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NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration
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Author:  Jeff [ Tue Jan 22, 2002 4:55 pm ]
Post subject:  NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

“Ballet Fundamentals”<BR>NYCB lecture/demonstration<BR>Sunday 1/13/02 before the matinee<P>NYCB management appear to an out-of-towner like me to have a divided mind in the audience education area. The performance program notes in “Stagebill” are pretty thin despite having nice essays about Andrea Quinn, their new music director, and Melissa Barak, their new choreographic wunderkind (how many works does a new choreographer have to make to merit this title). However, information about the works being performed are really thin—little more than the bare essentials of the production team and premiere date/cast though there is a little more from the volunteer desk in the form of a handout with a discography and bibliography.<P>On the other hand, NYCB provides a variety of seminars, talks, and lecture-demonstrations. This is in addition to their local outreach.<P>C-D moderators, if this isn’t the best spot for a post on a lecture/demonstration, please move it to where it would be most appropriate. Also, if anybody detects any mistakes in the info, especially names, please don’t hesitate to pipe in.<P>At only $10 for over 2 hours of lecture/demonstration, this was great deal for somebody like me with knows nothing about ballet as a craft or occupation. It was held in one of the studios in the Rose Building right by Lincoln Center and was overseen and MC’ed by their Education Director, Ellen Sorrin.<P>After Ellen showed a short video of the company showing their many styles and faces, she gave a short history of the company and a little bit about their style and philosophy. Taking turns making presentations were Deanna, the company’s costume hand-painter and dyer; Penny and Jim, assistant lighting designer and intern; another education/outreach person whose name I didn’t catch who introduced two students from SAB; and another woman’s whose name I missed who talked about ballet’s early history. Here are a few things I learned:<P>Costumes and shoes: <BR>For show-n-tell there were tutus from “Firebird,” “Divertimento No. 15,” etc including a very elegant floor length black gown from “In the Night.” <BR>• All the very beautiful “Four Seasons” costumes I saw the other night had been recently re-made as the originals were all but worn out. This meant a lot of hand painting and dyeing.<BR>• Differences are regional between various companies’ tutus. The NYCB classical tutu has bottom with small feathers whereas the Russian tutu has an arm-wide tutu skirt with a metal hoop. The Covent Garden style has a fuller feather bottom like “a swan’s butt.”<BR>• Over time, costumes have gotten softer and simpler.<BR>• The most expensive costume is Carabosse’s estimated as between $10K and 15K (!).<BR>• A short clip from the movie “Center Stage” showed dancers breaking in new pointe shoes—hammering, cutting, slamming, smashing, etc. There were glimpses not only of Amanda Schull, who is in SFB’s corps, but Deanna McBrearty, who is in NYCB’s corps (and on at least 2 or 3 ads in the dance magazines every issue).<BR>• The company’s annual shoe budget is about $1 million.<BR>Some old pointe shoes were also passed around. Their rather beat up and less than squeaky clean condition made me wonder what were those 19th century Parisian balletomanes thinking when they used to (as legend has it) drink champagne out of their favorite ballerinas toe shoes. Get a life, pal!<P>Lighting:<BR>• The New York State Theater has about 450 lights, about 1/3 to ½ above the stage the rest on ladders to the side of the stage and out in front over the audience.<BR>• The lights that cause the most problem for dancers are the ones in the ladders at the sides of the stage—they help give definition to the dancer’s raised legs, and arms—but shining up from the dark, they make it impossible for the dancers to see the floor while doing turns. Penny gives the dancers credit for being good troopers about it.<BR>• Clouds are generated by projecting through metal cutouts and varying the light focusing.<BR>• Penny and Jim demonstrated the use of stage light focusing, the metal cutouts, shutters, and gels.<P>Creative production team:<BR>From all the presenter’s comments, I gathered that for a new ballet, the production team gets together a few times to start working through their ideas. The costume and lighting designer start with a general idea about the ballet and the music. The costume designer tries to get a feel from early rehearsals what sort of costuming will be feasible for the kind of movements in the work. Both the lighting and costume designer try to get an idea about the general “look” by studying the music. They understand that the movements they might see in early rehearsals may not even be used in the finished work, and if the music is a commissioned score, they don’t even have the music to study. I can see how Merce Cunningham’s ideas about the separation of music/dance/design has some practical aspects.<P>Ballet lecture/demonstration.<BR>To expert narration, two students from SAB, Laura Gilbert and Adrian Weir (I hope I got the names close to right) demonstrated a very abbreviated class—barre, center, jumps, and partnering. They finished with the third theme from “Four Temperaments.” This, not “Phlegmatic” as I said in an earlier post, is the pas de deux taken up by Ann Daly in her feminist critique of the Balanchine Woman. Watching these two students dance, it seemed less a specimen text of feminist discourse on ballet than an moral exemplum about what young earnestness and intelligence can accomplish—a very creditable performance. Perhaps I’m politically naïve, but I didn’t feel that the company or the school would be teaching too misogynistic a message (I sensed that this is the same lecture/demonstration that NYCB has been using for its school outreach).<P>The presentation ended with a short slide show about early ballet history, which included a video recreation of Louis XIV vintage dance (think 18” powdered wig, tonnolets, and Jean Baptiste Lully), another of Marie Camargo doing entrechats (in the days when entrechats quatre could bring down the house), and a brief story about early stage machinery, wires, and the introduction of pointe-work.<P>I really enjoyed learning that ballet is not just aesthetics, glamour, or 400 years of the Dans d’Ecole (though it is all these). All the speakers should be given credit not only for their expertise but also their enthusiasm. This varied from a sort of calm passion for the company and ballet (Ellen and the woman who gave the history part) to a sort of “isn’t it great to have such a neat job” voice (like Deanna). Most fun was contrasting Penny’s disarming demeanor that seemed to say “I hate public speaking but if it’s about stagecraft I’ll do it” and the SAB students’ “we came we performed we kicked butt and someday we’ll even be paid to dance” confidence. I highly recommend this program to any audiences who would like a little primer about stagecraft. Though it is possible to read about stage craft, like the experience of dance itself, there really is no substitute to seeing some examples of the real thing, even if only in the abbreviated form of a lecture/demonstration.<BR><p>[This message has been edited by Jeff (edited January 25, 2002).]

