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Quotable Quotes

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Katharine Kanter emailed me two quotes today that deal with issues we frequently discussed, and I thought having a "sticky" thread of quotable quotes -- quotes we might often use in discussions, that we could have all in one place, so we could say "see the Bessy quote on injuries on the Quotes thread" might come in handy.

I hope Katharine will post hers. Here's one of mine to start off wiith:

Ballet is only good when it is great.--Arlene Croce

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Rudolf Nureyev, Interview in the Paris daily, Libération, January 6th 1989, with Michel Cressole

"I would like one out of the five years at the Opera School to be devoted to Bournonville. His long sentences, his complex, unusual steps, must be entirely familiar to those who would become a choreographer."

Original text: "Je voudrais aussi qu'une année sur cinq à l'Ecole soit consacrée à Bournonville. Ses longues phrases, ses pas compliqués, inhabituels, doivent être connus en totalité pour être chorégraphe".

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"There is a danger in shifting from one style to another. The body is subjected to contrary positions, antagonistic effort. Far more accidents occur now, than ever before. Dislocated shoulder, a heretofore unknown injury, is now commonplace. Why ? Because of those off-centre movements, one's partner yanks out an arm as far as it can go: there's nothing to prevent the thing from popping out ! Professors are now required to know something of anatomy, well and good. But such knowledge would come in useful for choreographers too. It is not enough to have ideas, one must know how to apply them. The human body is not a machine, that one bolts on, or off, at will. In the USA, things have become dramatic: a career lasts ten years, after which, the dancer is a wreck (cassé). He's tossed out, and someone else is hired. In a few short years, at NYCB, everyone had changed. I enquired anxiously: "But what about Mr. X ? Miss Y ?" and I was told, "he tore this, or that, three times, she's had a knee, or a hip, or a back operation…" Let me shout it out: Stop ! Save the dancers !

Claude Bessy, interview in L'Express, a weekly newsmagazine (Paris), May 9th 1986

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Katharine, do you know the context of the Nureyev quote? The POB school danced "Conservatoire" in 1980 and 1988 (Oh, I wish I could have seen Bart and Fallou in it) but I really don't know if they have much exposure to Bournonville... and the POB itself hasn't danced any since the mid-1980s, I think (Nureyev himself probably was more interested in staging his own ballets ;) )

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AA - "when you work with a teacher who has been around for 30 or 40 years, he or she will tell you immediately what has been lost and why".

MH For example what has been lost?

AA "When you watch a video tape of dancers of the old generations, for instance Galina Ulanova, Marina Semyonova, or a bit later Natalia Dudinskaya, you can see a certain coordination of body and arms, a musicality - you might call it ‘singing with the body’ - and above all an emotional depth to the dancing which no longer seem to exist today. The technique was present alright, but it was never there just for the sake of technique. The accent was first and foremost on emotion. However, now it’s all about high legs. I consider that a serious problem. All we seem to think about today is how high the legs can go, but there is hardly any concern anymore about form, plastique, harmony, and about what’s coming from inside, about soul. That’s something we lost."

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"There follows Preljocaj's view of Le Sacre du printemps. Preljocaj battles with Stravinsky like a man fighting an avalanche: the encounter can be said to be either ludicrous or insolent. It is certainly unwise. Modern dress of the most dismal kind, and an action that is no more than a protracted striptease in which six couples are involved. The women start the piece by removing their knickers, and we guess all too easily what portends. Bras, bare chests, simulated copulation - foreplay as tedium - and finally one hapless woman finds herself naked, flailing about on a grassy dell and behaving with those bad social and sexual manners which are the lingua franca of such stagings in Europe. The piece is foolish, lumpily done by cast and choreographer, and is about as erotic (voyeurs please note) as blotting-paper. It is the least convincing realisation of Rite that I have ever seen. The score is given a glossy performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra which accords ill with the rough-hewn frolics on stage. The programme notes are specially crafted for Pseuds' Corner."

Clement Crisp in the Financial Times, 2002

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From the New York Magazine, August 6th 2001

"I wouldn't call Guillem a ballerina myself, though she is undeniably a star and a phenomenon. She's fascinating to look at, with her lithe, long-limbed body, her uncanny ear-scraping extension, and her truly exquisite feet -- extravagantly arched and feral in their articulation. Onstage she has the kind of charisma that draws every eye to her. But she's not expressive or poetic; her sleek cool forbids that. She doesn't have the power of imaginative suggestion that arouses the viewer's own fantasy. And her movement lacks rhythmic and textural interest; her dancing has that remote, uninflected quality typical of postmodern culture.

"I believe, too, that her ballet technique is circumscribed by her rigorous childhood training as a gymnast. (As a pre-adolescent, she was short-listed for the French Olympic team.) That extension, of which so much is made it can be called her trademark, is certainly anti-classical, and her turnout, basic to the body's posture in classical dancing, often seems to give way to the parallel stance of the athlete (…)

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Susie Crow is a former dancer, now a teacher in London, and one of the curators of the MacMillan celebrations. I cannot remember where I originally saw this piece.

