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Subject: ""Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe"" Archived thread - Read only
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Bruce Madmin

26-11-01, 08:20 PM (GMT)
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""Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
   This thread is for discussing two pieces, from the November Ballet.co magazine, about the handing on of knowledge in ballet and dance. The piece are:

Susie Crow's "Body of Knowledge"
Brendan McCarthy's "Preserving Forsythe"

Hope you have found them a stimulating read and do please add your comments below.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Jane S 28-11-01 1
     RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" katharine kanter 29-11-01 2
         RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Ann Williams 29-11-01 3
             RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Brendan 29-11-01 4
                 RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" lara 29-11-01 5
                     RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Ann Williams 29-11-01 6
                         RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Brendan 29-11-01 8
                             RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Anneliese 30-11-01 10
                             RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Susie Crow 01-12-01 11
                     RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Terry Amos 29-11-01 7
                         RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Susie Crow 30-11-01 9
  RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Bruce Madmin 02-12-01 13
  RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Viviane 03-12-01 14
     RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Susie Crow 04-12-01 15
         RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Viviane 04-12-01 16
             RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Robert 04-12-01 17
                 RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" Viviane 06-12-01 18
                     RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe" pmeja 06-12-01 19

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Jane S

28-11-01, 08:52 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #0
   The more I think about Forsythe's wish for his ballets to die with him, the more do I wonder what would happen in practice. Would just the wish expressed in his will have any legal standing? Presumably, as Brendan implies, it would have to rely on copyright restriction - would there be a Forsythe Trust whose sole purpose was to sue for breach of copyright?

He can't destroy his works or make us behave as if they'd never existed: would he be happy to know his ballets were still being studied, analysed, talked about - but only based on videos and memories rather than live performance? Are copyright laws universally respected? I can imagine a huge 'pirate' industry building up. And copyright doesn't last for ever - will the Hodson and Archer of 2100 be busily reconstructing Artifact and Steptext? Maybe he doesn't care about that far in the future.

As for the theory - I'd be willing to agree, I think, that a piece the choreographer had created for a specific group, with their collaboration perhaps and depending on some improvisation in accordance with the choreographers teaching might not survive; but anything that's been mounted by someone else on another company has surely been 'given to the world' and can't be taken back.

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katharine kanter

29-11-01, 09:28 AM (GMT)
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2. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #1
   Miss Crow has hit the nail on the head.

We have all been in theatres where chunks of repertoire are "learnt" by having the cast stare into a video screen, while older, perhaps world-famous dancers, who could be teaching those roles, are parked at home and quietly decay. The excuse given for this is "costs". I am not alone in thinking that we could do with a little less silk and satin and gilt on stage, and a little more first-class coaching from the golden oldies. This always involves makes concessions to their excentricities. But so what ?

Secondly, electronic means, in whatever shape or form, of reproducing dance, may have a curiosity value to a mere spectator, a century later. They are not a method for teaching a role, or even steps. Why ? Well, all these electronic means are in fact an arbitrary selection. The man holding the camera selects one thing, the person taking notation, selects another thing, and so forth. Adding, adding, and adding more facts, facts, facts, does not add up to an overall CONCEPT.

Classical ballet, like classical Indian dance, has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, because it is highly CONCEPTUAL. A great professor is not a machine. He is a highly conceptual, creative human being, whose ability to generate new ideas it NOT LIMITED by any mechnical obstacle. When he is teaching something, he is not just reproducing a blob or blibble that Nicholas Legat, or Serge Peretti taught him. He has been thinking about Legat, or Peretti, or whomever, for decades. The way he teaches a step or movement to the young dancer, is in one way, the same old concept, and in another way, it is an entirely new concept, because it has been dealt with by two entirely new minds, nor is the dancer the same as every other dancer who has been before him. He is a different individual too. It is therefore a fresh, new idea.

May I interject an aside here: it is useful to reread Karsavina's memoirs, or the various Russian books on Galina Ulanova, to see how they developed themselves as artists. They had a life-long commitment to learning. Ulanova says that she had MEMORISED virtually all of Pushkin's poetry, and that before she went out in Fontan Bakhchissarai, she had already experimented with myriad ways of reciting the poem. These people had educated themselves to a high degree, they had trained their imagination and were on the inside-track of ideas. They were not BORING.

