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cubanmiamiboy

Yellow Face and Bugaku

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From the Copeland thread, the issue of Yellow face has risen here and there. Orientalism is being tackled right now as we know-( Balanchine's Tea). Gone are the wigs for the girls, the mustache for the boy and the yellow face makeup.

But... what's gonna happen to Bugaku..? The whole thing is like THE ode to Orientalism. Do you think there will be a long, long time before we see it again at NYCB..? In MCB it was done for the last time quite a few years ago...

 

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57 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

There were a few posts re whether or not NYCB should revive Bugaku in the NYCB Fall 2019 thread.

I was then and still am in the "nah, we don't need to revive this one" camp. 

I started the thread because, interestingly, it was one of the first Balanchine ballets I ever saw, and it struck me for its high plasticity and misterious allure.

Sadly, I very much would say it is probably dropped by now from NYCB and even down here. 

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There is a lengthy discussion of “Bugaku” and potential problems with reviving it in this thread, “Are There Ballets That Should No Longer Be Staged?”

The choreography of Bugaku is strong enough to make it worth preserving, IMO. At the very least we should have Kent and Villella and other performers of the piece on tape sharing everything they know about it, so that if someone wants to try to bring it back it’s possible to do so.

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I started the thread because, interestingly, it was one of the first Balanchine ballets I ever saw, and it struck me for its high plasticity and misterious allure.

I agree, it has a special perfume, as Balanchine might say. And the pas de deux is stunning. (How Balanchine avoided jail for public indecency I'll never know. :)) The question would be how and whether to ameliorate some aspects that are less fragrant in retrospect while still being true to Balanchine's intentions and the era when the ballet was made.

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As the occasional resident "Hi hey hello, I'm a fan but I do this as a profession [I am a professional historian & my first book was on mid-century Chinese opera]" person in these conversations, I really would love to see Bugaku staged as a leotard ballet. I have said so to well-respected, long-standing members of this board. I don't think there's any reason to revive it in its current form (original form?) as pretty as the tutus are (and they are pretty. Last time I was at the V&A - a number of years ago - I got to see Susanne Farrell's Bugaku tutu, and it was gorgeous). It would be an interesting ballet to watch as a leotard ballet. With all the Orientalist nonsense (which I don't fault Balanchine for, per se), it's ... much less interesting. Strip it down to its bones, then let people decide its worth.  

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Hello, l'histoire. I remember your posts on Bugaku very well and those who click on the link to "Are There Ballets That Should No Longer Be Staged?" can read them. I agree that the leotard experiment is worth trying.

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43 minutes ago, dirac said:

Hello, l'histoire. I remember your posts on Bugaku very well and those who click on the link to "Are There Ballets That Should No Longer Be Staged?" can read them. I agree that the leotard experiment is worth trying.

Let's agree to disagree here. Bugaku without costumes would be even more senseless than Balanchine's experiment with Sylphides.  Bugaku, from the source it took inspiration, to its name, to the geisha-like way the females walk, to the samurai-way way the males stance and march around, to its grand stance on hair, makeup and costume design is the grandest Orientalist balletic fantasy/ode to Orientalism I have ever seen. You take that from the ballet, you erase it. I don't think Balanchine would be satisfied to see his piece morphed into a rehearsal-like situation.

Again....I can see perfectly this piece being performed by an all-Asian company, preferentially a Japanese one. Their heritage, their inner right. 

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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7 hours ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

Again....I can see perfectly this piece being performed by an all-Asian company, preferentially a Japanese one. Their heritage, their inner right. 

Keep in mind that a Japanese company might not perceive Bugaku as being particularly true to their culture nor in any sense part of their heritage. They might find it more of a piece with Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado and of no real interest, preferring to tackle truly top-drawer Balanchine instead.

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Here's a clip of two Sarasota Ballet dancers rehearsing Bugaku in practice clothes, which gives some sense of what it might look like as a leotard ballet. 

 

 

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I don't think it's a viable idea to try to do Bugaku as a black-and-white leotard ballet. It doesn't make any sense. The oriental references are too strong, and what do you do about about the undressing/dressing sections? In the production the dancers enter on a ramp and then down steps into a stage arena. Without the set what do you have? Just dancers walking out. I don't think it's any big deal to simply not present the ballet at this time. We're going thru social upheavals, things might get sorted out, change will happen - and maybe at some point in the future people will look at Bugaku with very different eyes. It's not "endangered" - there are plenty of films, interviews with Villella and Kent, et.al. Don't mess with it, don't "fix" it, don't try to make it something it isn't. Just give it a breather and see what happens. 

