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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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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.

 

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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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