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Robert Gottlieb on Jewels


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Thank you for the heads up Helene. Very interesting interview. I thought I knew a lot about NYCB but Mr. Gottlieb added a layer to that knowledge. He also had a very interesting assessment of spending time with Balanchine as well as insightful comments on dancers and ballets. Very much worth a listen. As an aside I think Breeden and King Ferraro are doing a wonderful job with their interviews. 

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Thanks for the heads up, Helene. It's always fun to hear about how NYCB people are first introduced to the company and what their early jobs were like.

Is Gottlieb referring to the Bolshoi soloist Alena Kovaleva (Алёна Ковалёва) performing Diamonds?

Edited by pherank
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The problem with a lot of writers on ballet, e.g., Gottlieb, is that their review tells us what they think is terrible and what they think is swell and very little about the actual performance.  His opinions about aspects being the worst he has ever seen, etc., is not relevant nor helpful.

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I do agree with Gottlieb about the danger of overdoing the Verdy role in Emeralds, of lingering too long and lovingly over each phrase, as the Paris Opera dancers sometimes do. Gottlieb in the Observer -

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The French style is elegant, suave, glamorous—and self-conscious. “Look how my beautiful foot is arched!” “What about this gorgeous arabesque?” And the foot is beautiful, and the arabesque is gorgeous. But Balanchine is about the music, about the subtleties of phrasing, not about narcissistic self-presentation. 

 

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So if one is to wholeheartedly endorse Gottlieb's opinions on Jewels, what does that say about Acocella's New Yorker review, which has other emphases entirely.  If Gottlieb damns the POB for their "narcissistic self-presentation", does that mean Acocella totally misses the point by not damning them?  Did they see the same performances.  It hardly seems so.

 

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3 hours ago, DanielBenton said:

The problem with a lot of writers on ballet, e.g., Gottlieb, is that their review tells us what they think is terrible and what they think is swell and very little about the actual performance.  His opinions about aspects being the worst he has ever seen, etc., is not relevant nor helpful.

I would think that his explanations of the Balanchinean style versus what he mostly saw from the French and the Russians would be extremely helpful to someone new to ballet and eager to learn, and they tell us what he did and didn't see in this program.

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FWIW I saw the performances Gottlieb referred to and I agreed with him about the rather affected, stiff presentation of the Paris Opera Ballet. I was also stunned at how many iconic details they altered or changed, including the "clock" arabesque in the Mimi Paul walking duet. 

This is what I wrote:

http://poisonivywalloftext.blogspot.com/2017/07/superjewels.html

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The Paris Opera Ballet dancers are as always tasteful and refined. Their corps uniformity is amazing, and all of them have beautiful feet with highly arched insteps. They are also incredibly boring dancers. Part of this is personal preference -- I dislike their overly stiff torsos, their extremely deliberate epaulement that is stuck in time -- the music moves, but their upper bodies don't. What bugs me the most is that they dance through the steps rather than respond to the music. They also airbrush everything to the point of deleting the choreography -- for instance, in the "walking" pas de deux the Myriam Ould-Braham and Mathias Heymann did not do the famous arabesques in which the legs and arms are raised in a staccato manner and held at different heights -- to see what I'm talking about watch this at 22:50. That's one of Emeralds' iconic moments. They just did a regular arabesque. I was shocked. Dramatically they were off too -- the walking pas de deux is supposed to be danced as a trance, but the two dancers were constantly looking at each other and smiling. The lead couple was veteran Laeticia Pujol and Mathieu Ganio. Pujol is retiring after these Emeralds performances. She's a fine dancer, but simply doesn't project anything. In the Violette Verdy solo she also did a lot of distracting head-bobbing. Ganio is one of the most elegant danseurs I've ever seen -- he's Paris's David Hallberg. I have fond memories of him in Giselle. But he couldn't inject much energy either. The "walking couple" of Ould-Braham and Heymann was different dancers, same story. The trio of Marc Moreau, Hannah O'Neill and Sae Eun Park -- again, same thing. Fine technically, but so so dull. Even their costumes lacked the sparkle of most Jewels costumes.

 

Edited by canbelto
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33 minutes ago, DanielBenton said:

Kudos to canbelto for actually discussing details of the performances s/he witnessed; I contrast that with Gottlieb's "I wanted to swat her".  What is that, except some personal petulance unleashed.  

There is much else in that review of course. But yes, canbelto's reviews are excellent.

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My ears pricked up at Gottlieb's assertion that [around 52:50] "Balanchine was very loyal to his dancers".  "He didn't say, OK she' no longer very good in this - out! I'm replacing her with this gorgeous twenty-year-old". Like most pronouncements about 'how Balanchine was' there are always examples of very different behavior and experiences. I happened to re-read a lot of the I Remember Balanchine reminiscences not long ago, and there are dancers like Barbara Walczak who received different treatment:

"Finally he reached a point where there were many young dancers coming up, like Patty McBride, who had just joined the company, Suzanne Farrell at the School, and Mimi Paul. He really wanted to get rid of the older dancers. We could feel it. He really made it clear by simply taking all  of my roles away…" [there's more on this on p.257]

I don't recall the names, but a number of male dancers reached a point where Balanchine kept hinting that it was time for them to leave the company (he may have been harder on men that he found uninteresting than he was on women, but that's debatable). Gottlieb appears to argue for shorter careers for principals because they can't maintain the same performance level over the years - and that is plainly controversial.

