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Macaulay on ABT 2018 Met season

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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, canbelto said:

I'm talking specifically about ABT fans. I say this because the audience for the 8 week Met season tends to be one that has a fairly limited knowledge of ballet choreography. I've known some who don't know much ballet beyond R&J, Swan Lake and Giselle. But their conversations have always centered around dancers. When I first started it was Nina and Julio and Alessandra, then it became Herman/David/Marcelo/Veronika/Diana, and nowadays it's Stella and Sarah and so on and so forth. 

I understand what you're saying about ABT fans in particular, but I also don't think knowledge of choreography and interest in choreography are the same. I think even fans who don't know a lot of/about choreography are still very much aware of it in their experiences of performances, and care about it and have an interest in it. And I think such fans are likely to talk about the dancers more, partly (largely?) because of that difference between perception and knowledge. (We tend to talk about things that we both perceive and have a vocabulary for; but we can care very much about things we only perceive, even if we don't have the vocabulary to talk about them.)

Edited by nanushka

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Posted (edited)

Well I think ABT tends to market itself heavily as a star-driven company. Of course every company has its "stars" (even NYCB which prided itself on being a company without stars always did have stars) but I think the marketing especially of the 8 week Met spring season tends to bring out a certain type of balletomane who follows the dancers more than the ballets. 

I know a few people who bought tickets for Herman and Alessandra in Afterbrite and then were appalled that the choreography wasn't Romeo and Juliet.

Edited by canbelto

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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, canbelto said:

I know a few people who bought tickets for Herman and Alessandra in Afterbrite and then were appalled that the choreography wasn't Romeo and Juliet.

That precisely illustrates the point I was trying to make:

Quote

I consider myself a balletomane, and I care deeply — and, I think, equally — about both. If his point rests on many balletomanes' obsessive interest in casting — well, casting involves two elements: a dancer, and a role. (And in ballet, a role is in large part, though not exclusively, defined by its choreography.) Personally, I care about casting because I have preferences for and interests in seeing certain dancers perform certain choreography.

Again, I’m not talking about knowledge. Macaulay’s term was care. “Appalled” suggests they cared very much.

The dancers whom ABT fans (or balletomanes) obsess over during R&J week are often not the same ones they obsess over during Swan Lake week or Don Q week. The difference? Choreography.

Edited by nanushka

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18 hours ago, nanushka said:

That precisely illustrates the point I was trying to make:

Again, I’m not talking about knowledge. Macaulay’s term was care. “Appalled” suggests they cared very much.

The dancers whom ABT fans (or balletomanes) obsess over during R&J week are often not the same ones they obsess over during Swan Lake week or Don Q week. The difference? Choreography.

But 'appalled' that a Stravinsky score based on "The Rite of Spring" wasn't the romantic R&J choreography also suggests a basic ignorance of ballet history, and that they simply bought the tickets because they love Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri and didn't care much as to what they were actually in. 

Again I'm not making a blanket statement but I do think that type of fan exists more during ABT's spring season and thus it can probably be very frustrating to program the spring season as the tastes of much of the audience is so narrow.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, canbelto said:

But 'appalled' that a Stravinsky score based on "The Rite of Spring" wasn't the romantic R&J choreography also suggests a basic ignorance of ballet history, and that they simply bought the tickets because they love Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri and didn't care much as to what they were actually in. 

It certainly sounds like they cared quite a lot, once they saw it.

I wonder if what Macaulay is really expressing when he writes (rather scornfully, it has always seemed to me) of "balletomanes" who "care more about dancers than choreography" is in fact mere frustration at the "basic ignorance" of those in the audience around him who have tastes (be they narrow or broad) without also having the requisite detailed knowledge of ballet history and terminology to describe or justify exactly what those tastes are.

(I personally wouldn't use the term "balletomanes" to refer to those who have a "basic ignorance" of the art they are purportedly manic about — but that's just another point on which he and I differ, I suppose.)

Edited by nanushka

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I'm not in a position to observe the ABT audience, but I can look at the company's programming choices and those certainly do seem to be designed to give a limited number of highly skilled dancers the chance to tackle a large, narrative work, and to come back to it again during their career (something that happens far less often in other companies, for many reasons).  It makes sense, with that kind of programming, for the company to emphasize the performers, and for the audience to focus on that aspect of the experience. 

I don't want to get into "yes he did/no he didn't mean that" arguments, but we might want to think of a balletomane as someone who is already knowledgeable about the choreography (especially in ABT's classics-heavy Met seasons) -- the variable, the thing that might be different in this performance, is the dancing itself. 

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Posted (edited)

I didn't see any R&J performances, but I agree with what much of Macaulay has said in the piece below about ABT's somewhat unfocused dancing this season. And he puts into words what I've been feeling: that many of the dancers aren't really projecting well enough into that big house.   

