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 Post subject: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 2004 8:59 pm 
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What are your personal feelings on Balanchine? His work, his aesthetics, etc., just as a curiousity point, not an argument or a debate, just opinions on the subject.

My take on it: I appreciate the Balanchine aesthetic. I think his ballets are amazing and a fundamental shaping force in modern American ballet. I also value his development of a technique that enables a dynamic, energetic movement style that I have benefited from as a dancer.

There are huge divergences in opinion on this subject, and I have heard most of them. His portrayal, especially in the eyes of dancers such as Gelsey Kirkland, has been often negative, and I believe that his actions in that perspective were destructive and damaging, and I hardly support them. I have to take into account, however, that Ms. Kirkland was a deeply troubled dancer, as evidenced by her anorexia and drug use, and I can't assume that everything alleged is totally accurate.

Another view is that of dancers like Suzanne Farrell, Merrill Ashley, Toni Bentley and others, who seem to take a more balanced look at things. They seem to acknowledge some bad aspects of Balanchine, while still lauding his artistic merits, and I lean more towards this side of things.

I'd love to hear your perspectives, and any thoughts not necessarily related to personal opinions of Balanchine, but on a more aesthetic band, e.g. his ballets and artistic legacy.

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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Mon Nov 01, 2004 5:23 am 
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About Mr. Balanchine's personal life, I can't speak or conjecture.

While I'm not much of a ballet fan, I have always admired many of his ballets for the level of abstraction, the distinctively 20th century ambience, for the use of the body beyond the decorative to express complex feelings.

I teach students though, and it's funny sometimes to hear their different perspectives. In a college comp class a few years ago at Tisch, one girl said, "Well, I like Balanchine because it doesn't have any deep meaning or anything, it's just about dancing and I like that." I was like, "Sweetie, Balanchine's work represents some of the greatest intellectual achievements of the last century. Think again..." But then one of my high school choreography students responded to The Four Temperaments when I showed it in class that she didn't like it, because she felt that while it was supposedly describing and contrasting elements that were different, in actuality the movement vocabulary was very similar from section to section. And you know, she's kinda right.


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Mon Nov 01, 2004 1:03 pm 
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It would be a good idea to keep this thread on the artistic merits of Balanchine's work.

While he was alive, Balanchine's NYCB was probably the most exciting company in the world to dance for. Ballet is a living art, Balanchine was a true master of that art, and he had a company that he worked with year after year after year. That is about as good as ballet gets, many professional dancers rarely have that kind of opportunity.

Working for a living ballet master of that caliber will always be an intense personal experience --- the kind of thing that almost kills you, but that you never regret. I'm sure Mr. B had very high standards and that he had his ways of getting that out of his dancers. That is a good thing --- dancing for someone with low standards is a waste of time. As a dancer, you give and give and give more until you have nothing left. Then you go screaming into the night and come back the next week to give again. It is a draining profession.

I have watched NYCB at Lincoln Center and been impressed. But time and time again, I hear the same refrain: "that dance was nothing like it was in the 1960's when Allegra Kent / Suzanne Farrell / (take your pick) did it." All I can think is "wow".

Ballet is a living art. The differences between a "blah" performance and a riveting performance are subtle. They have to do with the dancemaker's idea of what he is aiming for in the dance, and his ability to elicit that from the dancers. A slight glance here, a move of the finger there. Even things as basic as elements of how the company has trained for the past month. These subtle details get lost without constant vigilance on the part of the dancemaker.

Dance creates a moment with the audience, and then is gone. The perception of the audience depends not only on the dance in front of them, but also on their own time and pre-conceptions. Imagine how audience responded to the Four Temperments when it was first performed --- imagine how it must have looked to someone who had seen a lot of Swan Lake and Giselle and Ballets Russes, but had never seen any ballet created after that date.

Mr. Balanchine was clearly a genius at his craft. Unfortunately, the choreography we have as evidence of his life probably cannot do justice to the experience of dancing for him or watching him while he was alive. We can only try to imagine and reconstruct in our own minds what it was really like.