That is what people are looking for in a professor.

Classical dancing is a very simple, complicated thing. It involves engaging one's brain 100%, whilst intently listening to, and expressing, musical ideas in geometrical form. Gerald Ford, and chewing gum. Could we not just concentrate on that ?
Most of the other stuff thrown at us these days, is just noise.

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Ann Williams

29-11-01, 03:13 PM (GMT)
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3. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #2
   Two very thought-provoking pieces, Bruce - all congratulations to both Susie and Brendan

It's difficult - if not impossible - to disagree with anything Susie says in her piece 'Body of Knowledge'. It seems self-evident that dance teaching is best passed on by dancers who themselves have acquired their knowledge and skills from an earlier generation of dancers, and maybe even from the actual original choreographers. I speak of one who was lucky enough to hear Monica Mason describe how she had learned her role in, if I remember correctly, 'Les Biches' from its creator Bronislava Nijinska herself , then rather elderly but still a formidable communicator.

But I'm very glad Susie acknowledges the valuable contribution to the dance tradition that technology brings. Brendan describes how Nijinsky's 'Jeux' and 'Rite of Spring were painstakingly 'reconstructed' by guesswork, scraps of pencilled sketches and unreliable memories. Katharine may think the video recorder is an inferior teaching tool, but can anyone deny that it would be wonderful to have the ability now to look at recorded evidence of the actual steps created by Nijinsky? (individual dancers' intellectual asbsorption and consequent interpretation of those steps is another matter). And if the video-recorder had existed in Petipa's day, would anyone now question its value as a teaching tool?

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29-11-01, 03:48 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #3
   A technical point, to pick up on Ann. While videos have some use in reconstructing work, the "scratch-tapes" (as they are known) of most companies' work do not offer anything like a full picture. They are often filmed at wide-angle and from the back of the auditorium. Considerable definition is lost and dancers' expressions are invisible. If the lighting is subtle, you cannot see some dancers at all. It would be wrong to equate such tapes with ballets you might see on TV. The technical standard is, for the most part, greatly inferior.

I don't think it would be safe to rely for reconstruction on video alone. While choreology might help, I think that ballets must literally be bred in the bone.

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29-11-01, 06:56 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #4
   This brings up a question I have been pondering for awhile. I have three different versions of MacMillan's R&J. In the balcony pdd there are so many variations on lifts, arm positions etc. Which one is the one that MacMillan taught? Which is correct? The one with Eagling and Ferri? Fonteyn and Nureyev, Bocca and Ferri?

The same with the swamp PDD from Manon. Sylvie's is very different than Penny's version which is different than the Australian ballet's. And not just in positions and moves but in attitude.

It seems that a comprehensive video shot specifically for archival purposes while the choreographer is doing the piece would be an invaluable tool.

Because when the women that dance Manon go to teach it later they are going to teach their version - not neccessarily a the choreographers version.

When a ballet is mounted who makes the decisions on how it is to be danced if the choreograher is no longer alive?

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Ann Williams

29-11-01, 09:23 PM (GMT)
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6. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #5
   >It seems that a comprehensive video shot specifically for archival purposes while the choreographer is doing the piece would be an invaluable tool.<

Exactly Lara - maybe I shouldn't have referred to video-recordings as 'teaching tools' My point really is that if we want to see exactly and accurately what was created by the original choreographer, then a video or film record is, obviously, the most reliable evidence of authenticity (apologies to Susie - I think I may be straying somewhat from her original point here). In the case of Nijinsky's 'Jeux' and 'Rite' - so carefully reconstructed by Hodson and Archer - as far as I understand it we have no real idea if they resemble the originals in anything but the broadest outlines. Similarly with the works of, for instance, Petipa. Though he was undoubtedly a more organised and focussed choreographer than Nijinsky, his works have been danced now for more than a hundred years and it would be a miracle if over that time individual dancers had not altered some of the chorography to suit their own particular strengths and weaknesses. (I think of that every time I see the Prologue Fairies' variations in 'Sleeping Beauty, my favourite dances in the whole canon of classical ballet: could they have been even better? I'm not clear when notation and choreology became commonplace, but I think it was not until well into the 20th century, so earlier choreographers did not even have that protection.

