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Everything posted by Rina

  1. As is oft said on the forum, each to their own. For me, Gerald Dowler is one of the best critics around. His review of Dante Project also has some Crisp touches to savour. But personal preferences aside, he is drawing attention to aspects of McGregor's aesthetic which he argues don't make for a satisfying work. The first is musicality - not in any literal, illustrative sense, but the creative interplay between dance images and musical images. McGregor doesn't seem to care about that. The second is collaboration. There are a few choreographers whose work deliberately kept dance and sound apart to good effect - Merce Cunningham being the supreme example - but it needs a rationale. In Dante Project the rationale would surely have pointed to the greatest possible collaboration but from the interviews given by both composer and designer this never happened. I'm left with the odd impression that for McGregor it's OK to make ballets in which the choreography takes an inferior role, riding parasitically on the waves created by others, but not adding enough to create a coherent work. Dowler was right to give different star ratings to each of the three elements. He accuses McGregor of "choreographic hubris". A good phrase I think - for me a good ballet is like any other work of art, it requires craftsmanship. The craftsman is a modest image but one that Dante would have appreciated - it has close links in Greek with sophia - wisdom.
  2. I agree with FLOSS. I was surprised and a bit dismayed by the advert. The advert is in "corporate speak", not arts language. It speaks of "work that is relevant, exciting and technically excellent". I'd rather see "poetic, dramatic, and a pleasure to see". The rest - big ambitions, vision etc - is all spirit language - mountain peaks, soaring to unknown levels of achievement, futurity, paths to greatness. I don't feel encouraged by it. It all tends to an Icarus moment. I'd much rather see evidence of soul - works of emotional depth, attachment to the company's roots, really good dance images, connecting with regional audiences.
  3. I hope so, I really do, but there seem to be significant differences between his approach and those of today's critics, with a few exceptions. The first is that he is fearless in slating bad choreography. The 5-star rating in common use is rather crude but if he were to use it, I've no doubt that he'd give "nul points" when the work merited it. Just as he does describe a ballet as a masterpiece - very occasionally. This opens up a wide scale of values. Ballet is a very difficult art form to master as a choreographer. I can't think of any works made for the Royal companies since the days of Ashton and Macmillan which merit the word "masterpiece", even "flawed masterpiece". If today's critics adopted Clement's scale of values, three stars would reflect a very good piece of work, whereas often they are used for a work which even the reviewer says is not particularly good. To borrow an analogy from education, reviewers are suffering from "grade inflation". I'd guess that most new works are really in the one to two star range. Gerald (GJ) Dowler's review of Marston's The Cellist (one star) was one of the few recent reviews that present the scale of values Clement exemplifies. Some random thoughts: 1. Clement's reviews are concise and keep to the essentials. He has the knowledge and the experience to discern what matters in a ballet. He won't waste time on dredging up a few small good points in an otherwise shipwrecked endeavour. Yes, he'd praise a dancer for doing the best he or she could, but not so as to justify a turkey. 2. He is not writing as a friend of the company or a supporter or a kind person always prepared to look for the good in something but as a critic, i.e. a lover of the art form. A bad review isn't intended to wound the artists but to preserve the scale of values. He is keen to see the art form renew itself but will call out work which is really erasing its traditions (e.g. Mats Ek). 3. He is something of a lone voice in protesting at the prevalence of "euro-gloom" - an aesthetic practised in France and Germany which for some reason has become a fixture at the RB. He isn't persuaded I suspect by the argument that the dancers like performing it. I'd love to have read a review by Clement of Schechter's recent Double Murder programme - the title alone an own goal I suspect. 4. Clement praises good design and music [see his account of Ondine in the book], and as far as I can see still maintains the virtues of the Diaghilev aesthetic. If either the sound or the lighting or both dominate the movement element, the ballet will suffer and even fail. Many critics today seem to take a different view. I'm sorry if I've misrepresented Clement's views - he's very sophisticated and nuanced so I probably have. When I started going to the ballet in the mid-1980s I'd often see him around, with Mary Clarke and Alastair Macaulay - two other great critics. I used the book he wrote with Mary Clarke - The Ballet Goer's Guide - as my primer, and tested my reactions to a ballet against his reviews. Apart from a few cases of Macmillan works where I couldn't follow him, he played a big part in my ballet education. Here's to you Clement! Thank you!
