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How does the rest of the world pereceive today's NYCB?


bart

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On the ABT in London thread, rebeccadb posted some very interesting comments about the way ABT is perceived in London and about the role played by presenters and audiences in that city.

At the end of her post, she made a fascinating comment about the way her ballet friends perceive NYCB nowadays, following its last performances in that city. I know it isn't fair to take this observation out of context, but I have to admit that it made me sit up -- and ponder.

NYCB fared badly at the box office last year not only because of high ticket prices, but because no-one knew who the company was or if they were any good, some of my ballet loving friends had no idea who NYCB was despite seeing 40-50 dance shows a year in the capital.

I grew up and spent most of my life in the New York City area and first started attending NYCB regularly in the late 50s. It's strange to think that this perception is widespread in a sophisticated ballet capital like London or elsewhere in Europe and around the world.

Certainly this wasn't true a generation or two ago ... or was it? What has your experience been when talking to friends from outside the USA -- or even outside the New York City metropolitan region? Is there a problem here ... or not?

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Clement Crisp opened his review last March like a dancer--or a lion--bouncing on stage.

It must be said: At last! It is 25 years since New York City Ballet last visited the UK and, for local devotees of classic ballet, that is vastly too long. Balanchine's company - for that is what it remains two decades after his death - is an ensemble shaped by the greatest dance-maker of the past century. What he sought during his 50 years in the US was a way of classical dancing that moved on from the academism and aristocratic means of his St Petersburg education to explore (and inspire) a new world, with its young bodies and brighter energies, even its democratic ideals. (No one knowing how to bow. No one knowing the rituals of a court.)...

So the 25 year lapse might be part of the problem, but before that there seemed to be a genuine antipathy to the Balanchine style in the UK--Balanchine's quip about loving the smell of green lawns being an oblique reference to this.

And do people in New York still refer to the two companies as Ballet Theater and City Ballet? It made them seem more real and three dimensional than do the initials ABT and NYCB.

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And do people in New York still refer to the two companies as Ballet Theater and City Ballet? It made them seem more real and three dimensional than do the initials ABT and NYCB.

Well, I'm not in NYC itself but rather the burbs. In my mind I refer to the two companies as "ABT" and "City Ballet" . Go figure.

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Thanks, Quiggin, for that quote. Clearly there were individual critics and fans who had missed what was thought of as Balanchine's company and could not wait to see what had happened to them in those 25 years.

How widely is/was this shared? Among the larger knowledgeable and faithful ballet audience I mean? Is it a case of high expectations? or out of sight, out of mind?

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Before coming to US I vaguely knew about "Balanchine's Company"-(although to be honest I didn't even know that they still existed). On the contrary, ABT was well known in Cuba, its past and present-(probably because it is Mme's home company, and she always maintained her relationship with Lucia Chase even after she left in 1959. Besides, many of ABT Principals did guest appearances in Havana, and Mme. always spoke out loud of the warm welcoming back that she had with the Cuban company during the 70's and later on at her former stage).

I'm sure that if I could ask ALL of my balletomanes friends in Havana, few of them-(IF)-would be able to tell about the whereabouts of NYCB.

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On the ABT in London thread, rebeccadb posted some very interesting comments about the way ABT is perceived in London and about the role played by presenters and audiences in that city.

At the end of her post, she made a fascinating comment about the way her ballet friends perceive NYCB nowadays, following its last performances in that city. I know it isn't fair to take this observation out of context, but I have to admit that it made me sit up -- and ponder.

NYCB fared badly at the box office last year not only because of high ticket prices, but because no-one knew who the company was or if they were any good, some of my ballet loving friends had no idea who NYCB was despite seeing 40-50 dance shows a year in the capital.

I grew up and spent most of my life in the New York City area and first started attending NYCB regularly in the late 50s. It's strange to think that this perception is widespread in a sophisticated ballet capital like London or elsewhere in Europe and around the world.

Certainly this wasn't true a generation or two ago ... or was it? What has your experience been when talking to friends from outside the USA -- or even outside the New York City metropolitan region? Is there a problem here ... or not?