Brendan, you say that the scratch tape video recordings made of rehearsals etc are too poor to be used for serious teaching purposes. I had assumed, in my naive way, that most major ballet companies recorded rehearsals in the studio rather than from an auditorium, especially in the case of newly created works. Another illusion shattered! I would have thought that good quality video recording is now relatively cheap, and certainly affordable by the major companies.

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29-11-01, 11:12 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #6
   Sorry to disillusion you Ann. Some company inhouse videos are really quite dire. They are made by inexperienced people and miss out on crucial detail. Basic "scratch tapes", as I said earlier, are filmed on the main stage, at a wide angle .

Katharine Kanter also makes a perfectly good point about ballet filmed for television. No director is going to be able to show all relevant detail; it would make for dismal television. Any stage ballet filmed for TV involves considerable selection; while it is useful to pray a video in aid, it is no substitute for the oral handing down of tradition.

On Ann's second point, good video does not come cheap. Someone from one of our national companies told me recently that the only video product which would come close to offering a definitive record would be one filmed simultaneously from 3 or 4 different directions, and then shown simultaneously on 3 or 4 screens. The money for this was not available, I was told, nor was it ever likely to be.

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30-11-01, 01:08 PM (GMT)
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10. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #8
   Your final paragraph contains the obvious, sensible answer to recording dance. I cannot see what is unaffordable about this! If the companies aren't prepared to invest in proper records then why on earth should we invest in the companies?

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Susie Crow

01-12-01, 10:10 AM (GMT)
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11. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #10
   No video record is ever going to be definitive no matter how many cameras it is filmed on. As said elsewhere video information is partial at the best of times. But intelligent use of video on stage and in the rehearsal room can provide really useful information to complement or confirm info from other sources. From what I come across small companies and individual artists in the independent dance world although financially impoverished doesn't seem to have a problem with making creative use of new technologies as they arise; I suspect the problems for big companies are more to do with stifling organisation and regulation than lack of resources.

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Terry Amos

29-11-01, 09:34 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #5
   Do we worry too much about seeing the "correct" " definitive" version of a ballet? Opera goers don't seem to mind seeing opera productions that venture very far from what the composer originally intended. Most orchestral music when played today or, particularly, when listened to at home, must sound very different to the original performances. And revivals of plays are expected to differ from the original productions.

Anyway, I believe many choreographers were very willing to change the steps to suit the abilities of different dancers. So, for a lot of ballets, there isn't a definitive version.

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Susie Crow

30-11-01, 02:34 AM (GMT)
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9. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #7
   I would corroborate Brendan's comments about the poor quality of much archival video from the basis of my own experience. In this country union restrictions often prevent the recording of performances or orchestral stage rehearsals, so that there is a very serious lack of video records of some of the greatest dancers and indigenous repertoire in performance. The archive video of a rehearsal run-through with single camera at the back of the auditorium taking in the whole stage space while giving the whole picture spatially provides insufficient and sometimes inaccurate detail. Having said that, the Place is building up a formidable library of performances on video, and a body of expertise in capturing performances with two cameras and the ability to home in on detail when relevant.

In defence of video, it can be useful in conjunction with a notation score, providing clues to a particular interpretation. Many European companies do not use notation at all and work entirely from video and dancers' memories. Employing a notator adds a considerable cost to a production, and is only financially viable for the largest most well established companies. Video technology by contrast is now cheap and accessible to all. I have used a small digital video as a choreographic notebook in the making of new work and have found it invaluable, especially if one is working with or from improvisation - you could say that it facilitates choreographic methods that would be impractical or very difficult without it.

Re definitive versions - I think that there are in all works some definitive elements - how many and what they are depends on the choreographer. Some bits may be left intentionally open to individual interpretation, while others have precise requirements in timing, shape, movement or spacing. The notation score should record accurately the choreographer's instructions, video can show how a particular dancer or company performed them. They and the oral tradition provide different types of information for the artist to interpret or synthesise in order to make the work live anew - no it won't be the same, but it may have authenticity.

