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Yellow Face and Bugaku


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9 minutes ago, Rock said:

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.

 

Sorry I didn’t mean to suggest anything of the sort, I was simply referencing that video as an example of how a ballet continues to exist as an enduring work of art in only a very limited sense when it’s not being produced. “Leave it alone” means one thing with a sculpture or painting (it still sits there, being itself) but something very different with a work in the performing arts. (I should have clarified that by “ceases to exist” I didn’t necessarily mean “for good.” Of course video can play a role in restaging.)

I’m not sure why altering Bugaku is a moral issue in a way that altering, say, Swan Lake might not be. (Certainly it’s more of a legal issue, but that’s quite different.)

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6 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

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

Disagreeing. America's most common knowledge of a Cuban was -(and still is for older generations)- Desiderio Arnaz-(Desi)- and his Ricky Ricardo. His way of acting is a parody of a Cuban guy with Latin short temper, but in any case, one always give him the benefit of his creation for being Cuban himself. Would it had been Jerry Lewis doing it, it would had been a different story. Perhaps Ricky would be offensive for the Cuban community. But as it is, it is not.

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Desi was heavily involved in all aspects of I love Lucy though so he was creating his own character. It's a bit like Seinfeld mirrored a lot of Jerry Seinfeld's own personality.

This is more akin to a Japanese soprano singing Madama Butterfly. She wouldn't be wearing yellowface but Madama Butterfly is a Westernized fantasy of Japanese geisha. Very different from, say, Kenji Mizoguchi's films about geisha (his own sister was sold into a geisha house and he was close to her and took his inspiration from many things he witnessed).

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1 minute ago, canbelto said:

Desi was heavily involved in all aspects of I love Lucy though so he was creating his own character. It's a bit like Seinfeld mirrored a lot of Jerry Seinfeld's own personality.

This is more akin to a Japanese soprano singing Madama Butterfly. She wouldn't be wearing yellowface but Madama Butterfly is a Westernized fantasy of Japanese geisha. Very different from, say, Kenji Mizoguchi's films about geisha (his own sister was sold into a geisha house and he was close to her and took his inspiration from many things he witnessed).

I totally agree. I'm saying that in the eyes of the general public, seeing an Asian play Butterfly or Bugaku,.or seeing Leontyne Price as Aida vs a darkened skin Tebaldi, or seeing the Cuban Desi playing the Cuban Ricky makes it less confusing....more comfortable, perhaps less politically incorrect .

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36 minutes ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

I totally agree. I'm saying that in the eyes of the general public, seeing an Asian play Butterfly or Bugaku,.or seeing Leontyne Price as Aida vs a darkened skin Tebaldi, or seeing the Cuban Desi playing the Cuban Ricky makes it less confusing....more comfortable, perhaps less politically incorrect .

More comfortable for the white folks, sure. But it's not the white folks whose comfort is at issue when racial and ethnic stereotyping are under examination.  Some of them (and I include myself among their number) could probably stand to be a little less comfortable, frankly. 

"Politcal correctness" means thinking about how one's words and deeds might affect someone from another community—how what one says, or does, or even tolerates out of ignorance—might cause them hurt or discomfort or offense. 

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell
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2 hours ago, nanushka said:

I’m not sure why altering Bugaku is a moral issue in a way that altering, say, Swan Lake might not be. (Certainly it’s more of a legal issue, but that’s quite different.)

Swan Lake, of course, predates any reliable record. There's no video, no Benesh notation, et.al. 

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1 hour ago, Rock said:

Swan Lake, of course, predates any reliable record. There's no video, no Benesh notation, et.al. 

There may not be a reliable record of the steps, but I believe there are reliable records of some aspects of the work (e.g. the ordering of musical numbers or the plot content of the denouement), and those aspects are frequently altered.

I understood you to be objecting, on moral grounds, to the broader range of possible alterations of Bugaku, not just alteration of the steps/choreography. Sorry if I misunderstood.

Edited by nanushka
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The choreography of Bugaku IMO isn't strong enough to be revived as more than an occasional specialty. This is not a Turandot or Madama Butterfly situation where the music is so strong that it will always be in the rep. If a company wants to acquire Balanchine in their rep, they're going to go for Apollo/Serenade/Symphony in C/Jewels/Agon/4T's/T&V every time. For the companies that specialize in Balanchine it might be cool to see once or twice. I have seen it maybe once or twice and never thought I was looking at more than B minus Balanchine.

