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February 05, 2021


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Right on, Haglund. We remember what happened the one time when Balanchine tried to reflect the current times: PAMTGG!

Good news: we don’t have to wait for NYCB’s digital season to see complete substantial Balanchine ballets, as Ballet West streams Emeralds tonight via its YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCh9GSKCxKmaY49wgZxOp1Dg

Rubies come Feb 19 and Diamonds on March 5...and other complete ballets. Each work stays up for one week. Details on the full season here:

Last but not least...it looks like Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagordo are Artists-in-Residence at Richmond Ballet for at least the next two months, as per RB’s Facebook page:

Both will dance (Live!) in RB’s Feb & March “Studio Series” performances...although it’s not clear if & how audiences will be incorporated.

I remember nothing about PAMTGG. Nothing. I swear.

Thanks for the heads-up about Ballet West's and Royal Ballets upcoming streams.

Great to see that Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda got such a meaningful gig during this time. According to Richmond Ballet's website, the final performance will be recorded and streamed on Sunday evening Feb 21st. The cost of the stream will be $20. I believe we will be seeing Sarah & Luis in the Sleeping Beauty PdD. Tickets here: https://www.richmondballet.com/season-tickets/ticket-info/performances/studio-series-february/

My diagnosis of the problem would've been different before the pandemic, during which I've watched a massive amount of ballet online.

Before, I would've said that wokeness had infected and was ruining American ballet. But now I'm afraid the problem may be even worse than that. Maybe we just aren't that good at it and wokeness is a fig leaf.

This even applies to NYCB performing Balanchine. At its best, of course, it is sheer undeniable genius. But what I saw in the much of the YouTube excerpts was dancers racing around to execute steps with dubious technique. The NYCB excerpt of Stravinsky Violin Concerto from the fall comes to mind. What the hell were the men doing in that piece? to take but one example.

Contemporary dancers also fly around the stage without ever doing anything technically virtuosic. And the SAB performance was depressing. A lot of weak dancers just managing to get from point A to B on time.

I sure hope I'm wrong about all of this, and that NYCB knocks their digital season out of the park. Agree wholeheartedly with everything you said Haglund.

"In fact, he created beautiful work that actually distracted us from the ugliness of the times."


I think that so many choreographers are bad to mediocre these days, but inserting "wokeness" makes a work more impervious to criticism. People are wary to say they don't like it. Just off the top of my head, I can't recall many instances where the two living choreographers I consider the most skillful, Peck and Ratmansky, have had to stoop to using wokeness.

True, AMJ, and you hit the nail on the head. When choreographers want to make ballets but don't possess sufficient vocabulary, they have to substitute something. So they pour on the woki and tribalism.

Haglund it is always a delight to read your posts! The points you make describe many of my feelings about the current state of ballet. While I love being able to peek behind the curtains and learn more about the lives my favorite ballet dancers, too much visibility ruins the mystery for me. AMJ did indeed hit the nail on the head - beautiful ballet can transport us rather than reminding us of the current torment we are in. Also, many of the more "contemporary" works are leading to more injuries and putting demands on these dancers that their bodies were not trained to handle. I need to see some pointe shoes and tutus STAT!

I agree Elizabeth. A little bit of behind-the-curtain side show can be be interesting, but it seems that the peripheral media has a tendency to eclipse the end product. I don't want to see five minutes of dance and then 30 minutes of discussion about the choreographer's inspiration and motive or how much it means to a dancer to have something made on him or her. The product on the stage is the priority; if it can't stand alone on its own merits, it probably doesn't belong there.

Totally agree.

Unfortunately, I’ve detected wokeness in a few of Justin Peck’s works, particularly in *The Times Are Racing*...with grubby costumes that include at least one t-shirt emblazoned with “RESIST!” Then the gender-bending role, danced by either male or female. It’s not seen often but there’s definitely some woke messaging in Peck...who I normally admire a lot.

Ratmansky? Hardly a trace of wokeness, unless one counts some of the spoken messages in *Voices* perhaps.

