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Balanchine non finito


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Balanchine - a man of few words - was known for a number of compact expressions, and "Never mind perfect.  Perfect is boring." may be among the more notorious ones with some people, but it points to the freshness I find in the best, to me the most authentic, Balanchine performance.  (Such as those by TSFB we were seeing in Purchase and in Washington.)  

Between the show at Purchase on the 3rd and these now in Washington this weekend (I wrote this December 8th), I saw a show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York of the draftsman, painter and sculptor Michelangelo, who (I learned there) was admired in his time for a certain quality, a certain characteristic, in his art.  

For example, Michelangelo's way in sculpture was to find his statue in the stone - he even wrote a sonnet about that, on display there - and when the statue had emerged sufficiently, he'd found it, and he stopped.  Similarly with his drawing and painting.  

Other artists - there were contemporaries on view in the show - produced beautiful marvels, finished, complete and, in painting, perfect from edge to edge, and you marveled at the beauty, but you moved on.  Something else, something more was going on with Michelangelo's works - you saw how they were still becoming what they were, you saw some of his process, because they were not yet - and never would be - finished and perfect, and this was the aspect for which many admired him in his day, this quality of his work which was called non finito, "not finished."

So with Balanchine, whose art has the added complication that he did not make art in stone or even chalk on paper, nor is it even written down like other performing art, to be interpreted later by other dancers than he worked with, as we know (and as Suzanne Farrell reminds us).    

Mr. B. then is a latter-day Michelangelo, with an important difference that the sculptor worked in stone (as well as chalk on paper); but for Mr. B's works, even less finito, dancers are required, making ballet an art - the art - that, as soon as it comes into existence, disappears before it is, well, done, finished, perfect, finito.

Is Balanchine's art, then, unique in this way?  No other choreographers made work like this?   I wouldn't say so - but I would say that, much like Michelangelo, he carried it higher than others of my experience, and, also like Michelangelo, consciously savored this quality himself.

Are there other admirers of this quality here?  (In either artist!  Or in others.)   What do you think?

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I think you've put a finger on a fundamental thing about Balanchine's work -- while he was well aware that the company needed repertory and that dancers needed specific works, he was constantly learning from what he was making, taking those lessons into whatever came next for him.  I wouldn't say he was careless about the work, but there was frequently a sense that he knew when it wasn't worth fretting over.

 

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Jack, I like this train of thought. I might add that George Balanchine's work, like that everyone else's in the performing arts, is constantly changing with each performance, simply because each performer has his/her individuality and each stager the same.

I'm moving some thoughts here from another topic, that involving the Ballet Chicago dance school starting with your comments about 1/3 down the page.

https://balletalert.invisionzone.com/topic/46027-2021-free-streaming-during-covid-19-crisis/page/3/

The video discussed of Concerto Barocco and Divertimento No.15 can be seen here until next Saturday, hopefully longer. The video quality is not the best but in a certain way this might help in focussing on the entire group and I believe it's worth the effort to watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnhdQuMn7UE&t=2s

I've praised a lot of these young students' qualities. I also mentioned that I tend to appreciate, notice and enjoy George Balanchine's inventiveness more with them than with some compilation videos that I've seen of his own company. I would have wanted to add that someone like yourself who saw many performances when he was there, said to me that the company was actually more alive and interesting than these particular videos showed.

So may I suggest that besides his works not wanting to be finished they are also always open to interpretation and change, if only because of the nature of the art form. He also was apparently noted for often making changes.

I know that this is diverting from your topic in that it takes matters out of his hands. Still I think that the discussion is close enough to be included here. You may not agree and I'd be glad to hear your comments.

There are many who feel that a performance should be as faithful to the original as possible, that the elements should be as accurately reproduced as possible. George Balanchine even somewhat supported this idea when he mused that his works will be carried on by others but will never be as he would have done them.

Still I feel that there's a definite place for interpretation in the performing arts and in fact can't be avoided. I think that George Balanchine might have agreed with this even if he would have preferred to be the one making the changes. But at a certain point this is no longer possible.

