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Jennifer Homans' planned biography of Balanchine


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10 hours ago, Helene said:

Harvey Weinstein or no Harvey Weinstein, what Gelsey Kirkland was excoriated for saying very briefly in "Dancing on My Grave" I suspect won't make it into any new biography in any meaningful way, if at all.  From 2012:

http://psychologytomorrowmagazine.com/case-en-pointe-wilhelmina-frankfurt-on-george-balanchine/

 

I don't see why this wouldn't make it into a biography. It's very consistent with the autobiographies of Suzanne Farrell, Allegra Kent, Maria Tallchief, etc. Except in this case Wilhemena made it clear that she was there for a purpose and she got what she wanted (in a way). 

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Kent, Farrell, Danilova, and Tallchief all wrote about a man who was incredibly courtly and polite and all those wonderful things but also felt entitled to certain things (their bodies) and could be brutal if he felt rejected (Farrell) or had moved on (telling Danilova she was "too old" to dance for him when she was 27, divorcing a parapalegic LeClercq and then not allowing her to teach at SAB).

 

I don't think Wilhemena's account contradicts those more in-depth accounts. Basically every account I've ever read of Balanchine, whether from man or woman, boils down to: "He was a genius and was a wonderful polite man until he wasn't."

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48 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Kent, Farrell, Danilova, and Tallchief all wrote about a man who was incredibly courtly and polite and all those wonderful things but also felt entitled to certain things (their bodies) and could be brutal if he felt rejected (Farrell) or had moved on (telling Danilova she was "too old" to dance for him when she was 27, divorcing a parapalegic LeClercq and then not allowing her to teach at SAB).

 

I don't think Wilhemena's account contradicts those more in-depth accounts. Basically every account I've ever read of Balanchine, whether from man or woman, boils down to: "He was a genius and was a wonderful polite man until he wasn't."

 

So true Canbelto. It's all so complicated. To me the danger is a sensationalistic bio that comes down on either the sinner or saint side. His divorce of LeClercq did not mean he did not continue to see to her well being. He didn't want dancers to marry or have kids, but kept Kent on payroll after frequent maternity leaves, even with few performances. His favored dancer towards the end, Karin Von Aroldingin, had a child while still dancing. Dancers were dependent on his approval. Many felt rejected, hurt, and went through difficult times. Many were young adults with few coping skills. They were kids entering a company run by a genius. A company that, like all companies, have politics, alliances etc. It's complicated. 

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1 hour ago, canbelto said:

Kent, Farrell, Danilova, and Tallchief all wrote about a man who was incredibly courtly and polite and all those wonderful things but also felt entitled to certain things (their bodies) and could be brutal if he felt rejected (Farrell) or had moved on (telling Danilova she was "too old" to dance for him when she was 27, divorcing a parapalegic LeClercq and then not allowing her to teach at SAB).

 

I don't think Wilhemena's account contradicts those more in-depth accounts. Basically every account I've ever read of Balanchine, whether from man or woman, boils down to: "He was a genius and was a wonderful polite man until he wasn't."

 

I confess that I found the Wilhemina story more...squicky than things Kent, Farrell, Danilova, and Tallchief have written or said.  Perhaps I haven't read their words carefully enough but...Kent, Farrell, Danilova, and Tallchief were all major ballerinas who functioned as muse figures for Balanchine. And Balanchine lived with Danilova, married Tallchief, and wanted to marry Farrell. His behavior towards them may not always have been admirable (cough) but as Vipa notes the situations could be complex.  This story seems sleazier, and if this sort of little scene happened with any frequency when Balanchine was in health (which Wilhemina implies it did), then it shows a more casual sense of entitlement to all of his women dancers' bodies and not just the ones he was especially focused on or even in love with or being inspired by to create new work. It's not that the latter is okay, but Helene's comment came closer to my reaction: 

 

2 hours ago, Helene said:

"The girl in Saratoga," and "The girl of the week," and a man in a hospital bed getting his payment weren't remotely the narrative covered by Farrell or Kent.

