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What Is It About NYCB that We Adore?

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On the Balanchine's Ballets -- Has Performance Quality Dropped?" thread, Bart raised a very interesting question:

t's clear from the large number of fervent fans who post on this site, that NYCB still has the power to demand the same high level of adoration that it always had. Much of this is thanks to the enthusiasm generated by individual dancers. The question is: what exactly is being adored? and is it the same thing that was being adored a generation ago?

All right, fervent NYCB fans: what makes you so passionate about the company? And, for those of you who are upset about the company's current state, has this state of affairs cooled your ardor?

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In a nutshell, the NYCB still carries the Balanchine mystique. He gave his dancers through the decades a kind of fairy dust that informed their dancing. No matter how each individual dancer enhanced their style and technique, they all carried his stamp......carried it to us, the audience and to the next generation of dancers who didn't have the opportunity to work directly with him.

There is much more, of course, but my first reaction to the query posed is above.

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I find that a Balanchine ballet -- well danced -- has the power to transport me the way great paintings and great literature do. It can be a very magical world at the New York State Theater -- at least it's been that way for me for 35 plus years. The thread on quality of NYCB has made interesting reading. I find that it all comes down to how well these these wonderful ballets are danced. Over the years (and, yes, even while Balanchine was alive and well) there were many sub-par performances. The quality has waxed and waned over the years. Right now I'm looking forward to a glorious period for NYCB because of the high quality of dancers there now.

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This is a topic that I could write about at length, but it boils down to these few remarks:

To see the Balanchine rep on a daily basis year in and year out, you have to go to NYCB. No, they are not always perfectly executed.

The same may be said of the Robbins repertoire.

I cannot think of any other Company that is so dedicated to the creation of new works. They are not all great pieces by a long shot. They do extend the range of the dancers and bring new/different music into the repertoire. You can always skip them if they're not to your liking.

The dancers. I love every last blasted one of them.

The feeling of continuity: knowing Merrill Ashley or Karin von Aroldingen are hovering backstage; seeing Nicholas Fokine onstage in the NUTCRACKER. An ongoing sense of ballet as a family affair, spanning back to Diaghilev who in turn links back to Petipa.

The theatre: ideal for dance. The Met's too big, the Joyce too small for larger pieces and has no pit. City Center is not comfortable and the stage is oddly proportioned. But the NY State Theatre is just right. It feels like home.

Balanchine's ghost: he's in the air.

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Now that I live on the other side of the country, and my time in NYC is limited, it's the rep that determines what program I'll attend. All Balanchine Programs are like manna from heaven to me. On short visits, I'd rather not skip individual ballets (leave early, arrive late), but I would if a program was my only chance to see Liebeslieder Walzer, and the rest left me cold.

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I don't get to see NYCB as often as I would like, it's every other year or so for me. However, when I do see them it feels like I'm home. I don't know any other way to describe it. The ballets, the dancers, the music, it's as beloved and as familar to me as my daughter's smile.

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Other than being home with my family, there's no where else in the world that

I would rather be than the State Theater. The joy I've had from watching NYCB

is immeasureable.

Mr. B died 22 years ago today. Maybe he would be surprised that his ballets

and ideals have been preserved for so long. His legacy continues to inspire

everyone involved. And that's very special.

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I think Oberon hit the nail on the head and I heartliy agree with his remarks. Where else can you see a company that is choreography based and inspired yet has the most amazing dancers. Is there anyone anywhere more exciting to watch than Kowroski or Bouder these days? And the number and scope of new works is amazing. The fact that there is a Choreographic Institute and that many dancers who wish to choroegraph get their training and a shot at it while using the most amazing dancers. And all this while trying to keep the Balanchine and Robbins repertory in the forefront. It just boggles the mind.

I know that there is, was, and will always be Martins bashers. How can it be otherwise? He took over the company of a genius who was additionally a remarkable craftsman and an inspiration to everyone. But I think he has done a remarkable job in keeping the NYCB focused on moving forward while honoring the past. I applaud him for this and don't know if anyone else could have done as good a job. And I think he has been pretty unselfish. Allowing so many new choreographers to present works with the company. He could easily have just kept reproducing the Balanchine/Robbins repertory and added whatever he wanted to do himself. Instead he has gone out of his way to promote new choreography and new choreographers.

