Le Jeune Homme et la Mort

1 07 2011

On perverse fantasies

4 05 2011

The only real Ayn Rand I ever read was the horrible novel, Anthem. However, when I learned recently what the plot of Atlas Shrugged is about, I was more than a little amused. So, as I understand it, the government gets “too big” and all the talented people, the business leaders, actors, etc., go “on strike”, dissappear, sort of the same spirit of “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore”. That’s really too damn funny. It reminds me of the anecdote that Zizek tells in the book, The Sublime Object of Ideology, where he mentions how some magnate asked why one of his managers never took a vacation. The manager explained that if he took a vacation, things might fall apart without him. To that, the magnate replied, “Don’t worry, I am sure things will be fine without you.”

“That’s the other reason,” the manager replied.
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Doux Mensonges

4 03 2011

Excerpt from the ballet by Jiri Kylian

Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto

25 02 2011

2nd movement

With dance from the Octavia Cup Dance Theatre

One of ballet’s Old Believers

17 02 2011

My wife is now reading the book being reviewed here . I agree with the reviewer on some issues, and will have to return more in depth to some of these ideas once I actually read the book. Here is the final part of the review:

Homans’s vehemence in upholding the values of elegance and proportion is heartening, a testament to the coherence and harmoniousness of ballet’s basic principles and codes. And inevitably, I too am captive to my own prejudices and experiences. Having come to ballet as an adult, in the post-Balanchine era, I find that my perspective is necessarily different from Homans’s. Her credo finds its strongest expression in the final chapter of Apollo’s Angels, a provocative essay with the lugubrious title “The Masters Are Dead and Gone.” Homans postulates that ballet is dying and perhaps beyond life support, complaining about the “dull, flat-screen look of today’s dances and dancers,” “artistically moribund” revivals, “dispiriting” performances that are “dull and lack vitality,” and an “inaccessible avant-garde.” Even ballet’s angels, it seems, are falling from the sky.

But ballet is always dying. Like all dance, it exists purely in time and leaves no record, and is an art of the external present. Unlike music, it does not have a consistent written language; video can capture only its shadow because it lacks the third dimension, where dancing lives. So we are left with the present. As Balanchine said, “There is only now.” In this light Homans’s discouragement feels like fatigue, her disappointment like complacency. She may tire of seeing yet another production of Giselle or Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, but what about the person who is seeing these ballets for the first time, who stumbles out of the theater in a daze, in tears of disbelief at what he has just witnessed? Is this not worth preserving, worth fighting for? As Homans wrote several years ago, in a different mood, “Who are we to hold old memories so tightly? Perhaps it is time to stop mourning and move on.”

I agree and disagree. One of my most recent themes here is that there is no “tradition” properly considered. Even our idea of ballet, of a woman in pointe shoes floating across the stage, is a radical transformation from the original court dancing of Louis XIV. As the reviewer also points out, Balanchine was also a great innovator. While I respect greatly Balanchine as the greatest choreographer of the 20th century at least, to say that there is no ballet history after him is a bit of an exaggeration. Not much of an exaggeration to be sure, but to say that an artform that has changed so much is coming to an end may be the real exaggeration. Really, how old are even the ballets of Petipa and Bournonville compared to the grand scheme of Western art? Not even as old as Beethoven. Don’t count ballet out yet.

But there are some factors that even the reviewer does not take into consideration that are also working against ballet’s future. It is truly an aristocratic art, and thus needs an aristocratic scale to be properly executed. Many have said that the young dancers today, in spite of being faster or being able to jump higher, and so on, have little musicality, little ability to carry themselves in the ethos of the ballets, etc. Really, this is a problem with many arts, including such things as traditional liturgy (not that liturgy really matters in the grand scheme of things). We live in a different world of blogging, tweeting, video games, and gadgets doing all sorts of things that fit in our pockets. What can a pas de deux really teach us? As the years go by, the things of the past begin to make less and less sense. Perhaps future generations will take up the mantle and carry on the arts of an autocratic past, but if there are other things that are seen as being more worth the while, one should not hold one’s breath waiting for a renaissance.


4 02 2011

I recently got a CD of Balanchine ballet scores for my wife for her birthday. Listening to the above piece of music, I am reminded why the ballet by the same name is my favorite of the Balanchine corpus. I would post video, but the fascists at the Balanchine Trust make sure that no such video is ever posted on the Internet.

The Green Table

31 12 2010

The body in ballet

7 12 2010

Here is a pretty good summary of a recent controversy regarding ballet dancers and weight. Apparently, a critic from the New York Times stated the following about a recent performance of that ballet cash cow (pun entirely intended), The Nutcracker:

Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many; and Jared Angle, as the Cavalier, seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm.

One wonders what such critics would think if they saw the original Czarist ballerinas dance when they judge such svelte dancers to be too plump. Margot Fonteyn might as well be called obese.

Personally, I think the modern idea of womanhood is emaciated to the point of being androgynous. Modern ballet and dance are certainly choreographed that way in many performances. The masculine and the feminine are indistiguishable, and are often deconstructed in inartful and superficial ways.

If I am not an idealist in daily life, I am at least so in art. But the spectacle of an emaciated ballerina for me is a broken ideal.

George Balanchine’s Jewels

7 10 2010

As mentioned yesterday, AG and I went to Houston to see that city’s ballet perform the work Jewels by George Balanchine. If there was any doubt that Houston has a world-class ballet company, it was dispelled by this performance. For the most part, their presentation was crisp and faithful, having been well coached by the gatekeepers of the Balanchine Trust. The experience was a veritable joy, and probably one of the best live ballet experiences I have ever had (okay, I am still a neophyte by some standards). But in this presentation, one was able to witness what is the essence of Balanchine’s genius: his choreography allows you to see the music.
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Two texts on women

4 10 2010

Again after all this he created two human beings in his image, man first, then woman, in whom the heavens and the earth, and every embellishment of both, are brought to perfection. For when the Creator came to the creation of woman, he rested himself in this creation, thinking that he had nothing more honorable to create; in her were completed and consummated all the wisdom and power of the Creator; after her no creation could be found or imagined. Since, therefore, woman is the ultimate end of creation, the most perfect accomplishment of all the works of God and the perfection of the universe itself, who will deny that she possesses honor surpassing every other creature? Without her the world itself, already perfect to a fault and complete at every elevel, would have been imperfect; it could only be perfected in the creature of all others by far the most perfect. For it is unreasonable and absurd to think that God would have finished so great a work with something imperfect.

Since the world itself has been created by God as a circle of absolute perfection, it is fitting that the circle be perfected by this particle capable of being the link that unites perfectly the beginning of the circle with its end. That is how, at the time of creation, woman was the last in time of all things created; in the conception of the divine mind, however, she was first of all, as much in prestige as in honor, as was written about her by the prophet: “Before the heavens were created, God chose her and chose her first.” Indeed, it is a commonplace among philosophers to say (I cite their own words): “The end is always the first in intention and the last in execution.” For a woman was the last work of God, who introduced her into our world as the queen of a kingdom already prepared for her, adorned and prefect in everything. It is therefore right that every creature love, honor, and respect her; right also that every creature submit to and obey her, for she is the queen of all creatures and their end, perfection, and glory, absolute perfection. This is why Wisdom says of her: “She glorifies her noble birth by living with God, for even the Lord of all has loved her.”
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