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/15/arts/dance/romeo-and-juliet-american-ballet-theater.html

His critique of Stearns aligns exactly with my experiences of his performances. 

Edited by fondoffouettes

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Posted (edited)

Macaulay's annual season recap has arrived.

I'm struck first by the impression that he has soured a bit on Hallberg:

Quote

But David Hallberg, who created roles in Mr. Ratmansky’s “Firebird” (2012) and “Whipped Cream” (2017), didn’t grace those ballets or several other vehicles with his presence this year. When he danced “Giselle,” with Natalia Osipova, and “Romeo and Juliet,” with Isabella Boylston, the ballerinas blazed fervently throughout, whereas he gave gracious guest-star performances, beautifully indicating his roles rather than inhabiting them.

He "didn't grace those ballets...with his presence" — ouch.

I'm also curious about some of what he writes about Petipa:

Quote

That leaves Petipa. This year is the bicentennial of his birth; his name was among the credits in five of the season’s eight weeks, with “La Bayadère,” “Don Quixote,” “Giselle,” “Harlequinade” and “Swan Lake.” But these different views make Petipa seem to have multiple personality disorder. In “Harlequinade,” staged by Mr. Ratmansky from period sources, mime is bright, vivid, musical; but in “Swan Lake,” staged by Kevin McKenzie, large parts of the mime are missing, others have been changed, and few are played with power. “Don Quixote” is a flashy circus romp: Though Mr. McKenzie’s production is similar to most others, this is a ballet that trivializes any notion of classicism.

A few questions arise for me:

  • What's the difference between a choreographer with "multiple personality disorder" and one who, over a rather long career, created works in a wide variety of styles?  Is this just about the different uses of mime in Harlequinade and Swan Lake, or is he making a bigger point about the apparent artistic discontinuities between these works/productions? And could we really expect more, given the difficulties of maintaining choreography over a century and a half across works with widely varying production histories? Should ABT be making it a priority to give a more cohesive impression of the choreographer who, in part or in whole, was the originator of such widely differing works?
  • Which parts of the mime are missing from ABT's Swan Lake? I always had the sense that a fair amount of the traditional mime was kept intact, particularly in comparison with 20th-century Russian/Soviet productions.
  • Was Petipa's original Don Q really less flashy and trivial than modern productions? In what specific ways? Macaulay has long complained about this ballet (along with Corsaire), but I always thought he hated the ballet itself, not just modern "after Petipa" versions of it. What, I wonder, does he think would have been in the Petipa original that he would have liked more than what we have now? (Curiously, he doesn't mention Ratmansky's version, though he goes on to praise the latter's "passion to establish a view of Petipa that shakes off the many stylistic changes of the Soviet era.")

Finally, I knew that Makarova had rehearsed the dancers for Bayadère this year, but Macaulay also writes this:

Quote

Natalia Makarova worked this spring to refine her 1980 production of “La Bayadère”; I was grateful for the improvements.

Does anyone know what specific "improvements" he's referencing?

Edited by nanushka

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36 minutes ago, nanushka said:

Macaulay's annual season recap has arrived.

I'm struck first by the impression that he has soured a bit on Hallberg:

He "didn't grace those ballets...with his presence" — ouch.

Finally, I knew that Makarova had rehearsed the dancers for Bayadère this year, but Macaulay also writes this:

Does anyone know what specific "improvements" he's referencing?

He "didn't grace those ballets...with his presence". Well, he certainly said what many of us were already saying (or thinking), along with calling him a "guest star". 

I wonder what "improvements" he's referencing in Bayadere as well? 

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Yes, I was also struck by Macaulay's remarks about Hallberg, especially since Macaulay has been such a Hallberg cheerleader over the years. 

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5 minutes ago, abatt said:

Yes, I was also struck by Macaulay's remarks about Hallberg, especially since Macaulay has been such a Hallberg cheerleader over the years. 

I feel like he started souring on him a while ago, just after he went to the Bolshoi--talked about him developing in the wrong ways etc.

I'd try and find some direct quotes but I can't bear to read that many of Macaulay's reviews.

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2 minutes ago, aurora said:

I feel like he started souring on him a while ago, just after he went to the Bolshoi--talked about him developing in the wrong ways etc.

I'd try and find some direct quotes but I can't bear to read that many of Macaulay's reviews.

Yes I think I recall that too. I don’t remember it sounding quite so snarky/personal before, though. Seemed like it was more in aesthetic terms, more critically objective. I may be wrong though.

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Posted (edited)
9 minutes ago, nanushka said:

Yes I think I recall that too. I don’t remember it sounding quite so snarky/personal before, though. Seemed like it was more in aesthetic terms, more critically objective. I may be wrong though.

