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

"For those of us who genuinely believe that ballet is over. . .&q

Recommended Posts

Elizabeth Zimmer reviews Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in the Village Voice.

For those of us who genuinely believe that ballet is over—that it's time for the dance world to turn its fiscal and creative energies in directions less ossified and sexist—the Trocks provide ammunition in the form of well-aimed parody, and also demonstrate, by flouting a whole range of conventions, the way traditional ballet reinforces rigid sex roles and attitudes about body shape and partnering. Really tall women and short men are routinely rejected by top-flight troupes, as are dancers of color and those packing a few extra pounds. The Trocks give such performers an arena in which to sparkle, and the result is a level of energy rarely visible on ballet stages.
Link to comment

Oh, please, not that musty, dusty old canard from the New Dance crowd! I thought that Martha Graham herself had declared the "war" between modern and ballet ended years ago! What a pity to see the Voice still firmly in the grasp of the self-indulgent, self-important propaganda of the 30s Left.

Link to comment

Silly me. When I read it, I read right over that first part and noticed more of her comments on different body types and the abilities of the performers, etc. And then of course the part about Tobias. I must have my own internal editor.

To imply that "ballet is genuinely over" is absurd.

Link to comment

Oh dear God!

For an ostensibly well-educated and experienced critic to look at the Trock's witty, erudite and, above all, loving parodies of ballet and see only "ammunition" to be used in arguing for ballet's destruction speaks volumes about the deleterious effect an overpowering devotion to certain cherished bits of received knowledge can have on that critic's ability to see what's on the stage before her.

For one thing, how, pray tell, does an all-male ballet company strike a blow for the gainful employment of tall women dancers?

The Trocks and Grandivas aren't about breaking the "rules" of ballet. They are about celebrating them. If ballet went away, or if it turned into some sort of equal-opportunity employer, blind to the sex and/or physique of dancers, not only would travesti ballet cease to be funny, it'd cease to have a reason to exist. Does Zimmer seriously think that any member of the Trocks or Grandivas, past or present, would like to see ballet go away, or would consider travesti ballet's purpose is to bring about ballet's demise?

Perhaps, now that she's once again beaten the dead horse of ballet's alleged "sexism," (and, no, I don't think ballet is sexist at all, at least not onstage, and certainly no more sexist than most modern-dance companies) Zimmer will next assault the sacred cow of "technique" and "craft," as part of ballet's outdated, imperialist Western elitism. Why should some dancers receive better pay and more work simply because their movements fit more closely to some outdated and irrelevant ideal? How horribly exclusive.

I remember reading with some revulsion a recent article in The Voice celebrating the bitter end of a partnership between Martin Luther King high school and SAB which had allowed some SAB students to attend that school for its high academics, while continuing with their dance training at SAB. It's a lot to go into now, but the glee with which the writer recounted the slamming of this door in the face of "elitist" ballet students distressed me no end, and made me think that perhaps it is the Incredible Shrinking Village Voice (nothing sexist at all about all those hot-chat ads in the back which keep it in print, is there?) which is vanishingly irrelevant.

Link to comment

Well, the Village Voice is distributed free of charge, last time I checked, and so perhaps there is an financial need for those personal ads, which, like all personal ads placed for exclusively sexual purposes, do tend to treat both men and women as sex objects, because the people placing them are looking for (surprise!) sex.

I don’t agree with Zimmer, but it’s not as if she doesn’t give writers who hold views other than hers plenty of space. Her rhetoric is a little exaggerated, but we’re no strangers to that here. :) It's heartening to see her speak up for Tobias in print. I must say, however, that praising the Trocks for their technical prowess, such as it is, is kind of missing the point (although the troupe itself encourages this, by presenting things like the Corsaire pas de deux virtually straight, as if to say, “Look, we really ARE ballerinas!”)

That “self-indulgent, self-important propaganda” of the 30s Left also contained much genuine idealism, commitment, and dedication, along with less positive attributes. We could profit from some of those qualities today, I think.

Link to comment

I think the point that if a newspaper -- and that includes one of its editors -- wants to claim the moral high ground on sexism, it is damned hard to do that while standing in a pool of personal ads, regardless of the financial need of the newspaper.

And the anti-ballet stance permeates reviews in the Voice.

