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Diamond Project ballets -- too similar? too "after-Balanchine?&qu


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[Note by Alexandra: I split this thread off from the Diamond Project jewelry thread, which explains Allegro's introductory comment.]

The title of this thread was misleading to me, because I thought it would more be a discussion of The Diamond Project itself...so I got a comment in my head in my head that I wanted to share, and then it turns out to be a discussion on the marketing...

However, I do want to share.

I liked the evening of ballet, but I felt that all the choreography was too much the same. I know it was the NYCB, but you would think that they could try to dance in styles less reminiscent of Balanchine. DOn't get me wrong. I love his choreography, but it was too homogenous. After a while it bored me.

Anybody else? I was a little distracted during the program, so maybe my evaluation of the choreography as being "too Balanchiney" is wrong.

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Allegro, there was a lengthy discussion of the PBS Diamond Project telecast about two-and-a-half months ago. You'll find it in the New York City Ballet Forum, under the title "PBS tonight" -- another title that might have been confusing. Most posters agreed with you. There's also a poll on the Diamond Project in the NYCB forum, and a Tobi Tobias review.

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Thanks for pointing that out, FF, and I hope Allegro enjoys reading it. But Allegro has also brought up a different angle to the Diamond Project and I think it might be interesting to discuss it.

Allegro, often one reads that the Diamond Project ballets aren't ENOUGH like Balanchine's ballets, but others raise the issue that they're all descended from a specific sub-style of Balanchine ballets, the Stravinsky (Agon, Violin Concerto, Symphony in 3 Movements) while ignoring vast acres of his choreography.

What do you all think of this? And, Allegro, what would you like to see in the Diamond Project, or other new works for NYCB?

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I would like to see the NYCB branch out a bit and perform works outside of the "Balanchine genre."

Maybe that's not the point of the NYCB...I know a lot of their greatness come from keeping up wiht the Balanchine repetoire.

However, if other companies like ABT, SFB, etc etc can branch out and do works by Balanchine, perhaps the NYCB could start dancing some of the more classical works (not the re-made ones like the one act Swan Lake and Mr. B's Don QJ) and works by choreographers that do not seem to be as influenced by Mr. Balanchine.

So that's what I would like to see from them.

And in anticipation of some future comments, (or in self-defense to my small knowledge) that just might contradict what the NYCB stands for. And I love them for what they do, but I still would be interested to see if they could/should do some stagings in the style the ROyal ballet (classical classical: Petipa, Ivanov, etc.)

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No, that doesn't contradict what NYCB stands for. On the contrary, the company would be getting back to its origins. When I first started attending NYCB, the repertory included works by Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, John Cranko, Ruthanna Boris, Birgit Cullberg, Todd Bolender, John Taras, Lew Christenson, John Butler, and Merce Cunningham! (I saw only some of them.) Nobody thought their works imitative of Balanchine. Perhaps the major problem with the Diamond Project is that there aren't too many choreographers around as talented as Ashton, Tudor, Cranko or Boris. Or Balanchine.

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Farrell Fan makes a good point, but I think Allegro understates the variety of the NYCB repertory. In the course of the 160-plus performances it gives every year in New York and Saratoga, it stages at least 60 different ballets, which range widely in style.

There are indeed evening-length story ballets, including a very traditional and elegant "Sleeping Beauty," a "Coppelia" based largely on Alexandra Danilova's memories, and, of course, Balanchine's "Nutcracker" and "Midsummer Night's Dream." There are usually two premiers in the winter season and two more in the spring: Artistic Director Peter Martins and Choreographer-in-Residence Christopher Wheeldon are the most frequent contributors, but company members and guest choreographers also show new work.

The "Diamond Project" TV show did not really do justice to the range of works produced under that rubric, let alone the other new works staged by the company. While Martins himself seems most comfortable with the Balanchine "neo-classical" style (Agon, The Four Temperaments, Stravinsky Violin Concerto), other company choreographers have explored different aspects of the Balanchine heritage. For instance, Melissa Barak, a young corps dancer recently created a highly polished homage to Concerto Barocco. While clearly an apprentice work, it showed admirable skills of invention and composition and above all, Balanchine's pole star, a gift for turning music into movement that both interprets and enhances the composer's art.

Over the years, almost every major choreographer has been invited to create a work for the company: Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Eliot Feld, William Forsythe (all of the preceding more than once), Susan Stroman, Angelin Preljocaj, Garth Fagan, Richard Tanner, Lynn Taylor-Corbett, and Ulysses Dove, among others. The company's audiences have seen European neo-expressionism, American minimalism, narrative dance, jazz, Broadway, and more. The only Really Big Name that seems to be missing is Mark Morris.

But all of these World-Famous Choreographers have their own companies or their own agendas or other reasons for avoiding too close an association with a company with such a powerful name and reputation. One guest shot -- a chance to work with world-class dancers from a different background, gain high-profile exposure in New York, and work with a budget that most choreographers dare not dream of (NYCB watches its pennies, but it is by far the best-financed dance company in the US) -- is a temptation few can resist. It's the only dance company in America with its own contract orchestra; is it any wonder Tharp decided to tackle Beethoven's 7th?

But a choreographer's commitment to his or her own company can create scheduling problems, especially when dancers have to learn an unfamiliar style. The extreme case came when Taylor agreed to create a new work for the American Music Festival, a predecessor of the Diamond Project. Since he was preparing a New York season for his own company, he had no time to develop a new work with NYCB dancers, but created it on his own dancers, who then had only two or three weeks to teach the parts to NYCB dancers. Taylor was not satisfied with the result, so his own company performed the work at the City Ballet's festival!

Martins tried to persuade Cunningham to revive Summerspace, with its pointillist Rauschenberg decor, for the same festival, but the choreographer, then in his '70s and suffering from severe arthritis, declined, noting commitments to his own company and his inability to demonstrate steps to dancers unfamiliar with his work.

Even when the choreographer does set the new work on NYCB dancers, extra rehearsal time is often required. Forsythe, for instance, got his early training at the School of American Ballet and bases his distinctive, often quirky movement idiom on the classical forms he learned there. But, as dancers who worked with him put it, "when it feels totally wrong, you know that's what Billy wants."

But given the density of the NYCB schedule -- seven performances a week, involving 20 or more different ballets -- rehearsal time is at a premium. By contract, no dancer can be scheduled for more than 6-1/2 hours of rehearsal a day if she is performing that night. More time is allowed on non-performing days, less on matinee days (Saturday and Sunday), and the 90-minute company class is additional six days a week. (Monday, dancers go to the laudromat.) In any event, even a roster of 86 dancers can be stretched thin with so many rehearsals and so little time.

For better or worse, we live in a world where it's really impossible for an Ashton, a Tudor, or a Cranko to contribute regularly to a City Ballet, though occasional flashes can and do occur. Indeed one could ask if we have today an Ashton, a Tudor, or a Cranko, but that's another debate!

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Something else may have been working on Cunningham's mind anent "Summerspace". The fiasco of its company premiere with NYCB in the 1960s. The dancers neither understood the idiom, nor could they break the ballet dancer look that kept them pulling center and attempting symmetry, besides getting accents and groundedness all crossed up. It was not a happy thing to watch.:)

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