I tend to like what I call lyrical dance, a graceful, dreamlike approach. Dance companies such as the Mariinsky have interpreted George Balanchine in this manner to mixed response, especially the extent that the Mariinsky understands and captures the true George Balanchine. I would say that the Mariinsky has done a much better job with some of its interpretations than with others, but that what it's doing is appropriate, if not literal, and often highly successful. Someone here once suggested that George Balanchine might have even been quite willing to rework some of his creations to accommodate the Mariinsky style.

So here's a dance school from Chicago, the Chicago Ballet. The dancers are young and they're not perfect and not completed. Maybe that's a quality in itself. Back to Michaelangelo perhaps.

They're also somewhat more 'lyrical' than others. I'm not sure if this is by intent or simply happens, but I do enjoy it.

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This is a big subject, and two thoughts come to me at the moment.  The trivial one is that Ballet Chicago, run by Dan Duell and Patricia Blair is not exactly the Chicago Ballet - or the Chicago City Ballet, to be precise, whose artistic director was Maria Tallchief - although the earlier Chicago company company was in the same vein, directed by Balanchine dancers (besides Tallchief, Paul Mejia) in his "manner and style" (to quote a phrase used by yet another of the Balanchine "diaspora" who directed a company, Edward Villella).

But as to the Balanchine manner and style - I think he wanted from his performers a continuing, not yet complete (non finito), evolving realization of how the movement and the music relate, not a completely perfected performance of a role.  Martins, when he came along (and surprisingly), complained that Balanchine would "throw on" a ballet which, after several performances, was "a little all right," evidently looking at first under-rehearsed to Martins.  (Surprisingly, that Balanchine didn't seem to know this would happen if the company were in Martins's hands.)  But in "throwing on" a ballet, wasn't Balanchine leaving it to the dancers to make the changes of the moment?  He knew his dancers, of course.

Balanchine put this clearly enough on the occasion when he said,  "Never mind perfect.  Perfect is boring."  (It would help to know the occasion.)  Perfect is not boring to everyone, of course, but that was part of his credo, and it speaks to the freshness we see in the young dancers of our school here, Ballet Chicago. 

Did it speak to the "manner and style" of the younger dancers Balanchine picked for Palais de cristal in Paris in 1947?  Didn't he want dancers who were more open to his direction than the older ones, more set in their ways?  We can only speculate, but rather than rework a ballet to suit, say, the Mariinsky company, I think he would more likely try to find dancers in St. Petersburg who were already the most suitable for some of his repertory and also more able to be adapted to it.  Maybe younger ones.  (I gather something like this happens when the Balanchine Trust sends someone to stage a Balanchine ballet and discovers, on watching class, that they're not suited to it, but better suited to another one instead.)     

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32 minutes ago, Jack Reed said:

I think he would more likely try to find dancers in St. Petersburg who were already the most suitable for some of his repertory and also more able to be adapted to it.  Maybe younger ones.  (I gather something like this happens when the Balanchine Trust sends someone to stage a Balanchine ballet and discovers, on watching class, that they're not suited to it, but better suited to another one instead.)     

Whether the stagers get their way depends on the time and AD.  Farrell and Russell were the first to do stagings at the Mariinsky, Scotch Symphony and Theme and Variations, and management had their own casting ideas that followed the hierarchy.

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4 hours ago, Buddy said:

I might add that George Balanchine's work, like that everyone else's in the performing arts, is constantly changing with each performance, simply because each performer has his/her individuality and each stager the same.

I am reminded of a quote from Balanchine that appeared in one of the documentaries on him. Close paraphrase: "After I'm gone, will be my ballets, but will look different." He seemed matter-of-fact and very accepting of this.

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59 minutes ago, California said:

I am reminded of a quote from Balanchine that appeared in one of the documentaries on him. Close paraphrase: "After I'm gone, will be my ballets, but will look different." He seemed matter-of-fact and very accepting of this.

Thanks, California, for this added insight. I did hear or read the comment more akin to what I posted that he said that his works will be carried on by others but will never be as he would have done them.  Your paraphrase would imply a more positive feeling about the future of his works, as you suggest, and this is nice to hear. 

