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Summer 2014 NYC & Saratoga Tour


mussel

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I would say that ballet shouldn't be Vegas, appealing to the baser parts of human nature. If people wanted that they should just go on the Internet, turn on Cinemax, or head to their local strip club.

That said, I don't mind most of Spartacus if looking past the campiness and accepting that it isn't classical ballet, and even enjoyed parts of it on video. But once live is enough. I would especially like to see that pole dance scene toned down though, especially the ensemble choreography, it was seriously uncomfortable to watch from a distance and I'm not speaking in a prudish way (they looked like snakes). As one critic wrote this ballet tries to teach that "good people know about love and bad people know about sex" which is a load of nonsense, sex can be tasteful or gratuitous, no wonder so many people have a strong visceral reaction when Grigorovich demonizes a fundamental aspect of human nature. Nothing is as black-and-white as this ballet tries to present the world as.

For that matter I also hate Game of Thrones which is viewed and loved by a large audience amongst the general public, I couldn't get past two episodes. Frankly, it's difficult to find any media that portrays human sexuality in a positive, healthy way.

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Some people would argue that "this new World" referred to above looks suspiciously a lot like the old one, if you look closely enough. As California's post makes clear it is impossible to discuss Spartacus without bringing "politics" into it. Those who criticize it seem to be objecting not just to the choreography but to its subject matter and its putative political outlook. Any implications about the views or tastes of someone just because they happen to enjoy a work of "art" (even if accurate and therefore depressing) are highly problematic though. It would be interesting to know, but should it really matter to us whether Putin loves Spartacus? Do all people who like a work of "art", a person, a nation, or anything else like it (or him/her) for the same reasons? Would Spartacus love Putin or Hitler --or Spartacus? Should we loathe Wagner's music because the Nazis loved it? Should we burn all the copies of Leni Riefenstahl's movies because they glorify a hideous, dangerous political movement and philosophy? And while we are at it all copies of The Birth of a Nation because of its blatant racism? On and on. Classical ballet represents an eminently worthy and civilized attempt to escape from all the ugly, brutal realities of the world --or at best deal with them only very subtly. I myself greatly prefer to see Willis, swans and Shades populate the stage, but that cannot happen when you are trying to portray soldiers, slaves, courtesans, shepherds and gladiators. What you see then is not supposed to be conventionally pretty. Should a choreographer stick his nose into stuff like this? That's a different issue. Is Grigorovich's attempt silly and preposterous? Fine. Has anyone done so successfully? (I am waiting to see Flames of Paris.) And there is something else worth pointing out. Some people express frustration with having to see Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet etc. all the time. Exactly how many full-length (or story) ballets are widely considered masterpieces? Not many, it would seem.

"I think Herman Cornejo ... can out dance every man on the Bolshoi stage."

Cornejo is a wonderful dancer but I doubt that he himself believes this. There is also something inherently questionable about this kind of assertion, even if we only consider that we're dealing with a different training, style, repertoire.

"And to watch Gomes do ANY role is surely the best thing since sliced bread."

You cannot ask more of a dancer than what Mikhail Lobukhin and Svetlana Zakharova offered us Sunday afternoon. We may not like the characters they portrayed and the ballet itself, but those are different issues. By any reasonable standard these were great performances.

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I'll also add that I'm surprised some of the choreography made it through the Soviet censorship.

I've long thought that ballet was the Soviets' officially sanctioned soft porn. There are plenty of examples that pre-date Grigorovich, such as Kasyan Goleizovsky's preposterous interpolated "gypsy" dance in Don Quixote or Leonid Lavrovsky's Walpurgisnacht. Naturally, the licentiousness was primarily on the side of the villains, but Grigorovich invariably gave you a good, long look at it: "Oh, look at those nasty, evil Roman imperialists engaging in their nasty, evil orgies...Now let’s see that again." But the Phrygia-Spartacus duets aren't immune to this either. Because nothing says love like holding your woman upside down with her legs split open.

