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What if Balanchine had stayed in Europe?


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As a political conservative, there are several countries in which he might have worked during WWII that would not have been politically correct.

I don't know much about Mr. B's politics but didn't Suzanne Farrell say that Balanchine told her she absolutely had to vote for Hubert Humphrey in 1968? Or am I imagining things?

Another interesting question might be: if Lydia Ivanova hadn't been murdered by the KGB (an event which so traumatized Balanchine that he decided to leave Russia for good) how would Balanchine have fared in Russia?

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As a political conservative, there are several countries in which he might have worked during WWII that would not have been politically correct.

I don't know much about Mr. B's politics but didn't Suzanne Farrell say that Balanchine told her she absolutely had to vote for Hubert Humphrey in 1968? Or am I imagining things?

The context was that he almost always told her to vote Republican, except that he was so put off by Richard Nixon that he told her to vote for Humphrey. It was so unusual for him that she noted it in her memoir.
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My feeling about Balanchine is that he was attempting to achieve in 20th century dance what "modern" composers were attempting to do in music and artists attempting to do in the visual arts. That is free the art form from the slavish imitation of reality and explore abstract pure forms and compositions. America with its embrace of new technology and speed and its openness to new ideas was a good place to do this. Europe, particularly France (Paris Opera Ballet) had too much invested in its history and traditions to fully embrace his aesthetic in its purest forms. "Symphony in C" was no problem but "Agon" or the other leotard ballets?

However, this is a simplification of what Balanchine was about - he was haunted by his Imperial Russian past, 19th century European art and also affected by popular media in the U.S.A. Compare and contrast "The Four Temperments", "La Sonnambula", "Ballet Imperial", "Square Dance", "Raymonda Pas de Six", "Agon" and "Western Symphony". The interest in pure form and mirroring the music almost mathematically in movement is omnipresent but expressed and achieved in different ways. This eclecticism is also something that is very American.

The drawback with the U.S. as opposed to Russia and Europe was the lack of established schools and consistent training which he and Kirstein corrected by starting the School of American Ballet. But it took a generation or two of using dancers with differing backgrounds and training and molding them to his style. By the time the American dancers were all trained by him (mid-50's), he started to reach his pinnacle as a choreographer.

In America it was easy to be "the boss" and "Mr. B" because the field was open. In Europe and as previously stated in France he would have had to deal with bureaucracy and official approval. The situation would have been twice as bad in Russia with the Communists and KGB filtering of the Arts. He definitely would have been purged as a "formalist" in the Stalin era and might have ended up tragically or with an aborted career like so many.

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I fully agree, FauxPas. I wrote a post that was eaten by . . . no matter, to the same effect, but less clearly stated.

In the Soviet Union, Balanchine may have been an underground, fringe artist. It is almost possible to imagine committees forming in the West demanding "FREE BALANCHINE!" as they did for other prominent, persecuted figures.

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My feeling about Balanchine is that he was attempting to achieve in 20th century dance what "modern" composers were attempting to do in music and artists attempting to do in the visual arts. That is free the art form from the slavish imitation of reality and explore abstract pure forms and compositions. America with its embrace of new technology and speed and its openness to new ideas was a good place to do this. Europe, particularly France (Paris Opera Ballet) had too much invested in its history and traditions to fully embrace his aesthetic in its purest forms. "Symphony in C" was no problem but "Agon" or the other leotard ballets?

I agree with some of your points, but it was in Europe that 'modern' composers were doing something more parallel to Balanchine--after Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, came Boulez, Stockhausen and Xennakis. Of course, what you say could be true specifically only of dance, but the culture of Europe (and France in particular) is where the real 'high modernist' action was taking place in music, so it cannot have been a culture-wide phenomenon that would apply to all the Arts. Plus, without needing any detail, what was happening in literature and painting (in America too, of course.) Composers like Copland, Sessions, Bernstein, Cage and others are important (and to me personally, I may prefer them), but not quite as heavyweight as their European counterparts in terms of gaining immense power and all the funding and government support that goes with it.

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My feeling about Balanchine is that he was attempting to achieve in 20th century dance what "modern" composers were attempting to do in music and artists attempting to do in the visual arts. That is free the art form from the slavish imitation of reality and explore abstract pure forms and compositions. America with its embrace of new technology and speed and its openness to new ideas was a good place to do this.

Balanchine ably explored abstraction, but he was an intuitive artist rather than an intellectual, and I've seen no indication that he consciously set out with that goal, as opposed to just going where the music and his taste in steps led him. The tendency to abstraction was already evident in his art when Kirstein brought him over, but that wasn't the sort of thing Kirstein was dreaming up for him -- in other words, it isn't a goal he'd mentioned to Kirstein. We know that Serenade was composed as a teaching tool, an extension of class.

In regards to politics, he was a conservative, but the closest thing to a political Balanchine ballet that I'm aware of is Stars and Stripes. As an expression of patriotism in the immediate post-McCarthy era, I suppose S&S could be seen as political statement, but that's a stretch. So my guess is that politics would not have been a factor in his career if he'd stayed in Europe either.

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I think he was mostly interested in entertaining people by making cool patterns to music and putting a boy and a girl onstage together to tell a love story. Would have worked anywhere when you're that good at it.

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What is your argument for your assumption that we are wearing rose-colored glasses? I don't see a case in your posts for Balanchine being considered any less important or any less of a genius. What do you think we're missing?

It must be my English Helene. I was not talking about Balanchine then and was not saying that he has been the theme of my posts in ballet talk. As for coloured glasses I was writing about the tendency of people to be subjective rather than objective ( myself included).

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Perhaps Balanchine's enthusiasm for V.P. Humphrey stemmed from the 1965 Inauguration, when NYCB danced "Stars and Stripes" at one of the inaugural events. Humphrey commented, "Fabulous! And I don't generally cotton to that sort of dancing!" :rolleyes:

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I only skimmed this topic, and I realize it has laid doormant for a while now, but I wanted to recommend Brenda Dixon-Gottschild's essay, Balanchine and the Americanization of Ballet. It is an excellent analysis of the way black culture (specifically music and dance) influenced Balanchine. I was skeptical at first, but there is a particularly convincing point she makes about syncopation. I'm paraphrasing, but she quoted someone talking about why the Russian ballet of the mid twentieth century looked stale compared to Balanchine's work, emphasizing the phrase "they've never seen anything," and pointing out that what they hadn't seen was African-derived musicality and corresponding movement.

Anyway, I wanted to put that out there. I hope it makes sense.

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Brenda D-G does make a very cogent argument for the influence of popular dancing (mostly those derived from African American sources) on Balanchine's choreography, especially after his Hollywood and Broadway experiences.

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