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Thought further - about the last section where the girls are wearing long ceremonial capes that the guys billow and fluff. No actually steps really - it's all about working the capes. So without the capes what have you got? 

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3 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

Keep in mind that a Japanese company might not perceive Bugaku as being particularly true to their culture nor in any sense part of their heritage. They might find it more of a piece with Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado and of no real interest, preferring to tackle truly top-drawer Balanchine instead.

The piece is obviously a fantasy, an Orientalism, and as such will always be performed. But if done by an Asian company the whole issue of Yellow Face, "cultural appropriation" and such is eliminated.  This year MCB Nutcracker followed NYCB "no yellow face" for Tea, but the dance was done at all times by two Asian dancers. And so it still preserved some of its intended allure, even sans wigs. 

I was told by a dancer that the two Asian girls was just a coincidence, but I don't believe so.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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10 hours ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

But if done by an Asian company the whole issue of Yellow Face, "cultural appropriation" and such is eliminated.  This year MCB Nutcracker followed NYCB "no yellow face" for Tea, but the dance was done at all times by two Asian dancers. And so it still preserved some of its intended allure, even sans wigs. 

Uh, no. At least on the issue of 'cultural appropriation.' The idea that this piece, costumes & all, somehow represents 'Asian' culture (which is a laughable idea in & of itself) if it's performed by Asian dancers is utterly absurd. Bugaku is Balanchine imagining Asia (Japan). Period. Doesn't matter who's performing it, it is still appropriation to the max (I have perhaps misremembered, but I seem to recall seeing something about the premier of the ballet & the Japanese ambassador being offended & leaving early? I can't blame the man if it's true). I'd love to see the ballet in leotard fashion, as I think it would be much less offensive (pretty as the tutus are), but even so - marshaling Asian dancers into the roles will not make it any less "cultural appropriation" than it currently is,. I say that as someone who (a) has spent a hell of a lot of time studying "traditional" Chinese theatre & published a book on the subject with a reputable academic press and (b) is trained in the history of and also teaches the REST of East Asia (Japan and Korea).

Also, why in god's name would any Asian company pick THIS Balanchine piece to present, out of the many others available? Yes, it's of interest to those of us who have an interest in Balanchine. But - AFAIK - Balanchine isn't quite so popular in East Asia, ergo, performing one of the REAL Balanchine greats (Serenade, Barocco, Apollo, the like) would be of much more interest to the dancers & the audiences, versus this head-scratching (in many respects) take on Japanese shunga. Balanchine's 'Tea' with the original finger pointing stuff is just gross, wigs or not. Chinese opera (ALL of them, and there are many) is absolutely stunning to watch in motion - to borrow from THAT theatrical tradition, one doesn't need to be reduced to 'index fingers pointing in the air while wearing silly wigs.' 

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I can remember a private performance (dancers entertaining dancers) where a pair of dancers came on and gave an hilarious performance of a pas de deux from their company's rep with index fingers extended.  One dancer was Chinese and the other was half Japanese.  They were having a joke at a ballet convention.  Had it been that offensive I imagine they would not have done it.

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On 1/25/2020 at 6:39 AM, l'histoire said:

I say that as someone who (a) has spent a hell of a lot of time studying "traditional" Chinese theatre & published a book on the subject with a reputable academic press and (b) is trained in the history of and also teaches the REST of East Asia (Japan and Korea).

A-Your credentials are wonderful! And B- I have some too. I am a nurse.👨‍⚕️

But....C- our opinions are subjective, for both of us, Academy or not, and for every company who decides what to stage and whatnot there's also subjective opinion.  As with La Scala's Raymonda presenting the good boy crusaders in full chest cross regalia vs ABT dropping the piece altogether.

If there's something absurd would be to erase this beautiful ballet as if it is akin to the issue of the blacks slaves of La Bayadere. There's a huge difference in intention.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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2 hours ago, Mashinka said:

I can remember a private performance (dancers entertaining dancers) where a pair of dancers came on and gave an hilarious performance of a pas de deux from their company's rep with index fingers extended.  One dancer was Chinese and the other was half Japanese.  They were having a joke at a ballet convention.  Had it been that offensive I imagine they would not have done it.

