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Subject: "What is "Dance Quality"?" Archived thread - Read only
 
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Bruce Madmin

05-10-01, 11:37 PM (GMT)
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"What is "Dance Quality"?"
 
  
This thread is for discussion of Katharine Kanter's What is "Dance Quality"? piece in the October Ballet.co magazine.

Hope you have enjoyed What is "Dance Quality"? and do leave your thoughts in this thread...


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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: What is "Dance Quality"? pmeja 06-10-01 1
     RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Carly Gillies 07-10-01 2
         RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Bruce Madmin 07-10-01 3
             .. the Kanter bio.. Bruce Madmin 09-10-01 10
     RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Robert 08-10-01 4
         RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Paul A 08-10-01 5
         RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Paul A 08-10-01 6
             RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Richard J 08-10-01 7
                 RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Richard J 08-10-01 8
         RE: What is "Dance Quality"? pmeja 09-10-01 9
             RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Carly Gillies 09-10-01 11
                 RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Tim Powell 09-10-01 12
                     RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Ann Williams 10-10-01 13
                         RE: What is "Dance Quality"? pmeja 10-10-01 14
                             RE: What is "Dance Quality"? emma 10-10-01 15
                             RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Richard J 10-10-01 16
                             RE: What is "Dance Quality"? katharine kanter 11-10-01 17
                             RE: What is "Dance Quality"? pmeja 11-10-01 18
                             RE: What is "Dance Quality"? pmeja 17-10-01 20
  RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Nigel Simeone 17-10-01 19
     RE: What is "Dance Quality"? pmeja 17-10-01 21
     RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Anneliese 17-10-01 22
         RE: What is "Dance Quality"? Nigel 17-10-01 23

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pmeja

06-10-01, 11:58 AM (GMT)
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1. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #0
 
   LAST EDITED ON 06-10-01 AT 12:41 PM (GMT)

LAST EDITED ON 06-10-01 AT 12:40 PM (GMT)

gobsmacked. i liked the word when i saw it in your little introduction to the screensaver. however i think it describes quite well how i felt when i read the piece because i could not disagree more with it.

katherine, how much balanchine have you seen?

i will add this. katherine is certainly entitled to her opinion. and even such a uniformly negative and in my point of view, uninformed opinion is entitled to the light of day. so bravo.

but i don't know if there is going to be any meeting of any minds on this. ms kanter obviously comes from one corner with a very pronounced opinion and i (and i believe a lot of others) will come from another.

but if i may venture to make one statement, i believe that she could not be more wrong. and a standoff on this may be as close as the two sides get.


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Carly Gillies

07-10-01, 06:55 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #1
 
   Bruce, I'm not sure just how (or whether) to start to respond to Katherine Kanter's provocative article.
Should I know who she is? Could you, or she, say a few words about her? Thanks. Carly


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Bruce Madmin

07-10-01, 07:26 PM (GMT)
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3. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #2
 
  
We would very much like people to respond - I know that is Katharine's wish as well.

If you feel her piece/arguments are not at all fair, or right, than by all means say so - but we all need to be objective and civil in discussion of course.

It was published because we believe that there are a variety of views on any aspect of dance/ballet and we wanted to give an unusual perspective some air time. As with any publishing undertaking we would say that it doesn't follow that we necessarily agree or identify with all that appears on these pages. What we want to do is foster debate and thought etc and if pieces like this coax readers to participate and expand everybody's view so much the better.

I'm not sure it's necessary to know who Katharine is particularly - its the arguments / thesis that this is all about. I'll leave it for Katharine to say more or less as she feels appropriate. But in the meantime readers should respond as they see fit - that's why we opened this thread.....


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Bruce Madmin

09-10-01, 08:13 AM (GMT)
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10. ".. the Kanter bio.."
In response to message #3
 
   Thought you might be interested in this...

Currently based in France, Miss Kanter has been a regular contributor to the dance pages of the German quarterly IBYKUS and the American review FIDELIO since their inception in the 1980s. From that moment in 1984 when Claude de Vulpian and Michel Denard flitted across a French television screen in "Flower Festival at Genzano", Miss Kanter has devoted a significant fraction of her mental energies, such as they are, to Auguste Bournonville.

