Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Ian Macmillan

Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre - From Northern Ballet to ABT and the New York Met

Recommended Posts

Well something must have been lost in translation - but without anyone coughing to having seen both companies performing it, we can’t know what.

 

I don’t think it’s just a case of lower standards or expectations - leaving aside my own and other forum members’ critical faculties, I can’t see Luke Jennings, Judith Mackrell, Louise Levene and Ismene Brown all being taken in - I can think of at least one of those who would be glad to burst any bubbles they perceived to be forming.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well maybe expectations are different for a small touring company like Northern Ballet and ABT's spring season where seats regularly run into three digits and this was heavily hyped as one of the big Events of the season?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Ivy Lin said:

Well maybe expectations are different for a small touring company like Northern Ballet and ABT's spring season where seats regularly run into three digits and this was heavily hyped as one of the big Events of the season?

 

All I can say is that I see the RB frequently and the Mariinsky and Bolshoi whenever they’re in town, and Jane Eyre was hands down the ballet highlight of 2018 for me.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Ivy Lin said:

 

It really isn't a national thing. I like Cranko, some MacMillan, Wayne McGregor ... I was at the premiere of Jane Eyre at ABT and wrote a review. It was legitimately awful. I would have said the same thing had the choreographer been American. Had the choreographer been Balanchine I would have said this was the worst thing he ever choreographed.

 

I'm afraid it is a national difference.

 

It's a self evident fact that the (vast) majority of critics and writers in NY don't think much of Jane Eyre.

 

As I show above, it's a self evident fact that the (vast) majority of critics and writers in the UK think Jane Eyre a great piece.

 

It follows that there is a difference in perception about what constitutes good narrative work. A national difference.

 

For the avoidance of doubt I'm not saying its a national thing in some silly "The Americans are criticising Jane Eyre because it comes out of the UK" etc. Everybody is way above that. There are very different artistic tastes and value judgements at work here.

 

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This may well have been answered before but, moving forward with Bruce’s point regarding different tastes and value judgements, how is Matthew Bourne’s work perceived in the US?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Scheherezade said:

This may well have been answered before but, moving forward with Bruce’s point regarding different tastes and value judgements, how is Matthew Bourne’s work perceived in the US?

 

In general, pretty well. I mean I saw The Red Shoes and I really enjoyed that. Wheeldon's work is also well-received generally and he receives tons of commissions from U.S. companies.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
On 08/06/2019 at 07:47, Bruce said:

It follows that there is a difference in perception about what constitutes good narrative work. A national difference.

 

Do the Americans even want narrative ballet? Or understand it, to ask in a very offensive way? I remember so many reviews of Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias, which the US critics hated every time it came to New York, if on tour in the 80s or later in repertory with the ABT, where the critics just did not care for Neumeier's sophisticated storytelling but only for the quality of the steps, no matter if they were used for characterisation. It does not matter there how and if a choreographer can tell a story; I think dramatic ballet is a European thing (and in the version of drambalet also a Soviet/Russian thing). Most American audiences and critics are still stuck with the abstract, neoclassic aestetic. Ashton, Cranko, MacMillan and their successors tried to get away from the old fairy tale content, they tried to bring drama and literature to the stage. The repertory in the US kept the old Russian classics with the old, simple stories and moved in a completely different direction with Balanchine.

Edited by Angela
typo

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are some much more positive comments on BalletAlert today.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Angela said:

 

Do the Americans even want narrative ballet? Or understand it, to ask in a very offensive way?

 

I'll trust you don't really want to offend 😊 and say that I think there are "national" differences in taste--allowing  of course that neither UK audiences nor U.S. audiences are homogeneous. But I'm not sure the issue is that American's don't want/understand narrative ballet. (I should say up front that I very much wanted to see Marston's Jane Eyre but unfortunately could not get to New York to do so.)