That is my impression as well--I just meant this seemed like progression (downward) in Macaulay's opinion and not totally out of the blue, despite how enamored he certainly was with Hallberg at one point.

Edited by aurora

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I agree with Macaulay although I don't think the reason Hallberg is less effective of a dancer is because of his mannerisms. He always had those mannerisms. I remember him before he was made principal and he swept onstage like a natural born prince. I think it's the fact that his dancing is on such a small scale after those horrific injuries that the mannerisms no longer match the dancing.

This is what I wrote on my blog after seeing him dance Albrecht this year:

Quote

David Hallberg's problem was understandable -- he was out with injuries for three years, and recently re-injured himself dancing Gisellewith Natalia Osipova in London. He danced Albrecht rather gingerly. The steps were mostly there but that kind soaring, effortless elevation and the nobility that came from the majestic grandness of his dancing is not there anymore. He still does the entrechats in Act 2 but whereas before you felt as if there were invisible springs in his legs that led him to fly at Myrtha's command this time you felt as if he was just getting through the series of entrechats. As a result his performance was a bit mannered -- without the expansiveness of his dancing you just noticed his tricks like the way he billows his cape as he runs offstage in Act One.

 

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There was a lot lacking and missing in this assessment. How did Cornejo end up on a list with Sterns and Whiteside as coming nearer to being "central artists"? Cornejo is up there with the best of them IMO.  Abrera, Hee Seo, and Copeland are named as representing a new American diversity that is replacing the old demand for Russians, without commenting on the differences in dancing or approach. Is this good or bad? I don't particularly like the ABT version of Swan Lake, but Keven M is criticized for the very standard version the company does. It is not a back to Petipa work as is Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty and Harlequinade, so why even compare? He says that Misty Copel;and is the greatest ABT draw, and leaves it at that. It is a hot topic so I don't blame him for getting into it but, in that case, why mention it?  Who is he writing for? What audience is he aimed at?

 

 

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Posted (edited)

nanushka

I suspect that in referring to Petipa's "multi personality disorder" Macaulay is suggesting that of the ballets attributed to Petipa which are in ABT's repertory some are considerably closer in their text to choreography which Petipa might be able to recognise as having some connection with his own creations than others. Of course Petipa's style developed over time but not to the extent that some productions of ballets attributed to him would suggest.

Petipa's "multiple personality disorder" is a problem which has to be faced by any company whose repertory includes both serious scholarly reconstructions of his ballets based on the Stepanov notation and mid twentieth century  productions of other works staged by him during the second part of the  nineteenth century. Productions like ABT's La Bayadere and Le Corsaire  are based on mid twentieth century Soviet  stagings. They incorporate elements of the more athletic advances in technique which took place in Russia during the 1920's and 1930's, A company with both Soviet based productions of Petipa's works and other productions based on the earliest recorded notated text of his ballets, is at some point. going to have to try to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Putting it simply the Petipa revealed by Ratmansky's reconstructions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake is a nineteenth century ballet master rather than a choreographer gifted with the ability to foresee every choreographic advance that would occur in Russia during the fifty years following his death. Being confronted with a Petipa who is considerably more of a contemporary of Bournonville than we are used to seeing can come as a bit of a shock. Even without worrying about the authenticity of every step danced or insisting on period appropriate technique and style, seeing  a performance in which the musicality of Petipa's choreography is restored because the  conductor refuses to indulge  the dancers and insists that the composer's   tempi are to be taken seriously has an extraordinarily transformative effect on the audience's experience of Petipa's ballets

 

 

Edited by Ashton Fan

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33 minutes ago, Ashton Fan said:

Petipa's "multiple personality disorder" is a problem which has to be faced by any company whose repertory includes both serious scholarly reconstructions of his ballets based on the Stepanov notation and mid twentieth century  productions of other works staged by him during the second part of the  nineteenth century. ... A company with both Soviet based productions of Petipa's works and other productions based on the earliest recorded notated text of his ballets, is at some point. going to have to try to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Thanks for your thoughts, Ashton Fan. I guess I wonder whether and why this is really "a problem which has to be faced," or whether this is just the basic reality of what it means to have, at the center of the classical repertoire, a choreographer who stopped working over a century ago, at a time when modern archival capabilities were not yet in existence, in an art form that is typically dependent upon person-to-person (rather than textual) transmission. And if it is a problem, then what would it really mean to "face" it? Should ABT's first priority necessarily be to maintain the Petipa legacy as a legacy, by, for instance, working immediately to ensure that all of its productions are Ratmansky-style archive-based reconstructions? Is it really a problem for a company to have different productions represent different sorts of relationships to their Petipa originals? Why precisely, does the irreconcilable need to be reconciled by a company such as ABT?