As well as dozens of theatre reviews for various publications, among her feature-length articles, are "Bournonville and the Crisis in Ballet Today" for the OXFORD YEAR BOOK ON DANCE (1993-94), "Diaghilev, Bannerträger des Imperialismus" for IBYKUS, and "Why Noverre is not on the Curriculum" (with A. de la Caffinière) for DANCE NOW. She has interviewed, for the latter publication, Flemming Ryberg and Lloyd Riggins, inter alia, and, for IBYKUS, Yvette Chauviré, Claude de Vulpian, Patrice Bart and Elizabeth Maurin of the Paris Opera, Carla Fracci, Marcia Haydée, Konstanze Vernon (unpublished), Michel de Lutry, Kirsten Ralov, Flemming Ryberg again, Lis Jeppesen, and the great Danish professor Hans Brenaa in what is believed to be his last interview. She has also conducted a series of interviews with orthopaedists and sports doctors in Germany, on the comparative impact of the current international "Anglo-Russian" technique on the body, as opposed to the Bournonville school.


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Robert

08-10-01, 04:30 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #1
 
   pmjela
Beware, Katherine obviously knows her ballet and has possibly seen more Ballanchine than most of us.
I found her article very interesting, I agreed with some of it but certainly not all. It is not very gentlemanly to want to know someone’s name and particularly age but she has some views that I thought had died out years ago.
As Ross Stretton has almost discontinued all Ballet Covent Garden we should all have plenty of time to read and reread her article before replying.


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Paul A

08-10-01, 04:47 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #4
 
   I will try to answer the question (as the article itself does not impress me - I'm respecting the strictures of the board).

I've always remembered Alessandra Ferri as Juliet, running to meet the friar with her body arched, her feet and legs beautifully strectched with her shawl billowing. I've always described her as a gazelle.

I don't know whether that animal quality is the quality that elevates the dance, transcending the music, the movement - it's hard to quantify but it totally separates that performance from every other interpretation of that section.

Opalesence was a quality applied to Sibley often - and I certainly experienced it in her performance of Scenes de ballet, transforming the ballet for me from a cardboard cut out to a jewel.

Is there an answer here - or is there just a hidden dimension that we experience which transforms the performance, that we are not able to deconstruct (even though academics try).


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Paul A

08-10-01, 04:47 PM (GMT)
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6. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #4
 
   I will try to answer the question (as the article itself does not impress me - I'm respecting the strictures of the board).

I've always remembered Alessandra Ferri as Juliet, running to meet the friar with her body arched, her feet and legs beautifully strectched with her shawl billowing. I've always described her as a gazelle.

I don't know whether that animal quality is the quality that elevates the dance, transcending the music, the movement - it's hard to quantify but it totally separates that performance from every other interpretation of that section.

Opalesence was a quality applied to Sibley often - and I certainly experienced it in her performance of Scenes de ballet, transforming the ballet for me from a cardboard cut out to a jewel.

Is there an answer here - or is there just a hidden dimension that we experience which transforms the performance, that we are not able to deconstruct (even though academics try).


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Richard J

08-10-01, 10:06 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #6
 
   I haven’t seen Bugaku, so cannot comment on that ballet from direct experience in the theatre, though I have read programme notes about it. However I can comment on what KK has to say about the music for Balanchine’s ballets; quite simply, her remarks are sometimes factually wrong, though I can sympathise with anyone who finds some of Stravinsky’s music difficult at first.

Obviously Balanchine did not restrict himself to using music by Stravinsky, so it would be interesting to know whether KK feels equally irate about Serenade or Theme and Variations (Tchaikovsky), Symphony in C (Bizet), Liebeslieder Walzer (Brahms), Who Cares? (Gershwin), Western Symphony (Hershy Kay), or the parts of Jewels which use music by Fauré and Tchaikovsky. He also used the music of other composers. However, KK clearly has her needle into Stravinsky, so it is necessary to put the record straight about him and atonal music.

Atonal music does not have any tonal centre (or key) in the traditional sense; you cannot say it is in C major, A minor, or whatever. But atonal music still needs structure, so it must still have a beginning, a middle and an end, quite apart from whether or not it is in a specific key. However, with atonal music the traditional harmonic system of consonance and dissonance inevitably no longer applies. KK’s comments about music seem to suggest that, after the death of Brahms (in 1897) all was lost. In fact, around the end of the 19th century composers were looking for new directions (what else does an artist do?) because it seemed that the traditional usage of the major/minor system was becoming a bit threadbare. Various distinct trends can be discerned (with inevitable cross-fertilisations between them), some of which were to give tonality a new lease of life.