 

American Ballet Theatre audiences have historically enjoyed and do seem to want to see narrative ballets. In its early days the company prided itself on the "theatre" in its title and of course performed Tudor and De Mille's narrative works. More recently Macmillan's and Cranko's full length works have gotten a warm reception from audiences at ABT. I'd have said Dame Aux Camelias as well, though I think it's not as popular as, say, Manon. (I like it a lot.) The company's leadership always seems on the lookout for other full-length narrative works to stage...not always successfully it's true.

 

Among one-act ballets the company has danced recently, Ashton's Month in the Country and The Dream get a warm reception and Ratmansky's first work for ABT was a serious one-act narrative work, On the Dnieper. So I'm not sure that narrative versus non-narrative is exactly the right way to characterize the difference between national tastes, though honestly I'm not quite sure how to characterize it. (Just as I was typing that sentence, Jane Simpson posted that fans who enjoyed Marston's Jane Eyre have been posting on Balletalert too. Doesn't surprise me and Twitter reflects the same. As well as others who did not care for it.)

 

I'd add that across the U.S. many so-called regional companies put on narrative works, often full-length, and presumably of varying quality--I haven't seen them for the most part--that are often based on literary classics. These include versions of Hamlet, Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, Dracula, multiple versions of Romeo and Juliet of course. My own local company, Atlanta Ballet, performed a Camino Real choreographed by Helen Pickett; it's based on Tennessee Williams's play and even required the dancers to speak in a few passages. I found it an interesting and enjoyable evening dramatically and choreographically, but still judged it to be more "dance theater" than "full length ballet." Perhaps that's an example of what is meant in this context by a more "American" attitude...? Drawing that line a little more strictly?? (Again, this is separate from what anyone might have thought of Jane Eyre which I haven't seen.)

 

Put a little differently, I still think there is a swath of the New York audience especially whose taste and aesthetic have been profoundly and fundamentally shaped by Balanchine and New York City Ballet--even if they also attend and love ABT--and of course that same aesthetic has had a lot of impact across the U.S. They are skeptical of a lot of the popular narrative ballets whose primary inspiration is literary (though not skeptical of Ashton it has to be said). It's maybe not so much not liking narrative ballet but having a strong interest in, or value for, a choreographic approach that reflects the formal possibilities of classical and/or neo-classical ballet whether or not those are being put in the service of narrative or not...Honestly, though I can't fully describe it, this is my personal formation as a ballet-goer as well. (I rank Ashton high over Macmillan, but I have learned, partly by reading balletcoforum, that many fans of the Royal Ballet judge very differently.) That said, as I've gotten older my taste has become somewhat more eclectic and also...I'm just more and more conscious that different audiences as well as different individuals react differently to choreography and for reasons that aren't simply quirky or personal in the manner of one person preferring vanilla ice-cream and another strawberry, but that genuinely reflect different traditions and aesthetics.

 

 

Edited by DrewCo
Fixing typos etc.
  • Like 8

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for the clarification, DrewCo. I might have read too much Arlene Croce, Alastair Macaulay and Robert Gottlieb on that subject, that shaped my opinion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It’s interesting to see Marston described by US writers as being MacMillan-ish: I don’t really see much of a resemblance.* I think that’s possibly an indication that the reference points are very different.

 

Similarly, watching San Francisco Ballet these last couple of weeks in mostly abstract, neo-classical works, I would struggle to point out substantial differences between them in voice based on this showing, but I imagine a US audience might feel very differently. (The exceptions were Marston herself, neither neo-classical nor abstract; Ratmansky, semi-narrative and partially in Soviet pastiche mode; and Peck, in what I understand is known as a sneaker ballet. I skipped the Pita.**)

 

*FWIW, I share DrewCo’s strong preference for Ashton over MacMillan. Taste is seldom a straightforward thing!

 

**To save any cross-referencing, the remainder are: McIntyre, Dawson, Wheeldon, Scarlett, Liang and Welch.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I’m always amused that Balanchine’s wonderful skill in his story ballets goes largely unnoticed...