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I have a historical question. When did these types of acrobatic moves that became common in Soviet figure skating (pairs) begin. Was it before Grigorovich? Some of the choreography in Spartacus looks very much like elements in pairs skating.

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I'll also add that I'm surprised some of the choreography made it through the Soviet censorship.

I've long thought that ballet was the Soviets' officially sanctioned soft porn. There are plenty of examples that pre-date Grigorovich, such as Kasyan Goleizovky's preposterous interpolated "gypsy" dance in Don Quixote or Leonid Lavrovsky's Walpurgisnacht. Naturally, the licentiousness was primarily on the side of the villains, but Grigorovich invariably gave you a good, long look at it: "Oh, look at those nasty, evil Roman imperialists engaging in their nasty, evil orgies...Now let’s see that again." But the Phrygia-Spartacus duets aren't immune to this either. Because nothing says love like holding your woman upside down with her legs split open.

I also love the fact that Phrygia has time to change into three separate skimpy dresses while being in the slave encampment. And then for Spartacus's death she's found a longer more modest mourning dress. The slave encampments had a shopping mall?

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But the Phrygia-Spartacus duets aren't immune to this either. Because nothing says love like holding your woman upside down with her legs split open.

I personally love that part, especially when danced by Semenyaka!

It also coincides with the only part of the score that's worth a damn, in my opinion at least!

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Did anyone notice how much self tanning makeup Spartacus was wearing. During the pdd with Phrygia in Act II, half of it ended up on her costume.

I also notice that the slave women were all wearing what appeared to be bronzer on their legs and their faces, but they forgot the bronzer on their arms. A lot of skin tone mismatching.

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And there is something else worth pointing out. Some people express frustration with having to see Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet etc. all the time. Exactly how many full-length (or story) ballets are widely considered masterpieces? Not many, it would seem.

There haven't been many new masterpieces in ballet or any other art form because art no longer has the patronage of Renaissance courts and their coffers. In both democratic and "socialist/communist" societies that value modernist concepts like "equality" (in all forms), other more mundane things take precedence in government, could you imagine the furor if Congress authorized a large budget for art, heck there are people who want to slash education budgets with all the demands from people from every walk of life that they have to meet. For what it's worth, many condemn "let them eat cake" yet the more hierarchical societies of the past have left us a legacy of rich art forms. Modern society, despite the exponential population growth of the past century which in theory should yield a larger talent pool, has failed to cultivate anything comparable in merit. Yes, everyone always wants what's best for themselves or the group they identify themselves with (however they frame themselves in the world in terms of their income, race, gender, religious beliefs, occupation, etc., and with the requisite indignance at any opposing viewpoint), but what's best for each individual or even the majority of individuals isn't necessarily best for artistic or scientific output. Try to please everyone and you please no one.

And also, as I see it, ballet is still definitely very much an "elitist" form of entertainment for the wealthy middle- and older-aged, as a 26-year-old young professional I could count on my fingers the number of people of my demographic who were in the audience in any of the performances I attended. And yet at the same time artists aren't exactly paid and pampered in the way they were in the courts. We also no longer incentivize or glorify the pursuit of knowledge. What do we incentivize instead, creating the latest smartphone to further disconnect people from each other, creating phantom wealth in the stock market by printing money. To each his own, of course, anyone could argue that one priority is intrinsically more important than another based on his own sympathies, but for the matter of ballet and other art, we have to accept that we have put it pretty far down the queue, especially my generation which already has "just getting by reasonably well with some saving for the future" without "stress overload" as a meaningfully challenging task. Let's be honest, how many modern occupations don't involve longer and longer hours toiling and being inactive in front of a computer today, let's compare that to 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 200 years ago, not to mention often computers replacing humans, and what does this mean for all other aspects of sociocultural development.

<end rant>

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"Try to please everyone and you please no one."