  4. Could the one on the right playing Colas be Bruce Sansom? I remember seeing him in that role in the late 1980s, always a smooth and elegant dancer. However I also saw Stephen Jefferies at about the same time and the photo looks a little like him too! Another fine dancer.
  5. Les Rendezvous wasn't streamed but an extract from the ENB Schools performance of just over 4 minutes has recently been uploaded on Vimeo. It looks to have been well danced, especially noteworthy is the girl's solo where the movements of the arms and shoulders seem to be very Ashtonian. Hope Christopher Carr was pleased! https://vimeo.com/user110368952
  6. I also tuned in again on the final evening and missed it! I find that I never quite know when a streaming will switch off so to speak, half expecting it to be there longer than it says. I've been looking again at the extract from Whiteside's City of Women in the ABT Summer Celebration posted by Jeannette (it's at 46.09). It's also been posted by ABT as a standalone item on YouTube, with a longer extract from a few years' earlier under the title "City of Women ABT Incubator". If you search against "Whiteside City of Women" both come up. Seeing both extracts I had the strange feeling that, although Whiteside is very American in style, his work also has affinities with Ashton. Primarily its musicality which Jeanette pointed out, but also his liking for sculptural groupings or tableaux. The beginning of the Incubator video looks like a lost Ashton work from the 1930s! I guess because Whiteside also reveres Petipa. The choreography for the supporting six women appears quite simple in places but this is deceptive, as it might end with a very striking dance image. Whiteside likes to hold poses for a second or two as Ashton advised. There is a restraint (no lifts for example in this or, apart from short hops, in A Perpendicular Expression) coupled with a lovely sensation of loosening, following the music. He repeats and then alters. Playful glances and hand gestures, suggestions of the dancers talking with each other, and movingly also a few mythic touches of bringing to life.
  7. Thank you Jeannette for your link to the Vail Dance Festival (still available today), and your recommendations. I was drawn especially to James Whiteside's ballet (and the extract from his City of Women in the ABT Celebration you posted earlier). As you mention, he seems to have a definite aesthetic of his own. In A Perpendicular Expression, set for three couples, he uses a wide variety of jumps and turns, with lots of pointwork and epaulement. In the short extract he manages to include a pdd for each couple without giving the impression that that's all the work consists of or that anything is being rushed. They transition well with the other segments. An example of his wit is a moment towards the end when one woman jumps into the arms of three men standing in line, who gently lower her to the ground and roll her away. Then a second woman jumps into their arms but instead of lowering her to the ground, they hold on to her while a third woman hops backwards on pointe before them. It's a delicious upset of expectations. In City of Women, set for nine women, he gives them all the strumming gesture from Balanchine's Apollo - a hint perhaps that they are the nine Muses. Lots of witty head and hand movements, and some gorgeous epaulement. He is not afraid of simplicity and moments of stillness on stage. That requires a certain amount of confidence and being comfortable in his own skin. In the final tableau, all nine kneel on the ground but each has a subtly different hand or arm gesture, which seems fitting. The ending - very simple - all on pointe facing the audience with arms raised, touching hands in solidarity - brought a tear to my eye. He is good, and I hope to see more of his work, albeit only via a streaming.
  8. I so agree. I've just watched it and particularly appreciated the contrast between the beautiful smooth legato movements given to Tiler Peck and the sudden pizzicato darting and changes of direction, culminating in an incredible final minute. It shows how well the intimate textures of a string quartet can work in a pdd, eg scope for an instrument to have a solo and be joined by others, thinning and thickening layers of complexity, giving lots of potential to the choreographer. On second viewing I turned off the music, and felt that the ballet worked perfectly on its own - for me something of an acid test of a new work. It's balletic quicksilver - I've seen it a few times now and am not tiring of it.
