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Quotable Quotes

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Edith Wharton is my favorite author, so I was really interested to find these paragraphs on pgs. 320-322 of her autobiography A Backward Glance:

"One of the loveliest flowers on the bough so soon to be broken was the dancing of Isadora Duncan. Hardly any one in Paris had heard of her when she first appeared there, but in me her name woke an old memory. Years before, a philanthropic Boston lady who spent her summers at Newport had invited her friends to a garden party at which Isadora Duncan was to dance. “Isadora Duncan?” People repeated the unknown name, wondering why it had been used to bait Miss Mason’s invitation. Only two kinds of dancing were familiar to that generation: waltzing in the ball-room and pirouetting on the stage. I hated pirouetting, and so did not go to Miss Mason’s. Those who did smiled, and said they supposed their hostess had asked the young woman to dance out of charity—as I daresay she did. Nobody had ever seen anything like it; you couldn’t call it dancing, they said. No other Newport hostess engaged Miss Duncan, and her name vanished from everybody’s mind. And then, nearly twenty years later, I went one night to the Opera in Paris, to see a strange new dancer about whom the artists were beginning to talk…

I suppose that liking or not liking the conventional form of ballet-dancing is as little to be accounted for as one’s feeling about olives or caviar. To me the word “dancing” had always suggested a joyful abandon, a plastic improvisation, the visual equivalent of

Like to a moving vintage down they came,

Crowned with green leaves, and faces all on flame…

in Keats’s glorious bacchanal. The traditional ballet-dancing, the swollen feet in ugly shoes performing impossible tours de force of poising and bounding reminded me, on the contrary, of “but, oh, what labour—Prince, what pain!”, and except in Carpeaux’s intoxicating group, and Titian’s “Triumph of Bacchus”, I had never seen dancing as I inwardly imagined it. And then, when the curtain was drawn back from the great stage of the Opera, and before a background of grayish-green hangings a single figure appeared—a tall, rather awkwardly made woman, dragging a scarf after her—then suddenly I beheld the dance I had always dreamed of, a flowing of movement into movement, an endless interweaving of motion and music, satisfying every sense as a flower does, or a phrase of Mozart’s. That first sight of Isadora’s dancing was a white mile-stone to me. It shed a light on every kind of beauty, and showed me for the first time how each flows into the other as the music merged with her dancing. Although the immense rapt audience one felt the rush of her inspiration, as one feels the blowing open of the door in the “Walkyrie,” when Sieglinde cries out: “Wer ging?” and Sigmund answers: Einer kam. Es war der Lenz!”

Yes; it was the spring, the bursting into bloom of acres and acres of silver fruit-blossom where a week before there had been only dead boughs. And I believe it was that fertilizing magic which evoked our next and last vision of beauty before the war: the Russian Ballet. Every one who saw the Imperial ballet in St. Petersburg, in its official setting, has assured me that when Diaghilew brought his dancers to Paris he infused new life into them, broke down old barriers of convention, and taught their exquisitely disciplined steps to flow into wild free measures. It is hard to believe that Isadora’s inspiration had no part in the change."

I can only imagine what she would think of the ear-slapping extensions and convoluted, gymnastic jumps of today!

And that quote brought to mind one from Choura by Danilova, that she thought ballet was more athletic in her day, "with Pierina Legnani commanding the stage like a fire engine with her forty-eight fouettes."

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The New York Mets first baseman, Mo Vaughn, is a huge, lumbering man who seemed overweight and out-of-shape during all of last season. The Mets had threatened to void his contract. But according to Mets owner Fred Wilpon, Vaughn has been working hard and looks strong. "He's a big guy," Wilpon said. "He's not going to look like a ballet dancer, nor should he."

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The following is a quote from 'The New Yorker' (David Denby) about the film 'The Hours' with Streep, Moore and Kidman:

"The twin themes of 'The Hours' are the variety of human bonds, especially the bond of love, and the gift that the dying make to the living. The miracle is that such sombre notions fit together as surely and lightly as the dancers in a Balanchine ballet."

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"It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; -- but when a beginning is made -- when the felicities of rapid motion have been once, though slightly felt -- it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more."

Jane Austen, "Emma," vol 2, chapter 11, paragraph 1.

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I misquote parts of this passage by Edmund Gosse on Bournonville frequently; I'm putting it here so I can find it when I need it :(

If one can fancy an old Greek in whose brain the harmonious dances of a divine festival still throbbed, waking suddenly to find himself settled in this commonplace century as dancing-master at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, one can form some notion of the personality of Bournonville.  This poet, to whom the gift of words seems to have been denied, has retained instead the most divine faculty for devising intricate and exquisite dances, and for framing stories of a dramatic kind, in which all the action is performed in dumb show, and consists of a succession of mingled tableau and dances. These dumb poems--in the severely intellectual character of which the light and trivial pettiness of what all the rest of Europe calls a ballet is forgotten -- are mostly occupied with scenes from the mythology and ancient history of Scandinavia, or else reflect the classicism of Thorwaldsen, with whose spirit Bournonville is deeply imbued (Gosse 1890, 157)
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I've across some some neat quotes. Here's three by Balanchine from Robert Gottlieb's 1998 Vanity Fair article "Balanchine's Dream:"

-'We were watching Martins and Farrell. Suddenly, Balanchine said, "It has to be

Peter. He understands what a ballerina needs."

-"There are no mother-in-laws in ballet."

-"Put a man and a girl on stage and there is already a story; a man and two girls, there's already a plot."


-"I don't mind being listed alphabetically. I do mind being treated alphabetically."

M. Tallchief.


-My wife is the greatest dancer in the world!" K. Zaklinsky on A. Asylmuratova

1996 Dancing Times article.

-"Maya is able to absorb within a month what some other dancers cannot do in

a decade." M. Semyonova on Plisetskaya.

-"The only weapon I had was my dancing. With that I fought like a general

without an army. If I could have saved all the energy I wasted on my struggle

it would have sufficed me to cover a dozen ballets." Plisetskaya to G. Smakov

on the persecution she suffered from the KGB, while a superstar at the Bolshoi.

-"Good Morning! I am a pupil of Balanchine." W. Forsythe to the Kirov Ballet when

he began rehearsals with them for the 4th International Ballet Festival three weeks

ago. --- article by M. Ratanova in Tanznetz magazine dated 3/5/04

Edited by Cygnet
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I'm chagrined to say I hadn't seen this thread until just now. I love quotations -- I have pages of them pinned up next to my computer (several of them from writers on this website). I hope I'm not being greedy by posting two.

We thought, “Let’s not say no, let’s say yes.”

Carolyn Brown on Merce Cunningham

The price we pay when pursuing any art or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.

James Baldwin

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Another one from Jowitt's Robbins biography, about the making of Brahms/Handel by Twyla Tharp and Robbins:

"She worked swiftly. Robbins exercised his usual need to revise and rethink. 'He basically made me crazy,' recalls Tharp good-humoredly, 'because it would be like, you know, I plan what I'm going to do, I do it, I'm ready to move on; he plans what he's going to do, he does it, he's ready to go back.'"

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"Gelsey left City Ballet because she wanted a larger berth. She didn't want that absolute autocracy there demanding her time. We were in a harem there, plain and simple. And all the women were there to please Mr. B, That was difficult for Gelsey." -- "A Conversation with Stephanie Saland," by Michael Langlois, Ballet Review, Fall, 2005

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