Some composers were rediscovering the rhythms, scales, and melodic forms of their national folk music. These often sounded strange to those used only to the major/minor system, but incorporating traditional (though largely forgotten) aspects of national music into existing techniques gave a distinct flavour to the music of (e.g.) Kodaly, Bartok (Hungary), Mussorgsky (Russia), de Falla (Spain) who was to give Diaghilev Le Tricorne, and Vaughan Williams (England). To English ears the music of Bartok can at first sound very strange and harsh, whereas Vaughan Williams may sound more comfortable (though the music of his lesser imitators in the English pastoral vein were once labelled the cow-pat school of composition!). The music of the Russian nationalists attracts because of its colour and exoticism; Stravinsky came from that tradition (through his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov), as can be seen in his wonderful score for Firebird (1910). Petrushka and The Rite of Spring followed; the latter may be difficult and complex, but it did flow inevitably from previous work, and contains much that is very traditionally ‘Russian’ in its material.

Stravinsky also acknowledged his great debt to Debussy, from whose music he said he had learnt so much. Debussy’s work is often mentioned in conjunction with the work of the impressionist painters, though the symbolist poets also provide an important parallel. In fact Debussy took influences from various sources: Mussorgsky; the Balinese Gamelan orchestra which visited the Paris Exhibition of 1889; to some extent Wagner (it was difficult to escape his influence, though Debussy later tried to throw it off); and occasionally American Ragtime. Ravel was much more influenced by jazz. Both of these distinctively French composers wrote important scores for Diaghilev. They used traditional chords in new ways, giving tonality new life. In Paris during the 1920’s new music entered a phase of neo-classicism (having dabbled with surrealism). This is the era of Poulenc’s Les Biches (1924), described by Cocteau as “Les Fetes galantes de notre temps”. Stravinsky, working in Paris, also entered into a neo-classical phase, this being initiated by his ‘re-composition’ of music attributed to Pergolesi for the ballet Pulcinella (1919-20) commisioned by Diaghilev. To this period belongs the score for the ballet Apollo (1928); the music was titled Apollon Musagete. Although first choreographed by Bolm for performance in Washington DC, the choreography by Balanchine in June of the same year was a moment of immense importance in the relationship between choreographer and composer. The music for Apollo cannot be called anything other than neo-classical. Stravinsky was acutely aware of ballet history. It was his intention to write a ballet blanc, and for Apollo he chose only the ‘white’ sound of strings, setting the music firmly in the white-note key of C major. The music, poised and clear in its rhythms and textures, is also a tribute to the French baroque. The subject matter was carefully chosen; Apollo, the god of manly beauty, the opposite of Dionysian excess. This was not the first choreography by Balanchine to music of Stravinsky; he had already provided choreography for Le Rossignol (with Markova in the leading role), the music for that being re-arranged from an opera written before the 1st world war.

During all of this, the developments that were taking place in Vienna in atonal composition might not have existed as far as Stravinsky was concerned. The tendency throughout the 19th century for certain composers of the Germanic tradition to add more and more notes foreign to the key (chromaticisms) and to wander through various keys rather freely inevitably loosened the basic sense of key. Liszt had a hand in this, but Wagner made the biggest impact, and the Prelude to his opera Tristan and Isolde (1859) was identified by many who came later as ‘the beginnings of modern music’. It has to be said that the music of the Russian Scriabin (and even some of Debussy) seemed to be dabbling with tendencies towards lack of key centre, but it was in Vienna that Germanic Romantic music reached the over-ripe state that led down the route towards atonality. In 1909, Schoenberg reached the point where he could no longer pretend to be writing in any particular key, and arrived at the point of atonality. Three years later, he produced one of the best known works of this period, Pierrot Lunaire, memorably performed by Christopher Bruce in Glen Tetley’s choreography to this music (and recently revived). Sometimes the music of this period is associated with the expressionism of the painters of the ‘Blaue Reiter’ group led by Kandinsky, but, as with impressionism, use of the word in this context is somewhat vague. Schoenberg, along with his disciples Berg and Webern, searched for a new discipline in their music, now that they found traditional keys did not satisfy their needs. The answer was found in Serialism, organising all twelve notes of the octave (i.e. black and white) in such a way that no one note acquired importance above the others in the way of tonal music (the music is based on a ‘series’ or ‘note-row’ in which each note must appear, and the whole series completed before being used again – it needs more craft than might sound to make it work satisfactorily!). Schoenberg presented music written in this technique to the musical world in 1923. Stravinsky was far away, being neo-classical in Paris!

In 1939 Stravinsky settled in Los Angeles, his first major ‘American’ work being the Symphony in 3 movements, choreographed for a Stravinsky Festival in 1972, the year following the composer’s death. If any choreography ‘shows the music’ this surely does; you see what you hear. Stravinsky had already composed other music for America (e.g. The Dumbarton Oaks Concerto of 1938, which showed a debt to Bach); but he was also further absorbing elements of jazz (I’m not sure whether jazz rates highly with KK) which had first appeared in his work years before. For the moment his work was building on the neo-classical trends adopted since Pulcinella, which reached a peak in the opera The Rake’s Progress (1951).