  9. Thank you FLOSS for such an interesting account of Jazz Calendar. I have only seen the black and white film. It seems to me that the "concept" behind the choice of the children's rhyme is a good one, and well suited to ballet treatment. It is episodic but unified by the designs and the jazz music. I know that David Vaughan didn't like it much but he concedes in his book that most critics and the general public loved it. It's also a good length (over 30 minutes) compared with Valses Nobles and Scenes de Ballet (both about 16 minutes). Iain Webb was asked how he dealt with criticism that Ashton is old-fashioned and from memory both he and Margaret Barbieri just laughed and said in effect that such joyous works can never fade. One answer to Anthony Russell Roberts could be that fashions change and retro is in, as is Jarman's aesthetic. Couldn't we let the audiences decide whether they want works like it any more? It is full of real dancing, and as you suggest, the humour comes through the movements and doesn't rely on cute expressions. John Percival used to call Ashton "Ballet's Shakespeare" and it's his ability to combine the serious and the daft which makes him especially valuable today. I quite agree that you don't need to know anything about ballet to enjoy Jazz Calendar. From the start when Monday's child makes the mime for "beautiful" and applies it to herself, however, the ballet lover knows that Ashton is having fun. He has gentle digs at Balanchine: he slyly parodies Apollo in Tuesday where they line up one behind the other with arms en couronne, and Serenade in Saturday with the latecomer in class; and several of his own ballets in the finale, eg the girl carried high up doing the splits has strayed in from Valses Nobles, and the men at the back are remembering their dance from the opening of Daphnis and Chloe. Perhaps the idea is that it's all a party and everyone's welcome to bring their dance.
  10. It was a real joy to hear them talking with Gerald Dowler. Just over an hour but it could have gone on all evening. Iain Webb referred to possible venues such as Sadlers Wells and the Linbury, but not to any current plans for a tour. It would obviously be a major undertaking. The LBC do put up the videos on the members' page a few months after the event, although for some reason most are currently unavailable. Iain Webb and Margaret Barbieri mentioned that company dancers were enthusiastic about being introduced to Ashton, and really enjoyed dancing his ballets. By contrast they found that English dancers tended to approach him with some fear. Iain mentioned several rare Ashton ballets, eg Sinfonietta and Jazz Calendar - he wondered whether an American audience would "get" the references such as the dancers waving at the end which parodied the TV show Sunday Night at the London Pavilion, but they applauded before the end and lapped it all up whether they knew the reference or not. It was an interesting comment because I always thought he was quoting himself - from the ending of Capriol Suite. Perhaps he had both in mind - a similar spirit of camaraderie between dancers and audience. I would dearly love to see Jazz Calendar revived (and give Elite Syncopations a rest). It is so witty: it is enjoyable in itself but it's also a stream of quotations from his and others' works, as if everyone is welcome in this wacky world where the day of your birth shapes the quality of your movement.
