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"Modern Mannerism"?

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In his May 26th review of Eifman's Karenina, Robert Johnson suggests an aesthetic style:

She is the perfect heroine for Eifman, a choreographer in the school of "modern Mannerism" (the academy of dancemakers William Forsythe, Ulysses Dove and Elizabeth Streb), which deals in physical and emotional extremes.

I guess the idea of extremes is there, but I still have a hard time putting Eifman (whom I've only read about) and Forsythe (whose work I've seen very little of) in the same boat.

Any comments?

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I haven't read the whole review, but I agree with you that Eifman and Forsythe are certainly not rowing partners. I think the disctinction is right there in that sentence: Eifman is interested in emotional extremes (though he definitely pushes physicality to attain them), while Forsythe is interested in physical extremes. I haven't seen a lot of Forsythe, but I wouldn't categorize anything I have seen as emotionally extreme.

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Thank you for starting a discussion, Amy. Not to be rude, but I don’t trust the judgment of anyone who can write

Eifman boils down the action (like the jam) and no water, subplots or other unnecessary ingredients are added that might distract attention from Anna's heartbreak. Thankfully, Eifman spares us Kitty's labor pains, the wisdom of the peasantry, and Tolstoy's sanctimonious epilogue.

It’s true that adaptations of “Anna Karenina” tend to focus on Anna and Vronsky at the expense of Kitty and Levin, but their story is hardly an “unnecessary ingredient.” I wouldn’t expect a ballet adaptation to include the B story line in this case – not danceable – but it is odd for Johnson to congratulate Eifman on eliminating the lard from meandering moralistic old Tolstoy.

I haven’t seen anything by Dove or Streb and so cannot judge, but I can’t see putting Eifman and Forsythe together. You could argue that they both “go to extremes” but I’m not sure that’s enough to put them in the same school.

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Interesting associations. I also can't say I would make them. I'd put Bejart and Eifman in the same family, along with Grigorovich. For those who know his work, does Petit go in here?

Forsythe is, as stated before, interested in physical effects, Eifman is interested in emotional ones. He's learned a lot from Tanztheater, which might make him seem similar to Eifman, but Bausch and Bejart have an entirely different way of looking at theatrical effects.

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Amy, I posted before reading your most recent message. Mannerism in 16th century art meant an emphasis on style and artifice over realism. Someone better versed than I in the art of the period could explain more, I’m sure.

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mannerism is sometimes defined as the "stylish style" for its emphasis on self-conscious artifice over realistic depiction.

Thanks Leigh... I wonder, is Johnson suggested these choreographers put style above content? Eifman is pretty content-oriented from what I read... Not having seen him, I find the reviews reminiscent of Bejart...

I rather enjoyed the wisdom of the peasantry more than Karenina's hysterias, but admit those wouldn't make for typical ballet fare... unless we get some sort of neo-Judson on historical themes...

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More important than his carefully recreated observation of nature was the artist's mental conception and its elaboration.

Another quote from the National Gallery link. Not the most graceful sentence, but it suggests that a ballet analogy to realism v. mannerism might be the story v. abstract debate.

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For mannerism I would be inclined to put the emphasis on what the national gallery website calls "self-conscious artifice" -- and to note that the great mannerist painters were often deliberately unnatural and often awkward and unpretty as well. Their madonnas might have impossibly long narrow features, their baby Jesuses ultra hardened musculature or bizarre facial expressions, and their colors were often deliberately sour and clashing. It's as if they were screaming "we are not Raphael." (Well, that's one amateur's account of it anyway--and I quite love the handful of mannerist paintings I have seen.)

A lot of abstract ballet--particularly of the classical/neo-classical variety--doesn't seem at all mannerist to me, while I can easily see how a story ballet might be mannerist...