"I would like to pick up on the point about the development of technique, dancers today commonly being able to do things that were rare feats of exceptional virtuosity years ago. I think this cuts both ways.

"Technique moves on and changes, but just as some things get better other things get lost. I am sure we have all seen performances by dancers which do not reach the technical as well as interpretative standards set by the originators of a particular role. As an example, I had to look at video of the same ballet in performances from the 60s, 70s and 90s. Technically the earliest performance was the finest in terms of precision, speed, ballon, agility and use of the torso.

"Ballet technique seems currently to be pursuing a particular line of athletic development which has a lot to do with certain types of body shape and line and extreme flexibility. This may be progress in one way but perhaps is retrograde in others. There are other types of dancer attribute arguably more important to the survival of the art form which are in danger of being overlooked if selection procedures continue to head down this narrow route.

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Josephine Jewkes, formerly principal dancer with ENB.

"More generally, we dancers believe that the trend nowadays is for a more aggressive style of movement (taken to the limits by Forsythe in ballet and DV8, Jeremy James and Per Jonsson to name but three in the contemporary world), but the human body meanwhile has not greatly changed; simply that those with less extreme facility are being challenged further by the examples of a few with acrobatic flexibility which was previously labelled 'unclassical'. This is now becoming the norm. (This is known as 'progress'.)"

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William Forsythe, to the Telegraph (London), a couple of years ago.


Forsythe says one major inheritance from Balanchine is his use of the ballet position known as epaulement, which involves complex counter rotations of the body, including the shoulders, hips, hands, feet, head.

As he says, "the mechanics of epaulement are what gives ballet its inner transitions. It's essential to a lot of my thinking." He takes this position one step further by what he calls disfocus. The dancers don't gaze out, but "stare up, roll their eyes back." Like a hypnotist might suggest, he asks them to "put your eyes in the back of your head." Their movement becomes "very water-like, shaky, unusual and serpentine". He warns: "Don't try this with too much furniture about."

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Antony Noa is an American professor.

"Turn-out: Verb or Noun ?"

"Students, dancers and teachers often speak of a dancer being ‘turned-out’ as if the position was static (or otherwise refer to it as a noun). (...) I consider turn-out to be more of a verb, by that I mean an action as opposed to a static position.

(...) "This view places emphasis on the active engagement of the muscles to achieve leg rotation rather than on the actual degree of rotation achieved.

"I have known dancers who have extraordinary turn-out but cannot execute turns or jumps with the same level of extraordinariness. (...) It could be that since they have great turn-out they do not feel the need to be engaging the muscles needed to turn out the leg. When a dancer is not constantly turning out the legs, they lose the tensile strength needed to control the hip area, and thereby lose mastery of the upper torso where all movement control resides."

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THE ARTS: A cloud over Dance Umbrella BALLET LONDON: Financial Times; Oct 5, 2001By CLEMENT CRISP

Ohad Naharin's Sabotage Baby.

'(...) The cast wears dun-coloured outfits that hang depressingly to the ground - the dancers look like the Sodom and Gomorrah League of Health and Beauty, and behave in suitable fashion. Angst is their favoured sport, together with writhing and despairing journeys across the Barbican stage. Seek not for reason, or even imaginative felicity. This is a piece that has been produced in glum association with Nederlands Dans Theatre and has all the trademarks of gloom and introspection, while sense flew out of the window long ago. The choreography - such a big word for such a tiny effect - is predictably anxious and unrewarding.

As the evening wears suicidally on, four figures on stilts, sporting teeny feathered knapsacks and expressions of direst menace, totter above the common herd (and few herds have looked more common than these straining performers). I hoped they might have come from some pest-control agency. A closing sequence offers the uninviting spectacle of the cast's buttocks, generously displayed. Strictly for fans of cellulitis. "

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"(...) While many of the great stars of mid-century Soviet ballet were sturdily built and of average height, today’s Vaganova girls and young women reflect the now-popular fashion-mannequin ideal: height that comes from eerily long legs, slenderness bordering on emaciation. The training for the female contingent stresses two elements, one being suppleness in the spine. This was part of the old Russian school, but it was used in the past to create pliant, musical dancing, not for the easy thrill of uncanny acrobatic contortion.

The second element dominating the present school is the cultivation of a preternatural flexibility in the hip joint, which permits an extension of the leg so high, the toes seem to be rapping at the door of the heavens. This mistaken preoccupation affects all of the adagio work -- and, oddly, some of the allegro work too -- to the detriment of dancing. It ruins harmony of line (a pillar of classicism and formerly a Russian specialty), weakens the dancer by depriving her of a secure center, and fractures the desired flow of movement into a meaningless chain of discrete steps.

From the New York Magazine, March 16th 1998

(On the joint SAB-Vaganova school demonstration)

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(Autumn 2001 - on the Covent Garden Nureyev production)

Don Quixote - interviews on BBC 2 Newsnight Extra

'Philip Hensher:This is such a depressing statement of intent. This awful piece is so dreary. It's full of the most idiotic miming. It's just such an old-fashioned awful thing, with the most awful score. I can't believe that they couldn't find anything more exciting to start with. The orchestra just plainly couldn't be bothered, and I don't blame them. The designs could have been executed 50 years ago. This was one of the most depressing, boring evenings I could have imagined spending. It gives ballet a bad name. It is very difficult to see the cultural merit of this.