Stravinsky had now began to show an awareness of serialism, especially when he met Robert Craft, a conductor who had a great enthusiasm for the music of the baroque and that of what was known as the 2nd Viennese School (Schoenberg, Berg and Webern). It was particularly the terse music of Webern that Stravinsky studied. Craft, who collaborated with Stravinsky in recordings and 6 volumes of memoirs, encouraged Stravinsky to write in the serial idiom, but it was only with the death of Schoenberg (in Los Angeles in 1951) that Stravinsky seemed to feel free to adopt the technique as his own. The eventual outcome for the ballet repertoire was Agon (1957), though this was composed in stages, and not all of it uses serial technique (which appears in Stravinskian fashion!). The music still manages to sound typically Stravinsky; whatever he assimilated throughout his life he somehow made his own.

I know that some find the music of Agon difficult; I was about 15 when I first heard it, at a Prom not long after its composition, and remember finding it incomprehensible. Now, when I play it to teenage pupils and ask them which era this music belongs to, it is amazing how many do suggest that is a 20th century version of renaissance or early baroque music. Time has moved on. The problem with Agon is that one needs to discover where it has come from. It is so concentrated, like a slightly astringent liqueur in which it is difficult to discern the ingredients, though the blend makes for heady stuff. Balanchine understood Stravinsky perfectly. Interestingly, he never choreographed The Rite of Spring, leaving it to the concert hall.

The Oxford Dictionary of Music says of Stravinsky “His critics once used to write of a ‘soulless’ music, bare of expression and emotion. As he recedes from us and his music comes into perspective, the wrongheadedness of this judgement provokes either mirth or anger”. I wonder if the same will come to be said about Balanchine?

Regarding Bugaku, this was inspired by the visit of the Imperial Japanese performing arts group to New York in 1959. The music is by Toshiro Mayuzumi (born in Yokohama in 1929).

I have spent so long writing the above (which I hope might put a few things into context), that I will be brief about some of the other issues raised. Does the criticism in KK’s piece of falling mean that she dismisses the whole modern (=contemporary) dance movement? (Didn’t Martha Graham say that her dancers fall to rise?). David Bintley (for one) has used a combination of ballet and floorwork highly effectively (I’m thinking of The Protecting Veil, a piece I find incredibly uplifting!)

I personally can do without such excesses as people urinating on stage in plays (it has happened) or Ms Emin’s dirty bed, and there are ways of presenting the erotic with artistic skill (The Cage?) without being self-consciously obvious. As for the place of women in Balanchine’s work (and life), I guess that needs a study by itself…but then, I know women dance fans who simply cannot cope with the 19th century Gautier-inspired archetype of the ballerina as the fleeting embodiment of the poet’s vision. I think I’ll stick to commenting on the music for the moment!…


PS I once saw Baryshnikov with the White Oak Dance Project. I remember one moment when he simply folded his arms; there was something about that moment, and one critic picked that moment as having more dance quality than many others!


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Richard J

08-10-01, 10:32 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #7
 
   PPS Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements was written 1942-1945 and first performed in 1946, the composer conducting.


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pmeja

09-10-01, 01:35 AM (GMT)
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9. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #4
 
   LAST EDITED ON 09-10-01 AT 01:40 AM (GMT)

robert, i wasn't trying to one-up her, really! i was seriously flummoxed by her idea of balanchine, and in fact the post that followed (don't have it in front of me) covered a lot of what i was thinking. and in addition, i am in new york and have seen quite a lot of balanchine both on stage and on film over the past 30 years, so that is why i asked the question. i wondered if she had had the chance to see very much of his choreography if she was in london, and if she might not think differently at least partly if she were able to see more.


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Carly Gillies

09-10-01, 01:13 PM (GMT)
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11. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #9
 
  
Bruce. Thankyou for the information. My reason for asking was that we are usually told a little bit about the contributors to the magazine. Suzi Crow is introduced as a member of Ballet Independents group, and others we know as dancers, choreographers or whatever. I had simply wondered if Katharine Kanter was a dancer, ballet fan, writer, teacher or whatever.

Katharine, you are deliberately provocative and opinionated in your article – all those “dear reader” and “if you’ve not torn this up already” comments – so I assume you are inviting counter comment, and will not be upset by it.