<small>[ 01 November 2004, 02:05 PM: Message edited by: citibob ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Mon Nov 01, 2004 3:01 pm 
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Balanchine was probably THE choreographic genius, in the ballet realm, of the 20C. There is no one close. Maybe Nijinsky and Nijinska helped to pave the way, in terms of breaking down the barriers of tradition. But Vaslav was not prolific, and sadly, his mental illness stole him away before his gifts could complelety flower. Balanchine's understanding of music, his foundation in the classical technique, and then his expanision of that style into a "neo classcial" (he didnt' like that label, by the way) aesthetic is unparalleled. I think he crafted over 100 works which ran the gamut from abstract (The Four Temperaments) to story ballets (Prodigal Son, Midsummer Night's Dream)to downright experimental-in "Ivesiana", don't the dancers all walk on their knees at one point? Certainly not the usual ballet vocabulary! As far as his personal life, he wasn't perfect, but then, who is? From what I've read, he was actually a deeply religious man. Apparently there is even some religious imagery in "Mozartiana". According to Suzanne Farrell, some of the poses were copied from religious statuary from this Russian Orthodox church. A man of many parts, a genius, certainly! Aren't we lucky to have his works!! :p

<small>[ 01 November 2004, 04:03 PM: Message edited by: trina ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Mon Nov 01, 2004 4:35 pm 
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OOO, OOO, (arm up, hand supporting elbow)! Let me jump in! I JUST finished reading a brand new brief bio on him titled All in the Dances by Terry Teachout. 'Twas written as a primer on his life and work. It tackles some of these very issues. I'll post more later... stay tuned...

Now that I'm tuned in, I want to recommend this book. It's a good $22 dollar investment and is published by Harcourt, Inc. While a relatively short read, he does present some new material and corrects some assumptions of the past, including a few myths encouraged by the subject himself such as how his father was thrown into debtor's prison (he was actually under house arrest, but prison, you see, makes for a better story), after over-spending his winning from the Russian lottery. I was saddened to read that after his mother and sister moved to Georgia in 1917, he never saw them again.

I think the book is a good summary of both his life and of his work. Not by self-admission, an in-depth study or academic review but a nice overview of why this man's life work matters and the impact it's had on ballet.

<small>[ 02 November 2004, 12:01 PM: Message edited by: Dean Speer ]</small>

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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Tue Nov 02, 2004 12:46 am 
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This is not about Balanchine but I have to say that having just seen about 30 odd works, including a piece by FionaM, at the WAX farewell marathon event in Brooklyn recently, there are several talented choreographers out there who have not been given the chance to shine on the big stage because their works or their companies don't have the word "ballet" attached to them. And by extension, you might be able to say that within ballet itself, there are probably many choreographers who don't get a chance because they have to compete with Balanchine.

<small>[ 04 November 2004, 04:55 PM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2004 12:58 am 
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Since my mother was a dancer in her youth, I knew that Balanchine was an important force in ballet. By the time I started buying tickets on my own, I relied on the sales brochures I received.

The notice of a "Stravinsky Festival" appealed to my late companion and me, mostly because it promised an explosion of new work. Business took us out of town for most of the festival, but we were there on opening night, when Mr. B and Mr. K appeared, holding half-empty vodka bottles and encouraging us to celebrate. The "Violin Concerto" and "Symphony in 3 Movements" were premiered back-to-back, to the general astonishment of all and sundry. At intermission, I ran into my boss, a friend of Barbara Horgan, Balachine's long-time personal assistant and the present custodian of the Balanchine copyrights. Of the patently under-rehearsed "Symphony" she remarked, "At least no one knocked anyone down. That happened a lot in rehearsal."

In any event, the experience convinced me that one of history's universal geniuses was tossing off masterpieces for my pleasure, and I signed up for two subscriptions for most of the subsequent seasons. I was not disappointed; scores of unforgettable evenings followed.