The lament of artistic directors of ballet companies everywhere, I presume.

You raise a lot of significant issues in your post, danc1988. A character in an old classic movie declares: "Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

I agree on your take of smartphones, among other things. shake2.gif

What I would like to know, though, is whether all those people who despise Grigorovich's Spartacus, and who are dance enthusiasts and (perhaps) well-versed in the art of choreography themselves think Spartacus' story a suitable subject for a ballet.

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It would be interesting to know, but should it really matter to us whether Putin loves Spartacus? Do all people who like a work of "art", a person, a nation, or anything else like it (or him/her) for the same reasons? Would Spartacus love Putin or Hitler --or Spartacus? Should we loathe Wagner's music because the Nazis loved it? Should we burn all the copies of Leni Riefenstahl's movies because they glorify a hideous, dangerous political movement and philosophy? And while we are at it all copies of The Birth of a Nation because of its blatant racism? On and on.

These are all important and interesting questions, but it's easy to tangle separate and distinct issues. I'm glad I saw Spartacus, as I think I understand a little more about how the art of that era reflected its politics and culture. Ditto for the Grigorovich Swan Lake. Ditto for the examples of paintings Hitler loved now on display at the Degenerate Art show at the Neue Gallerie.

Wagner's operas are anti-Semitic - not because Wagner as a person was anti-Semitic (which we know from diaries and letters) and not because Hitler liked those operas. Rather, the operas are anti-Semitic because of the content (e.g., portraying Jewish characters as "rats"). I think it's important to study things like Birth of a Nation (which reflected the hideous racism of that era) and Triumph of the Will (which has been called the most effective propaganda art ever). The content is what's appalling to us today, most importantly, not who liked or didn't like those works.

After Shindler's List came out, Spielberg was asked in an interview who was his favorite filmmaker. Riefenstahl! But as he explained this, it was clear that he was judging her for (1) cinematic technical innovation and (2) purely formalist qualities of design, not content.

So when I said Putin would probably like Spartacus, I was saying that the work reflected the "glory days" of the Soviet Union and anybody who missed those "good old days" (as Putin and others do) would no doubt like it. It's troubling that the current Russians, two decades later, still are drawn to that militaristic, bombastic, over-the-top work. We today see Birth of a Nation for what it was, but they still love their Spartacus. No doubt the current neo-Nazis in the U.S. love Triumph of the Will, but that's not what makes the content so appalling.

Are there some stories that just don't work for classical ballet? Well, the Tempest (for some of us at least). But I would add that the pompous Spartacus score doesn't help.

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I really mind the fact that the ugly, reworked Grigorovich versions of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadere, Nutcracker, Raymonda, etc. are still untouchable. Not to mention his atrocious R&J which meant the Bolshoi dropped the Lavrovsky version. Ugh.

Please pardon my ignorance, but does the Mariinsky Ballet have different (and better) versions of these classics?

By the way, I am amazed at the knowledge of some of the people on this board. I've been following and attending ballet for six decades, and I was in awe when I read volcanohunter's post:

"Vinogradova and especially Tikhomirova have appeared with the Bolshoi on the big screen more than once. Tikhomirova was filmed in solo and small ensemble parts in Flames of Paris,Class Concert, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, The Bright Stream, Romeo and Juliet, Spartacus and Marco Spada, and most notably in the Mimi Paul role in 'Emeralds,' in the pas de trois and as the Spanish Bride in Swan Lake, Folie in Coppélia, the Third Odalisque in Le Corsaire, in Raymonda dancing the second variation in Raymonda's dream, as the Lead Sylph in La Sylphide, the Guadalquivir in The Pharaoh's Daughter and the Second Shade in La Bayadère. Vinogradova has appeared as one of Fleur-de-Lys' girlfriends in Esmeralda and the Fisherman's Wife in The Pharaoh's Daugher and also in Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Le Corsaire, La Bayadère, Romeo and Juliet, 'Rubies' and 'Diamonds.'"