It seems that contemporary ballet came more into focus nearly twenty years when it was noticed that the average audience at the time was approaching 50. Also, I see that more ballet schools teach contemporary dance, engage in more competitions of various kinds, and that students may actually spend less time in classical ballet classes. I remember when the ballet schools ( 70s) usually offered variations for those qualified and character, possibly in the summer. But almost all classes were classical ballet. Haglund, do you and others see this as a trend contributing to the favor of contemporary ballet? Do you think that professional ballet dancers need this training? Like you, I have little to no interest in the current trends that you write about that lack technique and artistry in favor of political statements.

I think they are collaboration worth to try. Pina Bausch movie/documentary was done so well....I do not think it’s about a trend I think it’s about art, that is talk, discuss and defend with so much passion in this blog.... I think the new piece to be released with San Francisco Ballet has potential, at least it’s interesting mix of artists.

Initially, the motive for ballet companies to present modern/contemporary work was to retrieve the audience which had been lost to other new forms of culture over the years. The unintended consequence was that classical standards frequently fell into disrepair. The real problem, however, is that the modern/contemporary genre has abandoned the early 20th Century modern/contemporary vocabulary and standards created for it by Graham, Limón, Ailey, Taylor, and a few others. Instead of building on those, they have replaced them with vernacular. Modern/contemporary choreography today is all about hyping the vernacular which unfortunately tends to normalize violence, misogyny, hate, offense, victimization, and narcissism. It is less focused on developing intelligent, captivating choreography and more focused on courting controversy - because the latter is so much easier and doesn't require any talent or skill.

Basically, ballet is intentionally devolving into plain old run of the mill dance where anything goes, so to speak. If ballet companies cannot make their classical repertory and classical vocabulary shine enough to captivate audiences, it's their own fault, not the art form's.

The ballet community has spent years trying to re-package itself as an athletic community where the physical effort is just as hard as professional athletes'. Such a load of bunk. Ballet dancers don't experience anything close to what professional athletes go through. Imagine if there was a ballet spring training camp where today's ballet dancers were housed, told exactly what to eat, told when to go to bed, weighed and measured every day, screamed at and pushed around during practices, and most of all denied individual identity or voice. Imagine if NYCB and ABT dancers were assessed based on their numbers the way the NFL assesses players on their 40 yd dash, 20 yd split & shuttle, vertical jump, hand size, broad jump, length of arms. There would be an uproar led by the PC Police at the New York Times.

Jeannette, I thought of PAMTGG too!

Haglund, Sadly, I think that tribalism will continue, and will destroy much before it's finally beaten back. I hope it doesn't happen but I see standards slipping at SAB. I've already read here, pre-Covid, that many students are skipping summer sessions (was it you, Jeannette, who told us that because of the bottleneck in promotions?) - now this. We'll just have to depend upon the Russians to keep up standards while we go through our disturbances.

During this time, we'll wish that choreographers came up with work as good as PAMTGG!

I just remembered that on May 2 1968, Requiem Canticles was performed. Balanchine choreographed this to music Stravinsky had written earlier to commemorate the life of Martin Luther king, who had been assassinated just one month prior.

To my knowledge, this is the only time the New York City Ballet ever did anything remotely political. Because something truly tragic had just happened, and the country was in turmoil with the Vietnam war going on in the background.

When you save it up for the truly important things, it makes that much more impact.

Thanks, Diana. According to Jennifer Dunning, the single performance of Requiem Canticles was one of Arthur Mitchell's last performances at NYCB before setting off to form DTH.

Just listened to the music on YouTube. It certainly evokes anxiety and visions of angularity - Mitchell and Farrell were probably quite compelling in it.

It's great music. I'm sure the choreography was great too. Wonder if there's a chance it could ever be re-done, or is it another of Mr. B's lost masterpieces?

Shawn: "Before, I would've said that wokeness had infected and was ruining American ballet. But now I'm afraid the problem may be even worse than that. Maybe we just aren't that good at it and wokeness is a fig leaf."

Hmm....This is food for thought. Certainly the obsession with athleticism for athleticism's sake preceded wokeness and is the source of so much of the trashiness - in my opinion. Allow me to expand a bit.