When Kirstein announced Balanchine's death to an NYCB audience, he said simply, "Balachine has joined Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky." The choreographer's three favorite composers, to be sure, but also his peers in immortality.


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2004 1:34 pm 
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Azlan, my take on ballet history is that it's hard to "break in" as a new choreographer, no matter how much of a genius you are.

Balanchine worked in Denmark before he came to America. But Denmark had already been visited by a genius (Bournenville), and apparently they were not too receptive to another.

New York knew nothing about ballet and had a lot of money, in the long run it was a better place for Balanchine to work.


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2004 1:44 pm 
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tzigane:

There are huge divergences in opinion on this subject, and I have heard most of them. His portrayal, especially in the eyes of dancers such as Gelsey Kirkland, has been often negative, and I believe that his actions in that perspective were destructive and damaging, and I hardly support them. I have to take into account, however, that Ms. Kirkland was a deeply troubled dancer, as evidenced by her anorexia and drug use, and I can't assume that everything alleged is totally accurate.
It goes deeper than "slight glance here, a move of the finger there", though.

To thousands of people, hearing the name "Gelsey Kirkland" mentioned in the same breath as the word "ballet" is like being slapped in the face with the bloated corpse of their favourite art. Typing those two terms into Google, in fact, will yield countless sites dissecting her connection to that term. She’s hailed as a "ballet revolutionary" by some sites and derided as a reprehensible crackhead by many more.

The truth of the matter is she has more in common with Marilyn Manson in a strange waythan Suzanne Farrell, Merrill Ashley, or Toni Bentley.

Why on earth would I make such a ridiculous statement? It’s simple: she is the whipping-boy for an imaginary moral decline. Much as the Christian right deemed Marilyn Manson a dangerous puppy-smashing psychopath responsible for turning thousands of misfit teenagers against The Lord, the balletomanes of the world have deemed Gelsey Kirkland a drugged-out fake responsible for spoon-feeding direly unfavourable behind-the-scenes information to thousands of preteens under the false banner of revolutionizing the ballet as a vocation.
However, any sane person can see that the notion that Kirkland could possibly contribute anything to the destruction of ballet simply by her fairly ridiculous association with it is as laughable as thinking Marilyn Manson ever had any hope of making a lasting impact on anything other than the world’s supply of bottomless vinyl unitards.

The word "Balanchine" has been dragged through the mud for decades by such notorious mainstream ballet hackers as Michael Clark and Edouard Lock. Thousands are concerned that Gelsey Kirkland has taken something away from the credibility of ballet, but perhaps they fail to see that ballet has been greedily digesting itself since the moment it began.

So what are those with a "more balanced look at things" worried about? Is their connection to ballet so tenuous that Gelsey Kirkland actually poses a threat to it? Why should they care about the tastes of a demographic that’s using ballet rebellion via more balanced look at things to wean them off the breakdancing trend?

Their major problem, as I see it, is jealousy. Whether they like it or not, whether she's a crazy junkie or not, Gelsey Kirkland has done more to invigorate the concepts of ballet and ballet as a profession than any of their real ballet-colleagues have done in years. She’s put the word ballet on the tongues of more people than Balanchine ever did.

She may be nothing more than a vapid junkie to the Balanchine fans, but they hate her for one reason more than any other: she won.

It’s time for the balletomanes of the world to face the fact that Gelsey Kirkland's vision of how ballet should be is the future and Balanchine ballet is the past. Ballet has never been more accessible, what with ballet-companies in beer commercials and choreographers appearing on reality television. Despite anyone’s best efforts to prevent it, younger and younger kids are going to get curious about ballet; since it’s already entered the mainstream in manifold ways, it’s ridiculous to blame Kirkland (or her supporters ;-) for trying to get in on the coolness bandwagon. She provides an accessible alternative to ballet's fragmented and, in many cases, quite befuddling extremes. To deny Gelsey Kirkland her place in the lineage of ballet would be short-sighted and ridiculous.

