CriticalDance Forum

Politics and Dance
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Author:  djb [ Fri Oct 31, 2003 10:33 am ]
Post subject:  Politics and Dance

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<small>[ 04 February 2004, 06:21 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  djb [ Fri Oct 31, 2003 11:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

A recent review of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba mentioned that the company has survived the political ups and downs of its country. Then I saw several other articles and reviews from the US that used approximately the same language. I don't recall such frequent mention of politics in reviews of companies from other countries, but I may just not be noticing them.

What have you observed?

For example, when an American company goes to Europe, do the European critics talk about the ups and downs of American politics and how a company might be faring with reduced government funding?

<small>[ 04 February 2004, 06:20 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Azlan [ Fri Oct 31, 2003 11:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

I have to say I have seen very little about politics in reviews. Unfortunately, I don't think newspapers encourage that sort of theme to creep into their "entertainment" sections.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Fri Oct 31, 2003 11:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

On the specific point:

"...the political ups and downs of its country."

Hmm...I wonder what they are referring to? Leaving aside the merits or demerits of the Castro Government, it has to be the most stable government in the Americas. Do they mean the switch from Batista to Castro?

There have certainly been financial ups and downs in Cuba including a sharp fall in national income after the collapse of the USSR. However, given that culture is taken very seriously in Cuba, I imagine that the National Ballet continued to enjoy good support.

Do UK papers say similar things? When i write about performances from the Baltics I often mention the end of the Soviet occupation as it has had a major impact on dance.

A group like Robyn Orlin's Company tackles political themes in their home country of South Africa so it makes sense to discuss some of the background context.

When Daimohk from Chechnya toured here, again it made sense to discuss the trauma of the region as it is an integral pat of the lives of the dancers and the Company.

So in general, I don't have a problem with a mention of political context when it is relevant to the performance. The problem with the Cuban reference above is that it appears sloppy or ignorant. Perhaps the article singles out Cuba because of the special status it has been given by successive US governments, rather than what actually goes on in the country.

<small>[ 01 November 2003, 12:54 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  djb [ Sat Nov 01, 2003 12:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

My first reaction to the "ups and downs" phrase was that the author was injecting a reference to problems in Cuba under Castro, something that seems almost required in the US. But maybe she was referring to the changes in funding from one regime to another. I've brought in a part of my post in the CD thread on the Ballet Nacional de Cuba:

I came across an interesting article from 2001 about Cuban ballet and Alicia Alonso. It describes some pre-revolutionary “downs” that affected the company, which I’d never read about.

Author:  Toba Singer [ Sat Nov 01, 2003 2:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

Yes, Cuba is singled out for special scrutiny in the "ups and downs" department, isn't it? Here, where the economy is in perpetual crisis, the fortunes of ballet companies can be threatened with destruction in a single season when a major private donor is forced to withdraw support. In Cuba support is firmly established as a value of the revolutionary government, however difficult times may get. That is not to say that you see luxuriously-appointed productions, but the Cubans do the best with what they've got. Regarding Alicia Alonso, read the Beatrice Siegal biography to get a better picture of how the Batista regime defunded the company, to the point that Alonso refused to dance at any government-sponsored events, and did not dance again until the revolutionary government came to power.

Author:  Azlan [ Sat Nov 01, 2003 2:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

Alonso's ex-husband also never worked again in Cuba under the new regime. It cuts both ways...

Author:  beatbeat [ Sat Nov 01, 2003 8:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

Thinking a little about political history in the US in a cultural context...didn't Martha Graham refuse to participate in the 1936 Olympics in Germany as a protest against the tactics of the Nazi regime? Honorable, and courageous, of course...but back in the US, tens of thousands of black men and women and children were lynched (often attended by crowds of laughing families - how barbaric can you get?), with the lynchings at their height in the '30's. I often wonder why our artists didn't protest that somehow - and they weren't going to go to a concenration camp for speaking out here either....

Author:  Azlan [ Sun Nov 02, 2003 12:25 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

More than a hint of hyprocisy, isn't it? It seems when artists make protests, it's to the Cause du Jour.

However, if you recall, Bill T pulled out of the Spoleto Festival in protest over the Confederate flag (click here). He has always been more politically aware than most and it seems for causes that are not necessarily popular. Does anyone have more an insight on Bill T and other like-minded artists?

<small>[ 02 November 2003, 01:28 AM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>

Author:  djb [ Sun Nov 02, 2003 4:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

During the years of segregation in the South, a lot of African-American performers wouldn't perform to segregated audiences. I remember seeing something on TV about an integrated big band with a white leader doing the same -- or maybe it was just that his band wouldn't stay at segregated hotels. I couldn't find out anything about it on the Internet.

<small>[ 02 November 2003, 06:02 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

Author:  salzberg [ Mon Nov 03, 2003 3:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

I'm not sure, but you may be referring to Benny Goodman, who broke the color barrier by hiring Lionel Hampton.

<small>[ 03 November 2003, 04:48 AM: Message edited by: salzberg ]</small>

Author:  djb [ Mon Nov 03, 2003 5:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

I know he broke the color barrier, and Artie Shaw and Tommy(?) Dorsey followed. But I'm not sure he was the one who refused to perform at segregated venues or stay at segregated hotels.

Author:  crandc [ Mon Nov 03, 2003 12:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

During their first U.S. tour, the Beatles refused to play Southern cities. At that time the South was still legally segregated. They said they were playing Black music and would not play in whites-only arenas.
I remember reading Margot Fonteyn's autobiography where she talked about her tour of South Africa. I love her as a dancer, but her "compromise" was something sure to satisfy no one; she played at the whites-only theater then did another performance at the "Black" theater to which everyone was welcome.
Back to Cuba, no matter what the topic it seems some reviewers have to stick in some politically negative comment. Even when it's totally irrelevant. Sometimes political issues are important; ABT doing their first show after September 11, for example. But I once read a review of Ballet Nacional de Cuba's performance of Giselle where the author said the ballet represented the suppressed hopes of the Cuban people for a return to capitalism (that's not how he phrased it). I thought, you mean like when all the peasants bow down to the Duke? His comment was really dragged in out of nowhere.

Author:  djb [ Mon Nov 03, 2003 11:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

I remember reading about Fonteyn's South African performances. I also recall that she was censured by other members of the Royal Ballet. Does that mean that the Royal Ballet would not perform there at that time?

Author:  Cassandra [ Tue Nov 04, 2003 2:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Politics and Dance

I remember that very well, as there was an anti-Fonteyn demonstration outside the Opera House. It was all very noisy and aggressive and I remember getting into a tussle with one of the demonstrators.

I also remember Fonteyn brought back with her a young black South African dancer with whom she danced a few times, but I can't recall his name.

Fonteyn was politically gullible though and was a great friend of Imelda Marcos. The fulsome description of her in Margot's autobiography makes rather embarrassing reading these days.

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