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The Diamond Project

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Well, it's 10 years later.

I admit, I'm not a fan of it. I feel like it's a film festival, where see directors you might not have seen and then never see them again. A mad dash of casting, rehearsals and then maybe we'll show it again. Yet I like the idea of it, but maybe not for this company.

10 years later and I can't think of the ballets from the first one. Mahdaviani is the only choreographer (aside from Martins, but he doesn't count!) that I can think of who's done more than one.

Other's opinions of the Diamond Project?

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I would agree with your assessment that although I like the idea of the Diamond project, I have not found this series particularly enjoyable.

In the past, these works were compressed within two weeks or so, weren't they? If I remember, you saw more than one per night. Thus, you might see a couple of really inferior new ballets that tarnished the evening for any new work that might have been well done. (I don't expect masterworks, but inevitably some of the ballets have been notably unsuccessful.) I've actually liked some of the ballets that proved successful and made it to the repertory once I've seen them standing on their own.

This year, all of the new ballets are interspersed with existing repertory, which I think is a much better idea. (Although they could suffer by comparison!)

I don't understand your comment that maybe not this company, however. Certainly, I think that Martins emphasis on developing new choreography is one of this major achievements.

BTW, hasn't Tanner and others participated in more than one Diamond Project?

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I'm not a fan of the project either, Calliope. The idea behind it is good—after all, ballet cannot survive without the creation of new works—but this method of developing them seems to me to be counter-productive.

The speed at which choreographers in the Project are expected to work may be possible for veteran dance-makers, but one of the Project's goals is supposed to be nurturing new talent. I'm not a choreographer, but I think that if I were, I'd be intimidated by the pressure to make a complete ballet in the allotted time, and that might result in the premiere of a half-finished work, which benefits no one. It also forces choreographers to work within a narrow stylistic mode, the Balanchine one, which may not be best either for them or for the company. It's been argued that Balanchine-style formalism is dead. That may or may not be true, but I think it is entitled to a rest now and then, especially for young choreographers that have been brought up in the NYCB tradition. They need to spread their artistic wings and try styles and approaches that may be new for them. Balanchine himself did that for several years, as a beginning choreographer, before returning to the Petipa tradition.

If the new ballets were spread out among the company's seasons, more time could be spent planning the ballet, consulting with the music director and designers (yes, designers! :eek: ), and working with the dancers to achieve a more finished work of art.

As it is, I think the Project exists because it has special funding and the donors want to see some Really Big Hoopla for their bucks, and because the company has a history of festivals (although none has been as successful as the first, the 1972 Stravinsky Festival). Still, the dispersal of ballets in this year's Project might bode well for spreading them out even more in the future.

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While in theory the project sounds good, I don't think it works at all for a number of reasons. First of all, the large number of new ballets means that an inordinate amount of time is spent by the company on the choreography and rehearsals, leaving far too little time for coaching and rehearsing their regular repertoire. (i.e. Balanchine.) The restrictions--not sets, minimal costumes--tend to make them all look alike, the limited time means often they are made for only a few dancers, and it seems the outside choreographers come in and just do "their" ballet. The DB ballets don't seem to be useful in developing dancers or using them in unusual and productive ways. It seems that there is a corps of dancers used over and over again in the same way, mainly sub-Forsythe. If I had Irene Diamond's money, I would subsidize rehearsals and coaching, but I guess there is no glory in that!

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I have severely mixed feelings about the Diamond Project.

On the one hand, any time the NYCB produces a special event like this, expectations are unreasonably high for a very simple reason: the first "event" the company ever staged was the Stravinsky Festival of 1972 -- "one of the memorable experiences of a lifetime," as Nancy Reynolds wrote. Or as Robbins told an interviewer, "George opened a window and said we were going to fly; we just followed him." A week of repertory was cancelled to allow more rehearsal time for the 22 (yes, TWENTY-TWO!) premiers that followed in a single week. It's impossible to imagine any other company rising to a similar challenge, and four of the Blanchine works -- Violin Concerto, Symphony in 3 Movements, Divertimento from "Le Baiser de la fee," and Duo Concertante -- have entered the standard repertory.

This is a standard no mortal could match. NYCB's subsequent festivals -- honoring Ravel and Tchaikovsky -- got less than glowing reviews, even though Mr. B. was in charge. When Martins mounted an American Music Festival, the results were predictable, even though established choreographers like Paul Taylor were hired to create new works.

