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Are Categories Obsolete?

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Writing of the ABT’s staging of Kylian’s Sinfonietta, flipsy on Oct 30 2004 said:

“I don't know what Sinfonietta is supposed to be, but to me it looks at like a European version of Dances at a Gathering -- with more angst and energy than the American original.” And Sinfonietta in my eyes is quite conventional!

I suspect that similar confusion exists for the more resent Wheeldon’s works and how do you characterize Twyla Twarp? In the past the confusion in categories was somewhat less acute, at least on this side of the lake. Balanchine was neo-classical, Cunningham, Taylor, Graham were modern. In Europe the categories seemed to overlap and dissolve. Cranko was classical, MacMillan was post-classical, Bejard a mix, and the next generation of Jiri Kylian, Nacho Duato, Jorma Elo escape categories. And what of the dances being made in China: Yang Liping and Yin Mei or in Japan to name but a few: YAMAZAKI Kota and IKAMI Sayuri, Mie COQUEMPOT?

I have read that many AD’s no longer consider these categories as useful. Not even for symphonia discussions. Yet there seems to be a divide between the American and European counterparts. We seem to be reluctant to let go of these categories and the Europeans create and stage works unconstrained by categories. Is this reflected by reports that while European choreographers are readily staged here, very few resident American choreographer are produced there? For instance Lucinda Childs a New Yorker creates in predominantly in Europe where she was appointed to the Academy by the French government, while Mark Morris is very rarely staged. Are the American and the European dance aesthetics diverging?

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No, I don't think they're at all obsolete, and not all artistic directors, do, either. (Actually, this site was founded in large part to provide a place for discussion of just those categories :) ) I'm not sure that there's a divide simply between Americans and Europeans. Although I do think there is a divide between some Europeans and some Americans, there's also a divide between some West Coast Americans and some New Yorkers, and there are different opinions among Europeans as well. There's been a divide between formalists and expressionists since ballet was born. I think there are "oh, it doesn't matter what you call its" on both sides of the Atlantic. But there are also people who understand the differences among classical, modern, and fusion or other words for blended dance, or ballet moderne, as the Paris Opera Ballet school calls it. If you talk to dance students, even the 16 year olds are very clear about the different kinds of dance, and know which kind(s) they want to do.

Edited by Alexandra
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Funny, I don't think Kylian, Duato and Elo are unclassifiable at all.  They all work in a similar genre.

The term unclassifiable was badly chosed. What I meant was different. Funny yes, since it’s all in the eye of the beholder, like beauty.

In my eyes the differences are as follows: Kylian’s choreography seems to be routed in examination of some intellectual aspect, sometimes a surrealistic image is used to emphasize the contrast. He is the most musical of the three. Duato’s seems to be based in ethnicity and realism. Elo’s seems to be based in a study of pure movement, perhaps because he’s still a dancer and the muscular dynamics are of immediate importance. The common element in all three is that the compositions are very tight. They seem to have a very intense vision for the particular work and there is inevitability like in the greatest musical compositions. You would not want to change a thing.

Please understand that I’m trying to be non-dogmatic in these genres, only attempting to open the shorthand that we all sometimes use. I have seen too little of Duato and of Elo to have formed a definitive opinion. This discussion has crystallized my desire to obtain the Duato DVD so that I may have a glimpse into his work. Unfortunately none seems to exist for Elo. I’ll have to wait and hope that Nissinen will program his compositions.

There is a glimpse into Elo’s dancing in Kylian’s Kaguyahime in the role of one of the Knights of Mikado and again in the corps of Nobility, by NDT. Available from Image Entertainment.

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I've only seen Elo dance at NDT; not yet seen his work, so that was unfair of me. I've seen some of Duato's work I considered pleasant enough (Na Floresta et al.) and some I deeply loathed (Bach: Multiplicity). Kylian is more complex to me.

I mention my own preferences because that *does* have something to do with genres - their presence or absence. What I don't like about Duato is that I feel he's straining for theatrical effect rather than substance. I find his movement too catch-all. I feel similarly about Preljocaj. On the other side of the coin, SFB did Grosse Fuge last night by van Manen, and that's a piece I find very interesting. And there, I would say that at least as SFB performs it, there is no question of genre. It's uses ballet technique, ballet placement and ballet structure. It's a ballet. I do feel strongly about the classifications. There are entire areas of ballet (the corps de ballet, subtleties in pointe work and vocabulary) that are getting lost when choreographers are not schooled in them. Choreographers need that education to keep the art healthy.

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On the other side of the coin, SFB did Grosse Fuge last night by van Manen, and that's a piece I find very interesting.  And there, I would say that at least as SFB performs it, there is no question of genre.  It's uses ballet technique, ballet placement and ballet structure.  It's a ballet.

Oh, Hans van Manen is 100% ballet, no doubt about it. Even when he worked with the NDT. You are aware BTW he moved back from NDT to the Dutch National Ballet? Last Friday night HvM's new piece (set to Britten's Frank Bridge Variations) was premiered, and it was gorgeous, with two really tough male solos, great duets and everything you'll ever want from a ballet.

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I'm glad to know that Hans Van Manen is back with the Dutch National Ballet. The company came to New York a couple of times in the late '70s and early '80s, and I liked some of his ballets very much. When the company had "the three Vans," they really had a unique repertory -- three interesting in-house choreographers (Van Manen more than interesting, but very good, in my book) and a very good core repertory of classics and neoclassics.

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