 

One can think different eras, different mores, and, I agree that it's never a good idea to get carried away with moral outrage etc. But the story does not make for edifying reading. And I would like to see Homans' biography come to grips with these issues in the history of the company (and not just the "wives" and "muses") and without apologetics for male genius. It won't make Balanchine's ballets any less great...

Edited by Drew
To be more precise.
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Some of this is company gossip and company gossip can be spot on, totally off base, or somewhere in between. (When Frankfurt writes of her visit to the hospital and what happened there, she is of course speaking directly about her own experience.) If Homans wants to go there, I’m sure she will --her publisher will certainly encourage it -- and you can certainly make an argument that she should go there. It can be done responsibly, or not so responsibly.

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51 minutes ago, dirac said:

Some of this is company gossip and company gossip can be spot on, totally off base, or somewhere in between. (When Frankfurt writes of her visit to the hospital and what happened there, she is of course speaking directly about her own experience.) If Homans wants to go there, I’m sure she will --her publisher will certainly encourage it -- and you can certainly make an argument that she should go there. It can be done responsibly, or not so responsibly.

 

Yes. Homans' aim is surely a scholarly and thorough biography, and I would expect her to address the issue based on  research not gossip. And maybe there won't be much to say after all, but I'd like to see it addressed.

Edited by Drew
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Frankfurt's account didn't strike me as sleazy, per se - it felt plausible given all the other accounts I've read over the years of "life with Balanchine". She was telling it like it is/was, imo, and this paragraph sums things up rather nicely for her, and I think for many other dancers:

"...He has tried and I have refused. It’s our relationship. Our dance. He isn’t even insulted anymore. We pick up as if I had given in, once, long ago. I think he loves me partly because I never did. I always love him, and fight him and love him again. I still do."

The dynamic of courtship (as it used to be called) was central to Mr. B's existence. Frankfurt's statement that "I think he loves me partly because I never did" is one that could have been uttered by a dozen or more people close to Balanchine. It was always all about the process and not short term goals. Which also helps to explain why the institution of marriage was never really going to work for Balanchine.

I think a continuing point of fascination with Balanchine is the fact that different people had completely different experiences with, and of, the man. So the notion that someone is going to be able to present the "real" Balanchine to the world is fairly absurd. It's going to be yet another person's slant on the subject, and if the book fits the current ethos, then it will likely be popular too. Oh boy.

At this stage of my life, though, I worry about the constant manufacturing of icons from ordinary people (with ordinary human issues: emotional, mental and physical). Followed by the inevitable tearing down of the old/false/enemy icons - 'I think that's disgusting! Who could ever look up to that person! She's no god to me!" Yada, yada, yada. Tearing down someone else's icon has become a cottage industry of sorts. If only there were no need for icons.

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1 hour ago, pherank said:

At this stage of my life, though, I worry about the constant manufacturing of icons from ordinary people (with ordinary human issues: emotional, mental and physical). Followed by the inevitable tearing down of the old/false/enemy icons - 'I think that's disgusting! Who could ever look up to that person! She's no god to me!" Yada, yada, yada. Tearing down someone else's icon has become a cottage industry of sorts. If only there were no need for icons.

Such interesting observations pherank. There is no need to tear down or build up Balanchine. As I've said before, it's complicated. 

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4 hours ago, pherank said:

[...]

The dynamic of courtship (as it used to be called) was central to Mr. B's existence. Frankfurt's statement that "I think he loves me partly because I never did" is one that could have been uttered by a dozen or more people close to Balanchine. It was always all about the process and not short term goals. Which also helps to explain why the institution of marriage was never really going to work for Balanchine.
 [...]

At this stage of my life, though, I worry about the constant manufacturing of icons from ordinary people (with ordinary human issues: emotional, mental and physical). Followed by the inevitable tearing down of the old/false/enemy icons - 'I think that's disgusting! Who could ever look up to that person! She's no god to me!" Yada, yada, yada. Tearing down someone else's icon has become a cottage industry of sorts. If only there were no need for icons.

