of genius stands the test of time and enters the life of everyone who's been fortunate enough to see it performed

balanchine led me to stravinsky, who leads me to balanchine

i have gone through some of stravinsky's scores while listening to the music and have marvelled at their complexity -- and have been better able to understand them by watching balanchine's agon, apollo, and so forth

there is more going on with the balanchine/stravinsky works than just the choreography and music -- 1 plus 1 equals much more than 2, and the two basic elements can not be separated once you have experienced them together

the works are pure logic in action: if you do the hard work and gain understanding, the reward is great

the ny philharmonic performed the webern music from episodes not too long ago, and you could see virtual dancers right there on the stage

a very wise dance coach once said that we would have to wait one-hundred and fifty years before another choreographer of balanchine's caliber came along, and i believe that to be so

mere facility with steps management does not a major choreographer make

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Apologies if I offended by my earlier comments on US arts audiences. It was certainly not my intentions to do so, and I may have worded my contribution a little too extravagently

And of course Dale is right – perhaps I shouldn’t have commented at all, never having seen Eifman’s work, so it could be that I would have exactly the same reaction as his (hers?) to Musagete.

And Alexandra, I take your point that all the critics’reviews are not yet in, but so far I think they have been fairly equally divided between negative and positive.

Finally, I think I will stick by my assertion that US audiences for the arts are rather conservative. A few years back, I was listening to a BBC Radio 3 opera broadcast from the Met in New York. In the interval, there was an enjoyable quiz for the rather high-brow all-American panel of invited guests, and one of the questions involved coming up with the name of a contemporary American opera composer (it may have been more complicated than that, but that was the nub of it). Well, after a lot of humming and hawing, the only name the distinguished bunch could come up with, despite heavy promptings from the quiz-master, was - Leonard Bernstein. The correct answer was John Adam, but his name hadn’t occurred to a single one of the panel, presumably because they simply didn’t take him seriously as an opera composer. That’s what I mean by conservatism.

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And second, yes, some ballets might be fine for other repertories, but that's one of the points. There are different cultures.  NYCB wasn't just about new experimental choreography; it was about producing repertory.  Other companies acquired ballets that gave dancers' chances, but that wasn't part of the NYCB aesthetic or culture. And that's part of what being a dance center is: setting a standard, not accepting other standards.

Eifman is not experimental choreography, though; it's choreography that we got ad nauseum in the 70's and 80's. What I found compelling about Eifman's Red Giselle was seeing it danced by his own company, a group of exceptional dancers who believe in it like the religious faithful. (I had read enough about Spessivtzeva to know that what I was seeing wasn't remotely related to her, so I didn't take it personally.)

Balanchine was never the only choreographer at NYCB; during the earlier years and incarnations, there were ballets that didn't even seem to meet his aesthetic. The early festivals, while dominated by Balanchine, consisted of "26 ballets by 8 choreographers" programming. And some non-Robbins, non-Balanchine even stayed in the rep. I think that the early American Dance Festival and Diamond Festivals were more experimental than any Eifman and gave a lot of choreographers, including company members, a great chance. (Much more money was spent on a series of experimental multi-media failures like Bart Cook's Into the Hopper.)

One of the advantages of acquiring ballets from other companies is that you get to see them ahead of time -- you can choose in the middle somewhat elevated instead of Herman Schmerman -- but NYCB seems to have gotten the worst of both worlds: a ballet choreographed on someone else's dancers, sight unseen. What's laughable is that Eifman and Martins thought of this as a tribute to Balanchine, when the content is what Balanchine repeatedly disparaged -- not story, but this kind of story -- and where the aesthetic, apart from having dancers on pointe, doesn't seem to intersect with any of Balanchine's multitude of visions.

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I didn't say that Eifman was experimental choreography. That isn't what the quote above meant. Other companies acquired ballets because they couldn't produce them themselves. Virtue may be made of this, but it's something different from what NYCB has always done. And generating its own repertory is part of what it means to be a major international company. It's the same as in fashion. You expect couture, not off the rack, and not a recycling of something that's been around for decades passing itself off as experimental. And the related problem with the Eifman, for some, as Gia Kourlas wrote in DanceView Times, is that:

Unfortunately, the inclusion of Eifman at NYCB, recognized for its high-art aesthetic, transformed the company into something provincial.

