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Terry Teachout and Francis Mason at the Wadsworth

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As part of their participation in the Balanchine Centennary and in conjunction with their show Ballets Russes to Balanchine, The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford presented a moderated discussion with Francis Mason and Terry Teachout. It was free. It was Hartford. It was sparsely attended. It was a rare pleasure.

I'll just mention a few impressions, as I'm still recovering from recent surgery.

I think perhaps the best part was hearing both these authors talk about their first exposure to Ballet and Balanchine.

Mason spoke about Orpheus... and talked about the use of a silk drop to show the descent into Hades (where he was sure we would all end up). I haven't had the pleasure of seeing this one, only photos. Does it retain it's original settings? I see it's in the rep for 2004-5. Mason mentioned that Stravinsky conducted the performance he saw. Did that happen often, or only on opening nights? Mason recounted his earlier experience of the Ballets Russes Massine presentation in Philadelphia (not caring for what he felt to be "fancy pants on Beethoven")

When the Wadworth renovated recently a battle was mounted (and won) to keep the original boards on the stage.

I asked whether no attempt had been made to bring either SAB or Purchase to perform Serenade, or even a screening... (I mention Purchase because they performed it on the Warburg Estate last Spring, and Mason teaches at Purchase). Mason & Teachout were quite enthusiastic about this idea, but the Wadsworth staff kept mum. I don't understand why the Wadsworth Premiere of this piece isn't mentioned on the NYCB blurb... I thought the first performance in a real theater was significant. Frankly, I think an "open" spacing rehearsal would be even more interesting than a performance. The stage has pretty different dimensions than the State Theater.

There was some talk of that sole performance of Balanchine's Serenata with lighted candles on the heads of the ballerinas (did they stay lit thoughout I wonder, or did the pesky things tend to blow out at in opportune times?).

Mason mentioned that Barbara Horgan recently told him that in 2003 there were 203 companies mounting Balanchine works worldwide. There was some discussion of where all in the world that might be and Zimbabwe was singled out for presenting Serenade.

The most popular Balanchine works were listed in the following order:

1 - Serenade

2 - Who Cares

3 - Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux

4 - Allegro Brilliante

5 - Apollo

6 - Four Temperaments

7 - Valse Fantaisie

8 - Theme & Variations

9 - Tarantella

10 - Agon

Looking at this list, these must be the most frequently mounted works on other companies? rather than the most popular? (I must confess, I'd have thought Rubies would make the top ten).

Terry Teachout mentioned he listed 4Ts for his "best of the 20th Century"

Someone mentioned that bringing Balanchine to America was what Chick Austin considered his finest achievement. (I tend to agree). Austin's son was in the audience (apparently he "debuted" in Hartford the same year as Balanchine).

Teachout talked about how some paintings "go dead on the wall" not standing up to repeated viewings, and went on to mention how there are some ballets that go dead on stage as well, but that Balanchine's work he can see over and over again, and each time sees something more... a good definition of a masterpiece.

They also talked about how Balanchine ranked with Picasso as a modernist... actually they mentioned 3 names, but I'm afraid I've forgotten who were considered the other leading modernists. I'm afraid I was daydreaming tangentally about Balanchine & modernism & New York. They were talking about Balanchine and Robbins and American pop culture... and I got to thinking how one might consider "modernism" New York's pop culture... and I wondered if Balachine would have created the style works he did had he been based in another city... say Vienna or Los Angeles? Does anyone else see 4Ts & Agon as New York ballets?

Someone in the audience went on at length about the many connections between dance and Connecticut, and wished the museum had managed to do something in conjunction with Nilas Martins' company which was in town a few days ago.

Someone else in the audience wondered if in Boston or New York there was an opportunity to see Balanchine's work performed. After a brief pause on stage, they began mentioning the many companies nationally (perhaps it would be simpler to list a company with professional ballet dancers that has no Balanchine in it's repertory?) With special mention of the Don Quixote to be mounted in Washington by Suzanne Farrell's company (the rights to the film of that ballet were lost in a poker game?).

Alas, I forgot to ask Mason how he & Balanchine decided which ballets to include in their "Complete Stories of the Great Ballets". He did talk, however, about the editing process with Balanchine... how Balanchine did not want to read the work himself but rather had Mason read it aloud to him... and then often would cut it down.. "too long"... Balanchine didn't want the names of the steps included... felt people would get bored by too many details. (Mason & Teachout both discussed how people seemed to think erroneously that they had to "prepare" to see their first ballet by learning the names of the steps for instance or how pointe shoes are constructed. There was some talk about how going to the ballet should instead be like going to a baseball game. Again, I got lost in tangental daydreaming.)

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Thanks so much for posting this, I just wish I could have seen it. Do you know if it was video or audio taped?

I was interested in the list of frequently-performed works. I've never seen Valse Fantasie -- does anyone know who performs it?