I remember well that Eddy Villella's athleticism was a key part of his appeal. But, it was genuine. He was truly a dancer-athlete. This is fine in the context of his career. But to turn ballet into athletics is just wrong. He was a dancer first. The athleticism was in service to the dance. Balanchine used this well. In the service of ballet.

Contrast with today. There are endless accolades of Ashley Bouder's athleticism and it just isn't the same thing. Yes, she is naturally athletic and that's great - but the athleticism has (IMO) overwhelmed the ballerina. I've seen videos where her facial expressions during turns are complimented. She looks like Chris Evert homing in on a return of service - lips pursed, eyes narrowed in concentration.

This is fine for an athlete. I loved Chrissie's iron determination facial expressions. But I don't want to see this in a ballerina. Suzanne Farrell wrote about never wanting to let the audience see her huffing and puffing - and wasn't she gasping for oxygen at the end of a variation? Sure!

But I also think that wokeness is contributing to a downward spiral. So in the end I agree with Shawn. Wokeness isn't a cause. It's a consequence, which compounds the collapse.

All true, Diana.

The ballerinas' focus on athleticism and musculature reinforces hegemonic masculinity, i.e., "I'm valuable because I can be as physically strong and muscular and compete with men." So long as being strong like a man is valued as aspiration, we're maintaining men's muscles and their testosterone responsible for those muscles in a position of cultural dominance. We're preserving hegemonic masculinity.

And conversely, some men have decided to try ‘their feet’ at dancing en pointe. Tit for tat?
Where is all this gender reassignment going to lead us in the world of ballet? To my taste, male and female roles are not interchangeable. Will G. Murphy be asked to catch J. Whiteside in a fish? Will S. Mearns be asked to carry T. Angle perched on her shoulder?


YES. I was thinking exactly this when I saw James Whiteside's latest exercise in exhibitionism. (Check out his book cover.) His drag ballet routine w/sequined minidress & obsession with pointe work is obvious poaching on ballerina territory. But also, not so subtly lording it over the naturally less muscular partner. Why can't Isabella "Cindie" Boylston see this? She's participating in her own degradation.

What next? A transgender ballerina? Don't laugh, anything's possible.

I say, if a man who has a solid classical ballet technique, such as Mr. Whiteside, wants to hoof around in toe shoes he should do it as a man not as a poor imitation of a woman. Take off the girly frocks. Don’t be a ballerina wannabe. You are either Arthur or Martha. Otherwise, join a drag ballet and leave ‘serious’ art alone. Know your role. Strive to perfect the male technique.

Porcellone, I totally agree but Mr. Whiteside will continue his shenanigans regardless of what we think, in the mistaken notion that he's bringing new audiences to ballet. That's the ostensible reason for this "Ballet Must Change" campaign, supposedly. It will not. It will alienate the traditional audience and the wokesters will just go on and destroy their next target.

And just as I was about to applaud the ABT organization for a fabulous two-part “ABT Studio Company Winter Festival” stream...came a lengthy WOKEFEST (can’t call it “ballet”) in last night’s show... complete with clenched wrists held high and angry faces...all dressed up for a #BLM demonstration. So different from the other three new works shown, especially Lauren Lovette’s “La Follia Variations” that closed the first night’s show. Amy Hall Garner’s “Escapades” and Brendan Saye’s “Grey Verses” we’re also quality pieces, each in its own way...showcasing the bright talents of the 14 Studio Company dancers. And what glorious classics we also saw...Elizabeth Beyer wondrous as Medora in Corsaire Suite!!! I also loved Stella Abrera’s staging of portions of Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas” danced with fleet-footed fluidity by all concerned. Or the Tudor “Leaves”...there was so much to love before the finale. What a shame that it had to end with a pedestrian woke piece.

Exactly what I was thinking, Jeannette. I was ready to write happily about that first night, particularly Lovette's piece, and then the second night showed why ABT should shut down until it gets a new leader. "For What Is It All Worth" was Wokewaste.

