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 Post subject: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 3:05 pm 
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The New Republic has reprinted an excerpt from the epilogue of dance writer Jennifer Homans' new book, "Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet," in which she poses the question, "Is Ballet Over?"

The New Republic


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 21, 2010 9:47 pm 
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Perhaps it is OVER for ballet, as all we have in response to this posting is my posting under National Ballet of Canada Fall 2010! I invite others to join me in saving ballet from the oblivion of a misguided writer!

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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 8:57 am 
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Well, since no one else has bothered to respond, I shall respond to myself! As usual, I am having a conversation with myself but Michael Goldbarth is my favorite ballet critic and hence why not converse with myself?

Quote:
“Balanchine, Robbins, and Tudor; Stravinsky and Kirstein; Ashton, Keynes, and de Valois; Lupokhov, Larovsky, and Vaganova—they were all gone, and the dancers who had brought their ballets and so many others to life had left or retired from the stage.

Today’s artists—their students and heirs—have been curiously unable to rise to the challenge of their legacy. They seem crushed and confused by its iconoclasm and grandeur, unable to build on its foundation yet unwilling to throw it off in favor of a vision of their own. Contemporary choreography veers aimlessly from unimaginative imitation to strident innovation usually in the form of gymnastic or melodramatic excess, accentuated by overzealous lightening and special effects. This taste for unthinking athleticism and dense thickets of steps, for spectacle and sentiment, is not the final cry of a dying artistic era; it represents a collapse of confidence and a generation ill at ease with itself and uncertain of its relationship to the past.”


The above is a mouthful of hyperbole that the average ballet fan could never make a connection. You could say the above about music as well: Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Vivaldi, Bach, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, insert your favorite composer now residing in Heaven.... The greats are all gone and all we can do is replay their greatness. The world we live in today doesn’t appreciate or value the arts from the world gone by and hence we can only relive history.

Quote:
“Technically conservative, their dancing is opaque and flat, emotionally dimmed. And although many can perform astonishing stunts, the overall level of technique has fallen. Today’s dancers are more brittle and unsubtle, with fewer half-tones than their predecessors. Uncertainty and doubt have crept in.”


Wow! I have no idea what inspired the above. I disagree.

Quote:
“The result, however, is ironic: the world’s major ballet companies—companies that built their reputations on new work—have now become museums for the old.”


I agree with the above to a pointe but what is so wrong with being a museum for the old if there is nothing better to present? New ballets cost too much to stage. There is just too much risk involved baking a brand new ballet from scratch.

Quote:
“As for the people, they have been forgotten. Not only in boardrooms preoccupied with the next gala, but by scholars, critics, and writers. Dance today has shrunk into a recondite world of hyperspecialists and balletomanes, insiders who talk to each other (often in impenetrable theory-laden prose) and ignore the public. The result is a regrettable disconnect: most people today do not feel they “know enough” to judge a dance.”


I cannot disagree with the above and curiously the writer is most guilty of the above!

Quote:
“If we are lucky, I am wrong and classical ballet is not dying but falling instead into a deep sleep to be reawakened—like the Sleeping Beauty—by a new generation. The history of ballet, after all, abounds in spirits and ghosts, in hundred-year silences and half-remembered dreams, and The Sleeping Beauty has been its most constant companion and metaphor. At every important juncture, Beauty has been there: in the court of Louis XIV where ballet formally began; in late nineteenth-century St. Petersburg where Petipa, Tchaikovsky, and Vsevolozhsky awakened and elevated it to new heights; in the imaginations of Diaghilev and Stravinsky in 1921 as they clung to their own fast-receding past; and in the mind of Maynard Keynes as he sought to usher Britain back from war to civilization. The Soviets leaned on Beauty too, and George Balanchine began and ended his life with the ballet: Beauty was his debut performance as a child in Imperial St. Petersburg and his final dream at the New York City Ballet.

If artists do find a way to reawaken this sleeping art, history suggests that the kiss may not come from one of ballet’s own princes but from an unexpected guest from the outside—from popular culture or from theater, music, or art; from artists or places foreign to the tradition who find new reasons to believe in ballet.”


The above is a most beautiful passage of prose. The National Ballet of Canada has been fortunate enough to be kissed by the works of Kudelka (can’t believe I included him), Mrozewski, Bombana, Pite and others...so I like to think we are no Sleeping Beauty-Not that there is anything wrong with that! In order for Homans’ dream to come true, she will need a big smooch from present governments digging out of a recession to change their art thrifty ways and spend gobs of $$$ on developing new composers and choreographers! At the moment there is FAT chance of that happening in the SLIM world of ballet and the current world economy. :wink:

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Last edited by Michael Goldbarth on Mon Oct 25, 2010 5:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 9:08 am 
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Who will dare disagree with the above from moi? :mrgreen:

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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 10:21 am 
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I intend to respond to this: the lady presents a very detailed argument.


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:31 am 
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Ms Homans covers a great deal of ground, although I feel the lady is writing primarily from a north American perspective and there are definitely some factual inaccuracies when she writes about ballet in Europe. For example when she touches on the situation in Russia I feel she isn't fully enough aware of the current socio/economic set up in that country to have a good grasp of the dance scene there which remains highly conservative despite those ballet masters that look westwards for repertoire rather than encouraging home grown choreographers.