  11. In more utopian mood, here is an imaginary interview in 2030 with the joint directors of the RB, husband and wife team, Lise and Colas. Can you tell us about the rationale for the changes you are bringing about? - In our pitch to become directors, we likened the RB to a department store which had quality own brands but was overwhelmed by franchises from other outlets, or to a garden where some plants weren’t flourishing because others were taking up too much space. Is that why you terminated Wayne McGregor’s contract? - We parted by mutual consent but it’s true that many felt his concept of ballet as a sound and light show had gone as far as it could. It was a shame he took all his works with him. Was “Pulse” the final straw? - The idea of synchronising the strobe lasers, electronic sound, and dancers’ movements to Wayne’s heartbeat in real time was certainly an interesting one, but it was based on his pulse in the studio rehearsal room. What was making his heart race so much during the actual performance we don’t know. We are taking care of the dancers who were hospitalised and offering counselling to audience members affected. In his last year Kevin O’Hare only allowed the company to perform new works. You seem to be returning to a more traditional approach. - The classics are our ancestors, they inhabit our bodies and care for us, as a poem learned by heart sometimes pops into awareness at the right moment. They are the company. But our ancestors want us to lead our own lives, and new work gives dancers a sense of sharing in the renewal of the art. We think having up to 25 per cent of performances devoted to new work is about right. And you have returned to a more classical approach to new work. - Yes, we are not so keen on a smorgasbord of styles. As well as Chris and Valentino, there is new talent in the form of Freddie Valois with his striking blend of poetry and drama. Can you tell us about the Ashton Project? - Sir Fred was almost a father to us, so we had the idea of reviving all his extant works and making them available on YouTube. We hope that way to raise his reputation worldwide to where it should be. What are your plans for the 100th anniversary season? - The overall theme will be the joy of dance. La Fille mal Gardee will be broadcast on big screens in parks all over the country. The Royal Opera House will be painted pink and wrapped in a giant ribbon. What does your uncle Iain Webb think of your ideas? - He is very supportive. Since he became director of Birmingham Royal Ballet it’s been possible for us to co-ordinate our programming. Now that he’s brought back Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet, we’ve all got the chance to compare it with MacMillan’s version. Any final thoughts? - We both think that the world would be a better place if people were allowed to marry who they love. Dancing is a form of loving, it’s not a sport or a science, so let’s do it! (Colas adds: That’s what Lise’s mother always says, and who am I to disagree?)
  12. I'd suggest two possible reasons for this. One is that his works lack what we generally understand by choreographic invention: steps, expressive use of hands and feet, the face communicating a range of emotions, musicality, lots of variety in terms of movements. Peter Wright makes these points towards the end of his autobiography. A second is that his movement lacks any real drama or emotion. Jennifer Homans argues this in her article in The New Republic "The crisis in contemporary ballet: how emotion left dance" (available online if you type her name and the title). Without dance or real emotion, what is there to remember in a deep sense? An explanation of the conceptual basis of a piece doesn't go very far with me. The test is whether it moves me or not. Homans refers in a positive way to the tension and release in McGregor's work, but watching this leaves me feeling tired and edgy. I can't understand why he is so popular. Do others find nourishment in his work that I don't? The darkness seems necessary in order to make the light effects more striking, but these are spirit phenomena - bodiless, and going nowhere. His work is a dead end for ballet, but seems to fit in with the RB's current frantic experimentation with anything and everything. Turning to the positive, if I could write a utopian version of a press conference in 2031, it would probably be led by Sir Iain Webb, as the RB's new director! Looking forward to seeing him tomorrow on Zoom at London Ballet Circle, along with National Treasure Margaret Barbieri!