The discussion of extinct Balanchine ballets, favorite Balanchine finales, and 'dessert island' lists was interesting for me [1:07:32]. I agree with Gottlieb that different ballets and different works of art are going to be important to us at different stages of our own lives and learning. The focus changes over time.

Edited by pherank
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3 minutes ago, pherank said:

My ears pricked up at Gottlieb's assertion that [around 52:50] "Balanchine was very loyal to his dancers".  "He didn't say, OK she' no longer very good in this - out! I'm replacing her with this gorgeous twenty-year-old".

The same for me.  My first reaction to that was :dunno:.  

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43 minutes ago, Helene said:

The same for me.  My first reaction to that was :dunno:.  

And of course there was the whole "baby ballerina" episode, and Balanchine telling Danilova she was "too old" to dance for him with the de Basil Ballet Russes (I sort of remember she was 26 or 27 then). That sort of set the precedent. Yes, Balanchine could be loyal to certain people but he was mercurial too. Then there are the people like Richard Thomas, his wife Barbara Fallis, and Paul Mejia (married to Suzanne Farrell) who all had fallen out with Mr. B, but Balanchine later helped them out - sending Mejia to choreograph for Tallchief at the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet, and offering the old SAB classrooms to Thomas for his own school when NYCB moved to Lincoln Center.

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Hmm I think Gottlieb might be sort of referring to personal loyalty. Balanchine was personally loyal to a lot of people long after their professional association was over. Like Alexandra Danilova -- he might have said she was "too old" to dance for him but he did install her and other Ballet Russes dancers like Felia Doubravska at SAB. He lost interest in Allegra Kent after all those pregnancies and the personal problems but he also kept her on payroll even when she wasn't dancing because she was in dire financial straits. He willed many ballets to Tanny so she'd always be financially secure. 

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49 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Hmm I think Gottlieb might be sort of referring to personal loyalty. Balanchine was personally loyal to a lot of people long after their professional association was over. Like Alexandra Danilova -- he might have said she was "too old" to dance for him but he did install her and other Ballet Russes dancers like Felia Doubravska at SAB. He lost interest in Allegra Kent after all those pregnancies and the personal problems but he also kept her on payroll even when she wasn't dancing because she was in dire financial straits. He willed many ballets to Tanny so she'd always be financially secure. 

The Balanchine era was something unto itself, IMO not to be retro fitted into today's norms. He didn't take a salary for many years, he had wives, ex wives, probably lovers co-existing in the company, he was by all accounts unusually courteous and didn't like confrontation, he was a genius, he had loyalties but it seems no real friendships, one could go on and on. Mr. B rest in peace,  thank you for your ballets and the legacy of your training and school, none of us will ever understand you as a person but I wish I had known you.

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45 minutes ago, Helene said:

He seemed very loyal to his muses.  But they were relatively few, even compared only to all of the dancers who were in the Principal ranks.

Actually, if memory serves when Peter Martins took over he cut a lot of "dead wood" from the company even in corps positions.

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6 minutes ago, vipa said:

Actually, if memory serves when Peter Martins took over he cut a lot of "dead wood" from the company even in corps positions.

It sucks to be dead wood. ;)

At least Balanchine still found ways to help people out later in life (as I mentioned earlier). Very few people were totally written off by him. Martins may be more inflexible in his thinking.

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8 hours ago, Helene said:

Some of Peter Martins "dead wood" floated to the West Coast, where we were/are privileged to see them dance.

Just to be clear, I didn't mean I thought people were "dead wood" only that Peter Martins seemed to, when he got rid of people that Balanchine had kept on. 

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28 minutes ago, vipa said:

Just to be clear, I didn't mean I thought people were "dead wood" only that Peter Martins seemed to, when he got rid of people that Balanchine had kept on. 

I was speaking more about his lack of judgement.  Although in any transition, there are going to be people who aren't going to behave respectfully of the new administration, particularly when the dancers had other relationships with the new AD (colleagues or teacher/student changing to boss/dancer.)

He also had at least three waves of corps cutting, and the second two were mainly of dancers that he had taken from the school that he was in charge of.  (The reason given for the last one was budget.)  

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On 12/21/2017 at 7:12 AM, DanielBenton said:

The problem with a lot of writers on ballet, e.g., Gottlieb, is that their review tells us what they think is terrible and what they think is swell and very little about the actual performance.  His opinions about aspects being the worst he has ever seen, etc., is not relevant nor helpful.

Oh, I don't agree -- take a look at Marcia Siegel's work, and Deborah Jowitt's -- they excel at description as well as evaluation.

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