 

Prodigal Son, Don Quixotte, Coppelia, Night Shadow...

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
24 minutes ago, betterankles said:

I’m always amused that Balanchine’s wonderful skill in his story ballets goes largely unnoticed...

 

Prodigal Son, Don Quixotte, Coppelia, Night Shadow...

 

And Midsummer's Night Dream, Harlequinade, Nutcracker, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Firebird  ... Not to mention during his lifetime he was also an acclaimed choreographer of operas.

Edited by Ivy Lin
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, betterankles said:

I’m always amused that Balanchine’s wonderful skill in his story ballets goes largely unnoticed...

 

Prodigal Son, Don Quixotte, Coppelia, Night Shadow...

 

And, perhaps, that today Balanchine's own company (NYCB) dance Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, La Sylphide, Nutcracker and two versions of Swan Lake ... Both a full length and Balanchine's one act distillment - ... Amongst other narrative works in addition to those listed above.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Angela said:

 

Do the Americans even want narrative ballet? Or understand it, to ask in a very offensive way? I remember so many reviews of Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias, which the US critics hated every time it came to New York, if on tour in the 80s or later in repertory with the ABT, where the critics just did not care for Neumeier's sophisticated storytelling but only for the quality of the steps, no matter if they were used for characterisation. It does not matter there how and if a choreographer can tell a story; I think dramatic ballet is a European thing (and in the version of drambalet also a Soviet/Russian thing). Most American audiences and critics are still stuck with the abstract, neoclassic aestetic. Ashton, Cranko, MacMillan and their successors tried to get away from the old fairy tale content, they tried to bring drama and literature to the stage. The repertory in the US kept the old Russian classics with the old, simple stories and moved in a completely different direction with Balanchine.

 

To answer your question:

1) Yes I watch as many story ballets as I watch abstract ones and there are good narrative ballets and bad ones.

2) Some of my favorite narrative ballets made in the 20th/21st: Romeo and Juliet (both MacMillan and Lavrovsky), Cinderella, Sylvia, Fille mal gardee, Mayerling (wish the RB would bring that), Onegin, Dame aux camelias, Spartacus, Bright Stream, Midsummer's Night Dream, The Dream, Prodigal Son, La Sonnambula, Rodeo, and I'm sure I could name more.

3) My feelings on Jane Eyre were purely a response to what I saw onstage. I didn't say "British narrative ballet -- I'll autohate it."

4) As an example of soemthing recent that I enjoyed a lot it was Akhram Khan's Giselle.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I don’t mean to open up any more rabbit holes on this thread, but I’d place Marston more in the European tradition than the British. (I’m pretty sure more qualified people have already made this observation.)

Edited by Lizbie1
Stray word removed
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Lizbie1 said:

I don’t mean to open up any more rabbit holes on this thread, but I thought I’d place Marston more in the European tradition than the British. (I’m pretty sure more qualified people have already made this observation.)

 

I'm not in any way more qualified Lizbie but I agree with you.  Although Cathy trained for 2 years at the Royal Ballet School she spent her dancing career in Europe before becoming an associate choreographer at ROH.  Of course she was AD at Bern Ballet for around 6 years.  Her time in Europe is bound to have influenced her.

 

Just as an aside my friend and I saw Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream performed by PNB at the Edinburgh Festival some years ago.  It absolutely remains in my bottom 5 dance productions...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay, I’ll try to explain once more what I meant. I was not talking about story ballets like Swan Lake or Coppelia: that’s what I would call fairy tale ballets of the old French/Russian/Petipa style. Yes, I know, some of them don’t use fairy tales, but they follow the established form of féerie or grand ballet, they tell the story mainly by mime, not in choreographed movement.  