As a lover of abstract ballet, the minimal performance of story ballets is a big plus for me. I prefer just seeing movement to music. I don't want to try to figure out what it all means and try to follow a story. It just gets in the way as far as I am concerned. So the lack of story ballets is a very big reason I adore NYCB.

I must admit that I am a fan as in fanatic for NYCB. I have little interest in seeing other classical ballet companies. They mostly leave me cold, with some few exceptions. I do see some modern dance, but enjoy that as a different experience.

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two points:

i don't like to think of balanchine as a craftsman, but as a supreme artist

i think martins' firing of suzanne farrell was supremely selfish -- the company was deprived of the most important link to balanchine -- a disgrace, really

i have been spoiled by balanchine, and also find other companies' performances just don't do it for me (exceptions: suzanne farrell's [snip] groups)

Edited by Helene
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i think martins' firing of suzanne farrell was supremely selfish -- the company was deprived of the most important link to balanchine

I'm not trying to be obstreperous, but why is Suzanne Farrell "the most important link to Balanchine"? Why not Edward Villella? Or Patricia McBride? Or Francia Russell? Or Suki Schorer? Or Merrill Ashley? Or Karin von Aroldingen? Or Sean Lavery? Or Martins himself? I think the list of important links to Balanchine is pretty long and distinguished ...

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Guest nycdog

Good one Farrell Fan, I was waiting to see what you would say. :wub:

To answer the question in the topic...I mostly adore the Balanchine, even when they leave out steps I don't care, it's all still there, the spirit, the life.

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At the risk of being flip, part of it is because there's so much of it to love -- a long season, the opportunity to see ballets and dancers repeatedly. Balanchine ballets, in my opinion, really repay repeated viewings. There's more than one of his ballets I really disliked, or didn’t "get" on first viewing that I came to like over time, and even the ones I liked from the get-go have become richer and more enjoyable experiences as I 've seen them again and again. Being able to see dancers repeatedly in different roles, or the same roles performed by different dancers, gives one a chance to learn more about them and to see the ballets in new and different ways. Now, if NYCB’s dancers were bad or they were performing lesser choreography, this might not be such a boon. But the chance to really sink into the Balanchine rep (as well as many the other ballets they perform) at NYCB is special and rewarding.

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I was first attracted to NYCB because of the Balanchine rep, but I very quickly became aware of something even more important than that:


NYCB was founded to promote art, and it has remained faithful to that vision throughout its 50+ years. It isn't interested in being popular or fashionable or "in"; it's there to put on serious ballet, to advance the art. To that end, it spends its money on low-profile endeavors like the Choreographic Institute, artists in residence, and educational programs; it has always placed a special emphasis on having the best live music it can; it was a pioneer in having medical, therapeutic, and nutritional consultants for its dancers; it developed its own costume shop to be an integral part of the enterprise, even though NYCB's rep relies to a far lesser extent than other companies' on costumes; and it plows on with presenting new work, even when it is artistically and financially risky.

To be sure, not all of these initiatives are always successful -- how could they be? Art involves taking chances. And we can take issue with individual actions and bemoan the problems we see in the company at any given time. But whatever they do, I'm always confident that they are motivated by ideals. In a world that seems increasingly shallow and commercial, NYCB remains a haven of integrity.

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I was first attracted to NYCB because of the Balanchine rep, but I very quickly became aware of something even more important than that:


NYCB was founded to promote art, and it has remained faithful to that vision throughout its 50+ years.

It's been refreshing, and an eye-opener, to read these detailed appreciations by posters who have known NYCB over the past 50 years. Huge cultural institutions make huge targets. On the other hand, as E. Johnson writes: " part of it [the love of the company] is because there is so much of it to love." Ari's point about the leadership of the company -- that they are all, despite inevitable differences of tone, emphasis, and taste taste , committed to a high artistic vision -- is worth repeating.

These posts contain a lot that should be mustered in defence of Mr. B's company when the next wave of attacks -- sometimes treating short-term disappointments or mis-steps as though they were irreversibly lunging in the direction of hell -- appear in print.

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Far be it from me to launch "the next wave of attacks," but I don't see how by any stretch of the imagination the current NYCB can be called "Mr. B's company." True, they dance many of the ballets he choreographed, but, as Balanchine predicted, they are danced differently. NYCB stopped being Balanchine's company years ago.