(To be clear, I'm not saying that it's not a problem or that it doesn't need to be reconciled — rather, just raising these as questions.)

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This is Macaulay's own prejudice against anything that smacks of "Soviet" re-choreographing. He has several such hangups -- another is a new ballet work that doesn't contain any male-male partnering. He also dislikes any MacMillan that goes for a more stylized, romantic approach rather than the aggressively realistic portrayals.

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44 minutes ago, canbelto said:

This is Macaulay's own prejudice against anything that smacks of "Soviet" re-choreographing.

That’s very much how I read it as well. But since Macaulay typically lacks the space, initiative and/or ability to fully support many of his claims (such as the one I highlighted above: “But these different views seem to make Petipa have multiple personality disorder”), I wondered if anyone here might be able to do so! (Though his claims often don’t convince me, I’m willing to consider that they may have validity.)

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1 minute ago, nanushka said:

That’s very much how I read it as well. But since Macaulay typically lacks the space, initiative and/or ability to fully support many of his claims (such as the one I highlighted above: “But these different views seem to make Petipa have multiple personality disorder”), I wondered if anyone here might be able to do so! (Though his claims often don’t convince me, I’m willing to consider that they may have validity.)

Well the thing to remember is Petipa had a very long career (like George Balanchine) and created many different pieces for different dancers and occasions. 100 years from now if a company does, say, Balanchine's Nutcracker or MSND and then does Four Temperaments and rounds it out with Jewels we might say he had "multiple personality disorder" as he himself so self-identified as a minimalist/abstract choreographer. 

Has there been a lot of Soviet re-choreographing? Yes. But I think that it really boils down to him trying to pigeonhole a choreographer who can't really be pigeonholed.

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, canbelto said:

Well the thing to remember is Petipa had a very long career (like George Balanchine) and created many different pieces for different dancers and occasions. 100 years from now if a company does, say, Balanchine's Nutcracker or MSND and then does Four Temperaments and rounds it out with Jewels we might say he had "multiple personality disorder" as he himself so self-identified as a minimalist/abstract choreographer. 

I think I'm with @Ashton Fan in suspecting that Macaulay's criticism is less a response to the great diversity and scope of Petipa's oeuvre (though the Balanchine comparison is certainly apt) and more a response to the diversity of provenances of the Petipa and "after Petipa" productions in the ABT repertoire. I just question whether that diversity is itself in fact inherently problematic. (Whether any individual production is or is not good, or is or is not true to Petipa, is yet another question, and one that I know Macaulay has some strong opinions on as well.)

Edited by nanushka

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On 7/6/2018 at 11:36 AM, abatt said:

Yes, I was also struck by Macaulay's remarks about Hallberg, especially since Macaulay has been such a Hallberg cheerleader over the years. 

I remember talking to him last fall after the ABT two-week season in which Hallberg danced Other Dances, and he remarked then that he felt Hallberg had danced it with a "look at how elegant and beautiful a dancer I am" air, which felt in line with what he wrote in this summary piece(that Hallberg didn't inhabit the roles/choreography etc.).

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On 7/10/2018 at 3:58 PM, nanushka said:

I think I'm with @Ashton Fan in suspecting that Macaulay's criticism is less a response to the great diversity and scope of Petipa's oeuvre (though the Balanchine comparison is certainly apt) and more a response to the diversity of provenances of the Petipa and "after Petipa" productions in the ABT repertoire. I just question whether that diversity is itself in fact inherently problematic. (Whether any individual production is or is not good, or is or is not true to Petipa, is yet another question, and one that I know Macaulay has some strong opinions on as well.)

"a response to the diversity of provenances of the Petipa and "after Petipa" productions in the ABT repertoire. "  I think you've put your finger on something important here -- while we argue publicly and privately about the accuracy of current productions of Balanchine's work, we still have many people in the theater (both in front and behind the curtain) who have direct personal experience with the original work.  For many years we didn't really have Platonic productions of the Petipa rep.  We would argue and speculate about the authenticity of this or that choice, but the further away from the first night we got, and the more generations of changes we accumulated, the harder it was to know the original from the copy.  Now that we're revelling in the Stepanov notation and other primary source materials, we're questioning all sorts of things in the productions we've inherited from previous generations.  Ironically, I find myself more curious about the different choices that people have made over time in their various productions, now that I have a sense that a Soviet interpolation can live alongside the original, unencumbered version.

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The British had a different tradition, and my understanding is that the early Sleeping Beauty was based on the Stepanov notation, and, of course, Ashton was influenced by Pavlova.

I find it interesting that the changes were already being made in Petipa's lifetime, and not by Petipa.

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