Tex.

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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Fri Nov 05, 2004 12:45 am 
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Pace citibob, I think the artistic merit of Balanchine's work is a given. It's hard to know where to start (or stop!) in listing his works that rank among the great masterpieces of classic dance. And while he did some work in Copenhagen (and London and Monte Carlo and Paris) between 1930 and 1933, he lived in the French capital until Lincoln Kirstein invited him to the US.

More to the point, he effectively invented a new school, or style, of ballet: the American, marked by musicality, athleticism, dazzling speed, sound technique, and an openness to comtemporary music. Its base in music -- exemplified by his frequent use of concert scores for his ballets -- contrasts sharply with the European tradition of basing ballet in theatre and narrative -- plays, novels, operas. I would suggest that Fiona show her students Jewels, which offers a clear contrast of French, American, and Russian styles.

His relations with dancers were inevitably eccentric, but it's worth noting one of his favorite gestures: every Christmas, he gave each of his principal ballerinas a different perfume. He recognized that each star had a unique gift. Imperious and intimidating as he might have been, he tolerated Kent's insistence on taking maternity leaves (in an era when this was unheard-of in the dance world) in order to see her melting legato in the Bizet symphony, he eventually excused Suzanne's rebellion (she fled to Brussells) and welcomed her home with, well, Tzigane, he fought with Merrill Ashley's love of dancing fast by forcing her to dance Emeralds...the list goes on. Even his ex-wives speak of him with sincere devotion. A difficult person, yes, but not a monster. Just a genius.

<small>[ 05 November 2004, 02:02 AM: Message edited by: Morris Neighbor ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Fri Nov 05, 2004 5:10 am 
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Quote:
More to the point, he effectively invented a new school, or style, of ballet: the American
This is somewhat off the topic of Balanchine himself. Good artists have always done something different from those before them. But in Ballet, we have a propensity to assign an artist's work to a nation and call it a new school.

The problem is, there are only so many nations in the world. What do we do when a genius has visited every country and gotten a school/style named after it? Ballet could easily stagnate for this very reason, since there will be no more "schools" to invent. Even as we're asking "where do we go from here" after Balanchine's death, we're still spending our ballet dollars in ways that are unlikely to allow for another Balanchine.

Balanchine's elevation of the importance of music was a long time in coming. Tchaikovsky broke new ground in his belief that music could be both "dancable" and good concert music; before that, ballet composers limited their musical interest out of belief that it would not be appropriate for ballet. That is why we listen to Tchaikovsky's music, but not that of Delibes and Minkes (bunheads excepted).

It is important to remember how much continuity there is from the classical Russians to the Ballets Russes to Balanchine. Each did new and exciting things, each re-worked ballet training. But there is a continuity of classicism and classical values throughout. It is more of an evolution than we might like to believe.

Balanchine's emphasis on legs was not unprecendented either. Ballet had been getting more leggy ever since the romantic tutu was discarded for the classical.


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Fri Nov 05, 2004 8:49 pm 
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Quote:
“When you have a garden full of pretty flowers, you don’t demand of them, ‘What do you mean? What is your significance?’ You just enjoy them. So why not just enjoy ballet in the same way?

People never seem to understand unless they can put their finger into things. Like touching dough-when people see bread rising, they smell something and they say, ‘Oh, is it going up?’ And they poke their finger in it. ‘Ah,’ they say, ‘now I see.’ But of course the dough then goes down. They spoil everything by insisting on touching.”
George Balanchine, The Greatest Ballet Maker Past, Present, and perhaps Future!

Mr. B. created ballet like a great writer creates lyrics. He would never insult his audience by attributing meaning to his creations. A ballet, like a song, could mean many things depending on the ears, eyes, and mind’s eye of its audience.

As for the views of Bentley, Farrell, et Kirkland, they all revealed the truth of Mr. B- Though I much preferred the mature view of ‘Holding On to the Air.’