If humor and offensiveness were mutually exclusive, a good number of comics would be out of business.

Context matters. There's a big difference between pointing fingers to make fun of ballet's occasional cultural offensiveness and pointing fingers to take part in it.

I share @l'histoire 's mystification at the idea that an Asian company performing Bugaku would eliminate the problem. Picture for a moment a black person wearing blackface makeup, with all its ridiculous and offensive exaggerations and dehumanizing elements. It'd still be blackface. (FWIW, I'm not intending to conflate Bugaku and blackface.)

I say this as someone who would love to see Bugaku maintained, in at least some form and some context, despite its inherently problematic nature. I just don't think it'd be possible to do so without an acknowledgment that it is problematic; trying to sidestep the issue would be counter-productive and indeed impossible.

Edited by nanushka

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12 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

Here's a clip of two Sarasota Ballet dancers rehearsing Bugaku in practice clothes, which gives some sense of what it might look like as a leotard ballet. 

 

 

It it just that. A rehearsal. The samurai without his costume loses all. 

And he doesn't look menacing enough, btw. Bugaku without costumes is like Giselle pdd or the Black Swan pdd without costumes. As beautiful as the choreography is costumes are vital to the drama.

11 hours ago, Rock said:

Thought further - about the last section where the girls are wearing long ceremonial capes that the guys billow and fluff. No actually steps really - it's all about working the capes. So without the capes what have you got? 

Exactly

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3 minutes ago, nanushka said:

Picture for a moment a black person wearing blackface makeup, 

There would not be need for it  The exaggerated, Cio Cio-Sam-like makeup-( black eyeliner pointing up, black eyebrows pointing up etc)- could be eliminated. 

I'm telling you...I saw it in here, with the changes for the MCB tea-( Asian dancers)- vs the NYCB tea. They both still looked somehow "naked" without the wigs, but in NY the two blonde girls I saw looked plain weird.

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1 minute ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

There would not be need for it  The exaggerated, Cio Cio-Sam-like makeup-( black eyeliner pointing up, black eyebrows pointing up etc)- could be eliminated.

My point wasn't about the Bugaku makeup; it was that cultural stereotypes embodied and performed by a member of the culture being stereotyped are still just that — cultural stereotypes. Blackface was just an analogy.

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10 hours ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

The piece is obviously a fantasy, an Orientalism, and as such will always be performed. But if done by an Asian company the whole issue of Yellow Face, "cultural appropriation" and such is eliminated.

It's a white person's fantasy of the Orient, not an Asian's. Having an Asian enact the fantasy doesn't change that. 

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There's a moral issue hovering over this discussion. "Fixing" Bugaku is akin to putting a fig leaf on the David, or painting over a nude. This is a work of art and should be left alone. Do it or don't do it but it's wrong to alter it and then present an altered version. It reminds me of Queen Victoria's daughter burning the letters and diary pages in an effort, she thought, of saving her mother's reputation. All she succeeded in doing was obliterating history. 

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17 minutes ago, Rock said:

There's a moral issue hovering over this discussion. "Fixing" Bugaku is akin to putting a fig leaf on the David, or painting over a nude. This is a work of art and should be left alone. Do it or don't do it but it's wrong to alter it and then present an altered version.

The entire history of ballet is one of alteration. The performing arts are fundamentally different from sculpture or painting in that there is not in fact a concrete and stable “work of art.” Ballets need to be staged, to be produced. “Don’t do it” means, in the performing arts, that the work essentially ceases to exist, except in in the abstract, in memory or in technological reproduction (e.g. the existing video with McBride and Bonnefoux).

Edited by nanushka

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Use of video is very common in the staging of ballet all over the world. There's no reason that method can't be applied to Bugaku a couple of decades from now. Passing down by hand is the most dicey method of staging a ballet. People forget, and their minds twist things and they remember what they "think" they did. In fact they remember less than they think they do.

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Bugaku has many films from many companies. The NYCB films their performances and the tapes are given to the Lincoln Center Library. Many companies maintain an archive. Actually, the films made in Montreal and Nashville by the NYCB are the least reliable because Balanchine loved to play with camera angles and move things around. He changed entrances, patterns, spacing especially. They're not useful for restaging purposes.

 

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