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2 hours ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

Desiderio Arnaz-(Desi)- and his Ricky Ricardo. His way of acting is a parody of a Cuban guy with Latin short temper,

That was not what registered to me at all: what registered was that he was rightly exasperated with Lucy's shenanigans.  He reminded me of my Eastern European grandfather, who was similarly exasperated with my Odessa-born grandmother (for different reasons) and switched out of English to Yiddish when he ran out of words to express it.  

 

Quote is giving me grief today.  I can't speak for the Belasco, because I've neither seen nor read the source material.  But as for the opera, I don't think of Butterfly as a Western fantasy of a geisha.  What I see is a young woman, who at 15 went through years of training and who worked hard, and had enough money of her own, earned money to maintain a household, including a lease that Pinkerton contracted that was probably pittance for him, but not her, including her child and Suzuki for three years.  She thinks that she'll have a different life in America: she wants out.  She's defiant from the start and especially in Act II, and even after three years of his absence and insisting to everyone who'll listen that he'll come back and take her away to something better, essentially dissing what's in front of her to the people who live there.   (It's a wonder anyone will listen anymore.)  She is victimized like almost all sopranos in opera, but she is hardly the deferential shrinking violet who just wants to please and is subservient, the stereotype that is the subject of Western male fantasy about Asian women.  I think that's very different than the portrayal of Japanese women that Balanchine created for Bugaku, which I believe does fall into that stereotype.

Of course the reality of being Japanese in the US, especially at that time, with so many laws and prejudices against nearly all Asian populations, was another story, but she didn't live to experience it, and Puccini was hardly an expert on the US.

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58 minutes ago, Rock said:

Swan Lake, of course, predates any reliable record. There's no video, no Benesh notation, et.al. 

There are Stepanov notations of Swan Lake that were created in St. Petersburg.  They might not be absolutely complete down to the last detail, but there are notations.

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True, Helene, but it's so far in the past and before there were any copyright laws - I think people don't feel guilty doing their own versions. It doesn't seem to be an issue. A ballet like Bugaku is different. At least right now. Things will change when Balanchine's ballets move into the public domain. 

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8 minutes ago, Rock said:

True, Helene, but it's so far in the past and before there were any copyright laws - I think people don't feel guilty doing their own versions. It doesn't seem to be an issue. A ballet like Bugaku is different. At least right now. Things will change when Balanchine's ballets move into the public domain. 

Copyright laws sound like more of a legal/pragmatic concern than a moral/aesthetic one.

Edited by nanushka
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10 hours ago, canbelto said:

This is more akin to a Japanese soprano singing Madama Butterfly. She wouldn't be wearing yellowface but Madama Butterfly is a Westernized fantasy of Japanese geisha. Very different from, say, Kenji Mizoguchi's films about geisha (his own sister was sold into a geisha house and he was close to her and took his inspiration from many things he witnessed).

Japan's K-Ballet Company premiered their Madama Butterfly last fall. There were mixed reactions to this piece but they tried to eliminate the awkwardness that many Japanese audience might feel, such as the westernized fantasies of the Japanese Geisha.

https://youtu.be/ZqL6morcC_c

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19 hours ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

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

Again, no. What really defined a samurai, beside his flat-out birth right of class, which is admittedly hard to depict in ballet? The sword on his hip. Don't remember Villalla wearing one when he performed this with McBride. I do remember the flowered bikini. 

The ballet loses nothing without its psuedo-shunga trappings. "Tea" also can stand on its own without its pseudo-Asian, frankly racist & ultimately stupid caricatures of Asian art. Such things make me sad, because I imagine if Balanchine had ever had serious exposure to East Asian performance traditions, he probably would've found a lot of interesting, beautiful, and fascinating things to take inspiration from in a much less ham-fisted manner. I see the beautiful, slow & deliberate arm movements of kunqu huadan sometimes in the opening of Serenade, even though it was of course not anything Mr B. was drawing from. 

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Balanchine is getting a lot of stick here but he's not the only choreographer to be inspired by Japan, there was Ashton with Madame Chrysanthème (now lost), MacMillan's Rituals and Ratmansky's Dreams of Japan.  I remember a critic opining that all choreographers seem to have a Japanese ballet in them somewhere.  The performance styles of the far east intrigue and fascinate, MacMillan's Rituals came not long after a Kabuki company performed in London and he copied the make up and the costumes, though they were of course adapted for greater movement. 