Author:  Azlan [ Tue Jan 22, 2002 5:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

Jeff, this is the perfect place for it! And thank you so much.<P>Yes, I do agree about NYCB's program notes. They're very skimpy. Thank god for all the other sources of information.

Author:  DavidH [ Fri Jan 25, 2002 8:24 am ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

Great report. Thanks Jeff.

Author:  Basheva [ Fri Jan 25, 2002 11:03 am ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

Thanks once again, Jeff.<P>Was the lecture chairs filled? Do they usually get a good response?

Author:  Jeff [ Fri Jan 25, 2002 6:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

Thanks for the encouragement, guys.<P>Basheva, I think about 2 dozen people showed up. The set up was quite informal which made the whole thing more enjoyable. Also, the route to the studio was sort of serpentine, involving walking to the end of a long hall past vintage pictures and posters of the company and being instructed by the attractive girl guide to go down a set of stairs and make several right turns. Just getting to the lecture was an adventure. I kept wondering if I got lost or accidentally broke something whether the company would ban me forever from Lincoln Center.<P>San Francisco Ballet used to have their pre-performance discussions in one of the studios in the Ballet Building behind the Opera House and I thought the informality was kind of nice. Pacific Northwest Ballet had theirs in some underground grotto way below the Opera House. I saw Patricia Barker talk before a show there.<P>The last few years at SFB it has been in the Opera House in the orchestra seats, which is more comfortable but it’s harder to hear and seems unnecessarily formal. Perhaps it has to do with the opulence of the Opera House itself. One of the dancers was interviewed at one of these pre-performance chats in the Opera House and she seemed sort of intimidated. I wonder if she might have been more ease in the familiar surroundings of a ballet studio.<P>But, I digress from your question.<P>The only other time I went to a NYCB presentation was last year. I think somebody else from Education was interviewing … I’m sort of blanking on whom … I think it was John Adams, the composer. NYCB was doing an entire show to John Adams music—“Chairman Dances,” “Fearful Symmetries,” and “Harmonielehre” as I remember it. Then corps members Deanna McBrearty and Darius Crenshaw came in to talk and answer some questions. They were very funny about the counts for “Harmonielehre.”<BR>

Author:  citibob [ Sat Jan 26, 2002 11:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

I notice that the costumes and choreography are done by different people. Shouldn't the choreographer come up with general ideas for costume and then work with the costume designer to get actual, workable costumes made? It seems the artistic integrity of a piece would suffer without very tight integration between choreographer and costume designer.<BR>

Author:  Azlan [ Sat Jan 26, 2002 12:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

Jeff, SFB does talks in both places still (in the Opera House and in the Ballet Building behind the Opera House), depending on the event and the sponsor. Mary Woods, a former dancer with Ballet West, has been very good btw at presenting and interviewing at these talks.<P>The one PNB talk I went to was on the basement level below the lobby. With the upcoming renovation of the Opera House, this will change of course. Perhaps Francis and Dean, long time patrons and supporters of Kent and Francia can answer this better.