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I really mind the fact that the ugly, reworked Grigorovich versions of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadere, Nutcracker, Raymonda, etc. are still untouchable. Not to mention his atrocious R&J which meant the Bolshoi dropped the Lavrovsky version. Ugh.

Please pardon my ignorance, but does the Mariinsky Ballet have different (and better) versions of these classics?

Yeah, they're available on video ...

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I have a historical question. When did these types of acrobatic moves that became common in Soviet figure skating (pairs) begin. Was it before Grigorovich? Some of the choreography in Spartacus looks very much like elements in pairs skating.

Two words: "Spring Waters". I saw it the first time the Bolshoi came to the US.

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I really mind the fact that the ugly, reworked Grigorovich versions of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadere, Nutcracker, Raymonda, etc. are still untouchable. Not to mention his atrocious R&J which meant the Bolshoi dropped the Lavrovsky version. Ugh.

Please pardon my ignorance, but does the Mariinsky Ballet have different (and better) versions of these classics?

Yeah, they're available on video ...

Thank you canbelto. I'll look them up.

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I was in awe when I read volcanohunter's post

I'm pretty dependent on this thing called the interwebs. smile.png

I don't even know what "interwebs" are. I will google it.

Okay, so slang for world wide web or internet. If you got all that from the web, volcanohunter, that's awfully good sleuthing and compilation!

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But in all seriousness, the Bolshoi is good about posting detailed cast lists for their home performances, though sometimes these are censored later on. (All references to Pavel Dmitrichenko have been wiped from the Bolshoi's performance database, for example.) Since my local movie theaters usually don't provide any sort of programs for ballet screenings, a print-out from the Bolshoi's own site comes in very handy. http://www.bolshoi.ru/en/performances/#ballet

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And there is something else worth pointing out. Some people express frustration with having to see Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet etc. all the time. Exactly how many full-length (or story) ballets are widely considered masterpieces? Not many, it would seem.

There haven't been many new masterpieces in ballet or any other art form because art no longer has the patronage of Renaissance courts and their coffers.

Bournonville, Coralli and Perrot, and Petipa choreographed most of their major works a couple of centuries after the Renaissance ended. I'm sure Balanchine and Ashton would have been surprised to learn they could full-length and/or story-based create masterworks without Renaissance courts or royal patronage. I'm sure composers like Beethoven, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, Verdi, Ives, Ravel, etc. and Van Gogh, Whistler, and Picasso...

"It would be interesting to know, but should it really matter to us whether Putin loves Spartacus? Do all people who like a work of "art", a person, a nation, or anything else like it (or him/her) for the same reasons? Would Spartacus love Putin or Hitler --or Spartacus? Should we loathe Wagner's music because the Nazis loved it? Should we burn all the copies of Leni Riefenstahl's movies because they glorify a hideous, dangerous political movement and philosophy? And while we are at it all copies of The Birth of a Nation because of its blatant racism? On and on.

"Like" in itself means that at worst, the people running theaters perform what the leader likes and casts to the leader's taste. However, it's a different story when a political leader reads social and political import into works, whether or not this reflects reality. If a leader says that a character reflects values that a nation should strive to emulate, for example, or equates a slave revolution to his or her own people's current situation, that's important information to know.

I think it's silly to not see a work simply because it appeals to someone I don't like.

Wagner's operas are anti-Semitic - not because Wagner as a person was anti-Semitic (which we know from diaries and letters) and not because Hitler liked those operas. Rather, the operas are anti-Semitic because of the content (e.g., portraying Jewish characters as "rats").

