Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Soviet and Western Dance


Recommended Posts

While persevering in my study of Apollo's Angels, I encountered a fascinating passage from Jennifer Homans that reads:

"it was really just the old reworked Petipa classics (and Swan Lake in particular) and a few dram-ballets such as Romeo and Juliet that linked Soviet and Western dance. Otherwise, the gaps in understanding and judgment were enormous -- and remain so today." 

 Now while I find myself completely fascinated by the above passage, I would very much like to explore it's meaning in greater depth. I wonder if there is anyone on Ballet Alert who might take the time to explain what Jennifer Homans is describing here ?

Link to post
15 hours ago, altongrimes said:

I wonder if there is anyone on Ballet Alert who might take the time to explain what Jennifer Homans is describing here ?

The paragraphs that follow the sentence you quote explain more specifically what Homans meant. Certainly the Soviet "tractor" ballets little resemble the ballets being developed in the West under choreographers like Frederik Ashton and Antony Tudor, John Cranko, Léonide Massine, Agnes De Mille and Martha Graham, Maurice Béjart and Roland Petit, and Balanchine and Robbins.

It's not all forgotten though - Alexei Ratmansky has done a revival of  “The Bright Stream” from 1935, and "The Bolt" from 1931, which I personally enjoyed. And the "Flames of Paris" ballet continues to be excerpted at galas.

There is another book, one that focuses on Soviet era ballet, that might be worth reading:

Swans of the Kremlin: Ballet and Power in Soviet Russia (Russian and East European Studies)
https://www.amazon.com/Swans-Kremlin-Russian-European-Studies/dp/0822962144

Link to post
On 4/28/2021 at 7:00 AM, pherank said:

There is another book, one that focuses on Soviet era ballet, that might be worth reading:

Swans of the Kremlin: Ballet and Power in Soviet Russia (Russian and East European Studies)
https://www.amazon.com/Swans-Kremlin-Russian-European-Studies/dp/0822962144

Swans of the Kremlin is quite good & I think any balletomane interested in ballet under the Soviets would find it interesting reading. It's academic, but not overly so. I read it mostly for pleasure, but I always read academic books with an eye towards "is this accessible for an interested lay audience or undergraduates in a course?" (I'm a professor) and would say yes on both counts. My only quibble would be that Ezrahi - like most cultural historians of the Soviet Union, at least in my (relatively limited) reading - discounts the idea that any of the people she's writing about (with a few notable exceptions) could've been "true believers" in socialism. But, that's a historian-on-historian squabble. She also marshaled some great photographs (my favorite is of a bunch of surprised-looking workers in the gilded jewel box of the theatre of the Marinsky in the early '20s. It makes the point rather dramatically that this has been an art confined to the upper echelons of society prior that that).

When I dream of projects I'll do in the future, I'd love to do a study of Balanchine in China. Ballet in the PRC has such an interesting, understudied history already. I loved Suzanne Farrell's description of staging Scotch Symphony in 1988 in the Soviet Union for a couple of reasons, but certainly (at least in her telling) it highlighted some of those "gaps in understanding and judgment" - I wish we had more of those kinds of reminiscences, or at least an easier time finding out who-staged-what-where-when.

Link to post

Francia Russell, who staged Theme and Variations for the Mariinsky as part of the same invitation that brought Farrell there, said in a public seminar or post-performance Q&A at Pacific Northwest Ballet that she was diverted to China during one staging trip to work with a company who had learned the ballet(s) from videotapes. Someone wanted the performances to be credible, even if the Chinese government or the company had not gone through the route of getting permissions.  Chinese competitive figure skating started when  Chinese coaches studied films of Soviet figure skating and tried to reverse engineer the technique and programs they saw.

Link to post
22 hours ago, Helene said:

Francia Russell, who staged Theme and Variations for the Mariinsky as part of the same invitation that brought Farrell there, said in a public seminar or post-performance Q&A at Pacific Northwest Ballet that she was diverted to China during one staging trip to work with a company who had learned the ballet(s) from videotapes. Someone wanted the performances to be credible, even if the Chinese government or the company had not gone through the route of getting permissions.  Chinese competitive figure skating started when  Chinese coaches studied films of Soviet figure skating and tried to reverse engineer the technique and programs they saw.

I remember that Russell was staging T&V during the same trip; interesting about her being diverted to China. Less so because of China, more so because I thought the Balanchine Trust zealously controls all performances of Balanchine (but what are you going to do when it's being "illegally" performed in Shanghai or Beijing, I guess). Anyways, this is one reason I'd love to hear more about stagers ... staging things! 

Ballet in China has, I suspect (not knowing anything about figure skating in the PRC), a much longer history than competitive figure skating - ballet had "been there" long before videotapes. I'm mostly interested in Balanchine in China because if it was largely hard for the Soviets to wrap their heads around his neo-classicism on multiple levels, I'm DESPERATELY curious to know what the dancers, company heads, and audiences thought of the first Balanchine performed in China - which had basically absorbed its entire ballet tradition from Russia & then the Soviet Union, and there hadn't been some tradition of "classical ballet" developing somewhat independently during the teens & 20s.

But, we're far off topic! Thanks for the note on Russell in the PRC, though. I'd love to see a fuller recounting of what that looked like. 

Link to post
6 hours ago, doug said:

Anne Searcy has written a new book about the Soviet and American tours during the Cold War and the various perceptions in both countries: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/ballet-in-the-cold-war-9780190945107?cc=us&lang=en&

Thanks for mentioning this, I've just ordered it for summer fun reading! (It's even appalling cheap on Amazon in whatever format you'd like, which is rare for an Oxford book!). I know a lot of China scholars who have studied 'cultural exchanges,' but only in the theatre realm, so I'm excited to read more about ballet, even if it's 'only' focused on Soviet/US exchanges.

Link to post
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...