Ann, the generalizations aren't helping :) It's a big country. One ballet, or one radio panel, doesn't really mean much.

I agree that the reviews so far are mixed; most so far have been favorable, the negative ones are more likely to come later. But your post said:

It does seem to me that on the whole the professional (i.e. newspaper) critics admired 'Musagete'; it was only on this site that one read the fiercely resistant stuff.

And that's what people have been taking exception to.

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Finally, I think I will stick by my assertion that US audiences for the arts are rather conservative.  A few years back, I was listening to a BBC Radio 3 opera broadcast from the Met in New York.  In the interval, there was an enjoyable quiz for the  rather high-brow all-American  panel  of invited guests, and one of the questions involved  coming up with the name of a contemporary American opera composer (it may have been more complicated than that, but that was the nub of it).  Well, after a lot of humming and hawing, the only name the distinguished bunch could come up with, despite heavy promptings from the quiz-master, was - Leonard Bernstein.  The correct  answer was John Adam, but his name hadn’t occurred to a single one of the panel, presumably because they simply didn’t take him seriously as an opera composer.  That’s what I mean by conservatism.

I would argue that US audiences might be more compartmentalized than UK audiences, not more conservative. There are no national companies or theaters, like the Royal Ballet or Royal Opera or Monnaie Dance Theater, which get a proportionally high public subsidy and are meant to embody some set of national, representative aesthetic values. We have specific expectations of specific companies, but that doesn't mean that the an intersection of the same audience who is appalled by Eifman at NYCB wouldn't travel to Brooklyn to see Morris' Dido and Aeneas, Decoufle's Shazzam, or the latest piece by Trisha Brown -- or even go to see Eifman's company -- as long as we could go in with our eyes open.

I wouldn't assume that the "high-brow all-American" panel members couldn't identify John Adams because they didn't consider him a "real" opera composer. There have been a number of high-profile contemporary American operas produced at the Metropolitan Opera during the last forty years -- among them Vanessa, Mourning Becomes Electra, Antony and Cleopatra, Susannah, The Ghost of Versailles, Einstein on the Beach -- as well as next door at the New York City Opera -- Ballad of Baby Doe, Ahknaten, for example -- and an opera person would have had to have been living under a rock to not to have acknowledged John Adams' Nixon in China, which is even listed in Metropolitan Opera Stories of the Great Operas, Volume II . Again, many people go to the Met expecting opulence and conservative productions on the whole and never go any farther, but there are also audience members who expect the new and obscure at Glimmerglass Opera, and something in between at New York City Opera.

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I would argue that US audiences might be more compartmentalized than UK audiences, not more conservative.

I think that's an excellent point. You're right, HF, we don't have a national theater in that sense, and never have, and so regional tastes have developed.

I'd also go back to posts made above by several people: there's no need to apologize for not limiting one's viewing to attractions that others have dubbed experimental, or prefering something that's good over something that's trendy. (Or the other way 'round, of course, but that argument is seldom made these days.) New isn't good because it's new; old isn't good because it's old. One doesn't need to apologize for listening to Mozart or watching Balanchine.

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Well, I just returned from viewing "Musagete" and have only one question. Why, oh why couldn't they wait till next year to mount it?! A steamy pile of trash like that practically screams "Diamond Project".

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I mean, I wonder if, say, the Joffrey ballet came to town and danced Wheeldon's Shambards, whether anyone would raise eyebrows. But eyebrows are raised when the NYCB dancers do it . . . f they are to really "respect" Mr. B . . . .

Musagete is probably no worse as a Ballet, or as choreography than half a dozen other things I've seen lately on that same stage, including Martins' recent "Chichester Psalms" (which aimed much higher and fell much lower) and last year's "Thou Swell" (which resembled Richard Rogers as presented at a Long Island Bar Mitzvah)

The questions about Musagete, and what is fueling the emotional nature of the response, are not really questions of choreography or of drama at all, but instead are issues of whether this was proper and fitting and yes, even respectful of the memories of George Balanchine and Tanaquil Leclerq. It is not a question of "respect" for Balanchine's choreography, but of "respect" for the man himself.

This was not the Joffrey Ballet or any other Company that presented this. It is the very Company that he Built and which offered Tanaquil Leclerq a sort of State Funeral last year which commissioned this work for the centennial of his birth, and presented this particular portrait of both him and of Tanaquil on this stage. This raises questions, as I said, quite apart from "was it good theater" or "was it good choreography" or "what do the critics say?"