I have to say I found your article baffling, and found myself reading it and wanting to take issue with almost every statement. – along the lines of ‘I don’t remember my children doing that’,and ‘but I often find myself humming stravinsky’, to ‘ I don’t think that society does rot from the head down as you suggest – I can think of several rotten societies which nurtured the arts’

Anyway, your theme is ‘dance quality’

I took this to mean not ‘the good, bad or indifferent-ness of dance’, but rather I understood you to mean ‘ a particular quality which some but not all dancers possess’

You don’t give us any particular examples, but I think I know what you mean (or at least I know what I mean) when I think of someone like Fonteyn, who definitely possessed a particular “quality” – in her case a fluidity and perfection of line. Nureyev also had a “quality” but quite different – much more sexual and animal. There’s also a consensus about the greatness (presumably to do with “dance quality”) of these two. But then there is about Guillem also. She also has that fluidity, that line, as well as a special dramatic quality, but you rubbish her and presumably don’t think she has whatever your own notion of “dance quality” is.

However your argument then switches from individual qualities, to types of dance and choreographers, so your “dance quality” presumably relates to the whole production.
I wonder if you like any modern dance at all. But then there also seems to be much about classical dance that you also dislike – despite your apparent strong support of it in this article and in your open letter to Scottish Ballet.
You dislike ‘overextension’ and claim that this is harmful to the body. In fact most adults cannot naturally flex, extend, or abduct one leg more than 90 degrees to the other without dance or gymnastics training.
And what then of dancing on pointe? Do you also dismiss this as being distasteful because it’s harmful? I can’t imagine it being condoned by any member of the medical profession – pain is a necessary warning symptom that actual damage is being or has been done.

I have seen both Balanchine and Bournonville and been moved by both. There are huge differences and Balanchine is, in my opinion, much more complex and interesting, but I cannot define just what the ‘quality’ is that moves me in ballet.

Are you really saying that dance should be so limited as to ignore most human emotions and concentrate on that which “elevates the mind, delightfully”? I’m afraid that I really rather enjoy being a bit more stretched and challenged than that.

So I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean by “dance quality” except that by it you seem to exclude most things that the rest of us love.

Paul A above said
"I don't know whether that animal quality is the quality that elevates the dance, transcending the music, the movement - it's hard to quantify but it totally separates that performance from every other interpretation of that section."

He is talking about a special quality relating to an individual – something which I think most of us can recognise when we see it, but which defies definition.
Sadly I think from what you’ve said that you would take issue about Ferri – or Fonteyn or Nureyev having such quality.


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Tim Powell

09-10-01, 02:08 PM (GMT)
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12. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #11
 
   Carla
I pretty much agree with all you say in your posting on this occasion.
With further reference to the writings of Ms.Kanter I find it rather presumptuous of her to say that very few of us have seen any Bournonville. It may be of minor significance but I find it odd that she finds it necessary to use the little used verb to eructate on both her contributions to the October magazine.


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Ann Williams

10-10-01, 00:40 AM (GMT)
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13. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #12
 
   I'm not quite sure how seriously we should take Katharine Kanter's piece - it seems preposterous to me. Can she possibly be saying that all classical ballet choreography over the last 70 years is in some way corrupt ('rotten')?

To deal with Balanchine first, I do have some sympathy for her ' prudishness' here; I have complained on this board and on Balletalert about certain aspects of his ballets, specifically 'Agon' and 'Bugaku'. I do think that the old boy got away with an awful lot because of his fame. Cloaked safely under the veneer of high art, he seemed to use some of his ballets to indulge his sexual fantasies by having the ballerina perform explicitly erotic movements in the briefest of costumes. I dislike these movements not because I'm a prude, but because I feel they demean and degrade the dancers involved (the male partners as well as the ballerinas). The original dancers on whom these ballets were created would not have dared to complain - after all, if Shakespeare created a role for you, would you complain if you felt the language was a little coarse?

I do not think that comparison to Shakespeare is at all inappropriate. Balanchine was probably the greatest choreographer of the 20th century, and my complaints in no way diminish my admiration for his extraordinary genius. There were other great 20th century choeographers of course - Ashton in particular - but what a gaping hole there would be in the classical repertoire if Balanchine's ballets did not exist! Nevertheless he was only human, and we have to accept his human foibles - the majority of his considerable output was in any case perfectly chaste (if, that is, one does not consider a high extension - any high extension - to be an indecency, as Katharine seems to).

Now we come to her curious belief that Stravinsky's music was not 'singable'. What about his choral works? (I'm thinking in particular of 'Les Noces', but there are others). I'm aware of course that one can't hum or whistle 'Les Noces', but I can think of other Stravinsky works that echo melodically in the mind - Firdbird and Apollon Musagète come to mind, and I am sure there are others. As to having to 'shred and tear the human form' in order to dance his music, words fail me. As another poster has wondered, exactly how much Balanchine has Katharine actually seen? Has she ever seen the Rubies section of 'Jewels' to Stravinsky's 'Capriccio'? Or any part of 'Agon'?