Personally speaking, I found many of the new works engaging (though the Ravel Fesitval was, frankly, thin). I admire the insistance on making us look again at familiar music (scholars today largely agree that Tchaikovsky is underrated), and I especially admire Martins' willingness to devote his considerable fund-raising skills to new music. This is a personal interest of mine and also of Mr. B.: "Ivesiana," "Squeaky Door," "The 4 T's" (commissioned by Balanchine himself).

At the same time, few to none of these works came anywhere near "canonical" status. True, most art dies with time, but an enduring work should appear every now and then....

The new works appearing this season have often had long gestation periods -- several of the choreographers are showing works they originally developed with students at the company's School of American Ballet. This experience is valuable for the students as well as for the budding choreographers: you can't learn about creating new works without creating new works.

In short: the Diamond Project is valuable for encouraging composers, musicians, dancers, and choreographers. Audiences with open minds and modest expectations will enjoy the performances, and applaud the efforts of young, ambitious aritsts.

But if you're looking for a Balanchine, a Petipa, a Tchaikovsky, or a Stravinsky. stay home and wait a century or so for the genetic pool game to give us another genius.

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On the pro side, the project promotes new works and new choreographers. On the whole, I think Peter Martins has always been generous in supporting people doing the thing he most loves -- choreographing. New works of music also have been commissioned, so that is good too.

I don't know if no scenery and costumes is a must. I read Martins say that, due to money, scenery and costumes have to be done on a limited budget. But poverty has, in the past, produced some interesting, creative results.

He also said, in the NYTimes magazine article a few years ago, that he preferred that the works be done with the classical vocaublary. And I think that's great.

On the other hand, I agree with those people who complain that many of these ballets don't have an afterlife. Even the successful ones are discarded after a season. That's why I'm happy that Concerto in Five Movements is coming back this season. It only had two performances the season it premiered because of injuries and has not been seen since, despite good reviews.

I believe it was given a good review in Dance View (by Ms. Cargill), as was Slavonic Dances by Wheeldon -- another much-admired Diamond Project ballet from the same season that has never been programed again. These two ballets were made by company people who showed us an interesting aspect of the dancers. (If I were listing them, recent Diamond Project ballets that I liked would include Prism, Mahdaviani's ballets, Herman Schmerman, La Stravaganza).

The company is not given much time to grow into the new ballets before they are replaced by the next new ballet (Diamond Project or otherwise). There are a quite a few NYCB ballets I'd like to see revived from past projects just to see what they'd look like with different casts.

Which brings me up to agreeing with Cargill that the choreographers tend to cast the same dancers over and over again. I believe Whelan is the lead in at least three of them this season, as is Millepied.

And so many of them are in the same style -- dark postmodern. Two ballets from the last Diamond Project looked practically alike.

And I agree that in its current format, the project does take a lot of time away from rehearsing the core reperatory -- the Balanchine ballets. I would rather have a small seperate season, maybe in part with the Lincoln Center Festival later in the summer to devote to so many new ballets. Or just debut three of them.

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I accept the main thrust of Dale's criticism: in particular, I would like to see a longer life for Diamond Project works. Those that get strong audience response, those that are part of an aritst's long-range view, and even those that that critics admire should come back in a year or two so that we can all see if we were drunk or sober.

Dispensing with elaborate production values is, to me at least, a sign of strength. If you need machinery to prove your point....

At the same time, I would endorse Dale's idea of two or three new works per season. It would give them a better chance at fitire life, even though it might cut off current funding

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Well, where does the new choreographic institute, or whatever it is called, come in? I'm a bit confused about the difference between this fundraising program and effort, and the Diamond project, particularly since some of the funding seems to come from the same donor. Other than funding sources, it seems that the Diamond project is designed to be something like a festival, with the choreographic institute taking place every year with a short window for works to be developed.

Can anyone explain the difference?

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Both projects received funding from Irene Diamond among other donors. In the Institute, choreographers work without the pressure of a performance deadline. They have two weeks in the studio to explore whatever they like. There are also some symposia on the subject of choreography (recent subjects were Bournonville and Petipa).

In the Diamond Project, choreographers are commissioned to create works for the season. Much more pressure than the Institute.

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