This made me giggle:

"Someone else in the audience wondered if in Boston or New York there was an opportunity to see Balanchine's work performed."

Some times you just wonder how someone got there.

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Some times you just wonder how someone got there.

On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of person Terry Teachout is trying to reach... actually, both writers were pushing getting more and new people to the ballet. Perhaps it would have been more exciting if the entire audience was packed with people unaware of NYCB. I do hope that person actually is motivated to buy a ticket now.

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Yes, Amy, MANY people have seen Agon as VERY New YOrk. Ifyou've never read Edwin Denby's reports on ballet-- he was the best writer in English EVER about dancing -- you owe yourself the favor. He wrote about Agon when it was new. I think it's reprinted almost complete in Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great ballets.... a book everybody ought to have. But he's been reprinted in paperback several times, and Denby's writngs are ALSO books anybody who loves ballet should have. i read him all the time, for pleasure. He reviewed for hte NY Herald Tribune during WWII, and a lots of his pieces are short accounts -- fun bed-time reading --short, and FULL of insight and excitement.

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I've begun to read the Teachout book, and in spite of prejudiced misgivings, I'm finding it wonderful. This book could be said to be the opposite in style to Jowitt's book on Robbins which I've been trying to plod through. This should be a stocking stuffer for teenage & older dance students... very palatable, an easy and enjoyable read, perhaps they might not even realize they're digesting dance history! I'll have to drop in a few quotes so you see what I mean. (it's not to hand at the moment, but I'll edit some in tomorrow).

Paul, I agree about Denby... it seems to take a poet to bring dance to life on the printed page.

Sandik, I forgot to respond... yes, it was videotaped, but low-tech... I saw what I believe was an old VHS camcorder on a tripod in the back of the house... though considering the program was miked and the visuals were not so significant, it's probably sufficient.

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Okay, a sample paragraph from the first chapter (though I realize I should be posting this on the dueling bios thread).

His romances were complicated, sometimes hurtful, and on one occasion tragic.  Tanaquil Le Clercq, Balanchine's fourth wife, was forced from the stage by illness in 1956, at the height of her career.  Thirteen years later he divorced her in the hopes of persuading a younger ballerina, Suzanne Farrell, to marry him.  Instead, Farrell married another dancer and left New York City Ballet, after which Balanchine made a dance called Who Cares? (1970, music by Gershwin).  No one who knew him believed it for a moment.  "Woman is the goddess, the poetess, the muse," he had said in 1965.  "That is why I have a company of beautiful girl dancers.  I believe that the same is true of life, that everything a man does he does for his ideal woman.  You live only one life and you believe in something and I believe in a little thing like that."  He cared, desperately.

It's not one of those books that your wrists tell you before you've even open it that you are not to undertake it lightly. It does seem interested in how the creative process is affected by personal history.

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It was the rights to the film of Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream that were lost in a poker game, according to Mindy Aloff:


I certainly agree with Paul about Denby's writing, except that Denby's concise evocations are too exciting to me to read before bed! Croce too saw Balanchine's ballets as "New York" ballets while still writing for the National Review; she saw his "beehive" ballets as "working" in New York, because New York was a beehive [swarming with activity].

Stravinsky's conducting at NYCB was certainly before my time (in the audience) there, but later on Robert Craft would conduct a premiere. I think this was only for such a special occasion as that, a premiere or maybe an opening night.

The effect of the silk curtain in Orpheus was uniquely lovely in my experience, but much of the rest of the ballet was powerful, too. The silk continued to be used at least into the early 80's or so, and probably still is today. I don't remember when I last saw the ballet in the theatre, but I do remember a pretty good television broadcast of it, so you may someday see it yourself, Amy.

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Sandik, there are two versions of Valse-Fantaisie; the later one, which was made for Mimi Paul in 1967, I believe, is essentially a pas de deux with a small corps, which the first from 1953 or so was for Melissa Hayden, Tanaquil LeClercq, and Diana Adams, with Nicholas Magallanes. Those were the days of casts... Both versions are beautiful, the first especially so, but the later one is far more frequently done. it's one of the most-often-given small Balanchine dances-- not only PNB but Atlanta Ballet, PA Ballet, Carolina Ballet, etc, have done it fairly recently. Miami City Ballet does the 1953 version, in a wonderful performance the last time I saw it several years ago.

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carbro, I'm sorry I posted in such haste that I didn't digest what you said about the silk curtain in Orpheus, which already answered Amy's question authoritatively. The last impression I'd want to give is that I consider your contributions negligible when actually as a rule I feel benefitted from reading them.

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The last impression I'd want to give is that I consider your contributions negligible when actually as a rule I feel benefitted from reading them.

"As a rule" Jack??? :lightbulb:

It actually never occurred to me to feel slighted by your post, which did nothing but amplify mine, rather vividly. I, too, often readandpost without taking in all that's there. I appreciate your thoughtful explanation.

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