And I don’t count one act ballets or the Ballets Russes short ballets among narrative ballet. I mean two or three act, full-length works. I was talking about literature ballets like MacMillan‘s Manon and Mayerling, Cranko’s Onegin, Neumeier’s Camellias (and the main part of his oeuvre), many works by Roland Petit, some by Alexei Ratmansky, Boris Eifman, even Matthew Bourne, if you like: ballets which adapt a novel or a play, ballets which develop characters in deeper, richer shades than prince gets princess. They are a European development, and a European speciality, that is my theory, and American audiences largely skipped that part of ballet history in the second half of the 20th century.

So if you refer to Balanchine and drop the one act ballets and fairy tale ballets, there’s not much left of narrative ballet. Story-telling, you have to admit, was not his strength. He was a choreographer, THE choreographer for steps, structures, lines, forms – not drama. I think American audiences are just not "trained" in appreciating sophisticated story-telling, psychological shades of characterisation, mirrored or split figures, doppelgangers, all that tricks that try to show what happens in a mind. They are so much better trained in judging forms, steps, and the pure, abstract essence of dance.

I don’t intent to say what is better and I know there are huge differences in style and quality from MacMillan to Petit to Ratmansky or Marston. I just try to find an answer why so many story ballets we like in England or continental Europe can’t make it in New York.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do I dare? I know this might be ill-received by some. Having watched ballet in many American cities and a few in Europe (mostly England and Germany), I find that the harshest audience toward anything other than Petipa and some of the traditional classics, Balanchine, and perhaps a few “acceptable” choreographers is the audience in NYC. I would wager that this ballet would be welcomed in many other cities in the US. There, I said it. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 minutes ago, fromthebalcony said:

Do I dare? I know this might be ill-received by some. Having watched ballet in many American cities and a few in Europe (mostly England and Germany), I find that the harshest audience toward anything other than Petipa and some of the traditional classics, Balanchine, and perhaps a few “acceptable” choreographers is the audience in NYC. I would wager that this ballet would be welcomed in many other cities in the US. There, I said it. 

 

This is absolutely untrue and offensive. NYC was the starting point for many "downtown" experimental choreographers. Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Martha Graham all got their start in the "downtown" scene. At the same time while the Royal Ballet was touring Sleeping Beauty to the United States the "Ballet Society" (later NYCB) was considered the experimental ballet company with the avante-garde works. 

 

The Royal Ballet toured for many years in NYC and they always sold out or sold very well. Stuttgart Ballet also had highly successful tours, as did Bejart Ballet. 

 

Many NY choreographers were also crossover choreographers as they had success choreographing for musical theater and classical ballet. Agnes de Mille, Balanchine, Robbins, Twyla Tharp are obvious examples.

 

Sometimes a ballet just isn't all that. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From everything I've read or seen, ballet as an artform is essentially defined in the US by Balanchine and in Russia by Petipa, but in Western Europe (including the UK) there's a much broader range of expectations for what you'll get at "the ballet" - rightly or wrongly.

 

I think I read somewhere that Mats Ek is a strong influence on Marston. I'll hold my hand up and admit that I've never actually seen any of his ballets (videos don't really do it for me if it's an unfamiliar work), but I understand that his approach is that the steps are of secondary importance and a means to convey emotion. I think it follows that if you don't think the story-telling is up to much - as IvyLin did - you aren't going to like the steps.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, Ivy Lin said:

 

This is absolutely untrue and offensive. NYC was the starting point for many "downtown" experimental choreographers. Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Martha Graham all got their start in the "downtown" scene. At the same time while the Royal Ballet was touring Sleeping Beauty to the United States the "Ballet Society" (later NYCB) was considered the experimental ballet company with the avante-garde works. 

 

The Royal Ballet toured for many years in NYC and they always sold out or sold very well. Stuttgart Ballet also had highly successful tours, as did Bejart Ballet. 

 

Many NY choreographers were also crossover choreographers as they had success choreographing for musical theater and classical ballet. Agnes de Mille, Balanchine, Robbins, Twyla Tharp are obvious examples.