  13. Thanks Darlex. Just a slip of the pen so to speak. Maybe Freud would have something to say about it!
  14. In his introduction to the stream of the Sleeping Beauty mixed bill to celebrate the RB’s 90th birthday, Michael O’Hare spoke of his vision for the company. I wonder what your vision is for the RB ten years from now - whether potentially good or not so good outcomes? In a dystopian spirit, here is a report of an imaginary news conference in 2031 hosted by Lord Boris Johnson, Chairman of the ROH, and Sir Wayne McGregor, recently appointed Director of the company, on the retirement of Sir Kevin O’Hare. Lord Johnson said it was fantastic that a bally company should have lasted 100 years, and that its new Royal Charter would reflect its role as standard-bearer of British values. Under its new brand “The Royal Ballet Dance Theatre Company” (RBDTC), it would be a truly forward-looking global enterprise. Announcing plans for the birthday celebrations, Sir Wayne said that the highlight would be his new work “Catastrophe” spread over four evenings, a setting of the entire Wagner Ring Cycle. The work would concern the breakdown of all cultural norms in light of the climate crisis, expressed through the metaphor of dance. The final evening, entitled “Breathless”, would take place in complete darkness, the dancers communicating their movements through specially amplified breathing apparatus. It was, he said, the culmination of 25 years of technological and scientific breakthroughs in the world of ballet. There would be a new production of La Fille mal Gardee, re-conceptualised – to reflect Britain as it is – as a dispute over an arranged marriage. The Ashton repertory would be streamlined to better reflect the choreographer’s own wishes. Sir Wayne stated that Ashton only ever thought that Fille would survive him, with perhaps Symphonic Variations thrown in. He was therefore going beyond Ashton’s expectations in providing space for these and three further works – Marguerite and Armand and Rhapsody as “ideal celebrity vehicles”, and a slot for divertissements which could include bits and pieces from his other works. There would however be a MacMillan Festival focusing on the choreographer’s later works which would be a perfect fit with “Catastrophe”. The company would honour its heritage by bringing exciting new viewpoints to its 19th century works. The first production would be a mash-up consisting of the Prologue from Sleeping Beauty, the mentally ill scene from Giselle, and the denouement of Swan Lake, with vibrant new electronic versions of the music. Sir Wayne commented: “This new fragmented approach will really bring these old works to life. It’s what the dancers want.” After many years of draftworks, it was obvious that hardly anyone wanted to make ballets in the classical idiom any more and so the board has created a new Theatre Games Department under the tutelage of Crystal Pite to develop new ways for dancers to interact with each other. This would be entirely in line with the traditions of the RBDTC, and of the wishes of its founder Dame Ninette de Valois. On being informed that Madam had been clear that classical and contemporary styles ought to be kept separate, Sir Wayne appeared nonplussed, but ended by saying that whatever she said it was all a long time ago now.
  15. The timings on the three films are all about 4 minutes 50 seconds. The streamed one is 5 minutes 5 seconds. Yet Park/Eagling give the impression of lingering and pausing at the end of phrases as if they had all the time in the world. They also differentiate the quality of each of the skimming lifts by subtle changes of tempo. Merle Park catches the Aphroditic spirit of this dance - precision and abandon all at once. Could the difference also be to do with counting? I seem to remember she said she never counted, so perhaps the modern way of counting could be a handicap in a pdd like this, but I'm not a dancer. I'd be interested in what others think.
  16. I share Jeannette’s concerns. It may help to consider the context from which the pdd was taken – a new production of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. Films of the premiere in 1977, and performances in 1982, and 1990 are available on youtube. Park and Eagling dance the pdd in the first two, Durante and Cassidy in the third. It was a tradition to interpolate some divertissements into Act 2, which is set in an elegant, light-filled (please note!) ballroom at Prince Orlofsky’s palace. As the Act proceeds there are songs about kissing, laughing and champagne, people losing their inhibitions, and much swaying to music in waltz time. In the first two films, the divertissements begin with Ashton’s explosion polka, two minutes of mayhem which are reminiscent of Facade with a hint of a 1930’s show number. I particularly love the "slippy" steps. It begins at 1.39.31 of the 1982 film at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dka-_N6KaG0 In between the polka and the pdd in 1977, Daniel Barenboim played a Chopin ballade, and Isaac Stern the final movement of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto. Chopin, Mendelssohn, Ashton. Yes! In 1990, the performance was the vehicle for Dame Joan Sutherland’s farewell, and the entertainment came from her, Pavarotti, and Marilyn Horne. Yes! In 1982, they had two songs from Hinge and Bracket and a rendering of “She” by Charles Aznavour. Yes – actually I think the best of all because they fitted the feeling of the operetta. In all three cases, by the time it came for Voices of Spring, the whole place had been warmed up, with waves of happiness buoying up the dancers as they entered to applause from the guests on stage. Watching the streaming from the ROH, I felt that the dancers looked very lonely out there. Out on a limb, with no context of fellow feeling from the four preceding works. All of them were performed in semi-darkness, and even Voices of Spring was given a dark background. (Couldn't they back project an image from Vienna like the Schonbrun Palace or a peach or rose colour?) The other works gave no sense of build up to the Ashton, which in the opera is the climax of the divertissements, leading directly into the whole company dancing a waltz. It didn’t have a chance. I feel a bit sick about it because to me it shows a want of feeling, a lack of sensitivity to the RB’s founder choreographer. Or a deliberate slighting? At the end of the 1977 film, we can glimpse Ashton in the line up standing next to Kiri Te Kanawa. “It was nothing, just a piece of froth,” we might imagine him saying to her, secretly pleased to have stolen the show with it.