That is by no means a consensus opinion. Some critics have argued strongly that a limited number of characters in Wagner's operas, most notable Klingsor, Alberich, Beckmesser, and, occasionally, perhaps by family relationships, Mime, are anti-Semitic characters, but the majority do not. For example, Wotan and Alberich are referred to as "Dark" and "Light" Alberich, Wotan is far from a perfect character, Alberich says to him outright, "I know who I am and act accordingly, but you are a master of self-delusion" -- a point Fricka slays him on in their famous argument in "Die Walkure." Wagner may have hated Hanslick and made him the model for Beckmesser, but that was a very specific hatchet job. Also Sachs' big monologue at the end pf "Die Meistersinger" about great German art was something that Wagner had second and third thoughts about leaving in, and he caved to pressure to do so. Even he understood on some level that it didn't fit, and Jews wouldn't have been the only targets of that monologue. Mime's guilt-throwing passive-aggressive nature could be a caricature of many ethnic mothers. ("I gave my limb for you.") I don't know enough about the theology behind "Parsifal" to follow the Klingsor arguments.

Wagner had two male character that I can think of who are remotely heroic: Hans Sachs and Siegmund. Most of his characters carry the weight of their flaws -- or, if they are female, often their powerlessness -- and behave like people laden with emotional baggage.

Wagner was an anti-Semite and wrote vile, anti-Semitic screeds. That doesn't mean that this filtered down into his operas.

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Helene wrote:

Bournonville, Coralli and Perrot, and Petipa choreographed most of their major works a couple of centuries after the Renaissance ended. I'm sure Balanchine and Ashton would have been surprised to learn they could full-length and/or story-based create masterworks without Renaissance courts or royal patronage. I'm sure composers like Beethoven, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, Verdi, Ives, Ravel, etc. and Van Gogh, Whistler, and Picasso...

--

Yes but in my opinion the mediums in which all of these composers/artists thrived were evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, moving through periods like neoclassicism, romanticism, cubism, impressionism, on and on. All the concepts we're familiar with, "oil on canvas", "orchestra", "ballet", "opera", all of these concepts were invented during the 15th and 16th centuries, and then expanded upon during the 17-19th centuries (larger orchestras for example), with very little further evolution during the 20th century, except with perhaps in my opinion increasingly "dissonant" and "abstract" forms in music, art, and dance relative to earlier periods. And in the last quarter of the 20th century/21st century, there are very few of what we would call "masterpieces" in any genre evolved from classical mediums. In modern times, it's obvious that we haven't innovated much in terms of creating entirely new artistic concepts, at least not anything near the sophistication or complexity of the forms created in the past. Just ballet or a classical instrument, people spend years just trying to learn the art form and *replicate* what people have done in the past much less *innovate*, sometimes forgetting people had to imagine it from scratch at one point, does anyone have this kind of imagination, or more importantly, the capacity and financial resources to do so without the burdens of all of the other demands in the modern world, today, I don't think so. Why is there a "starving artist" stereotype, that one either has to be born into wealth or else make numerous sacrifices to standards of living and take on numerous risks to pursue a life in the arts, it's not even about keeping up with the Joneses, it's just not realistic.

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That is by no means a consensus opinion. Some critics have argued strongly that a limited number of characters in Wagner's operas, most notable Klingsor, Alberich, Beckmesser, and, occasionally, perhaps by family relationships, Mime, are anti-Semitic characters, but the majority do not. For example, Wotan and Alberich are referred to as "Dark" and "Light" Alberich, Wotan is far from a perfect character, Alberich says to him outright, "I know who I am and act accordingly, but you are a master of self-delusion" -- a point Fricka slays him on in their famous argument in "Die Walkure." Wagner may have hated Hanslick and made him the model for Beckmesser, but that was a very specific hatchet job. Also Sachs' big monologue at the end pf "Die Meistersinger" about great German art was something that Wagner had second and third thoughts about leaving in, and he caved to pressure to do so. Even he understood on some level that it didn't fit, and Jews wouldn't have been the only targets of that monologue. Mime's guilt-throwing passive-aggressive nature could be a caricature of many ethnic mothers. ("I gave my limb for you.") I don't know enough about the theology behind "Parsifal" to follow the Klingsor arguments.

