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Yellow Face and Bugaku


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6 hours ago, Helene said:

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.

It's unlikely that a 15 year old Cio-Cio San would already hold the geisha rank, but hey, it's all a story.

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4 hours ago, pherank said:

It's unlikely that a 15 year old Cio-Cio San would already hold the geisha rank, but hey, it's all a story.

According to Wikipedia, where the article is less than exhaustive, it depends on when and where.  

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On 2/9/2020 at 12:59 PM, nanushka said:

John Clifford has been advocating for Bugaku’s return to the repertory

That nothing new for him -- he does that periodically. In fact, if you follow his Instagram account regularly, you start noticing that there's a lot of repetition to it. The same stories and topics appear over and over again.

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8 minutes ago, miliosr said:

That nothing new for him -- he does that periodically. In fact, if you follow his Instagram account regularly, you start noticing that there's a lot of repetition to it. The same stories and topics appear over and over again.

Oh yes I know. Just meant to note that he was currently on a Bugaku kick since it was under discussion here.

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I'm all for it. I would just prefer that they try a practice clothes version - not that I personally disliked the original costumes, but to minimize the Orientalist aspects of the production and concentrate on the choreography and music. The current NYCB artistic directors seem interested in bringing back many lesser known works, so it could happen...

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12 minutes ago, lmspear said:

The daisy bikini always felt to me like something a Star Trek alien might wear.  I wonder if a interplanetary setting reimagining the cast as aliens would work for Bugaku. 

Who was it who once compared the Symphony in 3 PDD to an alien mating dance? That ballet was mentioned upthread in contrast with Bugaku.

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I'm listening to Michael Breeden and Rebecca King Ferraro's interview with Phil Chan, author of "Final Bow for Yellowface," and they discuss Bugaku.  Chan's suggestion for Bugaku is to present it in a museum setting, as the only work presented, and with discussions/exhibits about the context of the work.  As far as being a rep piece, his suggestion is to set it aside and hire a current Asian choreographer to create a work.

https://conversationsondancepod.com/2020/05/26/final-bow-for-yellowface/

He's also working with Doug Fullington to retain the notated steps of classical ballets -- so far La Bayadere and Le Corsaire are on the roster -- but putting them in different contexts.  Carla Korbes is going to coach these versions, which sounds like a fascinating project.

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On 6/12/2020 at 5:21 PM, Helene said:

I'm listening to Michael Breeden and Rebecca King Ferraro's interview with Phil Chan, author of "Final Bow for Yellowface," and they discuss Bugaku.  Chan's suggestion for Bugaku is to present it in a museum setting, as the only work presented, and with discussions/exhibits about the context of the work.  As far as being a rep piece, his suggestion is to set it aside and hire a current Asian choreographer to create a work.

https://conversationsondancepod.com/2020/05/26/final-bow-for-yellowface/

He's also working with Doug Fullington to retain the notated steps of classical ballets -- so far La Bayadere and Le Corsaire are on the roster -- but putting them in different contexts.  Carla Korbes is going to coach these versions, which sounds like a fascinating project.

Just want to add that I'm reading Phil Chan's book - Final Bow for Yellowface. A short and interesting read (195 pages) that develops the ideas I've heard him express in interviews. I find it particularly relevant during this time when many of us are thinking about race, and race relations.

 

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I am interested in the idea of retaining the notated steps (and I assume the music) of classical ballet, in particular Le Corsaire, but putting them in different contexts, which I assume means somewhat different stories.  I would like to know more about that and I have written a topic entitled “Re-imagining Le Corsaire” which I feel is along that line.  See here:

 I'm somewhat surprised that no one has commented on that post as I feel people here would have strong positive or negative feelings about the idea.

Tom,

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It didn't sound to me from the small number of details Chan spoke about that they are envisioning a new story the way you did, @Tom47, to go back to  Byron's original text.  They were looking for an American analogy of a situation and thought that a beauty pageant would retain much of the ballet original story.  I've been watching many operas streamed from Europe, especially Germany and Austria, where the majority are reset in contemporary dress without changing the text or the music.  Not that there haven't been wonderful and thought-provoking re-imaginings, like Peter Brook's The Tragedy of Carmen, but this is quite different.

I've been thinking more about text/original text recently in the context of opera.  I've watched several productions of the original version of Boris Godunov that, according to Wikipedia, was closer to the Pushkin original than the versions that were expanded and altered by his friends, who wanted to see the opera staged.  I've never read the full Eugene Onegin and certainly not in the original Russian, but I've been told by native Russian speakers who have that Tchaikovsky softened the characters substantially for the opera.  And, of course, a Faust opera would be far longer than the Ring of the Nibelungen, even if written by French composers and not Wagner, had composers taken the whole work, instead of focusing on Marguerite in each, which was one episode in the whole and didn't have the centrality that opera gave it. 

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Did we ever mention Maurice Bejart's The Kabuki in this thread? It was performed by the Tokyo Ballet recently, and it has been a success with Japanese audiences. It might would be worth analyzing why/how that ballet choreography - by a European - succeeds where others have failed.