  17. Thanks Darlex. It was in 1986 at the old Sadler's Wells. I wish I'd kept the programme but it also included Five Brahms Waltzes. I think it was revived by Ballet Rambert. You can see it on the New York Theatre Ballet website where it's streaming free, along with La Chatte and several Tudor works among others. Enjoy!
  18. I do feel that the RB needs to be made more aware of MaddieRose's perspective. - and how it is potentially disinheriting younger audiences by its attitudes to programming of Ashton. In light of alison's comment, I still have the programme for my first ever evening at the RB: 30 June 1986 a triple bill with Les Patineurs and The Dream to begin and end and Jiri Kylian's Return to the Strange Land in the middle. I was completely bowled over and converted to ballet on the spot, especially the Nocturne pdd. But I remember liking the Kylian too, quite mysterious and transformative. His different style didn't jar because it didn't seek to impose itself on the other works. Isn't a triple bill a chance for different works to see each other, as well as for the audience to contrast and compare?
  19. One thing an Ashton Society could lobby for is greater transparency from the RB. I am not happy with it but I can understand the company's shift towards contemporary styles over the last 20 years. But it is not a zero-sum game: there is no reason why Ashton works should pay the price for new contemporary ones. In the absence of explanation for under-performance of Ashton, we can only guess or draw inferences or ask questions, which is very frustrating. It is evident that the company decided a long time ago to distance itself from its Ashton repertory. For me the use of "heritage works" as against "contemporary" is a symptom of splitting - a repertory consists both of old and new, the only relevant factor is whether a work is being performed or not. The same applies to "silo" programming where a triple bill consists only of Ashton works. In my old field of archetypal psychology, we studied an archetype called "senex and puer" - literally old man and boy - which combined patterns in the psyche (or imagination if you prefer) such as structure, tradition and melancholy (senex) on the one hand and creativity, spirit and unrelatedness (puer) on the other. [I am grossly simplifying, sorry]. But the essence is that they interfuse each other, so that senex depth sometimes casts a dappled shade over puer brilliance and vice versa. If they split apart, they tend to become extreme examples of themselves, showing in particular their negative aspects, and fight each other, causing feelings of conflict and self-destructive behaviour in a person. I think we are seeing this in society at large. It also seems to articulate the situation with the RB. It is hard to imagine a triple bill containing both Ashton and McGregor. It is as if the RB couldn't hold such opposites together and they split the traditional idea of repertory. It feels like a conflict which one side had to win. As the loser, the Ashton rep still remains but in a more isolated, cut-down form. It is tragic that this has happened in ballet of all art forms, given its fragility and dependence on continuance of performance. In music say, the lesser or minor works of a great composer are still performed - treasured even as bearing the hand of a master. Even juvenilia are carefully preserved. Think of Elgar's work before he emerged onto the international stage aged over 40 with Enigma Variations. He wrote many works before that which the Elgar Society has successfully promoted. In my view everything by Ashton which can still be mounted should be. We also desperately need them to be available on DVD, and streamed where possible. The Foundation has gathered around it a great body of Ashton people. It has produced some excellent masterclasses and made them freely available on Youtube. Again though, it is not a transparent organisation. We don't know what's happening or what's being planned. It doesn't feel that enough is being done but we don't really know. The factor which a Society or Friends of the Foundation or Ashton Appreciation group could add is the audience perspective. For example, audiences appreciate humour, especially if a choreographer is skilled enough to let it shine through the steps. The first ballet I ever saw live (in my mid-thirties) was Capriol Suite and it drew me in to its friendly, humorous world. Ashton is so good because somehow he combines seriousness and humour, in Capriol say letting the fun of the social dances be slightly undercut by the melancholy beauty of the pavane and courtly dance. If the RB had included just one rarely performed Ashton piece every year for the last ten years, the situation would have been greatly improved, without any challenge in terms of resources or to the RB's stress on contemporary work. I can't see any reason not to do that now. Seeing the streamed performance of the pas de quatre from Ashton's production of Swan Lake by the San Francisco Ballet School (still available until 24 June) gave me a lift. So much great dancing in a such a short piece. Maybe the RB feel they have to relativise Ashton (and misrepresent his range by performing fewer of his works) because he is just too good to have around. The students perform it well and seem to be enjoying themselves. Perhaps this forum could become involved as the place to start the lobbying in earnest - with a letter to the RB board on the lines of the single seat group letter sent recently.