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Bruce Madmin

02-12-01, 11:48 PM (GMT)
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13. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #0
At last I get to add my own comments on two goodies.

Susie's piece reinforces the essence of ballet 'training' and learning as I see it - there is no substitute for direct and hands on experience being directly passed on. The piece is welcomed because ballet and dance increasingly seems to becomes more academic as people dissect it this way and that and dancers get more and more support and training in the round. I'm not necessarily arguing that the increase in all this extra 'stuff' is not worthwhile, but it can mean that an essential focus is somewhat lost.

The Forsythe position, discussed by Brendan, I think is totally unacceptable.

There are many stakeholders who make a ballet, not just the choreographer. Forsythe now often credits those in his company who help create a piece and indeed I seem to recall he was not able to do a new piece for the Royal because he can only really work with his own dancers now - they are that indispensable. And yet what they might think seems to count for nothing when it really comes down to it. So what rep are they going to perform if he falls under a Frankfurt tram tomorrow then? Crazy - Frankfurt will be dancing his stuff for years, well after he hangs up his directorship clogs and then all that tradition just stops because he dies or can't along to see them rehearse what they well know.

But I also want to put in a plug for those who fund and back what Forsythe does. Without their money and their trust Forsythe would not be the name he is today and they deserve better then to see their investment in dance for us all just smothered. And what of the audience that have made his name - if they want to see his works why shouldn't they? This is not one mans call and that position should not be allowed to develop. Dance and ballet suffer enough crap at times without some great pieces being arbitrarily lost. Thank God Petipa didn't go to the same asylum as Forsythe...

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03-12-01, 01:16 PM (GMT)
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14. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #0
   Just want to add some thoughts :

on preserving ballet....
Ballet takes a very special position as an art-form. All existing tools of preservation and conservation are -indeed- too shortcoming for the 'ballet-case'.
This all-embracing art-exponent simply can't be put under a cheese-cover, by doing so you only try to protect against dust but forget about the inevitable need of air to breath. (and istn't dancing...breathing ?)
The tools of an art-form also contains his shortcomings and are time-related.
A 19th Cent. piano sounds different...colourpigments can't be made the same way...dancer-bodies (and their limits) have changed....
More, even the perception of art is constantly changing.
So, I think we only can use all tools that are available to obtain an honest kind of 'master-copy' to keep into the records.
I set big eyes hearing that a choreographer wants to take his ballets with him.
Every creation of art starts a 'life on his own', well at least it should do this.
Afterall the artist is only the creator...the initial fire. Sometimes it's frustrating to see in which way society is treating this creation.
But at that time your 'piece of art' has entered another 'level' and you have lost the total control on it. (must be hard for a fanatic control-freak)
(As an artist the only thing left over is trying to protect your creation against commercial exploitation.)
I think this has much to do with generosity, the ability of being humble and the constant need to 're-create'.
Giving birth, hand over and move on in a constant renewal, that's the essence of a true artist.

on teaching young dancers....
Last years I'm quite focussed on 'how' one is teaching ballet. And after a meeting by chance of one of the most marvelous balletmaster I ever saw...I became totally engrossed...and so did my daughter : "Mama, he simply MAKES me dance...".
After 10 days work, his involved teaching and passion for dance has made an everlasting impression.
I'm convinced that every dancer meets -in the lenght of his career- one or more 'guardian-angels' on who's 'drive' he/she can go on.
Teaching ballet is one of the most difficult/complex tasks, nonetheless because it's so personal related.
Although I know a lot of teachers don't like this kind of books, I have loved to read "The art of teaching ballet - Ten Twentieth-Century Masters" from Gretchen Ward Warren.
When reading about Marika Besobrasova, Christiane Vaussard and many others you only get to know a *very* little bit of what ballet-teaching is all about. What a wealth and privilege it must be to have attend their classes.

Teaching is still changing, everyday...this is only natural but I don't understand why there is no particular use of video-registration during classes.
Why are f.i. all expensive 'golf-schools' using this to show students at the end of term or year the progress they have made.....and isn't this possible in balletschools ?