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Helene, thank you for your information.  Does anyone know if a Le Coraire imagined as an American beauty pageant is likely to be produced soon?  I would like to get a copy of it.  As to this topic I am not sure of the problem with the ballet Bugaku.  Yellow face is the changing of the appearance of white actors or dancers to portray Asians.  If that is the problem than the solution would be to have Asian dancers or dancers of Asian heritage portraying the characters in the ballet.  On the other hand I looked up the definition of Orientalism which is "style, artifacts, or traits considered characteristic of the peoples and cultures of Asia” with a sub-definition of  “the representation of Asia, especially the Middle East, in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude.”  Since I never even heard of the ballet Bugaku before I do not know which is the issue.  As to dancers of a certain ethnicity portraying characters of another ethnicity I would have no problem with a black or “Asian” dancer portraying Odette from Swan Lake or Clara from the Nutcracker. 

When I read about the idea of retaining the notated steps of Le Corsaire but putting them in a different context I assumed that was to deal with how the women were treated in the story of the ballet.  However, if it is just to eliminate a stereotyped portrayal of Middle East characters then moving it to an American setting would do that and setting it in a beauty pageant would eliminate any issue of slavery.  Another way of eliminating a stereotyped portrayal of Middle East characters, while keeping closer to the original story would be to set the ballet in and off the coast of New Orleans in the early 19th century.  The Pasha could be an American slave owner who is also a government official (five out of the first seven US Presidents owned slaves and it appears that some slave owners had sex with their slaves), Conrad could be patterned after Jean Lafitte or Jack Sparrow and Medora and Gulnare would be portrayed by black dancers.  The re-imagined ballet that I described in another topic changes the damsels in distress, passive women of the current ballet story who things happen to, to active, assertive women who forge their own destiny, as well as doing away with the happy slaves and instead of treating slavery in a comic manor treat it seriously, while still keeping the generally upbeat nature of the ballet.  My feeling is that eliminating slavery entirely would alter the story too much.  I still would like to hear more comments about the re-imagined ballet I described, particularly regarding the women’s roles, but would like people not to comment regarding that on this topic.  However, comments regarding what I wrote on yellow face or Orientalism would be in keeping with this topic.  Again thank you Helene.

Tom,

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Chan mentioned that some companies have expressed interest in at least one of the re-settings, either La Bayadere, which sounded like they had gone farther with it, or Le Corsaire.  I hope that PNB is interested in both, because Doug Fullington did an abridged version of Le Corsaire for the PNB School a few years ago for the Family performances, and it was great.

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From a 1984 Dance Magazine review of Bugaku:

"Why is it that almost every choreographer has to do a Japanese ballet? There's a whole set of cliches none of them escapes: flexed feet, stamps in second position, turned-in knees, curled fingers. They're all in Bugaku, which seems to be deeply offensive in its vulgarity and its exploitation of the woman, who is put into a series of ungainly positions; the man promenades her with her bottom uppermost, in fact he does everything but put her in a half nelson. Inevitably, Heather Watts, who always gets the living pretzel roles, was cast as the bride. Bart Cook tried to be intense but just looked angry. Toshiro Mayuzumi's score must be one of the worst Balanchine ever used."

So, Bugaku has always had its detractors.

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57 minutes ago, miliosr said:

From a 1984 Dance Magazine review of Bugaku:

"Why is it that almost every choreographer has to do a Japanese ballet? There's a whole set of cliches none of them escapes: flexed feet, stamps in second position, turned-in knees, curled fingers. They're all in Bugaku, which seems to be deeply offensive in its vulgarity and its exploitation of the woman, who is put into a series of ungainly positions; the man promenades her with her bottom uppermost, in fact he does everything but put her in a half nelson. Inevitably, Heather Watts, who always gets the living pretzel roles, was cast as the bride. Bart Cook tried to be intense but just looked angry. Toshiro Mayuzumi's score must be one of the worst Balanchine ever used."

So, Bugaku has always had its detractors.

Me thinks someone didn't like traditional Japanese cultural references, period.  ;)

"There's a whole set of cliches none of them escapes: flexed feet, stamps in second position, turned-in knees, curled fingers"
> This begs the question: what visual references or cues should an artist use when trying to work with Japanese-specific dance movement? Which aspects are OK to investigate and which are not?

I have a feeling this reviewer was in no position to determine that Mayuzumi's music was "one of the worst" scores Balanchine ever used. I doubt this person knew what to make of the Gagaku court music style.

Toshiro Mayuzumi - Bugaku, ballet in two parts (Court Dance Music)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFH0Vcy2FvE

Gagaku - Ancient Japanese Court Music
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXtez8HyUS8

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17 hours ago, pherank said:

Me thinks someone didn't like traditional Japanese cultural references, period.  😉

"There's a whole set of cliches none of them escapes: flexed feet, stamps in second position, turned-in knees, curled fingers"
> This begs the question: what visual references or cues should an artist use when trying to work with Japanese-specific dance movement? Which aspects are OK to investigate and which are not?

I have a feeling this reviewer was in no position to determine that Mayuzumi's music was "one of the worst" scores Balanchine ever used. I doubt this person knew what to make of the Gagaku court music style.