 

Sometimes a ballet just isn't all that. 

Ah, yes, you named all the acceptable choreographers I referenced in my post. I am trying to restrain myself, so I will say nothing further. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like to add my two cents to the discussion on whether or not the American audiences like narrative ballets beyond the 19th century Petipa classics. We certainly do, although we may not have that many examples of full-length, two or three act, ballets because it is extremely expensive for the companies to commission evening long new pieces. To the ballets already mentioned in this thread, I want to add Ratmansky’s “The Bright Stream” and “The Golden Cockerel”, part of ABT repertory, as well as Possokhov’s “Anna Karenina”, which premiered at Joffrey Ballet in February of this year to a great acclaim from critics and audiences alike.  Yuri Possokhov, a choreographer-in-residence at San Francisco Ballet, created quite a few narrative ballets for SFB and other US companies — RAkU, The Swimmer, Francesca da Rimini, Optimistic Tragedy and The Miraculous Mandarin. Yuri is very popular with San Francisco audiences as his ballets present a satisfying mixture of neoclassical elegance and graceful athleticism. His choreography can be too busy and relentless at times but its classical vocabulary will always bring people to the theater. I am not a big fan of the idea of literary works to be adapted for ballet but I liked what Possokhov did with Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time” which I wished would have toured to the US (a tour to California was announced but the plan was later scraped for unknown reasons). Not only the story  moves along smoothly and conveys the mood of the novel but there is much dance to be enjoyed, with exciting grand scale group work, intricate steps and plenty of virtuoso tricks that require solid classical ballet training.  All these essential dance elements I found missing in such works as Marston’s “Snowblind” or Ochoa’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”. I personally find these ballets as well as many of those by John Neumeier though engaging and exciting at times but not worthy of a repeated viewing. This is just my personal opinion and balletic preferences. And I must admit that I do very much like Grigorovich’s ballets which to many in the US would be a manifestation of poor taste.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Bruce Wall said:

I have just seen that DanceTabs has given ABT's rendition of Marston's Jane Eyre a two star review.  Don't know why - but surprised at that from this publication - while honouring that it is well written and presented as is most of the turnout from this noted source.  

 

https://dancetabs.com/2019/06/american-ballet-theatre-jane-eyre-new-york/

 

But Marina Harss is an American reviewer (it was published in Links on 7th June BTW).

 

I think we have to accept that this work was (mostly) admired in the UK and (mostly) not in New York.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

2 hours ago, Bruce Wall said:

I have just seen that DanceTabs has given ABT's rendition of Marston's Jane Eyre a two star review.  Don't know why - but surprised at that from this publication - while honouring that it is well written and presented as is most of the turnout from this noted source.  

 

https://dancetabs.com/2019/06/american-ballet-theatre-jane-eyre-new-york/

 

As we all noted some time ago and Janet reminds... the NY critics have a very different view on Jane Eyre to the UK scribblers. Marina Harss is a brilliant writer and I count us as most fortunate to run her words. We obviously all have our own tastes and perceptions.

 

Re the NB version we ran three 4 star reviews of Jane Eyre in it's opening 2016 run. (I only intended two - premiere and when it hit London, covered by different writers, but the last one covered Hannah Bateman as Jane - a role she created in the studio but was injured and could not dance at the premiere):

https://dancetabs.com/2016/05/northern-ballet-jane-eyre-doncaster/

https://dancetabs.com/2016/06/northern-ballet-jane-eyre-london/

https://dancetabs.com/2016/06/birmingham-royal-ballet-taming-of-the-shrew-northern-ballet-jane-eyre-leicester/

 

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FtB:  Many thanks for that Link - not a site I know, but I'll be adding it to my trawl list.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's the one fromthebalcony posted above, isn't it? :)  But if that's the "first draft" review then I look forward to seeing the final product - very clear and perceptive.  And it does leave me wondering whether the production is perhaps a bit "minimalist" for the venue.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...