I think that colloquially the term mannerism sometimes gets applied when some "signature" quality of an artist (choreographer or otherwise) starts to seem like a "tick"... even if a deliberate one. However, in such cases, critics often use the word "mannered" rather than the historical term mannerist (as Amy did in her question): both words may get used as if they were a variant of decadent.

For those who have read Henry James, I suppose the contrast between late and early James might give one an idea of one way of thinking about the contrast between mannerism and realism. (That's a slightly tendentious statement, though not as tendentious as equating Eifman and Forsythe.)

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If cameras had been around, they would also have been screaming, “We’re not here to take pictures. We’re here to paint.”

Drew, not to wander off topic , but I'm curious to know if you mean the difference between the way James views his characters in, say, Washington Square or The Bostonians – largely from the outside – as opposed to the exploration of individual consciousness (in highly idiosyncratic and, yes, “mannered” language – in that everyone sounds like James) in the later novels? Or are you thinking more about plot construction and characterization? I can see it both ways.

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I guess I've always associated Mannerism with exaggeration -- a stretching of reality that is both physical (as Parmigianino's hand in the convex mirror, Michelangelo's thighs) and emotional.

The Johnson review of the Anna Karenina ballet uses terms (relentless, merciless, stylized, stylization) which are consistent with this view. And which also, alas, conjur for me images of Lillian (or was it Dorothy?) Gish rolling her eyes and wringing her hands on her ice flow as it rushes inexorably towards the rapids. The ultimate response might be: "People who like this sort of thing like this sort of thing."

On the other hand, it sounds quite stimulating, and I'm sorry I won't be able to see it.

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Dirac -- in making the late James/early James contrast I was thinking mostly of his syntax and how much more elaborated (hypotactic) it gets in the later prose.

I have been trying dutifully to come up with ballet examples or analogies but I actually don't feel too comfortable with any -- partly lack of familiarity with some of the choreographers that have been named, but partly a vague sense that even for the choreographers with whom I am familiar the analogies only seem to work in a relatively vague way...not all exageration or high self-consciousness seems to me to "fit" the mannerist niche.

At a certain point, too, mannerism may top itself and become something else (or else fall flat): Something like Balanchine's Variations for a Door and a Sigh, in which the ballerina seems like an almost comically exagerated version of a Balanchine amazon goddess perhaps is a kind of mannerist reflection on one his own ballerina "types"--wasn't it created on Von Aroldingen, a dancer he loved, but who was not by any means a "pretty" dancer? But with Balanchine one always feels he is breaking through to give you his own counter modernism rather than a mannerist commentary "on" an earlier style, even when he is commenting on or 'countering' himself...(I would say the same thing about his collaboration with Farrell who, in many ways, looks like someone Parmigianino would have loved to paint...)

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And which also, alas, conjur for me images of Lillian (or was it Dorothy?) Gish rolling her eyes and wringing her hands on her ice flow as it rushes inexorably towards the rapids.

Going off topic, it was indeed Lillian on the ice. The stylizations of much, though not all, of silent film acting were noticeable even at the time -- the word "emoting" was resurrected to describe them.......

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I guess I've always associated Mannerism with exaggeration -- a stretching of reality that is both physical  (as Parmigianino's hand in the convex mirror, Michelangelo's thighs) and emotional.

I can't find the reference, but if I'm not mistaken Kirstein associated Mannerism with the stretched quality of ballet posture and movement.

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Lewis Segal's take on the issue, in his review from last Saturday's Los Angeles Times:


Emotions drive Eifman choreography, but his Mannerist style is so consistently intent on setting up conventional classical expectations and then abruptly fracturing them that the expressive content can look imposed, a pretext for florid bravura and gymnastic contortions — as in "Don Juan and Molière" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center a month ago.

Not here. In "Anna Karenina," those elegant high-velocity turns that suddenly terminate in split-slides to the floor depict the leading characters' inability to keep their balance, stay upright, under the weight of new crises. Moreover, the constant use of supported jumps in love duets for Anna and Vronsky locks them both in a whirlwind of desire.

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