However I totally agree with the main thrust of her argument, this in particular:

Quote:
Contemporary choreography veers aimlessly from unimaginative imitation to strident innovation usually in the form of gymnastic or melodramatic excess, accentuated by overzealous lightening and special effects. This taste for unthinking athleticism and dense thickets of steps, for spectacle and sentiment, is not the final cry of a dying artistic era; it represents a collapse of confidence and a generation ill at ease with itself and uncertain of its relationship to the past.


The great choreographers are now gone with very few of today's generation capable of creating adequately using the classical vocabulary and I believe that it is this lack of inspiration that in the past came from working with dance-makers and being part of the creative process that has resulted in the distorted technique that is becoming the norm. The shortage of creative talent has nothing to do with money by the way; Diaghilev was perpetually broke but still managed to launch the most concentrated array of choreographers in the 20th century.

Quote:
Technically conservative, their dancing is opaque and flat, emotionally dimmed. And although many can perform astonishing stunts, the overall level of technique has fallen. Today’s dancers are more brittle and unsubtle, with fewer half-tones than their predecessors.


Ms Homan's observations are inarguably true alas, but the names selected as exceptions to the rule are not the ones I would choose as the brightest beacons of artistic excellence.

Quote:
Classical ballet has always been an art of belief. It does not fate well in cynical times. It is an art of high ideals and self-control in which proportion and grace stand for an inner truth and elevated state of being. Ballet, moreover, is an etiquette as much as an art, layered with centuries of courtly conventions and codes of civility and politeness. This does not mean, however, that it is static. To the contrary, we have seen that when societies that nourished ballet changed or collapsed—as they did in the years around the French and Russian Revolutions—marks of the struggle were registered in the art.


Indeed. Society is currently in a state of flux with huge societal changes in the offing, the impact that will have in the arts in general, not just ballet, remain to be seen but even if revolution isn’t in the air, civil unrest most definitely is. It will be interesting to see how the arts world responds to the events that inevitably lie ahead.

Quote:
Today we no longer believe in ballet’s ideals. We are skeptical of elitism and skill, which seem to us exclusionary and divisive. Those privileged enough to obtain specialized training, so this thinking goes, should not be elevated above those with limited access to knowledge or art. We want to expand and include: we are all dancers now. Ballet’s fine manners and implicitly aristocratic airs, its white swans, regal splendor, and beautiful women on pointe (pedestals), seem woefully outmoded, the province of dead white men and society ladies in long-ago places…………………………

……………..The fragmentation and compartmentalization of culture do not help. We have grown accustomed to living in multiple private dimensions, virtual worlds sealed in ether: myspace, mymusic, mylife. These worlds may be global and simultaneous, but they are by nature disembodied and detached. They are also fractured, niche environments and virtual “communities” based on narrow personal affinities rather than broad common values. Nothing could be further from the public, physically concrete, and sensual world of dance.

The dumbing down phenomenon once again. Personally I’m sick to the back teeth with ballet and all other art forms that require technique and expertise being described as elitist, just as I’m infuriated by turning to the arts pages of credible newspapers only to be confronted with reams of purple prose about rock groups and the like. Popular culture not only reigns supreme, it also tramples over established art forms and screams its propaganda in favour of the lowest common denominator. In such an environment it’s difficult for the arts to survive at all.

Quote:
For classical ballet to recover its standing as a major art would thus require more than resources and talent (the “next genius”). Honor and decorum, civility and taste would have to make a comeback. We would have to admire ballet again, not only as an impressive athletic display but as a set up ethical principles. Our contemporary infatuation with instability and fragmentation, with false pomp and sentiment, would have to give way to more confident beliefs. If that sounds conservative, perhaps it is; ballet has always been an art of order, hierarchy and tradition. But rigor and discipline are the basis for all truly radical art, and the rules, limits, and rituals of ballet have been the point of departure for its most liberating and iconoclastic achievements.


Beautifully put, if I have quibbles with parts of this (and wish the article had better editing) I cannot disagree with anything she says in that paragraph. Even allowing for the errors it is an honest analysis of the state of the art of ballet in the twenty first century.


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 1:59 pm 
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Laura Jacobs reviews Jennifer Homans' book in the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Sat Oct 30, 2010 6:50 pm 
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Me thinks the fact this topic hasn’t generated that much feedback says it all. If ballet was indeed over why is it that the majority of reviews are so positive?

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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 5:48 pm 
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Rachel Howard reviews "Apollo's Angels" in the San Francisco Chronicle.

SF Chronicle


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 2:08 pm 
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Claudia La Rocco reviews "Apollo's Angels" in Slate.

Slate


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 19, 2010 2:38 pm 
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Rachel Shteir reviews "Apollo's Angels" in Bookforum.

Bookforum


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Fri Nov 19, 2010 4:10 pm 
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In the New York Times, Jennifer McDonald includes responses to "Apollo's Angels" from Washington Post critic Sarah Kaufman, Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov, and Miami City Ballet artistic director Edward Villella.

NY Times

She also profiles Jennifer Homans in her review of "Apollo's Angels."

Homans profile


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Mon Nov 22, 2010 1:58 pm 
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Jennifer Flanders reviews "Apollo's Angels" in The Arts Desk.

The Arts Desk


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2010 1:23 pm 
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Toni Bentley reviews "Apollo's Angels" in the New York Times.

NY Times


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 Post subject: Re: Jennifer Homans: Is Ballet Over?
PostPosted: Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:28 pm 
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In the Daily Mail, Jennifer Homans talks about what attracted her to ballet and how those same impulses might save the art form.

Daily Mail


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