True, Elizabeth Beyer's Medora was wondrous, but ABT has even managed to take out half of her brightness that was evident during the years she was dancing and competing while a student at Edward Ellison's school.

Lovette's La Follia Variations during the first night showed tremendous progress in her ensemble skills. The PdDs looked a bit like Lauren was asking "What might Wheeldon make for me to dance" but there was nothing objectionable in them. The dancers' disciplined port de bras really put a stamp of elegance on her choreography.

Throughout both nights, the lighting was terrible. What was the purpose of all the darkness?

Haglund, it should’ve been darker — as in “lights off” - in the Wokes-on-pointe piece!

re.Lovette - I totally agree on her creations. Did you catch her “Papillons” at Vail a couple of years back? Divine...REAL classical dancing with a genuine wit. Here in “La Follia,” I far prefer her take on the Geminiani score over Taylor-Corbet’s “Chiaroscuro”...the one with Jock Soto running in circles. Lovett the classicist winner, hands down.

Luckily I missed it.

Looking for the link, I checked out ABT's Instagram account. They have started a venture, #ABTrise. Maybe it's because this is black history month, but it appears to me that all of the photographs showed only black students.

If the purpose is to widen the student talent pool, is ABT not aware that there are poor white kids in this country? Racializing everything is the road to ruin.

Maybe I'm getting too jaded, but it paid off because I decided to skip night two after watching the first night. Honestly, the quality was about what we would should hope for from a small, regional company.

Unless and until they post a classic full-length, I'm not getting snookered again.

To end the evening on a much better note, I put the following search term into YT: балет.

LOL, Shawn. Brilliant idea!

E.g.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYRXkFmMnU4&t=685s

Diana, it’s not even a race thing. A black choreographer, Amy Hall-Garner, contributed one of the contemporary pieces in this ABT Studio program (in program 1). It was very enjoyable, deriving from the CLASSICAL ballet tradition. Then again, Hall-Garner has a CLASSICAL background (Joffrey, for ex), while Hope Boykin comes from modern dance (mostly Ailey). Very different styles, each to be respected within its own arena. I don’t go to Ailey to see Bayadere & I don’t go to ABT for Revelations.

On femininity and athleticism, it seems cross-training may be part of the current problem too?

I'm also a fan of track and field, and many of those women look spectacular in their own right, like real-life action-figures in athletic costumes. However, I wouldn't want to see most of them on stage in anything feminine, let alone a tutu.

And if I were a ballerina, I would avoid weights like the plague. Seems like ballet itself develops the arms, shoulders, back, and everything else for that matter, to aesthetic perfection.

And also perhaps the cross-training is undermining technical development? But that's a matter above my pay-grade.

Men, in contrast, almost certainly need some resistance training for the upper body. I suspect very few of us are naturally strong enough for Basilio's one-arm lifts.

You are absolutely right, Haglund. You are also brave, as today it takes courage to say something common sense like this.

Excellent new Giselle (with new principals in act two), sans crowd, from La Scala:


Requires free registration for access.

Would be glad to pay for content like this moving forward. Everything we've bought here at home during the pandemic has been a rip-off.

Haglund, Diana, You are all SO right! I am so sick of the wokeness. I'm going to scream hearing DIVERSE, CUSTOMIZED TO TODAY'S CULTURE, INCLUSIVE, GENDER NEGATIVE,all the similar crap. DANCE MAGAZINE IS obsessed with this. GISELLE, SLEEPING BEAUTY, et all have to be "relevant for our times", so screw up the production. Barf. The classics are called classics for a reason. And yes, Mr.B did not make a social messaging his primary focus. It was wonderful,demanding dancing. And the photos of dancers now look like body builders, not artists. Yes, I will pay too, to see DANCE, not athletes. You are so right about Ashley Bouder, as well as men as ballerinas. Its funny and great with The Trocs, not Whiteside. All well said.