 

Well, I guess there are continuities across Balanchine's life, but I'm surprized by the word "courtship" applied to the scene Frankfurt describes. She is visiting Balanchine in the hospital to get advice on a role, and he gets her drunk and makes a pass at her. I do consider Balanchine's life story, as it is known to me, to involve a lot of what I would call "courtship" (Zorina!),  but I kind of want to make some distinctions too. I would have thought that not every pass a person makes qualifies as "courtship," especially when it's a person who holds all the psychological cards (which Frankfurt's piece suggests Balanchine did in her case) and many of the career cards as well.  Even if one thinks that sort of thing is no big deal, and even if one allows Balanchine at that time was at death's door, not altogether himself, and presumably dealing with all kinds of difficult emotions....well, courtship seems a decidedly chivalrous word for something I'm disinclined to consider chivalrous however human one finds it. (That Balanchine's ballets include some of the most poignant portraits of chivalry ever created--THAT is certain.)

 

For the rest, based on what I have read of Homans' writing, I am not at all worried that she will "tear down" Balanchine.

 

Edited to add: I always thought marriage was about long term goals--and process--not "short term" ones :wink:.  

Edited by Drew
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5 hours ago, Drew said:

 

Well, I guess there are continuities across Balanchine's life, but I'm surprized by the word "courtship" applied to the scene Frankfurt describes. She is visiting Balanchine in the hospital to get advice on a role, and he gets her drunk and makes a pass at her. I do consider Balanchine's life story, as it is known to me, to involve a lot of what I would call "courtship" (Zorina!),  but I kind of want to make some distinctions too. I would have thought that not every pass a person makes qualifies as "courtship," especially when it's a person who holds all the psychological cards (which Frankfurt's piece suggests Balanchine did in her case) and many of the career cards as well.  Even if one thinks that sort of thing is no big deal, and even if one allows Balanchine at that time was at death's door, not altogether himself, and presumably dealing with all kinds of difficult emotions....well, courtship seems a decidedly chivalrous word for something I'm disinclined to consider chivalrous however human one finds it. (That Balanchine's ballets include some of the most poignant portraits of chivalry ever created--THAT is certain.)

 

For the rest, based on what I have read of Homans' writing, I am not at all worried that she will "tear down" Balanchine.

 

Edited to add: I always thought marriage was about long term goals--and process--not "short term" ones :wink:.  

 

I don't know if this will clarify anything I was writing, but...

 

I use "courtship" to describe Balanchine's lifelong approach to women - I was speaking generally and not specifying a particular 'course of actions' though. "Courtship" may be too loaded a word since for some people it obviously makes them think of very particular actions (and different cultures have different associations around romance and courtship, to begin with). You can of course disagree, or use a different term. But I rather like the "old-fashioned" connotations of the word, for Mr. B. was both old-fashioned and modernist in equal measures, imo. This is a man who was married 5 times (in one manner or another), continued to visit the Russian Orthodox church, but the church elders initially refused to allow a funeral ceremony for Balanchine in an Orthodox church because the Russian Orthodox Church apparently disallows divorce. So why keep getting married? Why keep moving on to other women? Why the unending search for muses? That's a man who is in love with love, courtship, and the companionship of women, but also the creation of art. IMO. Those actions could easily be interpreted by someone else as something more sinister.

 

"based on what I have read of Homans' writing, I am not at all worried that she will "tear down" Balanchine"

> I wasn't actually thinking of Homans at that point - I was musing on the general creation and destruction of icons that goes on every day in our world. But that's just me. Homans may, or may not, fit into that pattern. I don't dislike her writing, but I also don't think she brings a truly original perspective to matters, or provides details that we haven't heard somewhere before. What I would like, however, is for her to prove me wrong.  ;)

 

'I always thought marriage was about long term goals--and process--not "short term" ones'

> I don't think marriage was the process for Balanchine - the process was ultimately ART creation - everything else in life was a sacrifice made towards the creation of Art with a capital "A". He and Danilova shared that same vision: they were in the service of a higher calling -

 

"Balanchine always said that dancers are aristocrats, that we were born into the ranks of nobility that is based on art, and I agree. In any society, the truly privileged class is made up of artists, who are chosen people. Their talent is God-given, and it sets them apart. It sustains and comforts them, it gives them a purpose. This has been my lifelong conviction, and I pass it along to my students, just as my teachers instilled in me as part of my training a sense of dignity and pride."
—Alexandra Danilova

 

Edited by pherank
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8 hours ago, pherank said:

 

I don't know if this will clarify anything I was writing, but...