What about this extraordinary statement '....the composer must swim against the tide of whatever excess his own particular art form would otherwisedraw him towards.....the musician must cut out sensuous effects...and the ballet dancer may not display the body'.
Should dancers cover themselves up completely, then, or which part(s) of their bodies will she permit them to show us? She should think more carefully before uttering such meaningless pomposities.

Whether or not Ms Kanter is being serious, it probably says something significant about her piece that I cannot quite be bothered to look up 'eructation' in the dictionary.


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pmeja

10-10-01, 01:59 AM (GMT)
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14. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #13
 
   for what it is worth, i offer the following, looked up on-line:

eructate: v. t. ructer.] To eject, as wind, from the stomach; to belch. good grief.


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emma

10-10-01, 08:43 PM (GMT)
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15. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #14
 
   I'm not sure that my opinion is so well informed as some of the other opinions in these postings but as Ms Kanter presumes that everyone born after 1970 (of which I am one) is automatically ignorant of the meaning of dance quality I feel compelled to reply.
I understand what she means by dance quality if its anything similar to the Fonteyn/Nureyev 1966 Swan Lake production which I've just watched on video and was taken aback by as my first example of these two great artists work.
I also understand what she means by spontaneous reaction to music.
Ms Kanter seems to presume that the majority of the audience go to watch for the way the dancers look or the "special effects" moves which look good. Firstly, I'd like to point out that ballet as an visual art form must play on visual effects to get the dancers and choreographers messages across. Also, part of the joy of watching ballet for me is to watch beautiful shapes and patterns being created. Because an arabesque is above 90 degrees and I think that looks beautiful does not mean that I find it sexually enjoyable - some people may do. However, on the other hand I do think that personality and style can play a greater role in making a good performance than perfect technique with no style.
On another point as a dancer , dancing is about feeling good - and extensions feel good (not sexually in case anyone misunderstands) but Ms Kanter may not appreciate that to dance well and make an audience enjoy a performance a dancer must first enjoy what she is doing with her body because remember ballet is an essentially physical art.
Also I do agree with her that sex and the stage don't mix. Sex is a private thing but if it's relevant to art or a dance plot there are non - erotic and tasteful ways of presenting it.
What I think I'm trying to say is that there is some merit to the majority of Ms Kanter's comments but in moderation (I cannot comment on Balanchine as regrettably never seen any of his pieces) there is a time and a place for everything including sex on stage and 180 degree developpes.


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Richard J

10-10-01, 10:46 PM (GMT)
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16. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #15
 
   After commenting on Katharine Kanter’s diatribe about Balanchine and Stravinsky, I’ve read her companion piece about Scottish Ballet (i.e. the open letter on this subject).

Two issues are involved here, and need separating. First there is the question of the future of Scottish Ballet, and secondly the thoughts of KK concerning modern dance.

The present developments at Scottish Ballet are sad indeed, not only for their audiences in Scotland but also for those who have been associated with the company. Scottish Ballet was born in Bristol, where I live, as Western Theatre Ballet. The early years were extremely hard; having survived thus far, one could have hoped that it was secure, but the present arts scene is so uncertain.

KK, instead of lamenting the demise of a ballet company, uses the opportunity for a stab at modern dance. She obviously has little time for modern dance, and cannot seem to see accept the possibility of ballet and modern dance co-existing.

She writes that “.... ‘modern’ dance is no longer modern. It is, like Eric Satie and Antonin Artaud, a shop-soiled relic of the jazz age of the 1920s. The turned-in feet, the stuck-out elbows and arses, the falling, the writhing, the eructating, the erotics...”

This passage requires a little analysis.

To label modern dance as a product of the jazz age of the 1920’s as if it has had no previous or further development seems to be a strange statement. Isadora Duncan, who started her career in the early 1900’s, danced to great classical music, especially Bach and Schubert. In 1904 she organised a massed choreography for her pupils at the Bayreuth Festival – an appearance at the Wagner shrine, no less. She was inspired by her notion of what she considered a revival of the Greek dance of antiquity. Greek and Oriental sources (as well as a purely emotional-expressive response to music) were the inspirations for others as well in the modern dance movement. Her untimely end in 1927 does seem to be a jazz-age tragedy, and she certainly lived an unconventional life, but such lives were also lived by those working in many artistic disciplines; this doesn’t negate their contribution to their art. I cannot reconcile later forms of modern dance with “a shop-soiled relic of the 1920s”; was it really for such an activity that Aaron Copland wrote Appalachian Spring in 1944? I think not. KK writes about “The eructating, the erotics”: is this really the world of a piece such as “Ghost Dances”?