Wagner had two male character that I can think of who are remotely heroic: Hans Sachs and Siegmund. Most of his characters carry the weight of their flaws -- or, if they are female, often their powerlessness -- and behave like people laden with emotional baggage.

Wagner was an anti-Semite and wrote vile, anti-Semitic screeds. That doesn't mean that this filtered down into his operas.

You're correct, of course, that this is a matter of much continuing debate. On January 25, 1997, the LA Music Center had a marvelous panel program in its Opera for Educators series on exactly this topic, with several experts holding varying opinions: “Dealing with the Political Past: Aesthetics vs. Ethics in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.” (I know the date because I was the moderator for that panel, one of the more challenging assignments I've had, trying to keep things under control and ensure balance in the discussion!)

But I would still insist that if one wants to call Wagner's operas "anti-Semitic," the only legitimate debate is over the content of the opera, not the views of Wagner himself (which would be the so-called "genetic fallacy").

When I talked with the Klinghofer demonstrators at Lincoln Center last week, I asked if it wouldn't be worthwhile to try to set up some ancillary panels/discussions on the issues that concern them, rather than trying to suppress the performance altogether. The response: nobody would pay attention. I tried to respectfully disagree, but I don't think they heard me.

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I'm not understanding your point, because dance, sculpture, painting, and music weren't revolutionary inventions of the Renaissance courts, either. Opera wasn't invented in the Renaissance, nor was the orchestra, as many other cultures like Indonesia, China, Japan, and India, for example, had similar forms hundred of years before opera was taken up by Europeans. A look at classical Indian dance forms shows that the French didn't invent turnout, and they certainly didn't invent court dances. People painted on many media, including portable media, long before they painted on canvas.

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I'm not understanding your point, because dance, sculpture, painting, and music weren't revolutionary inventions of the Renaissance courts, either.

No, but ballet, oil painting, the traditional orchestra, opera, were, and for the past 500-600 years largely what we think of as Western art has evolved from the Renaissance foundation. It doesn't make it inherently "superior" to any other non-European art form or pre-Renaissance form but you can't deny the complexity and sophistication of some of these mediums and their enduring popularity today, and the amount of time people invest into becoming accomplished ballerinas or concert pianists or music theorists, for example, is extremely non-trivial yet at the same time imitative rather than innovative. There's a reason, for example, why SYTYCD doesn't ask people to learn ballet in a week, it's because it's impossible, but more modern forms of dance are more accessible, etc.

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When I say opera and orchestra I mean it in the sense that when the English words for these art forms were invented they specifically referred to the Western forms of "groups of singers performing a libretto + musical score" and "groups of instrument players including wind, string, brass instruments" that originated in the 15-16th century. To some extent they may be derivative, yes there is always external influence, but later composers tended to follow this basic model. Non-European cultures wouldn't have used violins and oboes, concepts like Ionian mode, I-IV-V-I, circle of fifths, etc.

I maintain my point that in modern times we haven't created any medium that comes anywhere near the sophistication of what came out of the Renaissance, which is why we still continue to stage and re-stage works from that period and works immediately derivative from that period. Sure, there's also modern art and modern dance but nothing has quite achieved the ubiquitous popularity of the more traditional forms to broadly be considered "masterpieces" that everyone ought to become familiarized with in order to be "cultured". And this goes for literature as well, just look at any high school or college English 101 syllabus.

So I guess the question is, do we as a society want to be desperately focused on "learning" culture from the past or do we want to be focused on "creating" culture, or is modern society just so devoid of "culture" that we can't think of anything else (we've gone from creating to evolving/improving/changing to imitating). I'm not saying this can never change, but certainly as it looks right now from the practical perspective of making a living and just getting by on a day-to-day basis our society isn't incentivizing artistic, or scientific innovation, for that matter.

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