We are getting into the sphere of "how famous" again when I read the rebeccadb quote, "NYCB fared badly at the box office last year not only because of high ticket prices, but because no-one knew who the company was or if they were any good, some of my ballet loving friends had no idea who NYCB was despite seeing 40-50 dance shows a year in the capital" You the say bart, “. It's strange to think that this perception is widespread in a sophisticated ballet capital like London or elsewhere in Europe and around the world”

Many things have changed since my day of more avid ballet attendance. In London some regular ballet goers today choose to attend one company only, which resonates with rebeccadb’s experience. Certainly in the 60’s and 70’s, one met the same people at the Royal Opera House as you did at the Coliseum or Sadlers Wells for whatever classical (or in those days), the modern companies that were appearing. It appears to me that today there are more ballet regulars than in the past, who nail their flag to one company. So we end up with people only going to the RB or ENB or BRB or the Russians but not to all of the companies.

It is also possible rebeccadb that the way ABT is perceived in London is certainly something to do with their last visit and disappointment at the choice of repertoire for the due visit.

I do think today that many non regular ballet going people in London know anything about ABT or NYCB, but then, they would not know about the Paris Opera Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet or even our own Northern Ballet and Scottish Ballet. Ask them about the Russian companies and they will certainly know the name of the Bolshoi and many will know the name of the Kirov (Maryinsky).

The sophisticated regular ballet audience that once existed in London appears to me to have greatly diminished in London due to a good number of reasons. The lack of distinguished and inspiring critics compared to the past is one factor. Repertoire is another and possibly the price of tickets has and may well become more influential in what is certainly going to be a longish period of recession. Other factors include pressure upon classical ballet companies to present so called ‘modern’ works and therefore supposedly popular dance works, that will attract younger audiences. Only those ignorant of social realities believe that you can manipulate audiences to go to opera houses and then also expect them to attend the same production more than once or attend other ballets. The final factor effect upon audiences is that there are only near excellent and not truly superior iInterpretative performers around at the present time.

There has been an extraordinary dumbing down of cultural experiences in the UK in general. The media's conspiritorial response to popular culture is also a factor as even the ‘heavy’ newspapers and magazines publish material daily celebrating celebrity status for those with a slight talent as a performer but a large talent of at being a celebrity.

The high arts cannot compete on the same level as popular culture and they should not try. They have for many tens millions of people across the world attained the high ground in terms of experience and the high arts cannot be subjected to the same treatment of popular culture and ballet dancers in particular rarely if ever get up to the escapades that would gain them celebrity exposure and popular media interest.

The experience of the history of ballet, is that there are seldom more than a handful of truly well-known dancers around in any decade and that makes for very little constant copy opportunity for hacks. I also believe the media finds such serious devotion to an art as un-sexy and as a result classical ballet does not attract serious attention as it did in the past.

If I go to the ballet less now it is because some managements in an act of dumbing down, have allowed ballets to be performed as an entertainment and not an art. When a dancer performs 3, 4 or 5 pirouettes and Petipa asks for 2, the Philistines are at the gate and I believe for classical ballet to retain its independent status as a high academic art it, has to examine the aesthetics of performance because it is an alternative to popular culture and has rightly established a place in societies in numerous countries for several centuries.

Quiggin wrote,” So the 25 year lapse might be part of the problem, but before that there seemed to be a genuine antipathy to the Balanchine style in the UK…”

I have never witnessed in London a real antipathy to Balanchine choreography and is today much admired. When NYCB visited London in the 50’s and 60’s most of the works were admired and definitely I think all of the dancers were greatly admired. The 1965 performances in London left me going home every night on a high and up to that point I had been somewhat ambiguous in my appreciation of neo-classicism. I can’t speak for others but my subsequent experiences of NYCB for me at least, never met that halcyon period of truly great dancers.

As I write, I have just made a list of 15 Balanchine ballets I would be happy to see anytime and some of them quite regularly and I think everyone I know in London and the audiences in general would enthusiastically agree with at least 13 of those ballets.