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I did not mean the phrase "Mr. B's company" to suggest that (a) Balanchine was still alive; (b) Balanchine's vision has been single-mindedly preserved; or (d) that Peter Martins does not exist.

However, NYCB remains true to Balanchine as it perfoms, presents, revives and obviously cares for a very large percentage of the Balanchine repertoire, and presents a variety and number of programs not matched elsewhere. More than that, management and dancers seem to feel that they have something like a sacred mission to do this.

NYCB is Mr. B's company in that it practices the view of "ballet" as involving serious and unique artistic melding of the visual and musical arts, and not just choreography and dance technique. It is Mr. B's company in its intimate tie with Mr. B's school. It remains Mr. B's company by continuing to welcome dancers, musicians, designers, and audiences from many backgrounds and ... and transforming them in the process. It even engenders controversy among its viewers -- as Mr. B did. And it produces flops -- as Mr. B did.

There is one big difference between today and the past, however. NYCB is not the only Balanchine company. There are, as Kathleen O'Connell and others have said, a number of other companies and coaching programs led by dancers who were trained by Balanchine, practice in the Balanchine aesthetic, and carry the torch. Each with a slightly different emphasis. But Balanchine, like Whitman, seemed fond of eoncompassing contradictions.

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I agree with Farrell Fan that NYCB is no longer Balanchine's company. It is simply the Company that performs more of his works more frequently than any other. It would be unreasonable to expect it to be what it was when he was alive. Could things have been "better preserved"? Perhaps. They could also be in a far worse state of affairs.

It cannot be like a museum where beautiful paintings may be viewed intact over decades or centuries. Dance is not that kind of art; by its very nature it moves on.

Dancers today are simply not going to dance like the ones Balanchine personally trained: the ones some of us old-timers saw years ago and still hold up as an ideal. The steps can be re-created but not the feeling of "dancing for Mr. B".

There are dancers in the Company now who were born after Balanchine died. Ballet masters and coaches can do alot to pass on the gospel, but it is second-hand at best. One might lament that Suzanne Farrell or this or that other former Balanchine dancer is not on hand, but the situation is what it is and we may either stop going - which I believe many folks have done - or accept that times have changed, that the Company still has alot to offer, and that we can't see this much Balanchine in a daily dosage anywhere else.

In spite of all this, I do think the Balanchine ballets still often look striking and fresh. In recent seasons EPISIODES and 4 TEMPS, among others, have been simply eye-opening for me. This makes me think Balanchine continues to lurk about in the studios of the NYCB. The current crop of dancers seems very satisfying to me - the personalities and "perfumes" of these dancers are as intriguing as those I recall from the days of Bart Cook, Francisco Moncion, Kay Mazzo or Sara Leland. And of course the great thing about ballet is: someone new is always coming along. Right now I look forward to watching people like Bouder, Korbes, Hanna & LaCour explore the repertoire, keeping it alive for another generation to discover.

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Guest nycdog

Oberon said:

"I look forward to watching people like Bouder, Korbes, Hanna & LaCour explore the repertoire, keeping it alive for another generation to discover."

Hey, you didn't mention Abi Stafford in your short list of people to watch in the future, maybe because she's been out for such a long time you've forgotten her?

Thank goodness she's back and scheduled to appear in Glass Pieces on May 13th! Let's hope she'll be appearing in Ballo della Regina as well, that's coming up the first time this Spring on 19 May, again on the 21st and 28th.

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I would never forget Abi; she was dancing really well just before the injury problem developed. It's been a long time - there was a brief try at a comeback at one point but it was too soon. I'll be hoping to see her in GLASS PIECES and after that I hope she'll have smooth sailing.

Also hoping to see Pascale van Kipnis and Jennie Somogyi back in action soon. van Kipnis was at the Gala and she looked magnificent.

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I have been mulling the question since Ari posted it, but it boils down to the fact that they do more Balanchine (less than they used to :unsure: ) than any other company, and they do it pretty well (not as well as they used to :thanks: ). If, overall, the performances of the Balanchine fail to increase the heartbeat as they once did, they usually still are pleasurable. But "adore"? I have to revert to memories if we use the word "adore" for the company as a whole.

As an institution, it has tried (and generally succeeded) to maintain the integrity that Ari cited, and in that regard it remains importantly worthy of note and respect.

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