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Susie Crow

04-12-01, 00:49 AM (GMT)
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15. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #14
   Viviane I think you are quite right about works acquiring a life of their own. I know that as a choreographer I am aware that there comes a moment - after the dress rehearsal probably - when the work passes out of my hands and into the hands of the dancers - I can do nothing more to it barring a few minimal tweaks, it becomes a separate entity. In any case being made on specific dancers they usually know what they do far better than I, even if I have an overview of the work which they cannot have.

Re use of video in ballet schools, I am sure some schools do. A friend of mine with a tiny ballet school in a village outside St Albans was using a digital camera to show her students how they were doing their RAD syllabus work well before I as a professional got my camera.

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04-12-01, 07:45 AM (GMT)
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16. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #15
   LAST EDITED ON 04-12-01 AT 08:53 AM (GMT)

Susie, it's fascinating to read about the 'life after' of your creations.
Although far more 'materialistic', I have the same feeling about the houses I design. After a whole year of intensive work, at the moment the last touches for decoration are finished (I suppose that's your dress rehearsal-phase ?), I literally have to hand-over the key...and next time I have to knock the door. Sometimes I feel like a stranger and ofcourse, all control has gone !

Yes, I know some dedicated teachers use video and generally this is also used in most of the balletschools to make recordings of the assessments. I only wonder why this tool is not used for more specific 'problem-solving'.
I remember having read something in Maria Fay's book on this(Mind over Body), where the use of video gave the necessary self-assurance to a promising ballerina.

And...I want to add :
Last night, when finishing "Markova-Her life and art" -A.Dolin,
I came across this :
..."Massine, when he was with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, recorded the choreography of most of the ballets with his own movie camera. At Monte Carlo, where the company did their intensive spring rehearsing for their tours of Europe and America, he had a special projection room to which every new member of the company was taken for preliminary study of the ballets in which they were to appear. Most of the films were made while the company were in practice clothes, though a number of others were taken during actual performances on tour. Special shots of each set were made to complete the record of the production.
In London, Marie Rambert has a vast collection of privately made films which will prove invaluable to dancers of the future..."

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04-12-01, 05:21 PM (GMT)
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17. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #16
   I am fascinated by the news of Massine's films. Is there any way they can be seen? I have a theory that Massine is the great lost choreographer. He was highly admired in his day but rarely remembered now. There is so little to go on.

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06-12-01, 08:15 AM (GMT)
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18. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #17
   >I am fascinated by the news
>of Massine's films. Is there
>any way they can be

I want to join Robert and ask : Is there someone who knows more about these films ?
I do hope they have survived somewhere !

Recently I was searching for more info on Kochno, the other not so familiar name connected with Diaghilev. And in the 'big' 'Diaghilev'-book (R.Buckle), I found this :

"Some rare old books on choreography came up for sale at an auction in Paris, and Diaghilev bought them for Massine. They included first editions of Carlo Blasis, Raoul Feuillet, Louis Pécour, Malpied and Jean-Philippe Rameau. 'At first' wrote Massine, 'I found it almost impossible to decipher the intricate seventeenth- and eighteenth-century notations inventented by these authors, but after some concentrated study I began to discover certain choreographic patterns which they had set down...My introduction to those early authors came at a most opportune moment in my career.... I was anxious to forge ahead....."

Now we are questioning the preciseness of dance-notations...but you see that -even basic notations- can be inspiring to a talented artist.....glad Massine found the 17th and 18th century notations !
Now, we are reading old notations with '21th century-eyes' and simply can't have the same translation.
Maybe we need to worry a lot more on *how* recent dance-creations will be conservated....and don't forget about the correspondence from choreographers and dancers. During past centuries we could care about their letters and other material....but nowadays -in our cyberworld- we even don't know 'how' we will be able to read f.i. Sylvie's emails, saved on disks...when the hardware isn't available anymore !

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06-12-01, 06:42 PM (GMT)
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19. "RE: "Body of knowledge" & "Preserving Forsythe""
In response to message #18
   Well the New York public library has a very large number of Massine's films, both complete ballets and various fragments. you can see the list if you go to www.nypl.com, click on "catalogs", then on "CATNYP" and look for a link to the Dance Collection. Then you have to put in Massine's name under "Author" and you will see what listings there are for films (I *think* I have that process correct!) There are
many more than I thought, happily!

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