If antipathy towards ballet companies exist today I think it is because performing standards have dropped, emploi forgotten, the academic classical of academic classical ballet is often neglected or ignored and flashy so called technique has replaced the aesthetics of appropriate style.

No one will I believe approach ABT's visit with an advance prejudice, because we all want to have good if not a great experience when we go to the ballet and in doing so carry goodwill in our hearts and minds because most of us know what has gone into a dancers preparation for the stage and their continuous dedication that enables them to appear on it.

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For some reason, I always say all of 'New York City Ballet', but write it as NYCB. I always say 'ABT', but do remember when people said 'Ballet Theater', and always thought it was so cool. It's true, you hardly ever hear that anymore.

I think both threads have shown how relative all aspects of all the companies are, and few of the things we thought we had 'cultural agreement' on, for lack of a better way to say it, apply at all. The English perspective was far different about almost all companies and dancers from the American perspective than I would have thought--for example, the distinctions about Nureyev and Baryshnikov are very different from what I would have supposed, although this surely has much to do with Nureyev's RB stardom. Therefore, the rest of Europe is bound to be full of many more variations and variables still. What Cristian says of ABT in Cuba is interesting as well.

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Addressing Leonid's note:

I have never witnessed in London a real antipathy to Balanchine choreography

It may have been earlier than that, but I keep coming up against broad statements such as the following. The first is from Arnold Haskell in his Penguin Ballet book first written in 1938 and revised in 1948:

[balanchine's] ballets for Diaghileff came during a bad period, and, though they caused a sensation, the public had dwindled down to a small and rather precious clique. The best know were La Chatte, the Gods Go a-begging, Batabau, Apollo Musagetes, and Le Fils Prodigue, not one of which survives. They were ingenious and intensely personal distortions of classicism that promptly dated as none of the earlier Diaghileff ballets had done.

At the end of Balletmaster: A Dancer's View of George Balanchine (1987), Moira Shearer's says this,

And Balanchine himself--how is his reputation today, both professionally and personally?...Clive Barnes, though conceding Balanchine's importance, thinks he was 'greatly over-rated'...But most of all the British ballet world give, first, faint praise and then start to pick away at the fabric of Balanchine's work until there is precious little left. I find the American adoration overblown but understandable, particularly with those who worked with him, but I deplore--and will never understand--the British attitude. It is not only ungenerous, it is blind."

Anyway all of the background of Balanchine's (and NYCB's) standing in the world is very complicated. In the early days Balanchine was choreographing for both Ballet Theater and Ballet Society (the predecessor of City Ballet). He choreographed Theme and Variations for Alicia Alonso, and she took Apollo on tour with her Alicia Alonso Ballet to Havana and South America in 1948. The two companies (ABT & BS) may almost have merged, dancers went back and forth. Balanchine took over for Lifar as a guest choreographer at Paris Opera Ballet in 1947 when Lifar had been dismissed for being a collaborator. (Shearer has a good account of this and how Lifar was eventually reinstated because "Opera dancers, accustomed to the flattery of Lifar, thought Balanchine a cold fish...any praise given was perfuntory to the point of curtness." She calls Lifar's long standing betrayals typical 'Lifaresqiana.')

It's a messy kettle of fish of influences--and Balanchine the cold fish in the kettle. And I've gone astray.

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So in 1948 Arnold Haskell thought that Apollo Musagetes and Le Fils Prodigue hadn't survived; in retrospect that is actually very funny but I imagine that had you asked Richard Buckle about Balanchine the response would have been very different. Haskell, if I remember rightly, worshiped the ballerinas of the past and loved Soviet ballet but that was about it. When I was young I can remember older ballet goers saying that they found little emotion in Balanchine's works and they didn't appreciate his reluctance to create narrative ballets. As just about no one makes narrative works anymore that criticism is no longer heard.