But George Balanchine was way ahead of his time; engaging in social protest,tempered by civic pride and a sense of duty. Here are a few things he did. Imagine the year 1957 in the USA. Mr. B. choreographed Agon with Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell dancing the pas de deux. We're talking a Caucasian woman and Negro man, to use the vernacular of that era, dancing a love duet on stage with bright lights and a brilliant score by Igor Stravinsky. And I was recently reminded that he, also, had the woman in Stars and Stripes wear yellow scarves in solidarity with the Iran hostages, during the Carter administration. And read this:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri on April 21 ...www.newspapers.com › newspage
Apr 21, 1980 — The New York City Ballet will donate the box-office receipts from the opening night of its spring season, April 29, to buy bulletproof vests for police officers. Ballet maestro GEORGE BALANCHINE,...
The difference is, George Balanchine was a leader and an innovator. He did not play 'follow the leader'. He educated his dancers and audiences without pontificating.

Thanks, Porcellone Interleggi.

However, I would not say that Balanchine "educated" his audiences. That type of assumption is part of the whole problem wherein artists assume that their audiences are amoral morons who know less about social, current, or political events than the artists, and that they need to be "shocked" into paying attention. Balanchine didn't engage in preachy, pompous lecturing like today's artists - many if not most of whom have never served their country, completed college, or ever had to slave at a job they didn't like. Totally privileged from head to toe.

Balanchine didn't cast Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell because he wanted to make a point about race relations in America. He defended the casting against racists' objections, but he didn't create the ballet as a comment on race in America. And he certainly didn't use any culture's vernacular in the ballet -- only his own genius.

Having known George Balanchine socially, I must defend what I wrote. He, without doubt, was making a statement about race relations, through his art.
And he was a teacher/educator. That is not imply that everyone else was a moron. One can be open to instruction or not. He was an artistic genius. We learn from genius.
What is the purpose of art, if not to enlighten? He didn’t just choreograph pretty dances.
Art and Artists have a profound effect on our daily lives...food for thought.
Mr. B was not a braggart, but he knew his worth and his purpose in life.

Thanks much Porcellone Interleggi! Terrific comments!

As for the purpose of art -- I would not trust any single authority to proclaim that. I certainly would not say that the purpose of art is to enlighten even though that can sometimes be an end result. The word enlighten is very loaded. "Enlightened" on one side of the street won't necessarily conform to "enlightened" on the other side of the street. I would leave the purpose of art (beyond the enrichment of our lives) to each individual to decide.

Right on, Haglund! Balanchine didn’t create Agon’s Pdd to make a PC-type statement; it is a beautiful work of art that arose as part of the natural creative process, in response to tasteful music of the highest standards...hardly what we are being served now by the wokes.

In general, I am sickened by the serious lowering of standards in the USA’s classical ballet nowadays, to appease “cancel culture.” I sure as heck will not pay to attend any mixed bill that includes PC-messaging crappola. It’s almost as if we need a new Lunacharsky to ensure the continuation of the classics...just like the real Lunacharsky did in the 1920s Soviet Union (to not throw out arts created under the Tsars in the name of Revolution).

And this, Jeannette:


The competitions and discipline at POB are too military-like. 🐼

There was no such thing as PC in 1957. Mr. Balanchine used his artistic platform to challenge preceptions of what is or is not socially acceptable. He didn't cast Ms. Adams or Mr. Mitchell soley on terpichorean merit. Otherwise, he could have cast Jacques d'Amboise. But it would not have made the same impact. He knew what he was doing. We're talking about 1957! Picasso, Da Vinci, Matisse, Rembrandt, Kandinsky et alia used certain colors for a reason.

Mr. B was all the time in the theater taking care of his dancers. Some dancers perform almost every night, and show to a class with him where he will be working hard in the technique. The level of artistry it’s just hard work, dedication. Mr. B was in love with dance, dancers and music, he wanted more of them, better version of themselves, faster technique, artistry, musicality. Dancers respect him , trust him that he knew better than themselves how to transform, of their own possibilities and limitations, it’s seems like it was a full ecosystem that seems to be broke in different layers this days.

Haglund, for what you said about dancers trying to market themselves as athletes, I love you. Been reading the blog for a while, first time commenting because you're the first person I've seen pointing out how ridiculous it is to advertise ballet as a sport. Thank you.

My pleasure, FB. Thank you.

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