  20. Thanks RichardLH. Ideally, I would look to someone in the position of a director of a ballet company to speak for the medium in ways which offer insight into what makes it so much worth cherishing. In other words to describe for us the value of seeing images which are embodied and moving in space and time. What is the difference between seeing Romeo and Juliet as a play and as a ballet? How can movement be metaphorical and reach an audience through its images? The connections between gesture and emotion have been discussed for centuries. I'd like to hear a director speaking up for the existing repertory in more substantial and detailed terms - how Ashton's use of epaulement say can convey a heightened state of emotion. even an ecstatic mood, which can lift the spirit. How it is that Bournonville's bouncy style even with arms lowered evokes a feeling of joy in the audience? Maybe this is more what I was searching for when I mentioned depth earlier.
  21. Sorry taxi4ballet, I didn't express myself very well. My impression is that ballet doesn't receive the same depth of treatment in public discourse as say theatre or poetry. Possibly this is due to the Nutcracker syndrome by which ballet becomes in the popular imagination an equivalent to children's entertainment. It's understandable - and right - that Carlos Acosta wants to change that. Philosophers haven't rated ballet as an art form - at least until recently. Nor have archetypal psychologists, even though they have a very deep approach to myth and fairytale which might make them predisposed to favour ballet. The prevailing world view in the UK is scientific rationalism. It is difficult to get off the ground so to speak any discussion of the reality of the imagination. So a profound work such as Ondine is classed as a story ballet (with attendant implication of the Nutcracker syndrome). On your point about the forum, I am sure you're right.
  22. Is ballet escapist? Perhaps it depends on your attitude to the imagination. If you are literal-minded, any art form will seem a diversion from the problems of life. If you can see beyond the literal to “the poetic basis of mind” – as archetypal psychologist James Hillman says – the arts are intrinsic to being alive: seeing everything literally is the problem. Ballet is a highly developed form of image-making in performance, based on the human body. As an embodied art, you could argue that it cannot show anything other than “the world as it is”. The history of ballet has many examples of politically “relevant” ballets (see Jennifer Homans’ accounts of post-revolutionary ballets in France, Italy and Russia in Apollo’s Angels) but the results are not encouraging. I’d suggest though that relevance is not a criterion of the imagination. I wonder whether part of the problem for Carlos Acosta, and for other directors of ballet companies, is that there is so little in depth discussion of ballet as an art form to rely on. The gushing of marketing departments does little to help.
  23. Thanks Two Pigeons! and to the Forum for the opportunity to express views. Ballet must be one of the most difficult art forms to write about, if not the most difficult. What I like particularly is when the writing stays with the dance images themselves (describing them in terms of steps, sequences, shapes, patterns, simultaneous movements) and their effect. Another thing I look for is when a writer responds to a dance image with another image rather than an opinion or a judgment. I like this approach because it can be surprising, in a way it enables the performance to continue in the imagination. I don't know how to articulate it but even in this supposedly occasional piece Birthday Offering, Ashton is enacting a myth, which seems to touch on themes of survival and renewal. Working within a tradition is not old-fashioned or backward-looking. It acknowledges that something is creating through you, is calling on your craft to display itself. The result may at first seem unremarkable but it has some quality in it which deepens with time. Perhaps Ashton felt that the pressure was off with this piece d'occasion and was fully at the disposal of his muse. I have the feeling that psyche loves such modest structures of time and gleefully fills them: the result is a cornucopia of wonderful dancing!