Author:  Basheva [ Sat Jan 26, 2002 1:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

In San Diego pre-performance chats are usually held in the Grand Salon in the Civic Theater. It's a nice space and very convenient since it is a large upstairs lobby place.<P>The only thing wrong is that when the general audience begins to arrive, the chatter can get quite loud in adjacent lobby spaces and that interrupts the lecture/demo.<P>The couple that I have been to at Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, Calif., have been held in the first tier in the theater auditorium. That works out well as it is convenient, comfortable and does not have the 'chatter' problem mentioned above.<P>As to CitiBob's question, I think ideally one does it much like Diaghelev did it - everyone working as a unit choreographer, set designer, costumes designer and sometimes even the composer (if available). But many times in today's real world of financial stress a dance company may buy/use/rent costumes that are already made.

Author:  Jeff [ Sat Jan 26, 2002 9:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

O how narrow of me, Azlan! I can only get to the pre-performance interviews right before the Sunday matinees. And, you’re right about Mary Woods being good at these. I’ve been encouraged by the attendance, too. My recollection is that a pretty sizeable crowd shows up, too—maybe even more than when the Sunday ones were in the Ballet Building. The NYCB interview/discussion from last year that I mentioned didn’t have nearly that size crowd.<P>Some of the most interesting things from the NYCB lectures (and these pre-performance lectures in general) had to do with the production collaboration process. Molly Lynch, the AD of Ballet Pacifica, leads the discussions before BP performances and many times she’ll be up there with the choreographers of the pieces being performed. Though I’m sort of blanking on who exactly said what, I remember the choreographers describing how Liz Stillwell, a very talented lighting designed and the company’s own resident designer, would show the choreographers photos from different productions and question them closely about their ideas about mood, atmosphere, scenario, period, color, etc.<P>From what Ellen, Deanna, and Penny talked about in the 1/13 “Ballet Fundamentals” it did sound like the team got together a few times in the beginning of the collaboration. But, then they would keep in contact later (phone, fax, e-mail, FED-Ex, I suppose) but without the benefit of another face to face meeting. One of them told a story about Peter Martins taking scissors and making last minute costume alterations just before a big production was to premiere.<P>In Toni Bentley’s beautiful book, “Costumes by Karinska,” she tells of the couturier, Karinska’s first ballet commission—for Balanchine’s “Cotillon (The Dance)” (1932). Though she had never made a ballet costume before, Karinska with pins in her mouth and yards of tulle over her shoulder examined Tamara Toumanova along with Berard (the designer) and Balanchine:<P>“Such a scene was to become de rigueur; that semicircle of mirrors where many a barefoot dancer has stood under the unflattering lighting for a fitting was a place where the fate of a ballet could be decided well before its premiere. Forty years later Karinska and Balanchine could be found peering with unabated fascination at the curve of a décolletage, their enthusiasm undiminished by time or success.” (Bentley 1995)<P>On the other hand there is the process associated with Merce Cunningham for his company. As I understand it, Merce commissions the score, the design, and the costumes as separate elements from his choreography. No attempt is made to collaborate.<P>The effect is fascinating.<P>Somewhere I read that Merce was asked about it—doesn’t it concern him that he doesn’t know anything about the costumes or the décor? Wasn’t it like ordering a wedding dress without knowing what it was going to look like. His reply was, yes, you wouldn’t know what you’re getting, but on the other hand, it’s a dress by Chanel. (Sorry, I’m paraphrasing big time because I can’t remember where I read this ... got too many books about Merce)<BR><p>[This message has been edited by Jeff (edited January 26, 2002).]

Author:  Azlan [ Thu Feb 07, 2002 8:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

Wow:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Loudeye's VidiPax Subsidiary Chosen by the Alan Lomax Archives And New York City Ballet for Media Restoration Projects<P>VidiPax to Restore and Preserve More Than 500 Hours of Material For Each Organization<P>...<P>New York City Ballet's audio-visual resources, housed at New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, are an integral learning and rehearsal tool for exploring the diverse and cultural atmosphere exhibited by one of America's leading dance institutions. Starting with the most brittle and fragile items, including 530 tapes made prior to 1986, VidiPax is preserving, restoring, and transferring the Ballet's extensive video archive, preserving countless performances, rehearsals, interviews, and broadcasts.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P><a href= target=_blank>More</a>

Author:  Basheva [ Thu Feb 07, 2002 9:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: NYCB "Ballet Fundamentals" Lecture/Demonstration

This is interesting.....we are going to begin seeking equipment to put our dance video tape library on discs. I have quite a number of tapes from the late 1970's and early 1980's and so they are getting old.<P>If anyone has any advice I would love to hear it.

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