The Balanchine Appetizer

28 Oct

Does anyone else hate sudoku?  Well I do.  I solved my first 9×9 sudoku puzzle in the newspaper the other day, after many tries and thus thought about having a change of heart.  There I was, thinking I was on a roll and whilst attempting today’s puzzle I kept making mistakes and had to erase numbers so many times I basically wore through the paper.  I never solved it, and it got me thinking…what is it about sudoku that I hate so much?  I do enjoy puzzlish things and problem solving…but I prefer those with color or a three-dimensionality to it because I am visual/spatial in my way of looking at the world.  However, I’ve decided that when it comes to sudoku, the REAL thorn in my paw is the idea that there’s only one solution, only one way to do it and only one correct answer.  That, friends, is a philosophy that goes completely against the modus to all of the arts, and consequently it makes sense that it would irk me so.  It would be like saying “there is only one way to do an arabesque” when dancers know that’s so far from the truth the “not-a-planet” Pluto would seem like a next door neighbor in comparison.  An RAD arabesque is not the same as a Balanchine arabesque.  They are all different ways of arriving at a singular idea.

So on that note, my topic for today is Balanchine, albeit not necessarily differences between Balanchine technique (or style, depending on who you’re arguing with), which is discussed a little bit in the documentary Bringing Balanchine Back, which I watched today.  A couple of Vaganova dancers noted the quickness of NYCB dancer’s feet, which interestingly enough was something I had once observed.  Many moons ago, Jessica showed us one of the Balanchine Celebration videos (the one with Theme and Variations) and asked us if we saw any differences between the corps and the lead danseur who was Russian.  Immediately, I thought to myself that he was too slow and behind the music, but at the time I was not very knowledgeable and considering the fact that there were other better trained dancers in the class, naturally I thought my answer was stupid and I didn’t raise my hand because surely one of them would have something more insightful to say.  Well, nobody said anything, and she told us that he was indeed a hair behind.  So let that be a lesson to anyone new to dance or even experienced in dance and afraid to speak their mind…we ALL have a valid voice in critiquing dance.  Sure, some opinions are more informed than others, but you might just hit the nail on the head.  I forget who it was that said it, but someone said something about how sometimes it takes a completely uninformed person to see the language of dance and see the story being told, because they won’t know a thing about technique.  Not that you would know…but if anyone can remember where I read/heard that, please tell me!

Anyway, I have some mixed feelings about the documentary though…I think they tried to take a compelling angle with the return of Balanchine ballets to Russia, but there wasn’t much done with it.  For the dancers that were interviewed it was a moving experience and they felt pressure, but I didn’t get any feel for the significance of the event itself.  Russian audience members were casually interviewed and had nice things to say, although there either wasn’t any criticism or it was edited out, which kind of sapped any sense of realism and made the documentary a little fluffy.  Plus, there weren’t any full dance sequences, just excerpts, which could be expected of a documentary, but it’s extra salt in that ever festering Balanchine Trust wound.  I also have an oddly irrational…how to say…not dislike, but a lack of fondness for Peter Martins as a person.  It might be because of that article earlier this year about the layoff of a bunch of NYCB dancers and his humongous salary, which, you know, he’s artistic director so he should get paid a healthy sum, but at the same time it seems so un-Balanchine like to put one’s own interests ahead of members of the company.  I speak with minimal knowledge of Balanchine’s character, but from what I gather he wasn’t the type to live luxuriously at the expense of his dancers.  There’s just something (else) kind of off putting about him though.  But that aside, it also seemed unclear who the audience for this documentary should be.  I think the success of a documentary is contingent on how it connects with its target audience, and this really isn’t for a balletomane because I don’t think it was gritty enough and yet a person completely new to ballet isn’t going to have enough knowledge to understand what’s going on.  If it were a class, it wouldn’t be Balanchine 101…it would be more like Balanchine 103, which is an odd place to be.

Okay, so rather than mixed feelings I suppose I had an unfortunately negative reaction to the DVD, stained with disappointment.  It’s not one I’m adding to the amazon.com wish list.  But there was a silver lining, which is one of the wonderful things about ballet is the constant interconnectivity and how doors can open in the most unlikely of places.  First, the assortment of excerpts was at least a decent introduction to a number of Balanchine works, and I feel more prepared to watch Serenade and Symphony in C (I adored what I saw of the latter).  I’ve seen Western Symphony before, which oddly enough, I find cheeky and delightful even if I have never in my life liked western themed anything.  I guess I like the idea that a classical-ish ballet can be centered on a theme that isn’t necessarily some romantic fairy tale.  I also feel more connected to Balanchine ballets in the sense that he based his ballets on the strength of the score, which is the category I tend to identify with.  (Actually, he died just a few months before I was conceived…I’d like to think that the soul I got had a brush with his in the afterlife before being reincarnated into me.  Wishful thinking?  Maybe.)  There was also a work by Jerome Robbins, of who I haven’t gotten to see much of.  Obviously, I’ve seen his choreography in West Side Story, and there’s also a website with some significant excerpts of a film version of Opus Jazz (link here) that I watched.  I also saw last year the PBS documentary on him, which also contained excerpts from his dances (blasted excerpts!) and one of my favorite quotes ever from Steven Sondheim:

The only things Leonard Bernstein feared were God and Jerome Robbins.

So it was nice to see more portions of a Robbins work.

But what I was really captivated by was the dancing by Jock Soto, who I had never seen before.  His body type was so distinctly different, stocky and short-limbed compared to his willowy peers (and I’m not just talking about the women, all the other men were lengthy and leggy too) and yet he was an exceptional dancer with apparently legendary partnering skills.  Although I’m always fascinated to see dance on a body that people wouldn’t necessarily expect, there’s also something different about the way he dances that intrigues me.  Since the DVD was filmed towards the end of his career, one has to wonder if such an aesthetic could ever find its way into ballet again, if Martins would ever be so bold to pick a dancer like him again and if teachers around the world are capable of nurturing someone without the genetic gifts to stardom.  All interesting questions, and not to be answered by me (at least for now), but upon further research it seems there was a PBS documentary made about Soto, which I’m going to try and get a hold of.  It seems I can buy a copy of the film by contacting the filmmakers directly, but I’m scared it’s going to come with a hefty price tag so I don’t know if I’m brave enough to ask yet.  But he seems to have had (and continues to have) an interesting life so the desire to watch this film is nagging like my daily cravings for a Kit-Kat bar.  Here’s a trailer:

In the meantime, I’ll probably buy his cook book at least.

9781573220705

Is there a recipe for better turn-out? Har har...just keeeedding.

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2 Responses to “The Balanchine Appetizer”

  1. Jess Kelly May 31, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Oh please let me know how you get on with sourcing the documentary about Jock Soto! I would love to see it.

    • youdancefunny June 22, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

      I haven’t found it…but if I come across anything I will let you know!

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