Toshiro Mayuzumi - Bugaku, ballet in two parts (Court Dance Music)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFH0Vcy2FvE

Gagaku - Ancient Japanese Court Music
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXtez8HyUS8

I've heard all and read all, and it is all very subjective, aesthetically speaking. I hated Woezzeck at the MET, and some people I know loved it.  The PC aspect of the ballet is a whole different story. That it has been decided that it might offend Japanese people because it is a western fantasy on an Asian subject...a chinoiserie of some sorts, well...that might be.  In my own world of ballet aesthetics it is a winner. I love it. I find it entertaining, misterious and very refined...and I wish it would be performed more regularly. To each its own, like they say....?

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11 minutes ago, cubanmiamiboy said:

I've heard all and read all, and it is all very subjective, aesthetically speaking. I hated Woezzeck at the MET, and some people I know loved it.  The PC aspect of the ballet is a whole different story. That it has been decided that it might offend Japanese people because it is a western fantasy on an Asian subject...a chinoiserie of some sorts, well...that might be.  In my own world of ballet aesthetics it is a winner. I love it. I find it entertaining, misterious and very refined...and I wish it would be performed more regularly. To each its own, like they say....?

I don't think that "it has been decided that it might offend Japanese people"; it does offend.

The weight one should give that and the action (or inaction) one should take in response may well be up for debate. But that the work is offensive to some (whether understandably or not, depending on your perspective) is not.

"To each their own" may work in the abstract, but ballet companies have to make concrete decisions about which works to stage and how.

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7 hours ago, nanushka said:

"To each their own" may work in the abstract, but ballet companies have to make concrete decisions about which works to stage and how.

...and they do.

It occurs to me that Bugaku is one of those works that could really benefit from the digital age - NYCB should create a first-rate film of Bugaku that can be watched on Marquee TV and the like, with the necessary host introduction and per-performance discussion of issues surrounding the production. That way the ballet is given a proper context, and can be examined on various levels. And the video itself could have some kind of warning/disclaimer to keep the kiddies away.   ;)

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I think some of the lesser performed Balanchine ballets suffer from the fact that the choreographer was so prolific and efficient. There are so many great, non-problematic Balanchine ballets for companies to choose from. In fact Merrill Ashley in her recent interview with Megan Fairchild lamented how Ballade has become sort of a lost Balanchine ballet as performances become rarer. Merrill says companies ask for Ballo della Regina and she wants to advocate for Ballade. 

I do think that Bugaku could benefit from a Very Special Presentation -- a one and done affair, with Allegra and Eddie coaching the roles, and then a digital video performance, and a discussion on yellow-face afterwards.

Or it could be presented in a festival of Lost Balanchine Ballets. We could see Bugaku with Figure on the Carpet, the original 1945 Mozartiana, Caracole, The Card Game ...

One can wish.

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miliosr, who was the writer of the 1984 Dance mag article? A staff member? a stringer?

pherank:

Quote

This begs the question: what visual references or cues should an artist use when trying to work with Japanese-specific dance movement? Which aspects are OK to investigate and which are not?

Respectful or playful references are ok – like the ones Degas, Van Gogh and the Nabis (Vallotton, Bonnard, Denis) painters made to Japanese woodblock prints. Which became major innovations in European painting, lessons on flattening the surface plane and activitating the edges of the picture. 

Or the give and take among filmmakers; for example between the 1960 Magnificent Seven and Kurosawa's Seven Samarai and before that between Kurosawa and John Ford.

Bugaku doesn't seem to be an homage but an inadvertent caricature of a serious Japanese genre. Balanchine's mind probably was on expanding the vocabulary of Agon – almost to the breaking point – making sexually explicit what was implicit the first time around. He doesn't seem to have been focused on subtle connotations of his source material. 

For reference, according to Wikipedia, bugaku "is marked by its slow, precise and regal movements ... Its descriptions often use natural metaphors to describe how their movement should be. For example, the dancers might be encouraged to be like a tree swaying in a cool breeze. ... Bugaku court dance draws heavily from the Buddhist imported culture, but also incorporates many traditional Shinto aspects. These influences eventually mixed together and over the years were refined into something uniquely Japanese, bugaku."

Edited by Quiggin
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People following this thread may find this article of particular interest:

‘Soul’ Features Pixar’s First Black Lead Character. Here’s How It Happened.
Mindful of animation’s history of racist imagery, the studio aimed to make the jazz pianist at the center of the film as specific as possible.

'Murray said Pixar recognized that “if Joe’s going to be Black, we’d need a lot of help,” She said Britta Wilson, the company’s vice president of inclusion strategies, helped build an internal “Cultural Trust” made up of some of the studio’s Black employees, a group that was diverse in terms of gender, jobs and age...'

'...He recalled that the individual consultants brought a range of viewpoints: “We’d have 20 Black people in a room: We’d ask a question and get 20 different answers.” Their debates sometimes “broke along generational lines, which was interesting: Things I think are fine may seem offensive to the younger generation. Everyone had a different take, which made the job exponentially harder, but that care was needed.”'

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/22/movies/soul-pixar-disney-black-characters.html

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