Manhattnik, I hope you do send that as a Letter to the Editor. Perhaps we don't have enough strength for another email campaign, but if you click on the Voice link, you can easily find a screen that says Letter to the Editor. :)

Link to comment

I remember reading someone quoted in, I think it was DanceMagazine, who said something along the lines of, "Well, there are so few ballerinas nowadays who are feminine enough, the only ones who can do it properly right now are men in drag" and took an opportunity to take pot shots at Balanchine, of all people, for bringing us all of those mannish, athletic ballerinas. :rolleyes:

If *that* ain't sexist, I'm not sure what is! :eek:

Link to comment

The problem at La Guardia High, as I understand it, was that SAB wanted a special arrangement with the school that SAB pupils would not have to take any of La Guardia's dance classes, a dispensation not granted to any other outside dance organization. Since this was a top-down decision not discussed with La Guardia's dance faculty beforehand, there was considerable dissension. Some thought a de facto kind of racism was involved. Others did not, but didn't care for the idea that a private institution might be pulling strings to get special consideration from a public school. Some parents were also unhappy. I saw the original article in the Voice, and while it was clear which side the writer was on, I detected no door-slamming glee. They also printed a response from Suzanne Davidson of SAB.

It also seems to me that because parodies that are intended affectionately and respectfully doesn't necessarily mean that those same parodies cannot draw attention, however inadvertently, to more serious negative aspects of the object being parodied. One viewer's celebration can be another viewer's ammunition, and there's no contradiction in that, I don't think.

Link to comment

Frankly, I think that you get far more out of a parody if you are very familiar with the thing that is being parodied. While anybody can have fun at a Trock performance, I think that if you know the ballets, mannerisms, people and choreography that is being parodied you have a much better time. The last time I saw the Trocks I noticed that a segment of the audience laughed at things the majority failed to understand. A toast to all of the great "ballerinas" currently performing with the Trocks.:)

Link to comment

On the SAB/LaGuardia issue, even when I was studying (that's going on two decades ago), ballet students (whether at SAB or no) were trying to get out of taking the dance classes (especially the ballet) at LaGuardia. The school had stronger modern dance instruction, at least at that time. LaGuardia was very proprietary about its students, as were the private ballet schools. The issue seemed to be mostly about turf.

Link to comment

I guess the thing which made me sad about the Trocks was that their programs, if done "straight" (no, not straight that way!), would've made for some lovely programs of "ballet like it used to be." In the Trocks parody land, it's always 1955 or so. I saw their hilarious Les Sylphides (they've ditched the dancing Soviet general to the Military Polonaise I remember so fondly from years ago), and realized that it hadn't been done in New York for years, and, well, I missed it. Would most of the audience have gone to see a real performance of Les Sylphides, or appreciate it if they had?

And, although I was really pleasantly surprised by some of the things I saw at the Joyce (big guys with big jumps making soft landings in toe shoes!), the Trocks don't dance like women, or, for the most part, as well as women. Yes, I was thrilled by "Olga Supposova's" triple and quadruple fouettes, and certainly they're all technically accomplished (although how their feet can stand all that knuckling under is a mystery to me), but for every neat trick is offset by sloppy arms, floppy feet, frightening line, which would be totally unacceptable in a female ballerina. Yes, they have a lot of energy, but so does a tornado.

And it's besides the point. They dance well enough, more than well enough, to show us the ballets they're parodying. They dance well enough to create their ballerina personas (I got particularly fond of the one who chews gum through every performance, as a Sylph or as Kitri).

Maybe when I wake up I'll remember where I was going with all this....

Link to comment

What I find disturbing is that someone who genuinely believes that ballet is over also freelances as the sole ballet critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the daily with the largest circulation in the area. I've long had questions about her reviewing style, but how can I now take her seriously as a ballet critic knowing her opinion of the art form?

Link to comment

Thanks for reviving this topic, Tessa. I think there's a lot to be said on this topic!

I think every critic has a point of view, a bias, etc. One of the best ballet critics I've known is someone who, given his druthers, would spend every night of the week at Merce Cunningham, or downtown dance. But he can still see ballet very clearly and I both read and trust what he writes. So it's possible to put aside one's preferences and still retain objectivity in reviewing.

Since this comment was made in a review, though, and since, IMO, the reviewer missed the point of the Trocks -- which, as many have said, celebrate ballet, I think...well, that she missed the point.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...