Personally I'd like to see less Balanchine performed as I've seen too many indifferent performances from dancers unable to grasp the style. Getting back to NYCB, I really deplore the fact they deserted us Londoners for over twenty years, but as for those so-called ballet goers that hadn't heard of the company, either they don't log on to Ballet Talk or balletic parochialism is much worse in London than I thought.

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Wonderful responses so far, and thank you very much for all your input.

It's interesting that a number of us are almost forced to revert to the early days of NYCity Ballet performances in London to find serious material about this topic.

In those days, to company was still a touring company in general, not to mention being considered -- in the US at least -- an good-will ambassador ambassador representing a contemporary, "American" approach to the classical arts.

When touring to Europe declined -- and then stopped -- this image disappeared. Other companies moved into the vacume. Perhaps the sense of a distinctly modern energy and style, which London reviewers noted in the 50s and 60s (a L-O-N-G time ago) has been depleted -- or taken over by others.

Is it possible that the NYCity Ballet no longer has its own distinct, compelling "image" in Europe -- and therefore that it is difficult for audience interest -- or consumer demand -- to develop around it now?

Isn't this what happened to American-made automobiles as well?

But let's not limit ourselves to London. How about Paris and other major ballet centers as well?

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Addressing Leonid's note:
I have never witnessed in London a real antipathy to Balanchine choreography

It may have been earlier than that, but I keep coming up against broad statements such as the following. The first is from Arnold Haskell in his Penguin Ballet book first written in 1938 and revised in 1948:

[balanchine's] ballets for Diaghileff came during a bad period, and, though they caused a sensation, the public had dwindled down to a small and rather precious clique. The best know were La Chatte, the Gods Go a-begging, Batabau, Apollo Musagetes, and Le Fils Prodigue, not one of which survives. They were ingenious and intensely personal distortions of classicism that promptly dated as none of the earlier Diaghileff ballets had done.

At the end of Balletmaster: A Dancer's View of George Balanchine (1987), Moira Shearer's says this,

And Balanchine himself--how is his reputation today, both professionally and personally?...Clive Barnes, though conceding Balanchine's importance, thinks he was 'greatly over-rated'...But most of all the British ballet world give, first, faint praise and then start to pick away at the fabric of Balanchine's work until there is precious little left. I find the American adoration overblown but understandable, particularly with those who worked with him, but I deplore--and will never understand--the British attitude. It is not only ungenerous, it is blind."

Anyway all of the background of Balanchine's (and NYCB's) standing in the world is very complicated. In the early days Balanchine was choreographing for both Ballet Theater and Ballet Society (the predecessor of City Ballet). He choreographed Theme and Variations for Alicia Alonso, and she took Apollo on tour with her Alicia Alonso Ballet to Havana and South America in 1948. The two companies (ABT & BS) may almost have merged, dancers went back and forth. Balanchine took over for Lifar as a guest choreographer at Paris Opera Ballet in 1947 when Lifar had been dismissed for being a collaborator. (Shearer has a good account of this and how Lifar was eventually reinstated because "Opera dancers, accustomed to the flattery of Lifar, thought Balanchine a cold fish...any praise given was perfuntory to the point of curtness." She calls Lifar's long standing betrayals typical 'Lifaresqiana.')

It's a messy kettle of fish of influences--and Balanchine the cold fish in the kettle. And I've gone astray.

Haskell was not writing an actual history of ballet in his works, he was in my opinion creating the history of ballet according to Arnold Haskell as he thought it should be remembered. For me his self importance in his writings makes him an unreliable witness and commentator. Those dancers and choreographer he got to know personally he most frequently admires and those he did not get to know he almost dismisses with faint praise.

I do not have to defend Clive Barnes on Balanchine as he often wrote enthusiastically about Balanchines ballet and the performances by NYCB.

Balanchine's standing in the world as a creator of neo-classical works is unique as he is admired not only by his followers but by those that favour academic classical ballet and the growth of theBalanchine repertoire in most academic classical ballet companies confirms his international status.

St.Petersburg, Paris and London audiences in my opinion love many Balanchine ballets as do other cities.

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