Jack, I'm understanding better what you are trying to say.

Your opening statement at this topic:

"Balanchine - a man of few words - was known for a number of compact expressions, and "Never mind perfect.  Perfect is boring." may be among the more notorious ones with some people, but it points to the freshness I find in the best, to me the most authentic, Balanchine performance." 

Statement from your most recent post:

"But as to the Balanchine manner and style - I think he wanted from his performers a continuing, not yet complete (non finito), evolving realization of how the movement and the music relate, not a completely perfected performance of a role."

I take a slightly different look at the value of an 'imperfect' performance as allowing for a more natural expression, a more spontaneous and perhaps a more interesting performance to emerge. I look at these young dance students and they charm me with their possible 'imperfections' as does a young child. This is simply my personal point of view. Both points of view, I feel, have validity, and don't contradict or negate the other.

Added: I would add having read something about George Balanchine  praising a dancer who fell because she(?) took a chance.

Edited by Buddy
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The quote I was thinking of is in the two-hour PBS documentary at 1:45:

People dance. While I'm here they dance that way. When I'm gone, they will continue dancing, but somebody's going to rehearse them different. So will be a little different, different intensity. So if few years go by and I won't be here, will be my ballets, but will look different.

 

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1 hour ago, Helene said:

Whether the stagers get their way depends on the time and AD.  Farrell and Russell were the first to do stagings at the Mariinsky, Scotch Symphony and Theme and Variations, and management had their own casting ideas that followed the hierarchy.

Helene, I've noticed a tendency at times for the Mariinsky to noticeably cast younger dancers in material that differs from the Mariinsky norm, but more for secondary dancers. Also, Yekaterina Kondaurova, from the hierarchy, is a sure shot for anything new, because she's brilliant at it. And I have seen what I consider brilliant performances from others in the hierarchy. I would say that there's a definite characteristic of casting from the hierarchy in the new high profile works. I do remember one performance of Rubies with almost all younger members in the background, and for me they stole the show.

Thanks again, California, for elaborating on the quote. What I recall was, I believe, a quote from George Balanchine according to the commentator of a documentary.

Edited by Buddy
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19 hours ago, Jack Reed said:

But as to the Balanchine manner and style - I think he wanted from his performers a continuing, not yet complete (non finito), evolving realization of how the movement and the music relate, not a completely perfected performance of a role. 

Jack, are there any works or performances of the many that you saw that you thought were particularly successful related to the unfinished or "non finito" concept ? Has anyone else seen any ?

Jack, I understand that you have a particular focus, how movement and music relate. I have another one. It has to do more with the dance in itself, the beauty and feel of the motion and the expression. Again, I believe that both of these are completely valid along with many others. So if I could comment on 'feel' for a moment I'd like to single out two performances seen on video that I've really valued. 

One would be the Act II Divertissement Duet from A Midsummer Night's Dream with Allegra Kent and Jacques D'Amboise, which you might have heard me mention if you follow my posts at all.  😊

The other would be Calliope by Zhanna Ayupova from Apollo in a gala performance.
 
The reason that I mention these two is that they represent to me taking something beyond, building on the "unfinished." I value them both for their poetic statements, for their feeling.

Daniel, above, wrote, 

"Thank you Jack!  I imagine Mr. B. would have enjoyed seeing dance his ballets with a new slant that he had not en visioned but liked.  Examples:  Elisabeth Platel dancing Ravel Sonatine; Olga Smirnova (from several years ago) dancing the pas de deux from Diamonds."

 Does anyone else have names or performances that they'd like to mention ?

Added: I'd like to mention one more performance that I've really valued. It's not a Balanchine performance, but a closely related Jerome Robbins' one. It's an In The Night duet performed by Olga Voloboueva. I've mentioned this before. She's a Vaganova graduate who later danced in the United States. What's so impressive to me is how she was able to combine her Vaganova fineness and sensitively with a very successful understanding and expression of the Balanchine/Robbins point of view. Like Zhanna Ayupova in Apollo she built something new by expanding the horizon.

 

 

 

 

Edited by Buddy
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