Satie is another Kanter target. In fact this extravagant figure was active before the 1920’s; “Parade” (1917) was his doing, musically, but this was a product of his association with the influential Cocteau (who provided the libretto) and Massine (choreography). Neither Cocteau nor Massine is mentioned by Katharine Kanter, who could also have included mention of the Surrealists and Dadaists for the sake of completeness in her survey of the era. Although Satie was an eccentric, he did have a helpful influence on French music, steering it towards a leaner style and away from too much indulgence in impressionistic excess. He anticipated some later trends, and it has been said of him that behind the clown’s mask there is a serious composer. I’m sure that those who have seen Ashton’s Monotones appreciate the effectiveness of Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes as music for Ashton’s choreography.

Mentioning Massine leads me to ask why KK did not look further back in her survey to the work of Fokine and Nijinsky. What does she think of the former’s Petrushka, or the latter’s L’apres-midi d’un Faune? Has she seen either? Margot Fonteyn comments on how amusing she found it to reflect that Fokine, placed so categorically with classical ballet, could produce works with scarcely a pure ballet step in them, with only a few out of dozens of female characters in pointe shoes. Petrushka himself falls and contorts himself when sad and alone in his room. Nijinsky’s faun and nymphs famously move in a stylized way as on a frieze. This is not to mention what we read of Nijinsky’s “Jeux” and “Rite”. Should KK have looked a little further for the roots of the de-constructionist tendency?

It is difficult to take KK seriously as a critic. She relies far too heavily on sweeping generalisations, and is also prone to inaccuracy. Perhaps she is asked to write her articles in order to elicit a vigorous response! Whatever her motivation, it is a pity that her writing is so flawed; any points that might seem to be reasonable are enveloped in a mass of surrounding verbiage liberally spiced with invective.

By contrast, the opinions of the best critics are worth reading, even if we ultimately disagree. They are presented with style, and their authors avoid the pitfalls that beset Katharine.






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katharine kanter

11-10-01, 09:31 AM (GMT)
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17. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #16
 
   Dear Colleagues,

A heavy work schedule makes it impossible to reply in detail to the points raised on this Website's postings page over the last few days. However, may I refer readers to a piece I've just contributed to the Dance View site edited by Alexandra Tomalonis, entitled "What's wrong with Balanchine", which does go into further aspects of the problem, in a fair amount of detail.

http://www.danceview.org/balanchine.html

as well as a shorter piece, "The 'Wagner' Issue in Classical Ballet", at the same Independent Scholars Page on that Website.

My purpose in writing is, indeed, to be polemical. "Use your mind the way a boxer uses his fists", as an old friend of mine once told me.

Before putting pen to paper, I will have thought about an article for months, sometimes years. One cannot, of course, give the chapter-book-and-verse behind every line in brief articles of this nature, which are, manifestly, written to stir things up. Incidentally, I did contribute a piece on Isadora Duncan, some fifteen years ago, entitled "Isadora Duncan - a fat Wandervogel". As the title may, or may not, indicate, there were amusing bits in it.

Of course, the people I have attacked are very famous, some would say, notorious. They are right up there among the Great and Good of the Twentieth Century. Like Heidegger or Sartre, one might say. Although I am, by nationality, a Brit myself, I cannot help but have noticed over what is, by now, a fairly long life, that there is a tendency in the British Isles, as opposed for example, to the United States, to become very fearful as soon as Any Thing, or Any One, invested with an aura of Authority, is criticised from a knowledgeable - rather than an anarchist - standpoint. This fear will readily take on the form of acrimonious, and often personal, attacks on the "perpetrator" of the criticism in question.

Allow me to suggest that we focus on the real problem, which is what led to the writing of these pieces in the first place, and which, I would imagine, is of greater concern to us all, viz., whether classical dance will survive.

Regards,


Katharine


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pmeja

11-10-01, 12:24 PM (GMT)
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18. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #17
 
   LAST EDITED ON 11-10-01 AT 01:50 PM (GMT)

katherine, the reading of that other piece does not make me agree with you. i think you are wrong. i think you write like someone with an axe to grind. i think that a lot of sins have been committed in balanchine's name. i do not think that being a lover of balanchine's choreography and style (and there is style,grace and beauty, not just anatomic flinging about) means that you cannot appreciate the fine points of another style and i do not think that you have pinpointed anything about his style in particular because i disagree with your assessment of it. i don't think that any particular virtue lies in assaultive writing and i must, again, completely disagree with you.