The  most recent Butterfly I saw was sensational, set in the 1940's it became a seedy story of buying and selling female flesh.  When Butterfly's friends turn up for her wedding they are wearing their school uniforms.  At the end Pinkerton was actually booed, perhaps because in that version he was recognized as a paedophile.  It was a Glydebourne production, lots of images available on line for anyone interested.

 

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Maurice Bejart's The Kabuki is an example of a Western choreographer creating a ballet on a Japanese theme for a Japanese company, the Tokyo Ballet

Stanton Welch's Madame Butterfly is perfectly dreadful, not only because the narrative devices are clumsy, but also because it is stylized in the worst of pseudo-Japanese way. Women shuffle along with parallel feet and bent knees, until they suddenly turn out and whack their legs up to their ears.

I was curious how a Japanese choreographer (Asami Maki) would depict women in a ballet on a Japanese theme (Asuka). In short, all characters wearing pointe shoes walked turned out.

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5 hours ago, l'histoire said:

Again, no. What really defined a samurai, beside his flat-out birth right of class, which is admittedly hard to depict in ballet? The sword on his hip. Don't remember Villalla wearing one 

I heard myself Villella referring to the character as a samurai, in one of his wonderful pre-performance talks.  Of course there's no narrative there, but the words "samurai",  "geisha" and "nuptials" are engraved in the work. They're constantly mentioned in articles about the ballet.

But if you believe he's wrong, then...

Edited by cubanmiamiboy
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A pedantic interjection: not every Japanese woman in an elaborate wig and a kimono is a geisha. As is the case in many Balanchine ballets, the people onstage in Bugaku are pretty clearly aristocrats, i.e., hereditary nobility. Geishas held a special place in Japanese culture: they weren't prostitutes, but neither were they aristocrats. 

Cio-Cio San wouldn't have been a geisha either. Geishas were rigorously trained in the arts and went through a long apprenticeship starting at about the age Cio-Cio San was handed over to Pinkerton for money.

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11 minutes ago, canbelto said:

The Balanchine ballet that actually has a very Eastern flavor is Symphony in Three Movements. The central pas de deux when done right is supposed to have East Asian accents.

Yes, indeed. I think it's a more positive attempt to inflect classical ballet with movements and gestures taken from another tradition than Bugaku. Balanchine just seems to be grooving on the style rather than trying to put a typical ballet pas de deux on in fancy dress.

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On 1/26/2020 at 8:03 AM, Kathleen O'Connell said:

A pedantic interjection: not every Japanese woman in an elaborate wig and a kimono is a geisha. As is the case in many Balanchine ballets, the people onstage in Bugaku are pretty clearly aristocrats, i.e., hereditary nobility. Geishas held a special place in Japanese culture: they weren't prostitutes, but neither were they aristocrats. 

Cio-Cio San wouldn't have been a geisha either. Geishas were rigorously trained in the arts and went through a long apprenticeship starting at about the age Cio-Cio San was handed over to Pinkerton for money.

Thanks for this. It's unfortunate that Westerners have come to think the term geisha refers to a prostitute in traditional Japanese costume, but the truth is something quite different. A Geisha is considered to be a living embodiment of the ideals and arts of ancient Japan. She is a performing artist, and dressed and made up in a rigorously prescribed fashion. 'It is still said that geisha inhabit a separate world which they call the Karyūkai or "The Flower and Willow World". Before they disappeared, the courtesans were the colourful "flowers" and the geisha the "willows" because of their subtlety, strength, and grace.' --Leslie Downer

The girls who enter geisha training are often quite young - the training process can be as long as that in the ballet world, interestingly enough.

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4 hours ago, pherank said:

The girls who enter geisha training are often quite young - the training process can be as long as that in the ballet world, interestingly enough.

Back then, yes.  Cio-cio-san is probably costumed more like a maiko (last apprentice step) than a geisha in many productions to make everything colorful, but she's self-supporting and working hard when we first meet her at 15 or 16: after one month with Pinkerton, she supports a household for three years.  Of course, this is a mash-up by an American (Belasco) who wrote a play and Italians who adapted it for opera.

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