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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Mon Nov 08, 2004 1:52 pm 
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I never saw Balanchine choreography performed in his lifetime by "his" artists, but when I have seen it performed by even less than perfect performers, I am struck most by its wonderfully intelligent geometry (and its ability to transcend the performers). To me, and I am not a linear thinker by any stretch, it's math made into art. And I think I read somewhere that Farrell said she would infuse the choreography with her own ideas of characters and stories which enabled her to dance it well.

But I have to also say that I understand, from dancers, that the physical demands of dancing Balanchine choreography are second to no other kind.


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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2004 5:49 pm 
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I think Francia Russell summarized it well when asked the other night during a post-performance discussion about what it was like to work with Mr. Balanchine. She said, among other things, he was a human being.

As much as we'd all would have liked him to have been perfect (whatever that is!), he was not and subject to human foibles as the rest of us.

Everyone likes to talk about their bosses, and reading or hearing about some of the more gossipier tomes and comments made, is like hearing the certain kinds of office chatter I hear all the time but with a balletic twist. One of the big differences I think though is that dancers for the most part are very passionate and committed to their craft (not that others cannot be too) and that Mr. B.'s life and work have been open and subject to much public scrutiny. This is perhaps why discussions tend to be so intense when talking about art and artists.

I think it's best when we focus on the work and his contributions to the art form. While his life is interesting in many aspects, the most interesting parts are the ones involving his craft and work. Biographies put this in historic and cultural context which is great. But the simple facts of his life are not, unto themselves, that interesting. Birth, upbringing, marriages -- yadda, yadda, yadda.

Let's look to the legacy of his work for finding Balanchine. We loose him if we examine too closely the parts of his sum of his whole.

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 Post subject: Re: Opinions on Balanchine
PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2004 2:09 pm 
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Quote:
Originally posted by Dean Speer:

Let's look to the legacy of his work for finding Balanchine. We loose him if we examine too closely the parts of his sum of his whole.
Sorry, but if you look closely, and just forget for a moment that you are watching a Balanchine ballet, the ballets were never actually any good, they were always just kind of okay. If you watch Serenade, for example, you might notice that there is nothing really good about it. It just plods away like any other "beautiful ballet"(C)(TM) by Balanchine; there's a few good looking girls tiptoeing under each others' arms making some pretty geometrical patterns that are easy to remember, sure, and there’s the girls' smiling faces that get stuck in your head.

That's not a good ballet, that's just hypnotism. That's just repeating something until it washes up on the desolate beach of your brain like a suicidal whale. If you try to watch a compilation videotape of his greatest ballets, you'll wind up skipping all the ballets that aren't too great and that you've seen too many times, and guess what: you'll have skipped every single ballet.. Balanchine is one of the most striking examples of style-over-substance in all of ballet history, and he's one of the most tenacious examples of overstaying one’s welcome.

Furthermore, as one of the omnipresent background figures still buzzing around the ballet world, Balanchine represents the pinnacle of BalletTanz-approved lameness. He was wealthy and a womanizer, and as if that weren’t enough to instantly file him away under inauthentic, he also happened to churn out ballet after ballet of anemic Russian ballet homage.

Try to summon up a Balanchine ballet in your mind: is the title of the ballet either generic or an undisguised cliché? Probably. Are the dance steps transparently imitative of Ballets Russes? Probably. Does it contain lots of pretty girls smiling? Of course it does. Balanchine was releasing the same ballets over and over again for fifty years, and people who like to watch the same ballets over and over again for more than fifty years have been buying tickets over and over again for more than fifty years.

Ballet, in the hands of Balanchine, became all about workmanlike professionalism and predictable results and endless retreads. He is a ballet company’s dream come true, because there's a catalogue of golden oldies to learn and dance for every two or three seasons, without too much fuss or controversy. Balanchine is a critic’s worst nightmare, because he’s too popular too ignore but not bad enough to properly pan. He’s unremarkable, he’s eternal, and he was a misogynist.

Tex.

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