 

I use "courtship" to describe Balanchine's lifelong approach to women - I was speaking generally and not specifying a particular 'course of actions' though. "Courtship" may be too loaded a word since for some people it obviously makes them think of very particular actions (and different cultures have different associations for courtship, to begin with). You can of course disagree, or use a different term. But I rather like the "old-fashioned" connotations of the word, for Mr. B. was both old-fashioned and modernist in equal measures, imo. This is a man who was married 5 times (in one manner or another), continued to visit the Russian Orthodox church, but the church elders initially refused to allow a funeral ceremony for Balanchine in an Orthodox church because the Russian Orthodox Church apparently disallows divorce. So why keep getting married? Why keep moving on to other women? Why the unending search for muses? That's a man who is in love with love, courtship, and the companionship of women, but also the creation of art. IMO. Those actions could easily be interpreted by someone else as something more sinister.

 

I'm inclined to separate the search for muses and multiple marriages from other kinds of erotic behavior that might, for example, be viewed as more exploitative. I thought that made me the old-fashioned one! But say you are right that these behaviors are all on a continuum in Balanchine's life--that cuts both ways. On the one hand, what looks emotionally and otherwise exploitative in the Frankfurt story (the one that concerns me here) is really inherent to Balanchine's art and part of his search for inspiration, but on the other hand .... perhaps the search for inspiration that fueled his art got a little exploitative. And both can be true. That's part of the complexity of the situation. It is also true that Balanchine did extraordinary things for his dancers and gave them many intellectual/artistic gifts. His place in the pantheon of dance history is secure, and a good biographer's job includes helping one understand what possibly motivates her/his subject. But that's not quite the same thing as saying that genius or art somehow grants carte blanche. That kind of aristocracy I don't believe in any more than I believe in droit de seigneur.

Quote

 

'I always thought marriage was about long term goals--and process--not "short term" ones'

> I don't think marriage was the process for Balanchine - the process was ultimately ART creation - everything else in life was a sacrifice made towards the creation of Art with a capital "A". He and Danilova shared that same vision: they were in the service of a higher calling -

 

"Balanchine always said that dancers are aristocrats, that we were born into the ranks of nobility that is based on art, and I agree. In any society, the truly privileged class is made up of artists, who are chosen people. Their talent is God-given, and it sets them apart. It sustains and comforts them, it gives them a purpose. This has been my lifelong conviction, and I pass it along to my students, just as my teachers instilled in me as part of my training a sense of dignity and pride."
—Alexandra Danilova

 

 

I don't think marriage was the process for Balanchine either. It just made made me smile when you wrote he wasn't interested in short term goals and then added that that was one reason marriage wasn't for him.  I do realize you were not intending to claim marriage is a short term goal.

Edited by Drew
Typo
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26 minutes ago, Drew said:

His place in the pantheon of dance history is secure, and a good biographer's job includes helping one understand what possibly motivates her/his subject. But that's not quite the same thing as saying that genius or art somehow grants carte blanche. That kind of aristocracy I don't believe in any more than I believe in droit de seigneur.

 

 

Funny thing is, I think Balanchine would agree with you. I'm fairly sure that to him, only the surviving artwork had "higher" value, and not the details of how one lives their life.

 

I can't help but think of Picasso, and maybe Gauguin, as other examples of men who had questionable social/relationship habits, and it was all ultimately in service of art. Like it or not. Is art worth ruining your relationships with other people over? That's a difficult question for most of us, but for those three men, it wasn't a question worth asking. Kind of like asking a priest if God is more important than his own wife - his wife may not like the answer.

Edited by pherank
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5 hours ago, Helene said:

I'd be interested in reading a Balanchine bio by Martin Duberman, Lincoln Kirstein's biographer.  Homans, after Apollo's Angels, not so much.

 

I'm curious to see what Homans makes, but I'm not expecting her to surprise me in any way.

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