"Kirsty Wark:Was there any emotion in it for you?

John Carey:None whatsoever, nor any intellectual content. That's the trouble. Here's this glittering audience, paying a great deal for their seats, and the intellectual content is less than a first-class football match. Much the same skills are used, and this is thought to be high culture. "

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Celia Franca, founder of the National Ballet of Canada, on a Proposal to choreograph to Verdis's Requiem to commemorate the events of September 11th 2001 in New York

(from the Ottawa Citizen, 11th July 2002)

"The Requiem stands alone. It doesn't need any embellishment. I'm speaking as a ballet dancer and I love ballet, but I feel I also have respect for music. I think it's a matter of respect for the way Verdi wrote it, and Verdi didn't write it with ballet in mind," said Ms. Franca, who regularly attends dance, theatre and orchestra performances in Ottawa. "It's not that I don't like Brian, but I just think this is in bad taste. To embellish a work that stands alone is the height of conceit."

Mr. Macdonald said that other requiems, including those by Mozart and Fauré, had been choreographed over the years, but Ms. Franca said "two wrongs don't make a right. The only good thing I can say is that at least the artists involved will be paid."

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From Ismene Brown's March 30th 2002 interview in the Telegraph, with the High Priestess Herself.

"There was also her shocking photo-shoot in French Vogue. It is not unusual to see ballerinas in fashion magazines. They make elfin, maidenly clothes-horses, their modesty in front of the camera radiating a more delicate, timeless sort of femininity. When Guillem did Vogue, she wanted to do something "free and 'appy. Natural, simple, joyful. It was the real me, non?" So she photographed herself in the nude, with not a scrap of make-up on. She was accessorised only by her undressed hair and a bashed camera.

"Outrage ricocheted around the world. 'I think it was the picture with the two legs apart and the camera in the middle mostly,' she says, deadpan."

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Theodore Bale in the Boston Herald blithely writes (must have been on or around 26th October 2002),

"It's no coincidence that John Cranko's magnificent ballet, ``Onegin,'' is convincing and persuasive in a manner similar to the HBO television series, ``The Sopranos.'' Both are centered on a kind of Shakespearean character development, with episodes of romance, violence, self-evaluation and redemption.

I discovered recently that "The Sopranos" - in case any of you out innocents out there were wondering - is an American soap opera, glorifying, or rather banalising, the Mafia to such a degree, that there have even been DEMONSTRATIONS in the USA by American-Italian organisations, to have the thing stopped.

Just so you know.

And as for "Shakespearean" - Theodore, hello ?

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From the Telegraph

Dancers on MacMillan

(Filed: 29/10/2002)

Dancers who worked with Sir Kenneth Macmillan describe what it was like to work with Britain's greatest choreographer

David Wall, balletmaster at English National Ballet. Original Crown Prince Rudolf in Mayerling, 1974

"I realised from the scenario that Crown Prince Rudolf would be probably the biggest role ever made for a man, but it was only when it all came together that we realised the scale of this deep, complex, rather depraved creation.

"When Lynn Seymour, Kenneth and I were in a studio, we'd take enormous risks artistically and technically, depicting the sexual activities. It wasn't pornography, but there were moments when one almost felt that it was. But it never worried us because whenever one worked with Kenneth, one did trust him very much."

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Arthur Mitchell, on tour here in rainy Europe for the past fortnight , in an interview with Debra Craine of the Times (4th November 2002)

Debra Craine writes: "It was the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King which sent shock waves through the black community in America, which inspired Mitchell to do something to help Harlem, where he had shined shoes as a boy... yet Mitchell believes that today, with so many more opportuniteis available to black kids in the deprived inner cities, the situation is, ironically, evn worse."

Mitchell speaks:

"When I saw the anger and frustration of these young people in the 1960s, I knew we had to do something positive for them. Yet today things are worse than thirty years ago when I started the company. Young kids are killing and stabbing each other in high school. Kids have been desensitised by technology; they spend hours each day playing with computers. How can you ask that child to be compassionate ? At Dance Theatre of Harlem we try to ignite the passion, and when you ignite the passion you tap into the compassion."

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With apologies to Private Eye, from Pseud's Corner:

This is Ashley Page speaking, taken from the Scottish Ballet Website:

"My plan for the immediate future is to work from classical roots towards a repertoire which will range from the neo-classicism of Balanchine through the spare brutalist edge of the likes of Forsythe and early Petronio; a fresh look at the 19th Century classics with the crucial addition of Ashton and MacMillan - my natural territory. A vital extension of this mixture is the inclusion of work with a softer, more humanist nature (...) not forgetting the essential ingredients of new commissioned work by both home-grown talent and the most vibrant and searching creators from further afield."

Could someone PLEASE explain what is EARLY Petronio ?

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