  24. The Sarasota Ballet finished their digital season with Ashton's Birthday Offering and Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs. I've never seen the Ashton ballet live and would love to, judging from this performance. As many have said, it may take many viewings to appreciate just how good an Ashton ballet is, and this one is a good example. It has an easy structure: opening ensemble of fourteen dancers with an adage section, seven solo variations for the women, a group dance for the men, a pas de deux, and a closing ensemble - alternating between group dances and a focus on detail. I thought that the Sarasota company seemed best in the ensembles and some of the solos. The pdd was conscientiously done - lots to admire about the dancing - but it didn't move me and I'm aware of a number of differences from the film on YouTube of Lesley Collier and Anthony Dowell dancing it. For example, she traverses the stage in a supported bouree in one section, and accelerates when past the half way point. It's exciting because it feels like her heart beating faster. This didn't happen in the Sarasota version, at least not so clearly. Later, she does a back bend just held at the waist, whereas in the Sarasota performance it became a supported fall as in Swan Lake. Also, there is a beautiful section near the end when the couple have a kind of hug at arms' length, where they each stretch their arms out and place them over the other's, repeated three times I think. It's unusual, and reminded me of the people in Botticelli's Mystic Nativity. In the Sarasota version, they just touched fingers. I wonder why that was. It's not fair I know to criticise today's dancers for not being Collier and Dowell, but throughout I felt that although the movements may have been accurate, their significance or meaning was not communicated. In the video, the gestures make sense, and the pdd brings tears to the eyes. It can be something very simple, such as one dancer moving down as another moves up, but if they are together a kind of emotional conjunction happens and is felt; similarly if the angles of heads or legs are just right. As a non-dancer, I found it very helpful to read the discussion of this ballet in Geraldine Morris's book Frederick Ashton's Ballets, especially her analysis of the solo variations. I could see how what flashes by in a moment (each is barely a minute in length) is in fact carefully constructed and full of detail and nuance. Overall I thought that the Sarasota dancers caught the very different spirits at work in the solos. At just over 25 minutes, this would be an ideal work to include in a triple bill. Finally a few thoughts about the title. It sounds like Bach's Musical Offering - which is a series of variations to a theme by the king of Prussia. It's as if Ashton is presenting his version of variations to Petipa - the king of classical ballet - as well as to the RB and its forebears. The title may also echo the offertory of the Mass - when the priest presents the bread and wine to the altar, and the congregation makes gifts of money - which Ashton knew as a child. For the astrologically minded, the ballet concerns the number seven: seven couples, seven solos in succession, seven men in a group, etc. The seventh house of the zodiac concerns partnership - in all senses, literal. metaphorical, spiritual - and thus reflects both the relationships within the dancing and how the dancers form a company. I like to imagine the section in the ballet when all seven couples form a diagonal, and as they pirouette, the couple at the back runs forward to the front, until all have done it. It's like an ever-filling glass or a cornucopia, of a company of dancers reaching maturity and being renewed from the ranks as the years go by. Similarly the section immediately preceding this [in the opening ensemble of the work] with all the lifts has a feeling of bounty, as if Ashton is drawing on an inexhaustible source. Well, if you've lasted this long, you can tell I liked this work!
  25. As a first step In the spirit of Jan's acorn, is there any possibility of starting a new forum category for Ashton? You could "join the society" by following posts or sub-forums. If his ballets are under-performed, he won't feature in the Recent Performances or Listings sections, and his name will crop up less and less.
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