Personally I don't know the answer to these questions. But there are plenty of people around here who danced for Balanchine; who knew and loved Tanaquil; who worked for or around the company and the School, and there are plenty of audience members too, for all of whom his memory and these institutions are cherished and sacred . . .

Was this Ballet appropriate with respect to this institution and his memory? There have been plenty of stinker Ballets here over the past years, plenty during Balanchine's reign itself, but none of them have raised this question. Everyone will answer it for himself or herself as a matter of personal taste and conscience. But in some ways I think it's the people who knew him best -- his dancers, coadjutors and friends -- who would have the most to say. And they aren't talking, at least in print.

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Finally, I think I will stick by my assertion that US audiences for the arts are rather conservative.  A few years back, I was listening to a BBC Radio 3 opera broadcast from the Met in New York.  In the interval, there was an enjoyable quiz for the  rather high-brow all-American  panel  of invited guests, and one of the questions involved  coming up with the name of a contemporary American opera composer (it may have been more complicated than that, but that was the nub of it).  Well, after a lot of humming and hawing, the only name the distinguished bunch could come up with, despite heavy promptings from the quiz-master, was - Leonard Bernstein.  The correct  answer was John Adam, but his name hadn’t occurred to a single one of the panel, presumably because they simply didn’t take him seriously as an opera composer.  That’s what I mean by conservatism.

Well, yes, after all, the Metropolitan Opera is THE bastion of musical conservatism in this country. That's one side of the coin. On the other side, Nixon in China was composed here, premiered here, and embraced here. I remember when it played at BAM in the 1980's. People around me in the balcony were smoking pot. Perhaps NOT the folks you're likely to run into at the Met.

I don't have anything to add to all the wonderfully intelligent and interesting comments about the Eifman, except to say that I didn't care for it not because it was too new, but because it was so o-l-d.

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I'd have to disagree Michael. What disappointed me most about Eifman was the lack of basic craft. I tried to look at the story as if I had no idea what it was associated with. Even so, the man can't put steps together. His vocabulary makes the dancers look bad. In any of the other ballets you named there are at least enchainements and the dancers don't look like hell doing them. You can really tell it was set on the company rather than made on them by the insensitivity of the movement to their bodies. Poor dancers. Poor audience.

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Well Ann, some of the other critics have made their feelings known now - Robert Gottlieb of the New York Observer said this:

Boris Eifman’s Musagète may not be the worst ballet ever put on by New York City Ballet—the last 20 years have offered it lots of competition—but its premiere last Friday was without question the lowest point in the history of the company (and I’ve been following its fortunes since the beginning, in 1948).

I posted the link in the Links section, but you can access it here too.

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I think the review is sort of racist, personally. "Russian emigre" audience sounds like the sort of shrill jingoism that used to pass as criticism in the bad old days when writers could routinely call perfomers "that Jew" or "the colored girl."

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The issues which Gottlieb airs are not affected in any way, however, by the "Russian Emigre" remark. No one can argue that Robert Gottlieb, or the others who object, would have liked this any better had Eifman not been Russian or a large part of the audience not been so.

As for the remark, Gottlieb's complete sentence is:

"When the commission was announced, there was a lot of speculation

about Martins' motives: an attempt to attract the Russian Emigre

audience that, with its cigarettes and cellphones, flocks to the City

Center to appplaud Eifman's efforts there? An attempt to flatter

the NY Times, which is so greatly responsible for his success?"

An unhappy and an extreme choice of phrases on RG's part, to be sure and a club given to those who disagree with his views. Not the first time he has mis-stepped in the heat of his intellectual passions. But it doesn't alter the seriousness of the issues he raises.

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The whole sentence makes me even more uncomfortable, with its stereotype of "cigarettes and cellphones" and the ugly implications that somehow the NYCB audience must remain refined and genteel and "American." Its gratuitous and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, sorry.

As for American arts audiences being conservative, I'd say that's true, artistically. I would not say American arts audiences are politically conservative. In fact, for awhile one of the pet causes of the Republicans was to cut arts funding, which they called supporting "degenerate" art. Arts in the US has a rep at least today of being for the cultured, intellectual, left-leaning elite.

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