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pmeja

17-10-01, 11:26 AM (GMT)
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20. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #17
 
   LAST EDITED ON 17-10-01 AT 11:38 AM (GMT)

The use of capital letters does not invest you with authority. Nor does the attacking of people, both professionally and personally, having chosen those whom great numbers of others feel strongly and positively about. I continue to state that I believe that you are as wrong as you could be, most especially about Balanchine, and that there will be no real discussion with someone who begins the "argument" the way you have. Since you have begun by dismissing that which I and others love dearly, I must therefore dismiss you.


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Nigel Simeone

17-10-01, 11:05 AM (GMT)
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19. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #0
 
   On the basis of Ms Kanter's article, one is bound to wonder whether she also believes that the earth is flat. Her extraordinary diatribe attempts to deny a century's worth of creative experimentation and innovation by means of ostensibly 'academic' arguments. But it just won't do Katharine! While claiming that many readers will be too young to have witnessed 'real quality', the article also proclaims the genius of Vestris and 'Blassis' among others. Not even Ms Kanter's long experience can extend back to the early nineteenth century when these figures were active - so she, and the rest of us, can only know their work through contemporary accounts and documents, and some very beautiful engravings and lithographs. As for Ms Kanter's remarks on music, they demonstrate a rather alarming ignorance. To find Satie and Stravinsky discussed in a paragraph claiming to be about 'atonal music' is puzzling (at best). Satie was a highly original figure but never an atonal composer. Nor was Stravinsky, though his late works (post-The Rake's Progress) often employ serial techniques. And why must a musician 'cut out sensuous effects'? What does Ms Kanter mean? Does she want music which is devoid of sensuousness - but instead merely the interplay of musical patterns? If so, Verdi (one of the 'approved' composers in her article) would probably need to be scolded for writing music which is very explicitly sensuous on occasions, and all the more glorious for that.

As for the author's dismissal of Serge Lifar as merely 'less talented' than Balanchine, I can only assume that she knows little about (or else elects to ignore) Lifar's best work from the 1930s and 40s. Yes, he was self-regarding, but that is hardly a good reason to write him off in terms of his achievements.

I do hope Ms Kanter's article is not the start of a new and worrying trend in writing about ballet - the idea that we should march resolutely backwards a century and a half (to Bournonville's Copenhagen) in order to discover the highest quality in ballet is not only a specious and unrealistic suggestion but one which is actually destructive to intelligent creativity. And I don't mean innovation for the sake of it - an openness to earlier influences is, as Heidegger memorably suggested, the sign of a true genius.

Nigel Simeone
Senior Lecturer
School of Music
University of Wales, Bangor


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pmeja

17-10-01, 11:39 AM (GMT)
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21. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #19
 
   Well put, Nigel.


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Anneliese

17-10-01, 03:45 PM (GMT)
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22. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #19
 
   I'm glad a few people with more time and more authority than I have taken KK to task over her musical criticism.

I have concluded that when she talks about "Dance Quality" she in fact is talking about the dance equivalent of the hummable tune. Now, there is nothing wrong with that concept, and indeed many of my favourite moments in ballet are those that I want to dance along with myself. But surely we're not going to reduce what is at its best an art form into skipping and jumping in a quick 3/4 time? On another note, I didn't respond to the ballet/sex minipoll but if I had I would have said that the link is pretty negligible in my eyes. Anyone who finds sex in every high extension has a few, um, issues, I suggest! I'm not in favour of change for change's sake; in fact I'm very small "c" conservative. But I don't think that good ballet ended with Bournonville, or that bad ballet started (or ended!) with Balanchine. What is ballet, after all? Beautiful patterns to music, that have the power to move an audience.


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Nigel

17-10-01, 07:05 PM (GMT)
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23. "RE: What is "Dance Quality"?"
In response to message #22
 
   Anneliese - how right you are! And is there a more genuinely intelligent example of "beautiful patterns to music" than a ballet like Concerto Barocco by the very Mr B whom KK seeks to demonise? I suppose this piece is perhaps an exceptional case, but if ever there was a ballet which puts the detailed substance of a piece of music into danced form, this is surely it - an amazing achievement which is a brilliant visual, dancing analogue to Bach's score.

Incidentally, I think it's also one of the more chaste ballets I know, so, once again I have to agree with Anneliese and others that KK's arguments on the sexual issue seem, er, questionable. And on this matter, I personally don't much like the suggestion that a large part of a ballet audience is there to see something other than fine dance. If KK had a shred - but a shred - of serious evidence for this (other than her own cranky perspective), it might be worthy of serious discussion. As it is, I'm not so sure.

Nigel


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